Sunday, October 29. 2017
Just the bare bones this week.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional
Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped;
Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially
an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:
There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German,
French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."
Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and
nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy
questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths
of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."
Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators,
Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.
The real stakes in the tax reform debate:
Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with
Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining
challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left
and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an
unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model
of American politics.
Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to
the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian
form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class
But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the
culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous
fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying
under the banner of "tax reform."
Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House
Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but
even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of
Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the
American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game.
Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular
company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment
profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive
investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally
catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the
global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to
boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will
end up better off.
Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the
taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the
best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to
workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches
such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost
everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only
way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend
it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does
account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when
the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that
even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have
more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of
the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and
the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate
demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive
capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts
generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial
that "almost everyone benefits."
Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded
former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader,
believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The
piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a
political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes,
and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.
Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before
the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox
Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about
any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and
"Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."
Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on
a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an
unspecified economic development bill of some kind.
Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be
considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox
didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda,
because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as
to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill,"
means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big
infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly
and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says
something unusually inflammatory.
Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.
Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear
Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation:
Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of
communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will
is weak. Campbell has also written:
My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous
Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse
the federal government of leaving people to die.
Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract:
Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's
home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people
look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance:
Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more:
Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny
Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also
Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing
Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.
Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world:
I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy
from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies
that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed
values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:
Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't
consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for
example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found
celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that
"stock market averages will go up around the world."
The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release
of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN
"Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the
president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made
this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done.
He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in
eight years. He's the true hawk."
Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:
For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane.
Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale
Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler"
tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .
That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the
Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a
feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president
who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .
Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have
seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students
chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial
epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico,
again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently
reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who
themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane
Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and
believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."
The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen
years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has
always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never
took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning
compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on
people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he
launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers.
Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to
Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even
more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.
Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure'
due to job vacancies.
Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth
swells to $6tn.
Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the
strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in
technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double
that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average
interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street
John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and
Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in
Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and
chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts."
One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military
itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would
add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits
with little real evidence to back them up.
Paul Woodward also adds:
The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this
administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires,
is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for
his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this
kind of Teflon political protection.
Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between
us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle
to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump
and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the
executive branch of government.
Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see
Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious
misconduct: That just since 2013.
Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken:
"The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually,
I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" --
for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the
biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans --
including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not
lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant."
Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First
Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants.
Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core
Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically
Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11
Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.
Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting
Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.
Sunday, October 22. 2017
I didn't get a head start on this -- in fact, started after dinner on
Sunday, so it's pretty quick and dirty, with a limited set of sources.
Still, it's so easy to find such appalling stories that posts like this
practically write themselves.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 political stories that actually mattered this week:
We got a bipartisan insurance stabilization deal: thanks to Sens.
Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), but: Republican leaders
don't seem to want a deal, like Paul Ryan, with Trump both waxing and
waning; The administration tested some new tax arguments, like
"corporate tax cuts boost wages" and "math forces tax cuts for the rich";
Nobody knows what's happening with NAFTA, hence no real story here,
but Trump's folks are blowing some smoke. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
The raging controversy over Trump and the families of fallen soldiers,
explained: well, more like summarized, as it's hard to explain how
tone-deaf Trump is in human interactions as straightforward (albeit no
doubt unpleasant) as issuing condolences.
Yet Trump has managed to completely and utterly botch this relatively
simple job less than a week after creating a major diplomatic crisis
with Iran for no particular reason. The humanitarian crisis in Puerto
Rico appears to be, if anything, intensifying as citizens cope with a
chronic lack of safe water. The president has willfully destabilized
individual health insurance markets without any clear plan and is
actively scuttling congressional efforts to stabilize the situation.
Other serious challenges are lurking out there in the world, yet the
Trump administration seemed incapable of issuing a simple condolence
statement or answering a question about it without unleashing a
multi-front political fiasco.
Trump aide says manufacturing decline increases abortions, death, and drug
abuse: "He might be right." Reviews research on "China shock" -- what
happens to areas hard hit by job losses due to cheaper imports. You can
blame this on trade deals, but it's also indicative of the frayed safety
net all across the country.
Republians say they can't figure out how to not cut taxes for the
rich: "It's really not very hard." If, say, you wanted to lower
rates on the first $100k of income, that would reduce taxes on those
who make more too, but you could offset that by increasing the rate
further up the income scale. Or you could do it lots of other ways.
And don't bother cutting the estate tax, something no one in the
middle class has to pay -- that's only a benefit for the very rich.
Trump says a big corporate tax cut will boost average incomes by $4,000
Sarah Aziza: How Long Can the Courts Keep Donald Trump's Muslim Ban at
Bay? Two federal judges issued injunctions against the third iteration
of Trump's travel ban last week.
Julia Belluz: White House officials think childhood obesity is not a
problem. Have they seen the data? Their campaign to wipe out
Obama's legacy (in this case, Michelle Obama's) continues apace.
Aida Chavez: House Republicans Warn Congress Not to "Bail Out" Puerto
Jason C Ditz: What Are U.S. Forces Doing in Niger Anyway?: Four US
Special Forces were killed in an ambush a couple weeks ago, finally
pointing a spotlight on US intervention there (much like the Benghazi
Turns out that for five years Niger has been a toe in the expanding
American footprint in Africa, and has become a hub of U.S. military
activity (about 800 soldiers are serving as advisors and training
local forces there now) and, according to Nick Turse, the location
of a brand new $100 million drone base. Meanwhile, the region has
become a crossroads of Islamist activity, from Boko Haram in Nigeria
to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel. And now,
apparently, ISIS. . . .
Niger is far from the exception. In March 2012, the Pentagon
confirmed that U.S. troops were attacked in the southern Yemeni
city of Aden, and that a CIA officer was killed. This was the
first time officials confirmed that the U.S. had ground troops
operating inside Yemen at all. The revelation is even more stunning
when one recalls that the White House publicly ruled out sending
ground troops to Yemen several times in the years leading up to
More war news from around the world:
Lee Fang/Nick Surgey: Koch Brothers' Internal Strategy Memo on Selling
Tax Cuts: Ignore the Deficit: After all, deficits only matter when
a Democrat is president and might use deficits for expanding services
and/or growing the economy -- things Republicans oppose and, especially,
want to make sure no Democrat gets credit for. But when Republicans are
in power, well, as Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter."
Sarah Kliff: Medicare X: the Democrats' supercharged public option plan,
explained: Specifically, Sens. Bennet and Kaine, a plan that makes
less sense than Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all but would involve less
turmoil by adding a Medicare-based plan to the Obamacare exchanges as a
public option, increasing competition for private insurance plans.
Paul Krugman: Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies,
Lies: A propos of the Trump's "new" arguments for slashing taxes,
Modern conservatives have been lying about taxes pretty much from the
beginning of their movement. Made-up sob stories about family farms
broken up to pay inheritance taxes, magical claims about self-financing
tax cuts, and so on go all the way back to the 1970s. But the selling
of tax cuts under Trump has taken things to a whole new level, both in
terms of the brazenness of the lies and their sheer number. Both the
depth and the breadth of the dishonesty make it hard even for those of
us who do this for a living to keep track.
He then comes up with a list of ten (see the article for details,
although you're probably familiar with most of them already):
- America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
- The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
- Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
- Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
- Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
- This is not a tax cut for the rich
- It's a big tax cut for the middle class
- It won't increase the deficit
- Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
- Tax cuts will pay for themselves
One thing that's missing in this debate is what do we need taxes for.
Some people argue that taxes should be limited to a certain percentage
of GDP -- often the same people who don't understand why government
spends more now than it did under Coolidge or McKinley. I think it's
obvious that a lot of things that we need in today's economic world
are necessarily more expensive than they were in past eras (especially
things that didn't really exist back then). To figure this out, one
needs some kind of multifactor analysis, and I think especially one
has to ask what things are most efficiently produced and distributed
through public channels. I think this list is large and growing, and
may include things that surprise you. If this list is as large as I
think, we need to be looking not at ways to cut taxes but at ways to
grow them, and how to do so fairly and efficiently. As it is, the
relentless focus on cutting taxes is an attack on public spending,
and ultimately on the public taxes are meant to serve.
Jane Mayer: The Danger of President Pence: A profile of the
vice president, one which raises plenty to be alarmed about, not
least because his odds of being elevated to the presidency via
the 25th amendment (the one that says all it takes is a majority
of the cabinet to find Trump incompetent -- perhaps something
Trump should have considered before giving Pence so much say in
picking nominees). For more on the 25th, see
Jeannie Suk Gersen: How Anti-Trump Psychiatrists Are Mobilizing
Behind the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
Anna North: A detained 17-year-old immigrant wants an abortion. The
government went to court to stop her. Here's a case where the
Trump administration isn't being run like a business -- try finding
an angle where it makes sense for the government to prevent a detained
emigrant from obtaining an abortion -- but more like a shady religious
cult. For more cultlike behavior:
Doe is not the only minor who's been affected by the policy, according
to the ACLU. In March, according to court documents filed by the group,
another minor at a shelter in Texas chose to have a medication abortion
after getting a judge's permission for the procedure. After she had
taken the first dose of the medication, ORR officials forced her to go
to an emergency room to see if the abortion could be reversed. Ultimately,
she was allowed to proceed with the abortion and take the remaining dose
of the medication. In another case, the ACLU said, Lloyd traveled from
Washington, DC, to meet personally with a young woman to try to convince
her not to have an abortion.
Jon Schwartz: It Didn't Just Start Now: John Kelly Has Always Been a
Hard-Right Bully: The former Marine General has had a tough week,
not only failing repeatedly to keep Trump from embarrassing himself,
but having his own Trumpian moment making baseless charges against
Rep. Frederica Wilson. The best Trump mouthpiece Sarah Sanders came
up with in Kelly's defense was
It's "highly inappropriate" to question John Kelly -- because he's a
general. Schwartz compresses "Kelly's worldview, as expressed in
2010" into this short list:
- No one outside of the military can legitimately question any
of America's wars.
- No one who is in the military ever questions any of
- America and its wars are and have always been good.
- America is under terrifying threat from incomprehensible
- Our country is hamstrung by its sniveling "chattering class."
I've run across many more links on Kelly and Wilson, but I'd rather
point out this one:
Alice Speri: Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray
Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids.
Matt Shuham: Forbes: Trump Drops on 'Richest Americans' List as Net Worth
Takes a Hit: Down $600 million to $3.1 billion, dropping 92 spots
(from 156 to 248). No real analysis here as to why. Certainly, it's not
because he's resolved his conflicts-of-interest and made it impossible
to use his office to feather his own nest. And this looks extra bad with
the stock market setting new record highs. On the other hand, leaving
his day-to-day business decisions in the hands of Jr. and Eric may not
ave been the smartest idea. And naming so many properties after himself
has politicized them, which makes their value at least partly subject
to his extraordinarily low popularity.
Sunday, October 15. 2017
Every week since January has featured multiple stories about how
Donald Trump (and/or the Republicans) are corrupting government,
undermining democracy, degrading our short- and long-term economic
prospects, and quite often endangering world peace. Still, most of
those stories could be understood as some combination of the greed,
demagoguery, and narrow-minded ignorance that constitutes what passes
as the conservative world-view. But some things happened this week
that makes me think Trump has crossed a previously unknown line into
a qualitatively new level of, well, I'm groping for words, trying to
avoid "evil," so let's call it derangement. The US withdrawal from
UNESCO was the first such story, followed by the trashing of the
agreement with Iran to terminate their "nuclear program," but then
there was Trump's executive order to undermine Obamacare -- an act
of pure spite following the Republican failure to repeal the ACA.
As Ezra Klein's tweet explains:
Trump's new policy will increase premiums by 20%, cost the government
$194 billion, increase the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, and
increase the number of uninsured Americans. There is nothing it makes
better; it's pure policy nihilism.
Sure, I've often felt like Republicans generated their policy ideas
from a deep well of spite and vindictiveness, with scant concern for
consequences because deep down they really didn't give a shit about
anyone other than themselves (actually, a small subset of the fools
they manipulating into voting for them). But usually you could also
discern a positive slant, like their fondness for helping predatory
businesses rip everyone else off. Trump certainly isn't beyond that,
especially for his own businesses, but he mostly leaves such matters
to his subordinates -- after all, their experience in business and
lobbies gives them a command of detail he lacks, as well as motives
he doesn't disapprove of.
That's should have left Trump free to focus on "big picture" items,
but not understanding them either, he's been preoccupied with petty
feuds and tone-deaf publicity stunts, but his hatred for Obama is so
great that he'll gladly sign any executive order that wipes out any
hint of his predecessor's legacy. That's the source of much of his
policy nihilism, although he's occasionally broken new ground, as
with his UNESCO withdrawal -- ending 72 years of more/less trying to
work with the rest of the world's nations for the common good.
I suppose what this really means is that for the first time since
he took office, I've come around to the view that Trump is actually
worse than the run-of-the-mill Republicans in Congress and now in his
cabinet and office. I've long resisted that view, partly because the
media bend over backwards to excuse and legitimize the latter, and
partly because even though I disapprove of Trump's obvious character
flaws (e.g., racism, sexism, xenophobia, vanity, violence, mendacity,
ostentatiousness, sheer greed) I prefer to judge people on what they
do rather than what they think or believe. (Indeed, those flaws are
pretty common in America, but most people have enough of a superego
to try to limit their exposure and maintain social decorum -- Trump,
as is becoming more obvious every day, does not.)
On the other hand, let's not forget that Trump started to wander
off after giving his little rant about Obamacare, and it was Mike
Pence who grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him back to actually
sign the executive order. That's an image to keep in mind if, say,
Trump is finally dispatched as too much of an embarrassment -- and
here I have to agree with Steve Bannon that the odds favor a cabinet
coup using the 25th amendment to Congress taking the more arduous
road to impeachment.
Some scattered links this week:
Aaron Blake: Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new
poll says. Is it the Trump Effect? Actually, a plurality, 46-41% in
favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea. Other polls produce
different results, possibly depending on how the question is phrased.
I doubt if even 1% of the Republicans polled have any understanding of
North Korea's preparations for responding to such an attack, hence of
the risks and likely costs of starting a war there. On the other hand,
one may expect Mattis, Tillerson, and the upper ranks of the uniformed
to at least have some idea: thousands of pieces of artillery that can
reach Seoul (population 10 million, metro area 25 million), the range
of rockets that can reach further (up to the US mainland), a few dozen
nuclear warheads (some with hydrogen boost), the vast array of defensive
tunnels, one of the largest military forces in the world. The latest
assessment I've seen is that the US would prevail in such a war (assuming
China does not intervene, as it did in 1950), but it wouldn't be easy
and the costs would be great. Tillerson was recently quoted as saying
he'll continue negotiating "until the first bomb falls" -- it's hard
to take much comfort in that given that Trump's been quoted as saying
his Secretary of State is wasting his time. Moreover, see
Choe Sang-Hun: North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military
Plans, Lawmaker Says, including a "decapitation plan" for an
attack targeting Kim Jong-Un. Also note the report that
Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal -- while
beyond ridiculous, such a report would play directly into North Korea's
paranoia. Indeed, Trump is playing Nixon's
Madman theory much more convincingly than the Trickster ever did.
(For a recent review, see
Garrett M Graff: The Madman and the Bomb. Among other things, this
article points out how elated Trump was in ordering the "Mother of All
Bombs" dropped in Afghanistan, adding "All the previous worries about
the potential of a deranged president to use a nuclear button irrationally
have been multiplied.") Lately Trump has made a number of bold unilateral
moves, evidently meant to reassure his base that he can act dramatically
on their prejudices. The more he senses support for striking North Korea,
the more likely he is to do it.
Tina Brown: What Harvey and Trump have in common: Harvey is Weinstein,
the movie mogul and current poster boy for serial sexual abuse. Brown left
her job at The New Yorker to work for him, and this is what she
What I learned about Harvey in the two years of proximity with him at
Talk was that nothing about his outward persona, the beguiling Falstaffian
charmer who persuaded -- or bamboozled -- me into leaving The New Yorker
and joining him, was the truth. He is very Trumpian in that regard.
He comes off as a big, blustery, rough diamond kind of a guy, the kind
of old-time studio chief who lives large, writes big checks and exudes
bonhomie. Wrong. The real Harvey is fearful, paranoid, and hates being
touched (at any rate, when fully dressed).
Winning, for him, was a blood sport. Deals never close. They are
renegotiated down to the bone after the press release. A business meeting
listening to him discuss Miramax deals in progress reminded me of the wire
tap transcripts of John Gotti and his inner circle at the Bergin Hunt and
Fish Club in Queens. "So just close it fast, then fuck him later with the
subsidiary rights." . . .
Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man. Crossing him, even now,
is scary. But it's a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O'Reilly, Weinstein.
It's over, except for one -- the serial sexual harasser in the White House.
For more Weinstein dirt, see
Ronan Farrow: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey
Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories. As for Trump, see:
Jessica Garrison/Kendall Taggart: Trump Given a Subpoena for All Documents
Relating to Assault Allegations.
Daniel José Camacho: Trump's marriage to the religious right reeks of
hypocrisy on both sides: Well, sure, but hypocrisy is an old friend
of Christianity in every stage of American history, and you can probably
find prime examples at least as far back as Constantine, who realized
how useful the religion could be for sanctifying his own political power.
Christianity is, above all else, a remarkably forgiving religion, as
long as you attest to its power by begging for its mercy. In country
music, for instance, whatever you do on Saturday Night can be atoned
for and made right on Sunday Morning, and the latter is all that really
matters to the clergy -- after all, confession confirms their authority.
The political right has never had a problem with that. They love the
idea of hierarchy so much they strive to emulate it on earth, ruled,
of course, by themselves, conferring favors upon their favored clergy.
Of course, if you don't buy into this arrangement, your cynicism may
lead you to charge them with hypocrisy. Indeed, the whole scam is as
easy to see through as "The Emperor's New Clothes," but that only makes
the believers more angry and vindictive -- hence, the rise of the
Religious Right parallels liberal secularization, with its increasing
militancy (and, looking at Trump, I'm inclined to add desperation)
bound up with a feeling of embattled isolation that right-wing media
and politicians have cynically encouraged. Still, the problem is less
Christian backlash against secular culture -- something that is real
but deeper and more complex than the political backlash it is often
confused with[*] -- than that con artists from Reagan to Trump have often
managed to wrap their scams up in various traditional pieties, as if
that excuses otherwise shameless behavior.
[*] Note that Christianity predates capitalism, so contains a strain
of anti-materialist sentiment that has never been fully reconciled with
modern commerce. It even predates Constantine's state religion, before
which it was resolutely anti-state and anti-war, so even today a large
segment of the peace movement finds its inspiration in religion (and
not just Christianity).
William D Hartung: Here's Where Your Tax Dollars for 'Defense' Are Really
The answer couldn't be more straightforward: It goes directly to private
corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat
executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on
weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't
even perform as promised. Too often the result is weapons that aren't
needed at prices we can't afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the
troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be
an excellent place to start.
The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued
$304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the
department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind
that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal
Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the
biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2
billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General
Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together,
these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars,
about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016. . . .
The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive.
The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that
productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000
lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking
about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the
majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door";
they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to
posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their
The weapons systems are the big ticket items, but there is much more,
including some 600,000 private contractors doing all sorts of things,
with little effective management, while companies like Erik Prince's
Blackwater lobby to privatize more combat jobs.
Sean Illing: 20 of America's top political scientists gathered to discuss
our democracy. They're scared. Many interesting idea here; e.g.:
Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her
talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don't merely collapse, as that
"implies a process devoid of will." Democracies die because of deliberate
decisions made by human beings.
Usually, it's because the people in power take democratic institutions
for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop
interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that
benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough,
Bermeo says, and you'll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls
apart at the seams. . . .
Due to wage stagnation, growing inequalities, automation, and a
shrinking labor market, millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic
about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children
will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.
That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent
of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the
same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people
to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and
a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter
turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and
candidates. . . .
Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent
of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across
political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33
percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American
social fabric. . . .
But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually
disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have
lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we're
left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the
way for a demagogue like Trump.
One thing I would stress here is that "the erosion of democratic
norms" -- voter suppression, gerrymandering, obstruction tactics,
tolerance for "dirty tricks," the ever-increasing prerogatives of
money -- has largely been spawned within the Republican Party, which
is to say the party most desperately committed to inequality, order,
privilege, and hierarchy. The article offers stats about the growing
number of Americans who look favorably on a military dictatorship,
but neglects to break them down by party. Still, it's worth noting
that Democrats have often played into the hands of anti-democratic
forces, especially those who have been most successful at toadying
for donors. Although Obama, for instance, campaigned against the
baleful influence of money in 2008, he managed to raise so much more
of it than McCain, so Democrats didn't bother to use their majorities
to address the issue.
Sarah Jaffe: Bernie Sanders Isn't Winning Local Elections for the Left:
"Bernie Wins Birmingham" is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea
what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his
2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places
like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who's
promised, "I'll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet." Activists
in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them --
left-wing activists who've toiled for years in the trenches, working with a
new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups,
who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.
Still, the title leans too hard the opposite way. Bernie is helping,
especially to provide a nationwide support framework. Conversely, helping
build local power bases helps build the nationwide movement, either for
Bernie (who certainly could have used some local help in Mississippi and
Alabama during the 2016 primaries) or whoever vies most successfully for
his movement. Conversely, although Hillary may have given up her dream
of running in 2020, her crowd is still more focused on containing (or
combatting) the left than on winning elections: see
Bob Moser: Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power.
Anyone who bothers to remember McGovern's tragic 1972 loss to Nixon
should heap shame on those Democrats who betrayed their party's nominee
for the most devious and crooked politician in American history -- much
more numerous than the tiny fraction of Sanders supporters who couldn't
stomach Clinton in 2016. The so-called New Democrats have discredited
themselves doubly: first by repeatedly surrendering the Party's New
Deal/Great Society legacy to increasingly regressive Republicans in the
name of political expediency, then by losing to the vilest candidate
the GOP could muster.
Fred Kaplan: Certifiable Nonsense: As usual with Slate, the link
title is better: "President Trump's Most Dishonest Speech Yet," adding
"His announcement on the Iran deal might also be his most dangerous
speech yet." Certainly true about his dishonesty, even though there's
lots of competition. But most dangerous? More dangerous than his
taunting of North Korea, which actually has nuclear warheads as well
as more powerful missiles? Well, the two are related:
Pulling out would also damage our posture, and possibly trigger catastrophe,
in other global hot spots. If our face-off with North Korea is to end without
war, it will require some sort of diplomatic settlement. But who will want
to negotiate with the United States, and who would believe any deal Trump
would sign or guarantee he would make, if he pulls out of the Iran deal,
even though Iran is abiding by its terms?
Sarah Kliff: Trump's acting like Obamacare is just politics. It's people's
lives. This is the piece Klein linked to in his tweet above, so it
starts by spelling out the bottom line. One key thing Trump's order does
is to end payments to insurance companies protecting against losses due
to adverse selection. This wouldn't be a problem in a single-payer system
with truly universal coverage, but splitting the market into multiple
segments means that some will be cost more than others. If insurance
companies had to bear that risk, some would drop out and the rest would
raise their prices. And that's exactly what they will do under Trump's
Ending these payments raises premiums for anyone who uses Obamacare:
older people, younger people, sicker people, and healthy people. And
it puts an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of
a last-minute exodus by health plans who assumed that the government
would pay these subsidies -- and don't think they can weather the
The Trump administration has, since taking office, cut the Obamacare
open enrollment period in half. Instead of 90 days to sign up, enrollees
will now get 45. The Trump administration has cut the Obamacare advertising
budget by 90 percent -- and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40
percent. Regional branches of Health and Human Services abruptly pulled
out of the outreach events they have participated in over the last four
years. . . .
Trump's larger presidential agenda has focused on unwinding Barack
Obama's legacy. He's more focused on destroying his nemesis than trying
to replace, to fix, or to improve Obama's biggest accomplishments from
the Iran deal to environmental regulation.
On health care, there are going to be immediate and very real
consequences for Americans. There are real people who stand to be hurt
by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits
program function poorly.
Michael Kruse: The Power of Trump's Positive Thinking: Yet another
attempt to plumb Trump's psyche, trying to impose order on a mental
process that strikes most of us as supremely chaotic:
"I've had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in
a nine-month period, that's ever served," he said this week in an interview
with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his
frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the
first year of his first term as president.
The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is
floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He's raging
privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He's increasingly
isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue
unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or
wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are
a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable
celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever
had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother's flinty Scottish
Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking,"
the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that
thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual
achievement. . . .
What Peale peddled was "a certain positive, feel-good religiosity
that demands nothing of you and rewards you with worldly riches and
success," said Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse, the author
of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian
America. "It's a self-help gospel . . . the name-it-and-claim-it
gospel." . . .
Peale, then nearly 80 years old, officiated Trump's wedding in 1977.
In 1983, shortly after the opening of Trump Tower, Trump credited Peale
for instilling in him a can-do ethos.
The piece cites various critiques of various self-help pitches,
some of which fit Trump to a tee, then notes that no one who has
been studied has anywhere near the power Trump has, so "the Trump
presidency is uncharted territory." Of course, Peale is only one
significant influence on Trump's thinking and behavior. There's
also Roy Cohn, a very different and much more nefarious mentor.
And there's Trump's Nazi/KKK-aligned father, and probably a few
more. Some writer could build a great novel out of such clay.
Unfortunately, the real thing isn't a work of fiction.
Dara Lind: Leaked memos show Jeff Sessions's DOJ aims to undermine due
process for immigrants. Sessions is one of those "public servants" in
the Trump administration that's willing to overlook getting tweet-slapped
by Trump because he has important agenda work to do. This is one prime
example (others include ending civil rights and antitrust enforcement).
James Mann: The Adults in the Room: A piece on how the generals
(Kelly, Mattis, McMaster) and Boy Scout (Tillerson) Trump has surrounded
himself with are keeping the ship of state afloat, their "maturity" in
sharp contrast to the president's lack thereof:
Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning
of the words "adult" and "grownup" has undergone a subtle but remarkable
shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views
on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent)
Tillerson come in; "grownup" is the behavioral role that we have assigned
For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an
adult. He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies,
rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept
criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their
own children. Thus the dynamic was established in the earliest days of
the administration: Trump makes messes, or threatens to make them, and
Americans look to the "adults" to clean up for him. The "adults," in
turn, send out occasional little public signals that they are trying to
keep Trump from veering off course -- to educate him, to make him grow
up, to keep him under control. When all else fails, they simply distance
themselves from his tirades. Sometimes such efforts are successful; on
many occasions, they aren't.
Leaving aside the question whether Trump's immaturity is a matter
of his spoiled upbringing, sociopathy, or some kind of dementia (what
we usually mean when we speak of people his age undergoing "a second
childhood"), what I find most incongruous here is the notion that we
should consider generals to be grown-ups. We are, after all, talking
about people who dress up in uniforms with flashy medals, who prance
about and play with guns or, at their rank, maneuver soldiers around
battlefields. Those are all things that I enjoyed in my pre-teens but
rapidly grew out of, especially as I became conscious of the very grim
and senseless war my country was fighting in Vietnam. Ever since then,
I figured those who pursued military careers to be stuck in some kind
of adolescence, at least until PTSD disabuses them of their fantasies.
Maybe generals are different, although I don't see why, and I doubt
they often function well outside of the closed system that selected
them. (Tillerson, of course, didn't fall for the military fantasy, but
he got a taste of the worldview in the Boy Scouts, and his advancement
through the ranks of Exxon was every bit as cloistered -- something we
see in his performance as Secretary of State.)
I also couldn't help but notice this piece:
Eric Scigliano: The Book Mattis Reads to Be Prepared for War With
North Korea. The book is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War,
originally published in 1963, evidently focused on the importance of
putting "boots on the ground" while recognizing how little America's
scorched earth air bombardment had accomplished. No idea what lessons
Mattis draws from this, other than ego-stroking from a fellow Marine.
As I recall, the first thing I read about Mattis (back in early Iraq
War days) stressed what an intellectual he was, with his vast library
of war books. I flashed then on Robert Sherrill's book title, Military
Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music, and figured
"military intellectuals" were likely to be similarly debased.
Donald Macintyre: Tony Blair: 'We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its
election win': Only eleven years too late. I don't recall whether
Blair has issued his mea culpa for the Iraq War or any of the
dozens of other things he's famously screwed up, but it's worth noting
this one. One thing we should always work toward is getting groups to
lay down their arms and work to advance their cause through an electoral
framework. The Hamas electoral victory in 2006 offered an opportunity to
restart the "peace process" that Barak and Sharon aborted in 2000, with
broader Palestinian representation than was ever possible under Arafat.
Of course, Sharon wanted no part in any peace process, and Blair and
Bush sheepishly went along, not simply adding more than a decade to the
conflict but allowing Israel's illegal settlement actions to sink ever
deeper roots into the West Bank.
Andrew Restuccia: Bannon promises 'season of war' against McConnell, GOP
establishment: Specifically, "to challenge any Senate Republican who
doesn't publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump." On the one
hand, I'm tempted to say, "let the bloodletting begin"; on the other,
while it will be easy to characterize Bannon's insurgents as extremists,
his willingness to challenge oligarchy gives him a potential popularity
that establishment Republicans as Mitch McConnell lack. Bannon argues
here that "money doesn't matter anymore" -- while that's certainly not
true, his "grass roots organizing" was able to negate Hillary's huge
fundraising advantage. Seemingly unrelated, also note that:
[Bannon] also appeared to hint that the administration was planning to
soon declare that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization
and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, perhaps as soon as
But a senior administration official disputed that such an announcement
was in the works for next week.
Philip Rucker/Ed O'Keefe: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery
effort: Among the many things Trump has threatened to blow up this
past week, one of the most vexing is the quasi-colonial relationship of
the US to Puerto Rico. Trump has vacillated between taking responsibility
for recovery and attempting to disown the island, to write it off like
one of his bad debts. Here he declares Puerto Rico's infrastructure a
disaster before the storm. There he lectures on the sanctity of debts
accured by state and local government there. Political sentiment in the
US generally favors aid, but I suspect his base is more antagonistic.
The banks, on the other hand, would probably prefer a bailout before
anything drastic happens. Puerto Ricans recently voted for statehood,
which Republicans in Congress are likely to block if they think there's
any reason -- like a racist, xenophobic president -- doing so might not
add to the GOP majority. Indeed, Trump has already started to follow
through on his threats to withdraw aid by allowing a temporary waiver
to the Jones Act to expire.
Meanwhile, a couple recent reports from Puerto Rico:
Gabriel Sherman: "I Hate Everyone in the White House!": Trump Seethes as
Advisers Fear the President Is "Unraveling":
Stephen Colbert's comment on this headline was: "This means up until
now, he's been raveled." Inside you get lines like "One former official
even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have
discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first
strike." And: "According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks
Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." All very
gossipy. Too much smoke to tell where the fire actually is.
Emily Shugerman: US withdraws from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias':
"The US helped found Unesco in the wake of the Second World War, with
the aim of ensuring peace through the free flow of ideas and education."
I found this shocking, even though it's long been clear that the US has
its most anti-education and anti-free speech administration in history,
and possibly its most anti-peace one as well. The most disturbing thing
here is the extent to which anti-UN prejudice has permeated Republican
ideology (and make no mistake about it, this is a purely partisan view).
But even as a go-it-alone (i.e., isolationist) "America first" stance,
it's pretty self-deprecating: if the stated rationale is true, this as
much as admits that tiny Israel has taken charge of US foreign policy;
the alternative theory, that "Mr Tillerson simply wanted to stem outgoings,"
also reflects poorly on the US, as much as admitting that "the richest
country in the world" can't afford to contribute to preserving heritage
and supporting education in poorer countries.
Pieces by Matthew Yglesias this week:
Special bonus link:
Dalia Mortada: A Taste of Syria: A recipe for a Syrian dish, fatteh,
"a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious
garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce." I should note that the picture appears to
have a sprinkling of ground sumac (or maybe Aleppo pepper) not listed
in the recipe.
Sunday, October 8. 2017
Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted.
The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially
how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound
up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure
out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside
from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week
was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it,
followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed
secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up
another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and
Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories.
How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!
Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I
had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste,
especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.
Some scattered links this week:
Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.
Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth?
"My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing
to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's
taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political
heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the
heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's
probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse
than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's
diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie.
Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques.
So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with
real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with
sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work,
why can't they learn?
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership:
This in turn cites
David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth
that hardly anyone wants to admit:
Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized
world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the
civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides,
more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.
Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is
making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities,"
although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:
o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of
"common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not
be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun
violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while
millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments,
store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change
their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling
the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or
It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . .
Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading
the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are
endangering themselves and their loved ones.
Specifically on Las Vegas, note
I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has
had a change of heart on guns."
Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike
Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to
stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took
a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans,
who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the
pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks
he's making a winning point.
Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater
Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire
brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway
fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for
the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump
administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to
write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you
wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but
isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard
to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the
scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates
to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some
pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment,
not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention
Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits,
there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see
it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than
the Trickster ever managed.
David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more
than we thought.
Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive
Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump
To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well
from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation
of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate
negative impact on the typical person's life.
But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation
in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the
island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy
that could help his own political career survive.
One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration
as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico --
especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see
Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot
of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing
Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American
citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country.
Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad
The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country
yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed
companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but
it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license.
The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't
immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those
who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but
across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with
North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more
likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life,
but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't
notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually.
One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen
they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans
have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because
Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias
returns to this theme in
Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday
The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between
Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like
he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the
job of being president.
At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting
or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively
in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of
people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president
might have pulled off.
But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's
problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability
to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive
people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.
This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather
than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's
legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now
a part of the United States of America itself.
If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have
any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow
we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're
going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to
Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't
sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck
is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games,
but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad
luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and
his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse,
so it's not simply that they were unlucky.
Other pieces by Yglesias last week:
The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las
Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and
Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due
to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law,
[Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds
[of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government
for at least a year." Other pieces:
Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy:
to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve;
After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation;
Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular;
After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax
Sunday, October 1. 2017
Hard to get psyched up for this week, what with my website woes,
having sunk a lot of time into yesterday's Streamnotes, and various
other malaises. Two pieces of relative good news this week: the
Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal-and-decimate Obamacare failed to
advance to a vote; and HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of the Cabinet's
most obnoxious secretaries, was forced to resign. Hurricane Marie
is much reduced and well out to sea, heading toward Ireland, and
no new Atlantic hurricanes have been named. On the other hand, that
just leaves the destruction Marie wrought in Puerto Rico in the
media spotlight, with the Trump administration all but cursing the
Spanish-American War (wasn't that the first great MAGA crusade?).
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing "tax reform" with no evident
ability to make their numbers add up.
Some scattered links this week:
Karen DeYoung, et al: Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions
to pressure North Korea: This included extensive cyberwarfare operations
against North Korea. Not clear on exact chronology, but this suggests that
much of the confrontation with North Korea was precipitated by Trump's
Anne Gearan: The swamp rises around an administration that promised to
Candidate Trump would have been appalled.
"A vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public
corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of
our constitutional system," Trump said during an Oct. 29 speech.
He went on to describe his broader belief that public corruption
and cronyism were eating away at voters' faith in government -- a
situation he would remedy.
"I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to
heed the words I am about to say," Trump said. "When we win on Nov. 8,
we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the
swamp." . . .
Trump's critics say no one should be surprised that he hasn't followed
through on his campaign promise. They argue that the mere idea of a
flamboyantly rich New York real estate mogul as the champion of workaday
lunch buckets in Middle America was silly.
"The tone on this stuff gets set at the top," said Brian Fallon,
spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a former Justice
Department official in the Obama administration.
"Tom Price's wasteful jet-setting is not causing Trump embarrassment
because it violates any kind of reform mind-set within the Trump
administration. No such mind-set exists," Fallon said. "It is simply
because Price got caught and is reminding everyone of how Trump has
turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first
Of course, it was ridiculous to ever think that Trump, let alone
a Congress run by Republicans, would so much as lift a finger to try
to curtail the influence of money in Washington or more generally in
politics. It was easy to tar Hillary on this account, given how much
she seemed to prefer courting donors to voters, given how brazenly the
Clintons had cultivated influence peddling (going back to Arkansas,
when he was Governor and she sat on the WalMart board), and given how
they had risen from bankruptcy to considerable wealth cashing in their
chips after he left office in 2001. But while Democrats from Grover
Cleveland to Barack Obama provided a measure of background corruption
in government, it was the self-styled "party of greed" that hosted our
most notorious corruption scandals: Grant's Credit Mobilier, Harding's
Teapot Dome, Reagan's HUD scandals and Iran-Contra, and too many squalid
affairs under Bush-Cheney to name. But never before have the Republicans
nominated someone as rapacious and as shameless as Trump. Tom Price ran
into trouble not by offending Trump's ethics but his ego, by acting like
he's entitled to the same perks as the boss. If anyone ever doubted that
"public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations
of our constitutional system," Trump will show them.
David A Graham: Why Does Trump Keep Praising the Emergency Response in
Puerto Rico? "The president's insistence that he's doing a great
job sits uneasily with stories of desperation in the aftermath of
Part of this seems to be Trump's struggle to project empathy, which he
displayed in the early days after Hurricane Harvey, where he excelled
at the inspirational, rah-rah, we will rebuild aspects of presidential
response, but found it very hard to show he felt the pain of Gulf Coast
residents. (By contrast, he has expressed caution about what to do in
Puerto Rico, tweeting, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed
by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of
its rebuilding!") Another part is Trump's tendency toward puffery: In
all situations, for his entire career, his impulse has been to magnify
and celebrate his own prowess and success, and so he's doing that here
too. But that fake-it-till-you-make-it approach understandably rankles
people like Yulín.
Damning as this is, it's way too kind to Trump, already forgetting
that he did a completely dreadful job of showing empathy in Texas --
although at least there he made a little effort to fake it. AT least
he acknowledges that Texas is part of "his" America, something that
he doesn't feel with Puerto Rico. A couple more sample pieces on how
the Trump administration is handling the Puerto Rico crisis:
Trump Attacks Critics of Puerto Rico Aid Effort: 'Politically Motivated
FEMA Administrator Swipes at San Juan Mayor, Those Who 'Spout Off' About
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare repeal isn't dead as long as Republicans control
Congress: In fact, lots of horrible things will keep coming up as
long as Republicans control Congress. A couple weeks ago my cousin asked
me who I'd like to see the Democrats nominate in 2020, and my response
was that it doesn't matter until Democrats can start winning state and
local races, especially for Congress. One thing I continue to fault both
Clinton and Obama on is their loss of Congress two years into their first
terms, and their failure to build up effective coattails even when they
won second terms. Hillary Clinton spent a ton of time raising money, but
didn't build up any down-ticket strength to build her own candidacy on --
a big part of the reason she lost. Without Congressional support, neither
Clinton nor Obama got more than a tiny percentage of their platforms
implemented, and that failure in turn ate at the credibility of their
promises -- something Hillary paid dearly for, which in turn is why
we're suffering through Trump and the Republican Congress.
Paul Krugman: Shifts Get Real: Understanding the GOP's Policy Quagmire:
I mentioned in the intro that Republican plans don't add up: they want
big cuts in tax brackets, especially for corporations from 35% to 20%,
and they want to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but even a few
of those things would bust the budget. "Reforms" to simplify the code
and eliminate current deductions could offset at least some of the cuts,
but those all look like tax increases to those who currently benefit,
and their lobbies are out in force to keep that from happening. Even
busting the budget is a problem given the Senate's no-filibuster
"reconciliation" path. So while everyone in the majority caucus is
sworn to cut taxes, getting there may prove difficult.
Right now it looks as if tax "reform" -- actually it's just cuts -- may
go the way of Obamacare repeal. Initial assessments of the plan are brutal,
and administration attempts to spin things in a positive direction will
suffer from loss of credibility on multiple fronts, from obvious lies
about the plan itself, to spreading corruption scandals, to the spectacle
of the tweeter-in-chief golfing while Puerto Rico drowns. . . .
One important goal of ACA repeal was to loosen those constraints, by
repealing the high-end tax hikes that paid for Obamacare, hence giving
a big break to the donor class. Having failed to do that, Rs are under
even more pressure to deliver the goods to the wealthy through tax cuts.
But deficits are a constraint, even if not a hard one. Now, Republicans
have always claimed that they can cut tax rates without losing revenue by
closing loopholes. But they've always avoided saying anything about which
loopholes they'd close; they promised to shift the tax burden away from
their donors onto [TK], some mystery group. It was magic asterisk city;
it was "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree" on
steroids. . . .
So what were they thinking? My guess is that they weren't thinking.
What we learned from health care was that after 8 years, Republicans
had never bothered to learn anything about the issues. There's every
reason to believe that the same is true for the distribution of tax
changes, which Paul Ryan called a "ridiculous" issue and presumably
nobody in his party ever tried to understand.
So now the lies and willful ignorance are catching up with them --
An earlier Krugman post
Unpopular Delusions and the Madness of Elites) notes some polling
There really is no clamor, even among Republicans, for tax cuts on the
wealthy and corporations. And overall public opinion is strongly against.
Nor is there a technocratic case for these cuts. There is no evidence
whatsoever that tax cuts produce great economic outcomes -- zero, zilch,
nada. The "experts" who claim otherwise are all hired guns, and notably
incompetent hired guns at that.
Yet faith in and demands for tax cuts remains; it's the ultimate zombie
idea. And it's obvious why: advocating tax cuts for the rich and inventing
rationales for those cuts is very lucrative.
Voodoo Gets Even Voodooier:
That said, Trumpcuts are an even worse idea than Reaganomics, and not
just because we start from much higher debt, the legacy of the financial
crisis, which cut deeply into revenue and temporarily boosted spending.
It also matters that we start from a much lower top tax rate than Reagan
did. . . . So even if you believed that voodoo economics worked under
Reagan -- which it didn't -- it would take a lot more voodoo, in fact
around 4 times as much, for it to work now.
Which makes you wonder: how can they possibly sell this as a
responsible plan? Oh, right: they'll just lie.
Peter O'Dowd: 18-Hour Vietnam Epic Is Lesson on Horror of 'Unleashing
Gods of War': Actually, the interview isn't that interesting, except
for a long quote on the Burns-Novick documentary from Daniel Ellsberg:
I think there were some some major omissions that are quite fundamental
that disturbed me quite a bit, although the overall thing is very
First of all, the repeated statement that this was a civil war on
which we were taking one side, I think it's profoundly misleading. It
always was a war in which one side is entirely paid, equipped, armed,
pressed forward by foreigners. Without the foreigners, no war. That's
not a civil war. And that puts -- it very much undermines, I'd say, a
fundamentally misleading statement at the very beginning in the first
five minutes or so of the first session.
I don't see anything in the Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages, that could
be called good faith by anybody, in terms of the American people, our
values, our Constitution. This was a war, as I say initially, to keep
Vietnam a French colony. And that was not admitted to the American
people. It was well known inside. We preferred that they be at war,
and there was never a year that there would have been a war at all
without American money in the end. So I thought that was extremely
I'll probably write some more about Vietnam later, but I do want to
add one comment on the last episode, which features heavily the Vietnam
War Memorial in Washington DC. The design suggests a gash in the earth,
one side lined with black marble engraved with the names of 58,318
Americans who died perpetuating this war. I find it impossible to look
at this wall and not imagine extending it upward to include the three
million Vietnamese who also died. It seems extraordinarily conceited,
even more so misleading, to omit those names. Of course, if you want
to preserve the gash-in-the-earth visual effect, you could dig a deeper
hole instead of building the wall up hundreds of feet.
Alex Pareene: You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy: Chait is complaining
"about the 'dangerous consequences' of the left's use of the label 'white
supremacist' to describe Donald Trump, the alt-right, and American
conservatism in general," in what Pareene describes as "just another
paint-by-numbers 'the greatest threat to free speech in the nation
today is college students heckling an asshole' column."
Chait is policing the way the left does politics because he does not
want the left-wing style of doing politics to gain prominence.
Something that is well-known to people who've read Chait for years,
but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue
center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is
engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and
people like you don't gain control of his party.
Pareene's getting a bit touchy here, but he's not the only one
suspicious that so-called centrists relish attacking the left while
offering the right undeserved respect and legitimacy -- which in the
long run works in their favor. The problem with centrism is that the
track record doesn't show that taking such a conciliatory stance
delivers much in the way of tangible benefits -- indeed, if anything
it shows retreats while the right grows stronger and more aggressive.
It seems time to ask whether stronger leftist critiques might turn
out to be more effective, especially with people who don't start out
with a strong political stance. For instance, why not refer to people
as white supremacists who may merely be garden variety racists? --
especially people like Trump who seem so comfortable aligned with
undoubted white supremacists like the KKK?
David Rothkopf: The NSC is 70 this week -- and the first thing it ever did
was meddle in a foreign election: In 1947, created by the National
Security Act, its first paper ("NSC 1") approved by Truman to covertly
meddle in elections in Italy, "trying to counter the effects of the
Soviets to support the rise of the Italian Communist Party," no mention
of the popularity the PCI gained by resisting Mussolini and the German
occupation. Of course, the CIA went on to do much more than merely game
foreign elections; e.g.:
Vincent Bevins: In Indonesia, the 'fake news' that fueled a Cold War
massacre is still potent five decades later:
Gen. Suharto, then the head of the army's strategic reserve command
and relying on support from the CIA, accused the powerful Communist
Party of orchestrating a coup attempt and took over as the military's
de facto leader. Over the next few months, his forces oversaw the
systematic execution of at least 500,000 Indonesians, and historians
say they may have killed up to 1 million. The massacre decimated the
world's third-largest Communist Party (behind those of the Soviet
Union and China), and untold numbers were tortured and killed simply
for allegedly associating with communists.
The military dictatorship that formed afterward, led by Suharto,
made wildly inaccurate anti-communist propaganda a cornerstone of
its legitimacy and ruled Indonesia with U.S. support until 1998.
Alex Thompson/Ryan Grim: Kansas Won't Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline
to Rural Hospitals and Patients: Well, some, like the one in Independence,
are already dead. Gov. Brownback, who vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid,
has been nominated to a State Department post to hector the world on God,
but Lt. Gov. Colyer promises to veto future bills as well, so no relief
Zeynep Tufekci: Zuckerberg's Preposterous Defense of Facebook:
It's become clear that Russia created hundreds of clandestine Facebook
accounts and used them and Facebook's advertising system to spread
misinformation about the 2016 election. People are upset about that
because they don't like the idea of a foreign power attempting to
tilt an American election, possibly as a general principle but often
just because it's Russia attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton
and/or to elect Trump. Still, doesn't the US do the same thing to
other countries? And don't both parties and their donors do the
same thing to each other? I have no doubt that Facebook makes the
general problem much worse, mostly because it allows unprecedentely
precise, even intimate, targeting by whoever's willing to put the
money into it. Advertisers have been trying to refine targeting for
decades, but they've mostly been concerned with efficiency -- getting
the most cost-effective set of buyers to consider a standard product
pitch. Political advertising is different because votes are different
from purchases, and, given limited choices, negative advertising is
often more effective. Until recently, we could limit this damage by
requiring disclosure of whoever is buying the advertising. Facebook
undermines this paradigm in several ways: it helps advertisers hide
their identity, and thereby avoid responsibility for any damages; it
allows messages to be very narrowly tailored; its effect is amplified
by viral "sharing"; it precludes any systematic effort to recall or
correct misinformation. Americans have long been lulled into the lure
of advertising, which offers to pay for entertainment and news while
only demanding a small (and initially distinct) slice of your time.
And we've basically gone along with this scheme because we haven't
noticed what it's doing to us -- much like a lobster doesn't notice
heating water until it's much too late. It's going to be difficult
to unravel all these levels of duplicity and to restore any measure
of integrity to the democratic process. But two things should be
clear by now: the fact that someone like Donald Trump got elected
president shows that our system for informing ourselves about the
world is badly broken; and that as long as powerful forces -- I'd
start with virtually all corporations, most Republicans, and many
Democrats, and throw in a few more special interest groups (not
least the CIA and the post-KGB -- believe that they benefit from
this system there will be much resistance to changing it. Indeed,
it probably has to be defeated before it can be changed.
By the way, Matt Taibbi has a relevant piece:
Latest Fake News Panic Appears to Be Fake News, wherein he
The irony here is that the solution to so much of this fake news panic
is so simple. If we just spent more time outside, or read more books,
or talked in person to real human beings more often, we'd be less
susceptible to this sort of thing. But that would take effort, and
who has time for that?
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week:
i.e., more than Trump's spat with the NFL: Obamacare repeal died
again; Puerto Rico is in crisis; Republicans rolled
out a tax cut plan; Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in
Alabama. Other recent Yglesias posts:
Trump is proposing big tax hikes on vulnerable House Republicans'
constituents (ending deductability of state and local taxes [SALT],
a big deal in upscale suburban districts);
A House Republican explains why deficits don't matter anymore:
Mark Walker says "It's a great talking point when you have an
administration that's Democrat-led" -- this just confirms what we've
already observed, as when Nixon declared "we're all Keynesians now"
when he wanted more deficit spending to prop up his re-election
economy, or Cheney declared "deficits don't matter," yet Clinton
and Obama were constantly pounded over deficit spending;
Trump keeps saying Graham-Cassidy failed because a senator's in the
Nobody wants Donald Trump's corporate tax cut plan: "Americans
overwhelmingly want large businesses to pay more taxes rather than
The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico,
Trump's plan to sell tax cuts for the rich is to pretend they're not
Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore;
Angela Merkel won in a landslide -- now comes the hard part;
Donald Trump versus the NFL, explained.