Wednesday, May 24. 2017
Didn't do a Weekend Roundup on Sunday, not for lack of material
but because I had something better to do. Still, this stuff has been
piling up at an incredible rate, with no likelihood of abating any
time soon. One thing I didn't get to is the terror bombing at an
Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK, which killed 22, mostly
young girls. The bomber was from Libya, set loose by NATO's entry
into civil war there, itself prefigured by the 2003 US-UK invasion
of Iraq, and indeed decades of UK and US intervention in the area,
originally to exploit resources (and open the Suez Canal), then to
support repressive crony governments, and ultimately just to sell
arms and encourage everyone to kill each other. When atrocities like
this happen, it's always proper not just to condemn the ones who
directly did this but to recall and curse those US/UK politicians
who paved the way, including Democrats like Obama and the Clintons,
Labourites like Blair, as well as the usual right-wingers.
Some quick links on Manchester:
Trump's Thursday schedule includes a meeting of NATO, where UK Prime
Minister Theresa May is expected to use the Manchester bombing as an
to formally join fight against Isil. No one expects Donald Trump
to be the voice of reason at this meeting: even without NATO's "help"
US Killed Record Number of Civilians in Past Month of ISIS Strikes.
Also on Thursday, Montana will elect a new House member. See
Both Parties Are Spinning Hard in Montana's Strange, Evolving Special
Ed Kilgore/Margaret Hartmann: Montana GOP Candidate Allegedly 'Body Slams'
Journalist, Is Charged With Assault.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpworld:
Dean Baker: Will President Trump Make Rust-Belt Manufacturing Great
Again? No evidence so far. Baker also wrote
A Job Guarantee and the Federal Reserve Board.
Sharon Begley: Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What
could explain the change? Some people who have researched Trump's
various utterances from decades ago argue that he wasn't always such
a scattered, incoherent moron:
For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency,
complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate
slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative
disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted
utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the
former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.
The experts noted clear changes from Trump's unscripted answers
30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise
questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same
sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration,
anger, or just plain fatigue.
Begly also wrote:
Psychological need to be right underlies Trump's refusal to concede
Russell Berman: The Trump Organization Says It's 'Not Practical' to
Comply With the Emoluments Clause
Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Abortion Policy Isn't About Morality -- It's
Mike Konczal: How the "Populist' President Is Creating an Aristocracy
Sharon Lerner: Donald Trump's Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a
Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters: Meet Susan Bodine.
Eric Lipton: White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists
Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the
Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than
the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would
make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating
federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Donald Trump Too Incapacitated to Be President?
The 25th amendment to the constitution would seem to be the simplest
way to dispose of the increasingly erratic Donald Trump. Whereas
impeachment requires a simple majority of the House and a two-thirds
super-majority of the Senate to convict, all the 25th amendment takes
is the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to decide that
the President is "incapacitated but not dead." Still, this approach
suffers from the fact that so many of the people who would have to
sign off were chosen by Trump primarily for their own incompetence
(a list I would start with Mike Pence himself):
Moreover, so many of the Cabinet officials who might rightly affirm
that Trump is unable to discharge his duties are similarly unable to
discharge their own. Trump's chief infirmity -- the vanity, wealth,
and self-regard that was mistakenly confused with effective leadership --
is actually shared by the vast majority of his Cabinet, most of whom --
in the manner of any individual Kardashian -- seem to prize money and
power more than they prize governance or democracy. For instance, it's
abundantly clear that neither Betsy DeVos nor Ben Carson are fit to
execute their own Cabinet positions. Are they also to be summarily
removed? Jeff Sessions has gone along with the worst of Trump's plans,
drafting the legal justification for the stalled-out Muslim ban. If we
can see clearly enough to judge Trump unfit, surely Sessions is as
We already know that the people with the power to stop Trump -- the
Republicans in the House and Senate who declare themselves "troubled"
and "concerned" by his actions -- are so hell-bent on destroying the
regulatory state, harming the weak, imposing Christianity on nonbelievers,
and giving tax breaks to the wealthy that Trump's fitness raises no
alarms. Unfortunately, that isn't a DSM-IV level diagnosable pathology.
It's what we call conservatism in America.
Lauren McCauley: Comcast Threatens Legal Action Against Net Neutrality
Proponents: FCC chairman Ajit Pai is working on rescinding the
"net neutrality" rules, which currently require internet service
providers (like Comcast) to provide equal access to all websites.
Without those rules, they'd be free to pick and choose, and to
scam both providers and users.
Jose Pagliery: Trump's casino was a money laundering concern shortly
after it opened: Old history, but recently dug up through a FOIA
The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times
in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according
to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. . . .
Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000
fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.
Jamie Peck: Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt
forgiveness. Surprised? After WWII the American economy was
growing fast and science was held in high esteem, so government
worked hard to expand access to higher education, to make it
affordable and accessible to many more people, to build up a
much better educated workforce (and citizenry). Then, from the
1980s on, the economy slowed, collage came to be viewed more as
a certification program for getting ahead (or not falling back),
and costs skyrocketed. Now we've entered into a stage where the
rich want to keep the advantages of education to themselves, or
at the very least make everyone else pay dearly for the privilege.
And that's the mindset of rich people like DeVos and Trump, who
inherited their fortunes. So, sure, this policy makes perfect
sense to them, while condemning everyone else to servitude and
CJ Polychroniou/Marcus Rolle: Illusions and Dangers in Trump's
"America First" Policy: An Interview With Economist Robert Pollin
Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment:
One of the scarier things Trump said during the campaign was how he
wanted to change libel laws so that people with thin skins and deep
pockets (like himself) can sue people who criticize (or make fun of)
them. Libel laws are primarily limited by the first amendment (freedom
of speech and press), although one always has to worry that the courts
will carve out some kind of exception (as they did, for instance, to
prosecute "obscenity"). It's not inconceivable that Trump could pass
something like that and pack the courts to uphold it, although it's
also not very likely. But repealing the first amendment is certainly
way beyond his dreams, and if he recognizes that that's what it would
take, his scheme is pretty much dead. Still, useful to know that his
respect for American democracy is so low that he'd even consider the
prospect. But didn't we already know that?
Shaun Richman: Republicans Want to Turn the National Labor Relations
Board Into a Force for Union Busting: I already thought it was,
but I suppose it could get even worse.
Jeremy Scahill/Alex Emmons/Ryan Grim: Trump Called Rodrigo Duterte to
Congratulate Him on His Murderous Drug War: "You Are Doing an Amazing
According to one former hitman, Duterte formed an organization called
the "Davao Death Squad" -- a mafia-like organization of plainclothes
assassins that would kill suspected criminals, journalists, and
opposition politicians, often from the backs of motorcycles. Multiple
former members of the group have come forward and said that they
killed people on Duterte's direct orders.
Duterte has even bragged that he personally killed criminals from
the back of a motorcycle. "In Davao I used to do it personally," he
told a group of business leaders in Manila. "Just to show to the guys
[police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you."
In 2016, Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for
anyone involved in the drug trade. "I'd be happy to slaughter them.
If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have me," Duterte said
after his inauguration in September.
Despite human rights concerns, the U.S. has long considered the
Philippines a military ally, and under Obama the U.S. gave the country's
military tens of millions of dollars in weapons and resources per year.
The U.S. government does not provide lethal weapons directly to the
Philippine National Police, which has a decadeslong history of
extrajudicial killings. But it does allow U.S. weapons manufacturers
to sell to them directly. In 2015 the State Department authorized more
than $250 million in arms sales from U.S. defense contractors to
security forces in the Philippines.
Nate Silver: Donald Trump's Base Is Shrinking: His overall approval
numbers haven't dropped this much, but those who "strongly approve" of
Trump has dropped "from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just
21 or 22 percent of the electorate now." Meanwhile, the number of people
who "strongly disapprove" of him has shot up "from the mid-30s in early
February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday."
Matthew Stevenson: Is Trump the Worst President Ever? Posted back
on February 17, so too early for a fair hearing, but it's not really
his point to answer the question ("such a milestone could be a tall
order. He would need to match Nixon's paranoia and arrogance with
Lyndon Johnson's military incompetence, and then throw in Chester
Arthur's corruption and maybe Harding's lust for life") -- just to
provide a quick review for your history buffs.
Amy B Wang: Sinkhole forms in front of Mar-a-Lago; metaphors pour
Matthew Yglesias: Trump isn't a toddler -- he's a product of America's
culture of impunity for the rich: Notes that both
Ross Douthat and
David Brooks have recently tried to explain Trump away as "a toddler"
(so that's the kind of original thinking that lands you a job writing
opinion for the New York Times?):
My 2-year-old son misbehaves all the time. The reason is simple: He's
He stuck his foot in a serving bowl at dinner Tuesday night. He
screams in inappropriate situations. He's terrified of vacuum cleaners.
He thinks it's funny to throw rocks at birds. He has poor impulse control
and limited understanding of the consequences of his actions.
But he's also, fundamentally, a good kid. If you tell him no, he'll
usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he'll acknowledge them
and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him,
and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he'll alter his
behavior. Like all little kids, he needs discipline, and he's got a lot
to learn. But he is learning, and he has some notion of consequences
and right and wrong.
Trump is not like that -- at all. . . .
He's 70 years old. And he's not just any kind of 70-year-old. He's
a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who's been rich
since the day he was born. He's a man who's learned over the course of
a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence.
He's the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability
to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that
America grants to the wealthy.
Scattered links on Trump's holy war trek:
Peter Beinart: What Trump Reveals by Calling Terrorists 'Losers':
So why is Trump putting ISIS in the same category in which he places
Rosie O'Donnell? Because for him, America's primary goal is not freedom
or tolerance. It's success. Trump espouses no deeply held political,
religious, or moral doctrine. He sees government through the lens of
business. And thus, he's more comfortable with the language of winning
and losing than the language of right and wrong. That's why he's so
obsessed with the margin of his electoral victory and the size of his
crowds. It's why he responds to articles critical of him by saying that
the newspapers that published them are "failing." For Trump, losing is
worst thing you can do.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that people who judge right
and wrong (or good and evil) are often far more deranged, precisely
because their value judgments are more deeply buried in their personal
history and circumstances. It's interesting how quickly Trump's prejudices
seem to melt away when he actually meets such obviously successful people
as the leaders of China, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (and, one might add,
Russia). Maybe he needs state visits to Iran and North Korea? I might
add that for normal people, being called a "loser" is less taunting
(and less inaccurate) than what Bush called the 9/11 terrorists:
Bryan Bender: Israeli Officers: You're Doing ISIS Wrong: Israel
has its own foreign policy objectives, and they've long been peculiarly
at odds with its supposed ally, the United States. When, for instance,
the US was supporting Iraq's war against Iran, Israel was helping Iran --
even to the point of selling Iran American weapons (which was OK with
Reagan as long as some of the profits were channeled to the Contras in
Nicaragua, which Reagan was legally barred from funding on his own --
you know, the "Iran-Contra Scandal"). Israel has repeatedly intervened
in Syria, not to promote any constructive agenda, just to balance off
the forces to keep the war going longer. But if they had to choose,
they'd rather see ISIS come out ahead than Hezbollah, and now they're
casting aspersions about the US for tilting the other direction. The
bottom line is that while the US always assumes that the goal is peace
and stability -- even if that's hard to discern from what the US does --
Israel never wants peace or stability: they seek continual turmoil and
conflict, because any lasting peace would involve them settling with
the Palestinians, and that's the one thing they can't consider. When
this finally sinks in, you'll begin to understand how schizophrenic
US policy is in the region. We keep thinking we have allies in the
region, but actually all we have are alignments: temporary, fragile,
counterproductive, and often downright embarrassing.
Natasha Bertrand: Flabbergasted anchor points out to commerce secretary
why there wasn't a 'single hint of a protester' in Saudi Arabia:
Wilbur Ross was delighted by the reception the Trump entourage received
in Saudi Arabia ("there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere
there during the whole time").
James Carden: What Explains Trump's Sharp About-Face on Saudi Arabia?
I don't quite buy that the Trump administration really has an "obsession
with Iran" -- that's just a clever way to curry favor with people who
still have deep-seated resentment against post-Shah iran. It's obvious
that Israel turned on Iran only once Iraq was squashed in 1991 because
they needed an "existential security threat" to talk about whenever
brought up the Palestinians. (For the long history of this, see Trita
Parsi's 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of
Israel, Iran, and the United States.) Saudi Arabia was threatened
by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 revolution -- effectively he
challenged Saudi pre-eminence in the holy places of Islam, which hit
the Kingdom very close to home. But nothing since then justifies the
Saudi's evident obsession with Iran -- other than the ease with which
anti-Iranian rhetoric ingratiates themselves with the US. Before the
Saudis got all worked up over Iran, their desires to purchase American
arms were frustrated by the Israel lobby -- the two states were, after
all, nominal enemies. Now they seem to be virtual allies inasmuch as
they share a common enemy, but isn't the real reason that matters their
new desire to become an effective hegemon over the Sunni Arab world?
Meanwhile, first Obama and now Trump have found it convenient to sell
arms to the Saudis: effectively, it's a jobs program that never has to
navigate through Congress or even hit the US budget. The new thing is
that Trump's finally selling it as such, but he's picked a terrible
time to do so: pre-Salman the Saudis never used their expensive toys,
but lately they've been increasing violence and chaos everywhere they
reach, and entangling the US as they go.
I should work this in somewhere and this seems as good a place as
any: the visceral reaction most Americans had to the self-declaration
of an Islamic State would have been just as easy to stir up against
the real Islamic State: Saudi Arabia. This didn't happen because the
Saudis have a lot of oil and money, and because they feign allegiance
and (perhaps rent?) alliance to the United States. They also may have
seemed less threatening for lack of territorial ambitions, but they
have invaded Yemen, attempted to buy Lebanon (through Rafik Hariri),
supported proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and largely treat
the Persian Gulf sheikdoms as vassals. Although they've bought lots
of American arms for a long time, they never organized them into an
effective military for fear of a coup -- until Salman acceded to the
throne and they launched the war in Yemen. Until recently they had
enough money to buy loyalty, but they're faced now with both sinking
oil prices and declining reserves -- along with buying more arms,
that means belt-tightening elsewhere, and the most obvious waste is
the bloated and often embarrassing royal family. The odds of a coup
in the near future have shot up, and if/when it happens it is most
likely to adopt the IS model with its renewed Caliphate. It may be
possible to rout ISIS from the cities of Upper Mesopotamia, but the
idea of a Caliphate will survive, as it has since the 7th Century,
and no one could adopt it more readily then the regime that controls
Mecca and Medina -- a regime armed to the teeth thanks to Obama and
Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His
Crisis at Home
Andrew Exum: What Progressives Miss About Arms Sales: Thinks "Trump
had a great visit to Saudi Arabia" -- great for him, great for the Saudis
"and other Arab Gulf states, and -- last but not least -- it was a great
visit for magical, glowing orbs." Especially great was the "deliverable":
"$110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia -- with an additional $240
billion committed over a 10-year period." He then chides "progressives"
for not celebrating:
I want to spend a little time talking about one of the reasons why the
trip went so well. I'll warn you: This is a somewhat taboo subject for
progressive foreign-policy types. The subject, friends, is arms sales.
Progressives don't like arms sales very much, but they need to pay
attention to them, because they're one big way Republicans are fighting
for -- and winning -- the votes of working-class Americans who have
traditionally voted for Democrats.
As I've pointed out elsewhere, Obama (considered a "progressive"
in some parts) has been using arms sales, especially to dictatorial
Arab States and Eastern Europe, as a jobs program for much of his
two terms. For many years selling arms to the Saudis seemed harmless
enough -- they never used them, and they had lots of dollars we
wanted back -- but eventually these arms sales started to make the
world more conflict-prone and dangerous: US relations with Russia
deteriorated as Obama kept pushing NATO closer to Russia's borders,
and the Saudis and Qataris started using their arms, first in Libya
and even more dramatically in Yemen. While the Saudis have generally
tried to align their foreign interventions -- until recently mostly
cash and propaganda -- with the US, they've always cast their efforts
in their own terms, which from the founding of the tribe with its
Wahhabist trappings in the late 18th century has always been framed
as jihad. Jihadist warfare has actually been very rare in Islamic
history, but since the Saudis started spending billions to promote
their peculiar flavor of Salafism it's become ubiquitous, more often
than not rebounding back against the US, who so encouraged the Saudis
to frame their opposition to Communism (and Nasserism and Baathism,
nationalist movements seen as Soviet proxies) in religious terms.
Further complicating this is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies
are among the most reactionary and repressive states in the world.
By feeding them arms -- and by little things like Trump participating
in that sword dance and orb touching -- the US becomes complicit not
only in their jihadism but also in their suppression of human rights.
One effect of this is that US leaders have lost control of their own
policy, and while this has become increasingly evident over the past
year -- the tipping point was Saudi Arabia's attack on Yemen -- the
event that people will remember is Trump's visit, where the formerly
"great" America has been reduced to grovelling for arms sales (or,
if you're a pseudo-progressive, "jobs").
Exum may be right that many defense contractor workers voted for
Trump, but that's only after the Democrats abandoned the unions that
were formerly common -- e.g., Boeing shut down their Wichita factory
after office workers there unionized, moving their operations to
union-free South Carolina and Texas. Still, what Chalmers Johnson
liked to call Military Keynesianism has steadily declined in value
ever since WWII, and there are plenty of healthier things progressives
can push for. Meanwhile, it's no accident that Republicans like Trump
have thrived in the increasingly vicious atmosphere of violence and
hate generated by perpetual war.
Kareem Fahim: After assurances by Trump, Bahrain mounts deadliest raid
in years on opposition
Emma Green: Pope Francis, Trump Whisperer? Article is interesting,
but let me first point to the picture, which shows Melania and Ivanka
wearing headware (veils), in marked contrast to their scarfless
appearance in Saudi Arabia.
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Sunni Strategy: "The president wants America to
take sides in the Middle East's sectarian rivalry. That won't end well."
Actually, it's already started badly. As recently at the 1970s there was
essentially no violent conflict between Sunni and Shi'a, but then the
Saudis started pushing their Salafist sectarianism, Ayatollah Khomeini
challenged their control of Mecca, and the Saudis backed the US-Pakistani
promotion of jihadism in Afghanistan. In the 1990s the US tried to raise
up Shi'a resistance in Iraq, which became the basis of a sectarian civil
war after the US invasion in 2003 -- one where the US played both sides
against one another. Then the US wound up opposing both sides in Syria
through various proxies it has no real control over, including the Saudis
and Qataris, both backing jihadist groups. Year after year this muddled
strategy has only produced more war and more backlash.
Rashid Khalidi: Why Donald Trump's 'Arab Nato' would be a terrible
Paul Pillar: Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime
David Shariatmadari: Who better to lecture Muslims than Islam expert
Donald Trump? Worse still, Trump's big speech in Saudi Arabia was
mainly written by Steven Miller, although the result was little more
than a sop -- for someone so belligerent toward strangers, it doesn't
seem to take more than a little shameless flattery to win Trump over.
This is not only hard to defend morally. Siding with Saudi Arabia and
antagonising Iran in order to weaken jihadism won't work, to put it
mildly. Though the Saudi kingdom has taken part in military action
against Isis, its state textbooks are deemed acceptable in Isis-run
schools. It has backed militant Islamist rebels in Syria, and continues
to export an extremely intolerant version of Islam.
Trump cut a weird figure at Murabba Palace on Saturday night, bobbing
along to a traditional sword dance like someone who'd stumbled into the
wrong wedding reception.
Richard Silverstein: Trump's Saudi Soliloquy: "one of the most
hypocritical speeches in American political history." Curious that
I have yet to see a single post which contrasts Trump's Riyadh speech
with the Cairo speech Obama gave early in his presidency, even though
the latter turned out to be pretty hypocritical as well. Still, reading
Silverstein's comments I'm more stuck by the extraordinary amount of
falsehood and nonsense in the speech. Silverstein also wrote a bit
about the Jerusalem leg of Trump's tour:
Trump Selfie with Israeli MK Features Two Moral Degenerate Birds of a
Feather. The selfie Trump was cornered into was with Oren Hazan,
who bills himself "the Israeli Trump."
Paul Woodward: Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a
laughingstock: Also cites
Susan B Glasser: 'People Here Think Trump Is a Laughinstock'.
Scattered links on Trump/Comey/Russia:
Former CIA Chief Tells of Concern Over Possible Russia Ties to Trump
Campaign: Unsigned NY Times article on John Brennan's testimony
and other things. Also:
Greg Miller: CIA director alerted FBI to pattern of contacts between
Russian officials and Trump campaign associates; and
Yochi Dreazen: Obama's CIA chief just offered a Trump-Russia quote
for the ages. I'm still not a fan of anyone charging anyone with
treason, but Brennan's earlier quote about Trump speaking to the CIA
post-inauguration remains apt: a "despicable display of
Vera Bergengruen: Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed -- after
being paid as its agent. Also:
Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg: Michael Flynn Misled Pentagon About
Russia Ties, Letter Says; and
Karoun Demirjian: Flynn takes 5th on Senate subpoena as a top House Democrat alleges new evidence of lies.
Karoun Demirjian/Devlin Barrett: How a dubious Russian document influenced
the FBI's handling of the Clinton probe
Adam Entous/Ellen Nakashima: Trump asked intelligence chief to push
back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence:
He made his appeals to Daniel Coats (DNI) and Adm. Michael S Rogers
(NSA), "urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence
of collusion during the 2016 election."
Chris Hedges: The Dying Republic: A Vast Disconnect Between Faux Values
and the Corporate Controlled Anti-Democratic Reality
Dara Lind: It's becoming increasingly clear that Jared Kushner is
part of Trump's Russia problem
Ryan Lizza: Trump's Damning Responses to the Russia Investigation
Josh Marshall: The President Lawyers Up: The lawyer is Marc Kasowitz,
who has made a nice living defending Trump in civil suits, including the
big one against Trump University. Note that Kasowitz is the partner of
Joe Lieberman, the former CT senator whose name briefly seemed to be at
the top of Trump's short list to become FBI Director.
Joshua Matz: Donald Trump's panoply of abuses demand more than a
Josh Meyer: Russia meeting revelation could trigger obstruction
Josh Marshall: The Continuing Triumph of Trump's Razor: Marshall
assumes that his term is self-evident, but in case you missed it, it's
Urban Dictionary: "When seeking an explanation for the behavior of . . .
Donald J. Trump, always choose the stupidest possible explanation."
Philip Shenon: Trump's Worst Nightmare Comes True: So he fires James
Comey, and gets Robert Mueller instead. Also on Mueller:
Karen J Greenberg: 4 Reasons Why Robert Mueller Is an Ideal Special
Josh Marshall: Thoughts on the Special Counsel Appointment.
Matthew Yglesias/Alex Ward: This week, explained: spies, special counsel,
and Flynn: And, upon further reflection, Yglesias' next post was:
The case for impeaching Trump -- and fast.
Meanwhile, Mick Mulvaney released a new budget, titled A
New Foundation for American Greatness:
John Cassidy: The Trump Administration's Budget Charade:
In March, the Trump Administration released a so-called skinny budget,
which contained the broad outlines of its spending plans. The proposed
cuts in domestic and international programs were so draconian,
mean-spirited, and misguided that I termed it a Voldemort budget, and
many other commentators offered similar reviews. On Tuesday, the White
House released the full version of its budget, and, if anything, the
details are even more disturbing.
The document describes how the Trump Administration would shred the
social safety net, particularly Medicaid, which provides health care to
the poor, to finance tax cuts for corporations and rich households. On
top of this, the budget's revenue and deficit projections are so
contingent upon wishful thinking and accounting sleights of hand that
they are virtually meaningless.
Benjamin Dangl: Trump's Budget Expands Global War on the Backs of the
Denise Lu/Kim Soffen: What Trump's budget cuts from the social safety
Trudy Lieberman: Donald Trump to Hungry Seniors: Drop Dead
Jim Newell: Trump's Biggest Broken Promise:
The most black-and-white broken promise of President Donald Trump's
early tenure has been his administration's treatment of Medicaid. On
the campaign trail, he promised not to cut the health care program
that covers more than 70 million low-income people. "I'm not going
to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I'm not going
to cut Medicare or Medicaid," Trump said in an interview during the
campaign that was then posted on his official web site. "Every other
Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't
know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do."
Charles P Pierce: Make No Mistake: This Is Not a 'Trump Budget':
This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product
of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human
nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since
the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the
wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience
that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.
Mulvaney, a Tea Party fanatic, held a press conference Tuesday morning
to shill for this slab of Dickensian offal, and listening to him I got
the feeling that, not only is Mulvaney of a different political persuasion,
but that he was raised in a different dimensional space. There are individual
atrocities a'plenty: zeroing out Meals on Wheels; an outright assault on
the government's role in science; a butchery of Medicaid that only makes
marginal sense if the dead-fish healthcare bill passes first; shredding
any EPA efforts to combat climate change; and hefty cuts to the SCHIP
program for children's health, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax
Credit. These are Republican proposals, movement conservative proposals,
proposals that any Republican candidate would be proud to take to the
Iowa caucuses in 2020.
Matt Shuham: WH Budget Center: 'I Hope" Fewer People Get Social Security
Marshall Steinbaum: Your Economics Are On Backwards: Why Trump's Budget
Will Not Spur Growth: As noted elsewhere, the case for balancing
the budget is based on high growth stimulated by lower taxes for the
rich. Steinbaum explains why this doesn't work:
The reason regressive tax cuts don't spur growth is that, rather than
incentivizing investment or employment, lower rates for top earners
only encourage them to negotiate for higher salaries. Under President
Eisenhower, the top marginal income tax rate was 90 percent. This rate
created a de facto maximum income, because it simply made no sense to
demand exorbitant pay packages. Instead, companies spent these dollars
elsewhere -- either in expanded capacity or higher wages for their
workers. Not shockingly (except, perhaps, to conservatives), growth
Today's economy is the opposite: Rates are so low that an additional
dollar of income for the rich running or owning businesses is almost
always more appealing than spending that additional dollar on investment
or wages. And growth is sluggish, at best.
For an example of how far rewards at the top have gone, see
Sam Pizzigati: Walmart's $237 Million Man: How Americans Subsidize
Inequality. Also recommended for more general issues is
In Conversation: Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum, an interview
with Heather Boushey -- all three edited After Piketty: The Agenda
for Economics and Inequality. Interesting comment here from DeLong:
Ronald Reagan was absolutely awful for the manufacturing jobs of the
Michigan Reagan Democrats. He pushed the dollar up by 50 percent. And
lo and behold, that just sent Midwestern manufacturing a signal that
it should shut down. Today, the dollar is up by 10 percent since Trump's
election, and whatever legislation rolls through Congress is likely to
involve a large tax decrease for the rich, in which case we will see
another bigger dollar cycle than we have now. Let the dollar go up by
another 10 percent, and that's a hit to the manufacturing employment
that is much, much larger than China's entry into the World Trade
Organization or any plausible effects of the North American Free
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's budget relies on magic economic growth;
The dumb accounting error at the heart of Trump's budget. From the
But budgets are important as statements of values. One clear headline
value of the Trump budget is an overwhelming preference for cutting
taxes on high-income families over providing food, medical care, housing
assistance, and other support to low-income families.
The growth accounting mess shows a parallel value -- or, rather,
lack of value -- placed on the idea of governing with integrity. . . .
Trump's White House is just going through the motions. They're supposed
to release a budget proposal, so they released a budget proposal. Whether
or not it makes any sense is a matter of total indifference to them. But
they've now kicked the can to congressional Republicans in an awkward
way, since if Congress wants to enact a budget, they need to enact a
real one with details filled in. Meaning they can't possibly match the
unrealistic aspirations Trump has laid out for them.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Max Boot: The Seth Rich 'Scandal' Shows That Fox News Is Morally
Beth Gardiner: Three Reasons to Believe in China's Renewable Energy Boom:
Some astonishing numbers here, like "China added 35 gigawatts of new solar
generation in 2016 alone" and that coal consumption "fell in 2016 for the
third straight year." Meanwhile, back in the USA:
Dahr Jamail: Scientists Predict There Will Be No Glaciers in the
Contiguous US by 2050 -- but Trump Is Stomping on the Gas Pedal.
Paul Krugman: Trucking and Blue-Collar Woes: Starts with a chart on
"wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today's dollars,
which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s." He further explains
Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We're not importing
Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but
not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing,
but that's a pretty thin reed. What it doesn't mention is the obvious
Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have
changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right
now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that
a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38
percent of "heavy truck" drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down
to 25 percent by 1991. It's not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of
"drivers/sales workers and truck drivers" were covered last year.
In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where
workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action,
and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and
Krugman speculates that "the great majority of the people whose chance
at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes voted for
Trump." But he doesn't follow up. Why did they vote for Trump? It sure
wasn't because Trump promised to bring unions back, because he never did.
All they got from Trump was a chance to vent their spleen. But Clinton
didn't offer to bring back unions either. Maybe she offered them a chance
to go back to school somewhat cheaper, but even that wasn't clear. If you
want to have a middle class, you have to pay middle class wages to
blue-collar workers. And if you aren't willing to go that far, everything
you say about "middle class" is cant.
Elsewhere, Krugman linked to
Sarah Birnbaum: An Economist reporter dishes on Trump's 'priming the pump'
interview, including the story of how Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue saved
So Sonny Perdue literally asked his staff to draw up a map of the bits
of America that had voted for Donald Trump and the bits of America that
do well from exporting grain and corn through NAFTA. [The map] showed
how these two areas often overlap. So he went in, said to Donald Trump,
"Actually, Trump America, your voters, they do pretty well out of NAFTA."
And the president said, "Oh. Then maybe I won't withdraw from NAFTA."
Evidently there was no one around to point out that those same
grain and corn exports was what drove so many Mexican peasants from
their farms to seek employment in the US -- the single most dramatic
effect of NAFTA wasn't the loss of American factory jobs but the
decimation of Mexican agriculture due to the flood of cheaper US
grain. But then, the piece also includes a quote from David Rennie,
describing the "atmosphere" of the Oval Office:
It's kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago,
with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king.
That's the feel at the Trump Oval Office. He likes to be surrounded
by his courtiers. . . .
And the role of some pretty senior figures, including cabinet
secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president
had just said, rather than offering candid advice.
There was a moment with Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.
We were talking [to Trump] about China and currency manipulation.
On the campaign trail, Trump was very ferocious about [calling China
a currency manipulator.] [In our interview], he said, "As soon as I
started talking about China being a currency manipulator, they cut
it out." Actually that's not true. China [stopped manipulating the
currency] two or three years ago.
What was striking was, when he made that point, Steve Mnuchin,
the Treasury secretary, chimed in and said, "Oh yeah. The day he
became president, they changed their behavior!" And factually,
that's just not right. It's quite striking to see a cabinet
secretary making that point in that way.
Laura Secor: The Patient Resilience of Iran's Reformers: While
Trump was forging his anti-Iran coalition in Saudi Arabia, Iran had
a presidential election, where 75% of the electorate turned out and
57% of the voters reëlected Hassan Rouhani, the "moderate reformer"
who signed the deal halting Iran's "nuclear program," over a much
more conservative, anti-Western opponent. Also:
Hooman Majd: Iran Just Prove Trump Wrong;
Muhammad Sahimi: As Iran Elects a Moderate, Trump Cozies up to its
Terrorist Enemy Saudi Arabia.
Matt Taibbi: Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever:
Makes a good case, but that got me wondering who were the ten worst
Americans ever. Naturally, the list tends toward political figures,
because their misdeeds tend to be amplified in ways that mere bank
robbers and serial killers can never attain (compare, e.g., Ted
Bundy and McGeorge Bundy, although at least Ted was solely culpable
where McGeorge was wrapped up in groupthink and depended on others
to do the actual dirty work. Here's a quick, off the top of my head,
list, in more-or-less chronological order:
- Aaron Burr, who made the first blatant attempt to turn the young
republic into a kleptocracy; he could have been our Yeltsin or Suharto
or Mubarak or Mobuto.
- John C. Calhoun, the would be architect of slavocracy and de facto
designer of the use of "states rights" to perpetuate white supremacy.
- John Wilkes Boothe, whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln ended
any chance for a graceful reconstruction (not that such was actually
- John D. Rockefeller, whose ruthlessness turned business into empire
building on a grand scale.
- J. Edgar Hoover, whose iron control of the FBI created a bureaucracy
that could cower presidents.
- Joseph McCarthy, whose witch hunts elevated the "paranoid style" so
common in American politics to an unprecedented level of viciousness.
- Richard Nixon, for many things including his singular lack of scruples
when it came to winning elections.
- Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy mandarin who exported dirty wars
all around the world.
- Antonin Scalia, the judge and legal theorist whose "originalism" set
new standards for sophistry in support of right-wing politics.
- Dick Cheney, the prime driver behind the so-called "global war on
terrorism"; i.e., the poisonous projection of American power into every
corner of the globe.
Can Ailes crack that list? That's a tall order, but I wouldn't dismiss
the suggestion out of hand. One might argue that the conservative backlash
that lifted Nixon and Reagan was just a matter of re-centering politics
after exceptionally liberal periods, but the right-wing resurgence from
1994 onward has almost exclusively been manufactured by a broad network
of well-funded behind-the-scenes actors and their success is mostly due
to the creation of a hardcore propaganda network, of which Ailes' Fox News
has been the flagship. The only other individual to rise out of this swamp
to a comparable level of notoreity has been Charles Koch -- another prime
candidate, especially if we expand the list a bit.
Back to the story, Taibbi writes:
Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons
and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It's no surprise that
a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of
Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.
It's not that Trump isn't or shouldn't be frightening. But it's
conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia,
cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust.
The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars
come pouring in, on both sides.
Trump in many ways was a perfect Ailes product, merging as he did the
properties of entertainment and news in a sociopathic programming package
that, as CBS chief Les Moonves pointed out, was terrible for the country,
but great for the bottom line.
The the nth time, Taibbi exaggerates the symmetry, because right and
center have very distinct approaches to reality, not to mention vastly
different political agendas. Right-wing fear and loathing of Clinton/Obama
had less to do with policy than with style, and only touched reality when
they caught the Democrats doing something corrupt. Clinton and Obama, at
least, almost never actually changed anything, so heaping scorn on them
seemed to have little effect. The media might be just as happy ridiculing
Trump -- indeed, the effort bar is pretty low there -- but less obviously
(especially to the media) Trump and the Republicans are doing real damage,
undermining our welfare and way of life, and it's pretty scandalous just
to think of that as entertainment.
Alex Tizon: My Family's Slave: "She lived with us for 56 years. She
raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid,
before I realized who she was."
Whew! Think I'll spend the next couple days away from the computer,
out back painting the fence.
Sunday, May 14. 2017
Arthur Protin asked me to
comment on a recent interview with linguist George Lakoff:
Paul Rosenberg: Don't think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George
Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump.
Lakoff has tried to promote himself as the liberal alternative
to Frank Luntz, who's built a lucrative career polling and coining
euphemisms for Republicans. I first read his 2004 primer, Don't
Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,
which consolidated ideas from his earlier Moral Politics: How
Liberals and Conservatives Think -- a dichotomy he's still
pitching as "the strict father/nurturent parent distinction." I've
never liked this concept. I'll grant that conservatives like the
flattering "strict father" construct, not least because it conflates
family and society, in both cases celebrating hierarchical (and,
sure, patriarchal) order, and there's something to be said for
recognizing how they see themselves. But the alternative family
model isn't something I'd like to see scaled up to society, where
nurturing morphs into something patronizing, condescending, and
meddlesome, and worse still that it grants the fundamentally wrong
notion that what's good for families is equally good and proper
for society and government. This is just one of many cases where
Lakoff accepts the framing given by Republicans and tries to game
it, rather than doing what he advises: changing the framing. I
don't doubt that his understanding of cognitive psychology yields
some useful insights into how Democrats might better express their
case -- especially the notion that you lead with your values, not
with mind-numbing wonkery. But it's not just that Democrats don't
know how best to talk. A far bigger problem is that Democrats lack
consensus on values, except inasmuch as they've been dictated by
the need to collect and coalesce all of the minorities that the
You see, back in Nixon days, with Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan
doing the nerd-work, Republicans started strategizing how to build
a post/anti-New Deal majority. They started with the GOP's core base
(meaning business), whipped up a counterculture backlash (long on
patriotism and patriarchy), and lured in white southerners (with
various codings of racism) and Catholics (hence their about face on
abortion), played up the military and guns everywhere. The idea was
to move Nixon's "silent majority" to their side by driving a wedge
between them and everyone else, who had no options other than to
become Democrats. The Democrats played along, collecting the votes
Republicans drove their way while offering little in return. Rather,
with unions losing power and businesses gaining, politicians like
the Clintons figured out how to triangulate between their base and
various moneyed interests (especially finance and high-tech).
Lakoff is right that Clinton's campaign often played into Trump's
hands. While some examples are new, that's been happening at least
since Bill Clinton ran first for president in 1992. Clinton adopted
so many Republican talking points -- on crime and welfare, on fiscal
balance, on deregulating banks and job-killing trade deals -- that
the Republicans had nowhere to go but even further right. For more
on Clinton and his legacy, see Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal!
Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? The key point
is that Clinton almost never challenged the values Republicans tried
to put forth. Rather, he offered a more efficient (and slightly less
inhumane) implementation of them. Indeed, his administration oversaw
the largest spurt of growth in the wealth of the already rich. If
the rich still favored Republicans, that was only because the latter
promised them even more -- maybe not wealth, but more importantly
power. That Clinton left the rich unsatisfied was only part of the
problem his legacy would face. He also left his voters disillusioned,
and his post-presidency buckraking left him looking even more cynical
and corrupt, in ways that could never be spun or reframed.
So Hillary Clinton's own political career started with two big
problems. One was that she was viewed as a person whose credentials
were built on nepotism -- not on her own considerable competency,
except perhaps in marrying well -- and even when she seemed to be
in charge, he remained in her shadow. The second was that she
couldn't separate herself from the legacy of ashes -- the demise
of American manufacturing jobs, the concentration of wealth for
a global financial elite. Indeed, with her high-paid speeches to
Wall Street, she seemed not just blind but shameless. Her husband
had refashioned the Democratic Party into a personal political
machine, both by promoting personal cronies and by losing control
of Congress (a source of potential rivals), leaving her with a
substantial but very circumscribed fan base.
As for Hillary's campaign, as Lakoff says, the focus was
The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was
to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump
saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was
saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that's exactly what
his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what
actually was helping Trump with his supporters.
Lakoff doesn't say this, but the lesson I draw was that Clinton's
big failure was in treating Trump as an anomalous, embarrassing
personal foe, rather than recognizing that the real threat of a
Trump administration would be all of the Republicans he would
bring into government. She thought that by underplaying partisan
differences she could detach some suburban "moderates" to break
party ranks, and that would make her margin. Her indifference
to her party (and ultimately to her base) followed the pattern
of her husband and Barack Obama, who both lost Democratic control
of Congress after two years, after which they were re-elected but
could never implement any supposed promises. You can even imagine
that they actually prefer divided power: not only does it provide
a ready excuse for their own inability to deliver on popular (as
opposed to donor-oriented) campaign promises, it makes them look
more heroic staving off the Republican assault (a threat which
Republicans have played to the hilt). When Harry Truman found
himself with a Republican Congress in 1946, he went out and waged
a fierce campaign against the "do-nothing Congress." That's one
thing you never saw Clinton or Obama do.
So, sure, you can nitpick Clinton's framing and phrasing all
over the place. A popular view in my household is that she lost
the election with her "deplorables" comment, but you can pick
out dozens of other self-inflicted nicks. I saw an interview
somewhere where a guy said that "everything she says sounds
like bullshit to me" where Trump "made sense." Maybe she could
have been coached into talking more effectively, but the subtext
here is that the guy distrusts her and (somehow) trusts Trump.
Lakoff is inclined to view Trump as some kind of genius (or at
least idiot savant) for this feat, but my own take is that
Hillary was simply extraordinarily tarnished goods. Democrats
have many problems, but not recognizing that is a big one.
Lakoff has a section on "how Trump's tweets look":
Trump's tweets have at least three functions. The first function is
what I call preemptive framing. Getting framing out there before
reporters can frame it differently. So for example, on the Russian
hacking, he tweeted that the evidence showed that it had no effect
on the election. Which is a lie, it didn't say that at all. But the
idea was to get it out there to 31 million people looking at his
tweets, legitimizing the elections: The Russian hacks didn't mean
anything. He does that a lot, constantly preempting.
The second use of tweets is diversion. When something important
is coming up, like the question of whether he is going to use a
blind trust, the conflicts of interest. So what does he do instead?
He attacks Meryl Streep. And then they talk about Meryl Streep for
a couple of days. That's a diversion.
The third one is that he sends out trial balloons. For example,
the stuff about nuclear weapons, he said we need to pay more
attention to nukes. If there's no big outcry and reaction, then he
can go on and do the rest. These are ways of disrupting the news
cycle, getting the real issues out of the news cycle and turning
it to his advantage.
Trump is very, very smart. Trump for 50 years has learned how
to use people's brains against them. That's what master salesmen do.
The three things may have some validity, but Lakoff lost me at
"very, very smart." Much empirical observation suggests that he's
actually very, very stupid. Indeed, much of the reason so many
people (especially in the media) follow him is that they sense
they're watching a train wreck. But also he gets away with shit
because he's rich and famous and (now) very powerful. But can you
really say tweets work for Trump? As I recall, his campaign shut
down his Twitter feed the week or two before the election, just
enough to cause a suspension in the daily embarrassments Trump
Lakoff goes on to talk about how advertisers use repetition
to drum ideas into brains, giving "Crooked Hillary" as an example.
Still, what made "Crooked Hillary" so effective wasn't how many
times Trump repeated it. The problem was how it dovetailed with
her speeches and foundation, about all the money she and her
husband had raked in from their so-called public service. It may
have been impossible for the Democrats to nominate an unassailable
candidate, but with her they made it awfully easy.
For a more detail exposition of Lakoff's thinking, see his
Understanding Trump. There is a fair amount to be learned here,
and some useful advice, but he keeps coming back to his guiding
"strict father" idea, and it's not clear where to go from there.
As someone who grew up under a strict (but not very smart or wise)
father, my instinct is to rebel, but I wouldn't want to generalize
that -- surely there are some fathers worthy of emulation, and I
wouldn't want to condemn such people to rule by the Reagans, Bushes,
and Trumps of this world. The fact is that I consider conservative
family values as desirable, both for individuals and for society.
On the other hand, such family life isn't guaranteed to work out,
nor is it all that common, and I've known lots of people who grew
up just fine without a "strict father." But more importantly, the
desired function of government isn't at all analogous to family.
This distinction seems increasingly lost these days -- indeed,
important concepts like public interest and countervailing power
(indeed, checks and balances) have lost currency -- but that's
in large part because the Democrats have followed the Republicans
in becoming whores of K-Street.
Still, I find what Lakoff and, especially, Luntz do more than
a little disturbing. They're saying that we can't understand a
thing in its own terms, but instead will waver with the choice
of wording. It's easy to understand the attraction of such clever
sophistry for Republicans, because they often have good reason
to cloak their schemes in misleading rhetoric. Any change they
want to make is a "reform." More underhanded schemes get more
camouflage -- the gold standard is still Bush's plan to expedite
the clearcutting of forests on public lands, aka the "Healthy
Forests Initiative." Similarly, efforts they dislike get labels
like Entitlement Programs or Death Taxes or Obamacare. And so much
the better when they get supposedly neutral or even opposition
sources to adopt their terminology, but at the very least they
make you work extra hard to reclaim the language.
Republicans need to do this because so much of their agenda
is contrary to the interests of many or most people. But I doubt
that the answer to this is to come up with your own peculiarly
slanted vocabulary. Better, I think, to debunk when they're
trying to con you, because they're always out to con you. Even
the "strict father" model of hierarchy is a con, originating
in the notion that the social order starts with the king on
top, with its extension to the family just an afterthought.
But they can't very well lead with the king, given that we
fought a foundational war to free ourselves from such tyranny.
Indeed, beyond the dubious case of "strict fathers" it's hard
to find any broad acceptance of social hierarchy in America --
something Democrats should give some thought to.
On the other hand, Democratic (or liberal) euphemisms and
slogans haven't fared all that well either, and to the extent
they obfuscate or distort they undermine our claims to base
our political discourse in the world of fact and logic. Aside
from "pro-choice" I can't think of many examples. (In contrast
to "right-to-life" it actually means something, but I believe
that a more important point is that entering into an extended
responsibility requires a conscious choice -- pregnancy doesn't,
but the free option of an abortion makes parenthood a deliberate
choice. But I also think that deciding to continue or abort a
pregnancy is a personal matter, not something the state should
involve itself in. So there are two reasons beyond the frivolous
air of "choice.")
There is, by the way, a growing body of literature on the low
regard reason is held in regarding political matters. One book I
have on my shelf (but somehow haven't gotten to) is Jonathan
Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by
Politics and Religion (2012); another is Drew Westen's
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the
Fate of the Nation (2007). These books and similar research
provide hints for politicians to try to scam the system. They
also provide clues for honest citizens trying to foil them.
The big news story this week was Trump's firing of FBI Director
James Comey. This has forced me to revisit two positions I have
tended to hold in these pages. The first is that when people would
warn of some likely coup, I always assumed they meant that some
organization like the US military might step in to relieve Trump
of his power. This, pretty clearly, was not going to happen: (1)
the US military still has some scruples about things like this;
and (2) Trump is giving them everything they want anyway, so what
reason might they have to turn on him? Trump's firing of Comey
isn't a coup, because Trump was already in power. It was a purge,
and not his first one -- he fired all those US Attorneys, and
several other people who dared to question him. But those were
mostly regular political appointees, so to some extent they were
expected. As I understand it, the FBI Director enjoys the job
security of a ten-year term, so Trump broke some new ground in
firing Comey. It seems clear now that Trump will continue to
break new ground in purging the federal government of people he
disagrees with -- to an extent which may not be illegal but is
already beyond anything we have previously experienced.
Second, I tended to disagree with the many people who expected
Trump not to survive his 4-year term. I would express this in odds,
which were always somewhat a bit above zero. I still don't consider
a premature termination of some sort to be likely, but the odds have
jumped up significantly. I don't want to bother with plotting out
various angles here. Just suffice it to say that he's become a much
greater embarrassment in the past week. In particular, I don't see
how he can escape an independent prosecutor at this point. Sure,
he'll try to stall, like he has done with his tax returns, but I
think the Russia investigation will be much harder to dodge. Also,
I think he's dug a deeper hole for himself there. It seems most
likely that Comey would have done to him what he did to Hillary
Clinton: decide not to prosecute, but present a long list of
embarrassments Democrats could turn into talking points (after
all, he's a fair guy, and that would balance off his previous
errors). Hard to say whether an independent prosecutor would do
anything differently. Probably depends on whether he draws some
partisan equivalent of Kenneth Starr.
Meanwhile, some links on the purge:
Max Boot: Trump Keeps Acting Like He Has Something to Hide
Jonathan Chait: Trump Has Sparked the Biggest Political Crisis Since
Trump Is Trying to Control the FBI. It's Time to Freak Out.
Esme Cribb: UN Ambassador Defends Comey Firing: Trump Is 'CEO of the
Country': Nikki Haley, adding "He can hire and fire whoever he
wants." Actually, many of his hires must first be approved by the US
Senate. And most government employees are protected by civil service
laws. CEOs often have similar restrictions, but Haley seems to think
they possess enough absolute power for the president to envy, much
as CEOs often envy the power of absolute monarchs and dictators.
Tim Dickinson: The Totally Deserved but Deeply Troubling Firing of
Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Surprise at Comey Firing Fallout Is a Scary
James Fallows: Five Reasons the Comey Affair Is Worse Than Watergate:
"The underlying offense"; "The blatancy of the interference"; "The nature
of the president"; "The resiliency of the fabric of American institutions";
and "The cravenness of party leaders."
Travis Gettys: Comey Furious Over Trump Team's Smear Campaign -- and
He's Prepared to Respond
Charles Krauthammer: A political ax murder: Not that he minds
("Comey had to go") but still "brutal even by Washington standards.
(Or even Roman standards. Where was the vein-opening knife and the
Michael Kruse: 'He Doesn't Give a Crap Who He Fires': "The only
people who aren't surprised by Trump's dismissal of James Comey are
the people who've watched his whole career."
Kathleen Parker: A theory: Trump fired Comey because he's taller:
Probably the most benign spin, but one that occurred to my wife,
so I figure it's worth mentioning.
David Rothkopf: Is America a Failing State?
The brazen firing of Comey is an escalation. If Trump is allowed to
get away with this and appoint a lackey as chief investigator into
his team's alleged wrongdoing, the world will see the United States
as a failing state, one that is turning its back on the core ideas
on which it was founded -- that no individual is above the law and
that those in the government, at every level including the president,
work for the people.
Michael S Schmidt: In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey
Bruce Shapiro: Comey's Firing Is Worse Than the Saturday Night
Andrew Sullivan: Trump Just Incriminated Himself
Jeffrey Toobin: Firing Comey Was a Grave Abuse of Power: "In
1974, Republicans put country before Party and told Nixon it was
time to go. Today's G.O.P. seems unlikely to live up to its
Laurence H Tribe: Trump must be impeached. Here's why. I wouldn't
normally bother with such an unlikely scenario, but consider the
source. For more on Tribe, see:
Dahlia Lithwick: How the President Obstructed Justice. In an
unrelated matter, Tribe had made some news recently:
Ryan Koronowski: One of the Nation's Most Respected Constitutional
Scholars Sells Out to Nation's Largest Coal Company.
By firing James Comey, Trump as put impeachment on the table.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert L Borosage: Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers
Rosa Brooks: Donald Trump Is America's Experiment in Having No
Government: For example:
Meanwhile, President Trump froze most federal hiring, ensuring, for
the experiment's sake, that the executive branch is also short-staffed
at middle and lower levels. Similarly, Trump has asked Congress to slash
the budgets for most civilian agencies, in the hopes that those employees
who remain will be unable to fund any programs. He has moved quickly to
eliminate many of the regulations put into place by previous governments,
leaving private sector actors more free to pollute the environment and
fleece the general public. This week, President Trump announced his
intention to precipitously slash corporate taxes as well, in an apparent
effort to reduce federal revenues and thus further reduce the federal
government's ability to function.
Elisabeth Garber-Paul: Jeff Sessions Orders Harsher Sentences, Taking
US Policy Back to the 1980s
Peter Maass: Birth of a Radical: Profile of Steve Bannon protégé
Gareth Porter: Will Trump Agree to the Pentagon's Permanent War in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria?
Micah Schwartzman/Mark Joseph Stern: How Trump Will Transform the
Federal Courts: Republicans have been systematically nominating
younger judges, on the theory that they'll stay in power longer,
resulting through natural selection in a disproportionately conservative
bench. Trump's influence will also be furthered by McConnell keeping
open "more than 100 court vacancies" (double the number open when
Obama became president).
Steven W Thrasher: Trump voter fraud commission is a shameless white
power grab: Hard to think of anything America needs less than a
kangaroo court led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach coming up with new
schemes to keep even more people from voting. Still, voter suppression
has already helped Republicans get elected, for instance in Wisconsin:
Ari Berman: Wisconsin's Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016
(Trump Won by 22,748); Berman also wrote:
Trump's Commission on 'Election Integrity' Will Lead to Massive Voter
James Traub: Donald Trump Is the President America Deserves: Author
normally covers politics in France, which after spurning Marine Le Pen
seems relatively sane and sensible.
Matthew Yglesias: The latest Trump interview once again reveals appalling
ignorance and dishonesty
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Jessica Bonanno: Progressive Senators Are Going Big for Employee
Ownership of the Businesses They Work At: Specifically, Bernie
Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand. I'm a big fan of employee-owned
businesses: they promise to harmonize labor-management relations,
and they inherently incentivize workers to contribute as much as
possible. This strikes me as preferable even to unions, which give
workers more power and a fairer share of profits but work mostly
through adversarial conflict. Gar Alperovitz has written much
about this. Thomas Geoghegan has focused more on Germany's
co-determination system, which gives workers board seats but
not actual equity.
Ariel Dorfman: What Herman Melville Can Teach Us About the Trump Era:
"He would point out that what plagues us are the sins of the past coming
home to roost: America's tolerance of bigotry and blindness to its own
Tom Engelhardt: The Globalization of Misery. Also new at TomDispatch
Danny Sjursen: America's Wars and "More" Strategy; and
William Hartung: Ignoring the Costs of War. From the latter:
Even on the rare occasions when the costs of American war preparations
and war making are actually covered in the media, they never receive
the sort of attention that would be commensurate with their importance.
Last September, for example, the Costs of War Project at Brown University's
Watson Institute released a
paper demonstrating that, since 2001, the U.S. had racked up $4.79
trillion in current and future costs from its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and Syria, as well as in the war at home being waged by the
Department of Homeland Security. . . .
On the dubious theory that more is always better when it comes to
Pentagon spending (even if that means less is worse elsewhere in
America), Trump is requesting a $54 billion increase in military
spending for 2018. No small sum, it's roughly equal to the entire
annual military budget of France, larger than the defense budgets
of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, and only $12 billion less
than the entire Russian military budget of 2015.
Henry Farrell: Cybercriminals have just mounted a massive worldwide
attack. Here's how NSA secrets helped them. Also:
Sam Biddle: Leaked NSA Malware Is Helping Hijack Computers Around
Richard Kreitner: 'Trump Is Just Tearing Off the Mask': An Interview
with Eric Foner: Who has a new book: Battles for Freedom: The
Use and Abuse of American History.
Nina Martin: The Last Person You'd Expect to Die in Childbirth:
"The US has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world,
and 60 percent are preventable."
Sophia A McClennen: The DNC's elephant in the room: Dems have a problem --
it's not Donald Trump: Some sobering numbers here:
Trump currently has a 45.1[*] percent favorability rating, one of the lowest
for any president in the history of polling. But Democrats fare worse.
The DNC has only a 38.8 percent favorability rating.
A January Gallup poll indicated that party identification is at record
lows, with 42 percent identifying as independents, 29 percent as Democrats,
and 26 percent as Republicans. A recent Washington Post poll showed that
the DNC trailed both Trump and the GOP when voters were asked if the party
was "in touch" with their concerns. In fact, only 28 percent of those
polled felt the party was connected with issues that matter to them. . . .
The elephant in the room for the DNC isn't Trump or the GOP or Bernie
bros or Russian hackers; it is its own elitist, corporatist, cronyist,
corrupt system that consistently refuses to listen to the will of the
people it hopes to represent. Thus far, though, DNC leadership has
refused to take these issues seriously. It's a strategy that smacks
of arrogance and hubris. And it's a politics that looks a lot more
like the GOP than a party invested in helping the little guy.
[*] Latest figure at 538 is 40.6% approve Trump, 53.4% disapprove.
Jacob Sugarman: The Financial Crisis That Spawned Austerity, Corporatized
the Democratic Party and Gave the World Donald Trump: Interview
with Kim Phillips-Fein, who has a new book about New York City's
default in 1975: Fear City: New York City's Fiscal Crisis and the
Rise of Austerity Politics.
Matt Taibbi: Free Lunch for Everyone: Review of Rutger Bregman's
book, Utopia for Realists, which "argues that money should be
free and a 15-hour work week sounds about right." Taibbi also wrote
The War in the White House, which prematurely cited April 5-7
as "the most crucial [period] in the history of America's last
president, Donald John Trump." Mostly about Steve Bannon, whose
power was curtailed during said period, yet a month later he's
started to look like the sane one. The fact that someone with
the imagination and flair of Taibbi can't write a piece on Trump
that doesn't seem hopelessly dated two weeks hence is possibly
the scariest statement you can make about the president.
Stephen M Walt: 'Mission Accomplished' Will Never Come in Afghanistan
Sunday, May 7. 2017
I originally planned on writing a little introduction here, on how
bummed I've become, partly because I'm taking the House passage of
Zombie Trumpcare hard -- my wife likes to badmouth the ACA but it
afforded me insurance for two years between when she retired and I
became eligible for Medicare, and it's done good for millions of
other people, reversing some horrible (but evidently now forgotten)
trends -- and partly because the 100 days was just a dry run for
still worse things to come. But I wound up writing some of what I
wanted to say in the Savan comment below.
One thing that's striking about the Trumpcare reactions is how
morally outraged the commentators are ("one of the cruelest things,"
"war on sick people," "moral depravity," "sociopathic," "hate poor
and sick people," "homicidal healthcare bill"). If you want more
details, follow the Yglesias links: he does a good job of explaining
how the bill works. It's also noteworthy how hollow and facetious
pretty much everything the bill's supporters say in defense of it
is. I've offered a few examples, but could easily round up more.
I've added a link on Democrats-still-against-single-player (a group
which includes Nancy Pelosi and Jon Ossoff, names mentioned below).
Let me try to be more succinct here: single-payer is the political
position we want to stake out, because it's both fairly optimal and
simple and intuitive. If you can't get that, fine, compromise with
something like ACA plus a "public option" -- an honest public option
will eventually wind up eating the private insurance companies and
get you to single-payer. But you don't lead with a hack compromise
that won't get you what you want or even work very well, because
then you'll wind up compromising for something even worse. We should
remember that Obama thought he had a slam dunk with ACA: he lined up
all of the business groups behind his plan, and figured they'd bring
the Republicans along because, you know, if Republicans are anything
they're toadies for business interests. It didn't work because the
only thing Republicans like more than money is power. (They're so
into power they were willing to tank the economy for 4 or 8 years
just to make Obama look bad. They're so into power they held ranks
behind Trump even though most of the elites, at least, realized he
was a hopeless buffoon.)
On the other hand, the shoe is clearly on the other foot now: it's
the Republicans who are fucking with your health care, and they're
doing things that will shrink insurance rolls by millions, that will
raise prices and weaken coverage, that will promote fraud and leave
ever more people bankrupt. Those are things that will get under the
skin of voters, and Republicans have no answer, let alone story. The
other big issue noted below is the environment. The EPA is moving
fast and hard on policies that will severely hurt people and that
will prove to be very unpopular -- maybe not overnight, but we'll
start seeing big stories by the 2018 elections, even more by 2020,
and air and water pollution is not something that only happens to
I didn't include anything on how these changes have already affected
projections for 2018 elections, because at this point that would be
sheer speculation. To my mind, the biggest uncertainty there isn't
how much damage the Republicans will do (or how manifest it will be)
but whether Democrats will develop into a coherent alternative. That's
still up for grabs, but I'll see hope in anything that helps bury the
generation of party leaders who were so complicit in the destruction
of the middle class and in the advance of finance capital. To that
end, Obama's $400,000 Wall Street speech clearly aligns him with the
problems and not with the solutions.
[PS: This section on the French election was written on Saturday,
before the results came in. With 98% reporting, Emmanuel Macron won,
65.8% to 34.2% for Marine Le Pen.
TPM's post-election piece included a line about how the election
"dashed [Le Pen's] hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald
Trump into the White House would also carry her to France's presidential
Elysee Palace." I don't see how anyone can describe Trump's election
as a "populist wave" given that the candidate wasn't a populist in
any sense of the word -- not that Le Pen is either. Both are simple
right-wingers, who advance incoherent and mean-spirited programs by
couching them in traditional bigotries. While it's probable that the
center in France is well to the left of the center in the US, a more
important difference is that Trump could build his candidacy on top
of the still-respected (at least by the mainstream media) Republican
Party whereas Le Pen's roots trace back to the still-discredited
Vichy regime. But it also must have helped that Macron had no real
history, especially compared to the familiar and widely-despised
Hillary Clinton. (Just saw a tweet with a quote from Macron: "The
election was rly not that hard I mean . . . how despised do you have
to be to get beaten by a fascist am I right?" The tweet paired the
quote with a picture of Hillary.)
[More reaction later, but for now I have to single out
Anne Applebaum: Emmanuel Macron's extraordinary political achievement,
especially for one line I'm glad I never considered writing: "Not since
Napoleon has anybody leapt to the top of French public life with such
speed." She goes on to explain: "Not since World War II has anybody won
the French presidency without a political party and a parliamentary base.
Aside from some belated endorsements, he had little real support from
the French establishment, few of whose members rated the chances of a
man from an unfashionable town when he launched his candidacy last
year." She makes him sound like Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the
president in the TV series Designated Survivor -- which despite
much centrist corniness is a pleasing escape from our actual president.]
France goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The
"outsider" centrist Emmanuel Macron is favored over neo-fascist
Marine Le Pen -- the latter frequently described as "populist" in
part because Macron, a banker and current finance minister, is as
firmly lodged in France's elites as Michael Bloomberg is here. The
polls favor Macron by a landslide, less due to the popularity of
the status quo than to the odiousness of Le Pen. One interesting
sidelight is how foreigners have weighed in on the election -- one
wonders whether the French are as touchy as Americans about outside
interference. For instance, Barack Obama endorsed Macron --
Yasmeen Serhan: Obama's Endorsement of Macron -- as did, perhaps
more importantly, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis --
Daniel Marans: Top European Economist Makes the Left-Wing Case for
Emmanuel Macron, or in Varoufakis' own words,
The Left Must Vote for Macron. On the other hand, Le Pen's foreign
supporters include Donald Trump --
Aidan Quigley: Trump expresses support for French candidate Le Pen --
and Vladimir Putin --
Anna Nemtsova/Christopher Dickey: Russia's Putin Picks Le Pen to Rule
France. And while
Putin tells Le Pen Russia has no plans to meddle in French election,
on the eve of the election the Macron campaign was rocked by a hacked
email scandal: see,
James McAuley: France starts probing 'massive' hack of emails and documents
reported by Macron campaign, and more pointedly,
Mark Scott: US Far-Right Activists Promote Hacking Attack Against
Macron. [PS: For a debunking of the "leaks," see
Robert Mackey: There Are No "Macron Leaks" in France. Politically
Motivated Hacking Is Not Whistleblowing. Evidently a good deal
of this isn't even hacking -- just forgery meant to disinform.]
One likely reason for Putin to support Le Pen is the latter's
promise to withdraw France from NATO. The interest of Trump and US
far-right activists is harder to fathom -- after all, even fellow
fascists have conflicting nationalist agendas, and nationalist
bigots ultimately hate each other too much to develop any real
solidarity, even where they share many prejudices. For instance,
why should Trump applaud Brexit and further damage to European
unity? Surely it can't be because he gives one whit about anyone
John Nichols argues that Obama's endorsement of Macron
Is an Effort to Stop the Spread of Trumpism, but while right-wing
nationalist movements have been gaining ground around much of the world,
it's hard to see anything coherent enough to be called Trumpism, much
less a wave that has to be stopped anywhere but here. Obama may have
good reasons for publicizing his endorsement, and may even have enough
of a following in France to make his endorsement worth something, but
given his recent buckraking it could just as well be meant to solidify
his position among the Davos set. Besides, I haven't forgotten his
proclamation that "Assad must go" -- his assumption of America's right
to dictate the political choices of others, which had the effect of
tying America's diplomatic hands and prolonging Syria's civil war.
At this stage I'm not sure I even want to hear his position on any
American political contest -- least of all one having to do with
leadership of the major political party he and the Clintons ran into
Big news this week is that the Republicans passed their "health
care reform" bill -- most recently dubbed "Zombie Trumpcare 3.0" --
in the House. They had failed a while back because they couldn't
get enough votes from the so-called Freedom Caucus, but solved that
problem by making the bill even worse than it was. Some links:
Jamelle Bouie: The GOP's Passage of Trumpcare Is One of the Cruelest
Things the Party Has Ever Done:
[PS: Top Comment: "Time to face the truth. The wealthy in this country
are parasites. 99% of the wealth, 90% of all new wealth and they need
to take more from those with nothing."]
Michael Corcoran: The GOP Declares War on Sick People: The Moral Depravity
of Trumpcare's Passage
Chauncey DeVega: The Republican Party Is Sociopathic: If You Didn't
Know That Already, the Health Care Bill Should Make It Clear; also
by same author:
The 'Pro-Life' Party Has Become the Party of Death: New Research
on Why Republicans Hate Poor and Sick People.
Adam Gaffney: Donald Trump's homicidal healthcare bill will kill some,
and enrich others
Travis Gettys: You're Not Safe From Republicans' Obamacare Replacement
if You Get Your Insurance Through Work: Key thing here is that the
ACA established some minimal standards for all health insurance plans,
and the Trumpcare bill weakens those standards, so in more cases the
insurance you thought you had will prove worthless.
Kelly Hayes: The ACA Repeal: Our Lives Are at Stake, So Now What?
Michael Hayne: If Trumpcare Ends Up Happening, Up to 7 Million Veterans
Could See Their Health Care Ruined
Sarah Kiff: Tom Price says Americans will "absolutely not" lose Medicaid
under GOP plan. That's not true.
Daniel Politi: Republican Congressman: "Nobody Dies Because They Don't
Have Access to Health Care": I reckon I could find dozens of
articles about inane comments from pro-Trumpcare Republicans.
Aaron Rupar: HHS Secretary Price argues people with pre-existing
conditions should pay more; also
Fox News host says health care for people with pre-existing conditions
is a 'luxury'. Things like this make you wonder how dumb people
can be if they think their political identity demands it. The fact is
that everyone has a "pre-existing condition" sooner or later. In the
old days, you could sometimes maintain insurance coverage by continuity --
by sticking with a job and its insurance plan if it didn't weed you out
at the start, but now it's even harder to keep lifetime jobs. I also
knew some people who were able to get community-rated individual plans,
and maintained their continuity through hell and high water, because
they would never be able to switch to another insurance program. The
ACA helped fix those problems, and thereby helped make sure that health
insurance would actually insure you when you needed it. Anyone who
wants to go back to a system which encourages insurance companies to
drop anyone they think might cost them is simply crazy -- especially
given that the pre-ACA system allowed costs to skyrocket way beyond
virtually anyone's ability to pay as you go.
Jon Schwarz: Paul Ryan's Spokesperson Can't Be Bothered Coordinating
Her Lies About Trumpcare With the White House's Lies
Matthew Yglesias: AHCA is a betrayal of all the GOP's promises on health
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans' health bill takes $600 billion out of
health care to cut taxes for the rich;
How Paul Ryan gained moderate votes for AHCA by making it more extreme;
AHCA: Donald Trump celebrated Obamacare repeal by lying about what the
Joel Dodge: The Case Against Single-Payer: Meant more to be a
case for some sort of "public option," which as I recall was mostly
opposed because it was viewed as a stalking horse for single-payer,
especially out of the fear that a "public option" would turn out to
be so popular private insurance wouldn't be able to compete. Still,
it's hard at this point to see the political advantage of pushing
"public option" over single-payer. The latter is intrinsically more
efficient in that it eliminates the overheads of marketing and the
need to generate profits, as well as fracturing the insurance pool.
That leaves lots of issues figuring out what is/isn't covered and
how much providers are paid -- things that market competition can
help with, but everywhere else single-payer systems have managed
to do more/less satisfactorily. Dodge cites Georgia Democrat Jon
Ossoff as rejecting single-payer in favor of "incremental progress
based upon the body of law on the books" -- something I have no
problem with, but I don't see that sort of tinkering-with-ACA as
making the necessary political impact. Single-payer gets the core
idea of equal coverage as a right across. If anything, it doesn't
go far enough. Why not start building public-interest health care
providers, and see how well the private sector competes with
Some scattered links this week directly tied to Trump:
Coral Davenport: EPA Dismisses Members of Major Scientific Review
The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members
of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics
call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency's
regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.
A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would
consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from
industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part
of the wide net it plans to cast. "The administrator believes we should
have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on
the regulated community," said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.
The dismissals on Friday came about six weeks after the House passed
a bill aimed at changing the composition of another E.P.A. scientific
review board to include more representation from the corporate world.
President Trump has directed Mr. Pruitt to radically remake the E.P.A.,
pushing for deep cuts in its budget -- including a 40 percent reduction
for its main scientific branch -- and instructing him to roll back major
Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection. In
recent weeks, the agency has removed some scientific data on climate
change from its websites, and Mr. Pruitt has publicly questioned the
established science of human-caused climate change.
Justin Elliott/Derek Kravitz/Al Shaw: Meet the Hundreds of Officials
Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government; follow ups:
Derek Kravitz: Remember Those Temporary Officials Trump Quietly
Installed? Some Are Now Permanent Employees;
Ariana Tobin/Derek Kravitz/Al Shaw: You Helped Us Find Hires the White
House Never Announced, Including a Koch Brothers Alum.
Keith Ellison: The Great Recession hurt millions. Now, Republicans
want to risk a repeat: They call this the Financial Choice Act,
because it will vastly increase the range of options bankers enjoy
to screw you, especially by killing the Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau, the agency created after the 2008 meltdown to protect against
fraud. Also see:
Jill Abramson: Dismantling Dodd-Frank: Donald Trump's Valentine's gift
to Wall Street.
Michelle Goldberg: Ivanka Trump's Book Celebrates the Unlimited
Possibilities Open to Women With Full-Time Help
Bruce Goldstein: How Trump's Skewed View of Rural America and Agriculture
Threatens the Welfare of Farmworkers
Gabrielle Gurley: Trump's Disastrous Decision to Ruin America's Prize
Dahlia Lithwick/Elliot Mincberg: Trump's religious liberty executive
order reads like it was lawyered to death.
Josh Marshall: Why They're So Scared About Mike Flynn: Reaction
to two new stories deepening the mess Flynn created and left behind --
not something I'm terribly interested in because ever since Michael
Hastings' Rolling Stone article on McChrystall it's been clear
to me that Flynn was an erratic and unscrupulous hustler no one should
ever trust. (Many think Obama fired McChrystall for insubordination,
but it was Flynn who actually said the nastiest shit about Obama, as
he continued to do even after Obama appointed him DIA head -- one of
Obama's all-time worst appointments, by the way.) After leaving the
military, Flynn only became unreliable, pimping himself to foreign
governments while ingratiating himself to the Trump campaign. What
he actually accomplished with all his double-dealing isn't clear, or
even that interesting, to me, but I'm sure there are cautionary tales
to be learnt here. (For one, that luck in wartime allows officers
wholly unsuited for command to rise far beyond their competency --
a famous, albeit far-removed, case might be George Armstrong Custer.)
Trump's attraction to Flynn may have been because they shared common
paranoias, but Flynn's interest in Trump was probably just that he
was an easy mark. I suppose we're lucky that the pair of them didn't
do more damage than they did, but we're not exactly out of the woods
Ashley Parker/John Wagner: Kushner has a singular and almost untouchable
role in Trump's White House: And I thought nepotism was bad under
the Bushes. Also, note how the family is making out:
Emily Rauhala/William Wan: In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes
$500,000 'investor visa' to wealthy Chinese
Nomi Prins: The Empire Expands: Not the America One, but Trump's:
Just a taste:
The ways that Jared, "senior adviser to the president," and Ivanka,
"assistant to the president," have already benefited from their links
to "Dad" in the first 100 days of his presidency stagger the imagination.
Ivanka's company, for instance, won three new trademarks for its products
from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her
father's Palm Beach club.
In a similar fashion, thanks to her chance to socialize with Japanese
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, her company could be better positioned for
deal negotiations in his country. One of those perks of family power
includes nearing a licensing agreement with Japanese apparel giant Sanei
International, whose parent company's largest stakeholder is the
Development Bank of Japan -- an entity owned by the Japanese government.
We are supposed to buy the notion that the concurrent private viewing of
Ivanka's products in Tokyo was a coincidence of the scheduling fairy.
Yet since her father became president, you won't be surprised to learn
that global sales of her merchandise have more or less gone through the
Corey Robin: Think Trump is an authoritarian? Look at his actions,
not his words: I pretty much agree with Robin here -- as "strong
leaders" go Trump has such a weak grasp of the mechanics of power
that he tends to be ineffective regardless of his malign desires --
especially compared to the views of someone like Timothy Snyder (see
"It's pretty much inevitable" that Trump will try to stage a coup and
overthrow democracy). Still, I don't take much comfort in his
ineptitude -- he still has enough power and enough willing actors
(including the sort ready to take their own initiative) to do a lot
Leslie Savan: A Hundred Days of Trump Denial: Unlike Savan, I
never expected Trump to somehow step down or go away let alone be
impeached or (as the 25th amendment seems to allow) be declared
incompetent. In fact, I'm not even sure he's a greater embarrassment
than Ronald Reagan was, although this time many more people can see
through his act, and his supporting cast is far more craven (not
that Reagan's didn't want to be, they just hadn't yet lost all sense
of shame). The fact is that Trump, like Reagan and the Bushes, will
wind up doing a great deal of damage to the country. It just won't
happen overnight or over 100 days. It will incrementally seep into
the system, like water and wind tearing apart mountains, and when
it does, it will be so thorough people line Clinton and Obama won't
be able to repair it -- although perhaps others, with more insight
and more fortitude, might do better at finding ways to rebuild on
the tattered landscape.
Lucy Steigerwald: Justice for No One Except Jeff Sessions; also:
Marjorie Cohn: Jeff Sessions' Department of Injustice. Sessions
probably has the highest profile of any Trump appointee, particularly
given how arbitrarily he can change enforcement priorities. Still,
there is likely to be a lag between when he decides to do something
and when it really changes situations.
Steven W Thrasher: The war on drugs is racist. Donald Trump is embracing
it with open arms
Douglas Williams: Trump's civil war comments master the Republican
art of downplaying slavery
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
David Atkins: The Argument Over Why Clinton Lost Is Over. Bernie Was
Right. Now What?
It has been a long, knock-down drag-out battle, but the ugly intramural
conflict over why Clinton lost to Trump is finally over. New polls and
focus groups conducted by Clinton's own SuperPAC Priorities USA shows
that while racism and sexism had some effect, the main driver of Trump's
victory was economic anxiety, after all. The data showed that voters who
switched from Obama to Trump had seen their standards of living decline
and felt that the Democratic Party had become the party of the wealthy
and unconcerned about their plight. . . .
fThose who try to win elections for a living also aren't looking
forward to fighting the full power of the financial and pharmaceutical
interests in addition to the regular armada of right-wing corporate
groups. It would be much easier for electoral strategists if Democrats
could unlock a majoritarian liberal bloc with a "rising tide lifts all
boats" ideology that doesn't greatly inconvenience the urban donor class.
Consultants aren't exactly looking forward to trying to win elections
against interest groups angered by arguing for renegotiating NAFTA,
punishing corporations for sending jobs overseas, raising the capital
gains tax rate, and cutting health insurance companies out of the broad
American marketplace. But that's exactly what they're going to have to
do if want to win not only the presidency, but the congressional seats
and legislatures dominated by increasingly angry suburban and rural
voters. Not to mention angry young millennials of all identities who
have essentially been locked out of the modern economy by low wages
combined with outrageous cost of living, especially in the housing
market that has uncoincidentally been such a major investment boon
for their lucky parents, grandparents, and the financial industry.
Patrick Cockburn: Fall of Raqqa and Mosul Will Not Spell the End for
Isis: One should recall, first of all, that Raqqa and Mosul weren't
conquered by Isis so much as abandoned by hostile but ineffective central
governments in Damascus and Baghdad. Before, pre-Isis was just another
salafist guerrilla movement, as it will remain once its pretensions to
statehood have been removed. And the Iraqi government is no more likely
to be respected and effective in Mosul than it was before. (I have no
idea about what happens to Raqqa if Isis falls there -- presumably not
Assad, at least not right away.)
Richard Eskow: Who's Behind the Billionaire PAC Targeting Elizabeth
Warren? Well, not just Warren. They're looking to muddy the waters
for any Democratic candidate conceivable in 2020. The group is America
America Rising was formed in 2013 by Matt Rhoades, the director of Mitt
Romney's failed 2012 presidential campaign, and it represents the worst
of what our current political system offers. Its goal is not to debate
the issues or offer solutions to the nation's problems. Instead, the PAC
gets cash from big-money donors and spends it trying to tear down its
The Republican National Committee's "autopsy" of its 2012 presidential
loss reportedly concluded that the party needed an organization that
would "do nothing but post inappropriate Democratic utterances and act
as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats."
Mehdi Hasan: Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason -- They Remember
the Korean War. Bigger problem: they don't remember it ending,
because for them it never really did: they're still stuck with the
sanctions, the isolation, the mobilization and felt need for constant
vigilance. One might argue that the regime has used these strictures
to solidify its own rule -- that in some sense they're more satisfied
with a continuing state of crisis than anything we'd consider normalcy,
but we've never really given them that option. America's failure to
win the Korean War was an embarrassment, and no one since then has
had the political courage to admit failure and move on. Hence, we're
stuck in this cycle of periodic crises.
Terror Is in the Eye of the Beholder, John Dower wrote a bit
about Korea, after noting how the US dropped 2.7 million tons of
bombs in Europe and 656,400 tons in the Pacific:
The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air
Force in Korea 1950-1953) records that U.S.-led United Nations air
forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered
a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy. In his 1965
memoir Mission with LeMay, General Curtis LeMay, who directed the
strategic bombing of both Japan and Korea, offered this observation:
"We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both . . .
We killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million
more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound
Other sources place the estimated number of civilian Korean War dead
as high as three million, or possibly even more. Dean Rusk, a supporter
of the war who later served as secretary of state, recalled that the
United States bombed "everything that moved in North Korea, every brick
standing on top of another."
Americans killed in the Korean War totaled 33,739, a little more
than 1% of the number of Koreans killed, so sure, we remember the war
a bit less ominously. Dower's new book is The Violent American
Century: War and Terror Since World War Two.
Michael Howard: Let's Call Western Media Coverage of Syria by its Real
Name: Propaganda: Starts off with two paragraphs on Ukraine -- same
story. The bottom line is that all parties work hard to control how news
is reported, and the country is too dangerous for journalists not aligned
with some special interest to search out or verify stories. Howard also
Stephen Kinzer: The media are misleading the public on Syria, who
Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.
Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra,
is made up of "rebels" or "moderates," not that it is the local al-Qaeda
franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in
fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a
"rat line" for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria,
but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey's good side, we hear
little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support
the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything
Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing,
simply because it is they who are doing it -- and because that is the
official line in Washington.
Mark Karlin: Government Has Allowed Corporations to Be More Powerful
Than the State: An interview with Antony Loewenstein, author of
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, so it
focuses on corporations profiting from disasters around the world.
That's interesting and revealing, but I would have taken the title
in a different direction. What I've found is that we've allowed
corporations so much control over their workers that a great many
people are effectively living under totalitarian rule, at least
until they quit their jobs (and in some cases beyond -- I, for
instance, was forced to sign a no-compete agreement that extended
for years beyond my employment). And that sort of thing has only
gotten worse since I retired.
Jonathan Ohr: 100 senators throw their bodies down to end UN 'bias'
against Israel: including Bernie Sanders, although his line about
not writing the letter (just signing on) was kind of funny.
Nate Silver: The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton the Election:
FBI czar James Comey spent a couple days last week testifying before
Congress on his strategic decision to announce, on October 28 before
the November 8 election, that the FBI was investigating a fresh batch
of Hillary Clinton's emails, reopening a case that had been closed
several months before. As Silver notes, "the Comey letter almost
immediately sank Clinton's polls," starting a spiral that cost her
a polling lead she had held all year long. There are, of course,
lots of factors which contributed to her loss, but this is one of
the few that can be singled out, precisely because the "what if"
alternative was itself so clear cut -- Comey could simply have held
back (which would have been standard FBI policy) and nothing would
have happened. Many people have made this same point, not least the
candidate herself, but Silver backs it up with impressive data and
reasoning. He recognizes that the swing was small, and shows how
even a small swing would have tilted the election. He also makes
a case that somewhat larger swing (what he calls "Big Comey") was
likely. The way I would put this is: Clinton has been dogged by
scandals constantly since her husband became president in 1993 --
the first big one was "Whitewater" and there had been a steady
drumbeat of them all the way through Benghazi! and the emails and
speaking fees and Clinton Foundation. Clinton had somehow managed
to put those behind her by the Democratic Convention, when she
opened up her largest polling lead ever (although, something I
found troubling at the time, she never seemed able to crack 50% --
her 10-12% leads were more often the result of Trump cratering).
What the Comey letter did was to bring all the fury and annoyance
of her past scandals back into the present. Trump's final ad hit
that very point: maybe we have lots of difficult problems, but
voters had one clear option, which was to get rid of Clinton and
all the scandals, both past and future. And that was the emotional
gut reaction that swung the election -- even though a moment's
sober reflection would have realized that Trump is far worse in
every negative respect than Clinton.
Silver points his piece toward a critique of the media, which
consistently played up Clinton scandals while laughing off Trump's,
and I think more importantly made no effort to critique let alone
to delegitimize the right-wing propaganda machine. Still, he
doesn't really get there. For more on this, see:
Richard Wolfe: James Comey feels nauseous about the Clinton emails?
That's not enough
John Stoehr: Nancy Pelosi Is the Most Effective Member of the
Resistance: News to me. One thing I do know is that Republicans
still get a lot of mileage out of slamming Pelosi and smearing
anyone remotely connected to her. I can see where that's unfair
and even horrifying, but writing a puff piece about her doesn't
help. Moreover, it's not as if she's all that dependable. When
Trump launched all those cruise missiles at a Syrian base, she
jumped up and applauded. And she's as blind a devotee of Israel
as anyone in Congress. Maybe she does have a keen sensitivity to
injustice, but it's never interfered with her realpolitik.
Less impressed with Pelosi is
Klaus Marre: Dems Have Difficult Time Capitalizing on Trump Presidency
of Blunders; also:
Sam Knight: Pelosi Refuses to Back Single Payer, Despite GOP Deathmongering
Suddenly Taking Center Stage.
Steve W Thrasher: Barack Obama's $400,000 speaking fees reveal what
few want to admit: "His mission was never racial or economic
justice. It's time we stop pretending it was." It does, however,
suggest that his real mission -- what many people take to be the
real meaning of the phrase "American dream" -- is not just to be
accepted and respected by the very rich, but to join them. As the
Clintons have shown, one way to become rich in America is to get
yourself elected president. And as has been pretty convincingly
demonstrated, anything the Clintons can do, Obama can do much
Sunday, April 30. 2017
One-hundred days after Trump became President of the United States,
about the best you can say is that he could have done even worse than
he did. People make fun of him for only appointing a few dozen of the
thousand-plus presidential appointees, but he's hit most of the top
positions, including one Supreme Court justice, and he's picked some
of the worst nominees imaginable -- in fact, a few way beyond anything
rational fears imagined. But one of his worst picks, former General
Michael Flynn as National Security Director, has already imploded,
and another notorious one, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, looks like
he's been consigned to the dog house.
Despite having Republican congressional majorities, Trump has yet
to pass any major legislation -- although he's proposed some, and/or
bought into Paul Ryan's even more demented schemes. So thus far the
main thing Trump has done has been to sign executive orders -- dozens
of the things, nearly all aimed at undoing executive orders Obama had
started signing once he realized he wasn't going to get any help from
the Republican-controlled Congress. While Trump's orders are truly
disturbing, that's not so much what they do -- even the ones that
aren't promptly blocked by the courts -- as what they reveal about
the administration's mentality (or lack thereof).
Trump has also had a relatively free hand when it comes to foreign
policy -- especially the prerogatives that Congress has granted the
president to bomb other countries. His first acts were to escalate
American involvement in Yemen, although he's followed that up with
attacks against America's usual targets in the Middle East: Syria,
Iraq, and Libya. But while nothing good ever comes from America
flexing its military muscles in the Middle East, a more dangerous
scenario is unfolding with North Korea, with both sides threatening
pre-emptive attacks in response to the other's alleged provocations.
By insisting on an ever-more-constricting regime of sanctions, the
US has cornered and wounded North Korea, while North Korea has
developed both offensive and defensive weapons to such a point
that an American attack would be very costly (especially for our
ostensible allies in South Korea).
There are many reasons to worry about Trump's ability to handle
this crisis. There's little evidence that he understands the risks,
or even the history. On the other hand, he's spent eight years
lambasting Obama for being indecisive and weak, so he's come into
office wanting to look decisive and strong. Moreover, when he
ordered an ineffective cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base
he was broadly applauded -- a dangerous precedent for someone so
fickle. Maybe he has people who will restrain him from ordering a
similar attack on Korea, but he often resembles the "mad man" Nixon
only feigned at. Nor does Kim Jong Un inspire much confidence as a
well-grounded, rational leader (although see
Andrei Lankov: Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman).
First, some 100-day reviews:
Sasha Abramsky: Trump's First 100 Days: Workers Get Pummeled, People
Jill Abramson/Kate Aronoff/Moustafa Bayoumi/Steven W Thrasher: 'Will
we survive 1,361 more days?': Our panel's verdict on Trump's first
100 days: I especially take exception to Bayoumi's "If this doesn't
kill us, it'll make us stronger." I'm afraid I've fallen into the habit
of referring to predators (as in "predatory capitalism"), but an older
term is perhaps more apt: parasites. Well-evolved parasites mastered
the knack of draining without killing you, and victims of parasites
rarely come out stronger.
Peter Dreier: Relax, Donald: After 100 Days, You've Already Done So
Bridgette Dunlap: After 100 Days of Trump, America's Gotten Corruption
Jonathan Freedland: The lesson from Donald Trump's first 100 days:
resistance is not futile
Will Kane: This land is your land: American reflections on Trump's
first 100 days
Gary Legum: Donald Trump's administration after 100 days: A second-rate
salesman surrounded by con men and losers
Ran Lenz/Booth Gunter: 100 Days in Trump's America: From Southern
Poverty Law Center, focus on "white nationalists" -- a key part of the
Trump entourage, although I doubt they're very influential.
Nancy LeTourneau: 100 Days, 100 Horrors: Kinda schematic, but
consider she was too lazy to read the critical Clinton campaign book
Shattered before writing an article about how she couldn't
bother to read it
I'm Not Interested in Being "Shattered" -- by the way, I checked
link to Kevin Drum she described as "a good job of challenging
the book's assertion that Clinton ran a particularly horrible campaign"
and found no compelling data or argument, just: "My horseback guess
is that when you put it all together, she was about average as a
candidate and her campaign was about average as a campaign").
Jim Newell: Trump's Biggest Mistake of His First 100 Days Was Embracing
Paul Ryan's Cartoonishly Plutocratic Agenda: Retitled "Trump Could
Have Broken the Democratic Party." The idea is that had Trump stuck to
his populist program -- had he actually followed through and promoted
American jobs while safeguarding the safety net and backing away from
the foreign entanglements that have saddled us with wars and refugees --
he would break through the party divisions and become singularly popular.
Still, that was never going to happen: the Republican Party these days
doesn't allow that sort of heterodoxy, so he gave up any claim to
independent thought when he joined. Admittedly, he thinks so little
that wasn't much of a sacrifice. He thinks so little he didn't have
a better idea anyway. So it didn't take long for Republicans to work
out a satisfactory modus vivendi: they get him to front their agenda,
and he and his family get their graft and perks. That's all he ever
cared about in the first place.
Charles Pierce: The 100 Days: Who Can Stop an Unfit President*?
Pierce has picked up the habit of adding an asterisk every time he
refers to Trump as president, something those of you who don't remember
Ford Frick may have trouble parsing. He focuses on the transcript of
Trump's recent AP interview with its dozens of "(unintelligible)"
notations, inserted for sections that don't even rise to the level
of "[sic]." Casey Quinlan read the same interview, and concluded:
Donald Trump doesn't know anything about the health care bill he's
Ryan Koronowski: Trump broke 80 promises in 100 days
William Rivers Pitt: Trump, the GOP and the 100-Day Dump Truck
Daniel Politi: Trump's 100-Day Speech Mimics His Presidency: Rambling,
Lies, and Egomania
William Saletan: You Don't Have to Hate Donald Trump to See He Is Bad
at His Job: Well, maybe not hate, but you do have to be able to
look at him critically (or skeptically), and if you have that skill
set you probably didn't care for him even before he got elected. The
author is one of our most notorious political centrists, so after
the jump he retitled his article "The Moderate's Case Against Trump."
It's probably worth extracting his ten points -- note that there is
much more detail in the article and the links -- even if some are
things that only a "moderate" would think he promised, much less to
hold him to:
- He promised to fight for working people against the establishment.
- He said he would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something
better. He has done neither.
- He promised to strengthen our borders and "get smart" about keeping
out terrorists. He hasn't.
- He said he would stand up to our enemies and competitors. He hasn't.
- He ran against the national debt. Now he's running it up.
- He promised to work for "the forgotten man and woman." Instead,
he has focused on himself.
- He promised to make America great. Instead, he has isolated and
- He said he would "drain the swamp." He hasn't.
- He preached "America First." But he has put his friends' business
interests before the national interest.
- He said he would honor the military. Instead, he has disparaged
Of course, most of his supporters are still convinced that his
shortcomings are the fault of insidious liberal elites continuing
to manipulate the system despite his election. It's not like they
let facts or reason get in the way of voting for him in the first
Matthew Sheffield: Polling at the 100-day mark shows President Trump's
policies are widely unpopular
Tessa Stuart: 100 WTF Moments From Trump's First 100 Days
Stephem M Walt: The Worst Mistake of Trump's First 100 Days:
Plenty to choose from, but Walt says Asia, and I'd narrow that down to
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's first 100 days have been a moneymaking
success story: "He's getting what he cares about."
Trump isn't failing. He and his family appear to be making money hand
over fist. It's a spectacle the likes of which we've never seen in the
United States, and while it may end in disaster for the Trumps someday,
for now it shows no real sign of failure.
Some more scattered links this week in Trump world:
Rosa Brooks: Donald Trump Is America's Experiment in Having No
Government: That's an amusing, if somewhat facetious, way of
putting it, but ever since Reagan made his little joke about the
most terrifying words in the language being "I'm from the government,
and I'm here to help" Republicans have been flirting with destroying
the organization which underpins law, order, and all private wealth.
And although he's out to cut some parts of government, and to makes
others completely unproductive, it's not really "no government" that
he's pursuing. What he really wants to do is get rid of the "of, by,
and for the people" part.
Aviva Chomsky: Clinton and Obama Laid the Groundwork for Donald Trump's
War on Immigrants
William Greider: It's Groundhog Day in Washington, With Trump Peddling
the Same Old Reaganite Snake Oil: Trump's tax cuts for the rich,
err, tax reform, program.
Fred Kaplan: A Short Bus Tide to Nowhere: So Trump organized a
bus trip for 100 Senators "to the White House to tell them things
they already know about North Korea." Kaplan seems to think that
all the bluster and bluff ultimately signifies nothing:
In recent days, Trump has sent an aircraft carrier battle group and
a guided-missile submarine toward North Korea's shores. Vice President
Mike Pence has gone to the Demilitarized Zone and squinted through the
binoculars at the North Korean guards, so they can see his resolve.
Pence also declared, "The era of 'strategic patience'" -- President
Obama's policy of containment, as opposed to action, toward North
Korea -- "is over." . . .
This may be, in the end, a pragmatic acknowledgment of the realities
at hand, but it is no way to run a foreign policy. You don't issue
warnings and ultimatums, luring friends and foes to believe that you
might really use military force, possibly as a way of compelling them
to solve the problem themselves -- and then back off and say you'll
deal with it the way it's always been dealt with, somehow, at some
point. In the high-decibel run-up to this anti-climax, Trump has once
again shown these same friends and foes that they shouldn't pay attention
to anything he says -- that he doesn't necessarily mean it, that he and
his threats and his promises are not to be taken seriously.
On the other hand, there's a small chance that Trump and/or Kim
will blunder into something that kills millions of people and leaves
indelible scars, simply because they can't distinguish fantasies
Sarah Leonard: You Are Now Paying Internet Companies to Sell Your
Browsing History to Advertisers: Thanks to a repeal of FCC
privacy rules signed by Trump.
Caitlin MacNeal: Trump to Appoint Anti-Abortion Leader Charmaine
Yoest to Post at HHS: Actually, she's been bouncing back and
forth between Republican administrations, campaigns, and right-wing
think tanks since she got her start in the Reagan administration.
Chris Mooney/Juliet Eilperin: EPA website removes climate science site
from public view after two decades
Michael Paarlberg: How would Donald Trump's tax plan benefit him?
Let us count the ways; also
Bess Levin: Donald Trump Stands to Make Millions Off His Own Tax
Marcelo Rochabran/Jessica Huseman: Former Director of Anti-Immigration
Group Set to Be Named Ombundsman at US Immigration Agency: Another
candidate for Trump's most inappropriate nomination ever.
Matt Shulman: At NRA Conference, Trump Bathes Audience in Conservative
Shout-Outs: I suppose at some point in its distant past, the NRA
was just a lobby group of conservation-minded hunting devotees, a little
backward-looking but basically harmless. Then they were taken over by
the gun industry and jumped onto the law-and-order bandwagon, trying
to stampede terrified city folk to the gun shops with the pitch that
the only way to hold back the tidal wave of crime was by being armed --
and conveniently they tore down the legal barriers against criminals
obtaining guns. But now they're basically just an extreme right-wing
political cult, way beyond reasoning. In this atmosphere, the few
politicians who aren't intrinsically loathed by them can venture
into their den and throw them some red meat and hope to rally their
support. Democrats, even those who've long given up on any political
prospect of limiting gun proliferation, still aren't welcome, because
they've never been able to bridge the increasing chasm of gun lunacy.
But here Trump is, not because he's ever needed or wanted a gun but
because he's as fundamentally wacko as they are. And if you take them
seriously, not as a hobby group but as a political cult, consider:
Heather Digby Parton: Could the NRA's Wayne LaPierre Talk Trump Into a Violent War on the Left?.
Matthew Rosza: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: Who
says you can't cash in on public office?
Matt Taibbi: Man Trump Named to Fix Mortgage Markest Figured in Infamous
Financial Crisis Episode: Craig S. Phillips, formerly of Morgan
Stanley (head of their Asset-Backed Securities division). "More foxes
for more henhouses. Welcome to the Trump era."
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Amanda Erickson: Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a 'national
Thomas Frank: The Democrats' Davos ideology won't win back the
midwest: Like Frank, I have a soft spot for the midwest -- its
farms still productive even as the small towns and factories have
decayed and been depopulated. Still, the Democrats' problem isn't
regional. It's about class, something the Democrats regard as taboo.
Nore are they attracted to "Davos ideology" -- just Davos money, or
any money flexible enough to support a party which seeks to be all
things to all people while never really satisfying anyone. If they
ever want to come back, they have to settle on some vision they can
campaign on and deliver -- something that, if not revolution a la
Bernie, at least makes spreads the wealth Davos promises much more
broadly and equitably. Meanwhile, they're vulnerable to critiques
like this one:
Cornel West: The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days:
Trevor Timm: Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the
Edward Helmore: Whole Foods Is Tanking -- High-Priced Luxury Foods Don't
Jibe With Our Times: I don't see much evidence that the analysis is
valid. In times of increasing inequality, there's certainly a niche
market selling high-priced food to the wealthy, and there's plenty of
evidence of that. Last couple times I was in New York I saw relatively
new high-end food stores everywhere. And we've had several, including
a Whole Foods, open here in the last couple years. Fresh Market closed,
but less for lack of customers than some corporate decision to reduce
their distribution area. Whole Foods hangs on -- my impression is with
fewer customers, but having gone there several times and walked out
empty-handed I rarely bother. Sure, their prices are a big part of
the problem, but I hardly ever find anything there I want, much less
that I can't find cheaper elsewhere. I really lamented the loss of
Fresh Market, but I could care less if these guys go under.
Amy Renee Leiker: More than 400 guns stolen from autos in Wichita
since 2015: A rather shocking number, I thought, when I read
this in our local paper -- especially given how cheap and easy it
is to legally buy a gun in this town. Seems to be a nationwide trend:
Brian Freskos: Guns Are Stolen in America Up to Once Every Minute.
Owners Who Leave Their Weapons in Cars Make It Easy for Thieves.
Conor Lynch: Obama's whopping Wall Street payday: Not a freat look
for the Democratic Party brand: After raising $60 million in
book advances, Obama "agreed to give a speech in September for the
Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. His fee will be
$400,000." Stephen Colbert's
comment: "Hillary wasn't able to continue Obama's legacy -- but
at least Obama was able to continue hers." Their interchangeability
may have once seemed like a political plus but is starting to look
like a curse. The more buckraking Obama does, the more tarnished he
will look to those of us who can't fathom their rarefied world, and
the easier it will be for Republicans to tar them. As Lynch writes:
As the Trump administration's recently unveiled tax plan reminds us,
the Republican Party is and always will be committed to serving
corporations and the billionaire class. Yet this hasn't stopped
Republicans from effectively portraying their Democratic opponents
as a bunch of snobby, out-of-touch elites over the past 30 years or
so. According to a recent Washington Post survey, this rhetoric has
paid off: Only 28 percent of respondents believed that the Democratic
Party is "in touch with the concerns of most people in the United
David Marcus: Marxism With Soul: Review of a new collection of
essays (Modernism in the Street: A Life and Times in Essays)
by the late Marshall Berman.
Jonathan Martin: At a 'Unity' Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything
But: An old friend of mine linked to this and tweeted: "Anyone
surprised that Bernie-O don't care about a woman's right to choose,
when it comes right down to it? Not me!" I'd be surprised if there
was any basis for this charge, but that would require several leaps
of imagination beyond even what the article claims. The back story
is that Sanders and Keith Ellison campaigned for Democrat Heath
Mello running for mayor of Omaha, and were attacked by the head
of NARAL Pro-Choice America because in Nebraska's state legislature
some years ago Mello had voted for several anti-abortion bills.
For more background on Mello, see
DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus? The
upshot is that Mello had moved away from his early anti-abortion
stance, much like Hillary Clinton's VP pick, Tim Kaine, had done.
Even if he hadn't, it's not like I've never supported a Democrat
I didn't see eye-to-eye with. It wouldn't bother me if NARAL, as
a single-issue lobby, endorsed a Republican candidate with a much
better track record on abortion, but those are few and far between
out here, and as I understand it local pro-choice people are fine
with Mello -- so who's NARAL trying to impress? I suspect that's
the anti-populist faction of the national party, which could hardly
care less about losing in Nebraska but regards Sanders as a threat.
(Remember that the DCCC didn't lift a finger to help a pro-Sanders
Democrat run for Congress here in Kansas, even though he had an
impeccable pro-choice record which featured heavily in Republican
hate ads.) And it's yet another leap of imagination to imply that
the reason Sanders supports Mello has anything to do with his lack
of interest in abortion rights.
DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus?: I've
seen several complaints from Hillary Democrats about Bernie Sanders
supporting Heath Mello's campaign for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska. The
charge is that Mello is anti-choice
Steve Phillips: Democrats Can Retake the House in 2018 Without Converting
a Single Trump Voter: The trick is mobilizing their base, while Trump
voters get bored or lazy or disenchanted: "there are 23 Republican
incumbents in congressional districts that were won by Hillary Clinton
in November. There are another five seats where Clinton came within 2
percent of winning." Phillips is author of Brown Is the New White:
How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority,
so one of those guys who thinks Democrats can ride a demographic
backlash against Republican racism without actually having to come
up with populist positions. That strikes me as unlikely until they
establish some credibility, which was something the Clinton-Kaine
ticket had little of in 2016. Along these lines, see the John Judis
interview with Ruy Teixeira, an early proponent of The Emerging
Why the Left Will (Eventually) Triumph. He attributes Trump's
win to "the declining group, the white non-college voters," who
suddenly lunged away from the Democrats in 2016. Asked why:
They do not have any faith that the Democrats share their values and
are going to deliver a better life for them and their kids, and I
think Hillary Clinton was a very efficient bearer of that meme.
Whether she wanted to or not, the message she sent to these voters
is that you are really not that important and I don't take your
problems seriously, and frankly I don't have much to offer you.
And that's despite the fact that her economic program and policies
would have actually been very good for these people. There was a
study of campaign advertising in 2016 that showed Hillary outspent
Trump significantly and that almost none of her advertising was about
what she would actually do. Almost all of it was about how he was a
Voters were fed up with stagnation and with the Democrats and they
turned to someone who thought could blow up the system. The way the
Democrats and the left could mitigate that problem is to show these
voters that they take their problems seriously and have their interests
in mind, and could improve their lives.
Matthew Rosza: Sam Brownback pushed for concealed carry in Kansas -- now
the governor wants to spend $24 million to ban concealed weapons from
hospitals: The 2013 law was written to make it prohibitively expensive
for any institution to exclude guns from its premises. Turns out that
includes psychiatric hospitals, and turns out Brownback finally decided
that wasn't such a great idea. Of course, it doesn't help that Brownback's
Laffer-inspired tax scheme has forced across-the-board spending cuts
while leaving Kansas in a huge fiscal hole.
Joe Sexton/Rachel Glickhouse: We're Investigating Hate Across the US.
There's No Shortage of Work. Also:
Ryan Katz: Hate Crime Law Results in Few Convictions and Lots of
Clive Thompson: Gerrymandering Has a Solution After All. It's Called
Started this Saturday afternoon (the intro), and the hits just kept
Sunday, April 23. 2017
We're approximately 100 days into the Trump administration, which
only leaves 1360 more days to go until he's gone -- assuming American
voters don't get even stupider along the way. If you've been hiding
in a cave somewhere, you might check out
David Remnick: A Hundred Days of Trump as a quick way of getting
up to speed, although Remnick's piece is long on style and short on
substance. If you're really masochistic you can dig up my Weekend
Roundups (and occasional Midweek Roundups) since January. Indeed, one
could write a whole book on Trump's first 100 days -- probably for
the first time since Franklin Roosevelt made that timespan historic
(see Adam Cohen's Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the
Hundred Days That Created Modern America), although in this
case the "accomplishments" are all negative, and the real damage
Trump has sown in this fertile period has (mostly) yet to play
itself out. As Bill McKibben notes, below, things that we do to
the environment now will continue to drive changes well into the
future. That's also true for society, culture, politics, and the
How much damage Trump ultimately does will depend on how
effectively the resistance (not just the Democrats, although they
have much to prove here) organizes and how coherently we can explain
and make people aware of what's so wrong with the Republican agenda.
One thing that has probably helped in this regard is that the false
dichotomy between "populist" Trump and "conservative" Republicans has
faded away -- Trump is still harshly anti-immigrant in all forms
(not just "illegals" but he's also turned against perfectly legal
H-1B visa holders), but everywhere else he's fallen into line with
orthodox (and often extremist) conservatives. This not only means
that Trump and the rest of the Republicans will share blame for
everything that breaks bad on their watch, it will force Democrats
to refashion their platform into one that counters those disasters.
We no longer have to argue what bad things might happen if hawks
run wild, if corporate moguls are freed of regulation, if the
courts are packed with right-wing ideologues, if any number of
previous hypotheticals happen, because we're going to see exactly
what happens. In fact, we're seeing it, faster than most of us
can really process it.
Some scattered links this week in the Trump World:
Robert L Borosage: The Stunning Disappearance of Candidate Trump:
It's arguable whether Trump's "economic populism" ever amounted to
anything that might actually help his white working class fans, but
he's so completely abandoned that part of his platform that we'll
never know. He's setting records for how quickly and how completely
he's breaking campaign promises. Wonder whether the Democrats will
call him on it?
Christina Cautenucci: What It Takes: "O'Reilly, Ailes, Cosby, Trump:
Three alleged sexual preditors found disgrace. A fourth became president.
What made the difference?"
David S Cohen: How Neil Gorsuch Will Make His Mark This Supreme Court
Term: Also, for instance,
Sophia Tesfaye: Neil Gorsuch's first Supreme Court vote clears the
way for Arkansas to begin its lethal injection spree.
Justin Elliott: Trump Is Hiring Lobbyists and Top Ethics Official Says
'There's No Transparency'
Tom Engelhardt: The Chameleon Presidency: Quotes Trump: "If you
look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that
really to what's happened over the past eight years, you'll see
there's a tremendous difference, tremendous difference." Actually,
Trump doesn't seem to be capable of actually seeing either recent
history or today's news. His bombing missions in Syria, Afghanistan,
Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia don't even hint at a break with Obama --
they were all in the Pentagon playbook he inherited. Of course,
if he starts a nuclear conflagration in Korea, that would be his
own peculiar mark on history. But thus far his shift from Obama
in foreign policy (aka warmaking) is little different than the
shift from Kennedy to Johnson: as McGeorge Bundy put it, whereas
Kennedy wanted to be seen as making smart moves, Johnson preferred
to be seen as tough. Still, neither were as explicit or dramatic
about their needs as Obama ("don't do stupid shit") and Trump,
who seems eager to green light anything the Pentagon brass offers.
And Trump is so forthright about this it's almost as if he's hard
at work on his Nuremberg defense:
Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered
a set of generals or retired generals -- James "Mad Dog" Mattis as
secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser,
and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security -- men already
deeply implicated in America's failing wars across the Greater
Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he's then left them
to do their damnedest. "What I do is I authorize my military," he
told reporters recently. "We have given them total authorization
and that's what they're doing and, frankly, that's why they've
been so successful lately."
Successful? The explosions are bigger and the casualty reports
are up, but I haven't seen anything that suggests that he's moved
any of his wars one iota. Granted, his recklessness has gotten the
neocons to turn around and start singing his praises -- they had
been worried that he might actually have meant some of the things
he said on the campaign trail, like regrets over Bush's Iraq War
or his reluctance to get involved in Syria. Still, neither the
generals nor the neocons have a clue how to extricate themselves
from the wars they wade ever deeper into. Engelhardt speculates:
Here's the problem, though: there's a predictable element to all of
this and it doesn't work in Donald Trump's favor. America's forever
wars have now been pursued by these generals and others like them
for more than 15 years across a vast swath of the planet -- from
Pakistan to Libya (and ever deeper into Africa) -- and the chaos
of failing states, growing conflicts, and spreading terror movements
has been the result. There's no reason to believe that further
military action will, a decade and a half later, produce more
Engelhardt seems to think Trump will eventually turn on his generals.
I think it's more likely that, like Johnson (or for that matter Truman),
he will find himself stuck, buried under his own hubris, unable to back
out or find any other solution.
Maggie Haberman/Glenn Thrush: Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for
Counsel: His rogues gallery.
Dahlia Lithwick: Jeff Sessions Thinks Hawaii's Not a Real State. We
Shouldn't Be Surprised. Reminds me that the reason Hawaii became
the 50th state, waiting well past Alaska, was that southern Senators
filibustered to delay the likelihood of a non-white joining them in
the US Senate. Sessions is evidently still of that mindset.
Jonathan Marshall: Neocons Point Housebroken Trump at Iran:
Trump's latest bombing exploits in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have
only served to gin up the "real men go to Tehran" brigade. Also:
William Rivers Pitt: The Looming Neocon Invasion of Trumpland.
Josh Marshall: To Scare Dems, Trump Threatens to Light Himself on Fire:
Looks like we're in the midst of another round of government shutdown
extortion, where Republicans are holding Obamacare subsidies hostage,
hoping to trade them for Democratic support on funding the "big, beautiful
wall" that Trump originally expected Mexico to pay for. Evidently the
catch is that even though the Republicans control Congress funding for
the wall would have to break a Democratic filibuster (so 60 votes in
the Senate). This all seems pretty stupid: Obamacare is suddenly pretty
popular, polling on building that wall is currently 58-28% against, and
the most immediate effect of shutting down the government will be to
hold up Social Security checks.
Bill McKibben: The Planet Can't Stand This Presidency:
What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet's climate will play out
over geologic time as well. In fact, it's time itself that he's stealing
What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate
crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic
heating. . . .
The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries
and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet's
reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and
that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat.
The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won't mostly die
in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be
submerged won't sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will
sink. No president will be able to claw back this time -- crucial time,
since we're right now breaking the back of the climate system.
We can hope other world leaders will pick up some of the slack. And
we can protest. But even when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will
persist, a dark stratum in the planet's geological history. In some
awful sense, his term could last forever.
This link picks up a number of other interesting pieces on the
Dave Levitan: The March for Science has a humble aim: restoring sanity;
David Suzuki: Rivers vanishing into thin air: this is what the climate
crisis looks like;
Michael T Klare: Climate change as genocide.
Leon Neyfakh: How Trump Will Dismantle Civil Rights Protections in
America: "The same way Bush did: by politicizing the DOJ."
Heather Digby Parton: Trump's First 100 Days: More Frightening, or More
Pathetic? Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days were the benchmark,
but he came into office with a huge margin of support in Congress, and
a shocked and battered population that was willing to try anything. Plus
his bank holiday/fireside chat was probably the most brilliantly executed
act of any president ever. Trump had none of that going his way. In fact,
about all he actually did was to make some spectacularly bad appointments,
sign a bunch of executive orders (mostly countering Obama's executive
orders), meet with a few foreign leaders (often to embarrassing effect),
and blow up shit. So, yeah, both pathetic and terrifying.
Sarah Rawlins: Costs and Benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments:
Could use some more political context, but clearly the positive payback
for the relatively small costs imposed by these regulations has been
huge -- they estimate $30.77 for every dollar spent. Of course, you
don't need that sort of ROI to justify doing something right, but this
is a pretty resounding answer for flacks who tell you we can't afford
to have cleaner air or water.
Nelson D Schwartz: Trump Saved Carrier Jobs. These Workers Weren't as
Matthew Yglesias: Today's executive orders are the nail in the coffin
of Trump's economic populism: Well, it was starting to stink anyway.
For more (especially on "shadow banking"), see
Mike Konczal: Now Republicans want to undo the regulations that helped
consumers and stabilized banking.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Matt Apuzzo et al.: Comey Tried to Shield the FBI From Politics. Then
He Shaped an Election: Fairly in-depth reporting on Comey's political
ploy which did much to throw the election to Donald Trump.
But with polls showing Mrs. Clinton holding a comfortable lead, Mr.
Comey ended up plunging the F.B.I. into the molten center of a bitter
election. Fearing the backlash that would come if it were revealed
after the election that the F.B.I. had been investigating the next
president and had kept it a secret, Mr. Comey sent a letter informing
Congress that the case was reopened.
What he did not say was that the F.B.I. was also investigating the
campaign of Donald J. Trump. Just weeks before, Mr. Comey had declined
to answer a question from Congress about whether there was such an
investigation. Only in March, long after the election, did Mr. Comey
confirm that there was one.
John Cassidy: The Real Trump Agenda: Helping Big Business
Ira Chernus: It's Time to Resurrect the Counterculture Movement:
"The largest mobilization for progressive politics since the Vietnam
era offers a unique opportunity to go beyond simply treating symptoms
to start offering cures for the underlying illness." I'm not sure
I'd call that "counterculture" -- what I think of by that term has
perhaps been the deepest, broadest, and most persistent outgrowth
from the political and cultural upheaval of the late 1960s. Rather,
what we need to bring back is the New Left -- the political critique
of war, empire, the security state, sexism, racism, consumption, the
despoilment of the environment, and various related cultural mores --
only we need to bring back the Old Left focus on inequality and we
need to come up with a better solution for securing political gains.
I've long felt that the New Left was a huge success in changing
minds, but the intrinsic distrust of political organizations has
left those gains vulnerable to a right-wing counterattack focused
on securing narrow political power. The latter has in fact become
so pervasive we need a refresher course in basic principles, which
is I think where Chernus is heading.
Patrick Cockburn: America Should Start Exploring How to End All the Wars
Paul Cohen: Could Leftist-Jean-Luc Mélenchon Win the French Presidency?
First round of France's presidential election is Tuesday, with centrist
Emmanuel Macron and "Thatcherite" François Fillon the fading establishment
candidates, Marine Le Pen on the far right, and Mélenchon "surging" from
the left. This gives you some background on the latter. As for the horse
Harry Enten: The French Election Is Way Too Close to Call: the chart
there shows Macron barely ahead of Le Pen, a couple points ahead of Fillon,
in turn barely ahead of Mélenchon -- who has the sole upward trajectory,
but it's mostly been at the expense of Socialist Party candidate Benoit
Robert Mackey: Trump Hopes Paris Attack Boosts Le Pen, One Day After
Obama Calls Macron. Clearly, Americans have few if any qualms about
interfering in someone else's election. (As for Russian interests, well,
Le Pen-Putin friendship goes back a long way.)
[PS: Projected votes as of 4:13PM CDT: Macron 23.8%, Le Pen 21.7%,
Fillon 19.8%, Mélanchon 19.2%, Hamon 6.5%. So there will be a runoff
between Macron and Le Pen, with Macron heavily favored.]
Michael Hudson: Running Government Like a Business Is Bad for Citizens:
The latest idiot to express the cliché is Jared Kushner, although the
Trump administration is so weighted toward business résumés that it
was pretty much in the air (or should I say Kool Aid?). The idea is,
of course, ridiculous, even before we signed off on the notion that
the only reason behind business is to extract and return profits to
investors (something less obvious back in the days when companies
could afford loftier goals, like offering useful goods/services),
and before we forgot the idea of there being a public interest,
which includes providing services to people who have difficulty
getting by on their own. When asked for historical examples of
governments run like businesses, Hudson mentioned Russia under
Boris Yeltsin -- a kleptocracy run through the Kremlin. If Trump
admires Putin, that's probably why.
Mark Karlin: Israeli Government Is Petrified of the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions Movement: Interview with Rebecca
Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace and
editor of On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for
Justice. I spent a couple days last week with Palestinian
civil rights lawyer
Jonathan Kuttab: he gave several presentations here in Kansas
in Mennonite churches in support of a BDS resolution they will be
voting on later this year, which is itself an indication of how
much progress BDS is making. (Another indication is that the Kansas
legislature is likely to pass a law prohibiting the state from
contracting with any companies which support BDS.) Last year's
resolution was tabled for fear it might seem anti-semitic, so
Kuttab reached out to JVP for support on that count, and they
arranged for Laura Tillem to join Kuttab (she started by reading
Meanwhile, you might note Richard Silverstein's recent posts:
Former Israeli Defense Minister Confirms Israeli Collaboration with ISIS in Syria;
Israel Criminalizes Palestinian Muslim Activism; and
Justice Department to Prosecute Israeli-American Teen Who Masterminded
Wave of Threats Against Jewish Institutions. The latter may have
been a prank, but it reminded me of the Lavon Affair (the most notorious
of Israeli "false flag" operations). With the alt-right providing cover,
Michael Kaydar's phone threats helped raise the profile of anti-semitism
in America, which played into the hands of anti-BDS hysterics. For a
reminder of what's actually happening in Israel/Palestine, it's worth
your while to check up every now and then on Kate's regular compendiums
of news reports. The latest is called
Settlers from Kushner family-funded community attack 3 Israeli grandmothers,
but that's only the lead story, with much more outrage following.
Paul Krugman: Why Don't All Jobs Matter? He asks the question, why
only focus on lost mining and manufacturing jobs (so dear to Trump voters,
if not necessarily to the boss-man himself), when we're also seeing major
job losses in sectors like department stores:
Over the weekend The Times Magazine published
a photographic essay on the decline of traditional retailers in the
face of internet competition. The pictures, contrasting "zombie malls"
largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for
online sellers, were striking. The economic reality is pretty striking
Consider what has happened to department stores. Even as Mr. Trump
was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and
there, Macy's announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000
workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed "substantial
doubt" about its ability to stay in business.
Overall, department stores employ a third fewer people now than they
did in 2001. That's half a million traditional jobs gone -- about
eighteen times as many jobs as were lost in coal mining over the same
Dean Baker's response:
Paul Krugman Gets Retail Wrong: They Are Not Very Good Jobs. Still,
Krugman's end-point is right on:
While we can't stop job losses from happening, we can limit the human
damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate
retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed.
And we can act to keep the overall economy strong -- which means doing
things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting
taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.
I recall Dani Rodrik, I think, arguing that the problem with free
trade wasn't trade -- it was the failure of some countries (e.g., the
United States) to recognize that trade deals inevitably have losers
as well as winners, and to help minimize the hurt imposed those who
lose out. Another bigger picture point is that these losses of retail
jobs aren't caused by lower demand; they're being driven by the more
efficient service that online retailers offer. As a society we could
just as well convert those efficiencies into fewer work hours, and
all be better off for that. But we don't, largely because politically
we insist that even the least productive workers toil at minimum wage
jobs while allowing companies to extract ever more hours from their
more productive employees.
Eric Margolis: What Would Korean War II Look Like? The illustration
is a nuclear mushroom cloud, and that's certainly within the realm of
possibility -- both sides possessing such weapons. The US, of course,
fears that North Korea might some day use their growing stock of atomic
warheads and long-range missiles, but the immediate danger is that the
US will precipitate such at attack with some arrogant ultimatum or more
overt act. The result would be awful messy: beyond the kill zone any
nuclear exchange would "cause clouds of lethal radiation and radioactive
dust to blanket Japan, South Korea and heavily industrialized northeast
China, including the capital, Beijing." (Actually, given that prevailing
winds blow east, the radioactive cloud wouldn't take long to blow over
America.) Even if both sides restrain themselves, North Korean artillery
aimed at Seoul threaten to turn the city (pop. 10 million) "into a sea
of fire." Presumably the US military could invade and conquer North Korea,
but the latter has a large conventional army and has long been obsessed
with preparing to repel an invasion. No one thinks it would be easy, or
painless. Margolis counters that "All this craziness would be ended if
the US signed a peace treat with North Korea ending the first Korean War
and opened up diplomatic and commercial relations." That hasn't happened
because Americans are petty and vindictive, still harboring a grudge over
their inability to rid Korea of Communism in the extraordinarily brutal
1950-53 war. And because neocons are so wrapped up in their own sense of
omnipotence they refuse to acknowledge that any other country might be
able to present a credible deterrence against American aggression. The
fact is that North Korea, like China and Russia (and probably Iran, even
without nukes) has one, and the only way to counter that is to decide
that the old war is over and that we're never going to restart it. You
don't have to like Kim Jong Un or his very strange, isolated and paranoid
country, to decide to stop hurting yourself and endangering the world --
which is really all Trump's Korea policy amounts to. You might even find
they become a bit more tolerable once you stop giving them so much reason
to be terrified.
Robert Dreyfuss: Trump's Terrifying North Korea Standoff;
Mike Whitney: The US Pushed North Korea to Build Nukes: Yes or No?;
Richard Wolffe: Donald Trump's 'armada' gaffe was dangerous buffoonery.
Sophia A McClennan: Bill O'Reilly Ruined the News: 10 Ways He and Fox
News Harassed Us All; also
Justin Peters: The All-Spin Zone.
Robert Parry: Why Not a Probe of 'Israel-gate'? After all, far
more than Russia, no other nation has so often or so profoundly tried
to influence American elections and political processes for its own
interests. This piece reviews a fair selection of the history, not
least Israel's 1980 efforts to defeat Jimmy Carter. Indeed, Israel's
influence has become so exalted that both Trump and Clinton prostrated
themselves publicly before AIPAC -- and who knows what they did behind
the closed doors of Israel-focused donors like Abelson and Sabin.
Margot Sanger-Katz: Bare Market: What Happens if Places Have No Obamacare
Insurers? Even though the ACA is basically a "safety net" for insurance
industry profits, the marketplace is failing -- mostly, I think, due to
concentration in the industry, but also because the ACA not only subsidizes
profits, it limits them. In Kansas, when I applied for Obamacare when it
opened for business, there were many plans, but only two providers, and
one of them was, frankly, worthless, so the much vaunted "choice" devolved
to a maze of deductible variations -- as usual, insurance company profits
depended mostly on their ability to dodge paying for anything. Now we're
finding some states (or counties within states) with even fewer choices --
potentially none. One way to fix this would be to throw even more money
at the insurance companies. Another would be to provide a "public option" --
a government guarantee which could compete with private plans. Or we could
bow to the inevitable and extend medicare and/or medicaid to undercut the
private insurance industry altogether. The problem is, any such solution
depends on a political will that Trump and the Republicans don't have and
can't muster, so the failure of Obamacare they've been predicting will
most likely be hastened by their own hands. Also by the author:
No, Obamacare Isn't in a 'Death Spiral', and
Trump's Choice on Obamacare: Sabotage or Co-opt? And from
House Republicans Have a New Plan to Make Your Healthcare Worse.
Matt Taibbi: Yikes! New Behind-the-Scenes Book Brutalizes the Clinton
Campaign: Review of Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered:
Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (Crown), a first draft
on what's already turned out to be a fateful slice of history. The
insider dirt ("sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton
campaign") focuses on the mechanics of running the campaign, with
Taibbi singling out the vexing question of why she was running in
the first place:
The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment
that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people
outside the Beltway.
In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters' need to
understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed
in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.
In the Clinton run, that problem became such a millstone around
the neck of the campaign that staffers began to flirt with the idea
of sharing the uninspiring truth with voters. Stumped for months by
how to explain why their candidate wanted to be president, Clinton
staffers began toying with the idea of seeing how "Because it's her
turn" might fly as a public rallying cry.
The authors quote a campaign staffer explaining, "We were talking
to Democrats, who largely didn't think she was evil." But the number
of people who did think she was evil mushroomed beyond the cloistered
party ranks, and her campaign to continue a status quo that seemed to
work only for the donors she preferred to spend time with (especially
when wrapped up in vacuous clichés like "America's always been great")
offered nothing but negatives even to voters who Republicans would
only prey on. As I recall, back in 1992 when Bill Clinton first ran,
he made all sorts of populist promises. Hillary was doubly damned:
not only did she fail to deliver Bill's "man from Hope" shtick, she
started out handicapped by the legacy of his broken promises. (But
since he won, she probably counted that as an asset -- it certainly
did help introduce her to the powers he sold out to.)
One story in the book is about how Hillary scoured her 2008 campaign
email server for evidence of staffers who betrayed her, so this story
Emily Smith: Hillary camp scrambling to find out who leaked embarrassing
Glenn Thrush, et al.: Trump Signs Order That Could Lead to Curbs on
Foreign Workers: Specifically, legal, documented workers under
the H-1B Visa program, which is widely used by American companies
to hire skilled technical workers (admittedly, at below open market
wages). Also see:
EA Crunden: Trump's crackdown on H-1B visas goes far beyond tech
Max Bearak: Trump and Sessions plan to restrict highly skilled foreign
workers. Hyderabad says to bring it on -- the implication here is
that if companies can't hire foreign labor to work here, they'll send
the work to offshore firms.
Sunday, April 16. 2017
After a long post on Saturday, I need to keep this one short, almost
Saddened to hear of the death of Amy Durfee, 88, a neighbor of my
wife's when she was growing up in Oak Park, Michigan. Amy and Art
Durfee remained close friends of the family, people we saw every trip
we made to Detroit. I feel fortunate to have known them.
The big story this past week has been the Trump Administration's
attempt to show North Korea that when they get into a pissing contest
the US will not only stand up the challenges but will take the extra
step in showing itself to be more insanely belligerent. As best I
recall, even Nixon regarded his infamous "madman" ploy as something
of a joke -- a nuance Trump clearly is incapable of fathoming. So
far, it's been hard to argue that any of Trump's belligerence has
transgressed lines that Hillary Clinton was comfortable with, but
in Korea he could easily step out too far. This is probably something
to write a long post about. Indeed, I've written about Korea several
times, including a passage at the start of my memoir, given that I
was born the same week China entered the Korean War and turned an
American rout into a bloody stalemate. That was the beginning of
the end of America both as a global empire and as a nation that
could lay some claim to decent and honorable values. Korea was
where Americans learned to become the sore losers who invest so
much effort in bullying the world and are so unforgiving of any
offense. And here we are, sixty-six years later, still picking at
the scab of our past embarrassment.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert Bateman: Why So Many Americans Support Deadly Aerial Warfare:
"It took decades of propaganda to get here." Last week's use of the
21,000 pound "Mother of All Bombs" signifies more as a propaganda coup
than for the 90 "ISIS fighters" it killed. The notion of "Victory Through
Airpower" goes way back, but what it mostly means today is that we can
punish our "enemies" at virtually no risk to ourselves. Removing that
risk helps strip away our inhibitions against bombardment, as does the
distance. Of course, it matters that one only attacks "enemies" that
don't have the capability to respond in kind. ISIS and the Taliban have
no airpower to speak of, and lately the US has been able to bomb Iraq
and Syria at will with no obvious repercussions (other than the stream
of bad press due to civilian casualties, but that rarely registers in
"the homeland"). One danger of listening to your own propaganda is a
false sense of confidence, which can lead to reckless provocations,
like Trump's macho bluff against North Korea.
Medea Benjamin: The "Mother of All Bombs" Is Big, Deadly -- and Won't
Lead to Peace: Actually, this feels like a publicity stunt, a way
to follow up on the gushing press Trump's cruise missile attack on
Syria generated. Benjamin doubts that MOAB is "a game changer," then
asks: "Will Trump drag us deeper into this endless war by granting
the US Afghan commander, Gen. John Nicholson, his request for several
thousand more troops?" What worries me more isn't that the US will
throw good troops after bad, but that Trump will conclude that what
he really needed was a bigger bang -- that MOAB is just a precursor
to deploying tactical nuclear weapons.
Frank Bruni: Steve Bannon Was Doomed: Bannon always seemed shaky
because he clearly had his own ideas and agenda, where Trump had little
He didn't grapple with who Trump really is. Trump's allegiances are
fickle. His attention flits. His compass is popularity, not any fixed
philosophy, certainly not the divisive brand of populism and nationalism
that Bannon was trying to enforce. Bannon insisted on an ideology when
Trump cares more about applause, and what generates it at a campaign
rally isn't what sustains it when you're actually governing. . . .
Bannon is still on the job, and Trump may keep him there, because
while he has been disruptive inside the White House, he could be pure
nitroglycerin outside. He commands acolytes on the alt-right. He has
the mouthpiece of Breitbart News. He has means for revenge. He also
has a history of it.
As for how Bannon could hurt Trump, Bruni cites
Sean Illing: If Trump fires Steve Bannon, he might regret it.
One need only note that the audience that Bannon cultivated is
used to getting screwed over by false heroes, and it will be
easy to paint Trump that way. Illing also has an interview with
On the billionaire behind Bannon and Trump
Lee Fang: Paul Ryan Raised $657,000 While Avoiding His Constituents
During Recess: I guess the buck doesn't stop with Trump.
Elizabeth Grossman: "It couldn't get much worse": Trump's policies
are already making workplaces more toxic
Fred Kaplan: Return of the Madman Theory: Found this after I wrote
the "madman" line in the intro, if you want deeper speculation on the
subject. Kaplan's argument that Trump's "erratic and unpredictable"
foreign policy "might just make the world more stable -- for a short
time" is a reach -- it could just as easily backfire spectacularly.
For instance, Trump doesn't understand that America's "leadership of
the Free World" was something paid for generously, not something
simply accorded because the US had the most bombs and the longest
reach. So when he tries to shake down NATO members or to flip trade
deficits with East Asia he doesn't realize how easy it would be for
supposed allies to go their own way.
Paul Krugman: Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?
Jon Marshall: Thinking About Spicer's Chemical Weapons Gaffe:
I thought about writing more about the use of chemical weapons as
the Syria incident/response unfolded, and both Spicer's spouting
and Marshall's "thinking" suggests people are short on some of the
basics. Marshall writes, "It's no accident that since World War I,
the rare uses of chemical weapons have been as terror weapons, as
Saddam Hussein did with the Kurds in the 1980s and Assad has during
the Syrian Civil War." Actually, more typical examples were by the
British in Iraq in the early 1920s and by Italy in Ethiopia in 1937:
poison gas is a favored weapon against people with no protection
and no ability to respond in kind. I think the only time since the
Great War where it was used against a comparable army was by Iraq
against Iran, where Iran ruled out reprisals on moral grounds.
Saddam Hussein against the Kurds was an isolated incident tied
to the Iran War. It's also not clear to me that Assad ever used
it in Syria, regardless of what Marshall thinks. No doubt poison
gas is terrifying, but so is every other method of killing in war.
The international treaties and the general taboo about chemical
weapons are just one part of a more general effort to prohibit
war, and it's the general case we should focus on.
For more on Spicer's "doofusery" (Marshall's apt term), see:
Amy Davidson: Sean Spicer Is Very Sorry About His Holocaust Comments;
Brant Rosen: All Pharaohs Must Fall: A Passover Reflection on
Charles P Pierce: Is Trump Actually in Charge? Or Is It Worse Than We
Feared? I don't get the Fletcher Knebel references, but what I take
away from the Trump quotes is that he simply lets the military brass
do whatever they want, assuming that whatever they come up with will
be just great: "We have the greatest military in the world . . . We
have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing.
Frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately." This shouldn't
come as a surprise to anyone: from the start of his campaign, Trump's
only original idea was that Obama weakened the country by telling the
military "no" too many times. (Personally, I thought Obama said "yes"
way too often.) But the problem here isn't uncertainty of control.
It's that the military -- indeed, all militaries in recent history --
have tended to be over-optimistic about their own powers, while
under-estimating the risks of action, and having no fucking idea
about where their aggression might lead.
Eric Fehrnstrom: The generals come to Trump's rescue, which
starts: "Thank God for the gneerals. No one thought they would turn
out to be the moderates in the Trump White House. . . . If not for
them, Trump's grade on his first 100 days would go from middling to
poor." Fehrnstrom is a big fan of "Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly,"
yet the best he can say for them is that the "first 100 days" have
Gareth Porter: New Revelations Belie Trump Claims on Syria Chemical
Rick Sterling: How Media Bias Fuels Syrian Escalation.
Matt Taibbi: For White America, It's 'Happy Days' Again: Or, there
ain't gonna be any federal civil rights enforcement while Jeff Sessions
is Attorney General. Also the DOJ (formerly Department of Justice) won't
be reviewing any alleged instances of local police abuses. Not sure why
turning you back on decades of civil rights justice (lackluster as it's
been) is supposed to make white people happy -- more like ashamed, I'd
Annie Waldman: DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She
Faced Discrimination for Being White.
Jon Wiener: On the Road in Trump Country: Interview with Thomas
Frank, whose 2016 book Listen, Liberal prefigured the Hillary
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's pivot is real -- he's more right-wing than
ever; or as David Dayen put it,
President Bannon Is Dead, Long Live President Cohn.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Rebecca Burns: Is Georgia Poised for a Democratic Upset? This is
GA-6, mostly Atlanta suburbs, Newt Gingrich's old district, recently
vacated by Republican Tom Price whom Trump picked as his Secretary
Against Health and Human Services. The national Democratic Party
likes its chances here because the district was only narrowly won
by Trump (unlike KS-4, which Trump won by 27 percentage points,
reduced to 7 points last week by James Thompson) -- also perhaps
because Ossoff was a Clinton (not Sanders) supporter, and the
district's demographics are more upscale and cosmopolitan. The
election is next week, but unless Ossoff wins a majority there
will be a runoff.
Michael Corcoran: Single-Payer Health Care Is Seeing Record Support
Taylor Link: The total cost of the 2016 election was nearly $6.5 billion:
Isn't there some relevant adage about how "you get what you pay for"?
That's an awful lot of money to wind up with Donald Trump as president
and a swamp full of Congressional corruption. Of course, compared to
something really counterproductive, like the war in Syria (let alone
Afghanistan or Iraq) that's pretty cheap.
Isaac Stone Fish: Let's stop calling North Korea 'crazy' and understand
their motives; also:
William J Perry: How to Make a Deal With North Korea.
Kareem Shaheen: Erdogan clinches victory in Turkish constitutional
referendum: Probably a big story. Certainly not the only one
who would try to take advantage of his position to rig the system
with an eye to the future. Another view:
Simon Waldman: After referendum, Turkey is more divided than ever.
Matthew Yglesias: Why flying in America keeps getting more miserable,
explained: Deregulation back in the 1970s was supposed to increase
competition and reduce prices, but it's led to all sorts of predatory
behavior -- especially as customers have predictably looked for lower
prices than better service -- and the fallout has resulted in only four
airlines controlling more than 80 percent of passenger traffic, with
their attendant monopoly pricing. Also note that the fact that the
system is functional at all is due to residual regulation -- e.g.,
rules that keep airlines from cheating on safety in ways that would
increase crashes (and probably cause the industry to implode). More
regulation could help bolster minimal service standards, and more
competition would help keep prices reasonable. But if you've ever
doubted that the market knows best, you can find plenty of evidence
Sunday, April 9. 2017
On Thursday, April 6, 2017, Donald Trump ordered the US Navy to
fire 59 cruise missiles from ships in the Mediterranean targeting
the al-Shayrat airbase in central Syria (near Homs). This was widely
reported as the first time US forces had directly attacked forces
loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. My first reaction to write
Day of Infamy post, like
I did the day after March 17, 2003, when Bush launched his invasion
and occupation of Iraq with a similar volley of cruise missiles.
But since those missiles blew up on or near their target, the US
hasn't followed up with an invasion or any notable escalation of
war. It's not even much of a precedent, as the US has been bombing
Syrian territory held by ISIS for several years, and has stationed
"military advisers" ("special forces") well inside Syria's pre-war
borders. And the US and its nominal allies have been running guns
and munitions to various anti-Assad groups within Syria almost from
the very start of Syria's Civil War. Obama had gone on record as
insisting that Assad "must go" early in that war -- an extraordinarily
arrogant stance coming from the leader of a nation which used to
proclaim its belief that each nation has a right to choose its own
leaders and political system ("self-determination").
The US has had a checkered relationship with Syria and the Assad
dynasty since it seized power in the mid-1960s, sometimes forming
alliances against common enemies (like Iraq and al-Qaeda), but one
issue has effectively kept Syria on the US enemies list and that is
Israel -- especially since 1967 when Isreal seized and annexed a
strip of territory it calls the Golan Heights. That issue pushed
Syria into becoming a military client of the Soviet Union (later
Russia -- in neither case for ideological reasons, but because its
opposition to Israel closed off access to American arms), and that
alignment only (plus the similar one with Iran) only added to the
peculiar combination of antipathy, indifference, opportunism, and
intolerance which has characterized America's increasingly violent
and fitful intervention in the Middle East.
The immediate rationale for this particular act of war was the
use of poisonous gas, allegedly by Assad's forces, in the town of
Khan Sheikhoun, in "rebel-held territory" in Idlib Province. Obama
had arbitrariy proclaimed a "red line" that would be crossed should
Syria use poison gas. When Syria appeared to have used poison gas in
2013, the US prepared a "punitive" attack against Syria, but backed
down, partly because Congress was wary of authorizing US intervention
in Syria, but also because Russia intervened and negotiated a deal
between Assad and Kerry committing Syria to destroy its stocks of
chemical weapons. Although few Republicans wanted to intervene in
Syria, neocons were critical of Obama for failing to punish Syria,
and Trump picked up that theme on the campaign trail. Given a similar
provocation, it's hardly surprising that Trump would want to show his
toughness by bombing first -- especially given that the US had a long
history, dating back to Reagan in Libya, of punitive bombing against
Middle Eastern targets. (Clinton did the same in Afghanistan and Sudan,
and turned the pummeling of Iraq into a kneejerk response every time
he wanted to deflect attention from his own scandals. Trump understood
this political tactic well enough to tweet (not sure when): "Now that
Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin -- watch for him to launch a
strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.")
But while Trump's now-signature attack isn't far removed from
"business as usual" for the US in the region, it will take some
effort to various threads that came together to make Trump's own
decision little more than a kneejerk response. One question has
to do with the chemical attack cited as the rationale. It's hard
to get politically untainted data from the site, but it makes
little if any sense that Assad would use chemical weapons after
having given them up. As
Jason Diltz reports, one possible explanation, promoted by Russia,
is "that no such gas attack took place to begin with, and that a Syrian
conventional strike hit a rebel warehouse full of chemicals." Russia,
having brokered the deal to rid Assad of chemical weapons, isn't a
disinterested observer here, but it is likely that chemical weapons
caches fell into "rebel" hands early in the war, and there has been
reason to suggest that some of the pre-2013 poison gas incidents had
been "false flag" operations by "rebels" to goad the US into taking
punitive action against Assad.
More generally, Assad has evidently been gaining ground recently,
and several countries had come to the conclusion that Assad would
continue to play a role in a negotiated post-conflict Syria -- even
the US seemed to be moving toward that conclusion, at least as part
of Trump's more amicable stance toward Russia. So why would Assad
risk all that by doing something practically guaranteed to trigger
a belligerent response from Trump? It makes no sense -- which doesn't
prove it's untrue but does raise suspicion. If you look at who benefits
from the chemical attack, it isn't Assad or his foreign allies; it's the
anti-Assad "rebels" and elements within the US security establishment
who have long benefited from sowing discord with Russia and Iran;
e.g., the very people who applauded Trump loudest. Diltz also reports
the Pentagon is investigating whether Russian planes took part in
the chemical attack, and that Rex Tillerson says
Russia bears responsibility for Assad's gas attack. Strategic
thinkers in and around the Pentagon have long cherished Russia as
The key thing in Trump's attack against the Syrian airfield wasn't
what he did so much as how quickly he did it. Speed saved Trump from
a lot of possible headaches: he never had to explain what he intended
to do, and he didn't give anyone the chance to second-guess him, let
alone organize opposition. He didn't consult anyone in Congress. Despite
Nikki Haley's recent flurry of tantrums, he didn't engage the UN. What
he wanted to do was to show that he could act decisively (unlike Obama,
or even Bush, but ironically much more like Clinton). He informed the
president of China only after the missiles were launched, and only
because they were having dinner together and he was too pleased with
himself to keep a secret like that. About the only one he did as much
as notify before the fact was the Russians, who were given ample time
to clear the air base, minimizing damage and casualties. (Press reports
stated that the 59 cruise missiles -- at $1.5 million each he liquidated
$90 million in inventory in seconds -- had killed nine Syrians.) You'd
think that hardcore Trump-Russia conspiracy devotees would be up in
arms over such collusion, but most of them are Clinton dead-enders,
and by and large they were so elated by the fireworks they let such
So even if you've forgotten the movie Wag the Dog, it was
pretty obvious that the chief objective in bombing Syria had to do
with domestic politics. Trump has been struggling in the polls, and
he's especially been dogged by charges of underhanded hanky-panky with
Vladimir Putin and the Russians -- whose interference in America's
notoriously corrupt political system is popularly regarded as nefarious
(as opposed to, say, Israel's completely kosher manipulations). So in
one stealth blow, Trump shows his independence from Putin as well as
his allegiance to the imperial war state, and gets a moment doing the
one thing Americans of most political stripes seem to regard as truly
"presidential": blowing shit up. And to think that until he did just
that, Trump was widely regarded as a dangerous maniac.
Conspicuous among those applauding Trump were not only perennial
Republican war-mongers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but
virtually all of the so-called opposition leadership, starting with
Chuck Shumer ("the right thing to do") and Nancy Pelosi. Even former
presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton came in from the woods to, just
before the fact, demand that Trump step up to the challenge and bomb
Syria's airfields. (Anyone who thought that Trump might be less
hawkish than Clinton has by now been thoroughly disabused of such
fantasies, but thus far Trump still hasn't done anything crazier
than Clinton herself promised.) Even John Kerry, who negotiated the
chemical weapons deal with Assad and Putin, has turned into one of
Trump's loudest cheerleaders.
Still, the speed with which Trump acted belies the likely fact
that he actually has no idea how to end the war. When someone like
Kerry looks at Trump's escalation, he sees pressure pointed toward
a negotiated settlement, and he sees bombing Assad now as a means
of bringing his ambitions down a notch or two. He no doubt recalls
Bosnia, where a round of American bombing brought the Serbs to an
agreement known as the Dayton Accords. But that was a relatively
simple and easy conflict, and the US had virtually no history as a
nemesis to Serbia (or Yugoslavia) so had a relatively clean track
record as an arbiter. Yugoslavia was also a country that could be
sliced up into fairly neat regions, so the outlines of a solution
were much more obvious. Also there was very little international
involvement, so other countries (even the US) had no real stakes
in the outcome. Even so, the Dayton Accords were hardly a model of
impartial diplomacy: they halted a war, but didn't repair the ruins,
and war soon flared up again in Kosovo, which was resolved far less
Anyone who gives Syria even a modicum of thought must realize that
the only way the war ends there is in an agreement which shares power
among all factions. That is especially difficult because there are so
many factions, many defined against each other, and many backed by
various foreign powers, few (if any) out of any concern for the people
who live (or, increasingly, lived) in Syria. The only way to cut through
this Gordian Knot is to systematically focus on what would be best for
the people, regardless of what it means for the outside parties -- but
that is a skill that Americans in particular have great difficulty with.
Some aspects of a solution seem fundamental. First, power should be
radically decentralized, with each section determined democratically,
and much flexibility as to how to organize each section. (This is what
should have been done in Aghanistan and Iraq, but wasn't because the
US wanted to control local politics through the apparatus of a central
state, no matter how alien or unpopular that state became.) This would
allow, for instance, some sections to be popularly organized as Islamist
statelets, others to be dominated by Sunnis or Alawis or Kurds, and
others to favor secular socialism (or even Texas-style crony capitalism,
Bush's initial plan for Iraq). Those local sections would need to be
demilitarized, and to allow free movement of people to other sections.
There would need to be a comprehensive amnesty, and limits on punishment
inside sections (some sort of "bill of rights," where mobility was one
Such an agreement could be agreed to or imposed, and indeed a broadly
agreed to framework might have to be imposed on recalcitrant factions.
If imposed, it should be done by neutral soldiers who have no lasting
political interests in Syria, and should involve disarmament. An agreed
framework could slowtrack disarmament. The settlement would gradually
remove all foreign forces, and provide an international agreement against
aggression against Syria (Israel and Turkey are two countries with bad
track records here). It would also come with a redevelopment bank that
would provide grants and loans for rebuilding and development, and would
be subject to policing of corruption.
I don't see how any other solution might work, although I can imagine
various half-assed compromises, like leaving Assad in charge of a rump
Syrian state that would be prohibited from infringing the basic rights
of the Syrian people, with vague promises of future elections, etc. --
you might call this "surrender with dignity." Or if you cannot condone
Assad, you might conspire to turn the country over to Al-Qaeda and hope
they evolve into Saudi Arabia. Or I suppose the world powers might get
Turkey to occupy and annex Syria, although there's no reason to think
they'd do a better job than they have in their Kurdish regions. But
none of these are remotely good ideas. They're merely better than
maintaining Syria as a hot battleground for the cold wars of a dozen
regional and international rivals -- i.e., the status quo.
While Kerry might relish the prospect of using the Trump stick to
bully Assad and others to a Bosnia-like settlement (or better), it's
hard to see Rex Tillerson (let alone Trump) even imagining as much,
much less accomplishing it having basically decapitated the State
Department (he, of course, in the role of the chicken's disembodied
head). Ironically, the only one involved who possesses anything near
that sort of imagination is Putin, so wouldn't a plan designed to
drive a wedge between Putin and Trump be counterproductive? That's
pretty clearly why McCain and Graham, and for that matter Shumer and
Pelosi and Clinton and her crew, were so quick to climb on board.
Still, without a plan this will go down in history as just another
arbitrary and ultimately pointless American atrocity, like so many
before it, and Trump's blip in the polls will dissolve into the hole
dug by his nasty incompetence. His day of infamy is likely to quickly
be forgotten, until his next one anyway. It's not just that those who
are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it. Those who respond
only to the moment's temptation will never have firm ground to stand
One last point I want to make: what disturbs me more than Trump's
missile attack has been how easily, how uncritically many Democrats
and most of the media have lapped up the rationale behind the attack.
OK, whatever rationale suited their prejudices best -- some exalted
in American power and Trump's "presidential" resolve, some preferred
to play up the vileness of the "enemy," some even believed that the
killing and destruction served some humanitarian greater good. But
all of them bought into the idea that the US (and the US alone) is
entitled to play God and deliver justice. Back in 2008 when Barack
Obama said he wants to change the way we think about war, nobody
expected that what he meant was that the US should simply become
more efficient and precise in its ability to project power across
the globe, especially through riskless, remotely controlled long
distance weapons. Surely a more reasonable reading would have been
that the US should back away from its world policing role in favor
of developing international organizations that could keep the peace
by putting all nations on an equal footing.
Of course, no one expects the Republicans to understand all that,
but shouldn't we demand as much from the Democrats. After all, what
kind of practical resistance can they offer against Trump and company
without making a commitment to peace, justice, and humanity?
Some more links on Trump's little venture into Syria:
Michael R Shear/Michael R Gordon: 63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to
Trump's Strike in Syria: An hour-by-hour countdown focusing on
Trump: what he knew (not much), what options he had (not many), when
he decided to blow things up.
Peter Baker: For Obama, Syria Chemical Attack Shows Risk of 'Deals
With Dictators': Misleading title, and for that matter article.
I don't see any current quote from Obama -- just lots of former
Obama advisers like Anne-Marie Slaughter who were always hawkish
on Syria, who felt like the US missed an opportunity to flex its
muscles when Obama agreed to chemical weapons disarmament. The
dumbest of these quotes is from
Tom Malinowski, arguing that "deterrence is more effective than
disarmament." The real problem with the deal was that it didn't end
the war, which was the context that made any surviving chemical
weapons (including those in "rebel" hands) so dangerous. Still,
from a PR angle, it's automatically assumed that any poison gas in
Syria is Assad's fault, and this article (like so many in the NY
Times) reinforces that propaganda. (Not that I don't mind saying
that the war is Assad's fault, although its continuation is not
exclusively his fault.)
Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's senseless Syria strikes accomplish nothing;
Julian Borger/Spencer Ackerman: Trump's response to Syria's chemical
attack exposes administration's volatility.
Phyllis Bennis: The War in Syria Cannot Be Won. But It Can Be Ended.
I heard Bennis interviewed on Democracy Now with two Syrian women who
were almost giddy with delight over Trump's rocket attack in Syria, so
when she says "the left is profoundly divided over the conflict" that
may be in the back of her mind. I'd say that the Syrian women failed
to understand that the problem in Syria is not just Assad (although
it's hard to overstate how badly he's acted) but war itself, something
Trump and Putin and many others are fully guity of. The fact is that
nothing good can happen until the war stops.
Lauren Carroll: Fact-checking Trump's changing opinion on Syria and the
Peter Cary: Hillary Clinton called for Donald Trump to 'take out' Assad
airfields hours before air strikes: Talk about lending comfort to
the enemy. The day after the strikes, Michelle Goldberg posted
Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away and answering "Good." Goldberg's
apologia included this paragraph:
As bittersweet as it was to hear Clinton talk and imagine the sort of
president she might have been, the interview offered a stark reminder
of why many on the left distrusted her. Speaking hours before Trump
launched airstrikes on Syria, she made it clear that she'd also have
been a hawkish president. The United States, she said, should take out
Bashar al-Assad's airfields, "and prevent him from being able to use
them to bomb innocent people and drop Sarin gas on them." During the
campaign, she said, people asked her if she was afraid that her plan
to impose a no-fly zone in Syria would lead to a Russian response.
"It's time the Russians were afraid of us!" she said heatedly.
"Because we were going to stand up for human rights, the dignity
and the future of the Syrian people."
The Russians should be afraid of us? The whole world should cower
before our Shock and Awe? Running guns to Al-Qaeda while bombing ISIS
somehow is a stand for "human rights, the dignity and the future of
the Syrian people"? Given the alternative, I'm still sorry that she
lost, but really, this is batshit insane! And while at least I can
ascribe much of the horror that Trump leads on his own peculiar mix
of cynicism and laziness, compounded by the general mean-spiritedness
of his adopted political party, Clinton comes off as a true believer
in her self-aggrandizing fantasy. The rejection of her was the only
sane aspect of the 2016 election. It speaks volumes that the American
people were so desperate to get rid of her that they were willing to
accept the alternative. The more she returns to public life, the more
she detracts from the urgent task of resisting Trump.
Juan Cole: What Is It With US Presidents and Tomahawk Cruise-Missile
Strikes? Cole notes numerous examples, some I've referred to above,
others I hadn't -- e.g., Obama's first air assault against ISIS in
Syria started in 2014 with 47 Tomahawk missiles. I think the answer
to Cole's question is that the Tomahawks have much more range than
fighter-bombers or drones and require little preparation, so they're
the easiest weapon to choose when presidents want immediate results.
Still, the real question is why are such missile attacks so addicting
to presidents? What makes them feel entitled to kill so cavalierly?
And why can't they come up with more effective ways to resolve such
problems? A big part of this is that American politicians have become
obsessed with their omnipotence, so they find these massive missile
volleys very reassuring. I remember that back in the 1980s when DOD
planners were thinking of putting weapons in space, they designed one
that was nothing more than a huge tungsten rod that could be dropped
anywhere in the world. The tungsten would resist burning up in the
atmosphere, and it would gather the speed (and energy) of a meteor
before it crashed in a tremendous explosion. They named this terror
From God. And more generally, their term for showering a target
with overwhelming force was Shock and Awe.
Steve Coll: Trump's Confusing Strike on Syria: Another comment
which shows that once you get past gut reactions, Trump had no plan
or inkling what he was doing:
If President Trump broadens his aims against Assad, to establish
civilian safe havens, for example, or to ground Syria's Air Force,
or to bomb Assad to the negotiating table, he will enter the very
morass that Candidate Trump warned against. He would have to manage
risks -- military confrontation with Russia, an intensified refugee
crisis, a loss of momentum against ISIS -- that Obama studied at
great length and concluded to be unmanageable, at least at a cost
consistent with American interests.
Michael Crowley: Democratic Syria hawks love Trump's airstrikes
Robert Dreyfuss: Trump's Dangerous Syria Attack; also
Janet Reitman: What to Make of Trump's About-Face on Syria.
Greg Grandin: The Real Targets of Trump's Strike Were His Domestic
Critics: Six "thoughts," each hitting home. For example:
The bombing reveals that there are no limits to the media's ability
to be awed, if not shocked, by manufactured displays of techno-omnipotence.
Just as it did in the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon passed footage of its
nighttime missile launches to the networks. And just as what happened
then -- when, CBS's Charles Osgood called the bombing of Iraq "a marvel"
and Jim Stewart described it as "two days of almost picture-perfect
assaults" -- today MSNBC's Brian Williams called the Tomahawk takeoff
"beautiful." In fact, he described it as "beautiful" three times: "'They
are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them
what is a brief flight over to this airfield,' he added, then asked
his guest, 'What did they hit?'" Why, don't you know, they hit their
target: Williams and his colleagues' ability to have a critical thought.
Glenn Greenwald: The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished With Media and
Bipartisan Praise for Bombing Syria
Simon Jenkins: His emotions have been stirred -- but Trump's bombs won't
There is nothing in the world more dangerous than an American president
watching television. Donald Trump last night followed Ronald Reagan in
1982 and George Bush in 2001 as an isolationist turned interventionist
in the Middle East. His past pragmatism towards Syria's Assad regime and
its Russian backers underwent a 180-degree turn as 59 American missiles
rained down on a Syrian airbase. Welcome back to mission creep.
None of those three really count as isolationists (a historical stance
I have much respect for, although no one who held such views would have
ever described themselves as such; the label was coined by their opponents,
meant to suggest an ostrich burying its head in the sand, oblivious to
real threats all around). But all three share a remarkably shallow sense
of the world, as well as a cavalier eagerness to use violence when they
see some short-term political advantage. And like any good politician,
Trump put his heart on his sleeve:
Breaking from dinner with the Chinese leader, Trump spoke of his reaction
to "slow and brutal deaths," choking bodies and beautiful babies. He three
times invoked God. He had been moved to act, he said, because Assad's
"attack on children had a big impact on me." As for Russia's role in the
attack, Trump's secretary of state said it was "either complicit or
Safe to say that Trump won't react with the same "emotion" to
reports of Syrian children mangled by American bombs, because he
won't be able to find any political advantage in doing so.
Adam Johnson: Five Top Papers Run 18 Opinion Pieces Praising Syria
Strikes -- Zero Are Critical: Leave the dissent to The Onion.
Fred Kaplan: The Morning After in Syria
Alex Lockie: Syrian forces defiantly take off from airfield hit by
onslaught of US cruise missiles: Additional fallout:
Russia just suspended key military agreements with the US -- raising
the risk of war.
Carol Morello: Trump officials tell Russia to drop its support for Syria's
Assad: Henry Kissinger liked to study Clausewitz. Others preferred
to draw strategy lessons from Sun Tzu. This makes it sound like Trump's
people have been reading up on stupid pet tricks: Roll over. Play dead.
Robert Parry: Trump's 'Wag the Dog' Moment
Vijay Prashad: Is Trump Going to Commit the Next Great American Catastrophe
in Syria? This focuses on the alleged chemical weapons attack, and
covers what (little) is known and how it is known. It doesn't really
move into the question of how the US might parlay misunderstanding into
full-scale catastrophe, although there is a long record of just that
sort of thing.
David Smith: Doves and hawks: how opinion was divided about airstrikes
in Syria: Features four hawks and four doves, the former deeply
ensconced in Trump's White House and War Machine, the doves rather
oddly all right-wingers more/less associated with Trump: Steve Bannon
(recently booted from the NSC), Mike Cernovich (alt-right blogger),
Ann Coulter (all-around bigot), and Rand Paul (part-time libertarian).
Smith also co-wrote
As warplanes return to scene of sarin attack, Trump defends missile
launch: Twenty-four hours after Trump's attack, the bombed airbase
is open again, and planes from it are attacking "rebel"-held Khan
Sheikhun, albeit not with sarin gas this time. Meanwhile, Trump is
basking in the adoring glow of "liberal humanitarians" for making
the children of Syria so much safer.
Joan Walsh: Too Many of Trump's Liberal Critics Are Praising His Strike
on Syria: And not just Democrats with long records as neocon hawks
(like Hillary Clinton):
On CNN's New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, "I
think Donald Trump became president of the United States" last night.
To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a "bullshit artist"
and said, "He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting." But Zakaria
apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential.
Walsh cites many others, including Bernie Sanders and Kirsten
Gillibrand, who at least had reservations. She also cited
Mark Landler: Acting on Instinct, Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy,
which points out how impulsively Trump reacted (original title: "On Syria
attack, Trump's heart came first"): quotes Trump as saying "even beautiful
babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack" -- referring
to the Syrian chemical attack, but those words could just as well describe
many of Trump's own authorized bombing runs.
Owen Jones: Why are liberals now cheerleading a warmongering
One of the main objections to Trump was that he was unstable, impulsive,
with authoritarian instincts, and would disregard constitutional norms.
This has turned out to be true, while being applauded by his erstwhile
detractors for doing so, emboldening him to go further. Yet "I'm no fan
of Trump, but . . ." will be the battle cry of his erstwhile detractors.
Still, the children of Syria will die, just as they will die in Yemen and
Iraq and elsewhere. History will ask: how did this man become president?
And how did he maintain power when he did? Look no further than the
brittle, weak, pathetic liberal "opposition."
Whitney Webb: Russia Reports Discovery of Rebel-Held Chemical Weapons
at Site of Idlib Gas Attack
Matthew Yglesias: Trump brought his economics team to his Syria strike
watch party, for some reason: Well, there's also this story:
Tom Boggioni: Donald Trump personally profited from missile-maker
Raytheon's stock jump after his Syria attack. There was also
a spike in oil stock prices, which should warm Rex Tillerson's
North Korea says Syria airstrikes prove its nukes justified:
And here you were, thinking Trump's best and brightest had figured
out all the angles.
The Onion: Trump Confident US Military Strike on Syria Wiped Out
Russian Scandal: OK, probably satire (as "fake news" used to
be called), not least the alleged Trump quote:
After ordering the first U.S. military attack against the regime of
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Donald Trump held a press
conference Friday to express his full confidence that the airstrike
had completely wiped out the lingering Russian scandal. "Based on
intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack
on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all
discussions and allegations about my administration's ties to the
Russian government," said Trump, adding that at approximately 4:40
a.m. local time, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval
ships obliterated all traces of the widespread controversy in news
outlets across the media. "Ordering this strike was not a decision
I took lightly, but given that it was the only way to decisively
eradicate any attention being paid to congressional investigations
into possible collusion between key members of my staff and high-ranking
Kremlin officials, I decided it was a necessary course of action. If
we learn that any remnants of this scandal remain after this attack,
I will not hesitate to order further strikes." Trump went on to say
that he is leaving the option open for a potential ground invasion
of Syria if any troubling evidence emerges that the Russian government
manipulated the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Tweets I've noticed along the way:
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Donald Trump has done the right thing on
Syria. Finally!! After years of useless handwringing in the face
of hideous atrocities.
Lee Fang: Like clock work all cable news has retired generals
(many of whom work at defence firms) on air to give the sports-style
Christopher Hayes: As legions of ex-Obama officials endorse the
strike, it's more and more clear the degree to which Obama was
resisting his own advisors.
Asad Abukhalil: Let me get this straight: so according to DC
pundits, Trump was a dangerous maniac . . .until he started bombing?
A couple of unrelated links, just to note them:
Part I: Our Dishonest President: I linked to this Los Angeles Times
editorial a while back. It was promised as the first of four daily jeremiads,
so now we also have:
After reading the first one, I predicted they'd have trouble stopping
Andrew J Bacevich: The Odds Against Antiwar Warriors: Review of
Michael Kazin, War Against War: The American Fight for Peace,
Ari Berman: The GOP Has Declared War on Democracy: One of probably
many articles on new Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch and/or the
way he was confirmed. As far back as Nixon, Republicans have adopted
Vince Lombardi's maxim: "winning is the only thing." They've just
become more craven (and sometimes desperate) about it.
Lee Fang: Koch Brothers' Operatives Fill Top White House Positions,
Ethics Forms Reveal
Rebecca Gordon: Donald Trump Hasa Passionate Desire to Bring Back
Torture: The essential purpose of torture is, and has always
been, to show the subject who's boss, so how surprising is it that
America's most famous (notorious, even) boss should be a fan. That
I'm not may well explain why I've never watched Trump's television
Greg Grandin: Obsession With the Russia Connection Is a High-Risk
Anti-Trump Strategy: "It lets Democrats off the hook for their own
failures -- and betting the resistance on finding a smoking gun is a
fool's game." Article graphic features Rachel Maddow.
William Greider: Why Today's GOP Crackup Is the Final Unraveling of
Nixon's 'Southern Strategy'
Gary Younge: The Far Right Finally Has Brexit -- and It's Making a
Royal Mess of It
Sunday, April 2. 2017
Let's start with a tweet from Dak Zak, in response to someone asking
"Why couldn't they have done this before the election!?!":
Newspapers everywhere did this before the election. Editorial after
editorial said "stop this man." People didn't hear, listen or care.
As best I can tell (the twitter links are circuitous) the original
question refers to the Los Angeles Times' editorial
Our Dishonest President (the first of a promised four-part series
running through Wednesday, not that I wouldn't be surprised if they find
enough new material for a fifth installment by Thursday. Zak's response
is pretty much true, but he underestimates the media's failure by an order
or magnitude or more. Sure, they warned us to "stop this man," but they
were also so thoroughly bemused by him, and enticed by the ratings his
campaign offered, that they repeatedly let him slip the hook. But more
important, they didn't say "stop this party" -- because ultimately what
makes Trump so disastrous is not that he's "a narcissist and a demagogue
who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters"
(to quote the LA Times), but that he was swept into power with complete
control of Congress ceded to the Republican Party and its agenda to rig
politics and the economic and social systems to perpetuate oligarchy.
Trump may be especially flagrant (or perhaps just embarrassingly
transparent) but the Republican Party has embraced demagoguery and
dishonesty as essential political tactics for well over a generation.
Trump is more a reflection of the party's propaganda machine than he
is a leader. For proof, look how often he gets caught up in obvious
contradictions and incoherencies, yet always resolves them by moving
in the direction of party orthodoxy.
On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the media is still
being bamboozled by the aura of Republican legitimacy, even while
individual cases like Trump and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback turn into
public embarrassments. For instance, south-central Kansans will go
to the polls a week from Tuesday to elect a replacement for Trump's
CIA director Mike Pompeo. The Wichita Eagle, which we often think of
as a voice for moderation in Kansas, endorsed Republican Ron Estes,
a Brownback flunky lacking a single original thought (they like to
describe him as "affable"). The Eagle even singled out Estes' vow
to repeal Obamacare as one of their reasons -- even without the
usual nostrum "and replace," even with the editorial facing a
Richard Crowson cartoon slamming Brownback for vetoing a bill
passed by Kansas' Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under
the ACA. You'd think a public-interested media would easily see
through a partisan hack like Estes, especially given that the
Democrats have nominated their strongest candidate in decades
James Thompson -- saw one of his ads tonight and I can't say
I was pumped by the gun bits or even the concern for veterans and
jobs, but those things have their constituencies; also thought
he should have hit Trump harder, but if he wins that'll be the
More fallout from the GOP's health care fiasco:
Angela Bonavoglia: The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really
a Class Battle
EJ Dionne: The lessons Trump and Ryan failed to learn from history:
Also some lessons they never learned:
But the bill's collapse was, finally, testimony to the emptiness of
conservative ideology. . . . To win the 2012 presidential nomination,
Romney could not afford to be seen as the progenitor of Obamacare
because conservatism now has to oppose even the affirmative uses of
government it once endorsed.
Lee Fang: GOP Lawmakers Now Admit Years of Obamacare Repeal Votes Were a
Richard Kim: The Tea Party Helped Build the Bridge to Single-Payer:
Picture shows a young guy holding a sign that reads "Health care is a
human right." That, of course, has nothing to do with the Tea Party,
and the argument here is forced:
Since the first year of Obama's presidency, the Republican establishment
has allowed its extreme right-wingers to run off the leash. It has amplified
their every outburst, fed every conspiracy theory, nurtured every grievance,
and enabled every act of hostage-taking. Now, it -- and the vandal in chief
that the Tea Party helped elect president -- is their hostage. In the
battles ahead on infrastructure spending, taxation, and the debt ceiling,
there's no reason to believe that the GOP will behave in any less
dysfunctional a manner.
A better way to look at it is this: during the Obama years, the Tea
Party acted as the "shock troops" of Republican obstruction, and somehow
their role there has come to be viewed as a success. So why shouldn't
the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus continue to obstruct, even with Republicans
controlling Congress and the White House, if they still do things that
the insurgents find objectionable? That's what's happening, and mainline
Republicans don't have the margins they need to rule without the Caucus,
and sometimes realize that catering to them will cause even worse things
to happen. Given that the mainliners are pretty awful on their own, we
might as well enjoy the Caucus's obstruction, but that doesn't get us
to anywhere we need to go.
Sam Knight: Bannon-Style "Administrative Deconstruction" of Obamacare Is
Coming: Aside from the Bannon-speak, the point here is that the guy
in charge of the Obamacare system is its arch-enemy, Tom Price, and there
is still a lot of harm bad administration can do, even if it's nominally
pledged to support the law. Reminds me that the OEO (Office of Economic
Opportunity, one of LBJ's main "War on Poverty" programs) had done quite
a bit of good until Nixon appointed Donald Rumsfeld to run it.
Mike Konczal: Four Lessons from the Health Care Repeal Collapse: I
mentioned this piece in Monday's post, but it's worth mentioning again.
I also just noticed Konczal's December 2, 2016 piece:
Learning From Trump in Retrospect. Probably could only be written
between the election and the inauguration, a period when one could
balance off the sensations of surprise and disgust. Two months into
his reign and we're back to wondering how anyone could have been
taken in by this shallow fraud.
Charles Krauthammer: The road to single-payer health care:
Rest assured he's against it, and wants to see something far worse
than Obamacare even, but he understands the logic that universal
coverage, even in its corrupt Obamacare form, makes more efficient
solutions like "single payer" ("Medicare for All") more attractive.
Paul Krugman: How to Build on Obamacare: Krugman has long been
the most persuasive propagandist for the ACA, so no surprise that
he sticks within its limits: urging that we spend more money to lower
deductibles and make policies more attractive, and revive the "public
option" to provide more marketplace competition. His point is that
"building on Obamacare wouldn't be hard," but Trump would rather see
it "explode," and just for the satisfaction of blaming Democrats --
a tactic which proved viable when Democrats were in power, but looks
pretty puerile at the moment.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Country Is a State of Mind, picking on West Virginia, where:
Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West
Virginia retain such a hold on the region's imagination, and lead its
residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?
Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did
indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep
decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal
production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction
techniques -- like blowing the tops off mountains -- require far less
labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated
about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap
So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in
West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century
since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.
What, then, do West Virginians actually do for a living these days?
Well, many of them work in health care: Almost one in six workers is
employed in the category "health care and social assistance."
Oh, and where does the money for those health care jobs come from?
Actually, a lot of it comes from Washington.
West Virginia has a relatively old population, so 22 percent of its
residents are on Medicare, versus 16.7 percent for the nation as a whole.
It's also a state that has benefited hugely from Obamacare, with the
percentage of the population lacking health insurance falling from 14
percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015; these gains came mainly from a
big expansion of Medicaid.
It's true that the nation as a whole pays for these health care
programs with taxes. But an older, poorer state like West Virginia
receives much more than it pays in -- and it would have received
virtually none of the tax cuts Trumpcare would have lavished on the
Now think about what Trumpism means for a state like this. Killing
environmental rules might bring back a few mining jobs, but not many,
and mining isn't really central to the economy in any case. Meanwhile,
the Trump administration and its allies just tried to replace the
Affordable Care Act. If they had succeeded, the effect would have been
catastrophic for West Virginia, slashing Medicaid and sending insurance
premiums for lower-income, older residents soaring.
A couple quick points here. First is that we live in a time when
business is gaining increasing influence on politics, so while coal
companies represent a vanishingly small number of jobs, they dominate
the political discourse in states like West Virginia. (If, indeed,
jobs mattered you wouldn't find politicians backing company schemes
like mountain-top removal, which is profitable primarily because it
reduces jobs -- well, as long as the companies don't have to pay the
costs of their pollution.) Second, while Democrats are more dependable
supporters of effective transfers to poorer states like West Virginia
(and Mississippi and much of the South), they almost never campaign on
the fact, as they have very little presence in states that have swung
against them primarily on race. Rather, Democrats focus on states where
they have more upscale supporters, and cater to the businesses of those
states (like high-tech in California and Massachusetts, and banking in
Bill Moyers: Trump and the GOP in Sickness and Health
Charles Ornstein/Derek Willis: On Health Reform, Democrats and Republicans
Don't Speak the Same Language
Jon Queally: Sen. Bernie Sanders Will Introduce "Medicare for All" Bill;
Zaid Jilani: Bernie Sanders Wants to Expand Medicare to Everybody -- Exactly
What Its Architects Wanted.
Kate Zernike et al.: In Health Bill's Defeat, Medicaid Comes of Age
Some scattered links this week in the world of Trump:
Stephen Braun/Chad Day: Flynn Earned Millions From Russian Companies:
OK, that's the jump headline. The article itself is "Document Dump Reveals
Flynn's Russian and Turkish Income Sources." And the "millions" shrink to
"$1.3 million for work for political groups and government contractors, as
well as for speeches to Russian companies and lobbying for a firm owned by
a Turkish businessman." Doesn't seem like much, but then what else can a
former general do? You don't expect him to live on his exorbitant pension,
do you? Lachlan Markay has more:
Michael Flynn Failed to Disclose Payments From Russian Propaganda
Zack Beauchamp: Michael Flynn's immunity request, explained:
More fundamentally, it's hard to see Democrats granting one to a widely
disliked former Trump official when there's still a chance the FBI might
prosecute him for allegedly lying to the bureau about his contacts with
the Russian envoy to the US. The Trump administration's call for Flynn
to appear before Congress, in Sean Spicer's Friday press briefing, could
very well harden their resolve against immunity.
This is all very bad news for Flynn, who ironically said that asking
for immunity was proof that you had done something wrong when discussing
Hillary Clinton's email scandal during the campaign. "When you are given
immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime," he told
NBC's Chuck Todd in an interview.
Esme Cribb: Trump Will Sign Repeal of Obama-Era Internet Privacy Rules:
The bill, which passed Congress on straight party votes, allows Internet
service companies to track your on-line activity and sell that information
to other companies without your permission or awareness.
Amy Davidson: Trump v. the Earth: About Trump's executive order to
pretend that burning coal doesn't have any impact on the environment.
Or, as Trump put it, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth":
President Trump said that his order puts "an end to the war on coal."
In reality, it is a declaration of war on the basic knowledge of the
harm that burning coal, and other fossil fuels, can do. Indeed, it
tells the government to ignore information. The Obama
Administration assembled a working group to determine the "social cost"
of each ton of greenhouse-gas emissions. Trump's executive order disbands
that group and tosses out its findings. Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A.
administrator -- who, as attorney general of Oklahoma, had joined a
lawsuit attempting to undo the endangerment finding -- announced that
the agency was no longer interested in even collecting data on the
quantities of methane that oil and gas companies release.
Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Profits,
the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock: Actually $90k in stocks of six
drug companies, so his payback would more closely model the industry-wide
average. "Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a
bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration,
which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe
expensive drugs that don't necessarily improve patient outcomes." This
was back when Price was in Congress, before joining Trump's cabinet.
Fired US Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS
Secretary Tom Price; also
When a Study Cast Doubt on a Heart Pill, the Drug Company Turned to
Ane Gearan: US leads major powers in protesting UN effort to ban nuclear
weapons: Nikki Haley asks, "Is it any surprise that Iran is supportive
of this?" Nearly every nation signed the NPT renouncing nuclear weapons on
the understanding that the grandfathered nuclear powers would disarm as
well -- something which hasn't happened, largely because the US feels it's
important that someone like Donald Trump should have the option of blowing
the world up.
Michelle Goldberg: Why Won't Republicans Resist Trump? That's the link
headline. The article title is even funnier: "Where Are the Good Republicans?"
We're talking about people in Congress whose singular mission over the past
eight years (and this really dates back to the arrival of Newt Gingrich as
House Speaker in 1995) has been to make Democrats look bad. They've refused
to even consider Obama appointees. They passed bills to repeal the ACA fifty
times but couldn't agree on anything to replace it with this year. They've
tried to extort favors by holding the federal debt limit hostage. And when
you ask them for anything they'd consider working with Obama on, the only
things they can come up are points that would make Obama look bad to the
Democratic Party base (like TPP, or more war). If any Republican member of
Congress has felt the slightest twinge of shame over this behavior, he or
she has done a good job of hiding it. And their bottom line is that Trump's,
well, not their leader but their winner, the guy whose surprise win has
allowed them to advance their agenda, which may have some more
hopeful aims but for all practical purposes is to wreck, ruin and despoil
America, to the detriment of nearly everyone who lives here. And really,
the only examples we've seen so far of dissent within Republican ranks
have come from the fringe right, who feel Trump and Ryan and McConnell
aren't moving fast or hard enough toward the end times. Even there the
media is struggling to salvage Republican reputations; see. e.g.,
Ross Barkan: Give Donald Trump credit: the Freedom Caucus really is
Malak Habbak: War Correspondents Describe Recent US Airstrikes in Iraq,
Syria, and Yemen.
Ben Hubbard/Michael R Gordon: US War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With
No Endgame in Sight: Anyone who thought that Trump might tone down the
War on Terror -- and I gave that non-zero but not very good odds -- has by
now been thoroughly disabused of such wishful thinking:
The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during
all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line
positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq,
American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive
in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.
Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are
mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in
a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.
Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action,
however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military
decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some
of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing
under a president who has vowed to make the military "fight to win."
The suggestion is that the only thing that has happened is that the
military has been freed of whatever limiting or inhibitory role Obama
played: Trump's basically given them carte blanche to keep doing what
they've been doing so badly for years. On the other hand, Trump hasn't
gotten involved enough to really screw things up with his "fight to win"
slogan. The fact is the US hasn't "fought to win" since WWII for the
simple reason that there's never been anything you could actually win
by fighting. Rather, US military policy has been to make any challenge
to US power and hegemony as painful as possible, to deter challengers
from even raising the issue. Arguably, that has yielded diminishing
returns as it's become increasingly obvious that US forces are vulnerable
to asymmetric strategies (ranging from guerrilla war to "terrorism") and
because the US has become increasingly inept at occupying hostile areas.
Still, the solution to that problem isn't resolving to "fight to win" --
it's reducing the need to fight at all.
Charles Pierce: The Trump Administration Has Pushed the Limits of American
Absurdity: If one were to teach a writing class, that title might be
a good little assignment. I can imagine dozens of ways to approach it, all
equally valid, and I'd still be surprised when Pierce handed in a piece
with a piece starting with an Ignatius Donnelly quote. (And I'm one of
the few people around who knows who Donnelly was, having read him as a
teenager back before Paul Ryan, for instance, lost his mind in Ayn Rand.)
Of course, Pierce soon moves on to more disturbing, although curiously
mundane, realms of fantasy: namely Sean Spicer's press conferences.
Daniel Politi: Judge: Lawsuit Against Trump Can Proceed, Inciting
Violence Isn't Protected Speech
David E Sanger/Eric Schmitt: Rex Tillerson to Lift Human Rights Conditions
on Arms Sale to Bahrain
Jon Schwarz: Russia Investigation Heading Toward a Train Wreck Because
Republicans Don't Care What Happened: Not a subject I'm at all
partial to, mostly because it seems to cast a Cold War gloss on what
strikes me as ordinary corruption, and partly because it skips over
decades of stories about US interference in other peoples' politics,
as well as the much more common (and I think damaging) Israeli efforts
to steer American politics (anyone remember Netanyahu's campaigning
for Romney, or his collusion with Boehner?). Still, if Republicans
(and Democrats) learned anything from the Clinton years it's that
unbridled investigations take on a life of their own, where being
investigated is never a good omen.
Unfortunately, on this planet we're on a trajectory to the worst possible
outcome. It's now easy to imagine a future in which Trump and Russia become
the millennials' equivalent of the John F. Kennedy assassination: A subject
where no one can honestly be sure whether there was no conspiracy or a huge
conspiracy, the underlying reality concealed by the thick murk of government
secrecy, and progressives exhausting themselves for decades afterwards
trying to prove what really happened.
Lisa Song: As Seas Around Mar-a-Lago Rise, Trump's Cuts Could Damage
Local Climate Work: This is an amusing little piece. I've long
thought that the people who should be most worried about global warming
are the rich -- the people who own nearly all of the property endangered
by climate change, especially from rising sea levels. Yet Republicans
have been oblivious to the threats. They've convinced themselves of the
importance of protecting the rights of individuals to practice predatory
capitalism, and they pretty much completely deny that there can be any
public interest separate from private profit-seeking (although they
somehow believe that no those private interests are harmful to others,
and that the sum of them must be good for everyone). I can't think of
any idea more misguided and dangerous, but they've built not just an
ideology but a political movement around it. I just wonder: when
Mar-a-Lago is underwater, is Trump still going to be thrilled that
those coal and oil magnates were able to make all that money?
Jessica Valenti: Mike Pence doesn't eat alone with women. That speaks
volumes: Evidently, the VP can't pull his mind out of the gutter
long enough to consider sharing a meal with a woman other than his
wife. But then these are strange times, especially in the company
Pence does keep:
The same week the first lady gave a speech at the state department's
International Women of Courage Awards, insisting: "We must continue
to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it
takes in our lives," the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer,
chastised the veteran reporter April Ryan for "shaking her head" at
him. (Just last month, Trump asked Ryan if the those in the
Congressional Black Caucus were "friends" of hers.)
While the president was asking a room full of women if they had
ever heard of Susan B Anthony, the conservative Fox News host Bill
O'Reilly was under fire for making a racist and sexist comment about
the California congresswoman Maxine Waters' hair and an Iowa legislator
said that if a pregnant woman found out her fetus has died, she should
carry the pregnancy to term anyway.
And while Pence trended on Twitter for his old-school sexism, what
went largely unremarked on was that the vice-president cast the
tie-breaking vote to push forward legislation that allows states to
discriminate against Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers
that provide abortion when giving out federal Title X funds.
Matthew Yglesias: So far, Donald Trump as delivered almost nothing on
his trade agenda:
On trade, exactly nothing has happened. The long-dead TPP is still dead,
but NAFTA is very much still with us. No new protective measures have
been put in place, and American companies have been subject to no punitive
retaliations. No legislation appears to be in the works.
This status quo acknowledges rising anti-trade sentiment on the left
and right by halting forward progress on any new trade and investment
deals, while refusing to take the risk of altering any existing arrangements.
Part of the reason is that those "existing arrangements" all have
big business supporters, especially among the Goldman-Sachs wing of
the Trump administration, whereas Trump has yet to pick an unemployed
auto-worker or coal miner for any post of influence (they shot their
wad on Nov. 9 and won't get another chance for four years). Yglesias
doesn't mention the "border adjustment tax" here, but it does show up in
The 7 big questions Republicans have to answer on tax reform.
Taxes look to be the next big Congressional battle for Trump and
Ryan, and their proposals are likely to be every bit as unpopular
as what they came up with for health care. Again, their problem
won't be Republicans coming to their senses, but ones who want to
seize the opportunity to make things even worse. At least you
can't say you weren't warned.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Eric Alterman: The Perception of Liberal Bias in the Newsroom Has Nothing
Whatsoever to Do With Reality: Unlike, say, the conservative bias in
the board rooms. But even that oversimplifies the story. Conservative
scapegoating both presses and seduces the media, with its completely normal
self-image as fair and objective, into legitimizing outrageous claims from
the right and gives viewers/listeners/readers a readymade excuse to doubt
everything they see/hear/read. Moreover, it's not entirely wrong. The fact
is no one can be free from biases any more than one can escape experience
or language. Critical self-reflection helps, as does a willingness to
question one's own precepts. A friend recently asked me how these days
one can figure out who to trust. My reaction is that I never trust anyone
beyond what I can make sense of and verify. If, for instance, you told me
that cutting marginal tax rates on the rich would make the economy grow
in ways that helped people beyond those who saved on their tax bills, I
could look for test cases and see how they turned out. Same if you told
me that spending more money on the military would make it less likely
that a country would be attacked by others. It so happens that there is
a lot of evidence on both of these questions, and the evidence strongly
disputes the assertions. If you look at many such questions, you may
start to think that some sources are more trustworthy than others, but
you should never cease to question them, especially when they don't
To take a slightly different perspective, and I find it often helps
to try to refocus from different angles, I've been worrying about (and
distrusting) "liberal bias" since the mid-1960s, when liberals tended
to take political positions I disagreed with (like supporting the US
war in Vietnam). Liberals back then had an active fantasy life, as they
in some cases still have today (e.g., their obsession with Russia).
Both then and now it's fairly easy to pick apart issues where they
are wrong and where their errors are self-serving (the Russia thing
seems to be a way Clinton-supporters can avoid the shortcomings of
their candidate). It shouldn't be surprising that conservatives are
pretty adept at spotting and exploiting cases where liberals spin
things to their own advantage. Nor vice versa -- perspective often
gets clearer from a distance. Still, in reality, bias and interest
isn't symmetrical between right and left, and it is a grave error to
think otherwise. The right, by definition, serves private interests,
often at the expense of the public. The left takes the opposite tack,
favoring the broadest class interest over the most elite. We should
at least be able to agree on that much, but the right has struggled
mightily to confuse the issue, not least with their charges that the
media is rife with "liberal bias."
To understand this, you need to recognize that America was founded
on liberal (Enlightenment) principles, notably on the notion that "all
men are born equal" and share "equal rights under the law," a law meant
to advance "the common welfare" and which is vouchsafed through a system
of democracy. And those principles have been so internalized that even
the right, which at all times has defended the claims of "virtuous elites"
to rule over everyone else, has had to pay lip-service to democracy and
to argue that their self-serving policies benefit some greater good. To
do so they've dressed up their rhetoric with all sorts of market-tested
claims, often disguising themselves as "populists" while practicing their
art of divide-and-conquer -- flattering one part of the demos as the only
true Americans while derogating others as deservedly inferior. And the
more their claims fail, the harder they work as obfuscating their failures.
One way they've done this has been to convince their followers that any
unseemly facts are the product of "liberal bias." Of course, such charges
ring hollow to anyone who's bothered to examine the right's own agenda,
but thus far they've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of this ruse. To
get an idea of how much, consider the Occupy Wall Street formulation
that divides us between a 1% (which is clearly the orientation of the
Republican platform) and the remaining 99%. If politics were understood
this way, the Republicans should never win an election, yet somehow they
manage to keep their share around 30% (vs. a more/less equal 30% for the
Democrats and 40% for those who don't vote). Of course, relatively even
results aren't solely due to the skill of Republican machinations --
many Democrats, including Obama and the Clintons, seem to be very cozy
with the 1% and have a mediocre record of serving the 99%, both making
them vulnerable to the "populist" ploys of a Trump.
Dean Baker: Trade Denialism Continues: Trade Really Did Kill Manufacturing
Jobs: Rebuts and debunks "a flood of opinion pieces and news stories
in recent weeks wrongly telling people that it was not trade that led to
the loss of manufacturing jobs in recent years, but rather automation."
Baker also wrote
The Fed's Interest Rate Hike Will Prevent People From Getting Jobs.
Pepe Escobar: North Korea: The really serious options on the table
Chris Hayes: Policing the Colony: From the American Revolution to
Ferguson: Adapted from Hayes' new book, A Colony in a Nation,
on the persistence of racism in America, explained by the tendency to
even now treat black people as something different from equal citizens
under the law. One sample paragraph:
In Ferguson, people were enraged at Michael Brown's death and grieving
at his passing, but more than anything else they were sick and tired of
being humiliated. At random, I could take my microphone and offer it to
a black Ferguson resident, young or old, who had a story of being harassed
and humiliated. A young honors student and aspiring future politician told
me about watching his mother be pulled over and barked at by police. The
local state senator told me that when she was a teenager, a police officer
drew a gun on her because she was sitting in a fire truck -- at a fireman's
invitation. At any given moment, a black citizen of Ferguson might find
himself shown up, dressed down, made to stoop and cower by the men with
John Judis: Can Donald Trump Revive American Manufacturing? An Interview
With High-Tech Expert Rob Atkinson: Short answer: well, someone could,
but clearly not Donald Trump.
Greg Kaufmann: A Cruel New Bill Is About to Become Law in Mississippi:
"Legislation passed this week would enrich a private contractor while
throwing people off public assistance." Not Trump's fault, per se, but
another example of the Republicans at work, preying on the poor.
Richard D Wolff: Capitalism Produced Trump: Another Reason to Move Beyond
Democratic Mega-donor Saban Doesn't Rule Out Hillary Clinton 2020
Run: More proof that cluelessness is endemic among billionaires.
Sunday, March 26. 2017
We went to two funerals on Saturday: the first for long-time peace and
justice activist Mary Harren (91), the second for my last uncle, James
Hull (85), who spent 26 years as a mechanic in the Air Force, and was
well known to Wichita Eagle readers as a right-wing crank. Main
thing I was struck by was the difference in the crowds: close to 300
turned out for Mary, compared to about fifteen (not counting the Color
Guard you taxpayers provided) for James. The former was quite properly
a celebration of a long and fruitful life. The latter was rather sad,
bitter, and pathetic.
We spent much more time with Mary over the last fifteen years: she
was one of the first to welcome us to Wichita's small cadre of anti-war
activists; she was quick to visit whenever we ran into troubles; and
she was a frequent (and delightful) dinner guest. But she was so active
and engaged that even while she made you feel special, you knew that
she had dozens of other people and groups she did the same for. And
she had been doing this for ages, sometimes regaling us with stories
of political struggle over events I only vaguely remember from my teen
My interaction with James dates from those same years. Seems like
he spent most of the 1950s stationed elsewhere -- Germany and somewhere
near Las Vegas are places that stuck in my mind, although he joined in
1950 so was involved in Korea -- but after 1960 he was mostly based at
McConnell AFB here in Wichita, and his family stayed here through two
tours in Vietnam. After I turned 17 he lobbied me hard to sign up, but
by then I was resolutely opposed to the Vietnam War and detested pretty
much everything related to the military, so he was one of the first
people I can recall arguing with about politics. (I was so withdrawn
I'd scarcely speak to anyone, but he was so unflappable you couldn't
help but argue with him.) After I moved away from Wichita, I had very
little to do with him: while he was always very affable and loved a
good (even a dirty) joke, his wife (Bobbie Ann) had terrified me as
a child, and was so dim-witted and erratic I actively avoided her (and
less actively their two shell-shocked sons -- the younger was what we
used to call retarded; he wound up in some kind of special care facility
and died at age 21). But I did run into him a few years ago, after Bobbie
Ann had died, and he was cheerful as ever. He gave me a book he had
written: a memoir plus a compilation of poems and political letters
and a piece of his "scholarly" research which claimed that American
economic performance correlates with frequency of executions, so to
get the country moving again we should execute more felons.
He titled his memoir I Survived!, but there was virtually
nothing in it about his wife or sons, so it's hard to imagine readers
without personal knowledge making sense of his point. His work, and
his bowling, and probably even his politics, make more sense as an
escape from a disappointing home life. One pleasing thing about the
funeral was that the pastor was a neighbor and friend, as was another
person who spoke. So they made an effort to talk about the actual man
rather than wander off into the hereafter. And they pretty much agreed
that the man himself was a difficult, cranky person to be around.
The most revealing story was one where the pastor asked James what he
had been doing today, and James answered "spreading hate and discontent."
Asked what he had done yesterday, James answered the same, as he did when
asked what he was planning on doing tomorrow. I'm not sure exactly what he
thought he meant by that, but his politics was rooted in state violence,
something he celebrated both in war and in his obsession over executions.
Hate just greases the skids toward violence, which is part of why Trump
has escalated the killing in places like Yemen and Syria despite claiming
he opposes the disastrous wars Bush and Obama led. You can't sustain those
wars without engendering and feeding off a lot of hate.
Another possibility was that James was conscious of how he rubbed people
wrong with his crackpot theories. He did on occasion joke about the Secret
Service coming after him after letters he wrote to the president. I suspect
that in some cases he was contrarian for its own sake. Indeed, like with
my father, his sense of humor was often rooted in irony against invisible
foes. Still, at some point his right-wing bent hardened, probably egged on
by the Fox News cabal. (Several people commented on how every time they saw
him he had Fox News blaring -- his father and mine were very hard of hearing,
and having worked around jet engines for many years I'm sure he was too.)
That he wound up bitter and cranky and full of "hate and discontent" was,
I think, baked into his political bent. The contrast to Mary couldn't have
been more stark. She was probably every bit as critical of the world as he,
but everything she did was imbued with hope and love. Even toward the end,
she was full of grace. His pastor talked about grace, too, but it seemed
like a long shot for James.
By the way, speaking of crowd numbers, there also was a "Make America
Great" rally for Trump on Saturday. The Eagle's headline on the story was
Dozens brave cold winds to rally for Trump. Not sure if the numbers
are exaggerated, but the adverse weather sure was.
I got into a bit of a Facebook argument with Art Protin, who had posted
a meme-pic showing the left half of Hillary Clinton's head and the caption
(imagine in all caps): "The next time someone tries to tell you that Hillary
Clinton was a weak candidate, remind them that it took the RNC, Wikileaks,
the FBI and Russia to narrowly bring her down in an election she won by
nearly 3 million votes." Being a reality-based sort of guy, my initial
response was to list a dozen or so areas where she had acted or had taken
positions that proved detrimental to most Americans, as if voters had been
rational in rejecting her. That's not quite it, although we certainly
shouldn't neglect the fact that, rightly or wrongly, she's picked up a
lot of unfavorable baggage over the years, and that she's been the target
of an awful lot of focused political hate -- both personally and due to
her association with two Democratic administrations that promised much
and delivered little to their neediest supporters. Those things worked
to weaken her credibility and to tarnish her integrity, and that's the
main thing we mean when we describe her as a weak candidate.
But really, the more glaring proof of her weakness is that she lost
to DONALD J. TRUMP, who even before the election had the most negative
approval ratings of any major party candidate ever, and who afterwards
was subject to the greatest "buyer's remorse" we've seen since Nixon
in 1972. Clearly, a lot of people hated Clinton so much that they voted
for a guy they didn't like instead. I think a lot of factors entered
into that choice, and I don't think any of them were very rational.
(Sure, she's dishonest and corrupt and much more, but is she worse in
any of these respects than Donald Trump? That comparison should have
been laughably easy, yet somehow lots of people didn't realize it.)
Given all of the points one could make against Trump, it's pretty
much axiomatic that anyone who could still lose to him was an awfully
The meme also has several other faults. Leave aside the RNC for
the moment, the other three forces arrayed against Clinton are/were
pretty lame: Wikileaks, the FBI, and Russia. What Wikileaks did was
one-sided (does anyone doubt that a hack of the RNC would have made
them look like buffoons?) and Comey's dredging up of the whole email
mess was unfortunate, but it's hard to believe that they had any more
than the tiniest of impacts. And I have no idea what Russia did
(beyond the DNC hack, and that's not clear) other than to soften the
heads of some DNC types, who thought that red-baiting Trump as soft
on Putin would be an easy score -- I can't prove it, but I think the
net effect was to make Hillary look more recklessly hawkish, and
that was something that hurt her. Of course, the continuing Russia
obsession of frustrated Hillary-bots means something else: how hard
it is to them to admit that they might bear any blame for policies
or organization or candidate. Indeed, the whole meme is just another
instance of scapegoating.
The three million vote margin is also at risk of being overplayed.
Sure, it points to a structural problem (which Republicans will never
allow to be fixed), but the problem is not just the structure for how
it has been gamed, not least by the Democrats. Trump supporters can
point out that they lost in states where they hardly campaigned at
all (New York, Illinois, especially California), but the same was true
for the 20-30 states Clinton didn't campaign in at all (including a
couple she thought she'd carry): the net result being that the popular
vote is bogus both ways. I think the net result is a wash, so Trump's
failure to gain a plurality is a leading indicator of his unpopularity,
but that only gets you so far. As Trump likes to say, "I'm president,
and you're not." So while it properly embarrasses him that he only got
paltry inauguration crowds, that his rallies regularly play to empty
seats, and that he can only get 80 marchers out on a Spring day here
in Wichita, it doesn't amount to much.
Biggest story this week was the demise of Paul Ryan's health care
bill, which Donald Trump had pledged full allegiance to. Some links:
Ross Barken: Trump tried to burn down Obamacare. He set his hair on fire
Zoë Carpenter: Donald Trump Can't Make a Deal: "Now that the GOP's
health-care bill is dead, plan B is to sabotage Obamacare."
Michelle Goldberg: The Biggest Lesson From the Trumpcare Debacle:
"It showed us how government by misogynists actually translates into
policy." This fits in with a picture that's been going around, depicting
the "diverse group of people" brought together to craft the bill -- all
white males, about equally divided between those with pattern baldness
Paul Krugman: The Scammers, the Scammed and America's Fate: Krugman's
favorite sport is "I told you so," and he's been telling us that Ryan is
a fraud for many years now -- he cites a 2010 post called
The Flimflam Man -- so he understands that this is no time to let up.
He notes how the media has repeatedly promoted Ryan, and he think that
this is due to "the convention of 'balance'." "This meant, in particular,
that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present
both sides as having equally well-founded arguments." I suspect that the
truth is crasser: that Ryan was a pet project of the Kochs and their
think-tanks long before you heard of him, and the people backing him
have ever since been whispering in the ears of media managers and
Tom McCarthy: Health insurance woes helped elect Trump, but his cure
may be more painful: Some Republicans, including most of the
so-called Freedom Caucus who torpedoed the Ryan-Trump bill, believe
that any form of government regulation in the health care markets
is improper, that people should not be required to have insurance,
that businesses should be free to sell any form of insurance (even
policies that don't cover anything). Moreover, such people have no
idea what such a world would look like, in part because nothing
like that has ever been allowed in America. But most Republicans
have done this hand-waving thing, arguing that if they were in
power they'd "replace and repeal" Obamacare with something which
would be so much better for everyone: that costs would go down
and care would improve and everyone would be better off. They've
never detailed how that might work, because they've never been
in a position to pass it, until now, when it turns out that their
proposals would quite obviously, one way or another, make it all
worse. And this is not just health care: Republicans often feel
the need to argue that their proposals will benefit everyone,
even when it's clear that they'll be massively harmful.
Alice Ollstein: Trump to House GOP: Vote Yes on O'Care Repeal or Lose
Your Seat: Early-week threat from the White House. Trump campaigned
in the primaries on a relatively heterodox (or schizophrenic?) platform,
but wound up stuck with a straight Republican Congress (well, actually
one that is split between a hardcore conservative majority and an even
more extreme right-wing faction), with virtually no personal commitment
to the president. The effect is to allow him to pivot only one direction
(right), which means he can only pass what they let him pass. So there's
always been this fleeting fancy that Trump might try to steer the party
his direction by purging uncooperative Republicans in the primaries. So
that's sort of what's going on here, except that Trump didn't produce
his own health care bill -- he acceded to Ryan's bill -- and most of
the successful primary challenges lately have come from the right (Tim
Huelskamp in Kansas was a rare exception, but he was very far out, and
specifically his extreme anti-government stance offended agribusiness
interests, who control damn near all of the economy in his district).
So it's interesting that Trump made this threat, but it didn't work,
and now seems pretty hollow.
Another view of the purge story is:
Daniel Politi: Bannon Pushed Trump to Use Health Care Vote to Write Up
"Enemies List": After all, if Republicans only understand one big
thing, it's how to exploit a list of enemies.
Amber Phillips: Donald Trump is giving a lot of mixed messages about whom
to blame on health care; or pretty much the same thing:
Joanna Walters: Trump blames everyone but himself for failure of GOP
Andrew Prokop: On health reform, Donald Trump followed Republican leaders
into a ditch: Many of these pieces assume that Trump promised something
better (even "really great") and got blind-sided by Ryan. More likely is
that Trump never could care about health care, and was only mouthing words
(including blatant lies) fed to him by right-wing propagandists, because
that's easier than actually thinking.
Heather Richardson: The showdown that exposed the rift between Republican
ideology and reality:
Republicans have been able to paper over the vast gulf between their
ideology and reality, so long as they could blame Democrats for their
inability to put their ideology into law. They could rail about lower
taxes and liberty, and then, when Democrats saved the policies that
voters liked, could blame the socialistic Democrats for Republicans'
own failure to enact their ideological vision. This tactic was at the
heart of their rage against Obamacare, the symbol of their oppression
since it passed seven years ago. Republicans in the House of Representatives
voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, knowing they could count on
Obama's veto to protect them from voters who would, in reality, be furious
at the loss of their healthcare. . . .
The initial draft of the bill reflected Republican ideological principles
by giving the wealthiest Americans an $880bn tax cut. Even still, its
retention of government regulations on healthcare were too much for purists.
Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus insisted that the government must
not interfere in healthcare, defending the principle that the law must be
repealed entirely to resurrect American liberty. Other members of Congress,
swamped by popular outcry against repeal, had to bow to reality: Americans
actually like the law.
The showdown over Obamacare finally brought into the open the fundamental
rift between Republican ideology and reality. Speaker Ryan and President
Trump tried to skirt that gulf by forcing the bill through in an astonishing
17 days. When that failed, Trump tried to bluster it out with the old
Republican narrative, blaming Democrats, who are in the minority, for
this epic failure. Neither worked. Since 1980, the Republican party has
won power by hiding its unpopular ideology under a winning narrative, and
reality has finally intruded.
Matthew Sheffield: Downfall of a policy wonk: Paul Ryan becomes the latest
victim of the American right's fundamental dysfunction.
Some more scattered links this week in the Trump swamp:
Philip Bump: Nearly 1 out of every 3 days he has been president, Trump
has visited a Trump property
Roqayah Chamseddine: Despite Campaign Promises, Trump Set to Outdo Obama
on Military Adventurism: Yemen remains a prime example, and last week
saw extensive civilian deaths from American bombing in Mosul.
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's Rise Has Coincided With an Explosion of
Lawrence Douglas: Donald Trump's dizzying Time magazine interview was
'Trumpspeak' on display: "Predictably, the president offered nothing
in the way of substantiation or contrition. Instead, he overwhelmed his
interviewer with such a profusion of misstatements, half-truths, dodges
and red herrings that one grows dizzy trying to untangle it all."
John Judis: Democrats Need to Reclaim the Issue of Manufacturing from
Martin Longman: Trump Built His Own Prison: I don't think Trump ever
had the option of not ruling as a Republican stooge -- joining the party
is a lot like getting a lobotomy (or becoming a zombie) -- but Longman
still likes to fantasize:
Personally, I think Trump should have taken a different route with them
by explaining in no uncertain terms that he didn't run on creating a
health care system anything like what was in the bill, and that he was
already going to take a massive amount of heat for dispossessing tens
of millions of people of their health care. He should have threatened
that if he couldn't rely on the Freedom Caucus on this most important
first test, he'd be forced to cut them out of negotiations on pretty
much everything else and go to the Democrats for his votes for
infrastructure, trade, and tax reform, which would result in a major
defeat for conservative ideology.
Daniel Politi: Trump Reportedly Handed Merkel a $374 Billion Invoice
for NATO: "Trump's statements on NATO suggest he really does not
understand how the alliance is funded. Merkel reportedly 'ignored the
provocation.' She appears to be a bit more adept at diplomacy than
her U.S. counterpart." Also on Trump-Merkel:
Jessica Valenti: Trump did to Merkel what men do to women all the
Eric Roston: The Hidden Risks of Trump's EPA Cuts: Birth Defects, Bad
Mark Joseph Stern: Can Neil Gorsuch Answer a Question? On Trump's
Supreme Court nominee's hearings: "Gorsuch has smiled and quipped. He
has frowned and mused. He has brooded, hedged, dodged, vacillated,
hesitated, temporized, and mulled. What he has not yet done is directly
answer a substantive question posed by a United States senator. Will
he? Can he? That mystery is becoming the central drama of these
hearings." Also on Gorsuch:
Dahlia Lithwick/Camille Mott: The Democrats Must Filibuster Neil
Gorsuch. This, of course, is specifically about Gorsuch. Still,
I wouldn't mind taking a more general approach, such as the Senate
shouldn't confirm any Supreme Court appointee until we have an
election producing an unambiguous presidential winner (which, by
the way, would be a less extreme position than the one Republicans
took on the Garland nomination). Of course, the majority could
abolish the filibuster, but that too would be a long-term win.
Bill Raden: "Elections have consequences": What we can expect from
a Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Jacob Sugarman: A Handful of Trump Voters Are Coming to the Painful
Realization That They've Been Had: A predictable headline after
the election. Features four prototypical examples, who misunderstood
Trump in fundamental (but not unusual) ways when he was campaigning,
and have the presence of mind to realize their mistakes now. Just a
trickle at present, but there will be more and more over time.
Matt Taibbi: Trump the Destroyer: A long piece written for the
print issue, a big picture survey of Trump's first 5-6 weeks -- the
high tone seems more and more like a hedge, the author's big fear
that between deadline and publication dates Trump will do something
so astoundingly weird and/or evil the article will have been eclipsed
(a problem he's been hit with several times already). He does manage
to reel off some juicy lines, especially about Trump's cabinet, and
his overarching theme is something folks need to hear.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Why the NY Times Is Chiefly Responsible for the Mass Ignorance
About the US Budget
Steven A Cook/Michael Brooks: Bill Maher makes us dumber: How ignorance,
fear and stupid pop-culture clichés shape Americans' view of the Middle
East: "Americans used to be just ignorant about Muslims and the
Middle East. Now we're also fearful, stupid and wrong."
Richard Falk: The Inside Story on Our UN Report Calling Israel an Apartheid
Frank Rich: No Sympathy for the Hillbilly: Alerted to this piece by
a Matt Karp tweet: "Elite liberals keep writing about sympathy because
they have no concept of solidarity." Headline-wise this reinforces
stereotypes as much about New York liberals as about hillbillies, Down
in the text Rich cites various (mostly right-wing) studies complaining
that hillbillies are morally degenerate (Charles Murray, really?). Not
that Rich is really that stupid -- I can't object to his pull quote,
"Instead of studying how to talk to 'real people,' might Democrats start
talking about real people?" Also, this starts out accurate enough before
plunging over the deep end:
Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they've
put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be
condescending. "Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,"
Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National
Review. "The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities
is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets.
Morally, they are indefensible." He was only saying in public what
other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the "47 percent" in
private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening.
Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to
die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used
their ballots to commit assisted suicide?
The problem here is that the Republicans aren't the only political
party who have written off the vast expanses of America outside the
mostly coastal urban areas. The Democrats offer a bit more generous
"safety net" but they still make it look and smell like welfare, and
with their trade deals and bank deregulation and indifference to unions
(which in any case are out of reach to most workers) the Democrats been
as complicit in the decline of the heartland as the Republicans. The
main difference is that Republicans have been much more successful at
blaming Democrats for policies that both parties' elites support, at
least in "red states" where Democrats have abandoned and no longer
campaign in -- partly due to the ascendancy of snobs like Rich, and
partly from sheer expediency.
Got a late start on this, so it feels more scattered than usual.
So much crap to deal with these days. So little time.
Sunday, March 19. 2017
Chuck Berry died.
Jimmy Breslin died. My uncle, James Hull, died.
It's been one of those weeks.
The big thing Trump did this week was to release a new budget proposal.
Who Wins and Loses in Trump's Proposed Budget; also
The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.
A grim budget day for US science: analysis and reaction to Trump's
plan: E.g., "NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2016."
Graham Bowley: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts?
Public arts funding has been a political hot potato for many years now, so
it's not surprising that conservative churls would take this opportunity
to slash it, indeed to cut it out altogether. I could nitpick myself, but
I also recall that during the 1930s the WPA financed all sorts of public
art, some of which we're still fortunate enough to enjoy. One cannot even
imagine government funding programs like that today, but if you give it
a wee bit of thought, you might wonder why. Given today's technology, the
ability to digitize sound and vision, to reproduce and disseminate those
bits at zero marginal cost, there has never been a better time to make a
big public investment in the arts. Sure, we need to come up with a funding
scheme that isn't subject to arbitrary commissars, but the costs and risks
are almost trivial. Especially compared to the Defense Department; after
all, without art and entertainment, what is there left to defend?
David S Cohen: Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism
Jeff Daniels: Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's
Zaid Jilani: Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think
Tank: Explores how "many of the White House proposal's ideas are
identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year." Also quotes
from a statement put out by Heritage praising the Trump budget, with one
little demur: "it complained that Trump's call for an additional $54
billion in defense spending just isn't big enough."
Eric Levitz: White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is 'Compassionate':
Quote comes from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who you'll
read more about elsewhere. Levitz also wrote
6 Promises That President Trump's Budget Betrays.
Charles Pierce: This Is the Ending Conservatives Always Wanted:
This budget is short-sighted, cruel to the point of being sadistic,
stupid to the point of pure philistinism, and shot through with the
absolute and fundamentalist religious conviction that the only true
functions of government are the ones that involve guns, and that the
only true purpose of government is to serve the rich. . . .
A lot of this is going to make the members of Congress choke, so
a lot of it may not pass. Its very existence is important, though,
as a document that lays out quite clearly the vision of government
shared almost everywhere in modern conservatism. This is a DeMint
Budget, a Heritage Budget, a Gingrich Budget, a Reagan Budget, and
a Tea Party Budget. It may be crude and lack a certain polish, but
its priorities and goals are clear. There is no modern Republican
Party without movement conservatism, and this budget is the most
vivid statement yet of that philosophy.
By the way, Piece also wrote:
Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump's Budget Director Has a Breathtakingly Cynical
Excuse for Cutting Aid to the Poor
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's budget blueprint is a war on the future of
the American economy: I caught a whiff here of Robert Reich's old
scheme for education transforming American workers into highly paid
"symbolic manipulators" -- sure, boring old manufacturing jobs get
stripped due to "free trade" deals, but we'll all wind up richer than
ever. That was bullshit then and is bullshit now, but that doesn't
mean the opposite is even close to right: you don't need Friedman to
realize that business today requires more technical skill than ever
before, and the future more so. So why would anyone push a government
budget that seriously undermines scientific research and education?
But Trump's rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don't just push
back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious
truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is
evolving and changing over time. . . .
One of the main things that was good about the "good old days" is
that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education
opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products
and cures. This happened while the government invested more -- not less --
on health, education, science, and regional development.
Didn't Trump spend much of his campaign complaining about how we've
neglected essential investments in infrastructure? Science, research
and engineering are what infrastructure is built on, and education is
fundamental to all that.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Zoë Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 8th Week That
- Released a very skinny budget.
- Moved to loosen fracking rules.
- Delayed chemical-safety regulations.
- Fired 46 US Attorneys nationwide.
- Made a formal apology to United Kingdom over wild spying claims.
- Put military action against North Korea on the table.
Doug Bandow: Why Is Trump Abandoning the Foreign Policy that Brought Him
Victory? Starts by pointing out that Trump was often critical of the
neoconservatives who had plunged America into endless war, quoting him
as saying, "unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression
will not be my first instinct." Indeed, many single-issue neocons like
the Kagans were quick to flock to Hillary Clinton, trusting her record
for hawkishness. Still, although Trump has been able to torpedo much
bruited nominations for the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams,
his administration has done a lot of sabre-rattling so far. But the
author ("a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special
Assistant to President Ronald Reagan") has a selective memory of Trump's
campaign -- he also insisted he'd crush ISIS and increase military
spending. Unlike anti-war conservatives (like Justin Raimondo) who
fell for Trump's promise, I actually considered him more bellicose
and more dangerous than Clinton (and I've repeatedly attacked her on
just this issue). The reasons: the Republicans Trump would surround
himself with would be more consistently hawkish (many Democrats have
better things to do), and Trump himself is ignorant of and prejudiced
about the world, and much given to macho posturing. A good example of
this is the rapidly developing crisis with North Korea; e.g., see two
recent Jason Ditz pieces:
Tillerson: North Korea Diplomacy Has Failed, and
Tillerson: Attacking North Korea Remains an Option;
Charles P Pierce: Don't Poke North Korea with a Stick Just to See What
Michelle Chen: Trump's Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America
Julie Hirschfield Davis: Trump, Day After Merkel's Visit, Says Germany
Pays NATO and US Too Little: Trump's been complaining for some time
about NATO member not paying enough for their common defense, and he's
sent Rex Tillerson out to shake down America's supposed allies, so this
isn't exactly new. There's much Trump doesn't understand, but one thing
is that a big part of the reason the US has so many subservient allies
is that the US pays for the deference, not just in allowing the US to
base troops on foreign soil but in ways like generous trade deals that
help countries develop through exports. Take those perks away and won't
people start wondering whether it's all worth it?
Allegra Kirkland: Huck: Trump Should Ignore Travel Ban Ruling, Like
Jackson With Trail of Tears: Says a lot when you take inspiration
from one of the most shameful facts in American history, but that's
where many Republicans are at: until they manage to stock the courts
with like-minded conservatives, they invite like-minded executives to
run amuck over niceties like law and constitution. Not clear that
Trump, a man who has put a lot of stock into using the courts for his
own gains, is there yet, or that if he was he wouldn't be facing a
widespread revolt from civil servants forced to choose between the
legal system and his executive ego.
Ezra Klein: Does Donald Trump know what the GOP health bill does?
Conclusion: "maybe not"; more to the point: "the AHCA does literally
none of the things Trump says it does."
Nancy LeTourneau: Checking in on Trump's 'Contract With the American
Voter': This is becoming a staple piece on the left, dredging up
Trump campaign promises and showing how few of them -- especially the
relatively decent ones -- have been implemented, or even followed up
on. This doesn't seem to phase Trump's actual supporters yet: they
have, after all, almost by definition become jaded cynics about the
political process, leaving them more inclined to see Trump's failures
as subversion by unseen forces. On the other hand, LeTourneau's list
includes a lot of "not introduced" Acts, which goes to show how the
Republicans in Congress have proceeded their own agenda, regardless
of how that fits in with Trump's own promises. Ryan, in particular,
seems to view Trump as his stooge, aided by the fact that Trump is
too lazy to work on his own agenda, and too hamstrung by the people
he's allowed himself to be surrounded by. Still, I suspect the day
is coming when we'll consider ourselves lucky anytime Trump breaks
a campaign promise.
Josh Marshall: He Seems Nice: Irony still in plan: "he" is Greg
Knox, described in a Pence tweet as "a small biz owner hurting under
Obamacare." So here's some context: "It shows Knox to be what policy
specialists refer to as a 'toxic right wing asshole.'"
Ian Millhiser: Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for
the poor at his college keggers: "Meet the most insufferable frat boy
in human history."
Tessa Stuart: Four Things We Learned About Trump's Tax Returns From
Rachel Maddow: Explained much more succinctly than what you got
from watching Maddow's program.
Amy B Wang: Why Trump's plan to slash UN funding could lead to global
Paul Woodward: Donald Trump's deceitful and misleading statements have
consequences: This keys off a long quote from
John Cassidy: Donald Trup Finally Pays a Price for His False and Reckless
Words, but I found Woodward's commentary more to the point:
Donald Trump could accurately assert: "I didn't get where I am today by
Like many people who believe in the supremacy of will power, he may
believe that being faithful to ones own interests and objectives is all
Trump is consistent in his unwillingness to bend to the will of others.
His America First policy is merely an inflation of his Trump
The idea that Trump might have the capacity to mend his ways -- to see
that his dishonesty no longer works -- derives, perhaps, from a misreading
of his pragmatism.
Trump isn't bound to any ideology. At the same time, he exhibits no
psychological flexibility whatsoever.
Trump believes in his own innate capabilities with which, in his own
imagining, he is so richly endowed he has no need to learn anything.
This reminds me a bit of another president not bound to any ideology:
Franklin Roosevelt. The difference, of course, was that Roosevelt did
learn from his mistakes. He saw, for instance, that his more conservative
impulses -- especially his fetish for balanced budgets -- were harmful,
while his more generous, more liberal, impulses worked much better. The
result was the most progressive administration in American history, but
few voters imagined that at the start. They simply wanted to try something
different, because the reign of Andrew Mellon and his three presidents
had been so disastrous. The election of Trump was based on much the same
reaction, but less decisive because disaster was much less universally
recognized (let alone commonly understood) in 2016, and because quite a
few people understood that Trump and/or the Republicans didn't offer any
real solutions -- indeed, they were major problems.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Patrick Cockburn: Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should
Stay Out. Should, but thus far Yemen is the war Trump has most
dramatically inserted himself in.
Tom Engelhardt: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home: Actually, his
third-tier title, after "Walled In" and "President Blowback." I'm not
sure "blowback" is correct, because most of the damage done to America
since Trump took office has been self-inflicted: the problem is less
that others are attacking so much as we've internalized the scars of
fifteen-years of the shocks of war:
It's clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far
beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to
unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police,
and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall
Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration
policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as
part of a project to construct another kind of "great wall," a conceptual
one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not
welcome or wanted here. Don't come. Don't visit.
All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears
that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that
Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted
heartland of the country. In the process, he loosed a brand of hate
(including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a
rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically
speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its
intensity in our present moment.
TomDispatch also published
Michael Klare: Winning World War II in the Twenty-First Century, on
Trump's nostalgia for the days when America actually won wars -- ignoring
that times have changed as pre-WWII empires have been rolled back on every
front, and that the US is no longer viewed as a country normally content
to mind its own business, that only joins wars when attacked, and that
doesn't plot to keep and plunder other nations. Indeed, the real problems
the US military face today aren't the sort that can be fixed with a few
more ships, planes, and troops.
Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was
funded and built: Robert Mercer is a hedge fund exec, the plural
evidently refers to daughter Rebekah, and the article goes into some
depth on how they've sowed their millions to promote right-wing causes,
especially through Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
While other donors gave more to support Trump's presidential bid last
year, the Mercers are now arguably the most influential financiers of
the Trump era. Bannon, who went on to manage the final months of Trump's
campaign before joining the White House, is the senior architect of the
president's policy vision. He is joined in the West Wing by counselor
Kellyanne Conway, a friend of Rebekah Mercer who led the family-funded
super PAC that backed first Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 race.
People who know them say the Mercers, who soured on traditional
political operatives, appreciated Bannon's business savvy and share
his belief that the conversation around politics must be changed for
their ideas to prevail. For all of their power and privilege, both the
family and their longtime adviser see themselves as outsiders, fighting
the grip of elite institutions.
One thing I was surprised by here was a $4 million donation to John
Bolton Super PAC. I wasn't aware of such a thing, but it probably explains
why such a useless and incompetent buffoon keeps managing to get his name
in the news.
Gold also wrote a comparable analysis of the Kochs (in 2014):
Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million
in 2012 elections; also co-wrote one on the Clintons (in 2015):
Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.
William Greider: Here's What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve:
"We demand way too much from the central bank -- but that's because our
elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy." The
Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates last week, in an effort
to throttle back the economy lest it grow to the point where wages actually
start to rise. That would normally be bad news for a sitting president,
but not for the bankers who sit with this particular one.
Greider also wrote:
Trump Is Fighting a New Trade War -- and This One Is Intramural,
about the "nasty White House battle [that] has broken out between
right-wing nationalists and globalist financiers," asking the
question: "Who owns this president -- the folks who voted for him,
or the power hitters of big business and banking?" That's actually
a novel question for a Republican president: with leaders like the
Bushes, Republican voters were merely consenting to oligarchic rule,
but didn't Trump promise something else? I'm not sure, but given
how readily Clinton and Obama turned against their voters, I hardly
expect Trump to show much spine.
Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Right-Wing Populism With 'Left-Wing
Economics': Article spends too much time rebutting a red herring from
Zack Beauchamp. My own suspicion is that the key to making an "Left-Wing
Economics" argument work is to name enemies and show how those enemies
take unfair advantage of working people, especially through their bought
influence on government, how their lobbying perverts the course of justice.
Not that we needed more examples, but the Trump administration is rife with
them. (Trump sure had a field day painting the Clintons that way.)
Richard Silverstein: Knesset Votes to Ban Palestinian Parties, Destroy
Israeli Democracy: In 1951 Palestinians still residing in Israel
were granted citizenship (a right that was not extended after 1967 as
Israel occupied and in some cases annexed additional Palestinian land),
and since then Palestinian political parties have been represented in
Israel's parliament (Knesset) -- to little effect, of course, as ruling
coalitions have very rarely even considered including them, but it's
always been a talking point, a big part of the Israel's claim to be a
This paragraph is meant as an aside, but is noteworthy:
Coincidentally, today a UN body issued a report
finding that Israel had become an apartheid state. It further urged
that the UN reactivate the methods, resolutions and commissions it used
to ostracize South Africa, when it too faced international opprobrium
for its racist policies. The new version of the Basic Law further
strengthens such findings.
Sunday, March 12. 2017
Donald Trump likes to talk about how he "inherited a mess": here's
one measure of that, a chart of private-sector payroll employment over
Obama's eight years:
Note first that the guy who really did inherit a mess was Obama,
following eight years of Republican misrule under GW Bush. Also, that
by ignoring cuts to public sector employment due to austerity measures
mostly (but not exclusively) pushed by Republicans, this overstates
the overall jobs gains a bit. Still, Trump's going to be hard-pressed
to sustain Obama's rate, given hat he's working with the same "wrecking
crew" that sunk Bush. Of course, you may not know all this, because
Obama spent very little time bitching about the hole Republicans dug
for him: he felt it important to recovery to project confidence, so
he consistently understated the recession early on. In doing so, he
did himself (and the country) a disservice, as he undercut the political
case for more emphatic reforms.
Dean Baker reviews the latest jobs figures:
Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery in February.
On the other hand, no false modesty from Trump:
Trump keeps claiming he's created US jobs since Election Day. As
the title continues: "Not so." Also:
Spicer: Trump Says Formerly 'Phony' Jobs Numbers Are Now 'Very Real'
For more, see
Matthew Yglesias: Sean Spicer's appalling answer about economic data
shows how far we've lowered the bar for Trump. Spicer's quip: "They
may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Zoë Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 7th Week That
Really Matters: Sub-heads:
- Instituted a new travel ban.
- Sent 400 Marines into Syria.
- Bombed Yemen more in a week than Obama did in a year.
- Broke a federal rule about the jobs report.
I've featured these pieces every week since inauguration, but frankly
the "federal rule" broken in the last point is a really stupid one, on
the order of misusing a comma in a press release. As the rest of this
post shows, there was much more amiss in the Trump world this week --
the purge of federal prosecutors, for instance, which shows the extent
to which partisan politics has taken over law enforcement in the minds
of Republican strategists.
More fallout on the Paul Ryan's health care hack (graphic right from
Zoë Carpenter: The GOP's Health-Care Plan Could Strip Addiction and
Mental-Health Coverage From 1.3 Million: Part of the Republican
effort to roll back Medicaid expansion.
Esme Cribb: Trump Admin Keeps Up Attacks on CBO Before It Scores ACA
Jesse Drucker: Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare
Jessica Glenza: Trump supporters in the heartland fear being left behind
by GOP health plan
Ezra Klein: Is the Republican health plan designed to fail? This piece
has gotten a lot of attention for Klein's fawning portrait of Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan isn't an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy
entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from
political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of
conservatism. The backing he's built for past proposals comes from
painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing
them for what he'll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing
processes where they feel heard, and so on. He's good at this kind of
The implication is that since he didn't do all that this time he
must not be serious about it.
Paul Krugman has a response:
But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance
of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals
that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely
operational -- they were filled not just with magic asterisks -- tax
loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved
via means to be determined later -- but with elements, like converting
Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if
they got anywhere close to actually happening.
In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling
social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically
just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be
produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has
he ever managed that?
What I'd say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur.
He's just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous
media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative
Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which
is a very different process. There's nothing strange about his inability
to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act. . . .
In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is.
Ryan isn't a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he's a
con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn't hammer
out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have
no idea what that would involve.
Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered
Jordan Weissmann: Trumpcare's Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That
Really Need a Favor Right Now
Matthew Yglesias: The Republican health plan is a huge betrayal of
Trump's campaign promises: As if anything Trump's done as president
Julia Belluz: Scott Gottlieb, Trump's FDA pick, explained: "Trump wants
to deregulate the Food and Drug Administration. He chose the right guy for
Anna Lenzer: Trump's Panama Problem And the Panama story didn't even
make Matthew Rosza's
This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest, the juiciest of
which was "Trump opened a hotel in the capital of Azerbaijan with 'The
Corleones of the Caspian' as his partners." Also this quote from Eric
Trump: "The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest
it has ever been." That quote was pulled from
Eric Lipton/Susanne Craig: With Trump in White House, His Golf Properties
Les Leopold: 6 reasons why Trump is too weak to save American jobs:
All six boil down to the fact that Trump, as a lifelong businessman,
inevitably winds up siding with investors in their pursuit of profits
over concerns for jobs and livelihoods. The "six reasons" are simply
examples of that, and are far from exhaustive.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Trump's Second Immigration Ban Unconstitutional?
Yes, among other things at least as troubling.
Bill Moyers/Henry A Giroux: Our President Is Up to No Good:
Actually, two pieces. Giroux's is especially stirring (at least,
reading it right after writing the piece on the Olathe shootings
Trump's ascendancy has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic
illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason
that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering
of civic attachments, the decline of public life and the use of
violence and fear to shock and numb everyday people. Galvanizing
his base of true-believers in post-election rallies, the country
witnesses how politics is transformed into a spectacle of fear,
divisions and disinformation. Under President Trump, the scourge
of mid-20th century authoritarianism has returned, not only in the
menacing plague of populist rallies, fear-mongering, hate and
humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of war, militarization
and violence that looms over society like a rising storm.
Matthew Nussbaum/Josh Dawsey: Trump's in the White House bubble, and he
loves it: "He's a creature of habit . . . and it works for him."
Janet Reitman: Betsy DeVos' Holy War: Some things you may not know:
Betsy DeVos' father, Edgar Prince, made his fortune manufacturing auto
parts (including perhaps his greatest innovation, the lighted sun visor),
and was one of the single largest donors to the Christian right. "No one
in the United States gave more money to James Dobson's Focus on the Family,
its Michigan Family Forum affiliate or its Washington, D.C., arm, the
Family Research Council, than the late Edgar Prince," notes Russ Bellant,
a Michigan author who has written extensively about the religious right.
After Prince died in 1995, Betsy's mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen,
continued funding religious-right causes, as has Betsy's brother, Erik
Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. Among the causes
the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has supported is the Foundation
for Traditional Values, which produced multi-media seminars and presentations
on "America's Judeo-Christian heritage," including the "biblical roots" of
government and our education system.
And some stuff you probably did:
Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended
a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the
education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure
in education circles, a leading advocate of "school choice" through student
vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private
and parochial schools.
There is also a quote from Trump calling school choice the "civil rights
issue of our time." Admittedly, not a fellow well known for his devotion to
Alexandra Rosenmann: Trump supporters call for "liberal genocide" and
deportation of Jews at Arizona rally
Harry Siegel: Trump to US Attorney Preet Bahrara: You're Fired:
This followed a political purge as Trump and Sessions "ordered 46
United States attorneys to resign immediately." When Bahrara didn't,
he was fired. Also see:
US Attorney in NY Fired by DOJ After Trump Previously Promised He'd
Stay On; also
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Amy B Wang: Preet Bharara said he wanted to be a
US attorney 'forever.' Well, he was just fired. One unfortunate
thing here is that focus on Bharara, whose record on prosecuting Wall
Street was checkered at best, has distracted from the bigger story,
which is the extent Trump and Sessions have decided to use federal
prosecutors for their own political agenda. [PS: Belatedly found one
piece that picks up this thread:
Elizabeth Warren says Trump pushed out prosecutors to install
Mark Joseph Stern: Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets: "The
president's solicitor general nominee Noel Francisco thinks executive
privilege should shield pretty much everything."
Cary Wedler: US Drone Strikes Have Gone Up 432% Since Trump Took Office:
On a per/day basis, compared to Obama's much longer term.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Bernard Avishai: It's Not Too Early for the Next Democratic Ticket:
Dude, it's way too fucking early. In fact, the subject should be zipped
until way after the 2018 elections, and I wish we could put it off until
well into 2020: partly because it'll do nothing but distract the press
from the real issues, but mostly because the next candidate should
represent the party, not usurp the party to stroke her or his ego
(which is what being the designated leader would do).
Dean Baker: Drugs Are Cheap: Why Do We Let Governments Make Them Expensive?
It's worth remembering that private health insurance was quick to add
pharmaceutical coverage to their plans because drug therapies were often
cheaper than medical interventions. Medicare was slow to follow suit,
and by the time they did drugs weren't so cheap any more. The price rise
was partly the effect of more money being available through insurance,
and partly the increasing callousness of the profit motive, but to cash
in the key has been government-granted patent monopolies, which give
companies the right to push patients (and insurers) to their limits --
a "right" they've lately been exploiting so universally it's become a
major driver of health care cost. There is an easy fix to this, and a
little public investment would more than make up for any reductions
companies might make to r&d.
Baker also wrote a major piece on the track record of his fellow
The Wrongest Profession.
Thomas Frank: The Revolution Will Not Be Curated: There must be a
better word for what he's getting at, but the people he's talking about
are those who sort and select things (originally art) to be presented
to larger groups of people (originally exhibitions). To call these people
filters suggests they're more passive than they in fact are. Another word
that comes to mind is experts, but that suggests they know more than most
seem to, and that they work by some relatively objective criteria which
we should respect -- in fact, many people who call themselves experts
are distinguished mostly by their partisan support for special interests.
Obviously, much can go wrong with all this curating, but it's impossible
to be broadly informed without tapping into intermediaries who pay much
more attention to specialists. Virtually all of the links in this post
came to my attention through curators I've found worthwhile, and if
you're reading this you're doing the same. Indeed, that makes me a
curator, as I suppose I am in other domains, such as recorded jazz.
Still not sure what Frank's title means, unless it's that in order to
break out of today's debilitating conventional wisdom you have to be
aware of how all this curating limits your options, and seek out info
beyond the commonplace. But as a practical matter, that just means
that you need to find better curators (and, I would add, hold them
Henry Grabar: Corporate Incentives Cost US $45 Billion in 2015,
Don't Really Work: Photo features Boeing, who recently extorted
$8.7 billion from Washington state for not (for now) moving jobs
Aamna Mohdin: The Dutch far right's election donors are almost exclusively
American: So rich Americans are trying to buy another election, something
they have a lot of practice doing at home, and as a little reporting would
easily reveal, abroad. For more on right-wing Dutch candidate Geert Wilders:
Michael Birnbaum: The peroxide-blonde crusader who could soon top Dutch
elections. Especially interesting is Wilders' experience of working
on an Israeli kibbutz ("a trip he described as transformative in shaping
his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views"). Another American publicly supporting
Wilders is Rep. Steve King (R-IA):
Iowa congressman lauds far-right Dutch politician, warning over
'demographics'. Curious how chummy the International Fraternal
Order of Fascists is at the moment, because one lesson history
teaches us is that nationalists ultimately find themselves at war
with one another, or falling obediently into the orbit of stronger
nationalists (as Quisling, Petain, and others prostrated their
nations to Hitler's Germany). Do the Dutch really want to elect
Wilders (or the French Le Pen) to be even more under Trump's (or
Putin's) thumb? [PS: Also on Wilders' funding:
Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate.]
Rich Montgomery/Andian Cummings: Arcs of two lives intersect in tragedy
at Austins bar in Olathe: Profiles of the Trump-inspired shooter
(Adam W. Purinton: "51, had long since seen his career as an air traffic
controller come to an end, gaining a reputation as an unhappy drinker as
he drifted from one low-level job to another") and victim (Srinivas
Kuchibbotla, 32, an engineer who had immigrated from Hyderabad, India;
he "had the American dream in his grasp: great job, happy marriage,
new house and plans for children"). Of course, Trump's spokespeople
were quick to disavow the shooting, but aside from its ending (which
they'd prefer to leave ambiguous) the whole Trump campaign was based
on exploiting the frustrations of folks like Purinton and rallying
their furor against people like Kuchibbotla. And it certainly is the
case that American businesses prefer hiring brilliant and optimistic
foreign-born professionals to trying to train undereducated and aging
malcontents like Purinton. We live in a society where even such paltry
welfare efforts as we make are more meant to belittle beneficiaries
than to build them up, so it's easy to see how Trump's supporters can
think the system favors immigrants over natives. And Democrats, having
taken every side of the issue (including for the Clintons a leading
roll in "ending welfare as we know it"), have had no coherent message,
allowing Trump to exploit this simmering wrath -- and to stir it up,
as we see here.
Vijay Prashad: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal
Paul Rosenberg: Stronger than Tea: The anti-Trump resistance is much
bigger than the Tea Party -- and it has to be.
Danielle Ryan: WikiLeaks CIA dump makes the Russian hacking story even
murkier -- if that's possible: I haven't followed the latest WikiLeaks
dump of confidential CIA documents enough to form an opinion on whether
it's a good or bad or mixed thing, and frankly don't much care. Clearly,
we already knew that the CIA was out of control, which we should have
expected simply due to the cloak of secrecy under which it works. Still,
this article makes some interesting points:
The Vault 7 leaks are not exactly a smoking gun for those who maintain
Russia's innocence where the DNC hacks and leaks are concerned -- but
they're not insignificant either. If anything, the new leaks should make
people think a little harder before putting their complete trust in the
CIA's public conclusions about the acts (or alleged acts) of enemy
states. . . .
The fact that the CIA -- an organization of professionals trained
in the most sophisticated methods of deception -- is front and center
promoting the idea that Assange is a Russian agent, should be enough
for anyone to take that idea with a pinch of salt.
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.
Sunday, March 5. 2017
For a while there, I thought I had shot my wad on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, but it didn't take long for the floodgates to open.
I thought I'd start this with a remarkable letter that appeared in the
Wichita Eagle by Gregory H. Bontrager, under the title "Trump on our
side" (emphasis added):
The same media that is hounding President Trump are the same ideological
malcontents that gave President Obama a free pass for eight lost years
of American history. Finally, the middle class has a friend in the White
If you like welfare, food stamps or unchecked borders, Obama is the
man for you. But if you work for a living or own your own business,
Trump is on your side. Despite media hype, the age of the working man
has arrived, as personified by Trump.
No more apologies will be accepted from America-hating elitists and
the clueless children they foster on college campuses.
The American worker will no longer be held hostage to insane
regulations by runaway bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency or rogue tax collectors in the IRS who have been weaponized by
Democrats to suppress political opposition.
The Democratic Party cares more about the rights of illegal aliens
than your children being able to walk safely down the streets of their
Whether they sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the city
councils of sanctuary cities, it is time to push aside these apostate
Americans and take our country back.
As someone who grew up in a union household, I can't help but be
moved by this "working man" rhetoric, although I recognize that close
to half of wage-earners in America are women, and that most of the
jobs people work at today are in the service sector, more or less
removed from the muscle and grime associated with the working men of
yore -- hardly a vanished species, but much less prevalent than in
my father's and grandfather's days. Nor do I begrudge the right of
some people "who own their own business" to think of themselves as
"working men" -- those, at least, who actually do some of their own
work, as opposed to the ones who merely bark orders and push papers,
but I know full well that nothing changes a person like controlling
a business' checkbook, especially politically.
Still, what I find unfathomable is how anyone who's not a real
estate magnate (or maybe a hedge fund manager) can imagine that
Donald Trump -- a man who's spent every waking moment in the last
fifty years pursuing his own wealth and celebrating his own ego --
would be on their side, or even give half a shit about them. Even
the author's laundry list of phobias doesn't justify his leap of
Most wage earners -- a more accurate if less romantic term than
"working man" -- understand that welfare and food stamps are part
of a safety net that, when properly supported, protects the lowest
earners from disaster. Even people who never directly make use of
such support benefit from living in a society which doesn't allow
abject poverty to fester. Similarly, most government regulation is
meant to protect workers and communities from the sort of abuses
that inevitably tempt profit-seeking private businesses. It's easy
to see why some short-sighted business owners may take umbrage at
inspectors and tax collectors, but aside from lost jobs when badly
managed businesses fail, workers generally benefit from policies
which keep businesses from cutting corners.
It is true that if you think your problems are caused by policies
which limit the greed and avarice of private companies, Trump will
(sometimes) be "on your side." And if you see "illegal aliens" as
some sort of plague, you may take some pleasure in Trump's callous
and cruel demonization of America's most downtrodden immigrants and
refugees. But neither of those stances makes you a "working man,"
nor does it guarantee that Trump will be your champion. For starters,
the man is a world class liar and demagogue, as should already be
clear from his selective memory of his campaign promises.
The stuff about Obama and the Democrats is harder to explain,
other than that the author appears to have indeed been held hostage
the last eight years, not by federal bureaucrats but by the right-wing
fantasy media. Although appeals to the vanishing middle class have
been a staple of both parties, few politicians in recent memory have
devoted so much of their rhetoric to the cause as has Barack Obama.
One might fault Obama for delivering so little to the middle class:
under him, despite a modest tax increase on the rich, income inequality
has continued to increase, the safety net has continued to fray, and
his signature health care program delivered at best a mixed blessing.
But the idea that with Trump replacing Obama "the middle class has a
friend in the White House" is patently absurd.
To be clear, the "middle class" most of my generation grew up in --
we're talking 1950s here -- was the product of two things: a strong
union movement which lifted both blue- and white-collar wage-earners
to the level where they could own houses and send their kids to public
colleges, and near-confiscatory (up to 90%) income tax rates on the
still well-to-do managers and owners. (Paul Krugman called this "the
great compression" -- see The Conscience of a Liberal.) Look
for anything like this in Trump's platform: there's not even a hint
of anything comparable. Rather, what the Republicans -- and this is
certainly why Trump chose to become one -- have pushed ever since
Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or the robber barons
who took over the GOP in the 1870s) is the notion that we'll all be
better off if only we let businesses pursue profits unfettered by
any sense of social responsibility. It should be clear by now that
only the very rich have benefited from that theory, and only to the
extent that they've been able to isolate themselves from the world
they've left behind. The "middle class" is not a natural condition
in capitalist society: it exists only because policies have forced
a more equal distribution of the national wealth. Take those policies
away, and, sure, a few people can become much richer, while a great
many slip into increasing poverty. And that's not just theory. That's
what has actually happened, to the extent that Republicans have been
able to seize power since 1980.
So there's nothing in Trump's platform to make him "a friend of the
middle class." But it's just as incredible to think he might be a friend
of anyone. Friendship is based on empathy, common understanding, and
mutual respect. To achieve that usually requires familiarity, engagement,
and interaction. But how much opportunity does someone like Trump get
to interact with even "middle class" (much less poor) people when he
lives in the penthouse on top of Trump Tower, is chauffeured around
town, and flies on private planes around the world -- at least to the
few spots where he owns luxury resorts full of deferential employees
and frequented by guests as rarefied as he himself is? Even leaving
aside his personality, charitably described as narcissistic, no one
can reasonably expect him to relate to, much less empathize with, the
everyday problems of most Americans.
The letter contains more absurdities, both of fact -- Obama, rather
notoriously, deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous
president -- and of interpretation -- I can't even imagine the "free
pass" he thinks Obama was granted, or what "eight lost years of American
history" even means. (Although thanks to Bush and Republican obstruction
of Obama we've wasted sixteen years. and counting, that could have been
used to counter global warming -- something future generations are sure
to judge us harshly for.)
The Kansas State Legislature passed a law repealing Gov. Sam Brownback's
income tax exemption for business owners, at long last promising to fill
a budgetary hole that has plagued Kansas since 2011. Brownback vetoed,
the House overrode, but the Senate barely sustained the veto, primarily
thanks to Republican Majority Leader Susan Wagle switching her position.
Richard Crowson drew the cartoon at right to mark the occasion. Sedgwick
County Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception to the cartoon, noting
that depicting Wagle as a "female dog" was tantamount to calling her a,
well, you know. Ranzau is probably the most outrageously reactionary
politician in Kansas, at least in recent years. Of course, it isn't his
fault that his name resonates as some lesser known Nazi extermination
camp, one you can't quite put your finger on. Still, one would be less
likely to make the connection if he had somewhat more moderate take on
Crowson thanks Ranzau for showcasing cartoon.
Robert Christgau forwarded this tweet by
James F Haning II, proclaiming it "perfect":
Donald Trump is a stupid man's idea of a smart man, a poor man's idea
of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man.
There certainly is a lot of projection concerning Trump. There is
scant evidence to support many of the traits his fans attribute to
him (although, even without tax returns, he does a fairly good job of
passing for rich, even compared to the bottom of the top percentile).
And rich seems to buttress the notions of smart and strong, especially
given that they don't stand up all that well on their own. He has a
bully aspect, but that's mostly exercised through lawyers; other than
that he talks big, but is known to tone it down when faced with likely
opposition (as during his campaign stop in Mexico, where he offered
none of the slander and fury of his post-visit immigration rant). As
for smart, he's clearly not even remotely a smart man's idea of smart.
Whether stupid men are that stupid is another question: he clearly has
a knack for exploiting some people's insecurities, and for projecting
himself as their savior. Part of that comes from a very instinctual,
almost bred-in, sense humans have that in crisis they should rally
behind the guy who looks strongest -- an instinct that's likely to
give you a Napoleon, a Churchill, or a Hitler (most of whom turned
out to be disasters). Part is that many Americans have way too much
admiration for the rich. And part is the luck of running against
people who hardly inspire anyone at all. But much of it is that with
Trump we have a man who is extraordinarily self-centered and immodest,
so much so he doesn't betray any lack of confidence in his abilities,
even though they are manifest to anyone who bothers to look.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
George Zornick/Zoë Carpenter: Everything Trump Did in His 6th Week That
Really Matters: A regular series that goes beyond chasing tweets.
- Halted a probe into airline-price transparency. "Stocks in
major airlines increased 2 percent."
- Absolved senior adviser Kellyanne Conway of wrongdoing. Re
her promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, contrary to federal
ethics rules. "The White House concluded that Conway acted 'without
nefarious motive,' and did not announce any disciplinary actions."
- Swore in a commerce secretary with serious conflicts of
interest. Multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross, who among other things
"served as the vice-chair of the Bank of Cyprus, 'one of the key
offshore havens for illicit Russian finance.'"
- His attorney general recused himself from Russia inquiries.
Jeff Sessions, who falsely testified to the US Senate during confirmation
that he had no contact with Russian officials.
- Announced a special exemption for the Keystone XL pipeline.
He also ordered that all pipelines be made with American steel "to the
maximum extent possible," which turns out to be not at all. (See
Keystone Pipeline Won't Use US Steel Despite Trump Pledge.)
- Ordered a review of water regulations. The first step
toward undoing clean water rules developed by the EPA under Obama.
Julia Edwards Ainsley: Trump administration considering separating women,
children at Mexico border
Eric Alterman: The Media's Addiction to False Equivalencies Has Left
Them Vulnerable to Trump: "Decades of conservative efforts to work
the press are paying off handsomely." I've described this as the "Earl
Weaver effect": you always argue with the umps, not so much to convince
them now as to make them more likely to give you a call later on (thus
avoiding another scarifying encounter).
Coral Davenport; Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming:
"The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for
California that was allowing the state to enforce tougher tailpipe
standards for its drivers." Also by Davenport:
Top Trump Advisers Are Split on Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
A few, like Rex Tillerson, recognize that withdrawal will have adverse
impact on how the US is viewed throughout the world. After all, it's
a pretty clear message: to protect our industry profits, we don't care
what the impact is to the rest of the world: fry, drown, whatever.
Note that even if the US doesn't formally withdraw, Trump's EPA is
already working hard to make climate catastrophe irreversible. Also
Steven Mufson/Jason Samenow/Brady Dennis: White House proposes steep
budget cut to leading climate science agency: maybe if we stop
studying the problem, we won't notice when it happens, so won't know
who to blame.
Josh Dawsey: Trump's advisers push him to purge Obama appointees:
Well, actually they'd like to purge much of the civil service as well
as a few dozen holdovers still trying to do their jobs. ("Candidates
for only about three dozen of 550 critical Senate-confirmed positions
have even been nominated.") A big part of the problem here is that
Trump campaigned by totally misrepresenting what Obama's administration
had been doing, treating it as all bad and therefore all in need of
radical change. But the election didn't change any laws, and policy
changes are subject to many checks and balances. No past administration
started with a clean slate, and most saw continuity as a virtue. Trump
is different partly because he set up the expectation of radical change,
and partly because his people have proven unusually incompetent -- I'd
say that's largely due to his party having made obstruction its norm
for eight years (after making destruction the norm for two terms under
GW Bush). Still, the immediately burning issue is that they're steamed
about leaks revealing their incompetence. A better solution would be
to try to behave in ways that aren't embarrassing to the public, but
that's a level of maturity they haven't grown into yet (if indeed they
Paul Feldman: A deadly pattern: States that went red during 2016 election
saw more workplace fatalities: Chart is pretty starkly amazing, with
only two states above 3.0 (New Mexico and Nevada) voting Democratic, and
only one state below 3.0 (Arizona) voting Republican.
Jon Finer/Robert Malley: How Our Strategy Against Terrorism Gave Us
Trump: Actually, the US doesn't have a strategy against terrorism
any more, and hasn't since it became clear that reconstructing Iraq
along Texas lines wasn't going to pay off. What passes for one is no
more than whacking all the terrorists we notice, or people in their
vicinity -- the sort of knee-jerk spasms dead chickens are noted for.
What gave us Trump was the callousness and ignorance of continuing a
hopeless and hapless war despite clear proof that of having no clue.
In early Bush days the US could present itself as some kind of friend,
and occasionally find acceptance and support, but those days are long
gone as the frustration of losing has turned Americans into haters of
all things Islamic. I think it was predictable from the start that
this approach would fail, but the authors are still committed to the
mission no matter how badly it fails.
Todd C Frankel: How Foxconn's broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt
on Trump's jobs plan: One thing I'm struck by is how many of the
companies Trump's counting on to "invest in America" are Chinese -- not
just that their offers are subject to political ploys but that their
bottom line depends on getting lower labor costs in the US than they
are already getting in China. This doesn't seem like much of a golden
Jonathan Freedland: Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican
party shares the blame
David Cay Johnston: Trump's Lament That He 'Inherited a Mess' of an
Economy? False! Sad! Various measures of the economy were actually
up for the last months of Obama's second term, with the median wage
"began rising in 2013 after 15 years of being in the doldrums." This
momentum, a far cry from the "mess" Trump has already started blaming
for his own incompetence, will likely continue to buoy Trump for months
or even a couple years to come, until Trump (like Bush before him)
blows it all to hell. For more on this, see:
Christian Weller: The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's
Paul Krugman: Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty:
At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been
caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.
[ . . . ]
In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character
of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S.
political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently
as Donald Trump. But this isn't just a Trump story. His ability to get
away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers:
almost all of his party's elected officials, a large bloc of voters
and, all too often, much of the news media.
[ . . . ]
But then you watch something like the way much of the news media
responded to Mr. Trump's congressional address, and you feel despair.
It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but
read calmly off the teleprompter -- and suddenly everyone was declaring
the liar in chief "presidential."
The point is that if that's all it takes to exonerate the most
dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we're doomed.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Is a State of Mind: Trump keeps insisting that he'll bring back
coal mining jobs, but nothing -- not technology and not economics --
suggests he can, no matter how much political will he puts behind it:
The answer, I'd guess, is that coal isn't really about coal -- it's a
symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community)
and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order
can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs
mostly just packaging.
One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by
the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can't deliver coal
jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.
Laila Lalami: Donald Trump Is Making America White Again: The detail
points are worth reading, but file this under really bad titles. For
one thing, America has never been white, no matter how marginalized
the political system made non-whites. For another, while Trump will
make America more hurtful for non-whites, nothing he can do will change
the racial, religious, and/or ethnic demography of the nation to any
meaningful degree. The most he and his fans can hope for is to slow
down what they view as a demographic disaster, and perhaps to jigger
the system a bit to politically marginalize what they view as undesirable
Americans -- that is, after all, the point of the voter suppression laws
that are all the rage in Republican legislatures.
Jefferson Morley: Who wins? Donald Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on jobs:
I had to read down the article to even find out what Trump was thinking
of as his jobs program: turns out it's the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax),
which is really just a tariff. The Kochs are organizing against BAT, and
they have things Trump doesn't have, like a grass roots organization
that has been very successful at getting Republicans elected to Congress.
(In many ways Trump sailed to the presidency on their coat tails.) So
no, it's pretty much dead in Congress, and there's damn little Trump
can do about that.
Paul Rosenberg: America's infrastructure disaster -- and why Donald Trump
will do nothing to fix it:
The last time it was issued, back 2013, our infrastructure got an overall
grade of D+, with a projected $3.6 trillion investment needed by 2020 --
more than 3 1/2 times the amount that President Donald Trump has promised
(mostly from private investors) over a much longer period. Grades ranged
from a high of a single B- for solid waste to a low of D- in two categories --
levees and inland waterways. There were more straight Ds than anything else --
for schools, dams, aviation, roads, transit, wastewater, drinking water and
hazardous waste. Rail and bridges both rated C+, ports a straight C, public
parks and recreation a C- and energy a D+. Even Bart wouldn't be proud of
The key problem is that we let business ideologues (mostly but not
exclusively Republicans) convince us that government can't do anything
competently (except wage war, which kind of proved their point) so
we're better off not wasting our money -- just wait for the private
sector to fill the need. This is, of course, exactly not how we got
all our infrastructure in the first place (the whole point of Jacob
S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government
Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper).
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest:
Favoritism from Vancouver to New York City. Rosza also wrote
President Pence's problems: Indiana Democrats say VP was "the worst
governor we ever had" -- something to bear in mind before you
Katy Waldman: We All Talk Like Donald Trump Now: Sad! Oh, dear!
Even when we satirize him the mental rot is contagious! As if we didn't
have enough to worry about already!
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is Mad Online at Obama, Schwarzenegger, and
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: This day (March 4)
in tweets. Personally, I'm just gratified that when Trump refers to
"McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate" he's treating them as bad things.
Nor do I especially mind him dissing Schwarzenegger, recently departed
from Trump's former reality show. For more on the latter (possibly
the week's least momentus "news") see:
Todd VanDerWerff: Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving The Celebrity
Apprentice. He blames President Trump.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's broader bout of political insanity:
William Astore: In Afghanistan, America's Biggest Foe Is Self-Deception:
Actually, that's true in America as well. When future generations look
back on America today (assuming they should be so lucky), one big thing
they will puzzle over is how so many people could have believed in so
much really crazy shit.
Tony Blair, Who Brought US the War in Iraq, Lectures on the Evils of
Populism: Or more to the point, "he criticizes the left for abandoning
centrist politicians," like himself -- where centrism means pretending
to have a social conscience while serving the advancement of "clean"
businesses like high-tech and finance. ("Tony Blair has worked as an
advisor to JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, since retiring as
James Carden: Why Does the US Continue to Arm Terrorists in Syria?
Well, because the US doesn't have a clue what it's doing in Syria, or
for that matter all across the Middle East. Because US strategists feel
the need to choose sides in a contest where no sides are viable let
alone right. Because they can't contemplate of resolving problems but
by force of arms. And because they, like the "terrorists" they claim
to oppose, see terror as a tactic for advancing political goals.
Ian Cummings: FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots -- but how many
are agency-created? I think it's pretty clear that Terry Loewen here
in Wichita would never have done anything but for FBI prodding. Several
other cases mentioned here are similar. I think the Garden City case
where three guys planned an attack on a Somali neighborhood was real,
but the FBI has a long history of trying to provoke crimes, and that
has probably gotten worse with all the "war on terror" nonsense.
Nelson Denis: After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans
Have Little to Show for It
Richard J Evans: A Warning From History: Review of Volker Ullrich's
recent biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, by the author of
The Coming of the Third Reich and two massive sequels. I can
see the fascination, but I'm more struck by the dissimilarities between
then and now -- one is reminded of Marx's quip about the arrival of
Napoleon III: "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Nor do I mean to downplay the real people hurt by Trump's policies and
acts. But Germany faced a real crisis in 1928-32, and Hitler presented
a plausible (albeit totally wrong-headed) solution until his absolute
self-confidence and ruthlessness drove the nation over a cliff. Trump's
demons are almost totally imaginary (his 40% unemployment rates, the
rampaging crime wave, hordes of demented illegal aliens, more hordes
of fanatical Muslims), and despite a modest Defense Department budget
bump (that will quickly be sopped up by graft) one doubts that he or
his anti-government henchmen will ever be able to turn the state into
a truly ominous force. Still, his impulses and tendencies are so bad
it helps to be reminded how catastrophically they've failed in the
Still, if you want to go further down this rathole:
Anis Shivani: Trump and Mussolini: Eleven key lessons from historical
fascism. Some key points:
- Fascism rechannels economic anxiety: key thing
is that it doesn't relieve it, it just redirects blame.
- Liberal institutions have already been fatally
weakened: I wouldn't say it's fatal here (yet), but Trump
wouldn't have risen without the discrediting of key institutions,
like the military in the Middle East and bankers everywhere.
- Of course it's a minority affair: The Tea Party
and the alt-right are every bit as vanguardist as the Bolsheviks,
but are rooted in venerable Americanisms, like Nixon's "dirty tricks"
and Lombardi's "winning is the only thing."
- Its cultural style makes no sense to elites:
which in turn makes it hard to counter; it's easy to prove that
Trump isn't smart but you won't impress his fans by doing so --
they've spent every moment of the last eight years loathing Obama,
suspecting that his brains are merely the engine of deviousness.
(Nor did Meryl Streep dissing football gain any traction.)
- No form of resistance works: Have fascists
ever been voted out of office, given that one thing they've always
been quick to do is to rig the system (much like the Republicans
with their voter restriction laws, though often even more brutal).
"Nothing ever works until fascism's logic, the logic of empire,
stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media
coverup is possible anymore." Actually the Axis was only "discredited"
by the most brutal military counterattack in history.
Daniel Politi: Pentagon Has Been Waging Secret Cyberwar Against North
Korea Missiles for Years: Perhaps this has something to do with why
North Korea is so paranoid, so erratic, and ultimately so dangerous?
We have thus far failed to develop the sort of taboo that inhibits
other forms of war, like chemical weapons -- in fact, cyberwar usually
doesn't even get recognized as such. In a better world, our recent brush
with Russian hacking would lead the US and Russia to work toward mutual
controls, including suppressing their own independent hackers. But as
long as we all think this sort of thing is OK it continues, sometimes
with dire consequences.
Thursday, March 2. 2017
Some weeks the shit's piling up so fast you have to get the shovel
out a few days early. I have little doubt that there will be this much
more by the weekend. Less sure I have the time and energy to keep up
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Glenn Kessler/Michelle Ye Hee Lee: Fact-checking President Trump's address
to Congress: The "fake news" media was, of course, much taken with
Trump's tone ("so presidential"), which as far as I can tell means he
refrained from pooping on stage and flinging it at the Democrats (and
for good measure Paul Ryan).
More on the speech:
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's War on Science: Mostly focused
on environmental science, which is a big enough subject, but most
likely nowhere near the sum. Stiff upper lip at the end: "At the
dawn of the Trumpocene, even under a regime fueled by contempt for
truth, facts will still matter." Even more so laws of physics, such
as the one that points out that every molecule of carbon dioxide
added to the atmosphere increases the amount of heat from sunlight
that is retained by the atmosphere.
David Dayen: Crony Capitalism at Work? Trump Adviser Carl Icahn Strong-Arms
Ethanol Lobby to Save His Company Millions
William Greider: Is Our President Bonkers?: Maybe, but he came up with
a clever con and sold it to just enough Americans.
Fred Kaplan: Money for Nothing: Trump is following through on his
campaign promise to increase Defense Department spending, submitting a
$54 billion increase over Obama's 2016 budget. Other pieces on the
Anne Kim: Why Trumpism Is Here to Stay: The author's antidote is
"broadly shared economic expansion," as this "puts more Americans in
a generous mood." But isn't that one thing that we can be sure will
not happen under Republican rule? After all, their prime directive
is to increase the concentration of wealth among the already rich,
even if that means producing less of it overall. You'd think that
Trump (if not Trumpism) would lose all credibility soon, but for now
they seem to figure they can hang on by decrying the "fake news"
that might rat them out.
Daoud Kuttab: US and Israel join forces to bury Palestinian statehood:
A point made clear by Netanyahu's very early visit to see Trump, who
knows little about the conflict, has no respect for America's customary
(albeit hapless) advocacy of international law, nor any concern that
the world view the US as a fundamentally friendly world power. Still,
could be worse: in 2008 Israel feared that Obama might make a serious
effort to pressure Israel into accepting a two-state partition, so
started a war against Gaza. Netanyahu knows better than to fear Trump,
who's so eager to please he's willing to do things that Israel only
says they want (tearing up the Iran deal, moving the US embassy to
Jerusalem) that he needs to be gently nudged back to sanity. Still,
Netanyahu has a problem: for the next four years, no one will look
toward the US to ineptly muddle up the "peace process" -- the idea
that Trump will be "an honest broker" is beyond laughable -- but in
the meantime people (especially in Europe) will see Israel as it
actually is: a deeply racist society and unjust oppressor state.
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy;
Jonathan Cook: Trump shows his hand on Israel-Palestine.
Jessica Lipsky: Ben Carson, Rick Perry confirmed to Cabinet posts:
On the same day, two of Trump's more ridiculous picks.
Lachlan Markay: Big Steel Sees Gold in Trump's Commerce Secretary
Wilbur Ross: Well, of course: after all, Ross made his billions
in big steel.
Jennifer Rubin: Why Jeff Sessions is in deep trouble: Sure, he
met with Russians, and sure, he lied about it. The former bothers
me far less than Nixon's efforts to sabotage Vietnam War negotiations
in 1968, or even Reagan's ploy to keep Iran from releasing hostages
to Jimmy Carter. After all, what Trump's people were telling Putin
is "keep your cool and don't overreact to Obama's sanctions -- when
we win we'll be more reasonable." There are innumerable things wrong
with Trump and his posse, but his Russia stance was actually saner
than what Obama and Clinton were offering. Of course, it's hard not
to applaud any scandal that undermines Jeff Sessions, but I'd rather
focus on real reasons for getting rid of him, like
Sophia Tesfaye: Jeff Sessions drops DOJ lawsuit against discriminatory
Texas voter ID case, reverses 6 years of litigation. Not that I
condone his lying, but it's no victory for progressives if the only
lying anyone gets sacked over is offending the neocon anti-Russia lobby
(cf. Flynn, Manafort, etc.) -- in fact, it's fucked up.
By the way, see
Glenn Greenwald: The New Yorker's Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable
Truths About US and Russia. Number one on that list is how much more
hawkish against Russia Clinton was than Obama. Way back I argued that she
would lose if people came to perceive her as the more dangerous warmonger,
and I think that's a big part of what's happening. Of course, her fans
didn't think that, nor did more critically balanced observers like myself,
but all of her campaign talk about "the Commander-in-Chief test" and her
obsession with nuclear launch codes may well have unnerved less informed
voters. In any case, until Democrats get over their obsession with
vanquishing foes abroad and focus on the real ones that are robbing us
bind, they won't be able to mount a credible defense against the class
war the rich are still winning within America.
Reihan Salam: Paul Ryan Could Kill Donald Trump's Political Future:
"If the president accedes to congressional Republicans' wishes to slash
the social safety net, he'll pay a very hefty price." While lots of
liberal-leaning pundits have been imploring the so-called sane regular
Republicans to rein in the patently insane president, I've been saying
all along that the most ominous threat comes from empowering Ryan and
his ilk in Congress -- a perception that is finally beginning to sink
in. For all their bluster, conservatives have always had to fall back
on the promise that their crackpot theories would ultimately be good
for all (well, most) people -- and not just the 1% (give or take a
little) they shill for. Still, now they have enough power to do some
real damage, and the more they exercise that power the more they will
Jordan Weissmann: Republicans Are Trying to Build a Welfare State That
Sucks for Everyone but Mutual Fund Managers
Richard Wolffe: Steve Bannon lifted his mask of death at CPAC; also
Sarah Posner: How the Conservative Movement Went All in for
Matthew Yglesias: What Trump has done (and mostly not done) from his
first 100 days agenda
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Bill Gates Is Clueless on the Economy
R Mike Burr: The Self-Serving Hustle of "Hillbilly Elegy": On J.D. Vance's
book, widely acclaimed as a book you should read to understand "Trump's
America" (well, not Trump, really, but some of the fools who voted for
Juan Cole: Sorry, Trump, China's cut-back on Coal Dooms Industry:
A few years ago China was poised to build so many coal-fired electricity
generators that it became likely that one nation, at the time a nation
in complete denial about global warming, would wind up frying the rest
of us. Since then at least half of those coal plants have been canceled.
Since then, it's become clear that if you consider the externalities --
which for China includes the good will of other nations fearful of being
fried -- coal is already an inefficient energy source. That's increasingly
obvious in the US as well, even though thanks to fossil fuel industry
clout most of those externalities go uncharged. And the trendline for
coal is getting worse, even with the President and Congress securely
in the industry's pocket.
Stanley L Cohen: Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel: The analogy
hits closer to home than "apartheid" (although that was merely the
South African term for a legal code of segregation inspird by and
borrowed from America's Jim Crow laws). Of course, the analogy is not
quite precise: the US and SA systems were meant primarily to preserve
a low worker caste their respective economies were built on, whereas
the Israeli system seeks to make Palestinian labor (hence Palestinians)
superfluous, and as such is an even more existential threat. Article
does a good job of reminding you not just that separate is inherently
unequal but that segregated systems are sustained with violence and
Cohen also wrote
Trump's 'Muslim ban' is not an exception in US history, rubbing it
in a little when it might be more effective to explain how such bans
are inimical to American ideals even if they've recurred frequently
throughout American history.
Mark Lawrence Schrad: Vladimir Putin Isn't a Supervillain: This
seems like a fairly realistic evaluation of Russia, after first
positing two strawman arguments and showing how neither is all that
true. I'll add that there are a few countries what once had larger
empires and have never quite shaken the mental habit of thinking
they should still be more powerful than they are: this is true of
Russia and China, would-be regional powers like Iran and Turkey,
and several ostensible US allies (notably Britain, France, and
Saudi Arabia), and if you possess the ability to look cleary in
a mirror, the United States as well. (Germany and Japan were
largely cured of this by the crushing weight of defeat in WWII,
although you see glimpses in, e.g., Germany's role in breaking
up Yugoslavia and Japan's weird dread of North Korea.) What has
thus far passed for Russian aggression has so far been limited
to adopting breakaway regions of now independent former SSRs --
Crimea from Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.
On the other hand, the US has been extending its NATO umbrella
into previously neutral former SSRs, building up its Black Sea
fleet, installing anti-missle systems focused on Russia, and
imposing sanctions to undermine the Russian economy, and trying
to influence elections in places like Ukraine and Georgia to
heighten anti-Russian sentiments. Given all this, who's really
Of course, were I a Russian, I'm quite certain that I'd have
no shortage of
political disagreements with Vladimir Putin. But the US doesn't
have (or deserve) a say in who runs Russia. At best we can refer
to standards of international law, but only if we ourselves are
willing to live by them -- which, as was made clear by Bush's
refusal to join the ICC we clearly are not. An old adage is that
you should clean up your own house first, and that's the thing
that American politicians should focus on.
Sunday, February 26. 2017
Another week, so here we go again.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Kevin Carey: Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era
Tom Engelhardt: A Trumpian Snapshot of America: The list of things
gone wrong in America is trenchant as usual, but his nutshell conclusion
leaves something to be desired:
We're living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run
(to the extent it's run at all) by billionaires and retired generals,
and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant
parts of the national security state. That, in a nutshell, is the
America created in the post-9/11 years. Put another way, the U.S. may
have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq
in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade
itself with remarkable success.
Not sure what the last part even means, but the state we're in is
clearly due to two inadequately checked notions: one is the fact that
we've allowed the rich in America (and throughout much of the world)
to become utterly shameless in their pursuit of ever greater wealth;
the other is that we've allowed the US and its "allies" to engage in
perpetual war. Unfortunately, it's not just the Republicans who have
invested in those notions. A large segment of the Democratic Party has
too -- notably Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and new DNC Chairman Tom
Julie Hirschfield Davis/Michael M Grynbaum: Trump Intensifies His Attacks
on Journalists and Condemns FBI 'Leakers'
Max Paul Friedman: Trump's Refugee Ban Is Even Crueler Than You Think.
Michelle Goldberg: It's Bad: "The first month of the Trump presidency
has been more cruel and destructive than the majority of Americans feared.
The worst is yet to come." More (although I would have picked a totally
different laundry list, emphasizing how mainstream Republicans loom as
the real threat to most people):
Every day there's a new Trumpian outrage that in an ordinary presidency
would be a multiday scandal: an ostensibly light-hearted threat to invade
Mexico, a casual dismissal of a potential Palestinian state, a feud with
a reporter or an actor or a department store. Trump lies so much it's as
if he's intentionally mocking the impotence of truth. He shamelessly
profits off his office, reveling in our powerlessness to stop him. His
closest aide is an unkempt racist who has described Nazi propagandist
Leni Riefenstahl as a role model. A senior adviser uses her administration
perch to hawk the president's daughter's line of polyester-blend workwear
in a blatant violation of ethics rules. Trump himself is either enmeshed
in a subversive relationship with Vladimir Putin, or he's willing to appear
to be. He and his coterie make a fetish of patriotism yet take a perverse
antinomian pleasure in defiling the presidency.
I count Goldberg among those left-leaning liberals who actually thought
Hillary Clinton promised good progressive policy, as opposed to those of
us who saw her as a marginal (but clear) alternative to the vicious slime
that other party was offering. Scapegoating Putin and Russia is ridiculous
on its face, and wrapped up with the sort of imperialist and belligerent
jargon Democrats should know better than spouting, but evidently Clinton's
most dead-end supporters still find that preferable to admitting her faults
and starting to correct for them.
Glenn Greenwald: The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a
Long-Standing US Playbook. Also see:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Neo-McCarthyite furor around Russia is
Nicholas Kulish/et al: Immigration Agents Discover New Freedom to Deport
Under Trump. Another example:
Australian children's author Mem Fox detained by US border control.
Josh Marshall: Tourism Industry Hit by Trumpism Bigly, also
Anne Kim: The Long-Term Economic Wreckage of Trump's Travel Ban.
Oliver Milman: Scott Pruitt vows to slash climate and water pollution
regulations at CPAC: Pruitt is Trump's new EPA head -- one of the
very worst imaginable people for the job, and likely to be one of the
most destructive forces in our near future.
Sarah Posner: CPAC's Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward.
Steven Simon/Daniel Benjamin: The Islamophobic Huckster in the White
House: Specifically, Sebastian Gorka, "an itinerant instructor in
the doctrine of irregular warfare and former national security editor
at Breitbart," which is, of course, the rock Steve Bannon found him
lurking under. Also see:
Jacky Fortin: Who Is Sebastian Gorka? A Trump Adviser Comes Out of the
Shadows. If you're keeping track of such things, note that Gorka
is an immigrant (born in the UK of Hungarian parents, although he is
now a US citizen) and was recently arrested (for carrying a gun into
an airport, but the charge was later dropped).
Jessica Valenti: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't the only bigot Republicans
are cozy with.
Olathe shooting: Friend and widow on US shooting: Surprised not
to see any coverage of this in the Wichita Eagle, but BBC is all
over it. Olathe is near Kansas City. The shooter targeted several
people of Indian descent, first asking if they were "in the United
States illegally, questioning where he'd come from." Of course,
White House: 'Absurd' to Suggest KS Shooting Linked to Trump's
Jamelle Bouie: A Deafening Silence.
Paul Woodward collected this and similar links, including other events
following the same pattern.
The Eagle did have a lot of coverage of the one-year
anniversary of a mass shooting in Hesston, northwest of Wichita.
One tidbit there was that the shooter explained he did meth rather
than marijuana because his company (the scene of the shooting)
drug-tested employees and meth was harder to detect.
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Andrew Bacevich: At the Altar of American Greatness: There's a line
deep into this piece about how "it's the politics that's gotten smaller,"
and indeed this piece is a good deal smaller than at first advertised --
see the subtitle: "David Brooks on Making America Great Again." Brooks
is normally an easy target, but Bacevich stumbles, declaring "among
contemporary journalists, he is our Walter Lippmann, the closest thing
we have to an establishment-approved public intellectual." Lippmann
retired in 1967, so for me was a famous name that signified little --
even today most of what I know about him I had gleaned from Walter
Karp's The Politics of War, which featured him as a prominent
hawk behind the so-called Great War, but while he often catered to
political power, the main thing he's remembered for was his cynicism
about the ignorance and gullibility of the American people. Brooks,
on the other hand, is little more than a partisan hack with a bit of
cosmopolitan make up to pass muster with New York/Washington elites.
Still, it's interesting that Bacevich digs up a Brooks column from
1997 prefiguring Donald Trump (cue Marx's joke about tragedy/farce),
titled "A Return to National Greatness" -- a title Brooks reiterated
in 2017. Especially precious is the line: "The things Americans do
are not for themselves only, but for all mankind." He should pinch
himself to recall that he's talking about a country which positively
worships the ideal of individuals pursuing their self-interest -- as
witnessed by the fact that we just elected as president a guy who has
done nothing but for more than fifty years.
Under the circumstances, it's easy to forget that, back in 2003, he
and other members of the Church of America the Redeemer devoutly
supported the invasion of Iraq. They welcomed war. They urged it.
They did so not because Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil -- although
he was evil enough -- but because they saw in such a war the means
for the United States to accomplish its salvific mission. Toppling
Saddam and transforming Iraq would provide the mechanism for affirming
and renewing America's "national greatness."
Anyone daring to disagree with that proposition they denounced as
craven or cowardly. Writing at the time, Brooks disparaged those
opposing the war as mere "marchers." They were effete, pretentious,
ineffective, and absurd. [ . . . ]
In refusing to reckon with the results of the war he once so
ardently endorsed, Brooks is hardly alone. Members of the Church of
America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably
incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary
efforts have yielded.
Brooks belongs, or once did, to the Church's neoconservative branch.
But liberals such as Bill Clinton, along with his secretary of state
Madeleine Albright, were congregants in good standing, as were Barack
Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So, too, are putative
conservatives like Senators John McCain, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, all
of them subscribing to the belief in the singularity and indispensability
of the United States as the chief engine of history, now and forever.
[ . . . ]
That Donald Trump inhabits a universe of his own devising, constructed
of carefully arranged alt-facts, is no doubt the case. Yet, in truth,
much the same can be said of David Brooks and others sharing his view of
a country providentially charged to serve as the "successor to Jerusalem,
Athens, and Rome." In fact, this conception of America's purpose expresses
not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own
arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the
wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump.
Srecko Horvat: Tom Hardy's Taboo goes to the heart of our new imperialist
darkness: Not sure the series is that coherent, but the asides like how
"colonialism doesn't cause misery only in poorer countries, it boomerangs
back to rich countries with their rising inequality" are spot on. Also he
notes how today private companies, much like the "honourable" British East
India Company two centuries ago, have become far-from-benign forces all
around the world (and he didn't even cite Exxon Mobil as an example).
Robin McKie: Biologists say half of all species could be extinct by end
of century: Not really a new story: I read a lot about mass extinction
back in the 1990s and maybe earlier, when the Alvarez theory of the K-T
extinction event became popular and Carl Sagan came up with the notion of
"nuclear winter." So, no surprise that it's gotten worse. Still, I'm struck
by how the threat has receded in our consciousness as our politicians keep
coming up with more urgent short-term crises. Thinking about the end of
the century has started to look like a luxury.
John Nichols: Tom Perez Narrowly Defeats Keith Ellison for DNC Chair:
Margin over Keith Ellison was 35 votes. It's tempting to regard Perez
as a corporate stooge, but
Esme Cribb has him saying some useful things, like: "I heard from rural
America that the Democratic Party hasn't been there for us recently"; "We
also have to redefine our mission"; and "Our unity is our greatest strength,
and frankly our unity is Donald Trump's greatest nightmare." Underscoring
that unity, he named Ellison "deputy chair" (see
Trump Claims DNC Chair Race Was 'Totally Rigged,' Offers No Evidence.