Sunday, January 15. 2017
Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting
things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not
necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the
overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.
Some scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Democrats Should Follow John Lewis' Lead: I have
considerable respect for Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader before
he became (thanks to gerrymandering) Georgia's token black Democrat in
the House, and it doesn't bother me in the least that he's decided not
to attend Trump's inaugural. I don't see why his presence is in any way
necessary, and I sure can't think of anything more stupefying a person
can do on that day than attend. But according to Goldberg, this all
turns on the Clinton Democrats' favorite scapegoat, Vladimir Putin:
Lewis was speaking for many of us who are aghast at the way Trump benefited
from Russian hacking and now appears to be returning the favor by taking
a fawning stance toward Putin. He spoke for those of us who are shocked by
the role of the FBI, which improperly publicized the reopening of its
investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails but refuses to say whether
it is investigating Trump's ties with Russia. Trump lost the popular vote;
he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the
democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it
turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was
crooked -- if Trump's campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- his
legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating
the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the
popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who
will be contravening the Constitution the second he's sworn in is due
neither respect nor deference.
I suppose there's a focus group somewhere that says anti-Putin rants
are politically effective, but really, this has got to stop. The fact is
Hillary Clinton lost for dozens of reasons, and the fact that WikiLeaks
(with or without Russian help) exposed John Podesta and Donna Brazile
as political hacks didn't help but is surely way down the list. They
must realize as much because they never mention the substance of Russian
interference: they focus on Putin as an evil manipulator who will wind
up dominating a submissive US president because Trump owes his election
not to the millions of Americans who voted for him but to a foreign ogre
who orchestrated some dirty tricks -- a ruse they can only get away with
by replaying cold war stereotypes (e.g., Putin is a dictator, although
he's been elected several times by large margins in reasonably fair and
competitive elections, and his background in the KGB proves he's always
been anti-US); and secondly, they posit Trump as a dissenter from the
consensus views of the American "intelligence community" -- the secret
clan of spooks who have one of the world's worst track records for truth
Worse still, I think, are the practical consequences: they are demanding
that the US ramp up its hostility toward Russia, including sanctions that
were previously in place for other supposed affronts, threatening a war
that unlike America's recent attacks on marginal or failed states could
be genuinely disastrous. And why should we risk world peace? To revenge
Podesta's tarnished reputation? Because Clinton Democrats can bear to
take responsibility for blowing the election to Donald Trump? There's
plenty of blame to go around for the latter, and it's well nigh time for
Clinton and her career to admit that they should have done a better job
campaigning. And when they do so, they should realize that obsessing
over the Trump-Putin connection was one of the things they did wrong.
The first fact is that people don't care. The second is that it's not
healthy for Democrats to be seen as the war party (and bear in mind that
Hillary, given her past hawkishness, is already so tainted).
Still, if you have to blame someone else, there are real ogres much
closer to home. Look first at the Republican laws aimed at suppressing
the vote, and gerrymandering congress. Look especially at the billion
dollars or so that the Koch network and other GOP mega-financiers spent
on getting their vote out. I think it's quite clear that there was a
sustained, methodical effort to undermine democracy in 2016, but it
wasn't the Russians who were behind it. It was the Republicans. Maybe
if you hack some emails -- seems like fair play at this point -- you
might even find a smoking gun showing that the Russians were working
for the Republicans (a much more credible story than vice versa; it
would, in fact, be reminiscent of finding out that Nixon interfered
with the talks to end the Vietnam War, or that Reagan kiboshed Carter's
efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Tehran).
And by all means, note that Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton
by nearly three million votes, yet through a 227-year-old quirk in the
constitution is being allowed to install the most extreme right-wing
oligarchy ever. Then, if you like, you can point out that Putin enjoys
a similar relationship to Russia's oligarchy -- I never said he was
beyond reproach, let alone a saint, but has to be respected as leader
of a major nation, and (unlike Trump) a democratically-elected one at
As for John Lewis, bless him: after spending his life working hard
to make this country a better place for all who live here, he's earned
the right to take a day off, especially when the alternative is having
to witness such tragedy.
Patrick Lawrence: Trump, Russia, and the Return of Scapegoating, a
Timeless American Tradition.
Tony Karon: The US media is not equipped to handle a Trump White
House: There's an old adage that generals always prepare to refight
the last war, and as such are always surprised when a new war happens.
Something similar has been happening in media coverage of politics, but
in many ways the media landscape has changed over the last 4-8-16 years,
yet veterans of past campaigns (and clearly HRC fits this mold) still
seem to believe that what worked in the past must still work today. Not
clear whether Trump was smart or lucky -- I'd say he was selected from
the large Republican field because he fit the evolving right-wing media
model remarkably well, and he merely lucked out over Clinton due to a
wide range of factors, including an electoral structure which allowed
him to squeak out a win despite losing the popular vote by nearly three
million votes. Still, his election was especially astonishing to those
of us who thought, based on long experience, we understood how the
system works. In the end, his biggest assets were a vast electorate
willing to believe anything and the opportunistic and unscrupulous
media that indulged them with all manner of fantastic innuendo.
Mr Trump emerged as a public figure by mastering this fractured landscape,
where distinctions between news and entertainment were increasingly blurred
and where the business model's reliance on "click-bait" favours provocation.
He connects instinctively with a public likely to judge the veracity of
information not on its own merits, but according to existing attitudes
towards the news outlets publishing it. Thus the logic behind his
off-the-cuff remark last summer that "I could stand in the middle of 5th
Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
But while painting him as a pawn of Moscow is certainly unlikely to
weaken Mr Trump's political base, his empty promises on health care and
job creation are a real weakness, because failure to deliver will increase
the pain of many people who voted for him.
It's critically important, therefore, for the media to focus on what
Mr Trump's government and their allies on Capitol Hill are actually doing --
not simply what they say about what they're doing.
The problem is that sort of journalism hardly exists anymore, anywhere,
and certainly not on the 24-hour news torrents. And while the election
seemed to set new qualitative lows practically every week, post-election
coverage has been even lamer: even for "reporters" who never delve any
deeper than sifting quotes for gotchas, the only Washington source sure
to get reported on is Trump's latest tweetstorm -- and that's more for
entertainment than insight. You'd think that as America goes to hell the
vested interests that own big media would realize that they actually need
to better know and understand what's happening, but recent experience
suggests that groupthink (the Bushies used to call it "message discipline")
Paul Krugman: There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement: Read past the
snark about Comey and Putin, and look at the policy analysis.
From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized
that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one
of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically
possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and
subsidies. [ . . . ]
It's actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye
to this logic, and some -- maybe even a majority -- are still in denial.
But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I've ever seen; and it
means that you can't tamper with the basic structure without throwing
tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can't even scale back
the spending very much -- Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.
Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of
working-class voters to the way they've been scammed? I have no idea.
But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their
willful policy ignorance, it couldn't happen to more deserving people.
I have little faith that sanity will save the Republicans at this
late date, but to destroy Obamacare they're going to run afoul of some
powerful special interests, and while they may try to assuage them by
permitting them to operate even more fraudulently than before the ACA
was passed, the result will be millions of people screwed, and most
likely the health care industry itself will lurch into contraction.
David Dayen: Trump Just Stumbled Into a Canyon on Obamacare.
Kelefa Sanneh: Intellectuals for Trump: I must admit that I never
liked the idea of intellectuals -- I always thought that learning and
reasoning were things that everyone did, so dividing people between
a self-defining intellectual elite and the ignorant masses never set
well with my democratic instincts (not to mention that those same
self-identified intellectuals tended to exclude me, not because I
didn't know or think but because I often knew and thought the wrong
things -- elites, as ever, being jealous guardians of their ranks).
But I was also quick to realize that thinking doesn't always work
out right: indeed, that clever people could contort their command
of history, logic, and rhetoric to justify almost anything, most
often whatever their interests and upbringing (which is to say,
class identity) favored. So perhaps we're best off characterizing
intellectualism as a style with no intrinsic merit. Throughout
history, political leaders have had little trouble gaining the
rationalizing support of intellectuals, just as intellectuals
have struggled to raise their baser instincts to fine principles.
Donald Trump makes for a fine case in point. He has so little
cred and rapport with liberal intellectuals that some scurried off
to re-read Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American
Life for a refresher course on how willfully stupid the people
can be. Even conservatives with intellectual pretensions were almost
unanimous in their dismay over Trump: his early vocal supporters were
almost exclusively limited to professional bigots like Ann Coulter
and Michael Savage. Still, what finally made Trump palatable to
Republican elites was the only thing they really cared about:
winning. So, as Sanneh chronicles, of late right-wing intellectuals
have started flocking to Trump. Two varieties have emerged. One,
including Heritage Foundation chief honcho Jim DeMint and his crew,
are ordinary conservatives continuing to spout their usual nostrums
while claiming validation by Trump's victory. The others, including
an anonymous group which evidently started "The Journal of American
Greatness" as "'an inside joke,' which in the course of a few months,
attracted a large following, and 'ceased to be a joke.'" The website
was subsequently deleted, but blogger Publius Decius Mus, the main
subject of Sanneh's piece, is still attempting to develop a coherent
Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown
frustrated with the Republican Party's devotion to laissez-faire economics
(or, in his description, "the free market über alles"), which left
Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The
conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's
the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford
food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income
inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He
rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives,
he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated
to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan
élite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper
international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to
sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy,
a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration:
these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds
but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways
of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry
has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track
records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically
heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant
in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more
attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to
serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and
everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we
needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too
fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being
equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately
need more unity."
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to
Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters
recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying
serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple
and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign
intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions."
[ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called
Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he
didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do
more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about
religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of
occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's
seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would
be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist
who is misconstrued as an extremist.
Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social
order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic
or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in
that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the
traditional pecking order.
The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's
arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that
Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers
rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably
others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would
affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican
(much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the
effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The
post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like
suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better
dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they
no longer cared about the consequences.
The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply
confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality
is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get
pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust,
but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society.
Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging
Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 --
American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad
Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have
been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality
are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the
conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits
policy to flow ever further to the right.
I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced
the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without
embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has
become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base
didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco
Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the
support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for
by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence
and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that
Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy
while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the
imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only
question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage
his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't
strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to
help anyone else out.
Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a
truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his
failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines
an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions
to ridiculous ends.
Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President
in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell.
I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ
mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as
soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming
more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only
drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.
While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since
Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been
part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party
platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders --
was the plank restored.
This also ties into
Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Weak Labor Market: President Obama Hides Behind Automation:
Actually, I think Obama is right at the big picture level -- the main
source of losses in most job categories is automation rather than trade
or finance, but Baker is right at a more detailed level: it's political
policies that shape how automation, trade, and finance wreak their havoc,
and for a half-century or so those policies have favored capital over
labor, to an extent that has gone beyond unjust to downright cruel.
Baker has some of his pet examples, and points to a new book he has
written, available as a free PDF or Ebook:
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were
Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Tom Cahill: Democrats Lock Hands with Republicans and Big Pharma to
Screw Over Americans: Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar offered
an amendment to allow imports of prescription drugs, which would
undercut the industry's monopoly pricing in the US. Twelve Republicans
voted for the amendment, so its loss can squarely be blamed on thirteen
Democrats -- notably Cory Booker, who's raised over $400K from drug
companies. Also see:
Zach Cartwright: Bernie Sanders Shreds Fellow Democrats Who Voted with
Big Pharma, and, what the hell, Martin Longman's defensive brief,
The Stupid War on Cory Booker..
Patrick Cockburn: The Dodgy Trump Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over
Matthew Cole: The Crimes of SEAL Team 6: I've been reading Jeremy
Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, so I'm already
familiar with some of this.
Michelle Goldberg: "This Evil Is All Around Us": On Trump's future
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo ("amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the
Trump transition, however, Pompeo's extremism has been overlooked").
Personally, I've always found him much less of a religious fanatic than
Todd Tiahrt, the truly horrible man he replaced, but that's an awfully
low bar. Unrelated aside: The Eagle ran a piece on Pompeo's finances,
characterizing him as
"an average American" in contrast to Trump's billionaires, disclosing
that assets only add up to $345K -- not much for a guy who campaigns on
his record of building businesses, or even for a guy who draws $174K/year
as a member of Congress. Makes you wonder how good of a manager he really
Greg Grandin: Why Did the US Drop 26,171 Bombs on the World Last Year?
Moreover, I doubt that counts the ones "allies" like Israel and Saudi
Arabia dropped with our blessing.
John Judis: America's Failure -- and Russia and Iran's Success -- in
Syria's Cataclysmic Civil War: Interview with Joshua Landis, who
knows more than Judis does.
Allegra Kirkland: GOP Senator: 'Yeah,' Trump's Cabinet Picks Should Be
Treated Differently: James Inhofe (R-OK), but he only has the least
filter between what passes for his brain and the orifice he utters his
thoughts through. But Republicans have always supported double standards,
much like they always support the powerful beating down on those they
perceive as week. Only Democrats believe in fair play, equal treatment,
or underdogs. Don't you know that?
Dahlia Lithwick: Jason Chaffetz Doesn't Care About Ethics: Chafetz
is a Republican congressman, head of the House Oversight Committee, and
the one ethical issue he seems to be concerned about is Walter Shaub (of
"the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics") being at all critical of
Trump's numerous conflicts of interest.
Nancy LeTourneau: Being Outnumbered Doesn't Have to Mean Losing:
Posted back in August, before the prime example of its thesis became
infamous. Book review of Zachary Roth's The Great Suppression:
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on
Democracy. Recommended to all you Democrats out there who're
wondering whether you need to bone up on Putin to better understand
Melissa Murray/Kathleen Geier/Catherine Powell: What Happens to a
Feminist Dream Deferred?
Matt Taibbi: Trump Nominee Jay Clayton Will Be the Most Conflicted SEC
Chair Ever: Taibbi doesn't seem to consider FDR's SEC pick, Joseph
Kennedy Sr., who had some pretty huge conflicts of interest, but back
in the 1930s tigers were expected to change their stripes when they
became public servants -- an expectation that seems completely alien
to this hyperindividualistic revolving door era. Also helped that FDR
himself was devoted to the public interest, something that never seems
to have occurred to Trump.
Sunday, January 8. 2017
After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack
out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just
a few things that caught my fancy.
Some scattered links this week:
Jamelle Bouie: The Most Extreme Party Coalition Since the Civil War:
The first book I read on alternative politics back in the 1960s was called
The New Radicals, a survey of various thinkers and activists on the
New Left. In it, radicals were people who looked for root causes and core
principles, as opposed to those who casually wandered from one compromise
to another. While it's certainly true that radicals can be wrong, and that
they can become obsessed by their insights and oblivious to consequences,
the problem there is picking bad principles, not radical ones. In fact,
the only other time when "radical" was commonly used to describe politics
was after the Civil War, when the GOP was dominated by so-called radicals
like Thaddeus Stevens who advocated a deep-seated reconstruction of the
former Slave South. Bouie is right that today's GOP is chock full of folks
who hold very dangerous views, but those people are not radicals -- they're
just wrong. Indeed, in terms of their eagerness to impose their ideology
on a world that has moved way past it, they share much more than attitude
with pro-slavery activists like John Calhoun than with Republicans like
Stevens. But as Corey Robin has pointed out, the proper term for Calhoun
and his ilk isn't radical -- it's conservative. The first thing Bouie must
do to get smarter is to disabuse himself of the notion that conservatism
is a respectable political philosophy. Leftists learned this lesson long
ago, which is why they readily identify people who are willing to wreck
the world to save the rich -- people like Trump, Pence, and Ryan -- as
fascists. That may seem reflexive and excessive, but it serves us well.
Gorbachev: US Was Short-Sighted After Soviet Collapse: So true,
but America's effective policy toward the former Soviet Union was to
rub their faces in the dirt. We helped turn their collectivist economy
into a Mafia-run kleptocracy. The result was near-total economic collapse --
so severe that even life expectancy dipped by as much as a decade. And
to add insult to injury, the US started picking off former satellite
nations and SSRs that formerly propped up the Russian economy and turned
them westward, hugely expanding both NATO and the EU. This produced a
huge backlash in Russia, and its face is Vladimir Putin, a guy we fear
and loathe as a nationalist strongman, but who Russians flock to precisely
because he doesn't look like as an American flunky. Sure, it's not clear
why the US didn't handle the situation more adroitly, but from the start
American Cold Warriors did everything they could to prevent any form of
free/open/humane socialism from securing a foothold anywhere. Americans
always preferred to work through corrupt strongmen, and even if Yeltsin
didn't qualify as strong, he more than made it up as corrupt. Those who
complain so much about Putin today should bear this history in mind,
but the lesson they draw is inevitably wrong, because we are incapable
of considering what would be good for the welfare of people in other
nations -- Republicans, especially, don't even care about people living
here. And the only thing the foreign policy mandarins consider is whether
foreign leaders follow or challenge America's power dictates.
Bradley Klapper/Josef Federman/Edith M Lederer: US Rebukes and Allows
UN Condemnation of Settlements: Widely interpreted as a "parting shot"
rebuke of Netanyahu by the Obama administration, the fact is that it's
been US policy since 1967 that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967
armistice borders as part of a "land-for-peace" deal, a scheme which
later came to be described as "the two-state solution." That was,
after all, the basis for George Mitchell's mission to restart final
status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and before
that was the official expectation for Bush's Roadmap, for the Clinton-era
Oslo Accords, and for Carter's peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Mitchell himself spent most of his mission time trying to convince
Israel to halt settlement construction, and his complete failure to
limit Israel destroyed any hope for an American-brokered peace. In
past years, the intransigence of an Israeli PM like Yitzhak Shamir
would have led to a breach with the US, rectified by Israel electing
a more flexible leader (Yitzhak Rabin). Even GW Bush was able to put
pressure on Israel, at the time led by Ariel Sharon (not a pushover),
to dismantle settlements as part of his poisoned Gaza withdrawal. But
Obama never did anything like that, and over eight years Netanyahu
discovered he could walk all over Obama, ensuring that the US would
never challenge Israel in an international forum. Given that the
UNSCR resolution does nothing more than reiterate four decades of
US policy, the real question isn't why Obama didn't veto it. It's
why Obama didn't direct his ambassador to vote for it, indeed why
he didn't sponsor the resolution eight years ago, when it might have
been more effective -- when at least it would have served notice
that the US is serious about peace and justice in the Middle East.
Rather, Obama wasted eight years digging ever deeper holes in the
region, obliterating any doubts that the US could ever be a force
for peace, security, and equitable prosperity.
Of course, Netanyahu and his American political lackeys and
allies have gone ballistic over Obama's affront to Israeli power,
but that is less to punish him than to threaten Trump, who despite
his vaguer "America first" rhetoric has promised to be the most
servile American president ever. The vote stands, and hopefully
will help Palestinians seek justice in the international courts
system, but the intensity of the political rebuke that Obama's
belated gesture has raised, along with the imminent inauguration
of Trump, only goes to show how far the United States has strayed
from the ideals of international law and order, and cooperation,
that were once our best hope for world peace and prosperity. Trump
has, for instance, vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in
flagrant disregard for international law -- although that's pretty
minor compared to the practices Jeremy Scahill documents in Dirty
Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- his big book on how Bush
and Obama ran roughshod over international law to prosecute their
misguided "war on terror." The significance of the 14-0 UNSCR vote
isn't just that it shows how isolated and delegitimized Israel has
become in the eyes of the world. It also shows how marginal the US
has become after decades pursuing policies Israel has pioneered.
One clear conclusion must be that any notion the US might once
have had of being an "honest broker" for peace have vanished. If
Europe, Russia, China, etc., really want to do something to bring
peace and justice to Israel-Palestine, they're going to start with
the recognition that the US is a big part of the problem and no or
little part of the solution. Obama, Trump, and Netanyahu, each in
his own way, have helped clarify that point.
Richard Silverstein: Kerry's Speech: America Lost in Two-State Ether,
Israel Spied on Nations Supporting UN Vote.
Dennis Laumann: The first genocide of the 20th century happened in
Namibia: The party responsible was Germany, the time 1904-07,
the territory South-West Africa, the target the Herero, a tribe of
herders who got on the colonial power's wrong side mostly by just
being in the way. Laumann describes the Ottoman genocide against
the Armenians in 1915 as "indisputable" but it was nowhere near as
clear cut as Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha's Vernichtungsbefehl, which
specified: "Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed
or unarmed, with or without cattle, shall be shot." Oddly enough, I
first learned about this event from a novel, Thomas Pynchon's V.,
where it appears as a key link in a chain of increasingly mechanized
slaughter. Also worth seeking out is Sven Lindqvist's book "Exterminate
All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the
Origins of European Genocide, which puts the Herero genocide into
the broader context of European colonial brutality, making it more
the culmination of the 19th century than a harbinger of the 20th.
Reihan Salam: Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter? Sub-hed:
"We're on the cusp of either a transformative presidency or a party-killing
failure" -- oddly conflating Ronald Reagan with the former and Herbert
Hoover with the latter. I've never doubted that it's important to know
of and learn from history, but this sort of muddying makes me wonder.
The pairings suggest that Salam is uncertain whether Trump will be seen
as a winner (like Roosevelt-Reagan) or a loser (Hoover-Carter), so that's
one level of ignorance he brings to the table. Another is that while
Roosevelt is properly viewed as "transformational" that status is rooted
in his unique time period (the depression, which forced the state to
become a major economic factor, and the war, which transformed the state
into empire). On the other hand, there was nothing distinctive about
the Carter-Reagan years, and the myth of Reagan's success was largely
based on ignoring reality and engaging in fantasy -- the bankruptcy of
which would have long been obvious had not Democrats like Clinton, Gore,
and Obama not built their own careers on indulging that same fantasy.
At most, this article might have exposed the hollowness of this PoliSci
paradigm, but Salam rarely offers more than lines like "Trump will put
a candy-covered nationalist shell over Reaganism's chocolate-covered
peanut." Peanut? Wasn't Carter the peanut guy? Wasn't Reagan more into
Actually, Salam does try to make a case that some sort of Trumpian
nationalism might be politically successful enough to move Trump into
the winners column, but this would involve building on ideas from the
center-left, including embracing and defending the safety net. Whether
even such a hypothetical program might work isn't analyzed, but the
more obvious problems are touched on: that Republican regulars would
sabotage any gestures he might make toward the center, and that Trump
himself isn't really serious about the platform he ran on (as evidenced,
for instance, by his cabinet). Of course, someone who knows a little
history might help out here. One might argue that Hoover, for instance,
would actually have preferred to move toward what became the New Deal
but that he was checked at every step by the dead-enders within his
own administration (e.g., Andrew Mellon). One might equally argue that
Carter wanted to move toward what eventually became Reaganism -- he
did in fact start the recession that broke the back of the American
labor movement, and his anti-regulation schemes and anti-communist
militancy paved the way for Reagan, but he too faced a debilitating
revolt from his own party. Whatever people thought when they voted
for Trump, what they wound up with was a politician deep in hock to
his party and the insatiable greed of their donors, and that's more
or less the only thing he'll ever be able to deliver. If you think
that's going to be some kind of booming, transformational success,
well, you're fucking nuts.
Steven Waldman: The Strangest Winner on Election Night Was Not Trump:
He means the Republican Congress, enjoying an approval rating of just
15%, yet they only lost two Senate and six House seats, retaining a
thin but anomalous and ominous majority.
And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades,
and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.
How did this happen? While Trump occasionally clashed with Republican
leaders during the campaign -- leading to the impression that he was at
war with the GOP establishment -- it was always over lack of fealty more
than policy. The main exception was trade but so as long as the Republican's
are "saying nice things" to Trump, he was perfectly happy to embrace almost
all of their policies. The rift with the GOP establishment was always less
Second, as has been often noted, Trump's lack of knowledge and curiosity
about policy has meant he is totally reliant on the people who have the
plans -- who are congressional republicans, K street lobbyists and industry
groups. There is no shadow world of public policy centers crafting a Trumpian
alternative to Republican orthodoxy. With the exception of trade and
immigration, Trump's views are standard issue Republican policies, albeit
sprinkled with extra bile.
Finally, because so much of the GOP power is safeguarded by gerrymandering,
congressional Republicans can act like they have a mandate without much fear
that swing voters will punish them.
All in all, it adds up to an odd situation: the Republican party is less
popular than its been in ages -- and has more power.
One part of why this happened was that the GOP donor network focused
on down-ballot races, which had the effect of lifting Trump up without
having to bear all his dead weight. Indeed, all they needed to close
the deal was to convince their voters that Hillary was a tad worse, or
that they had nothing to lose by giving Trump a chance. Indeed, they
seemed to understand that in the end Trump would turn into the party
toady he's since become. The other part is that the Democrats focused
on supporting Hillary over, and free from, their party -- all those
appeals to "moderate suburban Republican housewives" and neocons and
other chimerical groups. The biggest gripe I've had against Obama and
the Clintons is how they've neglected building a party to compete with
the Republicans, instead usurping the party apparatus for their own
cult of personality (and appeals to elite donors).
Also, a few links very briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Barack Obama's Crash Course in Foreign Policy
Phyllis Bennis: Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of
Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview
Nate Cohn: How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for
David Dayen: Trump's Transition Team Is Stacked With Privatization
Enthusiasts: "If these officials get their way, America's schools,
roads, prisons, immigrant-detention centers, and critical social-insurance
programs will soon fall into private hands."
Eric Foner: American Radicals and the Change We Could Believe In
Paul Glastris/Nancy LeTourneau: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments,
Revisited: Useful, but still when I read most of these I find
myself thinking "but"; e.g., number seven is "Ended U.S. Combat
Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," but then he restarted both of
them, so it's unclear exactly what he accomplished there. And in
many more cases, he did such a poor job of defending them politically
that they are likely to be undone rather easily by Trump and the
Republican Congress. Still, the most remarkable item on the list,
one Trump is certain to reverse but unable to repeal, is: "50.
Avoided Scandal: Became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower
to serve two terms with no serious personal or political scandal."
Michelle Goldberg: Why Did Planned Parenthood Supporters Vote
Tony Karon: Trump's challenge is to reflect the people's will
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of
Steady Employment: Refers to a recent book by David Weil: The
Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be
Dont to Improve It. This reminds me that one of the biggest political
losses in recent years has been the idea of countervailing power: that we
need counterbalances against any concentration of power. The worst trend
in recent years has been the increasing dominance of corporations over
their employees. Indeed, many people get a glimpse of what life under
fascist dictatorship is like every day they go to work.
Laila Lalami: What Happened to the Change We Once Believed In
Martin Longman: Why the GOP Can't Repeal Obamacare
Barry C Lynn: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom:
Actually, he means the party that brings antitrust enforcement back
into play, to break up monopolies and end the rents they charge that
are one of the leading causes of economic inequality.
One of the by-products of monopolization is the concentration of
economic growth in a few metro areas, mainly along the coasts, while
heartland areas fall behind. It is no coincidence that this pattern
of growing regional inequality looks remarkably like the 2016 electoral
Lynn has been harping on this theme for quite a while. See,
especially, his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and
the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Karl Marlantes: Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust
Paul Offit: The Very Real Threat of Trump's Climate Denialism:
As someone who owns some very expensive beachfront property, you'd
think Donald Trump would be more concerned about the global warming
which is almost certain to wipe out his investment, but in fact he's
nominated petro-industry shills Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to the
most relevant government positions.
Jeremy Scahill: Alleged Target of Drone Strike That Killed American
Teenager Is Alive, According to State Department: Target was
Ibrahim al Banna. The collateral damage was Abdulrahman Awlaki, the
son of US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was also killed by an
Obama drone in 2009.
Daniel Stid: Why the GOP Congress Will Stop Trump From Going Too
Far: Maybe once in a blue moon, but the fact that an article
like this can even be written shows that pundits have yet to face
up to the fact that the real loonies in the Republican government
are the ones in Congress. I'd take more seriously a title like
"Will Trump Stop the GOP Congress From Going Too Far?" -- I think
the answer is no, basically because he's too lazy and careless
and doesn't really give a shit, but at least that's a question
one should think about -- if only to be conscious when he fails.
Steven Strauss: The Clintons have done enough damage: "Let me
make a suggestion to Bill and Hillary Clinton: You've done quite
enough damage. Keep your money and stay out of politics."
Matt Taibbi: Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman's New Book:
This is great satire, but I find it interesting that what Taibbi
sees as Friedman's only real idea -- "that technology was racing
past humanity's ability to govern itself wisely" -- is actually
true and important, so I'm left wondering why Friedman has never
managed to write anything insightful or interesting about it. Of
course, I haven't actually read much Friedman -- satire seems
to cover that need quite well -- but my own reflection is that
living in a world where we depend more and more on technology
that we rarely understand means that it is ever more important
that we develop trust, which means creating social constraints
so that the few people who do master this technology won't use
it against us. This flies directly in the face of actual policies
such as patents and protection of corporate trade secrets. This,
of course, never occurs to Friedman because he already trusts
the masters of technology to use their greed for public good.
Matt Taibbi: The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump's White House:
Even though they spent all that money to weasel their way into Hillary
Clilnton's White House, you must have suspected that Goldman Sachs
would have a Plan B. This is it.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump Taps Bear Stearns Economist Who Said Not to
Worry About Credit Crisis for Key Treasury Job: "Talk about
Set Freed Wessler: Donald Trump's Looming Mass Criminalization
Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't
share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all
text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):
TOP 10 REASONS FOR SINGLE PAYER
- Everybody in, nobody out
- Portability: Change jobs, get divorced, lose your job, etc. - won't lose coverage
- Uniform benefits for everyone
- Enhance Prevention
- Choose your physician
- Ends insurance industry interference with care
- Reduces administrative waste
- Saves money
- Common Sense Budgeting - set fair reimbursements and apply them equally
- Public oversight, public ownership
This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true,
and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the
problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly
parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is
better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit
health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and
inefficiencies is more complex.
Sunday, December 18. 2016
I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely
predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're
David Atkins: Democrats Should Hope the Economic Populists Are
More than a month after the election, a war of words and ideas still
rages on the left between the Sanders-leaning economic populists and
the more establishment defenders of the Clinton campaign. Broadly
speaking, the contours of the argument center around whether Clinton
could have done more from a populist messaging standpoint to appeal
to white working class Rust Belt voters and to disaffected voters who
stayed home, or whether Clinton's overall approach was good, but that
she was overwhelmed by the prejudices of white voters and stabbed in
the back by Comey, Russia, and various parts of the progressive left.
I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react:
well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support
than she would have given us over the next four years had she won.
And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably,
even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of
people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted
for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next
four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform,
because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans
into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what
we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left
weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's
problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it
wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy
people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing
to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief
backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.
There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to
make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate
real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the
emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways
that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at
the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the
former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are
beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity
there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long
term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially
effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the
sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.
Lauren Fox: Obama: 'Reagan Would Roll Over in His Grave' Over GOP
Support for Russia: One of Obama's strangest quirks is his
continuing affection for Ronald Reagan, even to the point of
imagining he's some sort of kindly national father-figure far
removed from his actual history and legacy. It's not as if Obama
wasn't conscious during the Reagan administration -- he was 18
when it started -- but he didn't have the Vietnam War to inform
his politics at that age (like I did), so maybe he's normalized
his memory in some way those of us who can recall Reagan from
his days as governor of California in the 1960s cannot. (Maybe
he's conflated Reagan with his first experiences of getting high
and getting laid?) In any
case, his comment reflects a simpler misunderstanding. Reagan's
wailing about the Soviet Union was purely ideological -- even
when he framed it as some sort of Manichaean struggle between
good and evil -- he never went off on nationalist rants against
the Russians, nor did he grasp the neoconservative doctrine that
seeks to punish any nation that isn't sufficiently obsequious
to American power. Moreover, like all conservatives of his era
(and for that matter today), he appreciated the efficient order
that dictators abroad offered -- one might even say he preferred
them to the risks of unruly democracy America itself posed. So
why on earth would Reagan be disturbed by Trump's fondness for
Putin? -- a fellow plutocrat who's willing to cut corners when
it comes to democratic niceties to consolidate the power of his
favored cronies? It's not like conservatives care any more about
ordinary Russians than they do about ordinary Americans.
Liberals (and leftists), at least, can offer a plausible claim
to caring about iniquities around the world, because they care
about them at home, and recognize that the rest of the world isn't
that different. Still, nothing Obama (nor any of the Democrats who
have lately been obsessed with Russian meddling in our election)
has said indicates any concern for the Russian people. Rather, he
has simply fallen for the post-Cold War neoconservative line that
demonizes any nation outside of America's "security" umbrella --
especially any political leaders who think they have any interests
beyond their own borders (as Russia does with Syria and Ukraine).
The neocons motives are pretty transparent: they like to puff up
Russia and China as rivals and enemies to justify America's expensive
indulgence in world-threatening arms. On the other hand, it's just
plain ignorant and lazy for Democrats like Obama (and the Clintons)
to take up the neocon cudgel against Russia. It leads to greater
militarization, less diplomacy, a world torn into hostile camps
where America rules by brute intimidation, and has ceded any
motivation except for self-interest.
As for the "Russian hack" of the election, which is presumably
the imagined (if not the real) inspiration for Obama's attempt at
Sam Kriss: The Rise of the Alt-Center, or as the subhed put
it, "Why did establishment liberals fall in love with a deranged
Twitter thread?" Or as the link I followed read: "Establishment
Liberals Have Lost Their Damn Minds." The tweet thread was by
Eric Garland, and Kriss adds a full paragraph of liberal praise,
including "if there were a Pulitzer for tweeting -- this thread
would be the updisputed winner of 2016." Kriss continues:
Clearly something horrifying has happened to America's great liberal
intellects. One moment they were yapping along in the train of a
historic political movement; now, ragged and destitute, they wander
with lolling tongues in search of anything that might explain their
new world to them. This is, after all, how cults get started. Cultists
will venerate any messianic mediocrity and any set of half-baked
spiritual dogmas; it's not the overt content that matters but the
security of knowing. If Trump's devoted hype squad of pustulent,
oleaginous neo-Nazis can now be euphemized as the "alt-right," the
Eichenwalds and Jefferys of the world might have turned themselves
into something similar: an alt-center, pushing its own failed
political doctrine with all the same vehemence, idiocy, and spleen.
So it's strange, but not surprising, that so many people would sing
the praises of Garland's masterpiece, because it is absolutely the
worst piece of political writing ever inflicted on any public in
human history. [ . . . ]
Whatever Russia did or didn't do, the idea that its interference
is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and
absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be
summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the
country's highest-ranking Democrat: "For every blue-collar Democrat
we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate
Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that
in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." As it turned out, he was fatally
wrong. It wasn't the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon
the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral
base. It wasn't the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign
that offered people nothing but blackmail -- "vote for us or Dangerous
Donald wins." The Russians didn't come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases
like "I'm with her" or "America is already great." The Russians never
ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the
country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did
that all by themselves.
Barack Obama's presidency will be defined by his failure to face
down Assad: No, Obama's presidency has been defined by his
failure to face down the real threat to the security and welfare
of the American people: the Republicans. He's done this by not
blaming them for their misdeeds. He's done this by not breaking
with their failed policies -- above all the wars against Muslims,
but also much of their domestic policy. And he's done this by
not offering real alternatives, and by not supporting his party
or its voters. As for Syria, sure, he screwed up, but not for
backing away from the "red line" over chemical weapons -- pace,
the author, he won the only meaningful resolution of that issue,
and did it diplomatically (the only way that would stick). But
in his early rejection of Assad, his congenital antipathy to
Russia and Iran, his willingness to give supposed allies (like
Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) a free hand to pursue radically
opposed goals), and his general belief in the effectiveness of
military might (and his continued support for the most clandestine
and irresponsible American warmakers), he made sure the US would
be a much bigger part of the problem than of the solution.
And briefly noted:
Eli Clifton: John Bolton's Cozy Relationship With Anti-Muslim Hate Groups
Should Disqualify Him From Public Service: Sure, but even when the
people pick up his paycheck he's never worked a day of public service in
his life. As a diplomat who refuses to negotiate (or even meet), he is a
prime example of how Republicans undermine government by undermining
Pedro Nicolai Da Costa: Why the Trump Economic Boom Will Never Come:
"subsidized deal-making and tax cuts for the rich are the surest sign
of a bubble."
Susan McWilliams: This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism.
His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy: By a former US ambassador to Israel, not someone
you'd ever take to be anti-Israel. The new guy is David Friedman, a
real piece of work.
Albert Mohler: The Post-Truth Era -- Welcome to the Age of Dishonesty:
review of Ralph Keyes' book, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and
Deception in Contemporary Life. I found this while trying to track
down a 1992 article by Steve Tesich called "A Government of Lies" --
evidently the original source for the "post-truth" meme, but seems to
only be available through subscription services.
Mark Joseph Stern: North Carolina Republicans' Legislative Coup Is an
Attack on Democracy: Republican Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded
his defeat in the North Carolina gubernatorial race this year after
drawing out the ugliest recount tantrums in recent history. Then, with
the Republican legislature, he schemed to change the game so incoming
Democratic governor Roy Cooper will have as little power as possible.
This is a textbook case of how the Republicans accept losing: mean and
ugly, totally devoid of faith in or respect for democracy.
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump's Pick for Interior
Secretary, and the Rising American Land Movements
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is going to be mad when he hears what his
appointees think about the TPP: "His top economic and foreign
policy advisers love it (as do his other advisers)." Well, you'd
think he'd be mad, but you didn't really believe anything he said
during the campaign? Now did you?
Sunday, December 11. 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little
else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40
years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical
of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure,
one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing
in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall
way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some
qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption.
And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally
distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has
never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic
fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own
bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving
others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that,
but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure
of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any
of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going
to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other
in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of
American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration,
titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with
their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not
the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately
know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past,
the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan)
combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture
of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his
business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals,
nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he
won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned
to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with
four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as
bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but
still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real
scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten
core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when
to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Trump Excuses the White Working Class From the Politics of
Personal Responsibility: The author has been reading JB Vance's
Hillbilly Elegy and detects some manner of irony:
Under Reagan, Republicans demanded personal responsibility from African
Americans and ignored the same cultural problems when displayed by whites.
Under Trump, Republicans acknowledge that whites exhibit those same
pathologies. Trump, for instance, spoke frequently during the campaign
about drug addiction in white, rural states like New Hampshire. But
instead of demanding personal responsibility, Trump's GOP promises
state protection. Unlike Vance, who speaks about his poor white neighbors
in the way Reagan-era conservatives spoke about poor blacks, Trump-era
conservatives describe the white working class as the victims of political
and economic forces beyond their control. Sounding a bit like Jesse Jackson
defending the black underclass in the 1980s, Trump Republicans say that
what the white underclass needs today is not moralistic sermonizing but
government assistance and cultural respect.
Of course, there is a simpler reason why Republicans would present
different sets of standards and prescriptions for white and blacks:
it's called racism. Such double standards are hardly novel. Nor was
"separate but equal" merely ironic. But Beinart is also wrong when he
thinks Trump intends to solve the problems of poor whites through
state actions. Like all Republicans since Reagan, his solution is to
reduce the political options of the state, reserving it for violence
against any challenges to authority, while allowing the private sector
to expand its power over workers, customers, and mere bystaders.
Rosa Brooks: Don't Freak Out About Trump's Cabinet Full of Generals:
I doubt I'd take Brooks seriously without knowing that her mother is
the brilliant left journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, as Brooks' own resume
paints her as an insider in Washington's foreign policy establishment,
a perch from which she's observed the creeping hegemonic encroachment
of military brass (her recent book is How Everything Became War and
the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon). So, yeah,
she's uncommonly comfortable with generals and admirals running things,
even respects and admires them. Still, she may be right that the problem
with all Trump's generals isn't that they'll upset the intricate checks
and balances the founding fathers devised, but she misses the real point:
that Trump's generals consummates a steady drift that started back in
WWII transforming the US military from a rarely-used last resort to an
everyday implement of world-hegemonic imperial policy. And sure, all
that (so far) happened before Trump, but in hiring those generals Trump
is demonstrating that his own foreign policy thinking is nothing more
than an echo of that long (and frankly disastrous) drift. Of course,
that should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention to him
during the long campaign. They only thing that doesn't alarm me about
the generals is the fact that I can think of even worse civilians to
hand power over to. (Brooks herself contrasts State candidates Rudy
Giuliani and David Petraeus, and she's got a point there, but I'm
still drawing a blank on who Michael Flynn is saving us from.)
Martin Longman: Breitbart Does Not Like Trump's Labor Pick:
So, if you
go look at the Breitbart website right now, you'll see an anti-Trump
headline that accuses him of nominating a Labor Secretary that prefers
foreign labor to American workers. And if you actually go ahead and read
the article, you'll see that it lashes out at Andy Puzder for standing
"diametrically opposed to Trump's signature issues on trade and
As an example, they cite his decision to "join forces with Michael
Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Rupert Murdoch's open borders lobbying firm,
the Partnership for a New American Economy, to call for 'free-market
solutions' to our immigration system." They also question Puzder's
support for "amnesty" and overall view him as a poster-boy for what
they oppose, which is bringing in low-wage immigrants that take jobs
from white Americans and suppress their wages.
The man Trump nominated to be Labor Secretary,
is CEO of a chain of fast food restaurants (Hardee's, Carl's Jr.), so
his labor expertise is in how to hire minimum wage, no benefit workers.
(His business experience includes taking his firm through a private
equity deal valued at more than $1 billion. The company generates $1.4
billion in revenues, operating in the US and 40 foreign countries.)
I'm not sure whether Puzder counts as one of Trump's billionaires, but
he comes pretty close.
One thing that worried me about the prospect of Sanders becoming
president was that the Democratic Party regulars -- the people he'd
have to draw on for appointments and support -- weren't ready to back
his "revolution." I never believed that Trump would veer significantly
from Republican Party orthodoxy, but I can see how those who did think
he offered something different -- notably the Breitbart crowd, and as
many "white populists" as you can count -- are likely to belatedly
discover the same problem. Much as Trump went with impeccably demented
Mike Pence as his VP, he's stocking his cabinet from the same stock of
Daniel Politi: Trump Explains Why He Rejects Daily Intelligence Briefings:
"I'm, Like, a Smart Person": I saw Michael Moore on Seth Myers the
other night making a big stink about how Trump has sloughed off going
to CIA briefings, and for once I thought, "good for Trump." As far as
I know, the first president to receive daily briefings was Shrub, and
the chemical reaction of misinformation-meets-ignorance there didn't
do anyone any good. Supposedly Obama tried to fix this by laying down
a rule -- "don't do stupid shit" -- but his own daily briefings allowed
all sorts of loopholes to that rule, backed by presidential authority.
The fact is that the "war on terror" isn't important enough to require
daily input and direction from the so-called Commander-in-Chief. A sane
president would simply, quietly wind it down, mostly by not encouraging
"stupid shit" to happen. The fact that Trump isn't a reasonable person,
that he pretty much campaigned on doing "stupid shit" all the time,
makes it even more important to steer him away from meetings about
killing people and embarrassing the country.
Nomi Prins: The Magnitude of Trump's Cronyism Is Off the Charts -- Even
for Washington: "The President-elect's incomplete cabinet is already
the richest one ever."
There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president
surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested
power-grabbers, but you'd have to return to Warren G. Harding's
administration in the early 1920s to find it. The "Roaring Twenties"
that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began,
ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as
well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under
Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the
deregulation of Wall Street. . . .
Harding's other main contributions to American history involved two
choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of
secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in
the years just preceding the Great Depression. And in a fashion that
now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth,
billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary. Mellon, a
Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National
Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for
which he'd be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary
(as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close
associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he
co-founded the Union Steel Company.
He promptly set to work -- and this will sound familiar today --
cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he
essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy "trusts"
that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in
companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash.
After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover's
administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes
and tax-related conflicts of interest.
Prins goes on to run down the wealth and interest conflicts of
several Trump picks, including Wilbur Ross ($2.9 billion, Commerce),
Betsy DeVos ($5.1 billion, Education), and Steven Mnuchin (up to $1
billion, Treasury, from Goldman Sachs). If, as reported, Trump picks
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, he's not going to
lower the average much.
Theda Skocpol/Alexander Hertel-Fernandez/Caroline Tervo: Behind "Make
America Great," the Koch Agenda Returns With a Vengeance: The Koch
network spent about $750 million on the 2016 elections, mostly on
down-ballot races that saved and shaped the Republican Congress,
and that is rapidly becoming the framework that shapes the Trump
presidency, even on issues where Trump publicly differed from the
Kochs and their cronies (like Scott Walker and Mario Rubio).
Publicly available numbers suggest that AFP's grassroots organizing
made a real difference -- and indirectly helped Trump, who had little
campaign capacity of his own. In Wisconsin, for instance, AFP claims
that it reached over 2.5 million voters in phone banking and canvassing
efforts. In North Carolina, AFP claimed over 1.2 million calls and
120,000 door-to-door efforts, or nearly the entire reported margin of
victory for Trump. And in Pennsylvania, AFP claims it made over 2.4
million phone calls and knocked on over 135,000 doors, more than twice
Trump's margin of victory in that state. AFP's grassroots efforts were
especially pronounced in Florida, where AFP boasts that its people
knocked on a record-breaking one million doors throughout the state
to help re-elect Senator Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton lost the state
by just over 100,000 votes. In all four of these states AFP helped to
re-elect the incumbent Republican Senator and make important down
ballot gains. Obviously, given what we know about the decline of
split ticking voting, most of the same citizens AFP mobilized for
state and Congressional contests also cast ballots for Donald Trump.
Jared Bernstein/Dean Baker: Why Trade Deficits Matter
Ben Castleman: Inequality Is Killing the American Dream
Sarah Chayes: It Was a Corruption Election. It's Time We Realized
Steve Coll: Rex Tillerson, From a Corporate Oil Sovereign to the State
David Dayen: Donald Trump Is Just Another Handmaiden to Capital
Rebecca Gordon: It's 2016, Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are
Greg Grandin: The Strange Career of American Exceptionalism: "and
Barack Obama's curious role as its most ardent recent champion and
Carl Levin/Jay Rockefeller: The Torture Report Must Be Saved:
"However, after Republicans took control of the Senate, the new
chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, took the unusual
step of trying to recall the full report that Senator Feinstein
had distributed -- to prevent it from ever being widely read or
declassified. . . . Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump,
there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the
Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden
indefinitely, or destroyed."
Jeff Madrick: How Much Did Alan Greenspan Really Know?: Review
of Sebastian Mallaby's book, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times
of Alan Greenspan.
Josh Marshall: Maybe the Answer Is That He Can't Divest; also the
He Won't Because He Can't. I'll add that the fact that Trump managed
to get away without releasing his tax returns simply because he never
did it sets a precedent for him not divesting or in any way distancing
himself from his business interests -- even though there are various
laws and some wording in the constitution that imply he has to. Even
if he did, his family is wrapped up in his business, and his business
is built around his name.
Sean McElwee/Jesse Rhodes/Brian Schaffner: Big Republican donors are
even more extreme than their party -- and they drive its agenda:
It strikes me that Trump has turned the tables on big party donors:
instead of doing their bidding, which is normal practice in Washington,
he's setting them up to take charge directly. (Betsy DeVos, Trump's
nominee for HEW Secretary, is perhaps the most flagrant example.)
Andrew McGill: Many of Trump's Own Supporters Don't Think He'll Fix
America: "Half expect their local communities to stay the same,
or get worse." That still strikes me as unreasonably optimistic, but
this report does damper what I had hoped would be the silver lining
of the election: that given complete power, people will finally
blame the Republicans for failing utterly.
William Saletan: Donald Trump's Locker Room: "he's always in the
locker room. He's always trying to endear himself to some people by
insulting others. If you're in the room, he's your buddy. If you're
not, you're just another pussy."
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here.
Alana Semuels: How to Kill the Middle Class: in Wisconsin, you do
it by killing off public sector unions.
Nobel Laureate Economist Says American Inequality Didn't Just Happen.
It Was Created: interview with Joseph E Stiglitz.
Jeffrey Toobin: The First Amendment After Hogan V. Gawker: "Sex
tapes, the Web site's demise, and what the Trump era means for press
Josh Voorhees: Pruitt's Plan to Make Climate Denialism Law: On
Trump's EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Also see:
Chris Mooney/Brady Dennis/Steven Mufson: Trump names Scott Pruit,
Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the
Stephen M Walt: 10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator:
On Trump, and more like "wants to be a dictator," which is really
the more relevant question.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is running the least popular transition
Trump's fast-food CEO Labor Department pick teaches us a lot about
Goldman Sachs alumni will likely have the 2 top Trump economic policy
jobs: the hits keep on coming.
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four
Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix,
one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality.
Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already
in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" --
not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich,
as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they
discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses
the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved
the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding,
"exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More
blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping
the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.
Sunday, November 27. 2016
I didn't really plan on posting a Roundup this week, but when I
looked at Salon's politics section way too may red flags jumped out
at me. I'm generally inclined to give Trump a little rope to hang
himself, but I'm surprised by the speed with which he's set about
the task. I realized that Trump was a guy who spent every waking
moment conniving to make money (well, aside from the time spent
plotting sexual conquests), and thought it unlikely that he'd
change for a moment. But these pieces are mostly self-explanatory,
so at least I don't have to annotate them.
Some scattered links this week on all things Trump:
Donald Trump's Caldron of Conflicts
Yoni Appelbaum: Donald Trump's Revival of 'Honest Graft'
Dan Bacher: Trump Appoints Big Oil Think Tank Director to Lead Interior
Thor Benson: Donald Trump's surveillance state: All the tools to suppress
dissent and kill free speech are already in place: Thanks to 9/11 and
the permanent state of war.
Jamelle Bouie: Government by the Worst Men: Bannon, Flynn, Sessions --
but isn't that only the beginning?
Donald Brownstein: Donald Trump's Fragile Hold on America
Matthew Daly: Donald Trump's stock in Dakota Access oil pipeline company
Amy Davidson: The Real Concerns of the Trump Transition
Joe Emersberger: How the Rich Are Getting Richer: Interview with
Garrett Epps: Donald Trump Has Broken the Constitution
Henry Farrell: Kissing the Ring: After considering Trump as Cosimo
de Medici, a prediction:
If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the
next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace
intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not
particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell's Cosimo) about attaining
specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the
center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter
what consequences this has for the integrity of the web.
Dana Goldstein: How Trump Could Gut Public Education: First clue
is his pick of fellow billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of
Education. Also note that Trump has some previous experience in
the business of education.
William Hartung: Trump for the Defense
Joshua Holland: Struggling White Voters Who Helped Elect Trump Are Headed
for Some Serious Pain
Paul Krugman: Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?
Gary Legum: Peak "crony captialism": Donald Trump indulging in corrupt
favoritism isn't surprising -- but so much of it so soon?!
Simon Maloy: The Trump sleaze factor: Let the GOP own the new, expanded
"culture of corruption" Trump promises
Josh Marshall: Must Reads on the Coming Privatization of Everything and
The Historic Cash-In Continues. Marshall has also been on top of Paul
Ryan's scheme to wreck Medicare -- for all the world it sounds like he's
trying to replace the popular and effective program with something similar
to but a bit shadier than Obamacare -- including this piece on the politics:
Medicare for the Win.
Richard C Paddock, et al: Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for
Trump, the Businessman President
Phil Plait: Trump's Plan to Eliminate NASA Climate Research Is Ill-Informed
Joy-Ann Reid: Already Happening: Media Normalization of Trumpism
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: What
was the president-elect doing this week to possibly make himself
David Swanson: Michael Flynn Should Remember Truths He Blurted Out Last
Year: like criticizing Obama for his obsession with death-by-drone.
Jim Tankersley: Trump can't revive industry. But his voters might still
get raises. Unfortunately, that depends on Trump sustaining growth
rates comparable to Clinton in the 1990s, and assuming that the labor
market hasn't deteriorated in the meantime -- I'm pretty doubtful on
both counts. On the other hand, if Trump succeeds in deporting virtually
all undocumented workers, that could tighten labor markets a bit (but
probably not enough).
Jeremy Venook: Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet
Matthew Yglesias: Don't let Donald Trump's antics distract you from what's
really important, following up on
We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our
Also a couple things not exactly on the incoming disaster, although
not exactly unrelated either:
I don't have much to say about Fidel Castro. I've never held any
romantic attachment for Cuba's communist regime, and I don't doubt
that it has sometimes been repressive and that its planned economy
could have been more dynamic. However, I can't begrudge their early
expropriation of foreign (mostly American) assets, and must admit
that they've built a literate, highly educated, and for the most
part egalitarian society, while maintaining a vibrant culture, all
despite cruel economic hardships imposed variously by America and
Russia. It's worth remembering that Cuba was the last slaveholder
society in the Americas, and the last of Spain's colonial outposts,
and after the US seized it in America's 1898 imperialist expansion
was only granted "independence" because it was thought easier to
run it through local puppet strongmen -- a scandalous series that
was only ended by Castro's revolution.
I've long thought that the vitriolic reaction of American politicos
to Cuba's real independence and defiance reflected a deep-seated guilt
(and embarrassment) about how badly we had mishandled our power there.
But it manifested itself as sheer spite, ranging from the CIA's Bay of
Pigs invasion and numerous assassination plots the CIA tried to mount
against Castro to the long-running blockade -- all of which reinforced
Castro's anti-Americanism and made him a hero for underdogs all around
the world. Obama's recent normalization of US-Cuban relations finally
gives us a chance to be less of an ogre -- although the reflexive
instinct is still apparent in recent comments by
Trump, Rubio, and others. Hopefully they'll blow this jingoistic
thinking out of their systems.
Here are a few scattered comments on Castro from:
Tony Karon (2008);
Stephen Gibbs/Jonathan Watts: Havana in mourning: 'We Cubans are Fidelista
even if we are not communist';
Kathy Gilsinan: How Did Fidel Castro Hold On to Cuba for So Long?.
One quote, from the Karon piece above:
There's been predictably little interesting discussion in the United
States of Fidel Castro's retirement as Cuba's commandante en jefe,
maximo etc. That's because in the U.S. political mainstream,
Cuba policy has for a generation been grotesquely disfigured by a
collective kow-towing -- yes, collective, it was that craven Mr.
Clinton who signed into law the Draconian Helms-Burton act that made
it infinitely more difficult for any U.S. president to actually lift
the embargo, and the equally craven Mrs. Clinton appears to pandering
to the same crowd -- to the Cuban-American Ahmed Chalabi figures of
Miami, still fantasizing about a day when they'll regain their
plantations and poor people of color will once again know their place.
[ . . . ]
What fascinates me, however, is the guilty pleasure with which so
many millions of people around the world revere Fidel Castro -- revere
him, but wouldn't dream of emulating his approach to economics or
governance. People, in other words, who would not be comfortable
actually living in Castro's Cuba, much as they like the idea of him
sticking it the arrogant yanqui, his physical and political
survival a sure sign that Washington's awesome power has limits --
and can therefore be challenged.
Saturday, November 19. 2016
First, a few summary points, many drawing on my previous
Hillary Clinton still has a popular vote margin over Donald
Trump, one that currently stands at 1,322,095 votes, up nearly one
million votes since I checked earlier, and up about 100,000 votes
since I started this post. (I've seen a tweet that has Clinton's
lead at 1.65 million votes.)
Still, that's less than Clinton's margin
in New York state alone (1,507,241), a mere 45% of her margin in
California (2,904,526). In fact, California topped Hawaii as her
best percentage state (61.78%; she won 90.4% in DC). By contrast,
Trump's biggest popular win, in Texas, was 813,774, followed by
Tennessee (651,073), Alabama (588,841), Kentucky (574,108), Missouri
(530,864), Indiana (520,429). Trump topped 60% in 9 states (AL, AR,
KY, NB, ND, OK, SD, WV, WY), but most were small.
Clinton lost three states that she was heavily favored in
by very slim margins: Michigan (0.27%), Wisconsin (0.93%), and
Pennsylvania (1.24%). Had she hung on to those three states she
would have won the electoral college. It's easy to imagine various
technical shifts in her campaign strategy that might have secured
those states and won her the election, even without any substantive
adjustments to her platform. She was not a hopeless candidate, but
was a flawed and for many people uninspiring one, and was not well
served by a staff and organization built to flatter her.
Voter turnout was down 1.2 points, to 53.7%. Trump was elected
president with about 25% of the vote, and Clinton lost with just a
hair more. As was widely reported, they were the two least approved
candidates in history. Clinton maintained a polling lead throughout
the campaign, but was never able to top 50%, her leads varying widely
as Trump's numbers waxed and waned. Trump caught a break a week before
the election when FBI Director James Comey re-opened Clinton's email
troubles, and Trump avoided major blunders in his last week, so his
win can be attributed to a lucky break.
The Democrats gained two Senate seats and seven House seats,
so the party as a whole was not swept up in a Republican tide. More
likely she was a drag on down-ticket Democrats. I believe that one
of the biggest tactical errors was Clinton's failure to run against
what Harry Truman once called "the do-nothing Congress" (Democrats
lost control of Congress in 1946, but recovered in 1948 with Truman's
come-from-behind campaign). Ultimately we'll see that most of the
bad things that happen in the next four years will originate in the
Republican Congress, and most of Trump's own disasters will be tied
to his forming an extremist Republican administration. The election
would have been very different if Clinton had run not on Obama's
"successes" but by blaming Republicans for his shortcomings.
I think it's safe to say that Bernie Sanders would have been
a more formidable candidate for the Democrats. What is certain is
that we didn't have any of Clinton's sleazy vulnerabilities. Also
that he was far enough removed from the Clinton-Obama mainstream
he could have run as a credible change, and that he has shown the
ability to rally large and enthusiastic crowds (which Trump did
and Clinton did not). Maybe the Republicans could have come up with
an effective set of slanders to undo him, but they wouldn't have
had the benefits of 24 years of target practice against Clinton.
Sanders' real vulnerability was that the Clinton-Obama Democrats
would sandbag him (much as previous generations of Democrats did
to Bryan and McGovern), but perhaps fear of Trump would have held
them in check.
Whatever divisions were thought to exist in the Republican
party have vanished. The only thing Republicans really care about
is winning and ruling, and they really don't care how ugly it
looks. And while their current margins are extremely thin, that
didn't impose any scruples on Bush and Cheney in 2000 -- another
time when the presidential victor lost the popular vote -- and
Republicans have only become more vicious and unscrupulous since
then. (Trump, for one, never had to feign compassion.)
One thing that we should bear in mind is that many disasters take
a long time to fully reveal themselves. That Republican Congress
elected in 1946 has had an especially long-lasting impact. George
Brockway, for instance, cited a banking "reform" bill that they
passed as the first chink in the deregulation that finally sunk the
economy in 2008. More obvious was the Taft-Hartley Act, which made
it significantly harder to form and maintain labor unions. After
that act was passed, the CIO gave up on organizing unions in the
South, which left American businesses with an alternative to union
labor in the North. That, more than anything else, gradually ate
away at the Rust Belt, leading to this year's Democratic debacle.
But then the Democrats haven't been passive observers to the
destruction of their party's base. Harry Truman was so militantly
opposed to worker strikes after WWII that he inadvertently validated
the public opinion behind Taft-Hartley (a bill he vetoed, but his
veto was overridden). And one can argue that the Clinton-sponsored
NAFTA was the straw that broke the camel's back -- he's certainly
the one who gets blamed, even though it was mostly Republicans who
voted for the agreement.
On the other hand, the half-life of disasters certainly seems
to be quickening, especially as public institutions become more and
more corrupt, as wealth and income are distributed ever more inequally,
as decades of bad choices slowly add up into harder ones. A lot of
the links below concern the destruction of the middle class, especially
in the Rust Belt, and raise the question of why even people who are
still doing OK have become anxious about the economy. This can only
remind me of a book published back in 1989, Barbara Ehrenreich's
Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. And
really, she wasn't way ahead of the learning curve. She was merely
more perceptive than most people were. Recent books, such as the
six recommended in the list below, focus more on those who have
fallen, and who can't get up. But fear came first, and Democrats
would have been better served had they recognized that, instead
of blundering on and pushing more and more people down and out.
Here are a mess of links I've collected, thinking they may be of
some interest (more or less alphabetical by author).
Scott Alexander: You Are Still Crying Wolf: Title refers to a piece,
Frank Bruni: Crying Wolf, Then Confronting Trump, which complains
that Democratic denunciations of "honorable and decent men" like McCain
and Romney have inoculated many Americans against even more strident
warnings about Trump (he cites an essay by Jonah Greenberg, "How the
Media's History of Smearing Republicans Now Helps Trump"). Alexander
argues that Trump did better than Romney among blacks, Latinos and
Asians, then concludes: "The only major racial group where he didn't
get a gain or greater than 5% was white people." He then goes on to
argue that Trump isn't nearly as racist (i.e., no more than "any other
70 year old white guy") as people think, and that white supremacists --
at least as represented by people like David Duke (who got 3% in his
Louisiana Senate campaign) or groups like the KKK (national membership
in the 3000-6000 range) are extremely marginal. I think he goes too
far in making excuses for Trump, but it does raise the question: given
that Republicans have spent forty-some years "dog-whistling" race-charged
themes, isn't it possible that Democrats have become hyper-sensitive to
that veiled rhetoric? (And conversely, isn't it possible that much of
the Republican target audience have grown so accustomed to it they no
longer pay it any mind?) On the other hand, Alexander does stress how
bizarre he finds Trump:
16. But didn't Trump . . .
Whatever bizarre, divisive, ill-advised, and revolting thing you're
about to mention, the answer is probably yes.
This is equally true on race-related and non-race-related issues.
People ask "How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that
Obama was born in Kenya, if he wasn't racist?" I don't know. How could
Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism?
How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that the Clintons
killed Vince Foster? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy
theory that Ted Cruz's father shot JFK?
Trump will apparently believe anything for any reason, especially
about his political opponents. If Clinton had been black but Obama
white, we'd be hearing that the Vince Foster conspiracy theory proves
Trump's bigotry, and the birtherism was just harmless wackiness.
Likewise, how could Trump insult a Mexican judge just for being
Mexican? I don't know. How could Trump insult a disabled reporter
just for being disabled? How could Trump insult John McCain just
for being a beloved war hero? Every single person who's opposed him,
Trump has insulted in various offensive ways, including 140 separate
incidents of him calling someone "dopey" or "dummy" on Twitter, and
you expect him to hold his mouth just because the guy is a Mexican?
I don't think people appreciate how weird this guy is. His
weird way of speaking. His catchphrases like "haters and losers!" or
"Sad!" His tendency to avoid perfectly reasonable questions in favor
of meandering tangents about Mar-a-Lago. The ability to bait him into
saying basically anything just by telling him people who don't like
him think he shouldn't.
Krishnadev Calamur: Donald Trump's CIA Pick Made His Name on the Benghazi
Committee: That's Mike Pompeo, currently 4th district congressman from
Canada, a district which includes Wichita and a half-dozen rural counties.
Pompeo was first elected in 2010 when Todd Tiahrt ran for Senate (and lost
to Jerry Moran). Tiahrt, who I had long regarded as the worst congressman
in America, tried to take back his House seat in 2012, and lost to Pompeo --
at the time I characterized them as R(Boeing) and R(Koch), respectively.
Indeed, the Wichita Eagle has an article today titled "Koch Industries,
Pompeo's biggest backer, cheers his CIA nomination." In Congress, Pompeo
has been a faithful defender of the Koch's brand of laissez-faire, but
far more than that he's emerged as one of the House's most rabid neocons --
a fact that was recognized by Bill Kristol when he put Pompeo's name on
his short list of vice presidential candidates. At this article points
out, Pompeo's was one of the Benghazi Committee's most forceful foes
of Hillary Clinton. Indeed, as CIA Director it wouldn't surprise me if
he forgoes the Special Prosecutor and just "renders" her to a black site
to be tortured until she confesses all. At least, nothing in that sentence
violates his understanding of law or morality.
Martin Longman has more on Pompeo (as well as Flynn and Sessions) here:
Trump Makes Three Catastrophic Picks. I do have a bone to pick with
one line: "What unites [Pompeo] with Mike Flynn is his outrage about
Obama's firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for disloyalty." Uh, McChrystal
was fired for incompetence. If you go back to the Rolling Stone
article where all this dirty laundry was aired, you'll find that Flynn
was even more outspoken in berating and belittling Obama, yet somehow
Obama looked past that to nominate Flynn to be head of the DIA. Sure,
that may rank as the worst appointment Obama ever made, but you can't
say it was because he was thin-skinned about criticism.
Robert Christgau on the End of the World
David Dayen: Beware Donald Trump's Infrastructure Plan:
Does this sound familiar? It's the common justification for privatization,
and it's been a disaster virtually everywhere it's been tried. First of
all, this specifically ties infrastructure -- designed for the common
good -- to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake
projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another
bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be
monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment
is more dicey without user fees.
So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding
Flint, Michigan's water system, for example, is to give them a cut of
the profits in perpetuity. That's what Chicago did when it sold off
36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now
pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless
to alter the rates.
Elizabeth Drew: How It Happened: Some fairly dumb things here,
including a metric comparing votes in counties that have Cracker
Barrel vs. Whole Foods stores, and an assertion that the third
party vote cost Clinton the election. Also includes this quote
from J.D. Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy):
"People who are drawn to Trump are drawn to him because he's a little
outrageous, he's a little relatable, and fundamentally he is angry
and spiteful and critical of the things that people feel anger and
spite toward," Vance has said. "It's people who are perceived to be
powerful. It's the Hillary Clintons of the world, the Barack Obamas
of the world, the Wall Street executives of the world. There just
isn't anyone out there who will talk about the system like it's
completely rigged like Donald Trump does. It's certainly not
something you're going to hear from Hillary Clinton."
Jason Easley: It Was a Union Contract, Not Trump, That Kept a Ford Plant
From Leaving the US
Barbara Ehrenreich: Forget fear and loathing. The US election inspires
projectile vomiting: Pre-election piece (sorry I didn't link to
it earlier). Still, this works fairly well as a post-mortem:
[Trump's] supporters -- generally portrayed as laid-off blue-collar
workers who, in the absence of unions, have devoted themselves to the
cause of whiteness -- cheer on each of his macro-aggressions. To them,
he is a giant middle finger in the face of the bipartisan political
elite, and the crazier he acts, the more resounding this fuck-you gets.
It doesn't matter that most of Trump's assertions can't stand up to
fact-checking; ignorance has been enshrined by an entire alternative
media, stretching from Fox News to Stormfront on the Nazi-leaning right.
On the liberal left, tragically, we do not have Bernie Sanders, who
would have dispatched Trump's populist pretensions with a wrist flick.
But no, representing the side of tolerance, good government and
cosmopolitanism, we have the very epitome of Democratic party elitism,
a woman who labeled half of Trump's supporters "deplorables," a politician
who is so robotic that any efforts to analyze her motives risk the charge
Liza Featherstone: Elite, White Feminism Gave Us Trump
Matt Feeney: The Book That Predicted Trump: The book touted here
is Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund
Burke to Sarah Palin (2012) -- I'm pretty sure those names are
just historical bookends and not meant to imply a general vector of
declining intelligence and coherence, as Robin's central thesis is
that conservatism, whether you're talking about Burke or John Calhoun
or Ronald Reagan or Trump is always pretty much the same thing, for
the same reasons: to defend the privileged few against anything that
might make us more equal.
Speaking of books, the New York Times recommends
6 Books to Help Understand Trump's Win:
- George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
- Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and
Mourning on the American Right (The New Press)
- J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in
- Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party
of the People? (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company)
- John B. Judis, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession
Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports)
- Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class
in America (Viking)
I've only read one of these -- Thomas Frank's critique of Clinton's
Democrats, a legacy which needs to be critically reviewed by anyone
who wants to rebuild the Democratic Party -- but the common theme here
is the economic and social stresses felt by the vanishing middle class
of white people.
Kathleen Frydl: The Oxy Electorate:
The number of people who cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential race
was greater than in 2012, even though, as a state, Ohio recorded a net
loss in turnout from the previous election. This pattern holds for
nearly all opioid-ravaged counties. And not just in Ohio -- in
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well, all of them crucial
to the presidential election's outcome. In 9 of the Ohio counties
that Trump successfully turned from Democrat to Republican, six log
overdose rates well above the national norm. All of the Pennsylvania
counties that chose Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 have exceptionally
high overdose rates, averaging 25 people per 100,000; in none of these
counties did vote totals fall.
Kathleen Geier: Inequality Among Women Is Crucial to Understanding
In these white working-class communities, it is the women who have
experienced some of the worst hardships. You may have heard of that
famous study that showed that showed an unprecedented decline in
longevity among white Americans who lack college degrees. But most
media reports missed a crucial point: As the statistician Andrew
Gelman pointed out, "Since 2005, mortality rates have increased
among women in this group but not men." And in addition to economic
insecurity and rising mortality rates, working-class women have
suffered from another indignity: invisibility. During the campaign,
there was a blizzard of articles about the concerns of elite
Republican women and white working-class men, but practically
nothing about female members of the working class.
John Judis: Why Trump Won - and Clinton Lost - and What It Could Mean for
the Country and the Parties: Quickie post-mortem, including some things
that don't make much sense to me (like the anti-third term pendulum), but
one thing I'm struck by is that immigration has different regional effects,
and appears particularly threatening when used to break or undermine unions --
meatpackers in Iowa is a case in point. One conclusion I'd draw is that
Democrats need to come up with better ways of talking about immigration,
because the way this campaign played out they came off as reflexively pro,
which raised legitimate questions of how much they cared about people who
were born here.
Theda Skocpol wrote a rejoinder which pokes a few holes without doing
much to fill them in (partly because she feels the need to defend Clinton
and to denigrate Sanders).
Mike Konczal: Preparing for the Worst: How Conservatives Will Govern
Unlike 2009, the conservative policy agenda is designed to not require
any Democratic votes. The idea that a conservative policy agenda would
create a dysfunctional system is a feature, not a bug. And the hope
that conflicting factions of the GOP will provide opportunities to
break them apart are not likely to pan out. But there's some reason
for hope, because their overreach and lack of preparedness will give
us opportunities. [ . . . ]
They aren't ready with a replacement for Obamacare. They aren't
ready for the heat of privatizing Medicare, or weakening Medicaid.
There are constituencies for both, and town halls can be flooded and
people organized. Those who desperately wanted a change towards
economic security are going to be surprised that the factories aren't
coming back and that they signed up for a libertarian kleptocracy
instead. But we should also be clear on the challenges of their
policy agenda, and that the cracks won't appear by themselves.
Konczal recommends a book (as do I): Thomas Frank's The Wrecking
Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2009) -- no mention of Trump, but lots
of things you're going to be seeing. And back on Sept. 21, Konczal wrote
a piece that provides useful background here:
Trump Is Actually Full of Policy.
Michael Kruse: What Trump Voters Want Now: Talking to blue collar
Trump voters in Pennsylvania:
"Your government betrayed you, and I'm going to make it right," Trump
told a boisterous crowd at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena less
than three weeks before Election Day. "Your jobs will come back under
a Trump administration," he said. "Your steel will come back," he said.
"We're putting your miners back to work," he said.
The people here who voted for Trump want all that. They want him
to loosen environmental regulations. They want their taxes to go down
and their incomes to go up. They want to see fewer drugs on their
streets and more control of the Mexican border. They want him to
"run the country like a business." And they want this fast. So now
comes the hard part for Trump -- turning rhetoric into results. Four
years ago, the largely Democratic voters in Cambria County flipped
on President Obama, disgusted that he had not made good on his
promise of change. What's clear from a series of interviews with
Trump supporters here is that they will turn on Trump, too, if he
doesn't deliver. [ . . . ]
But beyond flared tempers in the immediate aftermath of this
ugly election, said Rininger and Daloni, the larger point is that
this isn't going to work. There's next to no way, they believe,
that Trump can deliver on his promises.
"The infrastructure for the steel is all gone," Daloni said.
"It just doesn't exist anymore in Johnstown. It did used to be a
steel boomtown, but it was long before Obama was elected. It was
decimated, really, before Bill Clinton was elected. The mills
were going down in the '70s and '80s."
The Trump voters say they want change, but Daloni and Rininger
say the change has happened already. And despite what Trump promised
at the downtown arena a month ago, they believe there's a real chance
that Trump's solutions could make things worse. Incomes won't go up --
they'll go down. "I make $32 an hour, with good benefits, and that's
because I'm union," Rininger said. "I wouldn't even be f--king close
to that if I wasn't union."
And jobs, they worry, won't come back -- they'll disappear faster.
And before long, they said, the only work in Cambria County will be
minimum-wage counter jobs at the familiar collection of ring-road
fast food-joints. "The service industry, I'm afraid," Daloni said.
"If Trump starts trade wars," Rininger said, "you hurt us. You hurt
our plant" -- which is owned by Swedes, with a CEO from India. And the
steel the workers do still make, Rininger said, is sold to Brazil.
It's sold around the world.
Charles Pierce comments:
You Can Keep Studying White Working Class Voters, But We Know the
David Leonhardt: The Democrats' Real Turnout Problem: Cites a study
by Douglas Rivers of five east-to-midwest swing states that switched
from Obama to Trump (plus Minnesota, which was very close):
In counties where Trump won at least 70 percent of the vote, the number
of votes cast rose 2.9 percent versus 2012. Trump's pugnacious message
evidently stirred people who hadn't voted in the past. By comparison,
in counties where Clinton won at least 70 percent, the vote count was
1.7 percent lower this year.
Eric Lichtblau: US Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims:
I wouldn't call 6% a surge, but it turns out that's a gross "hate crime"
count. The real bottom line:
There were 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques
and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67
percent over 2014. It was the highest total since 2001, when more than
480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ryan Lizza: Donald Trump's First, Alarming Week as President-Elect:
Old history, now eclipsed by an even more disturbing second week
(e.g., Michael Flynn, Mike Pompeo).
Amanda Marcotte: Voter suppression helped make Donald Trump president --
now he'll make it worse
Sophia A McClennen: Like a double dose of Dubya: Donald Trump's presidency
will be like the George W. Bush disaster -- only worse
Michael Moore: 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win: This piece dates
from July 21, 2016, so it counts now as prophetic, but was meant
more as a warning, from someone who grew up in an industrial Great
Lakes state and has spent much of his career chronicling the hard
times his people have suffered. Here's the first point:
I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four
blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes -- Michigan,
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic
states -- but each of them have elected a Republican governor since
2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the
Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for
the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million).
Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and
tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after
everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it's because he's
said (correctly) that the Clintons' support of NAFTA helped to
destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going
to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade
policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states.
When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the
Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did
indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move
it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars
shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the
ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his
threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones
in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and
Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the
governor next-door, John Kasich. . . .
And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost
by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan,
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It's 64. All Trump needs to do to
win is to carry, as he's expected to do, the swath of traditional
red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that'll never vote
for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt
states. He doesn't need Florida. He doesn't need Colorado or Virginia.
Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put
him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.
And that was exactly what happened -- had Clinton held the
line in the three closest states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania;
forget Ohio) she would have been elected. She is, of course, one of
the other four points, but more interesting is what Moore calls "the
Jesse Ventura Effect":
Finally, do not discount the electorate's ability to be mischievous
or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists
once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It's
one of the few places left in society where there are no security
cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops,
there's not even a friggin' time limit. You can take as long as you
need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the
button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey
Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and
the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions
are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him,
not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because
they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy
and daddy mad. And in the same way like when you're standing on the
edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would
that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to
love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for
Trump just to see what that might look like.
Of course, the polls told them that Trump didn't have a chance,
that someone sane would catch them when they jumped. Moore also
wrote another pre-election piece called
5 Ways to Make Sure Trump Loses, which included this bit:
So many people have given up on our system and that's because the
system has given up on them. They know it's all bullshit: politics,
politicians, elections. The middle class in tatters, the American
Dream a nightmare for the 47 million living in poverty. Get this
straight: HALF of America is planning NOT to vote November 8th.
Hillary's approval rating is at 36%. CNN said it last night: No one
running for office with an approval rating of 36% has ever been
elected president (Trump's is at 30%). Even in these newer polls,
60% still say that Hillary is "untrustworthy to be president."
Disillusioned young people stop me every day to tell me they're not
voting (or they're voting 3rd Party). This is a problem, folks. Stop
ignoring it. You need to listen to them. Chastising them, shaming
them, will not work. Acknowledging to them that they have a point,
that Hillary Clinton is maybe not the best candidate, . . .
The rest of the paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense, and maybe
acknowledging your candidate's flaws won't convince many people to
overlook them, but one way to approach this would be to refocus the
campaign on electing Democrats to Congress, both to help her and to
keep her honest. And the easiest thing in the world should have been
running against our current batch of Congressional Republicans. Of
course, it didn't happen, perhaps because the Clintons rarely concern
themselves with any but the first person.
Toni Morrison: Making America White Again: This is one of sixteen
pieces the New Yorker commissioned as
Aftermath: Sixteen Writers on Trump's America. See especially
Jane Mayer on Trump and the Koch network. Also this from Jill Leopre:
The rupture in the American republic, the division of the American
people whose outcome is the election of Donald Trump, cannot be
attributed to Donald Trump. Nor can it be attributed to James Comey
and the F.B.I. or to the white men who voted in very high numbers
for Trump or to the majority of white women who did, too, unexpectedly,
or to the African-American and Latino voters who did not give Hillary
Clinton the edge they gave Barack Obama. It can't be attributed to the
Republican Party's unwillingness to disavow Trump or to the Democratic
Party's willingness to promote Clinton or to a media that has careened
into a state of chaos. There are many reasons for our troubles. But
the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural,
and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for
decades. Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.
[ . . . ]
Many Americans, having lost faith in a government that has failed
to address widening inequality, and in the policymakers and academics
and journalists who have barely noticed it, see Trump as their deliverer.
They cast their votes with purpose. A lot of Trump voters I met during
this election season compared Trump to Lincoln: an emancipator. What
Trump can and cannot deliver, by way of policy, remains to be seen; my
own doubts are grave. Meanwhile, though, he has added weight to the
burden that we, each of us, carry on our backs, the burden of old hatreds.
I agree that inequality infects everything, but would also have
blamed war: it's impossible to spend fifteen years at war, even if
it only rarely touches us personally (as has oddly been the case
with this one), without it coarsening and brutalizing us, and that
shows up in an increasingly bitter and violent campaign. Trump
evinced by far the more popularly resonant stance, on the one
hand disowning misguided conflicts like Bush's Iraq war yet on
the other hand showing an unflinching will to inflict violence
whenever threatened. Clinton, on the other hand, seemed to follow
Obama in thinking that war can be compartmentalized and managed,
something that can continue indefinitely without changing us.
For more on this point, see:
Tom Engelhardt: Through the Gates of Hell: How Empire Ushered in
a Trump Presidency.
Charles P Pierce: I Am Sure of Nothing Now: Concludes with this
quote from Hunter S. Thompson on the 1972 election, the first time
I was as grossly disappointed by American voters as this time (not
that there haven't been a couple more times sandwiched between):
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves;
finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation
of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy
guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world
who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that
George McGovern, for all his mistakes . . . understands what a
fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this
country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands
of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some
stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared
to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose . . .
Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country
to be President?
Sean T Posey: How Democrats lost the Rust Belt in 2016:
In 1964, 37 percent of Ohio workers belonged to a union; that number
fell to 12 percent by 2016, and incomes for the working class tumbled
in tandem. It's a similar story in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana,
West Virginia and Wisconsin. Republican policies are largely responsible,
but Democrats have done little to address the precipitous decline of
the working class.
When Hillary Clinton famously referred to half of Trump's supporters
as a "basket of deplorables," it rang hollow for voters who had waited
in vain for her to acknowledge their economic plight. Ohio, Pennsylvania
and Michigan helped elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. However, for
working families, the economic hangover of the post-industrial era never
went away. Clinton's campaign failed to fully appreciate their pain.
A couple years into the "recovery" it was reported that 97% of the
gains had been reaped by the 1%. Maybe that number has inched down a
bit since then, but that translates as a windfall for the very rich
and no recovery for most people.
John Quiggin: The dog that didn't bark: One of the most glaring
results from the election is that virtually none of the Republicans
who had been so critical of Trump early on failed to vote for him
in the end. Perhaps that's because socially liberal, economically
moderate, or libertarian Republicans have become urban myths --
even though Clinton wasted a lot of time courting them (she did
seem to be doing better among the neocons, but it looks like they'll
do quite nicely under Trump).
Sam Stein: The Clinton Campaign Was Undone by Its Own Neglect and a
Touch of Arrogance, Staffers Say
Steven Waldman: Did the Decline of Labor Finally Kill the Democrats?
Gary Younge: How Trump took middle America: Lead-in: "After a month
in a midwestern town, the story of this election is clear -- when people
feel the system is broken, they vote for whoever promises to smash it."
Steve Bannon: 'we'll govern for 50 years': A boast that only seems
modest next to "Thousand Year Reich." From the cited
interview (more of a profile piece than tete-a-tete):
When Bannon took over the campaign from Paul Manafort, there were many
in the Trump circle who had resigned themselves to the inevitability of
the candidate listening to no one. But here too was a Bannon insight:
When the campaign seemed most in free fall or disarray, it was perhaps
most on target. While Clinton was largely absent from the campaign trail
and concentrating on courting her donors, Trump -- even after the leak
of the grab-them-by-the-pussy audio -- was speaking to ever-growing
crowds of 35,000 or 40,000. "He gets it; he gets it intuitively," says
Bannon, perhaps still surprised he has found such an ideal vessel. "You
have probably the greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan, coupled
with an economic populist message and two political parties that are so
owned by the donors that they don't speak to their audience. But he
speaks in a non-political vernacular, he communicates with these people
in a very visceral way. Nobody in the Democratic party listened to his
speeches, so they had no idea he was delivering such a compelling and
powerful economic message. He shows up 3.5 hours late in Michigan at 1
in the morning and has 35,000 people waiting in the cold. When they got
[Clinton] off the donor circuit she went to Temple University and they
drew 300 or 400 kids."
Oh, then there's this final quote: "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court
of the Tudors."
As I was putting this post together, I started reading Corey Robin's
Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011), and noted
this quote (p. 59) on the asymmetry between left and right, on how
hard change is for the former, and how easy reaction is for the
Where the left's program of redistribution raises the questions of
whether its beneficiaries are truly prepared to wield the powers they
seek, the conservative prospect of restoration suffers from no such
challenge. Unlike the reformer or the revolutionary, moreover, who
faces the nearly impossible task of empowering the powerless -- that
is, of turning people from what they are into what they are not -- the
conservative merely asks his followers to do more of what they always
have done (albeit, better and differently). As a result, his
counterrevolution will not require the same disruption that the
revolution has visited upon the country.
My main worry about the Sanders campaign wasn't that he might get
slandered and lose his appeal, but that there wasn't a strong enough
movement under him to deliver on his promises. And that mattered, of
course, because his promises mattered. By contrast, all Trump voters
had to do was to put their guy in power. After that, go back to work,
and let their new right-thinking leader do what needs to be done.
I've never had any inkling why they would trust him with that power,
but then I don't think like they do: I learned early to question all
authority, and found that when you give a greedy monster more power
he only becomes greedier and more monstrous. But in a way, the great
appeal of the right is that it offers simplistic solutions, wrapped
in a little virus of paranoia which allows them to be used again and
again, regardless of their repeated failures.
Sunday, November 6. 2016
I was sorely tempted to write nothing more about the election until
it's all over. I doubt I'll write much below, but when I start out I
never know. Part of this is just plain disgust at how the last couple
weeks have played out. Part is that I've been sick, and that hasn't
helped my mood one bit. A big part of the disgust is simply that
Hillary Clinton seems to have blown a huge lead:
FiveThirtyEight gave her an 88.1% chance of victory on October 17,
81.5% as late as October 28. Today that's down to 64.5%. In terms of
states that posits her as losing six states she was previously leading
in: Arizona (her odds there are now down to only 25.8%), Iowa (27.1%),
Ohio (32.9%), Florida (47.4%), Nevada (48.0%), and North Carolina (48.4%).
That's still based on a 2.8% popular vote margin. Some polls are closer
than that, with at least one showing Trump ahead.
TPM had a narrower spread yesterday (2.4%) but a larger one today
(3.9%, despite Clinton dropping to 45.9% of the vote).
Throughout most of the election, the median state (as far as the
electoral college is concerned) has been New Hampshire: if Clinton
wins New Hampshire and every other state she's been polling better
in, she gets 272 electoral votes and wins the election. She's still
given a 61.2% chance in New Hampshire. Trump could win the election
by capturing New Hampshire, unless he loses a larger state he holds
a slim lead in (Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida are all very
early voting looks especially good for Clinton in Nevada). On
the other hand, Trump could lose New Hampshire and still win if he
pulls an upset in Colorado (where he's currently givens a 26.9%
chance) or Pennsylvania (25.9%).
At this stage, the presidential race has been reduced to these nine
"battleground" states. Kansas (97.5% R) isn't one of them. In fact, I
don't think I've seen a single street sign for either Trump or Clinton.
I did see two Trump advertisements last week, and thought they hit an
effective note: it is, after all, easy to tag Clinton as the candidate
of the status quo, without suggesting how attractive more status quo
would be compared to Trumpian change. I haven't seen any Clinton ads,
but am haunted by at least one of her soundbytes, where she warns us
of the danger of entrusting "America's nuclear codes" to someone as
"thin-skinned and impulsive" as Trump. That's probably as carefully
phrased as could be, but it mostly reminded me that she is decidedly
hawkish, someone who believes strongly in flaunting America's military
power, and someone who views the presidency as almost a secondary role
to being Commander-in-Chief. Isn't it odd that the numerous "checks
and balances" that limit what a president can do aren't sufficient to
keep a mad person from blowing up the world? I've said all along that
the surest way Clinton could lose would be to remind us of her appetite
for war, and she's found an inadvertent way of doing that. I figure
that must be part of her blown lead, even though the emails and her
linkage to Anthony Weiner (perhaps the most universally reviled man
in America right now) have gotten more attention.
By the way, as I was preparing this,
FBI Director Comey says agency won't recommend charges over Clinton
email, admitting, in his usual backhanded way, that his previous
letter about re-opening the Clinton email investigation -- the event
that precipitated Clinton's polling losses -- had come to nothing.
Too bad we can't inspect the internal FBI emails discussing why he
exposed this baseless innuendo in the first place. The FBI has a
terrible legacy of politically-minded "investigations" but they've
rarely set their sights on someone as mainstream as Hillary Clinton.
Once again they've embarrassed themselves.
More I could write about here, but let's wind up this intro with
Seth Meyers' "closer look" at the
Major Clinton and Trump scandals:
That's a problem for a lot of Americans: They just don't love the two
choices. Do you pick someone who's under federal investigation for using
a private email server?
Or do you pick someone who called Mexicans rapists, claimed the
president was born in Kenya, proposed banning an entire religion from
entering the US, mocked a disabled reporter, said John McCain wasn't
a war hero because he was captured, attacked the parents of a fallen
soldier, bragged about committing sexual assault, was accused by 12
women of committing sexual assault, said some of those women weren't
attractive for him to sexually assault, said more countries should get
nukes, said that he would force the military to commit war crimes,
said a judge was biased because his parents were Mexicans, said women
should be punished for having abortions, incited violence at his
rallies, called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese,
called for his opponent to be jailed, declared bankruptcy six times,
bragged about not paying income taxes, stiffed his contractors and
employees, lost a billion dollars in one year, scammed customers at
his fake university, bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself with
money from his fake foundation, has a trial for fraud coming up in
November, insulted an opponent's looks, insulted an opponent's wife's
looks, and bragged about grabbing women by the pussy?
How do you choose?
Problem here is that Meyers is still reducing the election to a
choice between two celebrity personalities, as opposed to the real
differences between the parties and interests they represent. Not
that there are no real issues buried in the Trump litany, nor that
some of the personal traits (like his seething contempt for women
and non-whites, and for that matter workers) don't portend policy
dangers, but one thing this campaign has spared (or cheated) us
was an opportunity to debate and vote on two radically different
political visions. Imagine how much different this election might
be if the choice was Bernie Sanders vs. Ted Cruz? One might learn
something there, and emerge from the election with a mandate and
a direction. But with Clinton vs. Trump we're stuck with muddled
results -- both candidates are widely viewed as crooked, greedy,
deceitful, treacherous, untrustworthy, pompous, arrogant, and
full of ungrounded bluster -- their few differences attributable
to irreconcilable identity allegiances. And even if Clinton wins,
her margin isn't going to be nearly large enough to win Congress
as well and to force a rethinking of those divisions. Republicans
running for Congress have pledged to block her every appointment,
to stalemate government and disable her administration from day
one. Trump has already convinced most of his supporters that the
only way he can lose is if the system is rigged against them.
It's fair to say that America is more divided now than at any
election since 1860, which precipitated the Civil War. In terms
of ideas and policies, those divisions have been growing since
the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns, with conservatives demanding
ever more complete domination of government and business, making
the state a tool of the rich while eliminating any countervailing
support government might provide for working people. Of course,
conservatives rarely argue their agenda coherently -- they prefer
to describe clear-cutting as their "healthy forests" initiative --
because they're aware that they'd lose. What Trump adds here is
an unprecedented degree of paranoia, and a demagogic style that
insists on degrading and dehumanizing his opponent and all of her
supporters, and that's what's made him so vile and dangerous.
Some scattered (election) links this week:
Nate Silver: Election Update: The Campaign Is Almost Over, and Here's
Where We Stand
Spencer Ackerman: 'The FBI is Trumpland': anti-Clinton atmosphere
spurred leaks, sources say:
This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau
he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton
should she win the White House.
The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is "the antichrist
personified to a large swath of FBI personnel," and that "the reason
why they're leaking is they're pro-Trump."
The agent called the bureau "Trumplandia," with some colleagues
openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented
condemnation from the party's national security wing and who has pledged
to jail Clinton if elected.
David Atkins: Trump Would Be a Radical Policy Disaster:
This dyspeptic election is finally coming to an end in just a few days
amid ugliness the likes of which has not been seen in modern American
history. This nastiness has focused on the personal and the irrelevant,
from the ridiculous non-scandal of Clinton's emails to the revolting
but ultimately superficial fact that Donald Trump apparently carried
on an affair for years that we're only just learning about.
Follow the article if you want the affair link. Read everything
else. Still, he missed the policy proposal that bothers me most: one
that would make it easier for rich guys like Trump to sue anyone and
everyone who said anything negative about them.
Jonathan Blitzer: A Scholar of Fascism Sees a Lot That's Familiar With
[Ruth] Ben-Ghiat has been broadening her studies ever since the primaries,
and is now considering a book-length examination of strongmen, from
Mussolini to Trump, with stops in Franco's Spain, Erdogan's Turkey, and
Qaddafi's Libya. In the speech of Mussolini, Putin, Trump, and also
Berlusconi, Ben-Ghiat notes a pattern: they are at once transparent
about their intentions and masters of innuendo. "Trump trails off. He
uses ellipses and coded language. He lets his listeners fill in what
they want." When Trump seemed to suggest that gun owners should deal
with Hillary Clinton themselves, or when he talked about needing to
"watch" certain communities out to steal the vote on Election Day, his
statements were more powerful for their ambiguity. "It's all about
letting listeners convince and mislead themselves," she said.
Amy Davidson: Bernie Sanders's Hard Fight for Hillary Clinton:
Seems like the Obamas and Joe Biden get all the media notice, but
did you know?
The truth is that Bernie Sanders is very, very angry -- at Donald Trump.
He is angry enough to have spent weeks traveling on behalf of Hillary
Clinton, speaking for her in union halls and arenas, to students and
activists. When he talks, he is entirely Bernie -- "We are going to
fight for that democracy; we are not going to become an oligarchy" --
and he hints strongly that he has done some negotiating with her before
getting on the stage, and will continue to do so after, as he hopes,
she is elected. When praising her positions, he often says "Secretary
Clinton has told me" or "Secretary Clinton has promised," as though he
knows that it might not work, with the sort of swing audiences he is
dispatched to persuade (students, working-class voters), simply to
declare that taking these stands is in her nature. But he knows what
he wants: for her to win. [ . . . ]
"There are many, many differences between Secretary Clinton and Mr.
Trump," Sanders told the crowd. "But there is one that is very, very
profound. Are you ready for a very radical thought right now? I don't
want anyone to faint! I think we have some paramedics here" -- "paramedics
here" is, it turns out, an excellent phrase for demonstrating a Brooklyn
accent -- "but I do want to make this announcement. Are you ready for
it?" The crowd indicated that it was. "All right. Madam Secretary, you
correct me if I'm wrong here; I don't want to misspeak for you --
Secretary Clinton believes in science!" [ . . . ]
A few hours later, Sanders was off on his own to Iowa. Trump is ahead
in that state, in the latest average of polls, by about two and a half
points. Sanders had three events scheduled for Friday -- Cedar Falls,
Iowa City, Davenport. On Saturday, there would be more.
Kerry Eleveld: Latino electorate both on track for historic turnout and
routinely undercounted in polls: One tidbit: in 2010, polls showed
Republican Sharon Angle leading Harry Reid by 3-5 points, but Reid wound
up winning 50.3-44.5%, largely due to a huge 90-10 Latino vote split.
Ron Fournier: Hillary Has No One to Blame but Herself: Concerns
itself with trivial pursuits like that email server. For insight into
the deeper Clinton problem, see:
Matt Stoller: How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. Or Thomas
Frank's latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the
Party of the People? -- although I don't recommend reading the
latter until Wednesday (either way).
Charles Franklin: Party Loyalty and Defection, Trump v Clinton:
Chart tracking polls so both parties with identically high (86.8%)
support for their candidates, after Republicans had trailed all year.
Defection rates similarly low, although Democrats (6.8%) more so than
Republicans (5.2%), the margin growing lately. Billmon's conclusion:
"The November non-surprise. The zombies came home."
Neil Irwin: A New Movement in Liberal Economics That Could Shape
Hillary Clinton's Agenda: The concept is "labor market monopsony,"
which has to do with how monopoly businesses are not only able to
charge rents (fix prices), they're able to use their power to depress
labor markets (wages). Ways to ameliorate this problem include higher
(and more comprehensive) minimum wages and stronger antitrust action
(something Democrats have not been good at, while Republicans have
abandoned any pretense of enforcement).
Ann Jones: Nasty Women:
In his own telling, he, not the women he's demeaned or assaulted, is
the abused one and he's taking it for us, for America. It's quite a
self-portrait when you think about it and should make us appreciate
all the more those women who stepped before the cameras, reported his
sexual assaults, and left themselves open to further abuse from Trump
and his supporters. They have done something rare and brave.
[ . . . ]
On the dark side, you never know what a sore loser and his loyal,
bullying, misogynist followers might do. Say, for example, followers
of the type who show up outside Hillary rallies with banners reading
"Trump that Bitch!"
Paul Krugman: Conservative Intellectuals: Follow the Money:
We're supposed to think back nostalgically to the era when serious
conservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol tried to understand
the world, rather than treating everything as a political exercise
in which ideas were just there to help their team win.
But it was never like that. Don't take my word for it; take the
word of Irving Kristol himself, in his book Neoconservatism: The
Autobiography of an Idea. Kristol explained his embrace of
supply-side economics in the 1970s: "I was not certain of its economic
merits but quickly saw its political possibilities." This justified a
"cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or
financial problems," because "political effectiveness was the priority,
not the accounting deficiencies of government."
In short, never mind whether it's right, as long as it's politically
useful. When David [Brooks] complains that "conservative opinion-meisters
began to value politics over everything else," he's describing something
that happened well before Reagan.
Paul Lewis/Tom Silverstone: Trump rally protester: I was beaten for a
'Republicans against Trump' sign
Martin Longman: Chris Christie Convicted By Proxy in Federal Court:
Would be a bigger story if Trump had picked Christie as his running
mate, but still . . . for anyone who wants to talk about locking people
up, we can start with "two of Chris Christie's 'loyal lieutenants' who
were taken down by Section 666 of Title 18 of the United States Code,"
who now "each theoretically face 20 years in prison (although nothing
close to that will be imposed)."
Caitlin MacNeal: With the End in Sight, Trump Goes All In on Criminalizing
John Nichols: Republicans Won't Stop Talking About Impeaching
Clinton: Specifically, Sen. Ron Johnson, likely to be defeated in
his reelection bid in Wisconsin. But that's only one example.
Amir Oren: Comey's Revenge: The Real Reason the FBI Intervened in the
The large spoke [Comey] put into the Hillary Clinton's wheels of victory
won't be enough to stop her but could well reduce her coattails enough to
keep the Democrats from regaining control of Congress, leaving Washington
paralyzed by the warring branches of government. His motive was a personal
grudge that Comey has held against Bill Clinton for a decade and a half,
along with fresh residue from the investigation he closed this summer
Oren dates that grudge from Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich and
Pinchas Green, financiers who "fled the country as they were about to
be indicted for tax evasion and doing business with Iran during the
hostage crisis," but who found advocates in Israel's government. But
Oren also points out that Comey is a Republican, a deputy attorney
general under Bush, but he supported Obama's nomination of Eric Holder
as attorney general, and was himself nominated by Obama to be FBI
Yochi Dreazen: The anti-Clinton insurgency at the FBI, explained.
Daniel Politi: Key to Trump's More Disciplined Campaign? He No Longer
Controls His Twitter Account:
Although Trump may be keeping some of his thoughts away from the public
spotlight, the Times also paints a scary picture of a candidate
who is obsessed with getting revenge from those he feels have wronged
him. "Offline, Mr. Trump still privately muses about all of the ways he
will punish his enemies after Election Day, including a threat to fund
a 'super PAC' with vengeance as its core mission," notes the Times.
The Times piece:
Inside Donald Trump's Last Stand: An Anxious Nominee Seeks
John Quiggin: Trump voters are (mostly) Romney voters: Who in turn
were mostly Bush voters:
Trump is getting overwhelming support from self-described Republicans
and Republican-leaning independents, and almost none from Democrats
and Democrat-leaning independents. The same was true for Romney four
years ago, and for Bush before him. [ . . . ]
This makes nonsense of much of the discussion of Trump voters as
the dispossessed, protesting against globalisation, predatory capitalism
and the destruction of American manufacturing. Conversely, it turns out
that the discussion of Romney's "dog whistle" appeals to racism was
misconceived. Replacing the dog whistle with a bullhorn has turned out
to be no problem for the great majority of those who voted for Romney.
[ . . . ]
Corey [Robin] here at CT and elsewhere has probably been the most
consistent exponent of the view that Trump is a traditional Republican,
in the line of
Reagan. I broadly agree, though I'd put more stress on new developments
over the past 20 years or so. Trump's complete disregard for truth, norms
of decency and so on, is an extrapolation of a process that's been going on
for quite a while, at the popular level with Fox News, birtherism and so on
and in the Republican intellectual apparatus with climate denial, zombie
economics and attacks on "political correctness."
The links are to pieces in Jacobin by Corey Robin. They're both worthwhile,
but an even better title is Robin's
The Conservative Movement Has No Decency. This piece, of course,
is mostly about Joseph Welch's 1954 rebuke of Joe McCarthy, but ties
in to Trump's denunciation of Khizr Khan after his speech at the
Democratic Convention. Still, Trump's outburst wasn't isolated or
even uniquely his own. Robin offers many other examples without ever
mentioning the abuse conservatives have heaped on Hillary Clinton --
a subject for whole books, likely to sprawl into multiple volumes
if she wins.
Robin titled his latest thoughts on the election
Viva Las Vegas! In it he includes a Brecht quote from 1942:
. . . to present Hitler as particularly incompetent,
as an aberration, a perversion, humbug, a pecuilar pathological case,
while setting up other bourgeois politicians as models, models of
something he has failed to attain, seems to me no way to combat Hitler.
Joe Romm: Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy
Alexis Sottile: The Trump Effect: How Hateful Rhetoric Is Affecting
America's Children: Solar, wind, efficiency, batteries, clean
cars, and climate science, too.
Matt Taibbi: The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump:
The best argument for a Clinton presidency is that she's virtually
guaranteed to be a capable steward of the status quo, at a time of
relative stability and safety. There are criticisms to make of Hillary
Clinton, but the grid isn't going to collapse while she's in office,
something no one can say with even mild confidence about Donald Trump.
But nearly two-thirds of the population was unhappy with the direction
of the country entering the general-election season, and nothing has been
more associated with the political inside than the Clinton name.
[ . . . ]
The "scandal" of the Wiki papers, if you can call it that, is that
it captured how at ease Clinton was talking to bankers and industrialists
about the options for the organization of a global society. Even in
transcript form, it's hard not to realize that the people in these
rooms are all stakeholders in this vast historical transformation.
Left out of the discussion over the years have been people like
Trump's voters, who coincidentally took the first hit along the way in
the form of lowered middle-class wages and benefits. They were also
never told that things they cared about, like their national identity
as Americans, were to have diluted meaning in the more borderless future.
This is why the "basket of deplorables" comment rankled so badly. It's
not like it was anywhere near as demeaning or vicious as any of 10,000
Trump insults. But it spoke to a factual disconnnect.
Matthew Yglesias: The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit
story has dominated the campaign
Matthew Yglesias: Melania's illegal immigration problem reminds us what
Trump's campaign has always been about: OK, now we have proof that
she entered the country to work illegally. American nativists should be
up in arms: isn't a big part of their spiel how we shouldn't offer amnesty
to people who don't follow the rules? Yet if they're so devoted to deep
American roots, why are they backing a guy who has only one native-born
American ancestor? Unless it matters what kind of immigrants we're talking
Indeed, going back to when the Nixon administration sued Trump for
discriminating against black and Latino tenants, Trump's long record
of racism isn't really disputable.
So there's really nothing so surprising about the Melania story.
Trump doesn't like immigrants who change the American cultural and
ethnic mix in a way he finds threatening and neither do his fans.
Europeans like Melania (or before her, Ivana) are fine. I get it,
David Duke gets it, the frog meme people get it, everyone gets it.
But it does raise the question of why mainstream press coverage
has spent so much time pretending not to get it. Why have we been
treated to so many lectures about the "populist appeal" of a man
running on regressive tax cuts and financial deregulation and the
"economic anxiety" of his fans?
PS: Just shook up by a 5.3 earthquake centered 3 miles west of
Cushing, Oklahoma. Fairly sharp for about 15 second here, unsettled for
another 20-30 seconds, but I doubt we suffered any damage. On the other
hand, Cushing bills itself as the "pipeline capital" of America, so they
have a lot of dangerously fragile infrastructure real close to the
epicenter. Happened at 7:44:25 local time.
Tuesday, October 18. 2016
Continuing my slog through the
online notebook, picking up in mid-2004,
just in time for another presidential election -- I think this was the
one that Matt Taibbi called "The Stupid Season," fully aware that what
he was describing was a periodic ritual, not a one-shot fluke. On
August 19, with the anti-Kerry "swift boaters" in full attack, I
It looks like the Bush campaign from here on out is going to be
nothing but lies and slander and terrorism. They're trying to work
their own base into a frenzy of paranoia, and they're trying to
swamp the media with ruses to crowd out any serious evaluation of
Bush, his record, and the real issues. Already we've seen a series
of terrorism alerts where they try to spook us with little more
than leaks and innuendos. We've even seen a flare-up in Iraq hard
on the heels of the latest economic debacle -- is this an indication
of how desperate they are to change the subject?
The election is still more than two months away. I seriously doubt
that anything much is going to change between now and then, but as
their policies continue to sink in their own quicksand, we can expect
the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy to become ever shriller and ever more
desperate. All a straight-thinking person can do from here on out is
to batten down the hatches and stay the course.
One of the evening news shows has a daily segment called "Fallen
Heroes" -- all someone has to do to get into that show is be a U.S.
soldier killed in Iraq. By that logic I've known several Vietnam War
heroes: my nextdoor neighbor, drafted, marched through the jungle,
where he sat down on a mine; a cousin, killed inside a tank when his
own gun accidentally discharged (the official story; some people
suspect he was fragged). It is said that these people made the supreme
sacrifice for their country, but the plain fact is that the country
wasted their lives for no good purpose. So I couldn't care less if
Kerry did or didn't do anything conventionally heroic in Vietnam.
The real heroes from that war were the ones who opposed it, as Kerry
himself dramatized when he threw away his medals or ribbons or
whatever they were.
I probably should have added something like "too bad he no longer
has the courage to remind us how right he was in opposing that war, as
opposed to how dumb he was in signing up for it in the first place."
Maybe even: "in retrospect, he's managed to make both stances look
like nothing more than opportune political stunts as he tried to
gauge which way the wind was blowing." But then we're talking about
a guy who voted against the Gulf War in 1990 and for the Iraq War
in 2003 and came to regret both votes.
On September 3, 2004, I wrote a fairly long post on Chechen
separatism and terrorism -- the occasion was an attack on a school
in nearby Beslan, which killed more than 300 people.
On September 13, 2004, I found myself looking back on 9/11:
Three years after the terrible attacks of 11 September 2001 I find
myself wondering whether anyone ever is so shocked by an unexpected
event that they reconsider and change course. The horror that we felt
that morning watching the World Trade Center burn and collapse was
not just for the victims. Every bit as horrifying was the expectation
of what would come: not what further attacks might come, but what the
U.S. would do in reaction. To call what happened afterwards revenge
would be to give it more purpose and sense than history demonstrates.
All Osama bin Laden actually did on that day was to poke a giant and
stir it into fitful action. He soon went into hiding and has been
irrelevant ever since, but the U.S. reaction has continued to rail
blindly against the world. In the three years since, the U.S. has
laid waste to two countries, killing at least ten times as many people
as died on that fateful day, perhaps twenty times, sacrificing another
thousand Americans in the process. The U.S. burned up over $200 billion
prosecuting those wars, now just hopeless sinkholes, festering pools
of hate. And three years out we're nowhere near closure.
That no good would come of America's reaction was clear from the
first day. The problem was no doubt made worse because the President
was a deceitful cynic who saw a ready chance to cover himself with
the glory of war, and because his administration was chock full of
liars and crooks and ideological megalomaniacs. But the U.S. had
long been cocked for this sort of reaction, much as, say, the world
of 1914 plunged into World War following the assassination of Archduke
Ferdinand. . . .
The attacks of 11 September 2001 should have been a moment for
sober reflection, but it wasn't. The collapse of the Soviet Union
should have been a time for healing, but it wasn't. Throughout
history there have been few cases where victors have been gracious,
and fewer still where nations have changed their ways without
having been forced to by catastrophe. That anyone believes that
Bush has a clue how to proceed from here tells us both that we're
not very smart about ourselves and the world and that, disastrous
as the War on Terror has been, we still haven't fallen hard enough
yet. Kerry's nomination and campaign are scarcely more encouraging:
he has a bad record for rushing into wars, but at least has some
capacity for learning from his mistakes. Bush's supporters are
blind to those mistakes, otherwise they'd recognize that he is
the necessary sacrifice in order to start to set things right.
On October 29, 2004, I wrote a piece about the Boston Red Sox
and their curse, on occasion of their first World Series victory
since 1918. Also wrote this:
Noted the cover this week of The Economist: Ariel Sharon
with an olive branch in his mouth. Evidently it's supposed to
represent him as a dove, but it looks to me like he's just ate
the West Bank.
On October 21, I sent a letter to virtually everyone in my
address book, titled "Vote for John Kerry (It's Important)."
It was the first time I ever done something like that (and it
will probably be the last). You can read the letter with a
postscript here. The
Bush has a big problem this year: reality. In less than four
years Bush has taken us from relative peace and prosperity to a
disastrous war and an economy which exposes the fundamental problems
of a government which favors the rich at the expense of everyone
else. A good part of this problem is systemic -- the decline of real
wages for the workers who built America has been going on for thirty
years, as the gulf between rich and poor has been broadening,
concentrating power for the rich and reducing opportunity and a sense
of fairness for everyone else. But much of the problem is due to the
arrogance, ignorance and incompetence of the Bush
administration. . . .
If Bush does somehow manage to win it will be a
sad time for America. Not only would it expose us to four more years
of depredations and mismanagement, it plainly broadcasts to us and the
world that the citizens of the United States just don't get how far
their country has decayed from the ideals of freedom, equality,
opportunity, and justice that we grew up believing in. A victory for
Bush would show us to be extraordinarily gullible, or downright
As we now know, Bush did win that election -- a very close one,
with some taint in Ohio -- but it wasn't long before the gullible
came to regret their choice: only Nixon sunk faster and further
after a successful re-election bid. Still, twelve years later few
people seem to recall what was at stake in 2004. And even though
the second Bush term merely brought the disasters seeded in his
first term to fruition, it seems like most people have forgotten
his party's responsibility for so many calamities.
After Kerry failed, I wrote a long postmortem, including this
prediction (November 3, 2004):
The most likely [scenario] is that Bush will make such a mess of his second
term that his now-blind followers will give up in disgust. But that's
been given a pretty severe trial by his first term, and he's emerged
stronger than ever. Historically mid-term congressional elections (the
next one is in 2006) have ran against the President's party, but the
Republicans managed to escape that effect in 2002, mostly by treating
each race as a separate forum (mostly not on Bush). The Democrats do
have the experience of massive volunteer efforts this year, which if
duplicated could make an impact in 2006.
My mood darkened later that week when Bush celebrated by destroying
the defiant Iraqi city of Falluja. From my November 9, 2004 post:
John Kerry campaigned using the slogan, "help is on the way." George
W. Bush's first act now that he's got his mandate was to launch a major
ground assault on Falluja in Iraq, following a few months of intensive
aerial bombardment. This has evidently been planned quite a while, but
they delayed launching it until the votes had been counted and the voters
safely put back to sleep. A more revealing campaign slogan for Bush would
be, "hell is on the way."
I'm not aware of Kerry commenting on the siege of Fallujah, although
I have to admit that I haven't been paying a lot of attention to him,
including his concession speech. Had Kerry won the election he presumably
would have something to say, as the assault on Falluja would have made
his task of coming up with a somewhat positive resolution even harder
than it is. But all I know about Kerry's concession speech is that it was
lauded as gracious, which probably means he didn't take the opportunity
to scold the electorate by pointing out that "help is not on the way."
That is, of course, the difference between a politician trying to make
nice and a leader who realizes how much was at stake, and now how much
has been lost, in this election. Kerry may be a dedicated public servant,
and he may have laudable personal principles, but he's not a guy who's
going to fight for once you're down.
From November 17, 2004, as Bush was reloading his administration for
a second term:
Colin Powell's resignation as Secretary of State is good riddance,
even if his successor is likely to be even less principled and even
more inept. My home town paper's editorial page toasted Powell today
under the heading "Moderate": "His moderate, multinational, pragmatic
views were routinely rejected in the Bush team's squabbles on nuclear
nonproliferation, Iraq, the Middle East and other major challenges
abroad." If this was Powell's strategy, the editorial writer (Randy
Scholfield) would have been right to conclude that "his tenure can
only be described as a failure." Yes, it's been a failure, maybe
even in Powell's own limited terms. But it hasn't been a failure
because Powell's moderation was rejected by hotter heads; it's been
a failure because of Powell's willingness to support the hawks. And
there's damn little evidence that Powell isn't one of the hawks.
His disagreements have at most been tactical.
Theodore Roosevelt's used to say "speak softly and carry a big
stick." Powell alone among Bush's War Cabinet seems to have taken
that as a maxim. But Roosevelt's intent was to camouflage a whole
administration. If only Powell speaks softly, he loses his voice.
The bigger question is why did the others speak so loudly. And the
evident answer is that Bush's foreign policy has first and foremost
been a matter of domestic politics. Bush's bully tactics are meant
to show his base that he's their strong leader; and the world be
damned -- it's not like their votes count. Powell's most famous
self-description was as the "bully on the block," so how much
space does that leave between Bush and Powell? Damn little, at
least in the realm of intentions. I don't discount that Powell
has a stronger grip on reality and the limits of American power,
but let's face it: for Bush that's off-message. Powell did nothing
effective to bring such concerns to bear on administration policy.
Maybe this too is just an act. . . . .
As the second term cabinet turns over, the most notable trend
is that the new cabinet members are almost all current White House
staff (e.g., Alberto Gonzalez for John Ashcroft). This bespeaks
an administration that will be even more closeted and close-minded
than the last one. You voted for it, America. This is just Bush's
way of saying: fuck you.
On November 25, 2004 I wrote about an event where a panel of
speakers held forth on "are we safer now?" (meaning safer from
terrorism). I introduced that piece by noting that a school in
Wichita had recently been blown up, not by terrorists but by
construction incompetence (probably a gas leak). I went on to
generate a long list of non-terrorist things that actually make
our lives more dangerous, then added this paragraph, which goes
a bit deeper:
All this might not matter much if the world were a well balanced
static system, but it isn't. We live in a world where resources are
shrinking while demand expands. We live in a world where expertise
is becoming rarefied, putting us at the mercy of experts who may or
may not have our interests at heart. We live in a world where a
clever few can exploit the ignorant many, but even the clever few
have to compete so ruthlessly that they lose their grip -- they've
constructed a world of hair triggers that surrender control and
amplify panic. We live in a world where the "movers and shakers"
move and shake so fast that they've become incapable of recognizing
the unexpected. We live in a world which continues to cling to the
ideology that the pursuit of private advantages serves the common
good, even though there are few if any cases where this is true.
And we live in a nation that has promoted its misconceptions to
such staggering heights that some sort of horrible crash seems
On January 21, 2015, I wrote about natural disasters, starting with
a local ice storm, then moving on to California mudslides and the big
tsunami in the Indian Ocean:
What this means is that as disasters mount up government has not
merely become the insurer-of-last-resort, it's increasingly becoming
the only insurer of note. This should give us pause, especially as
the political geniuses of the Republican party have set out on a
program to systematically bankrupt government. In doing so they run
the risk of leaving us in the rubble. The Bush administration's
response to the tsunami crisis is a good example of how this is
going to work: a tiny pittance, maybe a bit more after the media
shames them, plus whatever the charitably inclined might pitch in;
meanwhile the government's contribution gets delivered through the
military -- the only U.S. government agency functioning beyond U.S.
borders these days -- and only after they work out the payola
On February 23 I wrote a good deal about Boeing's outsourcing of
their plant in Wichita where my father and brother had worked for
many decades. I also wrote a little note on Hillary Clinton and her
presidential prospects (nearly four years ahead of the 2008 election):
Found in the Wichita Eagle "Opinion Line" (a good source of wise
cracks and insane rants): "What a complete joke that Hillary Clinton
is, quoting the Bible in her speeches." One reason I note this is that
she has been getting a lot of flack on a local mail list I subscribe
to for her murky position on abortion rights and her hawkishness on
Iraq and any other potential cruise missile target you'd care to name.
Juan Cole reports that she's also managed to tick off the presumptive
next Prime Minister of Iraq. Clearly she's launched her campaign, but
I have to wonder what her prospects are with an increasingly polarized
public where both ends of the spectrum can't stand her. Maybe that
would have worked to her advantage in the '90s when few cared about
issues and most distrusted those who did.
I remember listening to a radio interview with her back in '93 or
'94 when she was asked what her reaction would be if her health care
reform was rejected, and she said that would be a shame. That might
have been savvy had she been sure of winning, but when her plan went
down is was just aloof. It was worse than a shame -- it was tragic,
not so much what her lousy plan lost as that she blew a huge amount
of political capital on something that wouldn't have solved the
problem in the first place, that substituted for a serious plan,
and that by failing cut the Republicans loose to do all the damage
they've done since 1994. That health plan was the same sort of too
clever straddle-the-middle tactic she's building her campaign on.
I'm hoping that someone will take her to task in the NY Democratic
primary in 2006 and knock her out.
Sunday, October 16. 2016
Realizing I wasn't going to find much time, I started this early in
the week, and added things when I noticed them without making much in
the way of a systematic search. Since my last Weekend Roundup, much
as happened, including a debate of the vice-president candidates
(which failed to convince me that Tim Kaine was the smart choice), a
second presidential debate (which further cemented Trump's decline),
and major exposés of both candidates' dirty laundry (where Trump's
smelled much fouler).
At the moment, FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary a
86.2% chance of winning based on a 6.5% popular vote advantage,
with Arizona tilting slightly toward Hillary (51.0%), and progressively
better odds in Iowa (62.1%), Ohio (64.8%), North Carolina (69.2%),
Nevada (74.4%), Florida (74.5%), and New Hampshire (the state which
for most of this election was the one that would secure an electoral
college win for either candidate, now 83.7% for Hillary). Trump still
looks to be solid elsewhere, although a third party candidate named
Evan McMullin is polling well enough in Utah that he's given a chance
of picking up the state's electoral votes (Trump's chances there are
92.7%, Clinton 4.6%, so that could leave McMullin with 2.7%). Trump's
weakest leads are currently: Alaska (68.4%), Georgia (73.7%), Missouri
(77.8%), South Dakota (81.2%), South Carolina (83.6%), Texas (86.1%),
Indiana (86.2%), Kansas (87.3%), and Montana (87.4%).
I work out much of the logic under the Christgau link below, but
to cut to the chase, I plan on voting for Hillary Clinton in November,
and urge you to do so too. More importantly, I plan on voting for
Democrats down ballot (even though the ones in Kansas running against
Moran and Pompeo have less chance than Gary Johnson does), and hope
for big gains for the Democrats in Congress and elsewhere -- in many
ways that's even more important than the presidency. One thing I was
especially struck by this past week was interviews with Moran and
Pompeo where they casually referred to "the disaster of the Obama
administration." Do these guys have any fucking idea what they're
talking about? Or do they just mean Obama's been bad for them
personally, like by cutting into their graft and perks? Sure,
Obama has been disappointing, but mostly because he's been
crippled by Republicans -- who clearly live in their own fantasy
world these days.
Some scattered links this week:
Russell Berman: What Bill Clinton Meant When He Called Obamacare
'Crazy': Actually, there's nothing in his specific critique that
couldn't be fixed by rejiggering the subsidy tables to help people
with a bit more income than the current schedules allow -- but that
also rewards the insurance companies for pushing premiums up. The
other approach that is commonly talked about is trying to drive
premiums back down by providing a non-profit "public option" to
compete with the private insurers. What was really crazy about
Obamacare was thinking that you could solve the problem of a
growing number of uninsured people while keeping the profits of
all the parts of the industry propped up, and that problem isn't
going to be countered until you find a way to blunt or eliminate
those profit-seeking opportunities. And the truth is that the
private insurance racket, which could easily be obsoleted by a
single-payer system, is just the tip of that iceberg. We may not
be as far away from coming to that realization as many pundits
think -- in large part because we have the examples of so many
other countries that have figured that out and made health care
a public service and a universal right.
On the other hand, just because Obamacare is crazy doesn't
mean it wasn't a big improvement over the previous system. And
while is hasn't succeeded in making sure everyone is insured,
it reversed a longstanding trend that was stripping health
insurance from millions of Americans. The Republicans never
had an answer to that problem, and while they conceivably
could make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare, they
have no clue how to fix it. Berman talks a bit about various
tinkerings that might help a bit -- the sort of things that
Hillary Clinton is likely to push for. Still, I take Bill's
"crazy" comment as good news: mostly, it shows he's moved
beyond his own even lousier 1990s health care scheme.
Robert Christgau: Confessions of a Hillary Supporter: 'It's Not Like We
Can Breathe Easy': Returns to the Voice with a political
screed, much of it rehashing Nader's role in Gore's fateful
2000 loss to Bush, as well as his still snippy attitude toward Sanders:
I know, you can't stand [Trump] either. For you, Hillary is the hard
part. . . . Hillary lacks daring as well as grace, and
from Libya to Honduras, her instinct in foreign policy has always been
to fetishize "democracy" in an obtusely formalistic way. But she has a
long personal history of doing good for people, an unmatched grasp of
policy, thousands of exploitable relationships, and a platform where
Sanders taught her plenty about the expanding limits of what's
progressive and what's politic.
Best part of the piece is his recounting past efforts to dive
into the political weeds and call on voters. He urges you to do
the same this year: "we don't just want to win -- we want to win
so big across the board that Clinton will feel obliged to activate
her platform and that Trump's racist, xenophobic chauvinism will
seem a perilous tack even to the saner Republicans who are right
now scheming to deliver the U.S. to Big Capital in 2020."
I don't want to relitigate Nader in 2000, but I find it odd
that Christgau singles out Lieberman as the reason he voted for
Nader over Gore. I've never been a Lieberman fan, but I don't
think I gave Gore's VP pick any thought at the time. It was only
later, after Sharon came to power in Israel and put an end to
the Oslo Peace Process, and after 9/11 and Bush launched his
Crusade (aka Global War on Terror) that Lieberman transformed
into a conspicuously monstrous hawk. I don't doubt that he had
long harbored that stance, just as I don't doubt that he had
always been in the pocket of the insurance industry, but it's
not like Gore saw those things as problems. I suspected that
Gore would have tilted against peace in Israel/Palestine, and
I never doubted that he would have gone to war in Afghanistan
and elsewhere (including Iraq) in response to 9/11. He may
have done so less crudely and less carelessly than Bush did,
but those were pretty low bars. It's tempting to look back on
this history and think that Gore would have avoided the many
mistakes that Bush committed, but the whole DLC pitch in the
1990s (which Gore was as much a part of as Clinton) was to
cut into the Republican alignment with oligarchy by showing
that the Democrats could be even better for business, and
they picked up a lot of conservative baggage along the way.
That was Gore in 2000, and while we certainly underestimated
how bad Bush would turn out, that was a pretty good reason
to back Nader in 2000.
On the other hand, I now think that Nader made a major mistake
running as a third party candidate in 2000 (and 2004). We would
have been much better served had he ran in primaries as a Democrat.
He wouldn't have come close to beating Gore, but he would have
been able to mobilize a larger protest vote, and he would have
drawn the discussion (and maybe the party platform) toward the
left. But then we don't get to choose our options, just choose
among them. What persuaded me to give up interest in third party
efforts was the fact that even in 2000, even with no campaign
visibility, Gore outpolled Nader in Kansas by a factor of ten:
37.2-3.4%. I realized then that the people we wanted to appeal
to were stuck in the Democratic Party. Sometimes part of that
appeal means you have to vote for a poor excuse for a Democrat.
The Nation recently ran a pair of articles on Stein vs. Clinton:
Kshama Sawant: Don't Waste Your Vote on the Corporate Agenda -- Vote
for Jill Stein and the Greens, and
Joshua Holland: Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote.
I don't care for the thinking behind either of these articles,
but only one has a clue what "waste" means and it isn't Sawant.
If you want your vote to be effective, you should vote either
for or against one of the two leading candidates, and it really
doesn't make any difference whether you're positive or negative,
just so you can tell the difference. On the other hand, sure,
vote for a third party candidate if the following is the case:
you can't distinguish a difference you really care about, and
both leading candidates are objectionable on something you
really do care about.
Sawant may well be right if the one issue you really care
about is "the corporate agenda" -- assuming you can define that
in terms where Trump and Clinton are interchangeable, which I'm
not sure you can do. (For instance, Trump wants less regulation
of corporations but Clinton sometimes wants more; Trump wants
the rich to pay less in taxes but Clinton wants the rich to pay
more; Clinton favors a higher minimum wage but Trump doesn't.)
But personally, I don't see "the corporate agenda" (or its more
conceptual proxy, "capitalism") as something to get bent out of
shape about. I don't have a problem with corporations as long
as they are well regulated and we have countervailing mechanisms
to balance off problems like inequality. Clinton doesn't go as
far in that direction as I'd like, and she's much to comfy in
the company of billionaires, but Trump is a billionaire (one
of the worst of the breed), and he clearly has no concern for
the vast majority of Americans. I can think of several issues
I am so deeply concerned about that I might base a decision on
them: war is a big one, racism another, inequality all-pervasive,
and environmental degradation. Trump is clearly unacceptable on
all four accounts (as is the political party for which he stands).
Clinton is clearly better on all of those except war, and she's
probably more temperate and sensible there than Trump is. Perhaps
if Stein ran a campaign specifically against war and empire I might
find her candidacy more compelling, but "corporate agenda" doesn't
do the trick.
Sawant's other argument is that you can only build an alternative
to "the corporate agenda" by staying outside of the Democratic Party.
I don't see that working for three reasons: almost all of the people
who might be sympathetic are already invested as Democrats (and more
all the time are being driven to the Democrats by the Republicans);
your separatism demonstrates a lack of solidarity, and possibly even
an antipathy to the people you're supposedly trying to help; and
you're denying that reform is possible within the Democratic Party,
which given the existence of primaries and such would seem to be
But let's throw one more argument into the mix. Voting is at best
a rare and limited option, whereas there are other forms of political
action that are more direct, more focused, and more viable for people
who don't start with majority consensus: demonstrations, speeches,
boycotts. In these cases what may matter more isn't having politicians
to lead your side but having politicians willing to listen and open
to persuasion, especially based on traditionally shared values. One
instance that made this clear to me was when organizers who were
opposed to Israeli apartheid and occupation came to Wichita and
urged us to talk to our representative and senators. They pointed out
how they gained a receptive audience from longtime Israel supporters
like Ted Kennedy, but all we had to work with was Sam Brownback and
Todd Tiahrt -- bible-thumping end-of-times Zionists who regard us
less as constituents than as intractable enemies. So while it may
not be possible to turn Clinton against American imperialism and
militarism in principle, at least her administration will see a
need to talk to us -- if she's our leader, we're her people, and
that's not something I can imagine with Trump and the Republicans.
(Also not something that seems likely with today's crop of third
parties, which are almost anti-political and anti-social by design.)
Some other more or less leftish opinions:
Fred Kaplan: How Does Obama Respond to Russia's Cyberattacks?
The Obama administration has gone on record not only declaring that
Russia is responsible for recent hacks apparently meant to influence
US elections, but that the US will retaliate against Russia somehow.
Perhaps I'm being dense, but I've never understood what constitutes
cyberwarfare, let alone what the point of it is. I was hoping Kaplan,
who has written a recent book on the subject, might enlighten me,
but about all I've gathered from this article is that a picking a
fight here is only likely to hurt everyone. As Kaplan writes:
If the cyberconflict escalated, it would play into their strengths
and our weaknesses. Again, our cyberoffensive powers are superior
to theirs, as President Obama recently boasted; but our society is
more vulnerable to even inferior cyberoffensives. We have bigger
and better rocks to throw at other houses, but our house is made
of glass that shatters more easily.
What's implied here but rarely spelled out is that the US does
everything we've accused Russia of doing, and probably does it
better (or at least does it on a much more massive scale). I
don't know, for instance, to what extent the US has tried to
influence Russian elections, but clearly we have a long history
of doing things like that, from the CIA operations in post-WWII
Italy to keep the Communist Party out of power to the recent
toppling of a pro-Putin government in Ukraine.
Daniel Politi: Kansas Terrorists Wanted Anti-Muslim Attack to
End in "Bloodbath":
They called themselves the "Crusaders" and had a clear purpose: launch
an attack against Muslims that would lead to a "bloodbath." With any
luck that would help spark a religious war. But their plans were thwarted
as three Kansas men were arrested on Friday for planning an attack on a
Garden City, Kansas apartment complex filled with Somali immigrants that
is also home to a mosque. They planned to carry out the attack one day
after the November election. . . .
The complaint also notes that during one conversation Stein said that
"the only fucking way this country's ever going to get turned around is
it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherfucker. Unless
a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the fucking coffee
and decide they want this country back . . . we might be too late, if
they do wake up . . . I think we can get it done. But it ain't going to
be nothing nice about it." At one point Stein made it clear he was ready
to kill babies: "When we go on operations there's no leaving anyone
behind, even if it's a one-year old, I'm serious."
Police say they found "close to a metric ton of ammunition in Allen's
residence," which is what led authorities to believe the attack could be
imminent. "These individuals had the desire, the means, the capability
to carry out this act of domestic terrorism," an FBI official said.
The article notes that "There has been an incredible increase in
anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment over the past few years."
The article didn't note the Donald Trump campaign, nor America's
seemingly endless war in Somalia. On the latter, see
Mark Mazzetti/hjeffrey Gettleman/Eric Schmidt: In Somalia, U.S.
Escalates a Shadow War:
The Pentagon has acknowledged only a small fraction of these operations.
But even the information released publicly shows a marked increase this
year. The Pentagon has announced 13 ground raids and airstrikes thus far
in 2016 -- including three operations in September -- up from five in
2015, according to data compiled by New America, a Washington think tank.
The strikes have killed about 25 civilians and 200 people suspected of
being militants, the group found.
The strikes have had a mixed record. In March, an American airstrike
killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called
a "graduation ceremony," one of the single deadliest American airstrikes
in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more
than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against
Derek Thompson: No, Not Gary Johnson: It's unfortunate that the
Libertarian candidate isn't as articulate about foreign policy and
war someone like Ron Paul. For one thing, that might spare us some
gaffes like "what is a leppo?" or "when he failed to name a single
world leader in a televised town hall" (actually, he was asked for
the name of a foreign leader he admired, which frankly would have
stumped me -- my response would have been that it's inappropriate
for US politicians to render judgment on foreign politicians, as
indeed it was for Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte to defame Obama).
Thompson concludes that Johnson "suffers from an Aleppo mindset, a
proud lack of curiosity about foreign affairs lurking behind an
attractively simplistic rejection of military interventions." It
never occurred to Thompson that if you reject in principle the
whole idea of military interventions, you really don't need to
know a lot of detail about places hawks want to intervene in, or
the trumped up causes they think they're advancing. Still, it
would have been better to have smarter answers handy -- it's
not like candidates can assume that pundits won't ask stupid
Thankfully, Thompson moves past his dedication to preserving
the American empire to grill Johnson over issues where his
muddle-headedness is more glaring, such as the role of government
in the economy, increasing the contrast by comparing Johnson to
But on policy, the two could not be more opposite. Sanders, a
democratic socialist, proposed to raise taxes by historic sums
and spend hundreds of billions of dollars to nationalize health
insurance and make college free. Johnson's plans are the complete
reverse: He has proposed to eliminate the federal income tax code,
unwind 100 years of anti-poverty and health-insurance programs,
and shutter the Department of Education. His plan would almost
certainly raise the cost of college for many middle-class teenagers
and 20somethings who rely on federal loans and grants, and his
repeal of Obamacare would immediately boot tens of thousands of
them off their parents' health plans.
Beyond his jovial demeanor and admirably passionate anti-interventionist
position, Johnson puts a likable face on a deeply troubling economic
policy. Scrapping the Federal Reserve while cutting federal spending
by 40 percent, while eliminating federal income taxes and trying to
institute a new consumption tax would have a predictable effect: It
would take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy, likely
triggering a recession, while shifting the burden of paying for what's
left of the federal government to the poor just as unemployment started
to rise, all the while shutting off any possible monetary stimulus that
could provide relief to the ailing economy.
Thompson's numbers are probably understated -- certainly the number
who would lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed would be well
into the millions, and the economic collapse is probably more like
trillions. But these examples do help remind us how naïve and foolish
libertarian economic theory is. Still, without their crackpot notions
of economic freedom libertarians would just be liberals. On the other
hand, if liberals gave up the war on drugs and their defense of empire,
libertarians wouldn't have a prayer of siphoning off votes, as Johnson
does this year.
For a longer critique of Johnson, see
Nick Tabor: Gary Johnson's Hard-Right Record.
Miscellaneous election links:
Arthur Goldhammer: What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Have Made of the 2016
US Presidential Election
Donald Trump's Disastrous Debate: The Atlantic's live blog on
last Sunday's second debate. David A. Graham summed up:
It was a microcosm of the campaign: Clinton is a weak candidate, with
a train car's worth of luggage trailing behind her. But Trump is weaker
still, and at every turn, he seems to overshadow her problems with much
deeper problems of his own -- much louder gaffes, much more serious
political errors. That has been a rather depressing spectacle for the
Nate Silver: Where the Race Stands With Three Weeks to Go
Leslie Bennetts: Enough is enough: the 2016 election is now a referendum
on male entitlement: "Donald Trump's inflated masculinity and unabashed
claim over women's bodies speaks to female voters' lived experiences and,
hopefully, men's need for change."
John Cassidy: The Illuminating but Unsurprising Content of Clinton's
Paid Speeches: Nicholas Thompson linked to this and tweeted
(I'll spare you the shouting): "Breaking: new Clinton docs reveal
she's a cautious centrist with advisers who think about policy."
Cassidy quotes another comment, that the admissions also indicate
"a level of self-awareness unimaginable in her opponent." For more
on the speeches, see:
Lee Fang et al.: Excerpts of Hillary Clinton's Paid Speeches to
Goldman Sachs Finally Leaked. Also by Cassidy:
The Election May Be Over, but Trump's Blowup Is Just Starting.
Martin Longman: George Will and David Brooks Lead the Defection:
A quote from Brooks: "Politics is an effort to make human connection,
but Trump seems incapable of that. He is essentially adviser-less,
friendless. His campaign team is made up of cold mercenaries at best
and Roger Ailes at worst."
Matt Taibbi: The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump:
Trump Suggests Vets Who Need Mental Health Services Aren't Strong
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Still Thinks the Central Park Five Are
Dara Lind: Donald Trump shows the opposite of "political correctness"
isn't free speech. It's just different repression.
Katherine Noble: Evangelicals' Response to Assault and the Donald Trump
Russell Berman: Why the Supreme Court Matters More to Republicans than
Trump: Or, conversely, why it matters more to you than Hillary.
Heather Digby Parton: Wolf in sheep's clothing: Mike Pence conceals his
far-right radicalism with a sedate debate performance
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's problem isn't a conspiracy. It's him.
Emily Crockett: Donald Trump's books reveal his obsession with women --
Tierney Sneed: Former Bush DOJer John Yoo: Trump 'Reminds Me a Lot of
Early Mussolini': Funny thing: when someone asked who would be
willing to serve as Attorney General under Trump after he vowed to
jail Hillary Clinton, the first candidate I thought of was Bush's
torture enabler. I guess I underestimated him. On the other hand,
Twitter quickly answered my question: Rudy Giuliani (of course).
Tara Golshan: Donald Trump's Mormon problem, explained: One thing
I didn't know is that there is a third (or fifth) party candidate in
Utah named Evan McMullin who's evidently polling very well there.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's wild new rhetoric isn't about winning --
it's about what comes next, and
Donald Trump's epic meltdown, explained
Ryan Lizza: Steve Bannon's Vision for the Trump Coalition After Election
Amy Chozick/Nicholas Confessore: Hacked Transcripts Reveal a Genial Hillary
Clinton at Goldman Sachs Events
Jeff Stein: The math says Democrats have little shot at the House. Donald
Trump suggests otherwise. Main thing the article suggests is that the
Democrats would be in better shape if they made a systematic effort to
nominate good candidates (and, yes, Kansas is one of the prime examples).
But also there isn't much ticket-splitting (less than 10% in 2012), so a
Clinton landslide could bring some unexpected wins.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Apologies for Donald Trump:
The white working class is right to feel that those in power are not
acting in their interests. Of course they are not acting in the interests
of the African American or Hispanic working classes either. Unfortunately,
unless mainstream politicians stop doing the bidding of the wealthy, the
white working class will continue to look to political figures who blame
non-whites for their problems, since that will be the only answer they see.
Robert L Borosage: Inequality Is Still the Defining Issue of Our Time:
Title is clearly right, worth repeating at every opportunity. Another
way to make the case is to point out that the entire purpose of
conservativism is to defend and secure the privileges of the rich
and make them richer.
Patrick Cockburn: Talk of a No-fly Zone Distracts from Realistic
Solutions for Aleppo
Jonathan Cohn: The Future of America Is Being Written in This Tiny
Office: Long piece on Hillary Clinton's "policy team."
When it came to formulating her own ideas, Clinton wasn't starting from
scratch, obviously. But since her last run for the White House, the
Democratic Party had undergone a minor metamorphosis -- and in ways that
didn't seem like a natural fit for Clinton, at least as she was perceived
by most voters. The progressive wing was clearly ascendant, with groups
like Occupy Wall Street and Fight For 15 harnessing populist anger at the
financial system, and Black Lives Matter turning an unrelenting spotlight
on racial injustice. Minority voters had come to represent a larger
proportion of both the party and the population, giving Democrats an
electoral-college advantage whose influence was still unclear when Obama
ran for office. And there was another trend at work -- one that was less
obvious, but no less important: In just a few years, the Democratic elite
had quietly gone through a once-in-a-generation shift on economic thinking.
Thomas Geoghegan: 3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without
a College Degree: Lots of good ideas here, like "co-determination"
(giving workers a vote on corporate boards). Third point lumps a bunch
of good things into one:
Third, unlike Trump, Hillary can promise to use the welfare state to
make us more competitive. How? Consider what would happen if we expanded
Social Security. If we get more workers over age 65 to retire, instead
of hanging on because they lack a decent private pension, we could employ
more middle-aged and young workers now sitting at home, or promote them
sooner. We need the government to assume more of the private sector's
"non-wage" labor costs. There are yet other examples where the welfare
state could make us more competitive: Expand Medicare to workers between
ages 55 and 65, so employers can stop avoiding payment for working people
who have higher skills. Or have a fair federal system of worker
compensation, instead of states' using it to bid against each other. Or
have the federal government offer to take over state Medicaid in those
states that promise to use the savings for public education and worker
training. And isn't publicly funded childcare a way of ensuring that we
use human capital more efficiently instead of trapping highly educated
women at home?
Mark Mazzetti/Ben Hubbard: Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of
Royal Tradition: The new power in Saudi Arabia is 31-year-old Prince
bin Salman, seen here as extravagant and reckless, especially with his
war in Yemen which has lately dragged the US into missile exchanges.
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Stern Gang Mailed Letter Bomb to White
House, President Truman: In 1947, when LEHI was commanded by
future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Cass R Sunstein: Five Books to Change Liberals' Minds: Tries to
pick out books that liberals can take seriously, as opposed to, say,
the partisan paranoid crap published by Regnery. The books are:
- James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve
the Human Conditions Have Failed
- Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation
- Casey Mulligan, Side Effects and Complications: The Economic
Consequences of Health-Care Reform
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
- Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle
The Scalia book came out in 1997, when he still had a reputation
as a serious (albeit flawed) thinker, as opposed to the partisan
crank you remember him as. Scott and Ellickson would seem to be
libertarians, perhaps even anarchists. Haidt's book is a respectful
probe into how conservatives think (I bought a copy, but haven't
read it.) Mulligan complains that Obamacare disincentivizes work,
and as such is a drag on GDP. That makes sense but doesn't strike
me as such a bad thing. Moreover, it's not like there aren't any
countervaling incentives to work (though it doesn't help that so
many jobs suck).
Matthew Yglesias: This is the best book to help you understand the
wild 2016 campaign: The book is Democracy for Realists,
by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, and it's a depressing slog
if you've ever fancied the idea that rational arguments based on
real interests might persuade voters to choose candidates and parties
that actually advance those interests. One argument, for instance, is
that party allegiance is based on some unknowably primordial force
(probably identity), and that people pick up the views of their party
rather than the other way around. Another is that fluctuations in
voting results are due to factors beyond any party's control, ranging
from economic performance to the shark attacks and football games.
I'm not sure how much of this I buy, let alone care about. One of
the problems with the social sciences is that every piece of insight
they reveal about anonymous behavior becomes a lever for manipulation
by some interest group. That's one reason why when I was majoring in
sociology, I spent virtually all of my efforts trying to expose how
research incorporates biases, and thereby to increase the doubt that
findings could be usurped. That's also a reason why I quit sociology.
Also why I have no interest in reading this particular book, or any
of the other books on how voters think -- books that I'm sure both
parties (if not necessarily both presidential candidates) have been
diligently studying for whatever tricks they can find.
Sunday, September 25. 2016
I don't plan on watching Monday's first debate between Donald Trump
and Hillary Clinton. I'm not someone still trying to figure out where
I stand on those two, and I can't conceive of anything either might
say that might make a difference to me -- although I do harbor a fear
that Hillary might come off as so hawkish she makes Trump look sane
(at least relatively, for the moment). Besides, if I did watch, I'd
probably be preoccupied with trying to figure out how each nuance and
tick affects other folks' views -- you know, the people who don't know
enough to know any better. I'm still haunted by that 1984 debate where
Walter Mondale ran circles around Ronald Reagan -- the most one-sided
debate I ever saw, yet 32 years later the only thing other people
remember about it was Reagan's quip about not holding his opponent's
"youth and inexperience" against him. Reagan won in a landslide that
year -- one of the stupidest decisions the American people ever made
(and there's plenty of competition for that title).
Besides, I'll read plenty about it. And I'll probably tune in
Steven Colbert's after-debate Late Show. Meanwhile, no
comments on the political links below. The current
538 odds favor Clinton at 57.5%, popular vote 46.7-44.8%, the
electoral college teetering on Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania
-- those currently favor Clinton (62.7%, 63.0%, 68.2%) but Trump can
win by tipping any one of those three (or Wisconsin or Michigan). The
"chances" exaggerate much smaller percentage edges (D+ 2.2%, 2.7%, 3.1%),
but all three (and the election) would remain Democratic if the votes
were equal (on the other hand, Trump is less than 2.0% ahead in Nevada,
Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio).
Some scattered links this week:
Natalie Nougaryède: The devastation of Syria will be Obama's legacy:
I don't agree with this piece, but want to quote a couple paragraphs
as examples of the flawed thinking that surrounds this horrific and
tragic war. First:
There have long been two takes on Syria. One is the geopolitical realism
line, which Barack Obama has chosen to follow largely because it fits with
his reluctance to get involved in another war. The line is that US or
western security interests are not at stake in an intractable, far-flung
civil war that can more easily be contained than solved. The other is the
moral imperative line that Power has repeatedly advocated within the
administration. It refers to the doctrine of "responsibility to protect,"
according to which a state's sovereignty can be violated when a regime
slaughters its own citizens.
It's always a conundrum when you limit the options to two choices
that are both flat-out wrong. The problem with "geopolitical realism"
isn't that "western security interests are not at stake." It's that
the US doesn't know what its true interests are, because the US has
stumbled blindly through seventy years of blunders in the Middle East
based on three faulty precepts: what seems like good opportunities for
a few dozen multinational corporations, a set of heuristics that like
"the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and a growing conviction that
the only way the US can act abroad is through military force (which
has its own institutional interests, ranging from budget to political
influence but mostly focused on preserving its air of omnipotence).
There can be no doubt that "geopolitical realism" has contributed
to the devastation of Syria, but that fault goes back way before the
civil war started. The US missed an opportunity in 1951 to broker a
peace treaty between Syria and Israel which would have settled the
border and committed Syria to absorb a large number of Palestinian
refugees. When that Syrian missive failed, a series of coups led to
Assad seizing power, and turning to the Soviet Union for arms to
defend against Israel (which after many border skirmishes snatched
the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967). Through those long years the
US came to reflexively think of Assad as an enemy (despite Syrian
support for the US in the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq), so when the
Arab Spring protests broke out, Obama didn't hesitate to offer his
opinion that "Assad should go" -- implicitly aligning the US with
Assad's jihadi opposition (more explicitly backed by US "allies"
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE -- monarchies set up by British
imperialism and maintained by global business interests). By now
"realists" are split on Syria, with some recognizing that nothing
the US has done so far has worked in any tangible way to further
"American interests," while others (blending into the delusional
"neocons") see that same failure as undermining America's true
interest, which is projecting power so demonstrably that the rest
of the world is humbled into submission.
One problem that "geopolitical realists" have is that they
pride themselves on their unsentimental rejection of anything that
smacks of idealism -- notably democracy, free speech, human rights,
equality, economic justice -- so they unflinchingly embrace some
of the world's most greedy and cruel regimes. However, this lack
of principle makes it possible for "humanitarian interventionists"
like Power -- the author's second group -- to shame them into acts
of war (better described as "crimes against humanity"). It's hard
to encapsulate everything that's wrong with Power's analysis in a
single paragraph -- one could fill a whole book, which in Power's
honor should be titled A Solution From Hell.
The very phrase "responsibility to protect" is shot full with
puzzling nuances, but at a practical level, the US Military is not
designed to protect anyone. Its purpose is to intimidate, a bluff
which is backed up by extraordinary killing power and the logistics
to project that force anywhere. But once it's engaged, the army is
hard-pressed even to protect itself. (A typical tactic is whenever
an IED goes off they shoot indiscriminately in a full circle, just
in case there are any innocent bystanders.) In short, they "protect"
by killing, or as one Army officer put it, "we had to destroy the
village in order to save it." As Rumsfeld put it, "you go to war
with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to
have at a later time." At least in the short term, US intervention
in Syria would kill more people and destroy more property. Given
all the evidence we have in recent years, there is no way to paint
this as "responsibility to protect."
As for the longer term, it's also pretty clear that the US isn't
any good at setting up stable, representative governments to move
forward. Part of this is that the US, whether representing tangible
(business) or ideological (neocon) interests, can't help but choose
sides and favor some at the expense of others, who will inevitably
view their losses as unjust. Part is that once you've invested blood
and treasure to conquer a country, you inevitably feel like you're
entitled to some reward -- not least gratitude from the people you
"saved" (at least those still alive, living in the wreckage of your
bombs and shells).
The other paragraph I wanted to quote:
A key problem with the ceasefire deal was the plan to set up a US-Russia
"joint implementation centre" to coordinate strikes against Islamic State.
This was meant as an incentive, as Putin had long sought to be accepted
as a coalition partner alongside the United States. But if implemented,
such a coalition could make the US complicit in Russian airstrikes, which
have been designed to strengthen Assad. The US would endorse a Russian
intervention premised on the notion that there are only two actors in
Syria: Assad and the jihadis.
The key problem with the "ceasefire deal" is that it didn't require
all sides to stop firing. Carving out an exemption for the US and Russia
to bomb IS not only gave the latter no reason to join in, it set up a
debilitating round of excuses: almost immediately the US bombed Assad
forces mistaking them for ISIS, then Russia bombed a UN convoy, perhaps
thinking the same. (For more on this, see
Patrick Cockburn: Russia and US Provide a Lesson in Propaganda Over
Nougaryède then draws two conclusions. One is to blame Obama not so
much for Syria as for letting Russia show up American power ("Putin is
celebrated by populists around the world for having outmanoeuvred the
US by pulling himself up to the ranks of a leader whose cooperation is
almost begged for"). The other is to regurgitate Power's story of how
Clinton (having belatedly realized that Bosnia "had become a cancer on
our foreign policy and on his administration's leadership") "ordered
targeted strikes on Serbian forces, which forced Slobodan Milosevic to
the negotiating table" -- a fable of the magic of US intervention that
never stood a chance in Syria.
David Hearst: Sisi is a dead man walking: Presents a pretty grim
picture of Egypt under the post-coup leadership of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi:
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rule has indeed become torture and suffering for
He has lurched from one promise to another, each one a glittering
bauble dangled over a credulous and fearful nation. The first was the
untold billions that Egypt would continue to get from the Gulf states
who bankrolled his military coup. He boasted to his aides that their
money was so plentiful it was "like rice," a judgment that now looks
dated after the collapse in the price of oil and the Yemen war. He
burnt his way through up to $50bn of their cash, loans and oil
guarantees. [ . . . ]
Now salvation comes, we are told, in the form of a $12bn IMF loan.
For Egypt's currency market, its more life support than loan. In July,
foreign reserves dropped to their lowest level in 16 months, Bloomberg
reported, and constitute only three months of imports. There is no such
thing as a free IMF loan. They are expected to demand a devaluation of
the Egyptian pound, phasing out of subsidies, and the imposition of VAT,
reforms much talked about, but never implemented. The only salaries Sisi
has raised are those of the army, police and judges. As it is, spending
on public wages, salaries, subsidies and servicing debts represent 80
percent of the budget. This leaves little room for cuts. The only option
is to squeeze more out of those who cannot afford to pay.
[ . . . ]
The truth is that Sisi is failing despite the overwhelming financial
and military support of the Gulf and the West. Confidence in him as a
leader is imploding. His remaining weapons are paranoia and nationalist
fear. The question then is not whether Sisi can fight on through the
miasma of doubt which now surrounds him. Most people already know the
answer to that. The real question is how long has he got.
The article concludes with a list of possible successors, mostly
by coup. Meanwhile, al-Sisi and Donald Trump have been saying nice
things about one another. See
Cristiano Lima: Trump praises Egypt's al-Sisi: 'He's a fantastic
guy'. Trump's fondness for authoritarian leaders has often been
noted -- most often Russia's popularly elected Vladimir Putin, but
al-Sisi is a real dictator, one who seized power by force to end
Egypt's brief experiment with democracy, who outlawed his opponents
and killed "thousands of dissidents and protestors." Trump thinks
he's "a fantastic guy," but what he really likes is: "He took control
of Egypt. And he really took control of it." Pretty much what Trump
wants to do to America.
Matthew Yglesias: Republican senators outraged by Wells Fargo's fraud
want to eliminate the agency that uncovered it: More important this
year than deciding who will be the next Commander in Chief is the more
basic political decision whether we'll expose the country to ever more
blatant forms of predatory business behavior, or whether we'll cling
onto the modest levels of regulation that still provide some degree of
protection for consumers and the environment.
A funny thing happened in the United States Senate today, as a chorus
of cross-party agreement broke out during a Senate Banking Committee
hearing on revelations that Wells Fargo employees created hundreds of
thousands of fraudulent bank accounts and credit cards in order to meet
company targets for cross-selling new products to existing customers.
The targets were extremely aggressive -- so aggressive that they couldn't
actually be met -- so thousands of employees responded by faking it.
Wells Fargo is paying $185 million in fines and fired more than 5,000
rank-and-file employees, but so far nothing has been done to personally
punish the high-level executives who reap the rewards when the company
Senators today weren't having it, with banker scourge Elizabeth Warren
telling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf that he ought to resign and face
personal investigation. [ . . . ] But it featured
a surprising level of bipartisan agreement, with committee chair
Richard Shelby, a hard-right Alabama Republican, accusing Stumpf in
his opening statement of personally fostering "a corporate culture
that drove company 'team members' to fraudulently open millions of
accounts using their customers' funds and personal information without
their permission." [ . . . ]
But even while Republicans are outraged by Wells Fargo's wrongdoing,
all the Republican senators who spoke against the bank at today's
hearing have gone on record at various times in calling for the full
repeal of President Obama's financial regulation law -- which would
mean eliminating the agency that uncovered the wrongdoing and levied
the biggest fines.
Several big things started happening in the 1980s. One is that
major steps were taken to reduce regulation of many industries,
which allowed some businesses to play fast and loose with their
ethics. Another is that marginal tax rates on the wealthy were
reduced, which gave business owners more incentive to make money
any way they could. The result was, as I said many times at the
time, that America's fastest growth industry became fraud. That
didn't end late in the decade when the Savings & Loan banks
blew up. At most, they took a little breather before the stock
market bubble of the 1990s burst to reveal star companies like
Enron as built on little but fraud. Then there was another
bubble in the mid-2000s, which like the others burst to reveal
even more fraudulent activity, this time infecting the entire
financial sector. So now we have thirty-some years of experience
showing that deregulation and tax breaks lead to nothing more
than ever more destructive episodes of fraud -- as well as
inequality, inequity, austerity, poverty, and hardship -- but
the only remedy Republicans can imagine is more deregulation
and more tax breaks. They're so pathetic you'd think Democrats
would make an issue of this.
For some more in-depth reading:
Alana Semuels: Finance Is Ruining America. For example:
But as GE Capital was making money, GE was laying off staff, outsourcing
jobs, and shifting more costs onto employees. Welch laid off 100,000 in
five years and cut research-and-development spending as a percentage of
sales by half, according to Foroohar. GE closed an Indiana refrigerator
plant and relocated some of the production of models to Mexico. It cut
2,500 jobs in a turbine division to save $1 billion. In 2007, it shuttered
a 1.4 million-square-foot plant in Bridgeport that had once, in the heyday
of American manufacturing, made clocks, fans, radios, washing machines,
and vacuums, and employed thousands of people. In short, investors were
getting wealthy, but working class-people weren't sharing the rewards.
Instead, they were losing their jobs.
"The stereotype of what finance is supposed to do is take the income of
savers and channel that to productive investments," Marshall Steinbaum, an
economist at the Roosevelt Institute, told me. "That's not what finance
does now. A lot of finance goes in the opposite direction, where essentially
they are taking money out of productive corporations and sending it back to
Emma Green: Why Does the United States Give So Much Money to Israel?
In one of his "lame duck" acts, Obama signed a Memorandum of Understanding
stating that the US will give Israel $38 billion over the next ten years,
"an increase of roughly 27 percent on the money pledged in the last
agreement, which was signed in 2007." Most (or maybe all) of this is
for arms, pretty much the last thing Israel actually needs. One plus
is that all the money comes back to Americans arms merchants (under
the old agreement Israel could spend about one-quarter of the grants
on their own industry) so one could look at this as an American jobs
program -- indeed, Obama's record-setting arms sales have been the
only sort of jobs program Congress has allowed him. Not much analysis
of why. Support for Israel is eroding, especially among young Democrats,
and foreign aid for anyone has never been popular. Still, in Washington
lining up to pay homage to Israel is still the safe choice -- heavily
lobbied for, scarcely lobbied against.
Nathan Thrall: Obama & Palestine: The Last Chance, briefly
reviewing how little Obama accomplished in two terms, or how easily
Netanyahu has manage to deflect Obama's spineless ambivalence. Still,
most of the article is about something minor Obama could still hope
to pull off:
This leaves only one option that isn't seen as unrealistic, unpalatable,
or insignificant: to set down the guidelines or "parameters" of a peace
agreement -- on the four core issues of borders, security, refugees, and
Jerusalem -- in a US-supported UN Security Council resolution. Once passed,
with US support, these Security Council-endorsed parameters would become
international law, binding, in theory, on all future presidents and peace
Top US officials see a parameters resolution as Obama's only chance at
a lasting, positive legacy, one that history might even one day show to
have been more important to peace than the achievements of his predecessors.
Once Kerry's efforts extinguished the administration's last hopes of an
agreement on their watch, a parameters resolution became their brass ring;
since then, Israel-Palestine policy has largely been at a standstill in
Washington and capitals throughout Europe, hanging on the question of
whether Obama will decide to grab it.
If he doesn't grab it, and that's the bet I'd put my money on, all
he'll have to show for eight years of trying to reconcile Israel and
the Palestinians is a record-smashing arms deal -- munitions Israel
has used for a series of murderous assaults on Gaza "on his watch."
Ta-Nehisi Coates: What O.J. Simpson Means to Me: I did my best to
avoid the murder case news when it happened, viewing the grotesque
public focus with celebrity as just another of those ways television
perverts our sense of reality. I had followed the NFL back in his day,
watched him emerge on television and in advertising, thinking him a
little bland but likable enough, while not even curious about his
personal life. I do remember that during the trial my mother -- not
a racist but also not someone who felt any qualms about voting for
George Wallace -- thought he couldn't possibly be guilty. I did get
a refresher course in watching the FX drama series (The People v.
O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, although I bailed out midway
through the documentary O.J.: Made in America). That the
story has resurfaced in such a big way this year says something
about the heightened consciousness now of how fallible the justice
system remains -- not that it continues as it's always been, but
old stories have a way of becoming new again. Coates has much on
the complex racial dynamics surrounding Simpson, but the following
How many black men had the LAPD arrested and convicted under a similarly
lax application of standards? "If you can railroad O.J. Simpson with his
millions of dollars and his dream team of legal experts," the activist
Danny Bakewell told an assembled crowd in L.A. after the Fuhrman tapes
were made public, "we know what you can do to the average African American
and other decent citizens in this country."
The claim was prophetic. Four years after Simpson was acquitted, an
elite antigang unit of the LAPD's Rampart division was implicated in a
campaign of terror that ranged from torture and planting evidence to drug
theft and bank robbery -- "the worst corruption scandal in LAPD history,"
according to the Los Angeles Times. The city was forced to vacate
more than 100 convictions and pay out $78 million in settlements.
The Simpson jury, as it turned out, understood the LAPD all too well.
And its conclusions about the department's inept handling of evidence
were confirmed not long after the trial, when the city's crime lab was
overhauled. "If your mission is to sweep the streets of bad people . . .
and you can't prosecute them successfully because you're incompetent,"
Mike Williamson, a retired LAPD officer, remarked years later about the
trial, "you've defeated your primary mission."
Rob Sheffield: What 'O.J.: Made in America' Says About America Right
Now, where he notes, "The O.J. trial is a nightmare America has
kept having about itself for decades." That may be giving America too
much credit. Sheffield also wrote about
American Crime Story.
Miscellaneous election links:
Russell Berman: Five Reasons Why Ted Cruz's Endorsement of Donald
Trump Is Stunning. Also:
Amy Davidson: Why Ted Cruz Surrendered to Donald Trump, and
Cruz: Never Mind, I Guess There Is No Battle for the Soul of
Cruz probably thought Trump would lose badly, after which Wingnuttia
would conclude that the loss was because Trump was really a filthy
liberal; at that point, Cruz could pose as the "true conservative"
savior for 2020. But Trump, even if he doesn't win, is causing the
right's enemies conniption fits, so he's the strong horse the right
likes at this moment, and everyone on the right needs to get behind him.
Pat Buchanan: How Trump Wins the Debate
John Cassidy: The Presidential Debate Is Clinton's Chance to Outfox
Chauncey Devega: The lie of white "economic insecurity": Race, class and
the rise of Donald Trump:
Republicans and the broader right-wing movement profit from a Machiavellian
relationship where the more economic pain and suffering they inflict on
red-state America, the more popular and powerful they become with those
voters. This is political sadism as a campaign strategy.
Wilson Dizard: Trump praises Israeli policy of ethnic profiling following
bombing in Manhattan
Tom Engelhardt: America Has Gotten So Absurd That We Are Seriously
Considering Electing a Walking Ponzi Scheme as President
James Fallows: When Donald Meets Hillary
David Freedlander: Why Aren't Democrats Freaking Out Over Clinton's
Todd Gitlin: Be afraid, be very afraid: Trump is trying to cow journalists
out of doing their work
Keegan Goudiss: Rebooting Hillary: How Clinton can win the digital war
and make the debates great again
John Judis: Why Hillary Clinton hasn't been able to leave Donald Trump
in the Dust
Ben Kohlmann: Trump's Twitter dominance: Who's the Obama of 2016?
Simon Maloy: Trump's stop-and-frisk fiasco: A terrible plan for fighting
crime in Chicago (or anywhere)
Jim Newell: How to Beat Trump in a Debate
Evan Osnos: President Trump's First Term:
But envisaging a Trump Presidency has never required an act of imagination;
he has proudly exhibited his priorities, his historical inspirations, his
instincts under pressure, and his judgment about those who would put his
ideas into practice. In "Trump: Think Like a Billionaire," he included a
quote from Richard Conniff, the author of "The Natural History of the Rich":
"Successful alpha personalities display a single-minded determination to
impose their vision on the world, an irrational belief in unreasonable
goals, bordering at times on lunacy."
Heather Digby Parton: Nothing left but the dog whistle: Trump, "real America"
and the death of the conservative movement
Paul Rosenberg: Behold the GOP's not-so-secret plan to dismantle government
services: Defund, degrade and then privatize
Nate Silver: Election Update: Where the Race Stands Heading Into the
Matt Taibbi: The Unconquerable Trump
Michael Tomasky: Can the Unthinkable Happen?
Joan Walsh: Yes, Donald Trump Can Win the First Debate -- Here's
Matthew Yglesias: What Hillary needs to do at tomorrow night's
Bernie Sanders: The 'Nation' Interview
The Economist/YouGov Poll: Lots of tables, but note this
New YouGov poll: % of voters who think Trump is NOT crazy (38%) is 6 points
LOWER than % who pick him over HRC in head-to-head.
Sunday, September 18. 2016
Mostly writing this today because I have various tabs opened to
possibly interesting articles, and it's only a matter of time before
my antiquated browser crashes. Better, I think, to note them briefly
than to lose them forever.
I wrote some on the campaign horserace a couple days ago (see
Looks Like She Blew It), and nothing much has changed on that
front -- TPM still has Trump ahead by 0.1%, but 538 shows Clinton
with slightly better chance of winning (61.3%, up from 60.0%). So
she may still pull this out, but if she does she'll still wind up
with the lowest share of popular vote since 1992, when someone else
named Clinton won.
Some scattered links this week:
David Dayen: How Democrats Can Overcome Their Self-Defeating Cynicism:
By "pushing actual policies"? Dayen proposes adding a "public option" to
Obamacare as a good place to start. That's actually fairly non-controversial,
at least with mainstream Democrats. It was part of the original ACA, and
was dropped mostly because the bill couldn't be passed without 60 votes in
the Senate, and a couple of them were willing to wreck the whole thing to
spare private insurance companies from competition. He notes that Sen. Jeff
Merkley (Oregon) has a resolution backed by 27 other senators, and that
Obama and Clinton favor it. As for "cynicism" the more apposite term Dayen
uses is "defensive crouch" (although if you want an example of cynicism,
there's the attempt to bundle gun control on top of the rather arbitrary,
putatively anti-terror, "no fly list").
In their defensive crouch, Democrats have forgotten to explain why they
consider it important that "no family have the American dream ripped out
from under them because they can't afford medical care," as Merkley said
on the call. They forget to explain why health care ought to be a right
for every American, not a privilege only available to those who can buy
it at a high price.
This was actually the logic of the Sanders campaign, and a reason for
its unlikely success. Contrary to the political science pros, it was his
ideas, and more to the point his willingness to say them, that animated
his candidacy. It also pushed Clinton to outline a bolder agenda than she
might have been comfortable with in Sanders's absence. When the Democratic
primary pitted ideas against one another, rather than amplifying criticisms,
it let Americans know what Democrats stand for.
The bloodless technocracy that has ruled the Democratic Party has
forgotten how to inspire the body politic. After riding a wave of
enthusiasm to power in 2008, the last couple midterms and even Obama's
2012 campaign were nervy exercises in protecting the tentative gains
Democrats had made -- and seemed half-embarrassed by. Democrats too
often define themselves by who they oppose rather than their own
principles. Not only is this self-defeating for a party that promises
activist government, it makes governing itself harder down the road.
Of course, it's not just the emergence of a bit of political backbone
that's bringing the public option back into play. It's also that the
insurance companies have been conspiring to prevent the competition
that the ACA promised from eating into their profits -- most egregiously
by trying to merge the four largest private health insurers into two
companies (the first mergers I'm aware of the Obama administration
actually opposing). Even short of that they're cutting back on plan
availability, so many Americans will have no choices.
Eric Lichtblau: Hate Crimes Against American Muslims Most Since Post-9/11
Era: "up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived
as Arab rose even more sharply. . . . That was the most since the record
481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11
attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners,
Mr. Levin said. The huge increase last year was also the biggest annual
rise since 2001, he said." It's tempting to blame this on Trump, whose
anti-Muslim positions are based on and seem to legitimize more blatant
threats: "A number of experts in hate crimes said they were concerned
that Mr. Trump's vitriol may have legitimized threatening or even violent
conduct by a small fringe of his supporters. In a few cases, people accused
of hate crimes against Muslims and others have even cited Mr. Trump." On
the other hand, it's impossible to go to war against a people for fifteen
years and not engender hatred -- something Bush and Obama have worked hard
to cap because it so subverts their war aims, although Obama had a big
disadvantage in that those most inclined to hate Muslims started off by
Derek Thompson: America's Monopoly Problem: As I noted above, the
Obama administration has done a remarkably poor record of maintaining
competitiveness within supposedly free markets, scarcely even bothering
to use the rather antiquated antitrust laws that are still on the books.
Those laws, dating to the 1880s, targeted absolute monopolies where a
single company sought to gain complete control of a market. While such
combines are still a treat, the bigger problem now is what we might
call consensual monopoly blocks, where two or three large companies
effectively divvy up a market, crowding out competitors and focusing
more on growing their profit margins than cutting into one another's
market share. The net effect looks like this:
In the past few decades, however, the economy has come to resemble
something more like a stagnant pool. Entrepreneurship, as measured by
the rate of new-business formation, has declined in each decade since
the 1970s, and adults under 35 (a/k/a Millennials) are on track to be
the least entrepreneurial generation on record.
This decline in dynamism has coincided with the rise of extraordinarily
large and profitable firms that look discomfortingly like the monopolies
and oligopolies of the 19th century. American strip malls and yellow
pages used to brim with new small businesses. But today, in a lot where
several mom-and-pop shops might once have opened, Walmart spawns another
superstore. In almost every sector of the economy -- including manufacturing,
construction, retail, and the entire service sector -- the big companies
are getting bigger. The share of all businesses that are new firms,
meanwhile, has fallen by 50 percent since 1978. According to the Roosevelt
Institute, a liberal think tank dedicated to advancing the ideals of
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, "markets are now more concentrated and
less competitive than at any point since the Gilded Age."
Even where there are entrepreneurs, as in high-tech, their typical
business plans focus on building companies to the point where they
be sold profitably to larger companies. For instance, have any of the
biotech startups that were spun up in the 1990s not been sold off to
pharmaceutical giants? Much of this is driven by financial firms, who
can overpay for a startup knowing that it's worth more as part of a
monopolistic conglommerate. Joseph Stiglitz cites monopoly rents as
a major source of increasing inequality, and this is what he means.
A big part of the reason inequality is spiraling out of control is
that government, influenced (as you well know) by those profiting from
monopoly rents, has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that markets
are free, open, transparent, and therefore efficient. It is impossible
to overstate the importance of this issue, so this piece is one you
need to read.
Maggie Koerth-Baker: How the Oil and Gas Industry Awakened Oklahoma's
Sleeping Fault Lines: The first recorded earthquake in Oklahoma
occurred in 1882, before the first oil well was drilled in 1897. This
piece has a map of the known fault lines crossing Oklahoma, and they
are numerous, especially in the southeast corner of the state, home
of what's left of the Ouchita Mountains (high point 2681 feet above
sea level). Still, earthquakes remained rare until less than a decade
ago, rising to more than 900 earthquakes (3.0 or stronger) in 2014 --
the most of any state in the nation. As another map shows, those
earthquakes are located not where most of the faults are, but rather
in the north-central part of the state: relatively flat prairie west
of the Arkansas River, bisected by the Canadian River. This has been
oil country since way before I was born -- indeed, the main tourist
attractions in Ponca City are tours of the mansions of pioneering oil
barons. The yields of those oil wells have long been declining -- a
chart here shows that Oklahoma pumps up five barrels of wastewater
for every barrel of oil (or equivalent natural gas, at this point 80%
of Oklahoma's hydrocarbon production). That would have been uneconomical
back when oil was cheap, but the high prices of the Bush years urged
marginal producers to invest in injection wells -- there are now more
than 4000 across the state -- as they seek to slurp up the last of
their remaining oil. (By contrast, the water/fuel ratio in the newer
fields of North Dakota is currently running just slightly above 1/1.)
The injected wastewater, along with techniques like fracking, may help
increase oil production, but it also lubricates often unseen faults,
which then slip to produce earthquakes. The largest to date, a 5.8
centered between Pawnee and Ponca City, was felt as far away as Omaha
and Austin. Here in Wichita, about 110 miles away, it woke us up as
the house shook for nearly a minute. I've been following this story
since it started to break -- oil geology is one of those subjects I
read for pleasure -- and this is one of the better pieces on it. So
now, in addition to anthropogenic climate change, the oil industry
has brought us anthropogenic earthquakes. You'd think they'd be the
least bit embarrassed, but even before they proved to be so ingenious
at creating "natural" disasters, their sudden riches spawned many of
America's most reactionary political entrepreneurs, from H.L. Hunt
to the Kochs to Dick Cheney. The biggest mistake this country ever
made was letting individuals own the nation's mineral resources.
Miscellaneous election links:
Charles V Bagli: A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million
in Tax Breaks: How to get ahead by starting there. Of course, Trump isn't
the only businessman who taken advantage of "what he calls the pay-to-play
culture of politics and a 'rigged' system of government." Pretty much everyone
does it, a relationship so symbiotic neither side dares question it even
though practically everyone else thinks it stinks to high hell. Long
article with lots of details, mostly on New York real estate.
John Cassidy: Does Donald Trump Pay Any Income Taxes at All? Well,
if he doesn't, that would be one reason he might have for withholding
his tax returns. Cassidy quotes
James Stewart: "No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J.
Trump has paid far less -- perhaps even zero federal income tax in
some years. Indeed, that's the expectation of numerous real estate
and tax professionals I've interviewed in recent weeks." That just
reflects the numerous loopholes that benefit real estate developers,
just part of a crooked system. Also quotes David Cay Johnston, who
"pointed out that Trump paid no income tax in 1978, 1979, 1992, and
1994" and "several times received a type of tax rebate that is
restricted to property owners who report taxable income of less
than half a million dollars."
Also by Cassidy:
Birtherism, Bombs, and Donald Trump's Weekend.
Russel Berman: Hillary Clinton Has a Lot of Money: She raised
$143 million in August, and seems to have been more concerned with
raking in contributions than with winning over voters. The good
news there is that $81 million goes to the DNC and state parties.
How successful she is as president depends on how successful the
Democratic Party is in state and local elections, especially for
Congress -- a point that neither her husband nor Obama learned as
president. Still, she lost ground in the polls while catering to
wealthy donors. We'll see if she can use their money to turn the
Amy Davidson: Clinton's Sick Days: At least she got some help to
make up for her down time -- from Obama, his wife, Biden, her husband.
Still, Davidson's best line was parenthetical: "(Why, at this stage,
her schedule includes so many travel-intensive fund-raisers, when
she is suffering from a shortage not of funds but of voter rapport,
is one of many side questions that her illness raised.)"
David A Graham: Just Why Does Hillary Clinton Want to Be President?
First thought on seeing this is that it reminded me of the unhealthy
obsession the press in 2000 had with Gore's supposed obsession with
running for president, suggesting that if he failed he might as well
kill himself because his whole life would have been wasted. In point
of fact, after he lost he got a job as a venture capitalist, he got
rid of his wife, he wrote a book that wasn't about himself, he made
a movie about global warming, he won an Oscar for the movie, he won
a Nobel Prize. If he was so obsessed with becoming president, why
did he never run again? He's 68 now, but he's still a few months
younger than Hillary Clinton. So I don't have much interest in
psychological speculation about "what makes Hillary run?" -- I
would, however, find a credible explanation for Trump interesting.
Or maybe just amusing.
Clare Foran: The Curse of Hillary Clinton's Ambition. Foran
catches a lot of flying innuendo in her net, and seems willing to
give credence to all of it. She quotes one "man" as saying, "This
has been her entire life's work, it seems like, has been building
up to this moment, so she doesn't have any shots left." Just like
Gore in 2000, except she's even more of a crone. Foran adds, "But
some voters also seem to distrust Clinton because they believe
she wants to win at any cost." This is a journalist? She wouldn't
have to search very hard to find Trump supporters who see that
very same trait in their man and admire him for it.
Harry Enten: Why Clinton's Electoral Map Isn't as Good as Obama's:
Had Obama and Romney received the same number of votes (basically, by
moving 3.9% from D to R in every state), Obama would still have been
elected president by the electoral college. The map this year looks to
me to be much the same, but Enten argues that it has shifted in such a
way that Trump has "a better shot of winning the Electoral College while
losing the popular vote (at 6.1 percent) than Clinton (1.5 percent)."
Of course, there's a chart, showing that 11 of 14 battleground states
have "moved right relative to the country" --Iowa and Nevada enough
to switch sides. Part of this is that Clinton is leading Obama in
some states she'll still lose (Enten mentions Oklahoma, Utah, and
Wyoming). But I also suspect part of this is that they're comparing
Clinton's current polls to Obama's actual votes, so they haven't yet
factored in the intense battleground state "ground game."
Todd S Purdum: What's Really Ailing Hillary: "A long time ago,
Clinton was far more transparent, emotional and open than she is
today. Then the media began slamming her -- and didn't stop."
Matt Taibbi: Stop Whining About 'False Balance': Mostly this is
a rant about the overwhelming banality (not to mention stupidity)
of the mass media, arguing that those are worse problems than bias
which knowledgeable people can see through anyway. Also points out:
The irony is, the Clinton Foundation thing is a rare example of an
important story that is getting anything like the requisite attention.
The nexus of elite connections that sits behind tales like Bill Clinton
taking $1.5 million in speaking fees from a Swiss bank (and foundation
donor) while that same bank is seeking relief from Hillary Clinton's
State Department is exactly the kind of thing that requires the scrutiny
Yeah, sort of, but those reporters are often so wrapped up in their
preconceived notions they wind up shilling for campaign narratives
that don't clarify anything.
Brian Mittendorf: Clinton charities 101: What do they actual do and
where does their money go? Fair amount of detail here on the
structure and organization of Clinton's various foundations/charities.
Much less on the direct involvement of the Clintons: they put some
money in at one end, but that's dwarfed by money raised from others;
they put their name out, which is both used for raising money and
for whatever "good works" the Foundation ultimately does. Clearly,
they must benefit somehow, if only in good will. The benefits to
other donors are unclear, which is perhaps inevitable, and certainly
open to suspicion. I've never been a fan of foundations, which even
at best seem like arbitrary penance for lives of avarice and shoddy
providers of social goods, but given the inequities of the present
I also doubt that any of this would be suspect but for Hillary
running for president, once again making her the target of people
much more greedy and careless than herself.
Heather Digby Parton: The general of gossip: Colin Powell's leaked
emails depict a juvenile busybody rather than an elder statesman:
how devious of him to talk Hillary into using that private email
Colin Powell has a long history of being in the middle of scandals and
wriggling out of any responsibility for them. From his involvement in
the My Lai massacre, to Iran Contra, to personally blocking President
Bill Clinton's promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military,
to his infamous testimony before the UN that led to the Iraq war,
Powell's fingerprints are on the wrong side of history and the truth
time and again and he's always got some excuse as to why it wasn't
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
'Hunting of Hillary' Author on Clinton Conspiracies and Conservative
Attacks: Interview with Joe Conason, who has a new book on what
Bill Clinton's been up to since leaving the White House: Man of
the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, following up
on his 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year
Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. He's a reliable
fan, eager to point out all the good the Clintons have done, as
well as how shabbily they've been treated by that vast right-wing
Patrick Cockburn: The US and Russia Have Less Influence in Syria Than
They Think: True, no doubt, as it's often the case that in what
you think of as a proxy war the tail winds up wagging the dog. Russia
can bring Assad a cease fire but getting his forces to stick with it
has never been easy. And the US doesn't even have the luxury of backing
a significant force on the ground. Rather, they have multiple enemies,
making it possible to inadvertently help one at the expense of the
other. Cockburn offers a good example here: the US misidentified a
target as ISIS and bombed it, killing at least 62 Syrian soldiers,
after which ISIS was able to capture the territory the US had cleared
Atul Gawande: Overkill: On how "an avalanche of unnecessary medical
care is harming patients physically and financially." This is an old
story, something whole books have been written on -- Shannon Brownlee's
2007 book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and
Poorer is probably the classic -- but the author adds his usual insights
and nostrums. He could be more explicit that the core cause is the focus
on profits that turns it all into such a tug of war.
Greg Grandin: The Free-Marketeers Take Over in Brazil -- and the US
The Obama administration was less confrontational than its predecessor,
but no less ideological in its preference for Latin America's
free-marketeers. . . . But with a new round of economic
shock therapy being applied in Latin America, Washington is preparing
for the inevitable "social explosions" the way it does best: According
to the Washington Office on Latin America, the Pentagon has, since 2007,
tripled its special-ops training in the region.
Fred Kaplan: China Won't Stop Kim Jong-un. The US Must Stand Up to
Both of Them: "Sanctions won't work. We can't destroy his nukes.
We can rattle a few sabers, however." Really, very disappointing
piece. We should remind Kim that if the North invades the South,
even having some sort of "nuclear umbrella," we'll come to South
Korea's defense and annihilate North Korea. Really? You think he
somehow doesn't understand that already? You think rattling sabers
will make him less touchy? Less defensive? Less desperate? What
should happen is that the US needs to focus less on muscling North
Korea around and more on figuring out a sane posture which would
allow both Koreas and the US to coexist without threats. Once the
US is willing to live with North Korea -- to formally end the 1950
war, to normalize relations, to open trade, to proportionately
dial back military readiness -- we can worry about getting China,
Japan, the South, and everyone else to buy in.
Mike Konczal: These Policies Could Move America Toward a Universal
Basic Income: Three "simple policies": children's allowance,
$12-an-hour minimum wage, 12 weeks' paid medical leave and 2 weeks'
paid annual leave.
Peter Van Buren: Class of 2017 -- So Sorry!: Subtitle: "Apologizing
to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War."
Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater
chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn't work that way. There's
no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or "if you see something, say
something" signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no
need to apologize for lightning.
But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was
that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most
frightened country on Earth.
Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more
vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 -- the
highest percentage ever.
But there is one difference between terrorism and lightning, which
is that much terrorism can be prevented by eliminating the motivations.
Both before and after 9/11 the US became a target by targeting the
Middle East with injustice and violence.
I read the introduction to Ira Katznelson's big book on the 1930s,
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, where he
makes the point that FDR's famous line "we have nothing to fear but
fear itself" was aimed to preserve democracy, which at the time was
under attack from fearmongers who insisted we needed a strongman to
run the country, Il Duce in Italy and Der Führer in Germany. Fear
continues to be a potent cloak for the right. For example, see
Daniel Politi: Trump Tells Crowd "Bomb" Went Off in New York, Proceeds
to Brag About Polls. Trump quote: "We better get very tough, folks.
We better get very, very tough."
Sunday, September 11. 2016
When I woke up this morning, I didn't have the slightest notion that
today was the 15th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda hijackings that brought
down the World Trade Center. It's not that I don't remember waking up
in a Brooklyn apartment fifteen years ago, looking out the window to
see blue skies with a toxic white streak across the middle, emanating
from the still-standing towers. I looked down and watched tired people
trekking east with the subway system shut down. We watched the towers
fall on TV. We saw interviews with John Major and Shimon Peres about
how Americans now know what terrorism feels like, barely containing
their gloating. We went out for lunch in an Arab restaurant not yet
covered in American flags. That was a bad day, but also one of the
last days before we went to war. For make no mistake: Bin Laden may
have wanted to provoke the US into an act of war, but Al-Qaeda didn't
start the war. That was George W. Bush, with the nearly unanimous
support of Congress, to the celebration of vast swathes of American
media. They made a very rash and stupid decision back then, and much
of the world has been suffering for it ever since. Indeed, Americans
less than many other people, as was shown by my ability to wake up
this morning without thinking of the date.
OK, so this is a typical day's news cycle in this election: Hillary
Clinton commits a run-of-the-mill gaffe:
Clinton Describes Half of Trump Supporters as 'Basket of Deplorables',
by which she means "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,
you name it." Sort of true, but you're always on shaky ground when you
start making generalizations about arbitrary groups of people, but that
didn't stop her from making an appeal to the other half: "people who feel
that government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody
cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and
their futures . . . Those are people who we have to understand
and empathize with as well." Of course, coming from her that all sounds
smug and condescending and, let's be realistic here, pretty hollow.
Of course, the Trump campaign tried to make what they could of this,
partly because they don't have anything real to offer. Still, what did
they focus on: well, putting people into baskets, of course. First,
Pence Blasts Clinton: Trump Backers 'Are Not a Basket of Anything',
Trump Campaign Goes After Clinton for 'Basket of Deplorables' Remark.
One thing for certain, you can't slip a metaphor past these guys. But
they also have a point, which is that when you start dividing people
into arbitrary groups and making gross generalizations about them you
dehumanize and disrespect them -- and that is as true of the "other
half" as it is of the "deplorables." (Contrast Trump's own description
of his supporters: "millions of amazing, hard working people.")
Of course, in the Kabuki theater of American politics, every insult
demands an apology, so whether she would or should not became the next
anticipated story. Josh Marshall fired off
This Is Critical: Hillary Can't Back Down, arguing:
Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has
normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were
perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent
prejudices held in check by social norms. . . . This election
has become a battle to combat the moral and civic cancer Trump has
[been] injecting into the body politic. (I know that sounds like
florid language but it is the only fitting and valid way to describe
it.) Backing down would make Clinton appear weak, accomplish nothing
of value and confuse what is actually at stake in the election.
Clinton, of course, immediately apologized; see
Clinton Regrets Saying 'Half' of Trump Backers Are in 'Basket of
Deplorables', where she conceded, "Last night I was 'grossly
generalistic,' and that's never a good idea. I regret saying
'half' -- that was wrong." In other words, she admitted to a
math error, realizing (unlike Marshall) that it doesn't matter
how many Trump supporters are racist, sexist, etc. -- a point
she made clear enough by repeating "deplorable" a many times
in the next paragraph, all directed squarely where they belong,
at Donald Trump. She also said, "I also meant what I said last
night about empathy, and the very real challenges we face as a
country where so many people have been left out and left behind.
As I said, many of Trump's supporters are hard-working Americans
who just don't feel like the economy or our political system are
working for them."
She still needs to find an effective way to communicate that,
especially to people who are conditioned not to believe a single
thing she says, who view her as deeply corrupt, part of a status
quo system that is rigged against everyday people. Needless to
say, these are problems that Bernie Sanders wouldn't be having.
PS: Just when Trump was enjoying this news cycle, this story
Crazed Trumper Assaults Muslim Women in Brooklyn. I guess
there are some Trump supporters who are . . . well,
isn't "deplorable" a bit more polite than they deserve? Also
Trump: Clinton Could 'Shoot Somebody' and Not Be Prosecuted.
Trump previously said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue
and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" What's
this obsession he has with shooting people?
Five-Thirty-Eight currently gives Clinton a 70.0% chance of winning,
with a 3.5% edge in the popular vote and 310-227 in electoral votes.
Iowa, which had a recent poll showing Trump leading, has inched back
into Clinton's column, and she's less than a 60% favorite in North
Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. Meanwhile, the only red states
where Trump is less than an 80% favorite are Arizona (65.7%), Georgia
(73.0%), and Alaska (79.9%).
Some scattered links this week:
Chuck Collins: Long Live the Estate Tax: Wallace Stegner referred
to the National Park Service as the nation's best idea. Collins argues
that the estate tax (what Republicans like to call the "death tax") is
a close second: "The estate tax is a fundamentally American notion, an
absolutely democratic intervention against a drift toward plutocracy
and extreme wealth imbalances." Of course, it would work better if it
was stricter and stiffer -- if, for instance, the wealthy couldn't hide
money in foundations. (Ever wonder why one-percenters down to the level
of Bill Clinton have all those foundations? "For example, casino mogul
Sheldon Adelson dodged over $2.3 billion in estate taxes using a
complicated trust called a GRAT to transfer $8 billion in wealth to
his heirs in 2013.") Reason enough to vote against him is that Trump
has made abolishing the estate tax the centerpiece of his tax agenda.
After all, he has billions, and three children who have proved unable
to hold a job not on his payroll. How can you not feel for them?
John Judis: The US Treasury should be cheering the EU Case against
Apple. It's not. The basic fact of the matter is that Apple cut
a deal to run its European market operation out of Ireland, which
claims several thousand jobs there, in exchange for Ireland capping
Apple's tax liability to 2%, way below the going tax rate anywhere
in Europe. In doing so Ireland violated EU regulations which prohibit
special deals with individual companies like that, so the EU wants
to collect the taxes Apple has thus far avoided paying. The Obama
administration is backing the guys at Apple who contributed to their
poilitical campaigns -- not necessarily "quid pro quo" but the sort
of chummy alliances America's system of campaign finance breeds.
However, we should be happy that Apple's scam is up, because for
years now they've been cooking their books to make profits that
should be taxed in the US vanish into their Irish tax haven. Judis
doesn't mention this, but we should also similar regulations here
in the US, to keep companies from auctioning their plants and to
whichever state/local government gives them the sweetest tax deal.
We run into this problem all the time here, and companies have
gotten so spoiled that they never invest without first shaking
down the local politicians. The most notorious case was Boeing,
long the largest employer in Wichita but totally gone now that
they've gotten more lucrative deals in Texas, Oklahoma, and South
Carolina (after, by the way, shaking down Kansas for over a billion
dollars, not counting the Feds building their main plant and an
Air Force Base next door).
Dean Baker has a different approach to the same problem:
The Simple Way to Crack Down on Apple's Tax Games.
David E Sanger/William J Broad: Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use
of Nuclear Weapons: US foreign policy is wrapped in a cloak of
tone-deafness and hypocrisy as transparent yet as desperately clung
to as the proverbial emperor's new clothes. By not disavowing first
use of nuclear weapons, Obama is practicing exactly the same nuclear
blackmail that American fears used as excuses for invading Iraq and
sanctioning Iran and North Korea. America's foreign policy mandarins
are incapable of seeing themselves as others see us.
The United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
Japan at the end of World War II in 1945 -- the only example in history
of a first use, or any use, of nuclear weapons in warfare. Almost every
president since Harry S. Truman has made it clear that nuclear weapons
would be used only as a last resort, so the pledge would have largely
ratified unwritten policy.
Administration officials confirmed that the question of changing the
policy on first use had come up repeatedly this summer as a way for Mr.
Obama to show that his commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons
in American strategy -- and thus the risk of nuclear exchanges -- was more
But the arguments in front of the president himself were relatively
brief, officials said, apparently because so many senior aides objected.
Mr. [Ashton] Carter argued that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia
and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, could interpret a promise of
no first use as a sign of American weakness, even though that was not
Of course, Putin and Kim could just as well view "no first use" as
a sign of sanity, one that encourages the notion that they might resolve
their differences with the US through rational dialogue instead of macho
posturing. But the "madman theory" has been a cornerstone of American
foreign policy since Nixon, and no subsequent American emperor wants to
be viewed as less crazed. It is, after all, a theory of self defense
that has been proved to work against subway muggers. What further proof
of its efficacy do you need?
By the way, Obama is missing a nice political play here. If he made
"no first use" official policy -- he should also end the current
"launch under attack" policy and adopt some sort of checklist where
key subordinates can veto a presidential decision to use nuclear arms --
Trump would throw a fit and vow to reverse Obama's policies, revealing
himself as a dangerous maniac. Sounds like win-win to me.
Matt Taibbi: How Donald Trump Lost His Mojo: It's that teleprompter:
The primary-season Donald Trump would never have been able to remember
five things. Even more revealing is his rhetorical dismount: "But these
examples," he shouts, "are only the tip of the Clinton-corruption iceberg!"
The real Donald Trump does not speak in metaphors, let alone un-mixed
ones. The man who once famously pronounced "I know words, I have the best
words" scorched through the primaries using the vocabulary of a signing
gorilla ("China - money - bad!").
The funny thing is despite "losing his mojo" Trump's poll numbers have
actually inched up. This is mostly because the "Clinton = corrupt" meme
isn't something most people can dismiss out of hand -- unlike, say, his
"what do you have to lose?" pitch to African-Americans, a people who
through supporting politicians unlike Trump have escaped from slavery,
Jim Crow laws, and ad hoc lynching. But it also helps that Trump set
the bar so low all he has to do to "look presidential" is read from a
teleprompter -- indeed, he's becoming almost Reaganesque.
Miscellaneous election links:
Katherine Krueger: NYT Scrambles to Rewrite Botched Story on Trump's
Immigration Speech: Evidently the New York Times decided to get
a jump on Trump's Phoenix "immigration speech" and report what they
expected (or wanted) to hear: they "hailed Trump's address as 'an
audacious attempt' to transform his image and reported that he shelved
his proposal for a massive effort to deport immigrants who are in the
country illegally." Of course, the actual speech baldly reiterated
Trump's previous hard-line stands, suggesting that the rumors of a
"softening" were nothing more than hype for the speech.
Annie Rees: In NYT's Hillary Clinton Coverage, An Obsession With
'Clouds' and 'Shadows': Not sure whether this is just blatant
anti-Clinton prejudice or just really hackneyed writing -- Adam
Nagourney, who made it to the round-of-four in Matt Taibbi's 2004
Wimblehack, was one of the writers called out here, as was Maureen
Dowd. But casting every rumor as a "shadow" suggests an explanation
as to why Clinton is continually dogged by "scandals" that never
seem to afflict other politicians.
Paul Krugman: Hillary Clinton Gets Gored: Given a choice between
reporting on a Trump scandal or a Clinton scandal, much of the press
jumps at the latter, even though time and again there's been virtually
nothing to it. Same for "lies." And as for innuendo, why tar Hillary
as a self-seeking, egomaniacal greedhead when she's running against
Donald Trump? Krugman's seen this kind of media bias before, in 2000:
You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that
was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax
cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that
they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged
what would happen during his administration -- an administration that,
let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.
Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression
that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al
Gore -- whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the
Bush plan were completely accurate -- as slippery and dishonest.
Of course, there are big differences between Bush and Trump, just
not important ones. Bush at least worked hard to conceal his agenda,
describing his conservatism as "compassionate" and disavowing any
efforts at "nation building." Indeed, many of the programs he got
passed were clever cons, like "no child left behind." On the other
hand, Trump makes so little effort to gloss over the sheer meanness
of his policy bullet points that many people can't imagine how awful
life under him would be. He's like the Douglas Adams concept of the
SEP ("someone else's problem," a thing so hideous the only way you
can cope is to pretend it doesn't exist). Or the mantra of a guy I
used to work with: "if you can't dazzle them with logic, baffle
them with bullshit."
Paul Krugman cited this piece, adding:
Matt Lauer may have done us all a favor with his catastrophically bad
performance. By devoting so much time to emails and rushing through
Clinton on ISIS, on one side, while letting Trump's Iraq lie slide by
unchallenged, on the other, Lauer offered a demonstration of the
prevailing double standard so graphic that it was hard to ignore. But
it wasn't just Lauer: I think the accumulation of really bad examples,
of failing to cover the Bondi bribe, of making an unsuccessful request
for passports -- to rescue imprisoned journalists! -- a supposed scandal,
even some of the botched initial reaction to the Lauer debacle, may have
finally reached a critical mass.
Maybe I'm just cynical, but I doubt that collective embarrassment
has had any effect on how the media covers Trump and Clinton. More
likely is that when Clinton surged so far ahead, they feared they
might lose their horse race coverage so tried to even things up. Now
that the race is more even they be having second thoughts. I mean,
they can't be so stupid they want Trump to win?
Paul Waldman: Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is
Clinton supposedly the corrupt one? Without reading the article,
I'm tempted to say it's the same reason prostitutes are more likely to
be busted than Johns. Or that we expect our politicians to be selfless
public servants, while we expect our businessmen to be voracious wolves,
whose greed is part of their charm. Still, markets for influence, like
sex, only exist because there are both buyers and sellers. The article
includes the usual list of Trump's scandalous behavior. It's hard to
tell whether he's exceptionally vile or just par for the course, because
we don't usually look that closely at how the rich got on top. Otherwise
we might have second thoughts about what kind of people they are.
Michelle Goldberg: Why Isn't It a Bigger Deal That Trump Is Being Advised
by Sadistic Pervert Roger Ailes? Well, there are so many "big deals"
about Trump that they all sort of diminish proportionately, if not in some
objective measure of import at least in our ability to get worked up about
them. "Perhaps the involvement of a disgraced sexual sadist is low on the
list of things that are wrong with the Trump campaign. That's not a reason
to ignore it."
Jamelle Bouie: What Trump's Black Church Appearance Is Really About:
"A leaked script reveals his intended audience: white Republicans."
Peter Beinart: Fear of a Female President: This makes me wonder how
a more overtly racist Republican would have fared against Obama -- at
least with Trump we can't say that prejudice isn't getting its chance:
Why is this relevant to Hillary Clinton? It's relevant because the
Americans who dislike her most are those who most fear emasculation.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Americans who
"completely agree" that society is becoming "too soft and feminine"
were more than four times as likely to have a "very unfavorable"
view of Clinton as those who "completely disagree." And the
presidential-primary candidate whose supporters were most likely
to believe that America is becoming feminized -- more likely by
double digits than supporters of Ted Cruz -- was Donald Trump.
The gender backlash against Clinton's candidacy may not defeat
her. But neither is it likely to subside if she wins.
Indeed, one might argue that America has become more overtly
racist after two terms of a black president, and that a female
president is likely to produce a similar backlash. I doubt that
will be true in the long run. Right now it seems to mostly be the
result of the right-wing media, which deliberately or not has
encouraged blind partisan hatred among small numbers already so
inclined. On the other hand, maybe having a candidate as repugnant
as Trump will discredit such backlash.
Adam Davidson: Trump and the Truth: The Unemployment-Rate Hoax:
"A few of Donald Trump's claims about the labor force might generously
be considered gross exaggerations, but the unemployment numbers he
cites appear to be wholesale inventions." The latest in a series that
Eyal Press: Immigration and Crime, and David Remnick's
Introducing a New Series: Trump and the Truth.
Steve Chapman: The worst case for Republicans: Donald Trump wins:
Well, sure. For example, when Barry Goldwater lost in 1964, Republicans
could forget about him practically forever instead of having to live
with his legacy, as the Democrats did with Lyndon Johnson's stupid war.
But the people who nominated him didn't disappear: they kept coming back
in other guises, supporting Reagan, Bush, some even Trump (e.g., Phyllis
Schlafly, who died last week at 92). Orthodox conservatives, through
their donor network, think tanks, and media outlets, thought they had
the Republican Party in their pocket before Trump roused their sheepish
followers to revolt. If Trump loses they figure they'll resume control,
their own dysfunctional ideology still untested so not yet discredited.
On the other hand, if Trump wins, he'll turn their dream agenda into a
flaming disaster, either by rejecting it or by implementing it (hard
to know which would be worse for them). On the other hand, one could
write pretty much the same piece about the Democrats. If Clinton loses
(to Trump no less!) the dynasty is finished, the enemy becomes crystal
clear, and the Democrats sweep Congress in 2018, which frankly I find
a lot more exciting than slogging through eight years of an ineffective,
powerless Hillary Clinton as president saddled with Republicans in
control of Congress, holding the whole country hostage.
Zaid Jilani/Alex Emmons/Naomi LaChance: Hillary Clinton's National
Security Advisers Are a "Who's Who" of the Warfare State: Despite
which, they are on average markedly saner than Trump adviser Gen.
Andrew Kaczynski/Christopher Massie: Trump Claims He Didn't Support
Libya Intervention -- But He Did, on Video: Makes me wonder if
there has ever been an instance when the hawks tried to lure the US
into a foreign war that Trump didn't buy into? What makes Trump so
representative of today's Republican Party is how readily he falls
for any crazy scam the party's propagandists put out. He isn't any
sort of leader because that would require independent, critical
thought. He's a follower, and you never know who's yanking his
chain, or where they're dragging him.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Patrick Cockburn: Turkey May Be Overplaying Its Hand with Syria Ground
Offensive: One side-effect of the failed coup in Turkey is that it's
allowed Erdogan to purge the army not only of plotters but of officers
who might resist his designs on Syria. Hence, Turkey has escalated its
interference with Syria, like the United States choosing to fight both
Assad and Assad's enemies, although not necessarily the same anti-Assad
forces the US is schizophrenically warring. As usual, Turkey's primary
consideration is their own domestic Kurdish problem, which their
warmaking is only likely to exacerbate. And as usual, the US is too
caught up in weighing pluses and minuses to confront a nominal ally
on the principle of the thing, or what blowback it's likely to cause.
Tom Engelhardt: A 9/11 Retrospective: Washington's 15-Year Air War:
"Perhaps this September 11th, it's finally time for Americans to begin
to focus on our endless air war in the Greater Middle East, our very
own disastrous Fifteen Years' War. Otherwise, the first explosions
from the Thirty Years' version of the same will be on the horizon
before we know it in a world possibly more destabilized and terrorizing
than we can at present imagine."
Robert Fares: The Price of Solar Is Declining to Unprecedented Lows:
"Despite already low costs, the installed price of solar bell by 5 to
12 percent in 2015." Indeed, it's been doing that pretty regularly, as
is clear from the chart (2010-15). Furthermore, there is no reason to
think this trend won't continue for decades. The result will be that
solar will take an ever larger chunk of the energy market, diminishing
the demand for fossil fuels. Another consequence is that oil and coal
companies will become even more desperate to exercise political power
to hang on to their declining market shares and stock prices -- indeed,
Trump's emphatic support for coal companies seems to be their final
great white hope. Political influence may nudge the trend a bit up or
down, but it won't change it. The article sees a "tipping point where
[solar] becomes more economical than conventional forms of electricity
Rebecca Gordon: Making Sense of Trump and His National Security State
Critics: Background on many of those 50 prominent Republicans who
signed a letter declaring Trump unfit to be president, by a writer
who's been studying them and their friends for years, researching
her book American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand
Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes.
Corey Robin: Phyllis Schlafly, 1924-2016: I suppose if I wanted
to read anything on the late, "longtime conservative anti-feminist,"
I'd start with the author of The Reactionary Mind. Just not
ready to yet.
Ron Unz: Did the US Plan a Nuclear First Strike Against Russia in the
Early 1960s? Uh, yes, specifically in July 1961. James Galbraith,
who has written about this before, adds a comment here that President
Kennedy "would have never considered accepting the nuclear strike
plan presented to him" and that Lyndon Johnson later held as "a first
consideration . . . to prevent any situation from arising --
in Vietnam especially -- that might force the use of nuclear weapons."
Of course, neither nor any subsequent US president has publicly disavowed
first use of nuclear weapons -- evidently preferring to keep possible
enemies wondering whether or not we're really insane.
Sunday, August 28. 2016
Not very happy with all that follows, let alone all that I haven't
gotten to, but it looks like there's enough to chew on for now. Latest
odds at 538 show Clinton as having slipped to a 80.9% chance of winning
as Georgia and Arizona have tilted back in Trump's favor. Clinton's big
problem is that she's still unable to crack 50% of the popular vote --
seems like an awfully flawed, weak candidate given that all she has to
beat is Trump, and he's pretty handily beating himself. I suspect the
media deserves much of the blame for normalizing and legitimizing Trump,
and also for tarring Clinton with an endless series of silly scandals --
the biggest eye-opener for me was to discover that GW Bush's Foundation,
even with no prospects of future dynasty, has been raking in even more
money than the Clinton Foundation. While I don't doubt the corruption
inherent in the latter, I find it curious that no one ever mentions the
former. Matt Taibbi attacked the media this year in a piece called
The Summer of the Shill, lamenting especially the partisanship of
news channels like Fox and MSNBC, where one airs nothing but Hillary
"scandals" and the other little but Trump "gaffes." Still, it's not
clear to me that the quality has dropped much since Taibbi wrote up
his brilliant Wimblehack series in 2004 (cf. his book Spanking the
Monkey), and at least there's more parity now. Still, I guess you
have to make do with the candidates you got.
Some scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Hillary Clinton's Alt-Right Speech Isolated and
Destroyed Donald Trump: Trump's hiring of Steve Bannon has brought
the "alt-right" brand to the mainstream media's attention, making it
possible for centrists to draw a line between Trump and run-of-the-mill
conservatives, neocons, and/or Republicans -- letting the latter off
the hook if they can somehow see clear to cut themselves loose from
But the killer in Hillary came out on Thursday, delivering a devastating
indictment of Donald Trump's associations with the far-right fringe, one
meant to permanently delegitimize him among decent people. "A man with a
long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy
theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches
of the internet, should never run our government or command our military,"
she said, daring Republican officials to disagree.
With Trump already trailing badly in most polls, Clinton could have
tried to yoke him to the Republican Party so he would drag it down with
him. Instead, she sought to isolate and personally destroy him.
Let me interject here that I would much prefer that she "yoke him,"
since I personally find mainstream Republican apparatchiks even more
odious than fringe personalities like Trump, and since her ability to
do anything positive as president depends on beating the Republicans
down in both houses of Congress. Continuing:
First came her campaign's Twitter video earlier today about Trump's
white-supremacist admirers. Usually, a politician trying to link her
opponent to the KKK would come dangerously close to the Godwin's Law
line, but Clinton appears to have calculated that few Republicans
would rally to their nominee's defense. Her speech, in Reno, further
painted Trump as a creature from the fever swamps, one who has nothing
to do with legitimate conservatism. It was able to briskly explain some
of the crazier figures and theories Trump has associated with, without
getting bogged down in obscure detail. Her list of Breitbart headlines,
including "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy" and "Gabby
Giffords: The Gun Control Movement's Human Shield," tells you much of
what you need to know about Trump's new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, the
former head of the site.
Given such a ripe target, Clinton's pitch can get yucky, as when she
said (quoted in this article):
Twenty years ago, when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he
pointed to the exits and told any racists in the party to get out. . . .
The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for
everyone to hear that Muslims "love America just as much as I do." . . .
We need that kind of leadership again.
Uh, no, we don't need or want that kind of leadership again, and if
that were all Hillary has to offer we'd be having second thoughts about
her, too. Goldberg obviously considers that a stinging rebuke to Trump
(else why quote it?), and she admires the way Hillary strung so many of
Trump's outrages together, without noticing that in doing so Hillary is
making her move on high center ground, intent on establishing herself
as the blandest, most conventional establishment candidate ever. That
will probably work for her, and given her other handicaps that may be
her safest route to the presidency. But in her self-conceit, she's also
missing a golden opportunity to help her party and her people.
For more, see:
Lincoln Blades: Call the 'Alt-Right' Movement What It Is: Racist as Hell;
Nancy LeTourneau: Quick Takes: Clinton's Speech in Reno.
Rochelle Gurstein: How Obama Helped Lay the Groundwork for Trump's
Thuggery: "His refusal to prosecute torturers and his Wild West
assassination of bin Laden show how moral complacency can all too
easily degenerate into full-blown corruption." I would shift the
focus a bit here: by failing to end America's involvement in the
wars in the Middle East, and by failing to embrace a consistent
doctrine of democracy and justice in the region, Obama has kept
those wars and their side effects -- like Guantanamo and the plight
of Syrian refugees -- central to American political discourse. So
now we're forced to choose between Trump's incoherent bluster and
Clinton's bumbling continuity. Still, it's flat-out wrong to say
that Obama was the one responsible for laying this groundwork. He
inherited that entire foundation from GW Bush, who actually was in
a position where he could have ordered the military and CIA to
stand down and seek justice for 9/11 through international law. He
pointedly did not do that, leading to one disaster after another,
many only becoming obvious after he left his mess to Obama.
Adam H Johnson: Pundits, Decrying the Horrors of War in Aleppo,
Demand Expanded War: Nicholas Christof, Joe Scarborough, presumably
many others unnamed, but you know the types as America's punditocracy
is rife with them:
This is part of the broader problem of moral ADD afflicting our pundit
class -- jumping from one outrage in urgent need of US bombs to the next,
without much follow-through. Kristof, for example, was just as passionate
about NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, writing several op-eds that
called for bombing in equally moralistic terms. Yet as Libya descended
into chaos, the country faded into the background for him. His last post
on the subject? September 2011. The plight of Libyans was urgent for the
Times columnist when it involved selling war to weary liberals,
but once the smoke cleared, his bleeding heart dried up and he moved on
to the next cause.
OK, let's think about this for a moment. Civil Wars, such as Libya
in 2011 and Syria from then to now, and you could throw in dozens more
(including our own in 1861-65), occur when you have two (or more) groups
fighting to seize power and to dominate the other. Civil Wars end two
ways: one side "wins" exacting its toll on the others, the "losers"
bearing grudges for generations, so in some sense those wars never
really end -- they just become relatively quiescent; or both sides
agree to share power somehow. The latter is vastly preferable -- in
fact, arguably the only thing that works. (The Soviets, for instance,
clearly "won" the Russian Civil War by 1922, but the repression they
instituted crippled the country for generations. Franco clearly "won"
the Spanish Civil War, but was troubled by Basque "terrorists" until
his death, when the king he installed allowed democratic elections
to move the country far to the left.)
When outside nations intervene in civil wars, they invariably tilt
the tables one way or another, allowing their favored groups to escalate
the violence and making them less inclined to compromise. Intervention
also resupplies the war, usually extending it, and may cause it to lap
into neighboring countries and/or draw in others -- the US intervention
in Vietnam's civil war extended the war by ten years, cost millions of
lives, destroyed Cambodia and Laos, and led to Nixon's "madman" nuclear
confrontation with the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union's insertion of
troops into Afghanistan to support a friendly coup led the US and Saudi
Arabia to recruit and arm a jihadist insurgency that is still active
more than 35 years later, having lapped into Pakistan and inspired
acts of terror around the globe.
One thing that has made recent civil wars in the Middle East
especially destructive is that opposition groups have often been
fractured and divisive. We saw this in Afghanistan, where following
the Soviet withdrawal the jihadist groups continued to fight each
other for over a decade, with the Northern Alliance still holding
territory from the Taliban when the US invaded in 2001. Again, in
Libya the NATO intervention degraded forces loyal to Ghadaffi but
left the spoils to be fought over by numerous clans and schisms.
Syria is even worse, with dozens of anti-Assad groups unable to
unite into a coherent opposition, not least because foreign powers
have chosen to intervent in often contradictory ways. For instance,
the US is funneling weapons to so-called moderate groups to fight
against Assad (weapons that are quickly resold to less friendly
groups) while at the same time the US bombs ISIS, perhaps the most
formidable of the anti-Assad groups. Turkey too is opposed to
Assad, also to ISIS, and even more so to the anti-Assad, anti-ISIS
Recent calls by Kristof and others mostly focus on "establishing
a no-fly zone" over Syria -- a tactic which short and shallow memories
recall as working so well in Iraq and Libya -- although the task is
rather more complicated in Syria. For one thing, would the US also
guard against anti-Assad forces flying over Syria (not just NATO
allies but also Turkey, Jordan, and Israel). Moreover, Syria's air
force is augmented by Russian planes and pilots, and those forces at
least occasionally attack ISIS. I don't see how the US can negotiate
this, but even if it works you're left with something like Libya but
many times as much firepower left on the ground, with Assad weakened
to where he cannot win but no other group strong enough to prevail
except locally. A subsequent ground assault on ISIS might break it
up, with splinters retreating into Iraq or going underground -- but
the idea that an Islamic caliphate is needed to save the Muslim
world isn't going away anytime soon.
Seems like it would be easier to negotiate a truce, if not between
the local warlords then between the foreign powers, and much better
for all in the long run. I could even imagine a military intervention
helping here, but only if it was done by a neutral party with the
sole interest of disarming all parties, with preference or malice
toward none (even ISIS, even Assad, even everyone) -- by disarming
I'm not just talking about the big stuff like mortars and RPGs; I'm
talking about total NRA nightmare. As areas are cleared of arms,
another international group can move in and organize local elections
and aid. Over time this would lead to a loose federalism, but most
power would remain local and representative. Both the military and
the international group would have to rigorously police themselves
against corruption, and function with the scrutiny of a free press.
No foreign power would have any claim to local property or privilege.
All foreign powers have to agree to let Syria manage itself, except
for three restrictions: no guns; corruption to be prosecuted in
international courts; and prisoners have the right to appeal to
insure no discrimination against minorities (needless to say, this
also means no capital punishment).
It should be obvious that the US cannot intervene like this --
it's simply not in the military or political culture to go into a
country and not pursue some probably misguided sense of national
interests (usually the military's own interest, above all in their
own survival). One indication of the problem is that when the US
had the opportunity to stand up governments in Afghanistan and
Iraq -- two countries with distinct local ethnic and religious
communities with longstanding grudges -- US politicians insisted
on setting up very centralized governments that would inevitably
run up against local dissent, and to arm those governments against
the people they may or may not represent. That immediately labeled
the natives put into nominal positions of power as Quislings and
made the Americans foreign occupiers. That proved disastrous yet
the US never wavered from that model: it simply kept training and
arming more police and buying friends through calculated corruption,
and that, too, never worked, no matter how much "hearts and minds"
gibberish was added.
The best choice for the ground disarmament force is probably the
Chinese because they have no hidden agenda -- indeed, they would have
to be well-paid mercenaries, barred from plunder -- supplemented by
Arabic speakers (also hired from abroad so they have no clan ties).
The ground force can be supplemented by US and Russian surveillance
and air power which can be called in to pulverize any armed resistance
to the ground troops. They would, of course, commit the occasional
atrocity -- that is what they do, and why they should be feared. But
they won't attack anyone who is not firing back, and should vanish
as areas are disarmed.
The international relief groups should be organized by the UN. Once
they organize local governments, they should step back and function as
resources for those governments. They may initially depend on ground
forces for security, but as security is met the ground forces should
move on and out of the country. Border control will probably be their
last role, as, alas, the rest of the neighborhood is awash in guns and
Americans need to realize that their true national interest is in a
peaceful world where all people are respected and treated fairly. This
isn't a new idea -- Franklin Roosevelt sketched it out in his "Four
Freedoms" speech, and it was the basis for the United Nations, but it
got lost in America's post-WWII pursuit of profit and empire. But for
now the United States military is only good at one thing: killing.
Better to focus that skill set on other people killing than to give
the military missions it cannot possibly fulfill, like "winning hearts
and minds" and projecting US power as anything other than the terror
it is. Of course, better still to set an example and stop the killing
altogether. Until we learn better the one thing the US shouldn't be
doing is entering into wars. Of course, if we knew better we wouldn't
be doing it anyway.
Paul Krugman: No, Donald Trump, America Isn't a Hellhole:
Back when the Trump campaign was ostensibly about the loss of middle-class
jobs, it was at least pretending to be about a real issue: Employment in
manufacturing really is way down; real wages of blue-collar workers have
fallen. You could say that Trumpism isn't the answer (it isn't), but not
that the issue was a figment of the candidate's imagination.
But when Mr. Trump portrays America's cities as hellholes of runaway
crime and social collapse, what on earth is he talking about?
Krugman answers "race" -- indeed, for Trump's followers, all it takes
to constitute a hellhole is non-white skin and/or non-American accents.
Krugman explains "Trump's racial 'outreach'" as meant "to reassure
squeamish whites that he isn't as racist as he seems." I think it's
more like he wants to reassure whites that blacks will welcome his
draconian law enforcement fantasy once they see how much safer it
makes them (the "good ones," anyhow). And besides, living in the
hellholes of their own skin, what do they have left to lose?
Still, it's a pretty ridiculous pitch, but even sympathetic white
people tend to underestimate how much progress blacks have made over
the last 50-70 years, and therefore how much they stand to lose if
white supremacists like Trump regain power. (One is tempted to credit
the civil rights acts of the 1960s for those gains, but to some extent
they simply codified and consolidated gains made in the early postwar
Jim Newell: Why Is the Trumpish Right Inept at Hardball Politics?
Case study is "making stuff up about their opponents' health," as in
claims by Rudy Giuliani and other Trumpsters that Hillary Clinton is
covering up a secret debilitating illness (presumably somewhere under
a blanket of traitorous emails and Clinton foundation favors). Newell
spends much too much time investigating a similar line of attack used
by Sen. John McCain's primary opponent, Tea Party partisan Kelli Ward,
and probably not enough on everything else -- after all, didn't "the
big lie" work just fine for Goebbels (although I guess it was never
really tested in a general election)?
Conservative media has been the lifeblood of Ward's campaign, and with
Trump's hiring of Steve Bannon, it is in direct operational control of
the Republican presidential nominee's campaign. And so crappy attacks,
workshopped inside the conservative tabloid media bubble, get greenlit
even if they confuse 70 percent of the electorate. Trump was able to
say a lot of stupid things and get away with them in the Republican
primary, but the lesson from that shouldn't have been that the idea
was replicable: He was in a 17-person field, against a group of mostly
undefined opponents, depriving them of oxygen. And he could at least be
funny. John McCain and Hillary Clinton have total name recognition and
well-known histories. It doesn't convert anyone new to suggest, sans
evidence, that they're near death. It just hastens the death of the
campaigns suggesting it.
Ben Norton: No, they don't support Trump: Smeared left-wing writers
debunk the myth: "Clinton-supporting neoconservative pundit James
Kirchick published an
article in the Daily Beast this week titled "Beware the Hillary
Clinton-Loathing, Donald Trump-Loving Useful Idiots of the Left."
Norton did some checking and none of the named writers, no matter
how much they loathed Hillary, supported Trump. OK, one writer --
all fifteen are quoted here, making for entertaining reading --
somename I had never heard of named Christopher Ketcham, said he
would vote for Trump, who he described as "an ignorant, vicious,
narcissistic, racist, capitalist scumbag, and thus an accurate
representative of the United States." There have always been a
tiny number of leftists who hold a romantic idea of revolution
erupting as conditions deteriorate unbearably. I think those
people are out of touch, especially with the people they think
their revolution would help, but they're also very marginal --
"idiots," perhaps, but not useful to anyone. I'm tempted to
retort that the real "useful idiots" are the neocons supporting
Hillary (like Kirchik, although he's small fry compared to Max
Boot and the Kagans) as they actually represent a faction with
real money and clout and they give her an air of legitimacy in
a domain Republicans like to think they own, but for the most
part they at least are making rational choices to advance their
most cherished goals -- not so much that Hillary will plunge the
country into more wars than Trump but that she will more reliably
parrot the neocon line, which in turn legitimizes the neocons.
Kirchik, on the other hand, is merely doing what he habitually
does: slandering the left, which is still America's best hope
Mark Oppenheimer: 'Blood in the Water,' a Gripping Account of the Attica
Prison Uprising: A review of Heather Ann Thompson's new book,
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its
Legacy (Pantheon) -- easily the most definitive history of the
famous prison revolt, the brutal assault on the prison ordered by
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and the long legal struggle that ensued.
I'll also add that what made this picture so clear was the trove
of documents and testimony elicited by defense lawyers, especially
the late Elizabeth Fink. Also, that the one underlying theme from
each step of the history -- the reason the revolt started, and the
reason the state protracted the legal fight so long -- was the
state's dogged refusal to grant or acknowledge even basic human
rights to prisoners; in short, to see prisoners as people. Rather,
the state felt free to punish prisoners virtually without limit.
For more on this, including how little has changed, also see:
Michael Winerip/Tom Robbins/Michael Schwirtz: Revisiting Attica
Shows How New York State Failed to Fulfill Promises.
Scott Shane: Saudis and Extremism: 'Both the Arsonists and the
Firefighters': The al-Saud clan made a deal with al-Wahhab back
in the late 18th century where the latter would bless the Saudis'
expansion from the Arabian Desert into the Holy Cities and the
Wahhabis would control religious doctrine in the Kingdom. I'm not
sure when the Saudis started proselytizing Wahhabism outside of
Saudi Arabia: probably in the 1960s when they bankrolled a war
with Egypt over Yemen and coincidentally adopted Egyptian Sayyid
Qutb -- the subject of the first chapter of Lawrence Wright's 9/11
pre-history, The Looming Tower. [Shane dates this from 1964,
when King Faisal ascended to the Saudi throne.] But the Saudis spent
more in the 1970s and more still in the 1980s when the US decided
that militant Islamist Jihadis would be useful against the Soviets
in Afghanistan. And they've kept it up, even as virtually every
Sunni terrorist you can think of traces religious doctrine back
through the Saudi-Wahhabis to the medieval Salafists. As Shane
explains, in the 1980s the US was completely complicit in this:
Throughout the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and the United States worked
together to finance the mujahedeen in this great Afghan war, which
would revive the notion of noble armed jihad for Muslims worldwide.
President Ronald Reagan famously welcomed to the Oval Office a
delegation of bearded "Afghan freedom fighters" whose social and
theological views were hardly distinguishable from those later
embraced by the Taliban.
In fact, the United States spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992
on what was called a "jihad literacy" project -- printing books for
Afghan children and adults to encourage violence against non-Muslim
"infidels" like Soviet troops. A first-grade language textbook for
Pashto speakers, for example, according to a study by Dana Burde,
an associate professor at New York University, used "Mujahid," or
fighter of jihad, as the illustration: "My brother is a Mujahid.
Afghan Muslims are Mujahedeen. I do jihad together with them. Doing
jihad against infidels is our duty."
The US government still loves the Saudis: they are big business,
especially to the oil, defense, and banking sectors which have so
much clout over American foreign policy. On the other hand, large
segments of the American public are beginning to wonder about Saudi
Arabia, especially since King Salman was crowned last year and
immediately attacked Yemen (with America's tacit blessing). Those
segments include the Islamophobes which have been a predictable
result of 15 years of American wars targeting Muslims (or 25 or 35
years, pick your starting date), but they also include, well, me:
it looks to me like Saudi Arabia is the real Islamic State ISIS
wants to grow up to be, the differences mostly explained by ISIS
having been created in a war zone with the US, NATO, Russia, and
Iran joining the attack (despite all their various differences).
As Shane notes, Saudi Arabia's cleric Saad bin Nasser al-Shethri
has condemned ISIS as "more infidel than Jews and Christians,"
but, you know, he would say that -- doing so protects the Saudi's
exclusive claim to rightful jihad, but it perpetuates the Salafi
habit of declaring their enemies takfir (impure, false Muslims).
I'm afraid that the instinctive American response to ISIS is
tantamount to genocide -- and it's not just the Islamophobic right
that insists that ISIS must be crushed and destroyed. On the other
hand, the US has proved that we can live with an Islamic State,
even one that insists on dismembering or even beheading subjects
it deems to be criminals, one that joins in foreign wars just to
assert its religious dogma (the Saudis like to describe their
opponents in Yemen as proxies of Iran, but the real problem is
that they're Shiites). Of course, it helps that the Saudis have
huge oil reserves and a deep appetite for American arms, but even
if ISIS can never become as lucrative as Saudi Arabia, that still
suggests that the US should be willing to make some sort of
accommodation to ISIS, especially one established by votes as
opposed to arms.
As it is, the US insistence on destroying ISIS makes it impossible
to negotiate an end to the Syrian Civil War, as does other irrational
American impulses, such as simultaneous opposition to Assad. On the
other hand, uncritical support for Saudi Arabia creates and deepens
regional conflicts, including Syria and Yemen, in ways that have and
will continue to blow back on America. The fact is that American
support for Saudi jihad was never just a shortsighted policy. It
was from the beginning a schizophrenic assault on world piece, order,
For more on the Saudi assault on Yemen, see:
Daniel Larison: 'The Administration Must Stop Enabling This Madness'
in Yemen, and
Mohamad Bazzi: Why Is the United States Abetting Saudi War Crimes in
Yemen? Note how US arms sales to Saudi Arabia have continued and
even increased even though Clinton is no longer in the State Department:
On August 9, the State Department approved the latest major US weapons
sale to Saudi Arabia, mainly to replace tanks that the kingdom has lost
in its war in Yemen against Houthi rebels and allies of the former
president. The $1.15 billion deal highlights the Obama administration's
deepening involvement in the Saudi-led war, which has escalated after
four months of peace talks broke down on August 6. Since then, warplanes
from the Saudi-led coalition have bombed a Yemeni school, a hospital run
by Doctors Without Borders, and a potato-chip factory, killing more than
40 civilians, including at least 10 children.
Also note Trita Parsi's tweet: "Fun fact: When ISIS established its
school system, it adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools."
David Sirota/Andrew Perez: Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals
From Hillary Clinton's State Department: At some point I should look
for a good article by a reputable investigative journalist to explain
what the Clinton Foundation does and where all the money went -- looks
like a big chunk went into the Clinton's own pockets (their personal
income was $11.2 million last year; if memory serves about 2/3 of that
came from the Foundation) which is a funny way to run a non-profit
charitable institution. Actually, it looks more like a political slush
fund, one that's even more free of regulation than Clinton's PAC. I
wonder, for instance, whether having the ability to launder so much
corporate and foreign money through the Foundation wasn't a big part
of the reason virtually no other mainstream Democrats ran against
Hillary for president this year.
Sirota and Perez plumb the more obvious question, which is where
the money came from and whether it maps to political favors, and they
conclude that at least in the area of American arms sales to foreign
countries -- something that the State Department, headed by Hillary
from 2009-13, has to sign off on -- lots of things look suspicious.
Clinton (and Obama) sure approved a lot of weapons deals. I suppose
it's possible that Obama, like presidents going back to Truman and
Eisenhower, saw foreign arms sales as a cheap, politically safe jobs
program (and following the financial meltdown of 2008 Obama desperately
needed one of those). Or maybe you can just chalk it up to Hillary's
notorious hawkishness. None of those explanations are really very
Still, see, for instance,
Kent Cooper: 16 Donors Gave $122 Million to George W. Bush Foundation,
which notes among other things that Bush's Foundation raised $341 million
in 2006-2011, a period that overlaps Bush's presidency. Maybe the Clintons
weren't so unique in monetizing their political "service"?
As for all those weapons sales, see:
CJ Chivers: How Many Guns Did the US Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Hundreds of Thousands. It's been absurd to listen to Trump claim that
Obama and Clinton "founded ISIS," especially given that most of ISIS's guns
were delivered to the region by the Bush administration. For example:
One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in
government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In
one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report
found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought
by the United States for Iraq's security forces could not be accounted
for -- more than one firearm for every member of the entire American
military force in Iraq at any time during the war. Those documented
lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply
vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic
State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget
request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was
Sean Wilentz: Hillary's New Deal: How a Clinton Presidency Could
Transform America: A distinguished historian -- I learned a lot from
his The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln -- but
less than reliable when it comes to putting recent political movements
into historical perspective (e.g., The Age of Reagan: A History
1974-2008). A historian should be able to bring some perspective
to a campaign, but Wilentz does little more than regurgitate campaign
Hillary Clinton has already indicated what she would pursue in her first
100 days in office: launching her infrastructure program; investing in
renewable energy; tightening regulation of health-insurance and pharmaceutical
companies; and expanding protection of voting rights. She has also said
that she will nominate women for half of her Cabinet positions. And not
far behind these initiatives are several others, including immigration
reform and raising the minimum wage.
Even without a unifying title, it is a sweeping agenda, the latest
updating of Democratic reformism. Democratic politics at their most
fruitful have always been more improvisational than programmatic, more
empirical than doctrinaire, taking on an array of issues, old and new,
bound by the politics of Hope pressing against the politics of Nostalgia.
So it was with FDR and Truman, so it has been with Barack Obama, and so
it would be with Hillary Clinton.
Still, a historian should recall that FDR's remarkable first 100 days --
the since-unequaled model for that concept -- was accomplished mostly due
to conditions Clinton, even if she scores a personal landslide, will not
enjoy: Roosevelt had an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress (and for that
matter a large percentage of surviving Republicans were progressives),
and in throwing out Hoover and Mellon the voters had sent a clear message
that the new administration should do something about desperate times.
Clinton has yet to do anything significant to elect a Democratic Congress --
indeed, she seems preoccupied with capturing anti-Trump Republicans for
her campaign only. Moreover, historians should recognize that the last
two Democratic presidents -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for whom
she represents nothing if no continuity -- delivered very few of their
campaign promises, even when they had Democratic majorities before they
squandered them away through inaction. Hillary may think she wants to
do wonders as president, but unless Congress changes she won't be able
to. Indeed, if the Republicans hold onto the Senate, she may have trouble
even getting those women confirmed to cabinet posts.
For a more serious example of a historian looking at present politics,
Corey Robin: Donald Trump is the least of the GOP's problems, where
he argues that it's not just Trump's gaffes that are dragging the party
and the conservative movement down: both are also "victims of their
success." Robin argues that reactionary movements lose their "raison
d'être" as they become successful. I'd argue that success leads to
them overshooting their goals in ways that turn destabilizing and
self-destructive. On the other hand, I don't really believe that there
is some sort of left-right equilibrium that needs to be periodically
recentered. Rather, I believe that there is a long-term liberalizing
drift to American politics, which is occasionally perverted by the
corruption of business groups. We are overdue for a course correction
now, but it's only happening fitfully due to the Republican focus on
rigging the system and the generous amnesia of Democrats.
Miscellaneous election tidbits:
Peter Beinart: How Trump Betrayed Ann Coulter on Immigration:
Coulter's latest book is titled In Trump We Trust, but she's
flown off the rails since Trump started walking back his hardcore
anti-immigrant stance (a Twitter wag suggested that her next book
will be Trump: The God That Failed).
David A Graham: Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet:
Paul Wolfowitz is the latest neocon war criminal to land in Hillary's
camp. Graham also wrote
The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet: it's quite some
list, just barely mentioning
Donald Trump Jacked Up His Campaign's Trump Tower Rent Once Somebody Else
Was Paying It (from $35,458 to $169,758). More numbers from the article:
in July his campaign paid $495,000 to a Trump company to use his airplane.
Prior to May Trump's campaign was mostly financed by Trump, but since then
it's been almost exclusively financed by others.
Dave Jamieson: Trump Campaign Manager Doesn't Even Try to Defend Him Over
Dwayne Wade Tweet: Actual tweet (since things like that tend to get
lost in the brouhaha: "Dwayne Wade's cousin was just shot and killed
walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans
will VOTE TRUMP!" The cousin had a name, Nykea Aldridge, but Trump's
brief sympathy extended first to her celebrity cousin. Then he turned
it into a tone-deaf political ad.
Heather Digby Parton: The disturbing dawn of the alt-right: Donald Trump's
the leader of a dark movement in America, and
Confused conservatives: How can they back a guy who cares so little about
Matt Taibbi: Curt Schilling Is the Next Donald Trump: "If you think
the white-guy grievance movement will die after Donald Trump's likely
landslide defeat this November, think again. There will be plenty of
filterless, self-pitying dunces to carry the torch in Trump's place.
Schilling is a leading candidate. . . . In this, he's very much like
Donald Trump, who spent much of his adult life partying with models
and celebrities and somehow emerged in late middle age as the most
obdurate complainer in American history." Speaking of public menaces,
Taibbi also wrote
Thomas Friedman Goes to the Wall, meaning a metaphorical one, of
course: "Because the Murphy's Law tendency of American politics demands
that we draw every conceivable wrong lesson from an event before
accidentally stumbling in the direction of progress, the twin revolts
in the 2016 presidential race will surely be misinterpreted for a good
long while by the Friedmans of the world."
Sunday, August 14. 2016
First a few loose ends left over from yesterday's
For more on populism, see
Russell Arben Fox: Ten Theses on Our Populist Moment: He quotes
Damon Linker's monumentally stupid claim that "Trump may be the purest
populist to receive a major-party presidential nomination in the nation's
history," but the Linker also argues that:
Populism doesn't have a fixed agenda or aim toward any particular
policy goal, like liberalism, progressivism, conservatism,
libertarianism, or socialism. It's a style -- one that favors
paranoia and conspiracy-theorizing, exaggeration of problems,
demonization of political opponents (politicians but also private
citizens), and most of all extravagant flattery of "the people"
(which the populist equates with his own supporters, excluding
In other words, Linker has his own private definition of Populism.
To most other people, what he's describing is the propaganda pitch
of fascism to the masses (as opposed to the pitch made behind closed
doors to the oligarchy). So it shouldn't be surprising that recent
examples are mostly Republican ("From Newt Gingrich . . . to Sarah
Palin . . . and Donald Trump") as the Republican conservative project
is so similar in intent to the fascist project. Fox himself comes up
with a more sensible definition ("whatever articulation of economic
justice, community protection, and local democracy one comes up with"),
but he's ambivalent about calling it Populism. I haven't researched
this, but I suspect part of the problem is that Populism has always
been a label to attack the movement -- the proper name back in the
1890s was the People's Party -- and it was chosen by high-handed snobs
who despised the people even more than the dead-end thinking of isms.
Even today, I suspect that most of the people who regard Trump as a
Populist do so because they regard "the people" as too ignorant, too
intemperate, too irrational even to look out for their own interest.
Of course, many of those same people also decry true economic populism
as well, hoping that by linking Trump and Sanders they can dispose of
If you take one thing away from the Trump post, it should be
that Trump's real problems are endemic to the Republican Party and
its conservative ideologues and propagandists. Sure, Trump lacks the
message discipline of a GW Bush and the ideological fervor of a Dick
Cheney, but in the end he always retreats to the orthodox party line.
And that's what doesn't work, and that's what you should really fear
about him or any of the other party leaders.
On the other hand, what the party leaders hate about Trump is
his loose mouth. They understand that belief in their economic ideas
and their foreign policy doctrine depends on strict repetition, on
never allowing a morsel of doubt to creep into the discussion. If you
ever stop and think about whether the free market optimally solves
all economic equations or whether the world would descend into chaos
if the US ever stopped projecting its global superpowerness, you might
realize that those doctrines, upon which rests so much privilege and
luxury for the fortunate few, are in fact remarkably flawed. Trump is
so ignorant and so uninhibited that he simply can't be trusted to keep
those cherished myths inviolate.
One thing that the Trump debacle should impress upon people
is that the idea that successful businessmen are really great problem
solvers and managers, and especially that those are skills that can
be transferred to politics and government, is sheer nonsense. Could
be that some are, but circumstance and luck count for a lot, as does
starting out with a fortune, as Trump did.
Some scattered links this week:
Andrew Bacevich: The Decay of American Politics: "An Ode to Ike and
Adlai," major party nominees of sixty years ago -- the author's "earliest
recollection of national politics," somewhat more vaguely mine as well
(I turned six just before the election). I'm not quite as nostalgic about
this pair, but Eisenhower was a centrist who, like previous Republican
nominees Thomas Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, had no desire much less delusions
of rolling back the redefinition of what the federal government meant and
did known as the New Deal. And Eisenhower was so respected that if in 1952
he had declared his party differently he might most likely would have been
nominated by the Democrats. Stevenson was an eloquent, highly respected
liberal, no less adored albeit by a narrower base. From his conservative
perch, Bacevich underrates Stevenson, and Hillary Clinton as well, although
as a long-time critic of American foreign policy and militarism he has no
trouble marshalling his arguments against the latter:
When it comes to foreign policy, Trump's preference for off-the-cuff
utterances finds him committing astonishing gaffes with metronomic
regularity. Spontaneity serves chiefly to expose his staggering ignorance.
By comparison, the carefully scripted Clinton commits few missteps,
as she recites with practiced ease the pabulum that passes for right
thinking in establishment circles. But fluency does not necessarily
connote soundness. Clinton, after all, adheres resolutely to the highly
militarized "Washington playbook" that President Obama himself has
disparaged -- a faith-based belief in American global primacy to be
pursued regardless of how the world may be changing and heedless of
costs. [ . . . ]
So while a Trump presidency holds the prospect of the United States
driving off a cliff, a Clinton presidency promises to be the equivalent
of banging one's head against a brick wall without evident effect,
wondering all the while why it hurts so much.
Bacevich at least concedes that both candidates are representative
of their parties, each having mastered what it takes to get nominated.
And as such, he regards them less as flukes than as symptoms of some
underlying shifts. He blames "the evil effects of money," and "the
perverse impact of identity politics on policy." He doesn't unpack
these points nearly well enough, so let me take a shot:
Money seems pretty obvious: he links to Lawrence Lessig's
"brilliant and deeply disturbing
TED talk. Of course, money has bought political influence in America
for a long time -- Karl Rove's hero William McKinley would never have
been elected president without the backing of wealthy patrons -- but
Eisenhower was sought out by backers of both parties because he was
already hugely popular, and because in the 1950s popular appeal was
still worth more than money. That's changed over the years, utterly
so in 2016. The Republican candidates were all selected by their
billionaire backers -- Trump, of course, had an advantage there in
being his own billionaire, which made him look a little less shady
even though his own business history was plenty suspect. Clinton,
on the other hand, cornered all the party's big money donors, so
she would have ran unopposed had Sanders not come up with a novel
way of financing a competitive campaign.
The matter of identity politics is somewhat subtler. In a
sense it's always existed -- indeed, it seems to be the dominant
factor in "third world" countries with weak democratic traditions,
like Pakistan and post-Saddam Iraq. If you've read Kevin Phillips'
The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), you'll recall that
most of his arguments about shifting political alignments were
based on demographics. Early in the 20th century the Republican
Party was preponderately northern and protestant, mostly white
but most blacks who could voted Republican, while the Democratic
Party represented a mix of northern Catholics and Jews along with
southern whites. Economic factors occasionally appeared, but were
often secondary: northern farmers shifted to the Democrats with
Bryan, while labor more slowly shifted from R to D, especially
with the New Deal. Phillips' scheme was for the Republicans to
capture southern whites and northern Catholics -- Nixon started
the former with his "southern strategy" and the latter came to
be known as "Reagan Democrats." Still, I think Bacevich is getting
at something more. Back in the 1950s America was, in self-concept
if not quite reality, a homogeneous middle-class nation with a
single mass market. Since then, America has become a good deal
less homogeneous: immigration, which was suppressed in the 1920s,
has greatly increased, as has inequality. But just as importantly,
advertisers and media programmers have learned to target specific
niche audiences, and politicos have followed their lead -- to the
extent that even news and political opinion shows are now targeted
to specific factions. In this atmosphere, identity has taken on
Still, political parties have to distinguish themselves somehow,
and the main alternative to identity is class, something that became
clearer when Franklin Roosevelt sided with the labor movement in the
1930s. Nixon and Reagan tried to counter this by pushing identity to
the fore, which should have sharpened the class division of parties,
but Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton went out of their way to screw over
their labor supporters, and were able to get away with that as labor
unions lost membership and clout, and as Republican hostility to
non-whites, immigrants, gays, and anyone of a liberal disposition
pushed those groups toward the Democrats. That the result appears to
be "identity politics" mostly speaks to the fact that the sense of
national unity that was forged during the New Deal and World War II
has been fractured, most emphatically by economic inequality.
Bacevich skips over here because he wants to move to say this:
The essential point here is that, in the realm of national security,
Hillary Clinton is utterly conventional. She subscribes to a worldview
(and view of America's role in the world) that originated during the
Cold War, reached its zenith in the 1990s when the United States
proclaimed itself the planet's "sole superpower," and persists today
remarkably unaffected by actual events. On the campaign trail, Clinton
attests to her bona fides by routinely reaffirming her belief in American
exceptionalism, paying fervent tribute to "the world's greatest military,"
swearing that she'll be "listening to our generals and admirals," and
vowing to get tough on America's adversaries. These are, of course, the
mandatory rituals of the contemporary Washington stump speech, amplified
if anything by the perceived need for the first female candidate for
president to emphasize her pugnacity.
Bacevich then adds a third explanation: "the substitution of 'reality'
for reality" -- the idea, facilitated by mass media and the PR industry,
that well-managed perceptions count for more than what actually happens.
Bacevich cites Daniel Boorstin's 1962 book The Image: A Guide to
Pseydo-Events in America, written a mere decade after Americans
started learning to see the world through the selective images beamed
to their television screens. He could also have mentioned Joe McGinniss'
The Selling of the President 1968 (1969), on Richard Nixon's PR
John Holbo: Is the Cato Institute a, Your Know, Libertarian Think-Tank?
Article about libertarians bitching about the Libertarian Party ticket of
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. That's not a fight I care to get into, but I
will say that, regardless of their stands on issues, Johnson and Weld were
two of the more decent and respectable Republican governors of the last
few decades. I have less sense of Johnson, but Weld did one commendable
thing that I don't think any other politician of either party has done,
which is to (admittedly only partially) free up a toll road. I'd like to
see a national program established to convert toll roads and bridges to
the (free) interstate highway system, and to outlaw the construction of
new toll roads. As far as I know that's on no political agenda -- I'm not
even sure libertarians would support it, but they should. But that aside,
I linked to this piece to quote a comment from "derrida derider" which
seems about right:
When thinking of libertarians I always think of Lenin's aphorism about
anarchists -- "fine people, but an ideology for children."
Because the hook libertarianism always get stuck on is that we are
social animals where every action we take affects someone else. So the
JS Mill stuff that "you are free to do what you like so long as you
don't hurt anyone else" in practice comes down to a choice of "you are
free to do lots of stuff which will really hurt other people" or "you
are free to anything I judge will not hurt me."
The first is so obviously untenable that actually existing "libertarians"
adopt the second -- that is, they are in fact conservatives engaged in JK
Galbraith's conservative project throughout the ages -- to find a higher
justification for selfishness. So it's no surprise to find that they
are usually in the same political bed as conservatives.
E.g., the Kochs may think they're for freedom in the abstract, but
they're mostly for freedom for themselves, to make money at everyone
else's expense. It was libertarians like the Kochs that led Mike
Konczal to write
We Already Tried Libertarianism -- It Was Called Feudalism.
David E Sanger/Maggie Haberman: 50 G.O.P. Officials Warn Donald Trump
Would Put Nation's Security 'at Risk':
Fifty of the nation's most senior Republican national security officials,
many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W.
Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump "lacks the
character, values and experience" to be president and "would put at risk
our country's national security and well-being."
Mr. Trump, the officials warn, "would be the most reckless president
in American history."
The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States' moral authority
and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he
has "demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding" of the
nation's "vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges,
its indispensable alliances and the democratic values" on which American
policy should be based. And it laments that "Mr. Trump has shown no interest
in educating himself."
"None of us will vote for Donald Trump," the letter states, though
it notes later that many Americans "have doubts about Hillary Clinton,
as do many of us."
You'd think this would be good news for Clinton, but what they're
accusing Trump of not understanding is the unexamined foundation of
every foreign policy disaster of recent decades. Trump half discerns
this, but in the end he decides they're only doing this for spite
and personal gain -- i.e., the reasons Trump himself would use:
Late Monday, Mr. Trump struck back. The signatories of the letter, he
said in a statement, were "the ones the American people should look to
for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming
forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for
making the world such a dangerous place." He dismissed them as "nothing
more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power."
Mr. Trump correctly identified many of the signatories as the architects
of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. But he also blamed them for
allowing Americans "to die in Benghazi" and for permitting "the rise of
ISIS" -- referring to the 2012 attacks on the American mission in Libya
and the spread of the Islamic State, both of which occurred during the
Obama administration. At the time, most of Mr. Trump's Republican foreign
policy critics were in think tanks, private consultancies or law firms,
or signed on as advisers to the Republican hopefuls Mr. Trump beat in
If Trump was smarter he'd figure out a way to turn the tables and
cast Hillary as the intemperate, dangerous warmonger and point to the
hawks who are abandoning him and (in many cases) embracing her as
further proof. It's not happening because he's fully absorbed the
party line that all of America's problems abroad are because Obama
is weak (or some kind of America-hating traitor), so he feels the
need to continually reassert his own toughness, even though he's so
shallow and erratic this comes across as recklessness. A good recent
example is his refusal to concede that there are any conditions where
he'd rule out the use of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, many neocon hawks have moved past dissing Trump and on
to supporting Clinton. In particular, see:
Some campaign-related links:
Sedgwick County Republican chairman: 'Hold your nose' and vote Trump:
Catchy new slogan here in Wichita. Latest SurveyUSA poll shows Trump
still leading in Kansas, 44-39%, close enough for
538 to give Clinton a 17.3% chance of winning Kansas. In related
Wichita Eagle articles, Governor Sam Brownback reiterated his
firm support for Trump (he does, after all, have a lot of experience
holding his nose). Also Sen. Pat Roberts was named as a Trump adviser
on agriculture (i.e., agribusiness, in whose pocket Roberts has spent
much more time than he has in Kansas).
John Cassidy: Why Trump's Crazy Talk About Obama and ISIS Matters:
More hectoring on "right-wing populist movements," charging that Trump
is out to create a neo-fascist America First movement that will outlive
his own scattershot candidacy. I agree with Steve M's critique,
No, he's just parroting what he's heard from Fox and the GOP. But
as I pointd out the other day, Trump not only hears Republican "dog
whistles," he responds to them like a dog (apologies, of course, to
anyone who thinks I just insulted their best friend).
Maureen Dowd: The Perfect GOP Nominee: Hillary Clinton, of course:
"They already have a 1-percenter who will be totally fine in the Oval
Office, someone they can trust to help Wall Street, boost the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, cuddle with hedge funds, secure the trade deals
beloved by corporate America, seek guidance from Henry Kissinger and
hawk it up -- unleashing hell on Syria and heaven knows where
Lisa Lerer/Ken Thomas: What Have We Learned From Hillary Clinton's Tax
Returns? She released them for 2015 last week, presumably to taunt
Trump. Headline figure was that Bill and her reaped $10.6 million, which
seems like quite a bit for run a foundation and get most of their money
(some $6 million) from speaking fees. They've also released earlier tax
returns, showing that they've made $139 million from 2007-2014 -- I
suspect that's more than any other ex-president has owned, a remarkable
reward (not that Clinton, as president, didn't make other people even
more money). These figures put them in the lower rungs of the 1%, so
one may wonder where their allegiances actually lie.
Ryan Lizza: What We Learned About Trump's Supporters This Week:
The main thing is that Jonathan Rothwell, a researcher at Gallup,
did a deep dive into their polling database to see whether Trump's
base of support comes from economic distress caused by trade deals
and immigration, and finds that it doesn't. He finds that Trump's
supporters "are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar
occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and
perhaps the contradiction there leads to economic anxiety. They're
also socially isolated: it's easier to hold stereotyped views of
immigrants if you don't know any. No real news here for anyone
who's been paying attention.
Mark Joseph Stern: "Second Amendment People" Solutions: Argues
"Trump's Clinton 'joke' was no coincidence. The GOP espouses a right
to bear arms whose logical conclusion is political assassination."
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The Real Scandal of Hillary Clinton's E-Mails:
Well, to save you some scanning, it's that there is none, other than
the cozy access donors have to politicians for decades now.
Finally, a few links for further study (ran out of time to comment):
Sunday, August 7. 2016
I want to start with a paragraph from
John Lanchester: Brexit Blues:
Immigration, the issue on which Leave campaigned most effectively and
most cynically, is the subject on which this bewilderment is most
apparent. There are obviously strong elements of racism and xenophobia
in anti-immigrant sentiment. All racists who voted, voted Leave. But
there are plenty of people who aren't so much hostile to immigrants as
baffled by them. They feel left behind, abandoned, poor, ignored and
struggling; so how come immigrants want to come here, and do so well
when they get here? If Britain is broken, which is what many Leave
voters think, why is it so attractive? How can so many people succeed
where they are failing? A revealing, and sad, piece in the Economist
in 2014 described Tilbury, forty minutes from London, where the white
working class look on resentfully as immigrants get up early and get
the train to jobs in the capital which, to them, seems impossibly
distant. 'Most residents of the town, one of England's poorest places,
are as likely to commute to the capital as fly to the moon.'
The evidence on immigration is clear: EU immigrants are net
contributors to the UK's finances, and are less likely to claim
benefits than the native British. The average immigrant is younger,
better educated and healthier than the average British citizen. In
other words, for every immigrant we let in, the country is richer,
more able to pay for its health, education and welfare needs, and
less dependent on benefits. They are exactly the demographic the
Not sure of the numbers, but offhand this sounds like a pretty
fair description of immigrant America as well -- maybe there is a
slightly larger slice of unskilled immigrant workers because the
US has much more agribusiness, but a lot of the immigrants I know
are doctors and engineers, and I suspect that immigrants own a
disproportionate share of small businesses. One widely reported
figure is that Muslims in America have a higher than average per
capita income, so it's hard to see them as an economic threat to
the middle class -- they're part of it. One thing we do have in
common with Britain is that anti-immigrant fervor seems to be
greatest in places with damn few immigrants. (Trump's third
strongest state -- see below -- is the formerly Democratic
stronghold of West Virginia, which is practically hermetically
sealed from the rest of the US.) Whether that's due to ignorance
and unfamiliarity or because those areas are the ones most left
behind by economic trends -- including the ones most tied to
immigration -- isn't clear (most observers read into this picture
what they want to see).
Lanchester makes another important point, which is that the Brexit
referendum succeeded because the single question cut against the
grain of the political party system: "To simplify, the Torries are
a coalition of nationalists, who voted out, and business interests,
who voted in; Labour is a coalition of urban liberals, who voted in,
and the working class, who voted out." I suspect that if we had a
national referendum on TPP you'd see a similar alignment against it
(and it would get voted down, although the stakes would be far less).
On the other hand, Trump vs. Clinton is going to wind up being a vote
along party lines, not an alignment of outsiders against insiders or
populists against elitists or any such thing.
Some scattered links this week:
David Auerbach: Donald Trump: Moosbrugger for President: Long piece,
finds an analogue for Trump in Robert Musil's novel, The Man Without
Qualities, left incomplete by the author's death in 1942:
The character who concerns us is Christian Moosbrugger, a working-class
murderer of women who becomes an object of fascination for many of the
characters in the novel and of the Vienna they inhabit. During his trial
for the brutal murder of a prostitute, he becomes a celebrity, due to
his cavalier and eccentric manner. [ . . . ] His
"discipline" is akin to Trump's nebulous "art of the deal," not a
teachable trade but an esoteric, innate property that makes him better
than others -- a Macguffin. Trump is not a murderer; unlike Moosbrugger,
he does not need to be. Trump was fortunate enough to begin with his
father's millions and the ability to achieve dominance without physical
violence. For Moosbrugger, violence was the only option available to him.
Moosbrugger is no more a "murderer" than Trump is a "politician." They
perpetrate amoral (not immoral) acts not out of their characters but out
of a lack of character.
Of course, if Trump becomes president, he will become a murderer --
much like Obama before him, by signing off on the assassination of
alleged enemies (and, to use a time-worn phrase, fellow travelers).
GW Bush and Bill Clinton too, but they had a head start as governors
signing death warrants for condemned felons.
I also like Auerbach's line:
Trump's political rise is a product of the commodification
of attention. As the ballooning of new media and analytics have facilitated
the microscopic examination of consumer attention, the analysis has been
performed with indifference to the consequences of that attention. Just as
Donald Trump does not care why he is loved, worshipped, and feared -- no
matter what the consequences -- we have seen massed content production
turn to clickbait, hate clicks, and propaganda in pursuit of viewer eyes.
By mindlessly mirroring fear and tribalism, the new media machine has
produced a dangerous amount of collateral damage.
It seems like it took a couple years after he became president
before psychologists started probing the mind of GW Bush, but now
we are already blessed with
Dan P McAdams: The Mind of Donald Trump -- better safe than
sorry, I suppose. Here he is just getting warmed up:
Researchers rank Richard Nixon as the nation's most disagreeable president.
But he was sweetness and light compared with the man who once sent The
New York Times' Gail Collins a copy of her own column with her photo
circled and the words "The Face of a Dog!" scrawled on it. Complaining in
Never Enough about "some nasty shit" that Cher, the singer and
actress, once said about him, Trump bragged: "I knocked the shit out of
her" on Twitter, "and she never said a thing about me after that." At
campaign rallies, Trump has encouraged his supporters to rough up protesters.
"Get 'em out of here!" he yells. "I'd like to punch him in the face." From
unsympathetic journalists to political rivals, Trump calls his opponents
"disgusting" and writes them off as "losers." By the standards of reality
TV, Trump's disagreeableness may not be so shocking. But political candidates
who want people to vote for them rarely behave like this.
Gabriella Dunn: Bipartisan frustration over Kansas disability system:
'Legislature be damned': Part of Gov. Brownback's program for
making Kansas a model state for emulation all across America and for
resuscitating his presidential ambitions was his program to harness
the magic of private enterprise to "reform" the moribund bureaucracy
of the state's Medicare program. He called this stroke of genius
KanCare. Now, well, it's worked about as well as the rest of his
The Medicaid system has been riddled with problems recently. More
than 3,000 disabled Kansans are on waiting lists for services, and
the state says a seven-year wait is typical.
The state also has a backlog of applications for Medicaid that
started mounting a year ago when the state switched the computer
system used to process the applications. The committee was told on
Thursday that nearly 4,000 Kansans have been waiting more than 45
days for their applications to be processed. In mid-May that number
was above 10,000.
Part of the art of shrinking government "to the size where we can
drown it in a bathtub" is to pick on areas that most people don't
immediately recognize what's happening. Slacking off on maintenance
is one such area, and helping people with disabilities is another.
Things have to get pretty bad before they get noticed, and even then
the full impact is hard to absorb. Still, even Kansans have started
to wise up. For one thing, see
GOP Voters Stage Major Revolt Against Brownback's Kansas Experiment.
Not really as "major" as one might hope, but until this year Republican
primaries have been killing fields for our so-called moderates. This
year six Brownback-affiliated state senators, including Majority Leader
Terry Bruce, got axed, as did Tea Party favorite Rep. Tim Huelskamp,
one of the few "small government" conservatives in Congress to oppose
such real government threats as NSA's domestic spying programs -- but
his real problem was agribusiness, who flooded the primary with some
$3 million in mostly out-of-state dark money. (Huelskamp spent a couple
million himself, largely from the Koch network.) Not mentioned in the
article is that Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, who unlike
Huelskamp has no redeeming virtues, was also knocked off -- again, his
ideological fervor ran afoul of local business interests. On the other
hand, the Democratic primary was a very depressing affair, with hardly
any competent candidates rising to challenge the unmitigated disasters
wrought by Brownback and company.
Diana Johnstone: Hiroshima: The Crime That Keeps on Paying, but Beware
the Reckoning: Each August 6 marks yet another anniversary of our
bloody inauguration of the age of nuclear destruction. I found this
bit, following an Eisenhower quote expressing misgivings about dropping
the atom bomb, interesting:
As supreme allied commander in Europe, Eisenhower had learned that it
was possible to work with the Russians. US and USSR domestic economic
and political systems were totally different, but on the world stage
they could cooperate. As allies, the differences between them were
mostly a matter of mistrust, matters that could be patched up.
The victorious Soviet Union was devastated from the war: cities in
ruins, some twenty million dead. The Russians wanted help to rebuild.
Previously, under Roosevelt, it had been agreed that the Soviet Union
would get reparations from Germany, as well as credits from the United
States. Suddenly, this was off the agenda. As news came in of the
successful New Mexico test, Truman exclaimed: "This will keep the
Russians straight." Because they suddenly felt all-powerful, Truman
and Byrnes decided to get tough with the Russians.
In his book Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, Gar
Alperovitz argued that the US used the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki to intimidate Russia. This twist is more plausible: that
having used it for whatever reason, it then installed an arrogance
in Truman and his circle that made them more aggressive in postwar
diplomacy, and that made Stalin more defensive (which in turn, in
some cases, made him more aggressive -- e.g., in Berlin and Korea,
although in both cases he was largely provoked to lash out).
Also on Hiroshima, see
Ward Wilson: The Bomb Didn't Beat Japan . . . Stalin Did. By
the way, I wrote more about Hiroshima in
May 2016 and
August 2015, and several times earlier
(e.g., August 2008).
Of course, the question of presidential control of "the nuclear
launch codes" came up with respect to the notoriously thin-skinned
and impulsive Donald Trump, who's been quoted as repeatedly asking
his "security advisers" why we can't use nuclear weapons, and who's
clung to the "never take options off the table" cliché so tenaciously
it's hard to rule out any place he might not bomb. Relevant to this is
Jeffrey Lewis: Our Nuclear Procedures Are Crazier Than Trump,
arguing against the current "launch under attack" strategy which
gives a president "a four-minute window to decide whether or not
to initiate an irreversible apocalypse." I would add that I think
that the only nation that has ever actually used nuclear weapons
against civilian targets, the US should be going out of its way
to reassure the world that won't happen again. Instead, Trump and
his ilk are so insecure they feel to need to remind the world how
terrifying they really are.
Seth Stevenson: If Sean Penn Were the Democratic Nominee: Possibly
the dumbest political article of the year, and that's saying something.
The whole idea is counterfactual, counterlogical even: "Imagining
a world where the wackadoo candidate is in the other party" -- I guess
they can dream, but the fact is that the Republican Party has actively
embraced fantasy and myth and carefully channeled rhetoric while decrying
science and, you know, that "reality-based" stuff, like facts, so there's
little there to guard against unhinged candidates -- indeed, at least
half of the original field of sixteen qualified. The closest thing to
"wackadoo" on the Democratic side was Jim Webb, who didn't even make it
to Iowa. As for Penn, you can look at his
Wikipedia page to
get a thorough list of his political activism, but as far as I can tell
his main transgression against political correctness has been a tendency
to get too close to officially despised foreign leaders like Hugo Chavez.
I can't say as that sort of thing bothers me (in which case he suggests
Kanye West, or "Ben from Ben and Jerry's") -- the point is he assumes
there must be some balance on the Democratic side no matter how wacko
the Republicans get, and second, he wants to show that a great many
Democrats would follow that "unfit, paranoid, unstable Democratic nominee"
as blindly as most Republicans are following Trump.
Of course, this article assumes other fallacies. One is that the
individual at the head of the ticket should matter much more than the
party the ticket represents. I think nowadays that's largely due to
the Commander in Chief fetish, itself due to the fact that the US is
(and has been for 75 years now) a state perpetually at war all around
the world. We tend to assume that having a decisive Commander in Chief
has a huge effect on how effectively those wars are prosecuted, where
in fact the built-in, unquestioned forces behind those wars usually
winds up dictating how tragically foolish presidents wind up. An older
view is that the personal moral character of the president matters a
lot, whereas it rarely counts for anything. What we get instead are
parties -- each president brings a whole layer of administration into
power, and leaves behind a cohort of judges, and those choices are
mostly tied to party. So to the extent that parties represents blocks
of voters, why is it so strange that those voters would back their
party regardless of how qualified and capable the ticket head is?
Obviously, a lot of people who vote for Trump will really be voting
for their party, some in spite of the candidate, but that applies
(perhaps even more than usual) to the Democratic side as well. In
neither case does it represent a serious misjudgement. However, only
on the Republican side does it reflect a belief in complete nonsense
and hysteria unrooted in interests or even reality.
Some more election links noted:
Peter Beinart: Why Are Some Conservative Thinkers Falling for Trump?
Begs the question: why does Beinart regard hacks like Peggy Noonan (his
lead example) and Sean Hannity as intellectuals? Citing Czeslaw Milosz's
The Captive Mind, Beinart likens them to Stalinist apparatchiks,
but that gives them too much credit: Stalin, at least, represented the
established order, whereas Trump is only an aspirant, and not a terribly
inspiring one at that.
Harry Enten: Clinton's Post-Convention Bump Is Holding Steady:
538's Election Forecast now has Clinton up to 83.4% chance of winning,
with North Carolina tipped blue (D+3.5), and Arizona (R+0.1) and Georgia
(R+0.3) getting close. Clinton's chances of winning other red states are
also up: South Carolina (37.4%), Missouri (31.5%), Texas (26.7%), Mississippi
(25.9%), South Dakota (24.2%), Alaska (24.1%), Montana (24.1%), North
Dakota (22.1%), Utah (21.5%), Indiana (20.2%), . . . Kansas (14.5%), . . .
Arkansas (10.8%). Trump's most secure states are Oklahoma, Alabama, West
Virginia, and Idaho (96.4%).
David Ignatius: Why facts don't matter to Trump's supporters
Sean Illing: Donald Trump and the Tea Party myth: Why the GOP is now
an identity movement, not a political party
Mike Konczal: A new American radical liberalism can counter Trump
Daniel Politi: Marco Rubio: Pregnant Women With Zika Shouldn't Be Allowed
to Have Abortion: Just in case you think the Republicans should have
nominated a more sensible, better behaved presidential contender.
Greg Sargent: Even after Khan battle, Trump voters support ban on