Sunday, October 29, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Just the bare bones this week.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped; Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German, French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."

    • Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."

    • Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators, not pundits.

    • Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.

    • The real stakes in the tax reform debate:

      Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model of American politics.

      Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class interests.

      But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying under the banner of "tax reform."

      Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of shit:

      Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game. Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will end up better off.

      Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial that "almost everyone benefits."

      Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader, believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes, and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.

    • Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and "Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."

      Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an unspecified economic development bill of some kind.

      Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill," means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.

  • Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.

  • Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear arsenal.

  • Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation: Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will is weak. Campbell has also written: My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous Brexit'.

  • Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse the federal government of leaving people to die.

  • Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract: Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance: Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more: Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.

  • Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world: I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:

    Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that "stock market averages will go up around the world."

    The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN as follows:

    "Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done. He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in eight years. He's the true hawk."

  • Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:

    For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane. Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler" tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .

    That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .

    Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico, again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."

    The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers. Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.

  • Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure' due to job vacancies.

  • Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth swells to $6tn.

    Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street bank accounts.

  • John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and Democracy.

  • Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts." One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits with little real evidence to back them up. Paul Woodward also adds:

    The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires, is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this kind of Teflon political protection.

    Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the executive branch of government.

    Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious misconduct: That just since 2013.

  • Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken: "The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually, I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" -- for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans -- including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant." Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants. Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically engaged."

  • Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11 War?

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.

  • Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.

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