Sunday, September 18, 2016
Mostly writing this today because I have various tabs opened to
possibly interesting articles, and it's only a matter of time before
my antiquated browser crashes. Better, I think, to note them briefly
than to lose them forever.
I wrote some on the campaign horserace a couple days ago (see
Looks Like She Blew It), and nothing much has changed on that
front -- TPM still has Trump ahead by 0.1%, but 538 shows Clinton
with slightly better chance of winning (61.3%, up from 60.0%). So
she may still pull this out, but if she does she'll still wind up
with the lowest share of popular vote since 1992, when someone else
named Clinton won.
Some scattered links this week:
David Dayen: How Democrats Can Overcome Their Self-Defeating Cynicism:
By "pushing actual policies"? Dayen proposes adding a "public option" to
Obamacare as a good place to start. That's actually fairly non-controversial,
at least with mainstream Democrats. It was part of the original ACA, and
was dropped mostly because the bill couldn't be passed without 60 votes in
the Senate, and a couple of them were willing to wreck the whole thing to
spare private insurance companies from competition. He notes that Sen. Jeff
Merkley (Oregon) has a resolution backed by 27 other senators, and that
Obama and Clinton favor it. As for "cynicism" the more apposite term Dayen
uses is "defensive crouch" (although if you want an example of cynicism,
there's the attempt to bundle gun control on top of the rather arbitrary,
putatively anti-terror, "no fly list").
In their defensive crouch, Democrats have forgotten to explain why they
consider it important that "no family have the American dream ripped out
from under them because they can't afford medical care," as Merkley said
on the call. They forget to explain why health care ought to be a right
for every American, not a privilege only available to those who can buy
it at a high price.
This was actually the logic of the Sanders campaign, and a reason for
its unlikely success. Contrary to the political science pros, it was his
ideas, and more to the point his willingness to say them, that animated
his candidacy. It also pushed Clinton to outline a bolder agenda than she
might have been comfortable with in Sanders's absence. When the Democratic
primary pitted ideas against one another, rather than amplifying criticisms,
it let Americans know what Democrats stand for.
The bloodless technocracy that has ruled the Democratic Party has
forgotten how to inspire the body politic. After riding a wave of
enthusiasm to power in 2008, the last couple midterms and even Obama's
2012 campaign were nervy exercises in protecting the tentative gains
Democrats had made -- and seemed half-embarrassed by. Democrats too
often define themselves by who they oppose rather than their own
principles. Not only is this self-defeating for a party that promises
activist government, it makes governing itself harder down the road.
Of course, it's not just the emergence of a bit of political backbone
that's bringing the public option back into play. It's also that the
insurance companies have been conspiring to prevent the competition
that the ACA promised from eating into their profits -- most egregiously
by trying to merge the four largest private health insurers into two
companies (the first mergers I'm aware of the Obama administration
actually opposing). Even short of that they're cutting back on plan
availability, so many Americans will have no choices.
Eric Lichtblau: Hate Crimes Against American Muslims Most Since Post-9/11
Era: "up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived
as Arab rose even more sharply. . . . That was the most since the record
481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11
attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners,
Mr. Levin said. The huge increase last year was also the biggest annual
rise since 2001, he said." It's tempting to blame this on Trump, whose
anti-Muslim positions are based on and seem to legitimize more blatant
threats: "A number of experts in hate crimes said they were concerned
that Mr. Trump's vitriol may have legitimized threatening or even violent
conduct by a small fringe of his supporters. In a few cases, people accused
of hate crimes against Muslims and others have even cited Mr. Trump." On
the other hand, it's impossible to go to war against a people for fifteen
years and not engender hatred -- something Bush and Obama have worked hard
to cap because it so subverts their war aims, although Obama had a big
disadvantage in that those most inclined to hate Muslims started off by
Derek Thompson: America's Monopoly Problem: As I noted above, the
Obama administration has done a remarkably poor record of maintaining
competitiveness within supposedly free markets, scarcely even bothering
to use the rather antiquated antitrust laws that are still on the books.
Those laws, dating to the 1880s, targeted absolute monopolies where a
single company sought to gain complete control of a market. While such
combines are still a threat, the bigger problem now is what we might
call consensual monopoly blocks, where two or three large companies
effectively divvy up a market, crowding out competitors and focusing
more on growing their profit margins than cutting into one another's
market share. The net effect looks like this:
In the past few decades, however, the economy has come to resemble
something more like a stagnant pool. Entrepreneurship, as measured by
the rate of new-business formation, has declined in each decade since
the 1970s, and adults under 35 (a/k/a Millennials) are on track to be
the least entrepreneurial generation on record.
This decline in dynamism has coincided with the rise of extraordinarily
large and profitable firms that look discomfortingly like the monopolies
and oligopolies of the 19th century. American strip malls and yellow
pages used to brim with new small businesses. But today, in a lot where
several mom-and-pop shops might once have opened, Walmart spawns another
superstore. In almost every sector of the economy -- including manufacturing,
construction, retail, and the entire service sector -- the big companies
are getting bigger. The share of all businesses that are new firms,
meanwhile, has fallen by 50 percent since 1978. According to the Roosevelt
Institute, a liberal think tank dedicated to advancing the ideals of
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, "markets are now more concentrated and
less competitive than at any point since the Gilded Age."
Even where there are entrepreneurs, as in high-tech, their typical
business plans focus on building companies to the point where they
be sold profitably to larger companies. For instance, have any of the
biotech startups that were spun up in the 1990s not been sold off to
pharmaceutical giants? Much of this is driven by financial firms, who
can overpay for a startup knowing that it's worth more as part of a
monopolistic conglommerate. Joseph Stiglitz cites monopoly rents as
a major source of increasing inequality, and this is what he means.
A big part of the reason inequality is spiraling out of control is
that government, influenced (as you well know) by those profiting from
monopoly rents, has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that markets
are free, open, transparent, and therefore efficient. It is impossible
to overstate the importance of this issue, so this piece is one you
need to read.
Maggie Koerth-Baker: How the Oil and Gas Industry Awakened Oklahoma's
Sleeping Fault Lines: The first recorded earthquake in Oklahoma
occurred in 1882, before the first oil well was drilled in 1897. This
piece has a map of the known fault lines crossing Oklahoma, and they
are numerous, especially in the southeast corner of the state, home
of what's left of the Ouchita Mountains (high point 2681 feet above
sea level). Still, earthquakes remained rare until less than a decade
ago, rising to more than 900 earthquakes (3.0 or stronger) in 2014 --
the most of any state in the nation. As another map shows, those
earthquakes are located not where most of the faults are, but rather
in the north-central part of the state: relatively flat prairie west
of the Arkansas River, bisected by the Canadian River. This has been
oil country since way before I was born -- indeed, the main tourist
attractions in Ponca City are tours of the mansions of pioneering oil
barons. The yields of those oil wells have long been declining -- a
chart here shows that Oklahoma pumps up five barrels of wastewater
for every barrel of oil (or equivalent natural gas, at this point 80%
of Oklahoma's hydrocarbon production). That would have been uneconomical
back when oil was cheap, but the high prices of the Bush years urged
marginal producers to invest in injection wells -- there are now more
than 4000 across the state -- as they seek to slurp up the last of
their remaining oil. (By contrast, the water/fuel ratio in the newer
fields of North Dakota is currently running just slightly above 1/1.)
The injected wastewater, along with techniques like fracking, may help
increase oil production, but it also lubricates often unseen faults,
which then slip to produce earthquakes. The largest to date, a 5.8
centered between Pawnee and Ponca City, was felt as far away as Omaha
and Austin. Here in Wichita, about 110 miles away, it woke us up as
the house shook for nearly a minute. I've been following this story
since it started to break -- oil geology is one of those subjects I
read for pleasure -- and this is one of the better pieces on it. So
now, in addition to anthropogenic climate change, the oil industry
has brought us anthropogenic earthquakes. You'd think they'd be the
least bit embarrassed, but even before they proved to be so ingenious
at creating "natural" disasters, their sudden riches spawned many of
America's most reactionary political entrepreneurs, from H.L. Hunt
to the Kochs to Dick Cheney. The biggest mistake this country ever
made was letting individuals own the nation's mineral resources.
Miscellaneous election links:
Charles V Bagli: A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million
in Tax Breaks: How to get ahead by starting there. Of course, Trump isn't
the only businessman who taken advantage of "what he calls the pay-to-play
culture of politics and a 'rigged' system of government." Pretty much everyone
does it, a relationship so symbiotic neither side dares question it even
though practically everyone else thinks it stinks to high hell. Long
article with lots of details, mostly on New York real estate.
John Cassidy: Does Donald Trump Pay Any Income Taxes at All? Well,
if he doesn't, that would be one reason he might have for withholding
his tax returns. Cassidy quotes
James Stewart: "No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J.
Trump has paid far less -- perhaps even zero federal income tax in
some years. Indeed, that's the expectation of numerous real estate
and tax professionals I've interviewed in recent weeks." That just
reflects the numerous loopholes that benefit real estate developers,
just part of a crooked system. Also quotes David Cay Johnston, who
"pointed out that Trump paid no income tax in 1978, 1979, 1992, and
1994" and "several times received a type of tax rebate that is
restricted to property owners who report taxable income of less
than half a million dollars."
Also by Cassidy:
Birtherism, Bombs, and Donald Trump's Weekend.
Russel Berman: Hillary Clinton Has a Lot of Money: She raised
$143 million in August, and seems to have been more concerned with
raking in contributions than with winning over voters. The good
news there is that $81 million goes to the DNC and state parties.
How successful she is as president depends on how successful the
Democratic Party is in state and local elections, especially for
Congress -- a point that neither her husband nor Obama learned as
president. Still, she lost ground in the polls while catering to
wealthy donors. We'll see if she can use their money to turn the
Amy Davidson: Clinton's Sick Days: At least she got some help to
make up for her down time -- from Obama, his wife, Biden, her husband.
Still, Davidson's best line was parenthetical: "(Why, at this stage,
her schedule includes so many travel-intensive fund-raisers, when
she is suffering from a shortage not of funds but of voter rapport,
is one of many side questions that her illness raised.)"
David A Graham: Just Why Does Hillary Clinton Want to Be President?
First thought on seeing this is that it reminded me of the unhealthy
obsession the press in 2000 had with Gore's supposed obsession with
running for president, suggesting that if he failed he might as well
kill himself because his whole life would have been wasted. In point
of fact, after he lost he got a job as a venture capitalist, he got
rid of his wife, he wrote a book that wasn't about himself, he made
a movie about global warming, he won an Oscar for the movie, he won
a Nobel Prize. If he was so obsessed with becoming president, why
did he never run again? He's 68 now, but he's still a few months
younger than Hillary Clinton. So I don't have much interest in
psychological speculation about "what makes Hillary run?" -- I
would, however, find a credible explanation for Trump interesting.
Or maybe just amusing.
Clare Foran: The Curse of Hillary Clinton's Ambition. Foran
catches a lot of flying innuendo in her net, and seems willing to
give credence to all of it. She quotes one "man" as saying, "This
has been her entire life's work, it seems like, has been building
up to this moment, so she doesn't have any shots left." Just like
Gore in 2000, except she's even more of a crone. Foran adds, "But
some voters also seem to distrust Clinton because they believe
she wants to win at any cost." This is a journalist? She wouldn't
have to search very hard to find Trump supporters who see that
very same trait in their man and admire him for it.
Harry Enten: Why Clinton's Electoral Map Isn't as Good as Obama's:
Had Obama and Romney received the same number of votes (basically, by
moving 3.9% from D to R in every state), Obama would still have been
elected president by the electoral college. The map this year looks to
me to be much the same, but Enten argues that it has shifted in such a
way that Trump has "a better shot of winning the Electoral College while
losing the popular vote (at 6.1 percent) than Clinton (1.5 percent)."
Of course, there's a chart, showing that 11 of 14 battleground states
have "moved right relative to the country" --Iowa and Nevada enough
to switch sides. Part of this is that Clinton is leading Obama in
some states she'll still lose (Enten mentions Oklahoma, Utah, and
Wyoming). But I also suspect part of this is that they're comparing
Clinton's current polls to Obama's actual votes, so they haven't yet
factored in the intense battleground state "ground game."
Todd S Purdum: What's Really Ailing Hillary: "A long time ago,
Clinton was far more transparent, emotional and open than she is
today. Then the media began slamming her -- and didn't stop."
Matt Taibbi: Stop Whining About 'False Balance': Mostly this is
a rant about the overwhelming banality (not to mention stupidity)
of the mass media, arguing that those are worse problems than bias
which knowledgeable people can see through anyway. Also points out:
The irony is, the Clinton Foundation thing is a rare example of an
important story that is getting anything like the requisite attention.
The nexus of elite connections that sits behind tales like Bill Clinton
taking $1.5 million in speaking fees from a Swiss bank (and foundation
donor) while that same bank is seeking relief from Hillary Clinton's
State Department is exactly the kind of thing that requires the scrutiny
Yeah, sort of, but those reporters are often so wrapped up in their
preconceived notions they wind up shilling for campaign narratives
that don't clarify anything.
Brian Mittendorf: Clinton charities 101: What do they actual do and
where does their money go? Fair amount of detail here on the
structure and organization of Clinton's various foundations/charities.
Much less on the direct involvement of the Clintons: they put some
money in at one end, but that's dwarfed by money raised from others;
they put their name out, which is both used for raising money and
for whatever "good works" the Foundation ultimately does. Clearly,
they must benefit somehow, if only in good will. The benefits to
other donors are unclear, which is perhaps inevitable, and certainly
open to suspicion. I've never been a fan of foundations, which even
at best seem like arbitrary penance for lives of avarice and shoddy
providers of social goods, but given the inequities of the present
I also doubt that any of this would be suspect but for Hillary
running for president, once again making her the target of people
much more greedy and careless than herself.
Heather Digby Parton: The general of gossip: Colin Powell's leaked
emails depict a juvenile busybody rather than an elder statesman:
how devious of him to talk Hillary into using that private email
Colin Powell has a long history of being in the middle of scandals and
wriggling out of any responsibility for them. From his involvement in
the My Lai massacre, to Iran Contra, to personally blocking President
Bill Clinton's promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military,
to his infamous testimony before the UN that led to the Iraq war,
Powell's fingerprints are on the wrong side of history and the truth
time and again and he's always got some excuse as to why it wasn't
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
'Hunting of Hillary' Author on Clinton Conspiracies and Conservative
Attacks: Interview with Joe Conason, who has a new book on what
Bill Clinton's been up to since leaving the White House: Man of
the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, following up
on his 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year
Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. He's a reliable
fan, eager to point out all the good the Clintons have done, as
well as how shabbily they've been treated by that vast right-wing
Patrick Cockburn: The US and Russia Have Less Influence in Syria Than
They Think: True, no doubt, as it's often the case that in what
you think of as a proxy war the tail winds up wagging the dog. Russia
can bring Assad a cease fire but getting his forces to stick with it
has never been easy. And the US doesn't even have the luxury of backing
a significant force on the ground. Rather, they have multiple enemies,
making it possible to inadvertently help one at the expense of the
other. Cockburn offers a good example here: the US misidentified a
target as ISIS and bombed it, killing at least 62 Syrian soldiers,
after which ISIS was able to capture the territory the US had cleared
Atul Gawande: Overkill: On how "an avalanche of unnecessary medical
care is harming patients physically and financially." This is an old
story, something whole books have been written on -- Shannon Brownlee's
2007 book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and
Poorer is probably the classic -- but the author adds his usual insights
and nostrums. He could be more explicit that the core cause is the focus
on profits that turns it all into such a tug of war.
Greg Grandin: The Free-Marketeers Take Over in Brazil -- and the US
The Obama administration was less confrontational than its predecessor,
but no less ideological in its preference for Latin America's
free-marketeers. . . . But with a new round of economic
shock therapy being applied in Latin America, Washington is preparing
for the inevitable "social explosions" the way it does best: According
to the Washington Office on Latin America, the Pentagon has, since 2007,
tripled its special-ops training in the region.
Fred Kaplan: China Won't Stop Kim Jong-un. The US Must Stand Up to
Both of Them: "Sanctions won't work. We can't destroy his nukes.
We can rattle a few sabers, however." Really, very disappointing
piece. We should remind Kim that if the North invades the South,
even having some sort of "nuclear umbrella," we'll come to South
Korea's defense and annihilate North Korea. Really? You think he
somehow doesn't understand that already? You think rattling sabers
will make him less touchy? Less defensive? Less desperate? What
should happen is that the US needs to focus less on muscling North
Korea around and more on figuring out a sane posture which would
allow both Koreas and the US to coexist without threats. Once the
US is willing to live with North Korea -- to formally end the 1950
war, to normalize relations, to open trade, to proportionately
dial back military readiness -- we can worry about getting China,
Japan, the South, and everyone else to buy in.
Mike Konczal: These Policies Could Move America Toward a Universal
Basic Income: Three "simple policies": children's allowance,
$12-an-hour minimum wage, 12 weeks' paid medical leave and 2 weeks'
paid annual leave.
Peter Van Buren: Class of 2017 -- So Sorry!: Subtitle: "Apologizing
to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War."
Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater
chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn't work that way. There's
no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or "if you see something, say
something" signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no
need to apologize for lightning.
But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was
that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most
frightened country on Earth.
Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more
vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 -- the
highest percentage ever.
But there is one difference between terrorism and lightning, which
is that much terrorism can be prevented by eliminating the motivations.
Both before and after 9/11 the US became a target by targeting the
Middle East with injustice and violence.
I read the introduction to Ira Katznelson's big book on the 1930s,
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, where he
makes the point that FDR's famous line "we have nothing to fear but
fear itself" was aimed to preserve democracy, which at the time was
under attack from fearmongers who insisted we needed a strongman to
run the country, Il Duce in Italy and Der Führer in Germany. Fear
continues to be a potent cloak for the right. For example, see
Daniel Politi: Trump Tells Crowd "Bomb" Went Off in New York, Proceeds
to Brag About Polls. Trump quote: "We better get very tough, folks.
We better get very, very tough."