Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Didn't do a Weekend Roundup on Sunday, not for lack of material
but because I had something better to do. Still, this stuff has been
piling up at an incredible rate, with no likelihood of abating any
time soon. One thing I didn't get to is the terror bombing at an
Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK, which killed 22, mostly
young girls. The bomber was from Libya, set loose by NATO's entry
into civil war there, itself prefigured by the 2003 US-UK invasion
of Iraq, and indeed decades of UK and US intervention in the area,
originally to exploit resources (and open the Suez Canal), then to
support repressive crony governments, and ultimately just to sell
arms and encourage everyone to kill each other. When atrocities like
this happen, it's always proper not just to condemn the ones who
directly did this but to recall and curse those US/UK politicians
who paved the way, including Democrats like Obama and the Clintons,
Labourites like Blair, as well as the usual right-wingers.
Some quick links on Manchester:
Trump's Thursday schedule includes a meeting of NATO, where UK Prime
Minister Theresa May is expected to use the Manchester bombing as an
to formally join fight against Isil. No one expects Donald Trump
to be the voice of reason at this meeting: even without NATO's "help"
US Killed Record Number of Civilians in Past Month of ISIS Strikes.
Also on Thursday, Montana will elect a new House member. See
Both Parties Are Spinning Hard in Montana's Strange, Evolving Special
Ed Kilgore/Margaret Hartmann: Montana GOP Candidate Allegedly 'Body Slams'
Journalist, Is Charged With Assault.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpworld:
Dean Baker: Will President Trump Make Rust-Belt Manufacturing Great
Again? No evidence so far. Baker also wrote
A Job Guarantee and the Federal Reserve Board.
Sharon Begley: Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What
could explain the change? Some people who have researched Trump's
various utterances from decades ago argue that he wasn't always such
a scattered, incoherent moron:
For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency,
complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate
slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative
disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted
utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the
former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.
The experts noted clear changes from Trump's unscripted answers
30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise
questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same
sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration,
anger, or just plain fatigue.
Begly also wrote:
Psychological need to be right underlies Trump's refusal to concede
Russell Berman: The Trump Organization Says It's 'Not Practical' to
Comply With the Emoluments Clause
Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Abortion Policy Isn't About Morality -- It's
Mike Konczal: How the "Populist' President Is Creating an Aristocracy
Sharon Lerner: Donald Trump's Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a
Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters: Meet Susan Bodine.
Eric Lipton: White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists
Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the
Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than
the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would
make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating
federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Donald Trump Too Incapacitated to Be President?
The 25th amendment to the constitution would seem to be the simplest
way to dispose of the increasingly erratic Donald Trump. Whereas
impeachment requires a simple majority of the House and a two-thirds
super-majority of the Senate to convict, all the 25th amendment takes
is the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to decide that
the President is "incapacitated but not dead." Still, this approach
suffers from the fact that so many of the people who would have to
sign off were chosen by Trump primarily for their own incompetence
(a list I would start with Mike Pence himself):
Moreover, so many of the Cabinet officials who might rightly affirm
that Trump is unable to discharge his duties are similarly unable to
discharge their own. Trump's chief infirmity -- the vanity, wealth,
and self-regard that was mistakenly confused with effective leadership --
is actually shared by the vast majority of his Cabinet, most of whom --
in the manner of any individual Kardashian -- seem to prize money and
power more than they prize governance or democracy. For instance, it's
abundantly clear that neither Betsy DeVos nor Ben Carson are fit to
execute their own Cabinet positions. Are they also to be summarily
removed? Jeff Sessions has gone along with the worst of Trump's plans,
drafting the legal justification for the stalled-out Muslim ban. If we
can see clearly enough to judge Trump unfit, surely Sessions is as
We already know that the people with the power to stop Trump -- the
Republicans in the House and Senate who declare themselves "troubled"
and "concerned" by his actions -- are so hell-bent on destroying the
regulatory state, harming the weak, imposing Christianity on nonbelievers,
and giving tax breaks to the wealthy that Trump's fitness raises no
alarms. Unfortunately, that isn't a DSM-IV level diagnosable pathology.
It's what we call conservatism in America.
Lauren McCauley: Comcast Threatens Legal Action Against Net Neutrality
Proponents: FCC chairman Ajit Pai is working on rescinding the
"net neutrality" rules, which currently require internet service
providers (like Comcast) to provide equal access to all websites.
Without those rules, they'd be free to pick and choose, and to
scam both providers and users.
Jose Pagliery: Trump's casino was a money laundering concern shortly
after it opened: Old history, but recently dug up through a FOIA
The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times
in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according
to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. . . .
Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000
fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.
Jamie Peck: Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt
forgiveness. Surprised? After WWII the American economy was
growing fast and science was held in high esteem, so government
worked hard to expand access to higher education, to make it
affordable and accessible to many more people, to build up a
much better educated workforce (and citizenry). Then, from the
1980s on, the economy slowed, collage came to be viewed more as
a certification program for getting ahead (or not falling back),
and costs skyrocketed. Now we've entered into a stage where the
rich want to keep the advantages of education to themselves, or
at the very least make everyone else pay dearly for the privilege.
And that's the mindset of rich people like DeVos and Trump, who
inherited their fortunes. So, sure, this policy makes perfect
sense to them, while condemning everyone else to servitude and
CJ Polychroniou/Marcus Rolle: Illusions and Dangers in Trump's
"America First" Policy: An Interview With Economist Robert Pollin
Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment:
One of the scarier things Trump said during the campaign was how he
wanted to change libel laws so that people with thin skins and deep
pockets (like himself) can sue people who criticize (or make fun of)
them. Libel laws are primarily limited by the first amendment (freedom
of speech and press), although one always has to worry that the courts
will carve out some kind of exception (as they did, for instance, to
prosecute "obscenity"). It's not inconceivable that Trump could pass
something like that and pack the courts to uphold it, although it's
also not very likely. But repealing the first amendment is certainly
way beyond his dreams, and if he recognizes that that's what it would
take, his scheme is pretty much dead. Still, useful to know that his
respect for American democracy is so low that he'd even consider the
prospect. But didn't we already know that?
Shaun Richman: Republicans Want to Turn the National Labor Relations
Board Into a Force for Union Busting: I already thought it was,
but I suppose it could get even worse.
Jeremy Scahill/Alex Emmons/Ryan Grim: Trump Called Rodrigo Duterte to
Congratulate Him on His Murderous Drug War: "You Are Doing an Amazing
According to one former hitman, Duterte formed an organization called
the "Davao Death Squad" -- a mafia-like organization of plainclothes
assassins that would kill suspected criminals, journalists, and
opposition politicians, often from the backs of motorcycles. Multiple
former members of the group have come forward and said that they
killed people on Duterte's direct orders.
Duterte has even bragged that he personally killed criminals from
the back of a motorcycle. "In Davao I used to do it personally," he
told a group of business leaders in Manila. "Just to show to the guys
[police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you."
In 2016, Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for
anyone involved in the drug trade. "I'd be happy to slaughter them.
If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have me," Duterte said
after his inauguration in September.
Despite human rights concerns, the U.S. has long considered the
Philippines a military ally, and under Obama the U.S. gave the country's
military tens of millions of dollars in weapons and resources per year.
The U.S. government does not provide lethal weapons directly to the
Philippine National Police, which has a decadeslong history of
extrajudicial killings. But it does allow U.S. weapons manufacturers
to sell to them directly. In 2015 the State Department authorized more
than $250 million in arms sales from U.S. defense contractors to
security forces in the Philippines.
Nate Silver: Donald Trump's Base Is Shrinking: His overall approval
numbers haven't dropped this much, but those who "strongly approve" of
Trump has dropped "from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just
21 or 22 percent of the electorate now." Meanwhile, the number of people
who "strongly disapprove" of him has shot up "from the mid-30s in early
February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday."
Matthew Stevenson: Is Trump the Worst President Ever? Posted back
on February 17, so too early for a fair hearing, but it's not really
his point to answer the question ("such a milestone could be a tall
order. He would need to match Nixon's paranoia and arrogance with
Lyndon Johnson's military incompetence, and then throw in Chester
Arthur's corruption and maybe Harding's lust for life") -- just to
provide a quick review for your history buffs.
Amy B Wang: Sinkhole forms in front of Mar-a-Lago; metaphors pour
Matthew Yglesias: Trump isn't a toddler -- he's a product of America's
culture of impunity for the rich: Notes that both
Ross Douthat and
David Brooks have recently tried to explain Trump away as "a toddler"
(so that's the kind of original thinking that lands you a job writing
opinion for the New York Times?):
My 2-year-old son misbehaves all the time. The reason is simple: He's
He stuck his foot in a serving bowl at dinner Tuesday night. He
screams in inappropriate situations. He's terrified of vacuum cleaners.
He thinks it's funny to throw rocks at birds. He has poor impulse control
and limited understanding of the consequences of his actions.
But he's also, fundamentally, a good kid. If you tell him no, he'll
usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he'll acknowledge them
and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him,
and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he'll alter his
behavior. Like all little kids, he needs discipline, and he's got a lot
to learn. But he is learning, and he has some notion of consequences
and right and wrong.
Trump is not like that -- at all. . . .
He's 70 years old. And he's not just any kind of 70-year-old. He's
a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who's been rich
since the day he was born. He's a man who's learned over the course of
a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence.
He's the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability
to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that
America grants to the wealthy.
Scattered links on Trump's holy war trek:
Peter Beinart: What Trump Reveals by Calling Terrorists 'Losers':
So why is Trump putting ISIS in the same category in which he places
Rosie O'Donnell? Because for him, America's primary goal is not freedom
or tolerance. It's success. Trump espouses no deeply held political,
religious, or moral doctrine. He sees government through the lens of
business. And thus, he's more comfortable with the language of winning
and losing than the language of right and wrong. That's why he's so
obsessed with the margin of his electoral victory and the size of his
crowds. It's why he responds to articles critical of him by saying that
the newspapers that published them are "failing." For Trump, losing is
worst thing you can do.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that people who judge right
and wrong (or good and evil) are often far more deranged, precisely
because their value judgments are more deeply buried in their personal
history and circumstances. It's interesting how quickly Trump's prejudices
seem to melt away when he actually meets such obviously successful people
as the leaders of China, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (and, one might add,
Russia). Maybe he needs state visits to Iran and North Korea? I might
add that for normal people, being called a "loser" is less taunting
(and less inaccurate) than what Bush called the 9/11 terrorists:
Bryan Bender: Israeli Officers: You're Doing ISIS Wrong: Israel
has its own foreign policy objectives, and they've long been peculiarly
at odds with its supposed ally, the United States. When, for instance,
the US was supporting Iraq's war against Iran, Israel was helping Iran --
even to the point of selling Iran American weapons (which was OK with
Reagan as long as some of the profits were channeled to the Contras in
Nicaragua, which Reagan was legally barred from funding on his own --
you know, the "Iran-Contra Scandal"). Israel has repeatedly intervened
in Syria, not to promote any constructive agenda, just to balance off
the forces to keep the war going longer. But if they had to choose,
they'd rather see ISIS come out ahead than Hezbollah, and now they're
casting aspersions about the US for tilting the other direction. The
bottom line is that while the US always assumes that the goal is peace
and stability -- even if that's hard to discern from what the US does --
Israel never wants peace or stability: they seek continual turmoil and
conflict, because any lasting peace would involve them settling with
the Palestinians, and that's the one thing they can't consider. When
this finally sinks in, you'll begin to understand how schizophrenic
US policy is in the region. We keep thinking we have allies in the
region, but actually all we have are alignments: temporary, fragile,
counterproductive, and often downright embarrassing.
Natasha Bertrand: Flabbergasted anchor points out to commerce secretary
why there wasn't a 'single hint of a protester' in Saudi Arabia:
Wilbur Ross was delighted by the reception the Trump entourage received
in Saudi Arabia ("there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere
there during the whole time").
James Carden: What Explains Trump's Sharp About-Face on Saudi Arabia?
I don't quite buy that the Trump administration really has an "obsession
with Iran" -- that's just a clever way to curry favor with people who
still have deep-seated resentment against post-Shah iran. It's obvious
that Israel turned on Iran only once Iraq was squashed in 1991 because
they needed an "existential security threat" to talk about whenever
brought up the Palestinians. (For the long history of this, see Trita
Parsi's 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of
Israel, Iran, and the United States.) Saudi Arabia was threatened
by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 revolution -- effectively he
challenged Saudi pre-eminence in the holy places of Islam, which hit
the Kingdom very close to home. But nothing since then justifies the
Saudi's evident obsession with Iran -- other than the ease with which
anti-Iranian rhetoric ingratiates themselves with the US. Before the
Saudis got all worked up over Iran, their desires to purchase American
arms were frustrated by the Israel lobby -- the two states were, after
all, nominal enemies. Now they seem to be virtual allies inasmuch as
they share a common enemy, but isn't the real reason that matters their
new desire to become an effective hegemon over the Sunni Arab world?
Meanwhile, first Obama and now Trump have found it convenient to sell
arms to the Saudis: effectively, it's a jobs program that never has to
navigate through Congress or even hit the US budget. The new thing is
that Trump's finally selling it as such, but he's picked a terrible
time to do so: pre-Salman the Saudis never used their expensive toys,
but lately they've been increasing violence and chaos everywhere they
reach, and entangling the US as they go.
I should work this in somewhere and this seems as good a place as
any: the visceral reaction most Americans had to the self-declaration
of an Islamic State would have been just as easy to stir up against
the real Islamic State: Saudi Arabia. This didn't happen because the
Saudis have a lot of oil and money, and because they feign allegiance
and (perhaps rent?) alliance to the United States. They also may have
seemed less threatening for lack of territorial ambitions, but they
have invaded Yemen, attempted to buy Lebanon (through Rafik Hariri),
supported proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and largely treat
the Persian Gulf sheikdoms as vassals. Although they've bought lots
of American arms for a long time, they never organized them into an
effective military for fear of a coup -- until Salman acceded to the
throne and they launched the war in Yemen. Until recently they had
enough money to buy loyalty, but they're faced now with both sinking
oil prices and declining reserves -- along with buying more arms,
that means belt-tightening elsewhere, and the most obvious waste is
the bloated and often embarrassing royal family. The odds of a coup
in the near future have shot up, and if/when it happens it is most
likely to adopt the IS model with its renewed Caliphate. It may be
possible to rout ISIS from the cities of Upper Mesopotamia, but the
idea of a Caliphate will survive, as it has since the 7th Century,
and no one could adopt it more readily then the regime that controls
Mecca and Medina -- a regime armed to the teeth thanks to Obama and
Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His
Crisis at Home
Andrew Exum: What Progressives Miss About Arms Sales: Thinks "Trump
had a great visit to Saudi Arabia" -- great for him, great for the Saudis
"and other Arab Gulf states, and -- last but not least -- it was a great
visit for magical, glowing orbs." Especially great was the "deliverable":
"$110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia -- with an additional $240
billion committed over a 10-year period." He then chides "progressives"
for not celebrating:
I want to spend a little time talking about one of the reasons why the
trip went so well. I'll warn you: This is a somewhat taboo subject for
progressive foreign-policy types. The subject, friends, is arms sales.
Progressives don't like arms sales very much, but they need to pay
attention to them, because they're one big way Republicans are fighting
for -- and winning -- the votes of working-class Americans who have
traditionally voted for Democrats.
As I've pointed out elsewhere, Obama (considered a "progressive"
in some parts) has been using arms sales, especially to dictatorial
Arab States and Eastern Europe, as a jobs program for much of his
two terms. For many years selling arms to the Saudis seemed harmless
enough -- they never used them, and they had lots of dollars we
wanted back -- but eventually these arms sales started to make the
world more conflict-prone and dangerous: US relations with Russia
deteriorated as Obama kept pushing NATO closer to Russia's borders,
and the Saudis and Qataris started using their arms, first in Libya
and even more dramatically in Yemen. While the Saudis have generally
tried to align their foreign interventions -- until recently mostly
cash and propaganda -- with the US, they've always cast their efforts
in their own terms, which from the founding of the tribe with its
Wahhabist trappings in the late 18th century has always been framed
as jihad. Jihadist warfare has actually been very rare in Islamic
history, but since the Saudis started spending billions to promote
their peculiar flavor of Salafism it's become ubiquitous, more often
than not rebounding back against the US, who so encouraged the Saudis
to frame their opposition to Communism (and Nasserism and Baathism,
nationalist movements seen as Soviet proxies) in religious terms.
Further complicating this is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies
are among the most reactionary and repressive states in the world.
By feeding them arms -- and by little things like Trump participating
in that sword dance and orb touching -- the US becomes complicit not
only in their jihadism but also in their suppression of human rights.
One effect of this is that US leaders have lost control of their own
policy, and while this has become increasingly evident over the past
year -- the tipping point was Saudi Arabia's attack on Yemen -- the
event that people will remember is Trump's visit, where the formerly
"great" America has been reduced to grovelling for arms sales (or,
if you're a pseudo-progressive, "jobs").
Exum may be right that many defense contractor workers voted for
Trump, but that's only after the Democrats abandoned the unions that
were formerly common -- e.g., Boeing shut down their Wichita factory
after office workers there unionized, moving their operations to
union-free South Carolina and Texas. Still, what Chalmers Johnson
liked to call Military Keynesianism has steadily declined in value
ever since WWII, and there are plenty of healthier things progressives
can push for. Meanwhile, it's no accident that Republicans like Trump
have thrived in the increasingly vicious atmosphere of violence and
hate generated by perpetual war.
Kareem Fahim: After assurances by Trump, Bahrain mounts deadliest raid
in years on opposition
Emma Green: Pope Francis, Trump Whisperer? Article is interesting,
but let me first point to the picture, which shows Melania and Ivanka
wearing headware (veils), in marked contrast to their scarfless
appearance in Saudi Arabia.
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Sunni Strategy: "The president wants America to
take sides in the Middle East's sectarian rivalry. That won't end well."
Actually, it's already started badly. As recently at the 1970s there was
essentially no violent conflict between Sunni and Shi'a, but then the
Saudis started pushing their Salafist sectarianism, Ayatollah Khomeini
challenged their control of Mecca, and the Saudis backed the US-Pakistani
promotion of jihadism in Afghanistan. In the 1990s the US tried to raise
up Shi'a resistance in Iraq, which became the basis of a sectarian civil
war after the US invasion in 2003 -- one where the US played both sides
against one another. Then the US wound up opposing both sides in Syria
through various proxies it has no real control over, including the Saudis
and Qataris, both backing jihadist groups. Year after year this muddled
strategy has only produced more war and more backlash.
Rashid Khalidi: Why Donald Trump's 'Arab Nato' would be a terrible
Paul Pillar: Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime
David Shariatmadari: Who better to lecture Muslims than Islam expert
Donald Trump? Worse still, Trump's big speech in Saudi Arabia was
mainly written by Steven Miller, although the result was little more
than a sop -- for someone so belligerent toward strangers, it doesn't
seem to take more than a little shameless flattery to win Trump over.
This is not only hard to defend morally. Siding with Saudi Arabia and
antagonising Iran in order to weaken jihadism won't work, to put it
mildly. Though the Saudi kingdom has taken part in military action
against Isis, its state textbooks are deemed acceptable in Isis-run
schools. It has backed militant Islamist rebels in Syria, and continues
to export an extremely intolerant version of Islam.
Trump cut a weird figure at Murabba Palace on Saturday night, bobbing
along to a traditional sword dance like someone who'd stumbled into the
wrong wedding reception.
Richard Silverstein: Trump's Saudi Soliloquy: "one of the most
hypocritical speeches in American political history." Curious that
I have yet to see a single post which contrasts Trump's Riyadh speech
with the Cairo speech Obama gave early in his presidency, even though
the latter turned out to be pretty hypocritical as well. Still, reading
Silverstein's comments I'm more stuck by the extraordinary amount of
falsehood and nonsense in the speech. Silverstein also wrote a bit
about the Jerusalem leg of Trump's tour:
Trump Selfie with Israeli MK Features Two Moral Degenerate Birds of a
Feather. The selfie Trump was cornered into was with Oren Hazan,
who bills himself "the Israeli Trump."
Paul Woodward: Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a
laughingstock: Also cites
Susan B Glasser: 'People Here Think Trump Is a Laughinstock'.
Scattered links on Trump/Comey/Russia:
Former CIA Chief Tells of Concern Over Possible Russia Ties to Trump
Campaign: Unsigned NY Times article on John Brennan's testimony
and other things. Also:
Greg Miller: CIA director alerted FBI to pattern of contacts between
Russian officials and Trump campaign associates; and
Yochi Dreazen: Obama's CIA chief just offered a Trump-Russia quote
for the ages. I'm still not a fan of anyone charging anyone with
treason, but Brennan's earlier quote about Trump speaking to the CIA
post-inauguration remains apt: a "despicable display of
Vera Bergengruen: Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed -- after
being paid as its agent. Also:
Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg: Michael Flynn Misled Pentagon About
Russia Ties, Letter Says; and
Karoun Demirjian: Flynn takes 5th on Senate subpoena as a top House Democrat alleges new evidence of lies.
Karoun Demirjian/Devlin Barrett: How a dubious Russian document influenced
the FBI's handling of the Clinton probe
Adam Entous/Ellen Nakashima: Trump asked intelligence chief to push
back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence:
He made his appeals to Daniel Coats (DNI) and Adm. Michael S Rogers
(NSA), "urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence
of collusion during the 2016 election."
Chris Hedges: The Dying Republic: A Vast Disconnect Between Faux Values
and the Corporate Controlled Anti-Democratic Reality
Dara Lind: It's becoming increasingly clear that Jared Kushner is
part of Trump's Russia problem
Ryan Lizza: Trump's Damning Responses to the Russia Investigation
Josh Marshall: The President Lawyers Up: The lawyer is Marc Kasowitz,
who has made a nice living defending Trump in civil suits, including the
big one against Trump University. Note that Kasowitz is the partner of
Joe Lieberman, the former CT senator whose name briefly seemed to be at
the top of Trump's short list to become FBI Director.
Joshua Matz: Donald Trump's panoply of abuses demand more than a
Josh Meyer: Russia meeting revelation could trigger obstruction
Josh Marshall: The Continuing Triumph of Trump's Razor: Marshall
assumes that his term is self-evident, but in case you missed it, it's
Urban Dictionary: "When seeking an explanation for the behavior of . . .
Donald J. Trump, always choose the stupidest possible explanation."
Philip Shenon: Trump's Worst Nightmare Comes True: So he fires James
Comey, and gets Robert Mueller instead. Also on Mueller:
Karen J Greenberg: 4 Reasons Why Robert Mueller Is an Ideal Special
Josh Marshall: Thoughts on the Special Counsel Appointment.
Matthew Yglesias/Alex Ward: This week, explained: spies, special counsel,
and Flynn: And, upon further reflection, Yglesias' next post was:
The case for impeaching Trump -- and fast.
Meanwhile, Mick Mulvaney released a new budget, titled A
New Foundation for American Greatness:
John Cassidy: The Trump Administration's Budget Charade:
In March, the Trump Administration released a so-called skinny budget,
which contained the broad outlines of its spending plans. The proposed
cuts in domestic and international programs were so draconian,
mean-spirited, and misguided that I termed it a Voldemort budget, and
many other commentators offered similar reviews. On Tuesday, the White
House released the full version of its budget, and, if anything, the
details are even more disturbing.
The document describes how the Trump Administration would shred the
social safety net, particularly Medicaid, which provides health care to
the poor, to finance tax cuts for corporations and rich households. On
top of this, the budget's revenue and deficit projections are so
contingent upon wishful thinking and accounting sleights of hand that
they are virtually meaningless.
Benjamin Dangl: Trump's Budget Expands Global War on the Backs of the
Denise Lu/Kim Soffen: What Trump's budget cuts from the social safety
Trudy Lieberman: Donald Trump to Hungry Seniors: Drop Dead
Jim Newell: Trump's Biggest Broken Promise:
The most black-and-white broken promise of President Donald Trump's
early tenure has been his administration's treatment of Medicaid. On
the campaign trail, he promised not to cut the health care program
that covers more than 70 million low-income people. "I'm not going
to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I'm not going
to cut Medicare or Medicaid," Trump said in an interview during the
campaign that was then posted on his official web site. "Every other
Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't
know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do."
Charles P Pierce: Make No Mistake: This Is Not a 'Trump Budget':
This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product
of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human
nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since
the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the
wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience
that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.
Mulvaney, a Tea Party fanatic, held a press conference Tuesday morning
to shill for this slab of Dickensian offal, and listening to him I got
the feeling that, not only is Mulvaney of a different political persuasion,
but that he was raised in a different dimensional space. There are individual
atrocities a'plenty: zeroing out Meals on Wheels; an outright assault on
the government's role in science; a butchery of Medicaid that only makes
marginal sense if the dead-fish healthcare bill passes first; shredding
any EPA efforts to combat climate change; and hefty cuts to the SCHIP
program for children's health, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax
Credit. These are Republican proposals, movement conservative proposals,
proposals that any Republican candidate would be proud to take to the
Iowa caucuses in 2020.
Matt Shuham: WH Budget Center: 'I Hope" Fewer People Get Social Security
Marshall Steinbaum: Your Economics Are On Backwards: Why Trump's Budget
Will Not Spur Growth: As noted elsewhere, the case for balancing
the budget is based on high growth stimulated by lower taxes for the
rich. Steinbaum explains why this doesn't work:
The reason regressive tax cuts don't spur growth is that, rather than
incentivizing investment or employment, lower rates for top earners
only encourage them to negotiate for higher salaries. Under President
Eisenhower, the top marginal income tax rate was 90 percent. This rate
created a de facto maximum income, because it simply made no sense to
demand exorbitant pay packages. Instead, companies spent these dollars
elsewhere -- either in expanded capacity or higher wages for their
workers. Not shockingly (except, perhaps, to conservatives), growth
Today's economy is the opposite: Rates are so low that an additional
dollar of income for the rich running or owning businesses is almost
always more appealing than spending that additional dollar on investment
or wages. And growth is sluggish, at best.
For an example of how far rewards at the top have gone, see
Sam Pizzigati: Walmart's $237 Million Man: How Americans Subsidize
Inequality. Also recommended for more general issues is
In Conversation: Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum, an interview
with Heather Boushey -- all three edited After Piketty: The Agenda
for Economics and Inequality. Interesting comment here from DeLong:
Ronald Reagan was absolutely awful for the manufacturing jobs of the
Michigan Reagan Democrats. He pushed the dollar up by 50 percent. And
lo and behold, that just sent Midwestern manufacturing a signal that
it should shut down. Today, the dollar is up by 10 percent since Trump's
election, and whatever legislation rolls through Congress is likely to
involve a large tax decrease for the rich, in which case we will see
another bigger dollar cycle than we have now. Let the dollar go up by
another 10 percent, and that's a hit to the manufacturing employment
that is much, much larger than China's entry into the World Trade
Organization or any plausible effects of the North American Free
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's budget relies on magic economic growth;
The dumb accounting error at the heart of Trump's budget. From the
But budgets are important as statements of values. One clear headline
value of the Trump budget is an overwhelming preference for cutting
taxes on high-income families over providing food, medical care, housing
assistance, and other support to low-income families.
The growth accounting mess shows a parallel value -- or, rather,
lack of value -- placed on the idea of governing with integrity. . . .
Trump's White House is just going through the motions. They're supposed
to release a budget proposal, so they released a budget proposal. Whether
or not it makes any sense is a matter of total indifference to them. But
they've now kicked the can to congressional Republicans in an awkward
way, since if Congress wants to enact a budget, they need to enact a
real one with details filled in. Meaning they can't possibly match the
unrealistic aspirations Trump has laid out for them.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Max Boot: The Seth Rich 'Scandal' Shows That Fox News Is Morally
Beth Gardiner: Three Reasons to Believe in China's Renewable Energy Boom:
Some astonishing numbers here, like "China added 35 gigawatts of new solar
generation in 2016 alone" and that coal consumption "fell in 2016 for the
third straight year." Meanwhile, back in the USA:
Dahr Jamail: Scientists Predict There Will Be No Glaciers in the
Contiguous US by 2050 -- but Trump Is Stomping on the Gas Pedal.
Paul Krugman: Trucking and Blue-Collar Woes: Starts with a chart on
"wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today's dollars,
which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s." He further explains
Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We're not importing
Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but
not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing,
but that's a pretty thin reed. What it doesn't mention is the obvious
Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have
changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right
now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that
a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38
percent of "heavy truck" drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down
to 25 percent by 1991. It's not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of
"drivers/sales workers and truck drivers" were covered last year.
In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where
workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action,
and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and
Krugman speculates that "the great majority of the people whose chance
at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes voted for
Trump." But he doesn't follow up. Why did they vote for Trump? It sure
wasn't because Trump promised to bring unions back, because he never did.
All they got from Trump was a chance to vent their spleen. But Clinton
didn't offer to bring back unions either. Maybe she offered them a chance
to go back to school somewhat cheaper, but even that wasn't clear. If you
want to have a middle class, you have to pay middle class wages to
blue-collar workers. And if you aren't willing to go that far, everything
you say about "middle class" is cant.
Elsewhere, Krugman linked to
Sarah Birnbaum: An Economist reporter dishes on Trump's 'priming the pump'
interview, including the story of how Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue saved
So Sonny Perdue literally asked his staff to draw up a map of the bits
of America that had voted for Donald Trump and the bits of America that
do well from exporting grain and corn through NAFTA. [The map] showed
how these two areas often overlap. So he went in, said to Donald Trump,
"Actually, Trump America, your voters, they do pretty well out of NAFTA."
And the president said, "Oh. Then maybe I won't withdraw from NAFTA."
Evidently there was no one around to point out that those same
grain and corn exports was what drove so many Mexican peasants from
their farms to seek employment in the US -- the single most dramatic
effect of NAFTA wasn't the loss of American factory jobs but the
decimation of Mexican agriculture due to the flood of cheaper US
grain. But then, the piece also includes a quote from David Rennie,
describing the "atmosphere" of the Oval Office:
It's kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago,
with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king.
That's the feel at the Trump Oval Office. He likes to be surrounded
by his courtiers. . . .
And the role of some pretty senior figures, including cabinet
secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president
had just said, rather than offering candid advice.
There was a moment with Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.
We were talking [to Trump] about China and currency manipulation.
On the campaign trail, Trump was very ferocious about [calling China
a currency manipulator.] [In our interview], he said, "As soon as I
started talking about China being a currency manipulator, they cut
it out." Actually that's not true. China [stopped manipulating the
currency] two or three years ago.
What was striking was, when he made that point, Steve Mnuchin,
the Treasury secretary, chimed in and said, "Oh yeah. The day he
became president, they changed their behavior!" And factually,
that's just not right. It's quite striking to see a cabinet
secretary making that point in that way.
Laura Secor: The Patient Resilience of Iran's Reformers: While
Trump was forging his anti-Iran coalition in Saudi Arabia, Iran had
a presidential election, where 75% of the electorate turned out and
57% of the voters reŽlected Hassan Rouhani, the "moderate reformer"
who signed the deal halting Iran's "nuclear program," over a much
more conservative, anti-Western opponent. Also:
Hooman Majd: Iran Just Prove Trump Wrong;
Muhammad Sahimi: As Iran Elects a Moderate, Trump Cozies up to its
Terrorist Enemy Saudi Arabia.
Matt Taibbi: Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever:
Makes a good case, but that got me wondering who were the ten worst
Americans ever. Naturally, the list tends toward political figures,
because their misdeeds tend to be amplified in ways that mere bank
robbers and serial killers can never attain (compare, e.g., Ted
Bundy and McGeorge Bundy, although at least Ted was solely culpable
where McGeorge was wrapped up in groupthink and depended on others
to do the actual dirty work. Here's a quick, off the top of my head,
list, in more-or-less chronological order:
- Aaron Burr, who made the first blatant attempt to turn the young
republic into a kleptocracy; he could have been our Yeltsin or Suharto
or Mubarak or Mobuto.
- John C. Calhoun, the would be architect of slavocracy and de facto
designer of the use of "states rights" to perpetuate white supremacy.
- John Wilkes Boothe, whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln ended
any chance for a graceful reconstruction (not that such was actually
- John D. Rockefeller, whose ruthlessness turned business into empire
building on a grand scale.
- J. Edgar Hoover, whose iron control of the FBI created a bureaucracy
that could cower presidents.
- Joseph McCarthy, whose witch hunts elevated the "paranoid style" so
common in American politics to an unprecedented level of viciousness.
- Richard Nixon, for many things including his singular lack of scruples
when it came to winning elections.
- Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy mandarin who exported dirty wars
all around the world.
- Antonin Scalia, the judge and legal theorist whose "originalism" set
new standards for sophistry in support of right-wing politics.
- Dick Cheney, the prime driver behind the so-called "global war on
terrorism"; i.e., the poisonous projection of American power into every
corner of the globe.
Can Ailes crack that list? That's a tall order, but I wouldn't dismiss
the suggestion out of hand. One might argue that the conservative backlash
that lifted Nixon and Reagan was just a matter of re-centering politics
after exceptionally liberal periods, but the right-wing resurgence from
1994 onward has almost exclusively been manufactured by a broad network
of well-funded behind-the-scenes actors and their success is mostly due
to the creation of a hardcore propaganda network, of which Ailes' Fox News
has been the flagship. The only other individual to rise out of this swamp
to a comparable level of notoreity has been Charles Koch -- another prime
candidate, especially if we expand the list a bit.
Back to the story, Taibbi writes:
Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons
and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It's no surprise that
a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of
Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.
It's not that Trump isn't or shouldn't be frightening. But it's
conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia,
cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust.
The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars
come pouring in, on both sides.
Trump in many ways was a perfect Ailes product, merging as he did the
properties of entertainment and news in a sociopathic programming package
that, as CBS chief Les Moonves pointed out, was terrible for the country,
but great for the bottom line.
The the nth time, Taibbi exaggerates the symmetry, because right and
center have very distinct approaches to reality, not to mention vastly
different political agendas. Right-wing fear and loathing of Clinton/Obama
had less to do with policy than with style, and only touched reality when
they caught the Democrats doing something corrupt. Clinton and Obama, at
least, almost never actually changed anything, so heaping scorn on them
seemed to have little effect. The media might be just as happy ridiculing
Trump -- indeed, the effort bar is pretty low there -- but less obviously
(especially to the media) Trump and the Republicans are doing real damage,
undermining our welfare and way of life, and it's pretty scandalous just
to think of that as entertainment.
Alex Tizon: My Family's Slave: "She lived with us for 56 years. She
raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid,
before I realized who she was."
Whew! Think I'll spend the next couple days away from the computer,
out back painting the fence.