Monday, May 8, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I originally planned on writing a little introduction here, on how bummed I've become, partly because I'm taking the House passage of Zombie Trumpcare hard -- my wife likes to badmouth the ACA but it afforded me insurance for two years between when she retired and I became eligible for Medicare, and it's done good for millions of other people, reversing some horrible (but evidently now forgotten) trends -- and partly because the 100 days was just a dry run for still worse things to come. But I wound up writing some of what I wanted to say in the Savan comment below.

One thing that's striking about the Trumpcare reactions is how morally outraged the commentators are ("one of the cruelest things," "war on sick people," "moral depravity," "sociopathic," "hate poor and sick people," "homicidal healthcare bill"). If you want more details, follow the Yglesias links: he does a good job of explaining how the bill works. It's also noteworthy how hollow and facetious pretty much everything the bill's supporters say in defense of it is. I've offered a few examples, but could easily round up more. I've added a link on Democrats-still-against-single-player (a group which includes Nancy Pelosi and Jon Ossoff, names mentioned below). Let me try to be more succinct here: single-payer is the political position we want to stake out, because it's both fairly optimal and simple and intuitive. If you can't get that, fine, compromise with something like ACA plus a "public option" -- an honest public option will eventually wind up eating the private insurance companies and get you to single-payer. But you don't lead with a hack compromise that won't get you what you want or even work very well, because then you'll wind up compromising for something even worse. We should remember that Obama thought he had a slam dunk with ACA: he lined up all of the business groups behind his plan, and figured they'd bring the Republicans along because, you know, if Republicans are anything they're toadies for business interests. It didn't work because the only thing Republicans like more than money is power. (They're so into power they were willing to tank the economy for 4 or 8 years just to make Obama look bad. They're so into power they held ranks behind Trump even though most of the elites, at least, realized he was a hopeless buffoon.)

On the other hand, the shoe is clearly on the other foot now: it's the Republicans who are fucking with your health care, and they're doing things that will shrink insurance rolls by millions, that will raise prices and weaken coverage, that will promote fraud and leave ever more people bankrupt. Those are things that will get under the skin of voters, and Republicans have no answer, let alone story. The other big issue noted below is the environment. The EPA is moving fast and hard on policies that will severely hurt people and that will prove to be very unpopular -- maybe not overnight, but we'll start seeing big stories by the 2018 elections, even more by 2020, and air and water pollution is not something that only happens to "other people."

I didn't include anything on how these changes have already affected projections for 2018 elections, because at this point that would be sheer speculation. To my mind, the biggest uncertainty there isn't how much damage the Republicans will do (or how manifest it will be) but whether Democrats will develop into a coherent alternative. That's still up for grabs, but I'll see hope in anything that helps bury the generation of party leaders who were so complicit in the destruction of the middle class and in the advance of finance capital. To that end, Obama's $400,000 Wall Street speech clearly aligns him with the problems and not with the solutions.

[PS: This section on the French election was written on Saturday, before the results came in. With 98% reporting, Emmanuel Macron won, 65.8% to 34.2% for Marine Le Pen. TPM's post-election piece included a line about how the election "dashed [Le Pen's] hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House would also carry her to France's presidential Elysee Palace." I don't see how anyone can describe Trump's election as a "populist wave" given that the candidate wasn't a populist in any sense of the word -- not that Le Pen is either. Both are simple right-wingers, who advance incoherent and mean-spirited programs by couching them in traditional bigotries. While it's probable that the center in France is well to the left of the center in the US, a more important difference is that Trump could build his candidacy on top of the still-respected (at least by the mainstream media) Republican Party whereas Le Pen's roots trace back to the still-discredited Vichy regime. But it also must have helped that Macron had no real history, especially compared to the familiar and widely-despised Hillary Clinton. (Just saw a tweet with a quote from Macron: "The election was rly not that hard I mean . . . how despised do you have to be to get beaten by a fascist am I right?" The tweet paired the quote with a picture of Hillary.)

[More reaction later, but for now I have to single out Anne Applebaum: Emmanuel Macron's extraordinary political achievement, especially for one line I'm glad I never considered writing: "Not since Napoleon has anybody leapt to the top of French public life with such speed." She goes on to explain: "Not since World War II has anybody won the French presidency without a political party and a parliamentary base. Aside from some belated endorsements, he had little real support from the French establishment, few of whose members rated the chances of a man from an unfashionable town when he launched his candidacy last year." She makes him sound like Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the president in the TV series Designated Survivor -- which despite much centrist corniness is a pleasing escape from our actual president.]

France goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The "outsider" centrist Emmanuel Macron is favored over neo-fascist Marine Le Pen -- the latter frequently described as "populist" in part because Macron, a banker and current finance minister, is as firmly lodged in France's elites as Michael Bloomberg is here. The polls favor Macron by a landslide, less due to the popularity of the status quo than to the odiousness of Le Pen. One interesting sidelight is how foreigners have weighed in on the election -- one wonders whether the French are as touchy as Americans about outside interference. For instance, Barack Obama endorsed Macron -- Yasmeen Serhan: Obama's Endorsement of Macron -- as did, perhaps more importantly, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis -- Daniel Marans: Top European Economist Makes the Left-Wing Case for Emmanuel Macron, or in Varoufakis' own words, The Left Must Vote for Macron. On the other hand, Le Pen's foreign supporters include Donald Trump -- Aidan Quigley: Trump expresses support for French candidate Le Pen -- and Vladimir Putin -- Anna Nemtsova/Christopher Dickey: Russia's Putin Picks Le Pen to Rule France. And while Putin tells Le Pen Russia has no plans to meddle in French election, on the eve of the election the Macron campaign was rocked by a hacked email scandal: see, James McAuley: France starts probing 'massive' hack of emails and documents reported by Macron campaign, and more pointedly, Mark Scott: US Far-Right Activists Promote Hacking Attack Against Macron. [PS: For a debunking of the "leaks," see Robert Mackey: There Are No "Macron Leaks" in France. Politically Motivated Hacking Is Not Whistleblowing. Evidently a good deal of this isn't even hacking -- just forgery meant to disinform.]

One likely reason for Putin to support Le Pen is the latter's promise to withdraw France from NATO. The interest of Trump and US far-right activists is harder to fathom -- after all, even fellow fascists have conflicting nationalist agendas, and nationalist bigots ultimately hate each other too much to develop any real solidarity, even where they share many prejudices. For instance, why should Trump applaud Brexit and further damage to European unity? Surely it can't be because he gives one whit about anyone in Europe.

John Nichols argues that Obama's endorsement of Macron Is an Effort to Stop the Spread of Trumpism, but while right-wing nationalist movements have been gaining ground around much of the world, it's hard to see anything coherent enough to be called Trumpism, much less a wave that has to be stopped anywhere but here. Obama may have good reasons for publicizing his endorsement, and may even have enough of a following in France to make his endorsement worth something, but given his recent buckraking it could just as well be meant to solidify his position among the Davos set. Besides, I haven't forgotten his proclamation that "Assad must go" -- his assumption of America's right to dictate the political choices of others, which had the effect of tying America's diplomatic hands and prolonging Syria's civil war. At this stage I'm not sure I even want to hear his position on any American political contest -- least of all one having to do with leadership of the major political party he and the Clintons ran into the ground.

Big news this week is that the Republicans passed their "health care reform" bill -- most recently dubbed "Zombie Trumpcare 3.0" -- in the House. They had failed a while back because they couldn't get enough votes from the so-called Freedom Caucus, but solved that problem by making the bill even worse than it was. Some links:

Some scattered links this week directly tied to Trump:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • David Atkins: The Argument Over Why Clinton Lost Is Over. Bernie Was Right. Now What?

    It has been a long, knock-down drag-out battle, but the ugly intramural conflict over why Clinton lost to Trump is finally over. New polls and focus groups conducted by Clinton's own SuperPAC Priorities USA shows that while racism and sexism had some effect, the main driver of Trump's victory was economic anxiety, after all. The data showed that voters who switched from Obama to Trump had seen their standards of living decline and felt that the Democratic Party had become the party of the wealthy and unconcerned about their plight. . . .

    fThose who try to win elections for a living also aren't looking forward to fighting the full power of the financial and pharmaceutical interests in addition to the regular armada of right-wing corporate groups. It would be much easier for electoral strategists if Democrats could unlock a majoritarian liberal bloc with a "rising tide lifts all boats" ideology that doesn't greatly inconvenience the urban donor class. Consultants aren't exactly looking forward to trying to win elections against interest groups angered by arguing for renegotiating NAFTA, punishing corporations for sending jobs overseas, raising the capital gains tax rate, and cutting health insurance companies out of the broad American marketplace. But that's exactly what they're going to have to do if want to win not only the presidency, but the congressional seats and legislatures dominated by increasingly angry suburban and rural voters. Not to mention angry young millennials of all identities who have essentially been locked out of the modern economy by low wages combined with outrageous cost of living, especially in the housing market that has uncoincidentally been such a major investment boon for their lucky parents, grandparents, and the financial industry.

  • Patrick Cockburn: Fall of Raqqa and Mosul Will Not Spell the End for Isis: One should recall, first of all, that Raqqa and Mosul weren't conquered by Isis so much as abandoned by hostile but ineffective central governments in Damascus and Baghdad. Before, pre-Isis was just another salafist guerrilla movement, as it will remain once its pretensions to statehood have been removed. And the Iraqi government is no more likely to be respected and effective in Mosul than it was before. (I have no idea about what happens to Raqqa if Isis falls there -- presumably not Assad, at least not right away.)

  • Richard Eskow: Who's Behind the Billionaire PAC Targeting Elizabeth Warren? Well, not just Warren. They're looking to muddy the waters for any Democratic candidate conceivable in 2020. The group is America Rising:

    America Rising was formed in 2013 by Matt Rhoades, the director of Mitt Romney's failed 2012 presidential campaign, and it represents the worst of what our current political system offers. Its goal is not to debate the issues or offer solutions to the nation's problems. Instead, the PAC gets cash from big-money donors and spends it trying to tear down its political opponents.

    The Republican National Committee's "autopsy" of its 2012 presidential loss reportedly concluded that the party needed an organization that would "do nothing but post inappropriate Democratic utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats."

  • Mehdi Hasan: Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason -- They Remember the Korean War. Bigger problem: they don't remember it ending, because for them it never really did: they're still stuck with the sanctions, the isolation, the mobilization and felt need for constant vigilance. One might argue that the regime has used these strictures to solidify its own rule -- that in some sense they're more satisfied with a continuing state of crisis than anything we'd consider normalcy, but we've never really given them that option. America's failure to win the Korean War was an embarrassment, and no one since then has had the political courage to admit failure and move on. Hence, we're stuck in this cycle of periodic crises.

    In Terror Is in the Eye of the Beholder, John Dower wrote a bit about Korea, after noting how the US dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs in Europe and 656,400 tons in the Pacific:

    The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953) records that U.S.-led United Nations air forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy. In his 1965 memoir Mission with LeMay, General Curtis LeMay, who directed the strategic bombing of both Japan and Korea, offered this observation: "We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both . . . We killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue."

    Other sources place the estimated number of civilian Korean War dead as high as three million, or possibly even more. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war who later served as secretary of state, recalled that the United States bombed "everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another."

    Americans killed in the Korean War totaled 33,739, a little more than 1% of the number of Koreans killed, so sure, we remember the war a bit less ominously. Dower's new book is The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two.

  • Michael Howard: Let's Call Western Media Coverage of Syria by its Real Name: Propaganda: Starts off with two paragraphs on Ukraine -- same story. The bottom line is that all parties work hard to control how news is reported, and the country is too dangerous for journalists not aligned with some special interest to search out or verify stories. Howard also cites Stephen Kinzer: The media are misleading the public on Syria, who explains:

    Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus. Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of "rebels" or "moderates," not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a "rat line" for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey's good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it -- and because that is the official line in Washington.

  • Mark Karlin: Government Has Allowed Corporations to Be More Powerful Than the State: An interview with Antony Loewenstein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, so it focuses on corporations profiting from disasters around the world. That's interesting and revealing, but I would have taken the title in a different direction. What I've found is that we've allowed corporations so much control over their workers that a great many people are effectively living under totalitarian rule, at least until they quit their jobs (and in some cases beyond -- I, for instance, was forced to sign a no-compete agreement that extended for years beyond my employment). And that sort of thing has only gotten worse since I retired.

  • Jonathan Ohr: 100 senators throw their bodies down to end UN 'bias' against Israel: including Bernie Sanders, although his line about not writing the letter (just signing on) was kind of funny.

  • Nate Silver: The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton the Election: FBI czar James Comey spent a couple days last week testifying before Congress on his strategic decision to announce, on October 28 before the November 8 election, that the FBI was investigating a fresh batch of Hillary Clinton's emails, reopening a case that had been closed several months before. As Silver notes, "the Comey letter almost immediately sank Clinton's polls," starting a spiral that cost her a polling lead she had held all year long. There are, of course, lots of factors which contributed to her loss, but this is one of the few that can be singled out, precisely because the "what if" alternative was itself so clear cut -- Comey could simply have held back (which would have been standard FBI policy) and nothing would have happened. Many people have made this same point, not least the candidate herself, but Silver backs it up with impressive data and reasoning. He recognizes that the swing was small, and shows how even a small swing would have tilted the election. He also makes a case that somewhat larger swing (what he calls "Big Comey") was likely. The way I would put this is: Clinton has been dogged by scandals constantly since her husband became president in 1993 -- the first big one was "Whitewater" and there had been a steady drumbeat of them all the way through Benghazi! and the emails and speaking fees and Clinton Foundation. Clinton had somehow managed to put those behind her by the Democratic Convention, when she opened up her largest polling lead ever (although, something I found troubling at the time, she never seemed able to crack 50% -- her 10-12% leads were more often the result of Trump cratering). What the Comey letter did was to bring all the fury and annoyance of her past scandals back into the present. Trump's final ad hit that very point: maybe we have lots of difficult problems, but voters had one clear option, which was to get rid of Clinton and all the scandals, both past and future. And that was the emotional gut reaction that swung the election -- even though a moment's sober reflection would have realized that Trump is far worse in every negative respect than Clinton.

    Silver points his piece toward a critique of the media, which consistently played up Clinton scandals while laughing off Trump's, and I think more importantly made no effort to critique let alone to delegitimize the right-wing propaganda machine. Still, he doesn't really get there. For more on this, see: Richard Wolfe: James Comey feels nauseous about the Clinton emails? That's not enough

  • John Stoehr: Nancy Pelosi Is the Most Effective Member of the Resistance: News to me. One thing I do know is that Republicans still get a lot of mileage out of slamming Pelosi and smearing anyone remotely connected to her. I can see where that's unfair and even horrifying, but writing a puff piece about her doesn't help. Moreover, it's not as if she's all that dependable. When Trump launched all those cruise missiles at a Syrian base, she jumped up and applauded. And she's as blind a devotee of Israel as anyone in Congress. Maybe she does have a keen sensitivity to injustice, but it's never interfered with her realpolitik. Less impressed with Pelosi is Klaus Marre: Dems Have Difficult Time Capitalizing on Trump Presidency of Blunders; also: Sam Knight: Pelosi Refuses to Back Single Payer, Despite GOP Deathmongering Suddenly Taking Center Stage.

  • Steve W Thrasher: Barack Obama's $400,000 speaking fees reveal what few want to admit: "His mission was never racial or economic justice. It's time we stop pretending it was." It does, however, suggest that his real mission -- what many people take to be the real meaning of the phrase "American dream" -- is not just to be accepted and respected by the very rich, but to join them. As the Clintons have shown, one way to become rich in America is to get yourself elected president. And as has been pretty convincingly demonstrated, anything the Clintons can do, Obama can do much better.

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