Sunday, October 14, 2018

Weekend Roundup

The big story of the week seems to be the evident murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He had moved from Saudi Arabia to Virginia, but entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to "finalize some paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée." He never emerged from the consulate. The Turkish government has much evidence of foul play, and there are reports that "US intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to 'capture' Khashoggi" -- something they made no attempt to warn Khashoggi about.

Some links (quotes above are from Hill, below):

The week started with Nikki Haley's resignation as US ambassador to the UN, but a week later it's hard to find any mention of it. Then the Florida panhandle got demolished by Hurricane Michael. Then there was some sort of White House summit between Trump and Kanye West. Meanwhile, elections are coming.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Superior ruthlessness isn't why Republicans control the Supreme Court: "They had some good luck -- and, most importantly, they had the votes." After their losses in 2016, all the Democrats could do to derail the Kavanaugh nomination was to convince the public that he was a really terrible pick, and opinion polls show that they did in fact make that case. However, as we've seen many times before, Republicans are fine with ignoring public opinion (at least as long as they keep their base and donors happy), so they're eager to exploit any power leverage they can grab, no matter how tenuous. Democrats (in fact, most people) regard that as unscrupulous, which Republicans find oddly flattering -- backhanded proof that they hold convictions so firm they're willing to fight (dirty) to advance them. Some Democrats have come to the conclusion that they need to become just as determined to win as the Republicans -- e.g., David Faris's recent book: It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Several problems with this: one is that there are still Americans that believe in things like fair play and due process, and those votes should be easy pickings for Democrats given how Republicans have been playing the game; another is that past efforts by Democrats to act more like Republicans haven't fared well -- they're never enough to appease the right, while they sure turn off the left. But what Democrats clearly do have to do is to show us that they take these contests seriously. I didn't especially like turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a #MeToo issue, but that did make the issue personal and impactful in a way that no debate over Federalist Society jurisprudence ever could.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Trump's 60 Minutes interview once again reveals gross ignorance and wild dishonesty.

    • People don't like "PC culture" -- not that many of them can tell you what "PC culture" means (only that it consists of self-appointed language police waiting to pounce on you for trivial offenses mostly resident in their own minds). Refers to Yascha Mounk: Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture, which doesn't much help to define it either. To me, "PC culture" is exemplified by the God-and-country, American exceptionalist pieties spouted by Democratic politicians like Obama and the Clintons -- a compulsion to say perfectly unobjectionable things because they know they'll be attacked viciously by the right (or for that matter by center/leftists wanting to show off for the right) for any hint of critical thought. On the other hand, on some issues Republicans are policed as diligently -- racism is the one they find most bothersome, mostly because catering to the insecurities of white folk is such a big part of their trade. Of course, if we had the ability to take seriously what people mean, we might be able to get beyond the "gotcha" game over what they say.

    • Trump's dangerous game with the Fed, explained.

    • Trump's USA Today op-ed on health care is an absurd tissue of lies.

    • The case for a carbon tax: A carbon tax has always made sense to me, mostly because it helps to counter a currently unregulated externality: that of dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Two key ideas here: one is to implement it by joint international agreement (Yglesias suggests the US, Europe, and Japan, initially, but why wait for the US?), then grow it by charging tariffs against non-members; the other is to start low (to minimize short-term impact) and make the taxes escalate over time. Yglesias contrasts a carbon tax to David Roberts: It's time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels. This reminds me that major oil players have every now and then "advocated" a carbon tax, specifically when threatened with proposals like Roberts'. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to get a carbon tax passed is to threaten the oil companies with something much more drastic. No one has much faith in reason anymore.

    • Immigrants can make post-industrial America great.

    • Trump's successful neutering of the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation has scary implications: Trump evidently got the rubber stamp, ruffle no feathers investigation of Brett Kavanaugh he wanted, showing that Comey replacement Christopher Wray can be trusted to protect his party.

      The White House got away with stamping on an FBI investigation. Think of it as a dry run for a coming shutdown of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

      It's easy to forget, but the existence of a Russia inquiry isn't a natural fact of American life. Barack Obama was president when it began, and then in the critical winter of 2016 to 2017, many Republicans, particularly foreign policy hawks, were uneasy with Trump and saw an investigation as a useful way to force him into policy orthodoxy. When Comey was fired, enough of that unease was still in place that many Republicans pushed for a special counsel to carry things forward.

      Trump, however, has clearly signaled his desire to clean house and fire Mueller after the midterms. And the Kavanaugh fight has shown us (and, more importantly, shown Trump) that congressional Republicans are coming around to the idea that independence of federal law enforcement is overrated. His White House, meanwhile, though hardly a well-oiled machine, has demonstrated its ability to work the levers of power and get things done.

      If the GOP is able to hold its majority or (as looks more likely, given current polling) pick up a seat or two, a firm Trumpist majority will be in place ready to govern with the principle that what's good for Trump is good for the Republican Party, and subverting the rule of law is definitely good for Trump.

  • Stavros Agorakis: 18 people are dead from Hurricane Michael. That number will only rise. Category 4, making landfall with winds of 155 mph, the third-most intense hurricane to hit the continental US since they started keeping count (after an unnamed Labor Day storm in 1935 and Camille in 1969) -- i.e., about as strong as the hurricane that the Trump administration couldn't cope with in Puerto Rico.

  • Ryan Bort: The Georgia Voter Suppression Story Is Not Going Away.

  • Juan Cole: 15 Years after US Occupied Iraq, it is too Unsafe for Trump Admin to Keep a Consulate There.

  • Joe Klein: Michael Lewis Wonders Who's Really Running the Government: Book review of Lewis's The Fifth Risk, which looks at what Trump's minions are doing to three government bureaucracies: the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Mostly they are shredding data, and purging the departments of the workers with the expertise to collect and analyze that data. Lewis explains why that matters -- a welcome relief from those journalists who are satisfied with reporting the easy stories about stupid Trump tweets and hi-jinks.

  • Paul Krugman: Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies: I try my best to avoid political ads, but got stuck watching a jaw dropper for Wichita's Republican Congressman Ron Estes, who spent most of his 30 seconds talking about how hard he's been working to save Medicare. Wasn't clear from what, since the only imminent threat is from his fellow Republicans, and his key votes to repeal ACA and cut corporate taxes and saddle us with massive deficits sure don't count. Estes isn't what you'd call a political innovator -- the main theme of his ads last time was that a vote for him would thwart Nancy Pelosi's nefarious designs on the Republic -- so most likely his ads this time are being repeated all across the nation. Also by Krugman: The Paranoid Style in GOP Politics.

  • Dara Lind: The Trump administration reportedly wants to try family separation again.

  • Anna North: Why Melania's response to Trump's alleged affairs was so weird:

    In some ways, it's a relief that the first lady is rarely called upon to perform the thankless task of trying to convince the country that her husband respects women. But it's also a sign of something darker: Plenty of Americans know the president doesn't respect women, and a lot of them don't care. They may even like it.

  • Sandy Tolan: Gaza's Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become a Threat to Israel.