Sunday, December 10, 2017
The Democrats in Congress, especially the leadership, have had a
really bad week, and I fear they've inflicted grave wounds on themselves.
John Conyers and Al Franken have resigned after enormous pressure from
the party leadership, leaving the party with fewer votes, summarily
ending two notable careers. I especially blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck
Shumer. Back in 2016 Hillary Clinton like to posit a "Commander-in-Chief
Test," figuring she'd compare favorably to Donald Trump by emphasizing
her own fondness for military adventures -- I think her hawkishness was
a big part of why she lost, but my point isn't to rehash her delusions.
Rather, what we saw last week was a "Shop Steward" test, which Pelosi
and Shumer utterly failed. They let a little media pressure blow them
over. More importantly, they failed to insist on due process, on the
most basic principles of traditional American justice, and in doing so
they sacrificed political standing and insulted and demeaned the voters
who had elected Conyers and Franken.
Supposedly, one thing the Democrats hope to achieve in sacking
Conyers and Franken is "the moral high ground" -- demonstrating
their superior sensitivity to and concern for victims of sexual
misconduct (pretty broadly defined). In theory, this will pay off
in defeating Roy Moore in next week's Alabama Senate race and/or
in putting pressure on Donald Trump to resign. In fact, Trump was
elected president after 19 women accused him of various shades of
assault, and after he bragged about as much. While Moore is facing
a closer election than Alabama Republicans are used to, he remains
the favorite to win Tuesday. And while some Democrats imagine that
if Moore wins the Senate will refuse to seat him, I can't imagine
the Republicans sacrificing power like that. Nor, quite frankly,
should they. (The only duly elected member I can recall either
branch of Congress refusing to seat was Adam Clayton Powell, in a
shameful travesty -- although, come to think of it, they did take
months before allowing Al Franken to enter.)
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered in politics this week:
The tax reform hit some snags ("Senate Republicans appear to have
written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a
little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton
of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit
from a big tax cut"); President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's
capital; Al Franken announced he'll resign; The government will stay
open for a couple of weeks. Other Yglesias pieces:
We have a trial date: March 19, "the beginning of the trial at which
the Justice Department will seek to block the merger of AT&T and
Time Warner." There is no shortage of good reasons for blocking this
merger, and indeed for untangling all of the past mergers between
data transit and content companies, although it's surprising to see
Trump's DOJ lifting a finger to prevent the further concentration of
predatory corporate power.
Apple could get a staggering $47 billion windfall from the tax
What's particularly striking about this windfall is that though Apple
has been a fierce advocate for corporate tax reform -- $47 billion is
a lot of money after all -- Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained over and
over again that shoveling billions into his corporate treasury won't
boost his investment spending.
He already has plenty of cash, but beyond that, when Cook wants
Apple to invest more, he borrows the money.
Tomorrow's financial crisis today: Points out that less than ten
years after the worst recession since the 1930s Trump's administration
is working to undermine the Treasury's Office of Financial Research
and "let banks take on more risky debt:
The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won't have one in any
given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As
long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn't matter. In
fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated
banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.
It's all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking
takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a
one-in-20 chance, you're still in a world where things will probably
be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.
Trump has taken a lot of risky bets in his life. And though he's
often lost, he's usually been insulated by his inherited wealth and
by his very real skill at structuring deals so other people end up
holding a lot of the downside. Any presidency inherently has that
kind of structure with or without skill. Presidents suffer when they
make mistakes, but other people suffer more.
?he key phrase here is "as long as asset prices are trending
upward." The surest way to keep asset prices rising is to let rich
people make and keep more money, which is what happened from the
Bush tax cuts forward to 2007-08. What broke then turned out to be
pretty simple: a big chunk of those assets were built on subprime
mortgages, and the people who signed up for the mortgages weren't
able to grow their incomes enough to cover their debts, so they
defaulted; meanwhile, the banks had leveraged themselves so much
they couldn't cover their losses, so they started to fail in a
cascade that threatened to make the "domino theory" look like
small potatoes. But the government, especially the Fed, stepped
in and pumped several trillions of dollars into the banks to prop
them up so they could unwind their losses more gracefully, while
the government did very little to help the little people who
suffered the brunt of the recession. (I was going to say "virtually
nothing," but things like extended unemployment benefits did help
keep the recession from matching the desolation caused by the Great
Depression.) We're already seeing asset bubbles in things like the
stock market. The whole point of Trump's tax cuts and deregulation
is to feed this bubble, even though there is no clear way to sustain
the trend or to appease the financier's appetite for ever greater
profits. Coupled with a massive collapse of business ethics -- this
has been growing since the "greed is good" Reagan era, but Trump is
an even more shocking role model -- it's only a matter of time before
the whole edifice collapses.
We need a healthier conversation about partisanship and sexual
The tax bill is a tax cut, not a culture war: Pushes back against the
idea that Republicans chose targets to "reform" by how much they would
hurt "blue states" (the SALT deduction being the obvious example). Shows
that the overriding reasoning behind the cuts/reforms is to favor the
rich over the poor, regardless of where they may live or do business.
Of course, the real cost to poor and working Americans won't appear in
scoring the bill -- it will come later in the form of service cuts and
the ever-widening chasm between "haves and have-nots."
Republicans need Roy Moore to pass their tax bill.
Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.
Democrats need to get a grip about the budget deficit: "The tax bill
is bad, the debt is fine." ARgues that "Bush's deficits were fine and
Trump's will be too" and that "Obama's deficits were way too small."
Don't worry about the debt.
Matthew Cole/Jeremy Scahill: Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private
Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies: Evidently one of Erik Prince's
schemes, notably backed by Oliver North. One suspicious point is that the
scheme would still report to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, figuring him more
loyal to Trump than to the "Deep State" he nominally manages a big chunk
of. Also see
Aram Roston: Private War: Erik Prince Has H is Eye on Afghanistan's Rare
Metals. Evidently the mercenary leader is trying to turn his private
army into some sort of modern British East India Company colossus.
Juliet Eilperin: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears
National Monument: Helps explain why Trump and Zinke radically shrunk
the borders of the National Monument (see maps). The land still belongs
to the federal government, but will now be managed by the Bureau of Land
Management. For info on what that means, see
Adam Federman: This Is How the Trump Administration Gives Big Oil the
Keys to Public Lands.
Tara Golsham: Rep. Trent Franks, who is resigning immediately, offered
staffer $5 million to be his baby surrogate: One of the more bizarre
stories of recent weeks: Arizona Republican, "a deeply conservative
member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members
of Congress. Evidently he has that kind of money, and assumes it
entitles him to run roughshod over others.
Jim Kirby: Hillary Clinton's emails got as much front-page coverage in
6 days as policy did in 69: An analysis of New York Times -- your
newspaper or preferred media source may vary (with some never matching
that 6-day email window), but for a supposedly sober and serious news
source, that's pretty disgusting. One might argue that Hillary's email
controversy speaks to her character, but no more so than hundreds or
thousands of Donald Trump anecdotes. Even so, you'd think it sensible
that news coverage of an election would focus more on likely policies
and future scenarios than on past personal quirks. The only excuse I
can think of is that today's campaigns are often as shallow as the media
covering them -- or at least try to be.
Rashid Khalidi: After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an
Honest Broker of Peace: Actually, that was clear even before Trump
ordered the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Khalidi
knows damn well -- he's even written a whole book about it: Brokers
of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
What I've yet to see anyone comment on is why the US didn't move the
embassy earlier. The basic reason is respect for international law,
which as this week's announcement shows has sunken to new lows in
Washington. The 1947 UN resolution proposing partition of the British
Mandate in Palestine -- a resolution that David Ben-Gurion lobbied
fervently for -- called for dividing the Mandate into two states, but
keeping Jerusalem separate as an international area. Immediately on
declaring independence in 1948, Israel launched a military offensive
aimed at expanding on the borders the UN prescribed. The main target
of that offensive was Jerusalem, which wound up divided between Israeli
and Jordanian forces. In 1967 Israel launched another war and drove
Jordan from East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- territories that the UN
ordered Israel to return, despite Israel's almost immediate annexation
of Jerusalem and environs. Israel's de facto control of Jerusalem has
never been squared away with the rulings of international law, so no
country with respect for international law has conceded Israel's claim.
"Until now," you might say, but the US has increasingly shown contempt
for international law, and this is just one more example.
By the way, a headline in the Wichita Eagle today: "After US decision
on Jerusalem, Gaza protests turn deadly." First line of article explains
how: "Two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday
after rocket fire from the enclave hit an Israeli town, as the death toll
in violence linked to President Donald Trump's decision to recognize
Jerusalem as Israel's capital rose to four." No damage was reported
from the Gazan rockets. For info about the other two deaths, see:
Peter Beaumont/Patrick Wintour: Two Palestinians shot dead and one critical
in riots after Trump speech. Also:
Raja Shehadeh: I have witnessed two intifadas. Trump's stance on Israel
may ignite a third.
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare sign-ups defy Trump's sabotage campaign.
German Lopez: Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families
were united -- even though he had slavery." Anyone who thinks that
the problem with Moore is his fondness for underaged girls clearly
hasn't paid any attention to his politics or to his political legacy.
More worrying is Moore's unwavering contempt for the law -- after
all, Moore has been stripped of his position on the Alabama Supreme
Court for failing to submit to federal law, specifically the First
Amendment. When Donald Trump tries to tout Moore as the "law and
order candidate" he does little more than expose his own flimsy
and dicey relationship to the law. (Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic
opponent, Doug Jones, has a distinguished record as a federal
prosecutor, credentials that only someone as reality-challenged
as Trump can readily dismiss.) I wish I could say that Moore's
casual endorsement of slavery is even more shocking, but we've
always known him to be a racist. After all, Alabama's given us
George Wallace and Jeff Sessions, so how much worse can Moore
be? Well, this statement is a pretty good example: "I think it
[America] was great at the time when families were united -- even
though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were
strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country
had a direction." The most obvious problem is that slavery was
a system which denied family life and bonds, one that allowed
slaveowners to prevent or break families by selling members. He
could hardly be clearer that he doesn't regard blacks as people --
as Lopez notes, only one of many blind bigotries Moore espouses.
Still, I detect another curious note in the quote: it's like he's
trying to channel ideologues like George Fitzhugh who tried to
defend slavery as anti-capitalist -- an alternative to the coarse
materialism that Bible-thumpers like Moore so despise.
More on Moore:
Andrew Prokop: Michael Flynn's involvement in a plan to build nuclear
reactors in the Middle East is looking even shadier: More "Russia"
scandal this past week, but one should recall that Russian schemes under
Putin have nothing to do with fomenting world revolution or curtailing
US imperial ambitions: they're founded on pure oligarchic greed, which
isn't at all unlike the Trump approach to business. E.g., this piece
summarizes a "whistleblower" report about a deal Flynn was working on:
According to the whistleblower, [Alex] Copson flat-out said the following
- That he "just got" a text message from Flynn saying the nuclear
plant project was "good to go," and that his business colleagues should
"put things in place"
- That Flynn was making sure sanctions on Russia would be "ripped up,"
which would let the project go forward
- That this was the "best day" of his life, and that the project would
"make a lot of very wealthy people"
- That the project would also provide a pretext for expanding a US
military presence in the Middle East (the pretext of defending the
- That citizens of Middle Eastern countries would be better off "when
we recolonize the Middle East"
David Roberts: A moment of truth arrives for Rick Perry's widely hated
coal bailout: Long article, really should be a much bigger scandal
than anything having to do with "sexual misconduct" -- with billions
of dollars of benefits going to five coal companies, paid for by rate
hikes from millions of consumers, and championed by a moron like Rick
Perry, it wouldn't even take much of a stretch from the media to blow
this up, but evidently they're too lazy to care.
Aja Romano: MSNBC won't cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing
to alt-right outrage was a "mistake": Another cautionary tale,
showing you can't trust anything reported on right-wing media, and
that the kneejerk "zero tolerance" reactions of "liberal" media
combines are set up perfectly to be scammed. More:
Ryan Grim: MSNBC Reverses Decision to Fire Contributor Sam Seder.
Mark Joseph Stern: The Trump Administration Just Declared War on Public
Corey Williams/David Eggert: Conyers' Congressional Seat Won't Be
Filled for Nearly a Year: So, Nancy Pelosi browbeat Conyers into
resigning his seat, certain that a Democrat would replace him -- the
current gerrymander of Michigan concedes that -- but evidently the
Republican governor of Michigan can simply hold the seat open for a