Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Midweek Roundup

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 excuse 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 Election; also 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 error.

  • 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 Coercion

  • 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 on Payroll:

    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 well.

    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 request:

    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 penury.

  • 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 Job"

    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 in

  • 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 a toddler.

    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: "cowards."

    • 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 Trump.

    • 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 mistake

    • 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:

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 Bankrupt

  • 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 the obvious:

    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 thing: unions.

    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 after.

    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 NAFTA:

    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 reëlected 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 guaranteed).
    • 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.

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