Monday, December 25. 2017
A day late from the usual Sunday, but having missed last week, I
figured the exercise would be worthwhile. Like our trash collection,
we're running a day late this week.
Growing up we always had a special
dinner on Christmas Eve, then gathered around the tree in the living
room and opened presents. I gave up on shopping and presents after my
parents died in 2000 -- partly, I suppose, because we moved to Wichita
in 1999 to be closer to my family, but after doing serious shopping I
got sick and missed that last Christmas. We tried to keep the tradition
going, but it fizzled out when my brother and his family moved away.
The only thing I kept was the Christmas Eve dinner, which I've ever
since subjected my sister and her son to. I rustled up a bit pot of
paella last night, with a lobster, some shrimp and scallops instead of
the usual clams. I figured I'd do some tapas on the side, but didn't
come up with much: potatoes with tuna and egg, a white bean salad, a
pisto (onions, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cooked down to a paste),
sauteed mushrooms in garlic sauce, some olives, a loaf of "bake it
yourself" garlic bread. Per a tradition that only started after we
returned to Wichita, I made date pudding (topped with caramel sauce
and whipped cream) for dessert. I was feeling pretty depressed, but
the sensation vanished as soon as I started cooking. That's pretty
much all I have to show for 2017, but it feels like I'm accomplishing
something when I do it.
Biggest story from the last couple weeks were the Republican tax
bill: a massive giveaway to corporations, proprietors who can take
advantage of the "pass-through income" provisions, and to the growth
and consolidation of aristocracy, and eventually a drain on the
economy and an excuse for cutting back on actually useful services
the government provides. But also very important are the end of FCC
"net neutrality" rules and the latest round of sanctions against
North Korea. Of course, the latter could instantly jump to the head
of the list.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important political stories of the week
[Dec. 22]: Congress passed a major tax cut; The government won't shut
down for Christmas; Affordable Care Act signups remained robust;
Republicans turned on Robert Mueller; and
The 4 biggest policy stories of the week, explained [Dec. 15]: A
Democrat won a Senate election in Alabama: Doug Jones; Republicans
wrote their tax bill; Sexual harassment accusations kept rolling
Congress; Net neutrality.
Other Yglesias pieces:
The real cost of the Republican tax bill: Argues that the models
showing revenues down by $1-1.5 trillion will likely be proven low,
not least because IRS enforcement under Trump is likely to be slack.
I would add that actual revenues in Kansas have consistently fallen
short of expectations, because the Brownback cuts allowed unanticipated
The tax cut expectations game.
What "affordable housing" really means.
We're witnessing the wholesale looting of America:
Throughout the 2016 campaign, the political class talked a lot about "norms"
and how Donald Trump was violating them all. He brushed off fact-checkers,
assailed the media, went on Twitter tirades against his critics, and dabbled
in racism. Since taking office, his norm busting has spread. Members of
Congress who under other circumstances might be constrained by shame, custom,
or the will of their constituents have learned from Trump's election that
you can get away with more than we used to think.
Norm erosion is real, and it matters. . . . These scholars are all
considering deep, long-lasting differences in cultural norms, but we also
know from experience that norms can sometimes shift dramatically in unusual
circumstances. Sometimes a blackout or other disaster prompts a few people
who would ordinarily be too cautious to break store windows in broad daylight
to become more brazen. And the normal course of ordinary life flips into
reverse, as those with some inclination toward bad acts recognize a moment
of impunity and grab what they can, while those who would ordinarily be
invested in upholding order are afraid and stay inside. The sheer quantity
of bad acts makes it impossible for anyone to hold anyone accountable. Soon,
a whole neighborhood can be in ruins.
Or a whole country. . . .
It takes a lot more than Donald Trump to orchestrate the kind of feeding
frenzy that's currently playing out in Washington. Nothing about this would
work if not for the fact that hundreds of Republican Party members of
Congress wake up each morning and decide anew that they are indifferent to
the myriad financial conflicts of interest in which Trump and his family
are enmeshed. Moral and political responsibility for the looting ultimately
rests on the shoulders of the GOP members of Congress who decided that the
appropriate reaction to Trump's inauguration was to start smashing and
grabbing as much as possible for themselves and their donors rather than
uphold their constitutional obligations.
Why Trump's tax cuts won't be repealed.
Republicans are on tilt with their super-unpopular tax bill.
Collective ownership of the means of production.
Dean Baker: Bubbles: Are They Back?
Should we be concerned about a bubble now? Stock prices and housing prices
are both high by historical standards. The ratio of stock prices-to-trend
corporate earnings is more than 27-to-1; this compares to a long-term
average of 15-to-1.
House prices are also high by historic standards. Inflation-adjusted
house prices are still well below their bubble peaks, but are about 40
percent above their long-term average.
Baker also wrote:
Diverting Class Warfare Into Generational Warfare: Round LVIII; e.g.:
It is also important to understand that government action was at the
center of this upward redistribution. Without government-granted patent
monopolies for Windows and other Microsoft software, Bill Gates would
probably still be working for a living.
We spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2017. Without
government-granted patent monopolies we would probably have spent less
than $80 billion. The difference of $370 billion is equal to an increase
of a 5.0 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax.
But the generational warriors don't want anyone talking about how much
money our children to pay drug companies with government-granted patent
Baker is a bit confused about Microsoft -- patents played at most a
small role in building its monopoly -- the late 1990s antitrust case
which Microsoft lost covered much of this -- but copyrights are essential
for maintaining it.
Zack Beauchamp: We are sleepwalking toward war with North Korea.
Sean Illing: How the baby boomers -- not millennials -- screwed America:
Interview with Bruce Gibney, author of A Generation of Sociopaths: How
the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, which looks to be pretty awful. I
don't doubt that various age cohorts grow up with different experiences,
but there has always been more variation within a generation than change
from one to the next. It's not that Gibney is unobservant -- he identifies
Ronald Reagan's 1980 election as the turning point from which today's rot
stemmed -- but he pairs his superficial groupings with clichéd analysis
and bogus measures (especially the growth of debt). Gibney, like so many
reactionaries from the 1950s on, blamed postwar affluence for breeding a
generation of selfish ingrates who lack the social solidarity bred in
their parents by depression and war. As Gibney puts it:
I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of
uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted.
They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever
and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be
a good job for everyone who wanted it.
This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming
things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in
order to preserve prosperity for future generations.
Gibney's argument might be more interesting if he focused on things
that were truly new and widespread, like that "boomers" were the first
cohort to grow up with television and its mass consumer advertising,
with news presented more in images than in words, with world travel
reduced from months or weeks to hours, with science promising greater
control of nature but also raising the spectre of extinction. Maybe
some people responded to such sweeping change by becoming sociopaths,
but (for a while, at least) the opposite seemed to be happening: in
the late '60s and early '70s, the "boomers" were in the forefront of
movements for the environment, sexual equality, for consumer rights,
for civil rights and against war. You can argue that the new left was
too individualistic and too nonchalant about power, and that those
weaknesses made it easier for conservative reaction to seize power --
and beset the country with all the ills Gibney decries. But the fact
that Bill Clinton, GW Bush, and Donald Trump were all born in 1946
doesn't make them representative of a generation. Indeed, they were
clearly exceptional, carefully selected by unrepresentative powers.
Nothing actual in this piece about "millennials" -- one's political
hopes for them (e.g.,
Steven Olikara: Here's one reason to be optimistic about politics:
Millennials in office) lie not in generational change but in
the fact that thanks to the conservative reaction they've been so
severely screwed. But that only changes if they recognize the real
Ezra Klein: "An orgy of serious policy discussion" with Paul Krugman.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Good explanation of the word, if you wind
up stuck needing to use it.
Kevin M Kruse: The Second Klan: Review of Linda Gordon's book,
The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan and the American
German Lopez: The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won
because of racial resentment: Three charts here, mapping the tendencies
of people "least satisfied" with economics, "most sexist," and "most denying
of racism" to vote for Trump. The latter two are highly polarized, as well
they should be: Trump was blatantly racist and sexist, especially compared
to his opponent, and his campaign actively polarized people on those issues,
so of course sexists and racists (not uncommonly the same people) voted for
him overwhelmingly. Still, to say he won because he appealed to racism you
have to quantify how large that voter share was. Given that racists were
already highly aligned with the Republican Party it's hard to see a lot of
movement on that score, not that were was none. "Economic dissatisfaction"
is another story: that the "least satisfied" tilted toward Trump at all
is the surprise -- really, a complete breakdown in the Democratic Party's
messaging, all the more damning given how easy it should have been to
depict Trump as the poster boy for exorbitant greed and privilege. The
underlying facts have never been in doubt. That we keep rehashing them
has more to do with politics. Sanders supporters were quick to identify
the failed economic hopes of the white lower classes because that's one
thing their program addressed and could convert into the additional votes
necessary to beat Trump and the Republicans. Diehard Clinton supporters
like the racism narrative, because it shifts blame from the candidate to
the "deplorable" voters.
Premilla Nadasen: Extreme poverty returns to America.
Rebecca Solnit: Don't let the alt-right hijack #MeToo for their agenda.
Matt Stoller: What is net neutrality? It protects us from corporate
Matt Taibbi: Bob Corker Facing Ethics Questions? What a Surprise:
"The Tennessee senator's financial success has been one of Washington's
open questions for years." Corker flip-flopped on the tax bill, first
voting against it because it would increase the deficit, then voting
for it even though its impact on the deficit hasn't changed (but the
joint committee added a break on real estate taxes that evidently saves
Corker millions of dollars). More on Corker:
Mary Papenfuss: #CorkerKickback Turns Up the Flame Under Senator for
His Tax Vote Switch. Paul Krugman, in
Passing Through to Corruption, also mentions Corker:
Senator Bob Corker, citing concerns about the deficit, was the only
Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill. Now,
however, he says he will vote for a final version that is no better
when it comes to fiscal probity. What changed?
Well, one thing that changed was the insertion of a provision that
wasn't in the Senate bill: Real estate companies were added to the
list of "pass-through" businesses whose owners will get sharply lower
tax rates. These pass-through provisions are arguably the worst feature
of the bill. They will open the tax system to a huge amount of gaming,
of exploiting legal loopholes to avoid tax.
But one thing they will also do, thanks to that last-minute addition,
is give huge tax breaks to elected officials who own a lot of income-producing
real estate -- officials like Donald Trump and, yes, Bob Corker.
Todd VanDerWerff: Disney acquiring Fox means big, scary things for film
and TV: "Here are five reasons the deal is terrifying -- and only
one of them is increased media consolidation."
Sunday, December 10. 2017
The Democrats in Congress, especially the leadership, have had a
really bad week, and I fear they've inflicted grave wounds on themselves.
John Conyers and Al Franken have resigned after enormous pressure from
the party leadership, leaving the party with fewer votes, summarily
ending two notable careers. I especially blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck
Shumer. Back in 2016 Hillary Clinton like to posit a "Commander-in-Chief
Test," figuring she'd compare favorably to Donald Trump by emphasizing
her own fondness for military adventures -- I think her hawkishness was
a big part of why she lost, but my point isn't to rehash her delusions.
Rather, what we saw last week was a "Shop Steward" test, which Pelosi
and Shumer utterly failed. They let a little media pressure blow them
over. More importantly, they failed to insist on due process, on the
most basic principles of traditional American justice, and in doing so
they sacrificed political standing and insulted and demeaned the voters
who had elected Conyers and Franken.
Supposedly, one thing the Democrats hope to achieve in sacking
Conyers and Franken is "the moral high ground" -- demonstrating
their superior sensitivity to and concern for victims of sexual
misconduct (pretty broadly defined). In theory, this will pay off
in defeating Roy Moore in next week's Alabama Senate race and/or
in putting pressure on Donald Trump to resign. In fact, Trump was
elected president after 19 women accused him of various shades of
assault, and after he bragged about as much. While Moore is facing
a closer election than Alabama Republicans are used to, he remains
the favorite to win Tuesday. And while some Democrats imagine that
if Moore wins the Senate will refuse to seat him, I can't imagine
the Republicans sacrificing power like that. Nor, quite frankly,
should they. (The only duly elected member I can recall either
branch of Congress refusing to seat was Adam Clayton Powell, in a
shameful travesty -- although, come to think of it, they did take
months before allowing Al Franken to enter.)
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered in politics this week:
The tax reform hit some snags ("Senate Republicans appear to have
written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a
little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton
of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit
from a big tax cut"); President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's
capital; Al Franken announced he'll resign; The government will stay
open for a couple of weeks. Other Yglesias pieces:
We have a trial date: March 19, "the beginning of the trial at which
the Justice Department will seek to block the merger of AT&T and
Time Warner." There is no shortage of good reasons for blocking this
merger, and indeed for untangling all of the past mergers between
data transit and content companies, although it's surprising to see
Trump's DOJ lifting a finger to prevent the further concentration of
predatory corporate power.
Apple could get a staggering $47 billion windfall from the tax
What's particularly striking about this windfall is that though Apple
has been a fierce advocate for corporate tax reform -- $47 billion is
a lot of money after all -- Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained over and
over again that shoveling billions into his corporate treasury won't
boost his investment spending.
He already has plenty of cash, but beyond that, when Cook wants
Apple to invest more, he borrows the money.
Tomorrow's financial crisis today: Points out that less than ten
years after the worst recession since the 1930s Trump's administration
is working to undermine the Treasury's Office of Financial Research
and "let banks take on more risky debt:
The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won't have one in any
given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As
long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn't matter. In
fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated
banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.
It's all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking
takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a
one-in-20 chance, you're still in a world where things will probably
be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.
Trump has taken a lot of risky bets in his life. And though he's
often lost, he's usually been insulated by his inherited wealth and
by his very real skill at structuring deals so other people end up
holding a lot of the downside. Any presidency inherently has that
kind of structure with or without skill. Presidents suffer when they
make mistakes, but other people suffer more.
?he key phrase here is "as long as asset prices are trending
upward." The surest way to keep asset prices rising is to let rich
people make and keep more money, which is what happened from the
Bush tax cuts forward to 2007-08. What broke then turned out to be
pretty simple: a big chunk of those assets were built on subprime
mortgages, and the people who signed up for the mortgages weren't
able to grow their incomes enough to cover their debts, so they
defaulted; meanwhile, the banks had leveraged themselves so much
they couldn't cover their losses, so they started to fail in a
cascade that threatened to make the "domino theory" look like
small potatoes. But the government, especially the Fed, stepped
in and pumped several trillions of dollars into the banks to prop
them up so they could unwind their losses more gracefully, while
the government did very little to help the little people who
suffered the brunt of the recession. (I was going to say "virtually
nothing," but things like extended unemployment benefits did help
keep the recession from matching the desolation caused by the Great
Depression.) We're already seeing asset bubbles in things like the
stock market. The whole point of Trump's tax cuts and deregulation
is to feed this bubble, even though there is no clear way to sustain
the trend or to appease the financier's appetite for ever greater
profits. Coupled with a massive collapse of business ethics -- this
has been growing since the "greed is good" Reagan era, but Trump is
an even more shocking role model -- it's only a matter of time before
the whole edifice collapses.
We need a healthier conversation about partisanship and sexual
The tax bill is a tax cut, not a culture war: Pushes back against the
idea that Republicans chose targets to "reform" by how much they would
hurt "blue states" (the SALT deduction being the obvious example). Shows
that the overriding reasoning behind the cuts/reforms is to favor the
rich over the poor, regardless of where they may live or do business.
Of course, the real cost to poor and working Americans won't appear in
scoring the bill -- it will come later in the form of service cuts and
the ever-widening chasm between "haves and have-nots."
Republicans need Roy Moore to pass their tax bill.
Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.
Democrats need to get a grip about the budget deficit: "The tax bill
is bad, the debt is fine." ARgues that "Bush's deficits were fine and
Trump's will be too" and that "Obama's deficits were way too small."
Don't worry about the debt.
Matthew Cole/Jeremy Scahill: Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private
Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies: Evidently one of Erik Prince's
schemes, notably backed by Oliver North. One suspicious point is that the
scheme would still report to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, figuring him more
loyal to Trump than to the "Deep State" he nominally manages a big chunk
of. Also see
Aram Roston: Private War: Erik Prince Has H is Eye on Afghanistan's Rare
Metals. Evidently the mercenary leader is trying to turn his private
army into some sort of modern British East India Company colossus.
Juliet Eilperin: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears
National Monument: Helps explain why Trump and Zinke radically shrunk
the borders of the National Monument (see maps). The land still belongs
to the federal government, but will now be managed by the Bureau of Land
Management. For info on what that means, see
Adam Federman: This Is How the Trump Administration Gives Big Oil the
Keys to Public Lands.
Tara Golsham: Rep. Trent Franks, who is resigning immediately, offered
staffer $5 million to be his baby surrogate: One of the more bizarre
stories of recent weeks: Arizona Republican, "a deeply conservative
member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members
of Congress. Evidently he has that kind of money, and assumes it
entitles him to run roughshod over others.
Jim Kirby: Hillary Clinton's emails got as much front-page coverage in
6 days as policy did in 69: An analysis of New York Times -- your
newspaper or preferred media source may vary (with some never matching
that 6-day email window), but for a supposedly sober and serious news
source, that's pretty disgusting. One might argue that Hillary's email
controversy speaks to her character, but no more so than hundreds or
thousands of Donald Trump anecdotes. Even so, you'd think it sensible
that news coverage of an election would focus more on likely policies
and future scenarios than on past personal quirks. The only excuse I
can think of is that today's campaigns are often as shallow as the media
covering them -- or at least try to be.
Rashid Khalidi: After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an
Honest Broker of Peace: Actually, that was clear even before Trump
ordered the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Khalidi
knows damn well -- he's even written a whole book about it: Brokers
of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
What I've yet to see anyone comment on is why the US didn't move the
embassy earlier. The basic reason is respect for international law,
which as this week's announcement shows has sunken to new lows in
Washington. The 1947 UN resolution proposing partition of the British
Mandate in Palestine -- a resolution that David Ben-Gurion lobbied
fervently for -- called for dividing the Mandate into two states, but
keeping Jerusalem separate as an international area. Immediately on
declaring independence in 1948, Israel launched a military offensive
aimed at expanding on the borders the UN prescribed. The main target
of that offensive was Jerusalem, which wound up divided between Israeli
and Jordanian forces. In 1967 Israel launched another war and drove
Jordan from East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- territories that the UN
ordered Israel to return, despite Israel's almost immediate annexation
of Jerusalem and environs. Israel's de facto control of Jerusalem has
never been squared away with the rulings of international law, so no
country with respect for international law has conceded Israel's claim.
"Until now," you might say, but the US has increasingly shown contempt
for international law, and this is just one more example.
By the way, a headline in the Wichita Eagle today: "After US decision
on Jerusalem, Gaza protests turn deadly." First line of article explains
how: "Two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday
after rocket fire from the enclave hit an Israeli town, as the death toll
in violence linked to President Donald Trump's decision to recognize
Jerusalem as Israel's capital rose to four." No damage was reported
from the Gazan rockets. For info about the other two deaths, see:
Peter Beaumont/Patrick Wintour: Two Palestinians shot dead and one critical
in riots after Trump speech. Also:
Raja Shehadeh: I have witnessed two intifadas. Trump's stance on Israel
may ignite a third.
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare sign-ups defy Trump's sabotage campaign.
German Lopez: Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families
were united -- even though he had slavery." Anyone who thinks that
the problem with Moore is his fondness for underaged girls clearly
hasn't paid any attention to his politics or to his political legacy.
More worrying is Moore's unwavering contempt for the law -- after
all, Moore has been stripped of his position on the Alabama Supreme
Court for failing to submit to federal law, specifically the First
Amendment. When Donald Trump tries to tout Moore as the "law and
order candidate" he does little more than expose his own flimsy
and dicey relationship to the law. (Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic
opponent, Doug Jones, has a distinguished record as a federal
prosecutor, credentials that only someone as reality-challenged
as Trump can readily dismiss.) I wish I could say that Moore's
casual endorsement of slavery is even more shocking, but we've
always known him to be a racist. After all, Alabama's given us
George Wallace and James Sessions, so how much worse can Moore
be? Well, this statement is a pretty good example: "I think it
[America] was great at the time when families were united -- even
though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were
strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country
had a direction." The most obvious problem is that slavery was
a system which denied family life and bonds, one that allowed
slaveowners to prevent or break families by selling members. He
could hardly be clearer that he doesn't regard blacks as people --
as Lopez notes, only one of many blind bigotries Moore espouses.
Still, I detect another curious note in the quote: it's like he's
trying to channel ideologues like George Fitzhugh who tried to
defend slavery as anti-capitalist -- an alternative to the coarse
materialism that Bible-thumpers like Moore so despise.
More on Moore:
Andrew Prokop: Michael Flynn's involvement in a plan to build nuclear
reactors in the Middle East is looking even shadier: More "Russia"
scandal this past week, but one should recall that Russian schemes under
Putin have nothing to do with fomenting world revolution or curtailing
US imperial ambitions: they're founded on pure oligarchic greed, which
isn't at all unlike the Trump approach to business. E.g., this piece
summarizes a "whistleblower" report about a deal Flynn was working on:
According to the whistleblower, [Alex] Copson flat-out said the following
- That he "just got" a text message from Flynn saying the nuclear
plant project was "good to go," and that his business colleagues should
"put things in place"
- That Flynn was making sure sanctions on Russia would be "ripped up,"
which would let the project go forward
- That this was the "best day" of his life, and that the project would
"make a lot of very wealthy people"
- That the project would also provide a pretext for expanding a US
military presence in the Middle East (the pretext of defending the
- That citizens of Middle Eastern countries would be better off "when
we recolonize the Middle East"
David Roberts: A moment of truth arrives for Rick Perry's widely hated
coal bailout: Long article, really should be a much bigger scandal
than anything having to do with "sexual misconduct" -- with billions
of dollars of benefits going to five coal companies, paid for by rate
hikes from millions of consumers, and championed by a moron like Rick
Perry, it wouldn't even take much of a stretch from the media to blow
this up, but evidently they're too lazy to care.
Aja Romano: MSNBC won't cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing
to alt-right outrage was a "mistake": Another cautionary tale,
showing you can't trust anything reported on right-wing media, and
that the kneejerk "zero tolerance" reactions of "liberal" media
combines are set up perfectly to be scammed. More:
Ryan Grim: MSNBC Reverses Decision to Fire Contributor Sam Seder.
Mark Joseph Stern: The Trump Administration Just Declared War on Public
Corey Williams/David Eggert: Conyers' Congressional Seat Won't Be
Filled for Nearly a Year: So, Nancy Pelosi browbeat Conyers into
resigning his seat, certain that a Democrat would replace him -- the
current gerrymander of Michigan concedes that -- but evidently the
Republican governor of Michigan can simply hold the seat open for a
Sunday, December 3. 2017
I spent literally most of last week trying to cook for 60 at the
Wichita Peace Center Annual Dinner on Friday, and I've been sore and
tired ever since. Thought compiling this post might feel like a return
to normalcy, but nothing's normal any more.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut (as, indeed, they
did); We found our about more sexual harassers (especially Matt Lauer);
After Rexit (Rex Tillerson, rumored gone but hanging on); North Korea
launched a long-range ICBM (one that could theoretically hit anywhere
in the continental United States). Other Yglesias posts:
Republicans may regret this tax bill: This seems intuitively right.
The biggest political issue in America today is increasing inequality
and its various effects, including the binding of political power and
personal security to private wealth. Moreover, this is an issue with a
strict partisan divide: Republicans are doing everything they can to
concentrate wealth and power in the donor class, and Democrats are more
or less opposed to this and more or less in favor of a more equitable
society (at least like the ones of the New Deal/Great Society era, but
with less racism). To the extent people understand the tax bill, it is
wildly unpopular, so it's something Democrats can and will run on. It
also goes a long ways toward absolving the Democrats' own culpability
for increasing inequality: that the Republicans would, strictly through
a party-line vote, do something this brazen when inequality is already
so severe (and so unpopular) -- and Trump's deregulation program and
blatant surrender of the people's government to business interests --
should expose them for all to see. Yglesias cites
Josh Barro: The Republican tax plan creates big long-term opportunities
for Democrats. By the way, one thing Barro argues that I don't for
a moment believe is: "a corporate tax cut should tend to cause wages to
rise a little bit, because a lower corporate tax rate makes the US a
more attractive location to employ people."
We're all in Kansas now: A reference to Gov. Sam Brownback's notorious
tax cuts, the enormous fiscal damage they caused, the slower degradation
of infrastructure and services, and their near-zero boost to the economy
(possibly sub-zero compared to nationwide economic growth during the same
period). The only real difference between what Brownback passed and what
the Senate just passed is that the US government is able to float much
more debt, and thereby soften the degradation. By the way, Brownback,
anticipating confirmation as Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious
Liberty, recently gave a "farewell address," not to the public but to
the Wichita Pachyderm Club, where the only advice he could offer to his
Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax
The tax bill's original sin: The idea that the corporate tax rate
must be reduced from 35% all the way to 20%, a much steeper cut than
anyone was even agitating for a few years ago (e.g., the Business
Roundtable was proposing 25% as recently as 2015). One thing I don't
understand is why no one is pushing a progressive tax on business
profits: maybe 10% for the first $1M, 15% for $1-10M, 20% for $10-50M,
25% for $50-250M, 30% for $250M-$1B, 35% for $1-5B, 40% above $5B.
Probably those rates should be a bit higher, and various loopholes
should be filled -- I'd like to see the overall reform on corporate
tax rates produce more (not less) revenue. But something like this
would benefit most companies while only penalizing companies that
use their sheer size and/or monopoly positions to reap huge profits.
And slowing them down would be good for everyone.
Matt Lauer totally blew it on Trump's blatant lying about Iraq and
The rules of "how Congress works" have changed: Points out that
the Senate tax bill faced concerted opposition from many special
interest lobby groups ("the National Association of Realtors, the
National Association of Homebuilders, the AARP, police unions,
hospital associations and the AMA, and the higher education lobby"),
as well as polling poorly among the public, yet Republicans stuck
to their partisan ideology and passed it anyway. That's not how
interest group politics has generally worked in Washington. Yglesias
doesn't say this, but it more generally fits the model of class
warfare. He does note that the Democrats could have crafted a more
viable ACA had they not catered to special interest groups, in the
vain hope that selling out to lobbyists would rally Republican
support for a bipartisan bill.
Had Democrats gone down a different path and pushed a bill with a
strong public option with payment rates linked to Medicare, we would
have seen a very different health policy trajectory over the past
Premiums would have been lower, which would have meant federal
subsidy outlays would have been lower, which would have made it
affordable for Congress to make the subsidies more generous.
Enrollment in ACA exchanges would have been higher; there would
have been no issue with "bare counties"; and, because of lower
premiums, the "just pay the fine" option would have been less
attractive, leading to more stable risk pools.
A deficit trigger can't fix the GOP tax plan
Crisis at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also on this, see
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Consumer Victory Officially Makes a Joke of Financial
New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than
The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed
Bush economy: "An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need."
A lot of meat here, but one could dig deeper. Foreign money will drive
up asset prices, which will be a windfall for business owners, but once
they sell out those businesses will no longer be rooted in the owners'
communities. Foreign ownership of American companies has been a mixed
blessing: some have gone easier on depressing labor costs, but most
wind up operating as American companies do -- as, indeed, whatever
they can get away with here -- and they're ultimately as likely to
export or automate jobs away as any other capitalists. As Yglesias
notes, much of the influx will eventually be converted into bidding
up real estate prices (he calls this "housing boom 2.0" but I'm more
skeptical that the subprime boom is repeatable, and unless average
Americans start making more money -- inconceivable under Republican
rule -- we're all stuck in the subprime market). His other point is
that the expected influx will strengthen the dollar, hurting exports
and manufacturing jobs, so while the rich get richer, the workers
If the GOP tax plan is so good, why do they lie so much about it?
Partly, I suspect, it's just force of habit, but they really don't
have anything potentially popular to offer -- they're just scamming
for the donor class, and they'll make the suckers pay for it.
New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist:
With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed
a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders' primary goal is to
enrich the country's elite at the expense of everybody else, including
future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of
this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes
it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar
bill into law in the coming days.
The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal
deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and
middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare,
Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for
the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million
people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes
a big change to the Affordable Care Act.
Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax
cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs,
saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.
Other links on the tax bill:
Steven Greenhouse: America is in crisis. The Republican tax plan will
make that worse.
Ezra Klein: "The hypocrisy is astounding": this tax bill shows the GOP's
debt concerns were pure fraud: Didn't we already know that from the
Bush years (Cheney: "deficits don't matter")? Or for that matter from
the Reagan tax cuts, when US debt exploded faster than any time since
WWII? Wasn't it clear that when McConnell railed about the debt and
tried to cut spending programs that would help rebuild the economy
that his real motive was to "make Obama a one-term president"? Klein
isn't satisfied to call this hypocrisy; he chalks it up to nihilism,
The nihilism extends to process too. Republicans complained bitterly
during the Obama administration that Democrats weren't holding enough
hearings, that they weren't leaving sufficient time to read final bill
text, that they were passing important legislation on party-line votes,
that they were using the budget reconciliation process improperly. Now
they are passing sweeping tax reform through the budget reconciliation
process with no hearings, no effort at bipartisan compromise, and bill
text that was not made public until hours before the final vote. In a
darkly comic twist, changes were handwritten into the legislation in
the final hours:
Sarah Kliff: The tax bill is the start of Obamacare collapse: It
repeals the "individual mandate," which requires individuals to buy
some form of acceptably adequate health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The mandate helps to make risk pools more equitably representative of
the general population, but it also reduce the uninsured population,
some of which wind up being treated at the expense of everyone else.
Without the mandate, insurance policy rates will rise to cover the
increased risk of adverse selection, and hospital charges will rise
to cover emergency treatment of the uninsured (some 41 million people
by current estimates).
Robert S McElvaine: I'm a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight
out of 1929.
Ella Nilsen: "Lots of outrageous things in the bill aren't getting the kind
of attention they ought to"
Dylan Scott/Alvin Chang: The Republican tax bill will exacerbate income
inequality in America: Of course, you know this, but here are more
charts. Most striking, perhaps because least commonly understood, are
the figures for "pass-through income" -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI, or do
I mean Koch?) withheld his vote until the bill cut this even more. The
chart that shows how 69% of all "pass-through income" goes to the top
1% explains why. The main thing that's missing here is the effect of
ending the estate tax on the concentration of wealth into an aristocracy
of heirs. One can also note that the political right has largely been
funded not by entrepreneurs but by heirs -- Richard Mellon Scaife is
a prime example, although you can also count the Kochs and Trump.
Emily Stewart: GOP Senator says it's hard to fund $14 billion children's
health care program -- then advocates for $1 trillion tax cut: after
which it will be even harder, no doubt. Republicans can always think of
excuses for not doing what they don't want to do; even more so, they can
always come up with idiotic rationales to do what they always want to do,
which is mostly to make rich people even richer.
Matt Taibbi: New Tax Plan Contains Even More Bad News for Student
Gordon G Chang: Is Donald Trump Getting Ready to Attack North Korea?
One theory floated here is that the US could disable North Korea by
bombing the pipeline that delivers oil from China and/or their one oil
refinery. Or, better still, the US could intimidate China into shutting
down the pipeline. I don't see how North Korea's leadership does not
take the former as an opening salvo in a war, one that forces them to
retaliate. As for China, they probably understand that keeping their
oil lifeline open is necessary to keeping the peace. And there are real
limits to how much the US can push China around without hurting American
investments in China (or much worse). At some point Trump's people need
to decide whether North Korea having a deterrent against an American
attack that no one in the US military wants to launch is really such
a big problem. At present it mostly seems to be an affront to the egos
of those who still believe the neocon sole-superpower promise of world
domination. Sadly, most of the writers in this "War in Asia?" issue of
The National Interest seem to buy into such delusions.
Thomas B Edsall: The Self-Destruction of American Democracy: After
raising the question of whether Putin backed Trump out of pure malice
for the American people, and quoting Henry Aaron (Brookings senior
fellow, presumably not the Hall of Famer) that "Trump is a political
weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy -- for its norms,
for its morality, for sheer human decency," he has to admit that "we
Americans created this mess." Then he starts worrying about America's
declining influence and esteem in the world, offering a chart showing
only two (of 37) other countries with higher approval numbers for Trump
than for Obama: Israel (up to 56 from 49) and Russia (way up to 53 from
11). I think the biggest drop was in Sweden (93 to 10), followed by
Germany (86 to 11), Netherlands (92 to 17, South Korea (88 to 17),
and France (84 to 14). Britain and Canada dropped down to 23, from
79 and 83 respectively. Still, loss of approval hasn't yet done much
damage to the empire (although Egypt's decision to allow Russian air
bases is perhaps a harbinger). But this is more to the point:
Add to Trump's list of lies his race baiting, his attacks on a free
press, his charges of "fake news," his efforts to instigate new levels
of voter suppression, his undermining of the legitimacy of the electoral
process, his disregard for the independence of the judiciary, the hypocrisy
of his personal posture on sexual harassment, the patent lack of concern
for delivering results to voters who supported him, his contempt for and
manipulation of his own loyalists, his "failure of character" -- and you
have a lethal corruption of democratic leadership. . . .
At the moment, Trump's co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans,
have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays
in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage
on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt
to confront him.
Edsall's error is that he doesn't recognize that those Congressional
Republicans are every bit as contemptuous of democracy as Trump. Indeed,
he gives Trump too much credit, and Charles Koch and Paul Ryan not nearly
Jill Filipovic: The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election: I'm not so
sure about the headline, but is there something more than coincidence
going on here?
Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment
were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary
Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump in an official "commander-in-chief forum" for NBC. He notoriously
peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending
questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr.
Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark
Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse
on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing
over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a
tone similar to Mr. Lauer's with Mrs. Clinton -- talking down to her,
interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a
harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt,
while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush,
currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment
allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday
and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.
A pervasive theme of all of these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton was
that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations
suggest that perhaps the problem wasn't that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful
or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold
deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent
sex-object status. . . .
It's hard to look at these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see
glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in
a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the
women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of
it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue
to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best,
deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That's exactly how some
commentary and news coverage treated Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, it's possible that an individual's hostility to Hillary
has more to do with her being a Clinton than a woman. There's no doubt
that many in the media treated her unfairly. Still, I'm more struck by
how gingerly they treated dozens of more damning scandals, especially
Trump's own sexual abuse history. Filipovic also wrote:
Matt Lauer is gone. He's left heartbreak in his wake.
Susan Hennessey et al: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.
One recalls that from early on Flynn was offering testimony for immunity.
One thing the guilty plea suggests is he does indeed have something to
further Mueller's investigation as it closes in on Trump's inner circle.
Also note that while investigations into foreign interference in American
elections has always focused on Russia, the incident Flynn pleaded guilty
to involved lobbying Russia for Israel: see
Philip Weiss: Flynn's plea on Russia influence reveals . . . Israel's
Richard Silverstein: Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying About Trump Sabotage
of Security Council Resolution Against Israeli Settlements. Trump's
reaction, of course, was to turn up the crazy:
Dana Milbank: Get ready for Trump's fireworks:
I tried to ignore the Trump shenanigans this week, instead writing about
the drug industry executive Trump tapped to oversee drug pricing and about
the administration lawyer who orchestrated Trump's takeover of the CFPB
after serving as lawyer for a payday lender cited by the CFPB for abuses.
But such pieces generate only a fraction of the clicks of pieces I and
others write about Trump's pyrotechnics.
Those pyrotechnics are going to increase now that Mueller has turned
Flynn. Trump's distractions will be impossible to ignore. But we --
lawmakers, the media and the public -- need to keep our focus on the
real damage Trump is doing.
Shira A Scheindlin: Trump's new team of judges will radically change
Paul Woodward: Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case?
Steinle was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant, Garcia
Zarate, who was acquitted of murder charges last week. Zarate had
been deported five times, which "made him a very effective villain
for Trump's border security campaign messages." The shooting was
clearly an accident, and it's pretty unlikely the case would ever
have been prosecuted had Zarate been a card-carrying NRA member.
But Trump (aka "the xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval
Office") went ballistic over the verdict.