Sunday, January 14, 2018


Weekend Roundup

After Trump made his "shit-hole countries" comment, Matt Taibbi asked on Twitter whether any president had previously said anything comparable. Not sure what he found out. My own first thought was that Thomas Jefferson probably said something less succinct but roughly equivalent about Haiti, and such views were probably very common among American politicians -- certainly as long as slaveholders remained in power, and probably much later. Indeed, GW Bush's critique of "nation building" was pointedly directed at Haiti, and the Clinton operation Bush so disparaged was primarily instigated to stem the influx of refugees from Haiti's dictatorship. (Indeed, it was Clinton who converted Guantanamo from a navy base into a prison "holding tank" for Haitian refugees.)

But I do want to share one example I picked up from a tweet (by Remi Brulin). This is evidently from a transcript of a conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, from May 4, 1972:

President: I'll see that the United States does not lose. I'm putting it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise. South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose. Which means, basically, I have made my decision. Whatever happens to South Vietnam, we are going to cream North Vietnam. . . . For once, we've got to use the maximum power of this country . . . against this shit-ass little country, to win the war. . . . The only place where you and I disagree . . . is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.

Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher . . .


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week: Trump scuttled a DACA deal; CHIP got cheaper but still didn't pass; Trump said some things; Arizona's Senate race heated up. Other Yglesias posts:

    • Arizona's already very complicated Senate race, explained.

    • Tuesday's DACA negotiation stunt showed how dangerously we've lowered the bar for Trump.

      There's something more than a little pointless about the mental fitness debate. Trump is, for better or worse, now pursuing an utterly orthodox Republican Party approach on every policy issue under the sun. Ultimately, Trump's slothful work habits and boundless incuriosity are more a problem for that party's leaders than for anyone else. If their considered judgment is that this policy agenda is better pursued by a lazy, ignorant cable news addict than by Mike Pence, that's really their problem.

      The agenda itself, however, is a problem. . . .

      On a policy level, however, Ike Brannon and Logan Albright of the Cato Institute have concluded that "deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade."

      Of course, there is no realistic way that all 750,000 DACA recipients will be deported, but losing legal authorization to live and work in the United States will hurt them nonetheless by forcing them out of the legitimate labor market and into the shadows. A report compiled this summer by the Center for American Progress concluded that obtaining DACA protection raised recipients' wages by 69 percent on average, and it stands to reason that losing it would cause a large-scale reversal with concomitant negative effects for GDP growth, productivity, and tax collection.

      With the economy finally enjoying low unemployment (as Trump likes to brag), there is no conceivable upside to deporting a large group of young, well-educated workers who are contributing meaningfully to the American economy. Which is precisely why Republicans keep teasing their willingness to offer them some legislative relief. But instead of doing the right thing for the country, the GOP is hung up on the idea of using the DACA issue as leverage to jam up the Democrats and either extract some concessions on other immigration issues or force the party into an internecine argument about whether they are doing enough for the DREAMers.

    • Trump is mad that "Sneaky Dianne Feinstein" debunked a key Republican theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Newly released Senate testimony debunks a key conservative theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Donald Trump's phony war with the press, explained.

    • Filing your taxes on a postcard isn't going to happen.

  • Thomas Frank: Paul Krugman got the working class wrong. That had consequences: Frank's been pushing a line about how white blue-collar workers have been flocking to the Republican Party at least since his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?, while Krugman has preferred to point out that base support for the Republicans comes from above-average income families. I've tended to agree with Krugman on this for two reasons: one is that the data generally shows support for Republicans -- even Trump -- is more upscale; the other is that I've felt that the urban professionals Democrats have tried to appeal to lately have been too quick to discard or ignore the white working class, and this blunts their understanding of inequality. Still, if the trend has gotten worse -- and Trump's election argues that it has -- this is largely because Frank is right about the corrosive effects of the New Democrats' appeal to urban elitism. Moreover, it matters not just because it's cost the Democrats some critical elections; it's one problem that would be relatively straightforward to fix. For instance, see: Joan C Williams: Liberal elite, it's time to strike a deal with the working class.

  • Greg Grandin: The Death Cult of Trumpism:

    Trump won by running against the entire legacy of the postwar order: endless war, austerity, "free trade," unfettered corporate power, and inequality. A year into his tenure, the war has expanded, the Pentagon's budget has increased, and deregulation has accelerated. Tax cuts will continue the class war against the poor, and judicial and executive-agency appointments will increase monopoly rule.

    Unable to offer an alternative other than driving the existing agenda forward at breakneck speed, Trumpism's only chance at political survival is to handicap Earth's odds of survival. Trump leverages tribal resentment against an emerging manifest common destiny, a true universalism that recognizes that we all share the same vulnerable planet. He stokes an enraged refusal of limits, even as those limits are recognized. "We're going to see the end of the world in our generation," a coal-country voter said in a recent Politico profile, explaining what he knows is his dead-end support for Trump.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers: The House passed a bill to renew NSA's warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, rejecting an amendment to at least require a warrant. Among the bill's backers were Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership, including many who have spent much of the last year arguing that Trump is in league with Putin. For more, see: John Nichols: Democratic Defections Allow an Assault on Civil Liberties to Pass the House.

  • Sean Illing: Richard Rorty's prescient warnings for the American left: Rorty died in 2007, and this is mostly picked up from his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, a time when what was probably America's largest "left" organization, Move On, was preoccupied with defending President Bill Clinton from impeachment charges based on lies about his consensual but inappropriate sex with a White House intern. That wasn't what you'd call a high water point for the American left. Sure, we might have found ourselves in the same lame position in 2017 had Hillary Clinton been elected president, but while her loss has been a setback for mainstream liberals, it has done wonders to clarify why we need a principled and ambitious left. As such, events have rendered Rorty's book obsolete. Two problems here: first is that Rorty's task -- to explain why the left in America had become atrophied and ineffective -- has been rendered academic by the renascent left; and second, his answer turns out not to have been a very good one. He tries to argue that the problem is that the "reformist left," which had accomplished so many important reforms from 1900 to 1964, gave way to a "cultural left," which abandoned effective politics as it retreated into academia to focus on cultural matters. He starts critiquing the latter by charging that the new left was hostile to "anyone opposed to communism -- including Democrats, union workers, and technocrats." Makes you wonder whether he was paying any attention at all: in the first place, what distinguished the new left from the old was its rejection of the Soviet Union (and its Trotskyite and Maoist critics) as the model and exemplar of socialism. Still, it is true that the new left were critical of US practice in the Cold War -- especially the practice of Democratic Party leaders like presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. The all-important fact is that the fundamental directive of the Cold War was to undermine labor and anti-colonial movements around the world and ultimately within the US itself. The fact is that Democrats failed to support unions as business waged an unrelenting struggle to contain, cripple, and roll back labor even well before the new left -- and even more so when the New Democrats rose under Reagan and ruled with Clinton.

    I'm getting rather tired of people blaming "the left" for the rise of the right since the late 1970s. The left has never come anywhere near the levers of power in the US. At best, the labor movement in the 1930s, civil rights in the 1960s, antiwar and environment and women in the 1970s, prodded establishment liberals into making some reforms to calm down the challenge. And while Democrats have enjoyed brief periods of power from Carter in 1977 through Obama in 2016, the ones in power have done damn little to advance the quintessential left positions: toward more equality, peace, and freedom.

  • Jonathan M Katz: This is how ignorant you have to be to call Haiti a 'shithole': After overthrowing slavery in 1804, and defeating a force sent by Napoleon to reclaim the colony. France demanded "reparations" in 1825, effectively bankrupting Haiti for the rest of the 19th century. After that, the Americans entered, invading Haiti in 1915 and occupying the country until 1934, returning periodically through CIA coups and other acts, with full-scale military invasions in 1994 and 2004.

    Some more relevant links here:

  • Mike Konczal: 3 Reasons Why Republicans Will Let the Rich Abuse the Tax Code. Also by Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • Andrew Prokop: Wall Street Journal: Trump's lawyer arranged for $130,000 in hush money for an ex-porn star.

  • Corey Robin: If authoritarianism is looming in the US, how come Donald Trump looks so weak? Offers a cautionary note on the temptation to compare Trump to Hitler, that other notorious racist demagogue who came into power through a crooked back door deal. As Robin points out, the big difference is that a year after seizing power Hitler had consolidated his control to the point where he had thousands of opponents locked up in concentration camps, whereas Trump's most public opponents headline high-rating television shows and are looking forward to massive election wins later this year. Maybe you can liken ICE under Trump to the Gestapo, but their charter is so limited few Americans give them a second thought. I have no doubt but that the Republican Party, with its gerrymanders and voter suppression and psychological research and propaganda machine, has taken a profoundly anti-democratic turn -- I've been reading Nancy McLean's brilliant and deeply disturbing Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- and I'm sure Trump would score very high on Theodor Adorno's F-Scale (a measure of "authoritarian personality" developed right after WWII). And, sure, MAGA has overtones similar to Thousand-Year Reich, but Republicans are more interested in smashing and stripping the state than building it up its power. Trump may blunder his way into nuclear war, but he isn't about to conquer the world. Trump's nationalism is peculiarly hollow. Even his racism comes off more as bad manners than as a coherent belief. I'm not one to belittle how much real damage he is doing, but we shouldn't overstate it either. Still, I'm extra worried about his threats because America has already suffered (even if survived) a long series of Republican malefactors, whose repeated depredations have contributed to the toll Trump adds to. Robin does us a service to quoting Philip Roth on Nixon in 1974:

    Of course there have been others as venal and lawless [as Richard Nixon] in American politics, but even a Joe McCarthy was more identifiable as human clay than this guy is. The wonder of Nixon (and contemporary America) is that a man so transparently fraudulent, if not on the edge of mental disorder, could ever have won the confidence and approval of a people who generally require at least a little something of the 'human touch' in their leaders.

  • Tierney Sneed: How Kris Kobach Has Created a Giant Headache for the Trump Administration.

  • Emily Stewart: Hawaii's missile scare "reminds us how precarious the nuclear age is": For nearly a year now Trump and Kim Jong Un have been taunting one another about nuclear war, setting an ominous context for Saturday's false alarm of a "ballistic missilb threat inbound to Hawaii." Also see (posted before the Hawaii event) Robert Andersen/Martin J Sherwin: Nuclear war became more likely this week -- here's why.

    Stewart also wrote: Gamer who made "swatting" call over video game dispute now facing manslaughter charges: This is a local Wichita story. While I believe that the guy who called in the false report that resulted in deployment of a SWAT team and the killing of a totally innocent man is some kind of criminal act, there's been no mention in the local press whatsoever of the SWAT cop who actually fired the shot. The fact that only one cop fired underscores how unclear it was that anyone needed to shoot. I've also seen no discussion of whether it's reasonable policy to dispatch an entire SWAT team to a situation where there has been no on-site investigation to determine that such a response is appropriate -- in this case it clearly wasn't. Speaking of Wichita, also note this story: Wichita Police Officer's Shot Misses Dog, Injures Girl. This was in response to a "domestic dispute," but the man and woman weren't even in the room when, for some unexplained reason (or, I suppose, none) a cop decided to shoot the dog. He missed, the bullet richocheted, and the girl was hit.

  • More fallout from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: