Thursday, March 9, 2017
Top local story here has been wildfire, the predictable result of
a very dry winter and three or more days of high winds. On Wednesday,
the Wichita Eagle front page, above the fold, consisted of one huge
picture of fire and the headline "Unprecedented." The story revealed
that about 60% of
Clark County (WSW of Wichita, south and a bit east of Dodge City,
at population 2215 pretty much the definition of nowhere) has been
burnt. That fire spread east into Comanche County (pop. 1891), and
there have been more scattered fires near Hays and Hutchinson. For
a rundown as of Wednesday, see
Tim Potter: Over 650,000 acres burned so far, state says. The
wind died down a bit on Thursday, so presumably the worst is over.
Note, however, that the annual record broke last week (a bit early,
don't you think?) dates from just last year.
The big story of the week was that Paul Ryan, with Donald Trump's
evident blessing, unveiled his "repeal-and-replace" health care bill.
He's managed to disgust both the right and the left, and more than
a few people in between. Some reactions:
Jamelle Bouie: How Republicans Botched Their Health Care Bill: Title
from the link, better than "Trumpcare Is Already on Life Support" on the
David Dayen: The Republican Health-Care Bill Is the Worst of So Many
Worlds: it "fails on every score -- except cutting rich people's
Tim Dickinson: The Dark Strategy at the Core of the GOP Health Care
Richard Eskow: The American Health Care Act Is a Wealth Grab, Not a
Mike Konczal: The Truth About the GOP Health-Care Plan
Paul Krugman: A Plan Set Up to Fail
Josh Marshall: Let's Agree Not to Lie About GOPCare: Starts with a
rather striking lie: "Here is the simple secret of health insurance and
health care provision policy: You can create efficiencies and savings
by constructing functioning markets." Actually, it's been clear for
decades that health care markets are inherently dysfunctional -- i.e.,
that Marshall's assumption is horribly faulty. His next line is also
untrue: "But at the end of the day, more money equals more care." This
doesn't even demand theory: it implies that the US has 3-4 times more
care than France or Japan, which is empirically false. Marshall then
argues that when Ryan promises to reduce costs, he's really just saying
he'll be offering less care, which is, well, true, but that's mostly
because Ryan isn't trying to change any of the cost factors behind
health care (e.g., by limiting private party profits). He then seems
to endorse right-wing opponents of Ryan's plan, saying "the real way
to do this is simply to repeat the Affordable Care Act root and branch --
no pretending about making it better and 'access' and other nostrums,"
but he doesn't see that happening because "Republicans have essentially
accepted the premise of the ACA: which is to say, the people who got
coverage under the ACA should have coverage." But Republicans
refuse to admit to that position, so Ryan has tailored the program to
fit Republican biases, which is to say to protect the insurability of
people who can afford it and screw everyone else. Marshall ultimately
make some solid points ("The current plan also starts the phaseout of
Medicaid and preps for the phaseout of Medicare -- a key policy goal
for Paul Ryan"), but makes a lot of stupid blunders along the way.
John Nichols: Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump's Health-Care Debacle:
Joy-Ann Reid: Donald Trump Signs On to Paul Ryan's Let-Them-Die 'Health-Care'
Michael Tomasky: It Sure Looks Like Paul Ryan Wants Ryancare to Fail:
"The tip-off to me came Tuesday around noon, when Heritage Action, the
political arm of the Heritage Foundation, issued a tweet condemning the
bill. If Ryan didn't even bother to grease this with Heritage, he's just
not being serious."
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are now playing the price for a years-long
campaign of Obamacare lies: "Republican leaders and conservative
intellectuals, for the most part, didn't really believe nonsense about
death panels or that Obama was personally responsible for high-deductible
insurance plans. What they fundamentally did not like is that the basic
framework of the law is to redistribute money by taxing high-income
families and giving insurance subsidies to needy ones." I want to add
two points here: the first is that every health care reform going back
at least to Medicare protected industry profits and allowed the industry
to increase those profits by inflating costs, even though this quickly
price health care beyond what most families could afford; and second,
that the Republicans have always had to jump through hoops to pretend
that increasing industry profits was good for the people (at least the
ones they profess to care about). These positions have become increasingly
untenable over time, but Republicans have been able to make political hay
as long as they could get people to blame the Democrats, whose own policies
have only been marginally more viable, and whose reforms have saddled them
with the lion's share of blame for their shortcomings.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert L Borosage: Foreign Policy Elites Have No Answer for Trump:
"Few entities have been more discombobulated by our madcap president
than the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which former Obama
foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes once dubbed 'the blob.'" The Blob,
in the form of "a bipartisan committee of the impeccably credentialed --
eight men, two women, all white" working under the Brookings Institute
trademark, answered Trump with a report rehashing all the nostrums that
have worked so badly over the last 10-20-30 years:
The nabobs recommend a measured course, a posture more muscular than
"the detachment" of Barack Obama and less reckless than the "over-commitment"
of George W. Bush. They detail the elements. We will police the seas and
the heavens. We will allow no rival power to claim even a regional sphere
of influence. We will be dominant militarily in every theater from the
Russian border to the South China Sea to cyberspace.
This requires a major military buildup, including investments in
modernizing our nuclear weapons, "long-range strike capability, armed
unmanned aviation, ISR platforms, undersea warfare, directed energy,
space, and cyber security" and more. Yes, our allies should spend more
too, but we should "not ask to much of fragile Europe."
What does this mean on the ground? They recommend dispatching more
forces to the Russian border to counter "Russian revisionism," including
"a robust US and allied presence in the Baltic States, Central and
Eastern Europe and the Balkans." They want greater assistance to Ukraine
"to help ensure its prosperity and success," with a promise of "lethal
military aid" if Russia escalates its interference.
They propose "increasing engagement" to "restore stability" in the
Middle East, ramping up the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda. They also
urge continued deployment of military forces in the Gulf "to keep the
oil flowing," even though the United States doesn't need it.
Trump's first erratic weeks in office have already created a horrifying
sense that the commander in chief is not in command of himself. But the
conventional wisdom of the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment is in
many ways even more disconnected from reality than Trump's tweets.
Jordan Charlton: Donald Trump's Hoodwinking of Working Class People Now
Stephen F Cohen: The 'Fog of Suspicion' and of Worsening Cold War. Also
Matt Taibbi: Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the
Dan De Luce/Paul McCleary: Trump's Ramped-Up Bombing in Yemen Signals More
Aggressive Use of Military: Trump managed to sow enough ambiguity in
his campaign it wasn't clear whether he's dial back the reckless and often
pointless military adventures of the past 15 years, or escalate them like
crazy. Early evidence suggests the latter, which is why so many of these
links point to possible wars, but this one deals with an active front, a
harbinger of things to come. Also see:
Paul McLeary: More US Troops Bound for Afghanistan, as Marines, Comandos,
Arrive in Syria. The situation in Syria is further complicated by
warfare between ostensible US allies (Turks and Kurds); see:
Liz Sly: With a show of Stars and Stripes, US forces in Syria try to
keep warring allies apart.
Lawrence Douglas: President Donald Trump is the most powerful cornered
animal in the world: I'm not sure we should be reminding him how
powerful he is, and quoting Joseph Welch ("have you left no sense of
decency?") is rather beside the point.
Katelyn Fossett: The Trouble with Trump's Immigrant Crimes list:
Specifically, VOICE (Victims Of Immigrant Crime Engagement).
DD Guttenplan: How Donald Trump Speaks to Ohio's Autoworkers:
Some quotes: "When Barack Obama ran, people here were not afraid of
his blackness. They saw someone who talked about things that had
meaning: getting the health-care system to work. Less focus on
foreign wars." And: "I think the vote in Ohio was as much against
Hillary as it was for Trump." And: "People still perceive NAFTA
and TPP as the root of the problem. Until we say it will never be
profitable to oppress other workers, corporations will always
move for cheap labor."
Dhar Jamail: On Labor and Beyond, Trump Is Following Scott Walker's
Patrick Lawrence: Are We Drifting Toward War With North Korea?
Officially, the US is still at war with North Korea, and has been
ever since the "temporary" 1953 armistice, although it's gotten to
the point where it'd be awful costly to renew it, and there's hardly
any cost to maintaining the status quo. At least that's Washington's
view. North Korea is far more affected by sanctions and isolation,
and has been frustrated at every corner in their efforts to move the
status quo. About the only thing they've found that gets the world's
attention is threats, which have repeatedly given American hawks the
opportunity to advocate military actions. What's new, of course, is
Trump, who combines ignorance and antipathy and bully bluster to an
unprecedented degree. I doubt he came into office scheming, as Bush
did viz. Iraq, to start a war, but he's so unstable, and his security
and state picks put so little stock in diplomacy, that any number of
situation could flare up out of control. Korea is an obvious one,
and Iran is another, and some are even worried about China.
Jeffrey Lewis: North Korea Is Practicing for Nuclear War: More
inflamatory is the subhed: "It's preparing for a nuclear first strike."
This is a good example of how Washington foreign policy mandarins
exacerbate tension by inflating the threat North Korea poses.
Eric Lipton/Binyamin Appelbaum: Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers,
Polluters and More
Trita Parsi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Didn't Start the Anti-Iranian Fire:
The anti-Iran war lobby goes back many years.
Philip Rucker/Robert Costa/Ashley Parker: Inside Trump's fury: The president
rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations
Rucker and Costa also wrote:
Bannon vows a daily fight for 'deconstruction of the administrative
state': Not sure why he'd use an academic term for deep analysis
"a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings,
metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions . . . are
always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary
signifiers") when he more likely means "dismantling" or "destruction" --
unless, that is, he's one of those all talk, no action guys.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Progressives Should Support Policies That Help All Working-Class
People: This is all good; for example:
On trade this means policies designed to reduce the trade deficit. This
issue here is not "winning" in negotiations with our trading partners.
It's a question of priorities in trade negotiations.
Rather than demanding stronger and longer protections for Pfizer's
patents and Microsoft's copyrights, we should be getting our trading
partners to support a reduction in the value of the dollar in order to
make our goods and services more competitive. If we can reduce the trade
deficit by 1-2 percentage points of GDP ($180 billion to $360 billion)
it will create 1-2 million manufacturing jobs, improving the labor market
for the working class.
We should use trade to reduce the pay of doctors and other highly paid
professionals. If we open the door to qualified professionals from other
countries we can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health
care and other costs, while reducing inequality.
We should also support policies that rein in the financial sector,
such as reducing fees that pension funds pay to private equity and hedge
funds and their investment advisors. This money comes out of the pockets
of the rest of us and goes to some of the richest people in the country.
A financial transactions tax, which could eliminate tens of billions of
dollars spent each year on useless trades, would also be a major step
towards reducing inequality.
Policies that put downward pressure on the pay of CEOs and other top
executives would also help the working class. This could mean, for example,
making it easier for shareholders to reduce CEO pay. In the nonprofit
sector we could place a cap on the pay of employees for anyone seeking
tax-exempt status. Universities and nonprofit charities could still pay
their presidents whatever they wanted; they just wouldn't get a taxpayer
There is a long list of market-based policies that we can pursue to
reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. (For the
fuller list see
Rigged). These are policies that we should pursue because it is the
right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including
the white working class.
I've been reading Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and
the Origins of Our Time, which puts a lot of emphasis on how white
Southern Democrats supported radical New Deal policies up to about 1938,
when many switched sides, most famously joining with Republicans to pass
the Taft-Hartley Act which halted the growth of unions and ultimately
did them great damage. The South was, at the time, by far the poorest
part of the country (well, still is), so as long as New Deal policies
were crafted not to upset the South's Jim Crow racial order politicians
were happy for the help. However, by the late 1930s, especially with
the Wagner Act supporting unionization in 1935, Southern whites started
to feel threatened, and decided they'd rather keep their racial order
pure and poor than do anything that might help both whites and blacks.
It is one of the great shames of American history that one of our few
major periods of progressivism was so fraught with racism. (Actually,
the same combination hampered Wilson's progressivism, and before that
the Populist Party, at least in the South. For that matter, the great
expansion of voting rights in the Jackson-Van Buren era was more often
than not accompanied by disenfranchisement of free blacks.)
Thomas Frank: Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance
movement: I agree that there's a lot of similarity between the
anti-Trump resistance and the anti-Obama Tea Party, but there is very
little symmetry between left and right, either in the streets or among
the partisan establishment (although I suspect the Republicans were
more inclined to feed their protest movement because they considered
it less of a personal threat -- wrongly, perhaps, if you take Trump
to be a Tea Party champion, but for now let's just say that Democratic
party centrists have a lot more to feel guilty about).
Joseph P Fried: Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies
Paul Glastris: Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic
Rebecca Gordon: Forever War:
During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a
pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought
the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today,
he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He's referred to his
latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as
"a military operation." He's similarly stocked his cabinet with one
general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other
military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana
Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.
Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. He's
more ambivalent about what the military actually does. On the campaign
trail, he railed against the folly that was -- and is -- the (second)
Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was "totally
against" it from the beginning. It's not clear, however, just where
Trump thinks the folly lies -- in invading Iraq in the first place or
in failing to "keep" Iraq's oil afterward. It was a criticism he reprised
when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. "Mike," he
explained, "if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because
that's where they made their money in the first place." Not to worry,
however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, "Maybe we'll have another
chance." Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and
Donald Trump's version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!
Perhaps Trump's objection is simply to wars we don't win. As February
ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia
for the good old days when "everybody used to say 'we haven't lost a war" --
we never lost a war -- you remember." Now, according to the president,
"We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't
fight to win. So we either got to win, or don't fight it at all."
Well, if you'd just stop to give it a bit of thought, you'd realize
that no one ever wins a war. Maybe you lose less bad than the other
side does, but everyone comes out worse for the experience. Anyone who
thought we won the 20th century's two world wars simply didn't account
for everything we lost (admittedly, a pretty widespread problem, given
how much money some people who didn't fight made off those wars). And
anyone who tells you we won (or could have won if only we'd shown more
unity and resolve) wars in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq
simply has their head wedged. What makes Trump so dangerous is his
obsession with winning, and worse still his conviction that's he such
a big winner -- that the only possible result of whatever he chooses
to do will be winning, and indeed that all it takes to "make America
great again" is leadership by a great winner like himself.
Danny Sjursen: I Was Part of the Iraq War Surge. It Was a Disaster.