Sunday, July 30, 2017
I shot most of my war back on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, and
have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these
Some scattered links:
Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption
Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back,
accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his
billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional.
Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens.
The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals,
the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other
how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts.
Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me
what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is
totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."
She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're
so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're
all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband,
the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no
actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his
cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it
appears, has been less fortunate.
Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they
Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks
won't benefit US workers
Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason':
Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore
is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you
so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:
"I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,"
says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective
decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate
change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't.
It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial
groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to
this existential threat."
One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all
mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is
that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister --
within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for
Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas
companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is
increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the
States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates
as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for
other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that
Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and
Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the
so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once"
(a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't
have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently
voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large
part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care
about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards
of twenty million Americans of health insurance.
Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was
severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.
President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the
Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!
Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who
reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health
care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary
last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with
a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe
she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting
to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace"
and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh
commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and
every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary
challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from
John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting
Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals
that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to
deliver on their promises."
Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't
make me laugh." Also:
William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security":
"Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"
William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's
moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom,
a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully
is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere
embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around
to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning
by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet
- Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to
0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the
- The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the
country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
- The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican
controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over
the veto of the governor.
- Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While
Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of
promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In
reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor
into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent
- There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment.
When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut
central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing
this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the
- Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about
taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.
The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing
spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened
the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the
state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution)
to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal
"tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback
used in Kansas, so beware.
Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman:
Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of
Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as
it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense
situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations
of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known
that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's
Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired
America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed
here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the
continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we
proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.
Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone:
I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies
seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by
"repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a
Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it
to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected,
of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where
is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it,
which may be good for various companies but as a society it is
wasteful and degrading.
Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work
for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid
of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to
goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.
Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to
Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the
most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen)
than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for
fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump
snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:
He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key
and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself,
sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said,
sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her
first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually
his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace,
her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting
herself with dignity.
Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive,
shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that
Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back,
do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't
strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions
has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he
tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .
His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace
the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and
constructively is weak.
"It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it
done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown,
Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in,
is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad,
blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .
We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and
queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.
Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this
diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious
point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because
he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed
up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar
into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty
sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua
Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."
Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning
into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid
political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks.
What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found
a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go
out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but
while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of
containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not
just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about
Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable
Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor,
no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets,
therefore he is.
Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his
official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him
out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.
Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither
had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial
desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly,
a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was
given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because
he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded
by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset
over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing
the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system
while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.
Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan
and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end
of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in
the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the
nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the
one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable
in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent
thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping
them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But
evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective
and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault
than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and
Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:
President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and
with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that
Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be
damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that
Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military
confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain
how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy
an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly
The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began
two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was
in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International
Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw
a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team
for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to
Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security
Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the
condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to
blow up the deal by October.
Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law
Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of
the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked
to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other
minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at
and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and
equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the
past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police
abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize
that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations
concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well
as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society
coarser and more hateful.
On the same speech:
Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his
presidency. In reaction, see:
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for
endorsing 'police brutality'.
Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing
and All Too Short:
In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he
a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't
understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the
red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public
statements made by administration officials before he makes statements
of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial
on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .
The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a
no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's
Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a
thankless and redundant position that involves standing before
reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies,
contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.
Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work.
Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The
fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started
raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain
They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative
facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing
his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that
he is saying."
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a
new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military
service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.
Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile
test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into
North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot
a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North
Korea's missile tests. Also:
Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea
nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said
that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate
you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia
and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump
(or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something
profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as
it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).