Sunday, November 5, 2017
Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved
Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately
that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which
especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro
to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the
GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff
Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going
back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome
Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:
Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big
change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary
The Republican tax plan, in one chart:
Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:
- $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
- $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
- $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage
Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal
Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."
Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't
have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."
Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers.
Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":
Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power,
the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output
that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to
situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration
offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust
regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony
issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a
number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no
poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent
years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review.
. . .
Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in
progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly
more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time,
corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually
high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been
incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the
depths of the Great Recession.
Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up:
Several things here, including:
George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter
sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple
diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president
with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused
to do it.
Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust,
Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family
business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as
surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his
oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides.
Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald
Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret
Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at
his golf courses. People with interests before the government can --
and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his
Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .
There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is
being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion
charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for
Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening
in America that people are getting away with. . . .
Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he
happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put
his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals
By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined
for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in
hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New
Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act,
been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating
New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple
counts of sexual assault.
Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never
faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty,
and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just
Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the
Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the
Dems the focus?????"
The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires
Mueller? "Probably nothing."
Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread)
a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly:
"flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what
to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just
because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much
destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of
American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into
"the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.
Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11,
2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further
goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando,
Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the
same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions --
above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security
state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version
of our world. . . .
After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in
16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no
end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of
terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts
of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering
numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington
into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government
for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse,
if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that
might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly
fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the
very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself
as the greatest ever.
That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger,
where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite
hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened
since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:
And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more
money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones
in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations;
and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that
the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa.
The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper
drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going
to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more
aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're
going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in
Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post
reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S.
military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done
in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably
went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the
near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian
moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last
16 years might have imagined they would.
All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse,
not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after
9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are
remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals
of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now
lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.
Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while
this was happening, he was distracted by
A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.
Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world
elite's hidden wealth. Also:
Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with
links to tax havens.
William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent
Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before
Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC,
which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the
DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further
monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and
Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall
attempts to mount a counterattack in
Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting
that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries."
Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her
side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in
Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby
Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing
that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies --
especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary
Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all
of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to
build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.
German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting:
what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is
also dead following a brief chase." Also:
Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead --
as it happened.
Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your
city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving
tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far
worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to
Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution
center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it,
moving on to greener pastures.
Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's
Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also,
Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook
Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval
of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime
Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance.
Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.
Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting
a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got.
Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:
Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a
"traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour
after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts:
"The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace
to our Country and to our Military."
Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged
for "getting captured."
Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince
Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince
Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves:
Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization
Drive. Also by Wildman:
Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.