Sunday, May 20, 2018
Once again, a week with too damn much to report, and too little time
to collect it all. Nothing on elections in Iraq (last week) or Venezuela
(coming soon; US media already bitching like crazy over Maduro stealing
the election and driving the "once prosperous" country ever deeper into
ruin). Nothing on primaries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, nor on prospects
for November. A little bit on Korea, written before the US backed down and
called off the war games that threatened to derail the talks. Fred Kaplan
One Month Before His Summit With Trump, Kim Jong-un Is the One Calling
the Shots. (Considering John Bolton and Donald Trump as alternatives,
that's really not such bad news.) Just a wee bit on the Mueller "witch
hunt." Didn't even get around to the book I'm reading.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that you shouldn't miss this week, explained:
Gina Haspel is America's new director of the CIA (six Democrats supported
Haspel, who ran Bush-era torture programs, while two Republicans opposed,
with McCain absent); Net neutrality won a vote in the Senate (52-47 to
overrule the FCC, although the House is unlikely to concur); The North
Korea summit is suddenly in trouble (Yglesias doesn't mention continuing
US war games that North Korea objects to, but does note that John Bolton
keeps insisting on things that North Korea is unlikely to ever agree to);
There's an Ebola outbreak in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo):
But if things get bad, the United States, traditionally a world leader
in epidemic response, has greatly diminished capacity in this regard. . . .
Inconveniently, the head of the National Security Council's global health
security efforts abruptly left earlier this month as part of a
Bolton-inspired shake-up. His whole team has been dismantled, and
budget cuts have already forced US public health agencies to scale
back their international work.
Other Yglesias links:
It might take a black candidate to beat Trump's toxic racial politics:
"Cory Booker's path out of the identity vs. economic politics quagmire. . . .
Booker's solution is essentially the one Obama offered -- reassure voters of
color by putting one of their own in charge, and then let the politician
spend his time making his case to the white voters." I've long regarded
Booker as a crony of Wall Street, so even if he does make the case while
campaigning I have little hope that he won't revert to form in office. As
with Obama, that doesn't strike me as a long-term winning formula, which
is what the Democrats really need. For what it's worth, I think the class
vs. identity debate within the Democratic Party is muddled and confused.
4 winners and 3 losers from the primaries in Pennsylvania and Nebraska:
Winners: Pittsburgh-area socialism, Democratic women, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom
Wolf, tattoos. Losers: Rick Saccone, Oregon, DCCC (although I don't get the
slam against Oregon).
Trump helps sanctioned Chinese phone maker after China delivers a big loan
to a Trump project: I'm not a fan of US sanctions against Iran and
North Korea -- they're meant to buttress a harsh and vindictive foreign
policy, and they depend on imperious overreach by the US government into
foreign commerce. Still, it's viciously amusing to see Trump all wound up
about lost jobs in China, especially since the obvious explanation is old
Cruelty is the defining characteristic of Donald Trump's politics and
policy: "John Kelly says separating kids from their parents is fine
because of 'foster care or whatever'." But that's just one example.
From new Medicaid rules that hurt people with disabilities to rewriting
bank regulations to favor predatory lenders to siding with Dow Chemical's
lobbyists over pediatricians to keep allowing the manufacture of a pesticide
that poisons children's brains, the circle of people who are subject to harm
by a regime that practices the law of the jungle is ever widening.
Very few of us are as rich or powerful as Trump, his Cabinet, his circle
of friends and family, or his major campaign contributors. All of us will
lose out from an ethic that licenses the strong to oppress the weak.
Foreign-born children are uniquely disempowered in the political system,
so they bear the brunt for now. But almost all of us will need help or
protection at some point.
Masha Gessen: Taking Children From Their Parents Is a Form of State
Why are we taking Donald Trump's Korea diplomacy seriously? "All
he does is lie and break promises. This will be no different." Sure,
but why be so pessimistic about it? Yglesias sounds like he buys the
whole argument that it's all North Korea's fault that we don't get
along swimmingly with them -- even going so far as to buy the argument
that acknowledging their existence by merely meeting is some kind of
huge concession. The fact is that whatever deal emerges will almost
completely be shaped by the two Koreas, and the planets seem better
aligned than usual for such an agreement. In this context, Trump may
have an advantage over past US presidents: ignorance, inattention to
detail, a weak understanding of America's imperial posture, and an
eagerness to claim credit for things he did nothing to make happen.
He also has some advisers who realize that the US has no good options
with North Korea -- not least because the US has painted itself into
a corner by insisting on denuclearizing North Korea without having
any way to force the issue. (Ever escalating cycles of sanctions are
a nuisance for North Korea, but they don't threaten the survival of
the regime; moreover, they underscore how hostile the US is, and how
important it is that North Korea have a nuclear deterrent against US
aggression.) Admittedly, Trump has some aides like John Bolton who
are prefer the use of military force, but the people who actually
run the DOD harbor no delusions that such an attack could be launched
at a tolerable cost. So if the Koreas present him with a fait accompli,
would he really screw it just to humor Bolton? I wouldn't put it past
him: hiring Bolton and withdrawing from the Iran deal certainly seem
to be a secret desire for failure. But even as the smart money bets on
Trump doing something stupid, I don't see any reason to cheer him on.
Zeeshan Aleem: Trump missed Congress's deadline for getting a NAFTA deal
done. Now what? Not much, unless Trump decides to blow the whole
existing deal up, which would, well, nobody knows what that would do.
One thing it wouldn't do is restore pre-NAFTA jobs and demographics.
This is partly because businesses that have been taking advantage of
the arrangement for 25 years now aren't likely to roll over (or lose
influence in all three countries), but also the pact's many losers
(in all three countries) have moved on (or been trampled under). Any
new deal will generate new winners and losers, so everyone advising
the process have their own angles. As for Ryan's "deadline," that
assumes Trump will come up with a Republican-favored deal, but the
GOP is likely to be as divided as Democrats on any such change.
Zack Beauchamp: Santa Fe High: Texas lieutenant governor blames shooting
on "too many entrances": "too many exits" too: "There aren't enough
people to put a guard at every entry and exit." It's not clear to me that
shootings have anything to do with entries/exits, but one real threat
that you'd like to have more exits for is fire. Maybe fires are rarer
these days than shootings, but they do happen, and they are things that
school administrators properly worry about.
There are a number of practical problems with this idea. If you have a
mass shooter in the building, you don't want to trap people in the
building. It's not obvious that security guards would be able to spot
someone concealing a weapon even if they were at every door; in fact,
there were two armed guards at Santa Fe on Friday. And closing most of
the entryways to a school would create a serious fire hazard.
More fundamentally, this all feels like an absurd kind of deflection.
Caleb Crain: Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy? Basically, a
review of Robert Kuttner's new book, Can Democracy Survive Global
Capitalism? -- although he starts off with a long disquisition
on Karl Polanyi and his 1944 book The Great Transformation
("as the world was coming to terms with the destruction that fascism
had wrought"). For another review, see
Justin Fox: How Rampant Globalization Brought Us Trump. One thing
I've noticed is how reviewers tend to drop the key word "Global" from
the title. Kuttner doesn't have a problem with the well-regulated mixed
economies of Western Europe and America from the 1940s through the
1960s: they combined strong growth rates with broad distribution of
wealth. Rather, he blames the political rise of global finance since
the 1970s, by the 1990s capturing center-left parties (e.g., Bill
Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the UK), ultimately discrediting
the left such that populist resentment often wound up falling for
the far right.
Sean Illing: How TV trivialized our culture and politics: Interview
with Lance Strate, author of Amazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman's
Brave New World, as a surrogate for late media critic Neil Postman,
most famous for his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse
in the Age of Show Business (1985). Seems like I bought but never
read that book -- or maybe I'm thinking of his 1992 book, Technopoly:
The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by which time Postman was
turning into something of a neo-luddite. The context for Amusing,
of course, was Ronald Reagan, an actor who played the role of president,
but unlike Trump today, Reagan at least tried to act presidential, since
that's what the role expected. Trump lacks Reagan's craft and discipline
as an actor, or even as a human being. Rather, taking Postman's title
to its absurd conclusion, Trump channels Reagan less through "reality
TV" than through the "zombie apocalypse" genre: with Trump we not only
get the death of democracy, we get to watch it mindlessly devouring
itself, as reality itself has become more horrific than the dystopias
Postman could imagine in his lifetime (he died in 2003). Strate does
note that "I think Postman held out great hope for education as a way of
addressing these problems." Postman wrote several books about education,
but the one I read and treasured as a high school dropout was Teaching
as a Subversive Activity, written with Charles Weingartner in 1969.
The authors there posited that the highest goal of teaching was to get
students to develop acute "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, that
was not on the curriculum of the high school I dropped out of, nor has
it gained much currency since then. Indeed, the recent focus on nothing
but test scores teaches "crap-detection" only by burying students in
it. It's not like critical thinking has disappeared, but those in power
have done their best to banish it to the isolated corners of society,
and are reaping the fruits of their astonishing incompetence. In some
sense it would be comforting to blame all this on the obliteration of
words by images. Still, I'm somewhat more suspicious of the triumph of
money over morals.
For another take on Trump/Reagan see:
Susan B Glasser: Is Trump the Second Coming of Reagan? "[Brett
Baier] knows that our current president is louder, cruder, and ruder
than Ronald Reagan, 'a counterpuncher' from New York far different
from the genial Republican predecessor."
Sarah Kliff: The new Trump plan to defund Planned Parenthood, explained:
"Women's health clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for the
procedure will be cut off from a key source of federal funding under new
Trump administration rules expected to be released Friday."
Matthew Lee: Pompeo: 'Swagger' of State Department Is 'America's Essential
Rightness': In his recent closed door pep talk, Pompeo reportedly
said: "Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego.
No, swagger is confidence, in one's self, in one's ideas. In our case,
it is America's essential rightness. And it is aggressiveness born of
the righteous knowledge that our cause is just, special, and built upon
America's core principles." Maybe the words he understands even less
than "swagger" are: "arrogance," "boastfulness," and "ego." He went on
to underscore his confusion by adding: "we should carry that diplomatic
swagger to the ends of the earth; humbly, nobly and with the skill and
courage I know you all possess." OK, add "humbly" to the list of words
he doesn't begin to understand.
Dara Lind: Trump on deported immigrants: "They're not people. They're
If Trump understands his own administration's policy, he's never
acknowledged it in public. He sticks to the same rhetorical move every
time: refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and
animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and
allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals
and animals to remain subtext.
This is who Donald Trump has been for his entire political career.
The worst-case scenarios about his dehumanizing rhetoric -- that they
would foment large-scale mob violence or vigilantism against Latinos
in the United States -- have not been realized. But neither have any
hopes that Trump, as president, might ever weigh his words with any
care at all, especially when encouraging Americans to see human beings
as less than human.
Juan Escalante: It's not just rhetoric: Trump's policies treat immigrants
like me as "animals".
Charles P Pierce: Can the Republic Recover from Donald Trump?:
Good question, but the
post is all question, no answer. I don't think this quite rises to the
level of an assumption, but the default sentiment is that before Trump
we had norms, and now clearly we don't. But wouldn't it be, uh, normal
to revert to norms once the disruption is removed? I don't think that's
how it works. To pick an obvious example, GW Bush did a lot of shit --
tax cuts, defense buildup, the War on Terror, "no child left behind,"
"tort reform," the pivot away from "Peace Process" to Sharon on Israel,
packing the courts with right-wingers -- that Barack Obama never came
close to reversing. In fact, he rarely tried, because even though there
was voluminous evidence that nearly everything Bush touch made the world
worse, he tacitly accepted that changed world order. To reverse what
Bush did, Obama would have had to work much harder than Bush did to
break it all. We can debate whether Trump is even worse than Bush, but
one thing that is clear is that Trump's world is even more fragile than
Bush's, because so much of what Bush (and Clinton and Bush and Reagan
and, sad to say, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and LBJ) broke was never fixed.
On the other hand, Trump's efforts to wipe out everything worthwhile
Obama did have already been almost complete, achieved with remarkable
ease. On the other hand, they haven't fixed anything. They've simply
made everything worse. It's like we're struggling against the second
law of thermodynamics, where it take enormous energy to order anything,
but no effort at all to let it turn to shit.
I don't normally read Pierce, but he seems to have been on quite a
roll lately, at least title-deep:
Frank Rich: Trump's Jerusalem Horror Show: Structured as an interview,
so it quickly wanders onto other topics, like Kelly Sadler's "joke" about
John McCain dying and the Trump legacy of never apologizing for anything
bigoted (or merely stupid), and praise for the late journalist Tom Wolfe.
For what little it's worth, I don't think I ever read anything by Wolfe,
but I was aware of him and always suspected that his "Radical Chic" was
the opening salvo in the long term assault on liberal sympathies for the
poor and downtrodden, dismissing them as elitist conceits, conveniently
dismissing the problems themselves.
For more on the Jerusalem embassy event, see:
Michelle Goldberg: A Grotesque Spectacle in Jerusalem:
The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance
between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the
return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return
of Christ, after which Jews who don't convert will burn forever. . . .
This spectacle, geared toward Donald Trump's Christian American base,
coincided with a massacre about 40 miles away. Since March 30, there
have been mass protests at the fence separating Gaza and Israel. Gazans,
facing an escalating humanitarian crisis due in large part to an Israeli
blockade, are demanding the right to return to homes in Israel that their
families were forced from at Israel's founding. . . . The Israeli military
has responded with live gunfire as well as rubber bullets and tear gas.
In clashes on Monday, at least 58 Palestinians were killed and thousands
wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka
Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot
about America's relationship to Israel right now.
Somewhere in all of this people have forgotten why moving the US
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem matters in the first place. The
British held a League of Nations mandate for Palestine since 1920,
after the colony was carved out of the former Ottoman Empire. That
was renewed by the UN on its founding in 1945, but the British tired
of trying to rule Palestine, so threw the problem back to the UN to
sort out by 1948. The UN convened a commission to "study" the issue,
and they came up with a partition plan that would divide Palestine
into three sections: a mostly Jewish segment across the Jezreel
Valley, down the coast, and extended through the Negev to Eilat; an
almost exclusively Muslim-Christian territory broken into three
segments (Gaza, West Bank, West Galilee) plus the isolated city of
Jaffa; and, finally, an "international" area centered on Jerusalem.
Ben Gurion and the Zionists lobbied hard to secure UN approval of
the partition plan, then took that mandate and launched offensives
to capture Jerusalem, West Galilee, and Jaffa, and to reduce and
concentrate Gaza. Meanwhile, Transjordan grabbed up the West Bank
and East Jerusalem, dividing the city while leaving the Palestinians
nothing. Subsequent UN resolutions, following international law,
insisted that Palestinian refugees should be able to return in
peace to their homes, and that the expansion of Israel following
the 1967 war, especially the annexation of greater Jerusalem, was
"inadmissible." The US has always supported (in word, anyway) the
sanctity and applicability of international law, and in the 1980s
the PLO reoriented itself to embrace a solution based on law.
One might argue that the US has never been really serious about
international law, especially as Americans have claimed the right
to ignore any parts they find inconvenient (e.g., the refusal to
join the International Criminal Court, and the decision to ignore
POW status/rights in the Global War on Terror). But Eisenhower was
willing and able to pressure Israel to return land seized in 1956
(although Johnson made no similar effort in 1967), and Carter got
Israel to reverse its 1977 intervention in Lebanon (which Reagan
fatefully allowed to resume in 1982). At least, GWH Bush and Clinton
made something of an effort to get "two state" peace talks going,
but since 2001 (when GW Bush and Sharon came to power) the US has
steadily retreated, often just rubber-stamping Israeli decisions
on war and foreign policy. (Obama did negotiate the Iran nuke deal
over Israeli objections, but he did nothing effective to advance
peace and justice in the area Israel controls.) With Trump, what we
are seeing is a total surrender of American interests to Netanyahu's
political agenda. The embassy move is hardly the worst submission,
but given its long centrality has great symbolic portent. This is
well understood in Israel and among Palestinians, but given how
long and how thoroughly Americans have deceived themselves about
Israel, it is scarcely commented on here. The fact that Israel can
bomb Iranians in Syria and shoot marchers in Gaza with absolutely
no concern for how bad such acts look is testimony to how completely
Trump has surrendered to Israel (or maybe just to Sheldon Adelson, who
speaks fluent Trump,
sealing the deal with a $30 million check).
More links on Israel-Palestine:
Zachary Roth: Is the System Rigged Against Democrats? Sure it is,
right down to the New York Times substituting a Reagan campaign poster
for the book cover or any other relevant graphic in this review of
Davis Faris' slim book It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can
Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Unfortunately,
Faris focuses on re-rigging the system:
To end gerrymandering, Faris says, they should scrap the winner-take-all
method we use to elect members of the House and replace it with a system
known as "ranked choice voting" that better reflects voter preferences.
To fix the problem of Democratic underrepresentation in the Senate,
Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico should get statehood, and California
should be split into seven separate states. Democrats should add seats
to the Supreme Court and fill them with progressives. And they should
reform voting laws to ban onerous voter ID requirements, re-enfranchise
ex-felons and automatically register everyone to vote.
I'm not unaware of structural factors which make the system less
representative and less responsive to voter wishes, but the real
problem Democrats face is getting voters to trust and support them,
which is pretty much the same thing as getting Democrats to trust
and support a clear majority of the voting public -- enough to
overcome whatever structural deficits the party endures. Thanks
to the Republicans' ideology, platform, and track record, that
shouldn't be hard -- but, of course, given the pervasive influence
of money, media, and mythology, it is. I wouldn't call this dirty,
but one thing Democrats have to learn -- something that Republicans
have definitely figured out -- is that it matters whether they win
Dylan Scott: Who is the freeloader: the working poor on food stamps --
or corporations that don't pay them enough? Sen. Sherrod Brown
starts with the insight that food stamps, medicare, etc., effectively
subsize companies who underpay their workers by allowing people to
work for less than they really need to live on, then tries to turn
the tables on those companies. But he doesn't come up with a very
good way of doing so, and his rhetoric about "corporate freeloaders"
plays into the conceit that getting something for nothing is morally
wrong. If you want to reduce welfare benefits, a more straightforward
way to do that would be to legislate higher minimum wages. Even so,
that leaves some problem cases, like earners trying to support larger
families (more children or other dependents). In many cases, it would
be preferable to provide more welfare benefits, and pay for
them out of taxes on excessive profits and wages. Unfortunately, many
liberals buy into the notion that welfare is a bad thing, and think
they're scoring points with phrases like "corporate welfare." Doesn't
the Constitution talk about "promoting the general welfare" as being
one of the tasks of good government? Isn't the right's generic attack
on government effectively an effort to reduce the general welfare?
I think this confusion about welfare partly explains why the farm
bill has become such a political football. See
Tara Golshan: A House revolt over immigration just killed the farm
bill -- for now. I don't really understand what immigration has
to do with this, and indeed the reports are contradictory: evidently
some Republicans want to force action on DACA, and others want to
vote on a more restrictive anti-immigrant bill. For some time now,
there has been a right-wing faction which opposed government efforts
to stabilize agricultural markets -- rhetorically their complaints
about "corporate welfare" have some resonance with liberals -- but
this year they've managed to insert some poisonous "work requirements"
into the food stamp program, moving Democrats into opposition. By
taking advantage of mainstream Republicans' embrace of Trump cruelty,
a few dozen Koch-funded fanatics are threatening American agribusiness.
It's an interesting example of dysfunction within the GOP.
Emily Stewart: Donald Trump is raging over the Mueller investigation
on Twitter; also by Stewart:
Roger Stone acknowledges he might be indicted, and
Donald Trump Jr. and Trump aides were reportedly open to foreign help
in 2016 election beyond Russia (especially UAE and Saudi Arabia).
I am of the camp that regards Mueller's investigation as largely a
distraction, although it does tangentially touch on two more serious
stories: the profound corruption of the US electoral process, and
the deeply ingrained corruption of the Trump family and their cronies
and enablers. Still, one thing remains amusing: how guilty Trump
continues to look. As I recall, the thing that finally got to Nixon
about Watergate wasn't the specific crime, but all the other things
he was doing that could have been exposed in the investigation (of
course, many "dirty tricks" did in fact come to light).
There's been a big media push from Republican flacks complaining
about how the Mueller investigation has now dragged on for an entire
year, so that got me to wondering how long the Starr investigation
into Clinton lasted? There's a chart of all past Special Counsel
Amelia Thomson DeVeaux: Mueller Is Moving Quickly Compared to Past
Special Counsel Investigations, and it shows that Starr's "Whitewater"
investigation lasted a little more than six years. The upshot there
was that Starr eventually caught Clinton in a lie that had nothing
whatsoever to do with the original subject, but which provided House
Republicans with an excuse to impeach Clinton (even knowing there was
no chance the Senate would convict him). The Clinton/Starr experience
convinced many of us that the Special Counsel law was an invitation
to political abuse, and it has rarely been used since then. (The only
time before Russia was the Valerie Plame leak, which was one of the
shortest ever.) When Trump wails about the "greatest witch hunt ever,"
he's being very forgetful (as well as whiny).
Matt Taibbi: The Battle of Woodstock: "First in a series of diaries
from the oddest House primary race in America" -- NY-19, where Taibbi
is following Jeff Beals. Enter the DCCC. Hard to tell whether their
ignorance or interest will turn out more self-defeating. Speaking of
the DCCC and the Democratic Party old guard, see:
Joe Biden Clarifies He's No Bernie Sanders: "I Don't Think 500
Billionaires Are Reason We're in Trouble, adding "The folks
at the top aren't bad guys." Maybe not all of them, but ones like
Sheldon Adelson, Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, Art Pope, and Betsy
DeVos kind of skew the sample. Oh, also Donald Trump -- he may or
may not be a billionaire, but he plays one on TV. Billionaires
who donate to Democrats aren't exempt, either. Bill Gates was in
the news last week making fun of Trump, but one shouldn't forget
his effort to corner the Internet back in the 1990s, resulting in
a conviction for antitrust violations.