Not much to show this week. One problem is that I'm still cramped
in terms of what I can search out. Another is that I wasted most of
Sunday on a plumbing task instead of putting the time in here. And I
must admit that said plumbing task -- installing a new kitchen faucet --
left me embarrassed and exhausted: I figured it might take an hour,
but it chewed up more like six (pretty much everything that could go
wrong did go wrong -- from the shutoff valves not working to the
supply hoses not being long enough to the drain plumbing not fitting
back together again properly) and it involved physical contortions
that I'm going to be feeling for at least a week. Moreover, I'm not
even sure I like the fancy "touchless" feature, so it's beginning to
look like a bad shopping decision -- which may be even more
Normally I feel good upon completing a house project (and, indeed,
everything seems to be working properly here, except my shoulders and
hips). So maybe more general depression is taking its toll. No doubt
many of the links below contributed, although there is an evident
shift from stories about the horrors Trump and the Republicans are
scheming to thoughts about how best to resist them, and how to build
an effective, comprehensible alternate vision.
Candice Bernd: How the Koch-Backed Effort to Privatize the Veterans Health
Administration Jeopardizes Everyone's Health Care Future
Brian Beutler: Bernie Sanders and the Progressive Left's Selfless
Defense of Obamacare:
It is easy enough to divide liberals between those who think Obamacare
was an unlovely half-measure that nevertheless improved on the pre-Obamacare
status quo and those who think it was a remarkable achievement on its own
(though there is considerable overlap between these two factions). It is
nearly impossible to find liberals or leftists of any influence who would
sit out the fight over Trumpcare, or join the fight to repeal Obamacare,
in order to make things worse in the short term (more than 20 million
Americans would lose health insurance) for the better in the long run
(single payer). In other words, the left isn't making the perfect the
enemy of the good.
The same cannot be said of conservatives, who define themselves
largely by the things they oppose. It is not a coincidence that
Republicans failed to develop and build support for an Obamacare
alternative over all the years they railed against it. . . . Once
again, the left is prioritizing the public interest over expediting
its defining ideological priorities, and once again the right is
doing just the opposite.
As the Ryan and McConnell bills have shown, Republicans cannot
define a replacement for Obamacare without (a) pointing out many
of the concrete achievements of the ACA, and (b) showing people
how much they have to lose by repeal/replace.
Jamelle Bouie: The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump's Warsaw
speech; also on the same speech:
Walter Shapiro: Donald Trump's warning about 'western civilisation'
evokes holy war.
Elizabeth Douglass: Towns sell their public water systems -- and come to
Tom Engelhardt: Aiding and Abetting the Tweeter-in-Chief.
TomDispatch also published
Danny Sjursen: Fighting the War You Know (Even if It Won't Work),
about Trump's "support" for his generals in Afghanistan.
Henry Farrell: Trump's plan to work with Putin on cybersecurity makes
no sense. Here's why.
Henry Grabar: St Louis Gave Workers a Wage Hike. Missouri Republicans
Are Taking It Away:
Republican-run states forcing Democrat-run cities to not raise the
minimum wage is a story we've seen before, of course. Alabama thwarted
Birmingham's efforts in February of last year; Ohio stopped Cleveland
in December. More than a dozen other states have passed pre-emptive
pre-emptions, abolishing municipal wage laws before any cities or
counties consider them. GOP politicians usually say minimum wage
ordinances won't actually help workers, but they also defend the
pre-emptions in principle, because they preserve a "uniform
Dilip Hiro: Trump and Saudi Arabia Against the World.
Christopher Ketcham: The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth:
The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet
is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical
in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn't appear to bother us. We hear
the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of
economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion,
in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street,
in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of
the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct.
One reason American politicians of both parties stress growth so
much is that it's the magic elixir that turns pro-business policies
into something we can pretend is good for everyone (you know, "trickle
down" and all that). Without growth, the only way anyone can improve
their lot is at the expense of someone else. But haven't we already
been running this experiment for the last forty years, since growth
rates in the former "first world" dropped in the 1970s, triggering a
feeding frenzy among the rich as they sought to hold their profits up
at the expense of workers and customers?
Mike Konczal: What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach
Democrats: Quotes Kevin Phillips describing the Democrats as
"history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party." Lots of folks
expected the stock market to do better under Hillary Clinton, but
it's actually boomed under Trump, fattening up with the promise of
deregulation boosting profits and tax cuts keeping them safe from
the government. Turns out that being "second-most" doesn't get you
much support from the capitalists even if historically you've run
much stronger growth, and defining yourself as a "responsible
steward" of the economy doesn't satisfy anyone.
This approach hit two serious walls in 2016. The first was that people
weren't happy with the economy. Nearly three-fourths of people said the
country was on the wrong track, with similar numbers describing the
economy as rigged. Median household incomes in 2016 had finally inched
back to 2007 levels. This lead to a year of awkward juxtapositions,
with "America is Already Great" headlines running next to reports on
how much life expectancy is falling for white workers. Democrats
attacked Trump as a poor steward, someone too unstable and chaotic to
run the economy as it was. But that message doesn't motivate voters
when they believe the economy isn't working for them.
Shawn Richman: How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power:
Book review of the essay collection, Against Labor: How US Employers
Organized to Defeat Union Activism.
Joseph Stiglitz: Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good
for America; also:
Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state.
Matt Taibbi: North Korea Isn't the Only Rogue Nuclear State.
Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st Century:
Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West -- not
necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in
a way that helps consolidate the insiders' position. The result is a
situation in which the political establishment's once unassailable
authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born.
The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the
product of this gap.
For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat
on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets,
in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive
risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd
risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.
One example . . . was building a system of world trade and credit
that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize
global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the
Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as "riskless."
I don't really understand how Varoufakis' notion of a new New Deal
works. Rather, it looks to me like the outsiders he notes, from Trump
to Macron, offer no alternative whatsoever to neoliberal orthodoxy.
Meanwhile, when a real challenger, like Varoufakis' party in Greece,
does manage to win an election they still get beat down.
George Yancy/Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union:
An interview with Chomsky, part of "The Stone" series.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Trump went to the G20; North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically
reach Alaska; CNN and Trump continued their feud; Ted Cruz floated an idea
to resurrect Obamacare repeal; the top federal ethics official resigned.
Bernie Sanders is the Democrats' real 2020 frontrunner.
One thing I meant to touch on was the term "neoliberalism": my wife
got worked up over something Josh Marshall said about that, but as far
as I can tell it was only a tweet. I did find this piece from [2016-04-27]:
Corey Robin: When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism
before Clinton. One thing I learned here was that Charles Peters
re-invented the term in the 1970s to describe a faction of pro-business,
anti-union, anti-communist, but socially liberal Democrats, which would
parallel the evolution of neo-conservatism (pretty much the same cocktail
with more emphasis on projecting American military might, and fewer
scruples about the company they kept). I had read Peters' Washington
Monthly in its infancy and had always admired Peters, so I was a
bit taken aback (although I will note that Peters' preference for
employee ownership of business over unions is one I share, just not
one I espouse in anti-union terms). My own acquaintance with the term
"neoliberal" dates from the 1990s, when I associated it with what was
then called "the Washington consensus" -- the chief dogma of the IMF
and World Bank. As such, it appeared to be defined in terms of US
foreign policy: it was basically the carrot as opposed to the neocon
stick, although neoconservatives would often adopt it whenever they
wanted to present a prettier face (and actually in the IMF's austerity
conditions, the veiled threat was often quite palpable).
Until recently, about the only place I ran across "neoliberal"
was from left-oriented British critics. I don't have time to try
to unpack this here, but outside of the US it's common to regard
conservatives as relics and guardians of aristocratic privilege,
liberals as individualists who advanced through bourgeois revolts,
and the left as more-or-less democratic socialists who tend to
favor limiting individual freedom when it conflicts with public
good. What distinguishes neoliberals from liberals is that their
focus has shifted from the rights of individuals to the demands
In the US, we've tended to merge our ideas of individual rights
and public good, a point reinforced by a history where virtually
everything we cherish (as opposed to various things like slavery
and ethnic cleansing that fill us with shame) comes from this
liberal-left synthesis. On the other hand, there is a small but
well-heeled and politically influential faction among Democrats
that repeatedly sacrifices the public good for the desires of
capital, and "neoliberal" would seem to distinguish them both
from people-oriented liberals and from the public-minded left.
Certainly not a very elegant term, but until we come up with
something better it serves that purpose. Not clear to me whether
"neoliberal" as I'm using it here dates back to Charles Peters,
but certainly Bill Clinton is an example, as is Andrew Cuomo,
and indeed the idea is tempting to any Democrat who depends on