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
Sunday, July 31. 2016
After the big post on the Democratic National Convention and the mad
scramble to wrap up July's Streamnotes, I figured I'd skip attempting a
Weekend Roundup today. I started this in the Notebook, then decided
what the hell, might as well share it. Tried to avoid adding comments.
Read the links at your leisure and the comments will probably be obvious.
One quote from these pieces I want to single out: from the Frum
article, a quote from an anonymous Trump supporter:
"The Putin thing. You think you've really nailed Donald with the Putin
thing. Get it through your head: Our people are done fighting wars
for your New World Order. We fought the Cold War to stop the
Communists from taking over America, not to protect Estonia. We went
to Iraq because you said it was better to fight them over there than
fight them over here. Then you invited them over here anyway! Then you
said that we had to keep inviting them over here if we wanted to win
over there. And we figured out: You care a lot more about the "inviting"
part than the "winning" part. So no more. Not until we face a real
threat, and have a real president who'll do whatever it takes to win.
Whatever it takes.
My emphasis. Funny thing is that the first time I heard "New World
Order" in the last decade -- I think the phrase goes back to people
in the first Bush administration, circa the first Iraq War -- was in
the house of a Trump supporter. He attributed it to Obama, and was
greatly bothered by the whole idea. Democrats are vulnerable to this
because they grew up in the internationalist tradition from Wilson to
Roosevelt to Johnson, and the Carters and Clintons and Obamas have just
sheepishly followed in line. It started just helping US companies do
business abroad, evolved into a protection racket for global capitalism,
and eventually became a self-serving monster, starting wars just to
punish countries for disrespecting our omnipotence. This never meant
anything to most Americans aside from the fears they were dictated,
but after Eisenhower beat Taft in 1952 the Republicans were always in
on the deal, so nobody had a chance to hear otherwise -- until Trump.
This is a big risk for Hillary: her political education has taught
her to always spout the Washington establishment's clichés and, if
pressed, always to hedge on the side of being more hawkish. Against
Trump, especially viz. Russia, she could easily convince people that
she's the dangerous maniac (as well as that she's weak -- not willing
to do "whatever it takes" because she's hung up on sensitivities to
foreigners and international law).
I also might have noted that on Saturday 538's
Who will win the presidency? showed Clinton and Trump dead even at
50.0%, with Trump enjoying a slight edge in electoral votes (269.4 to
268.2) but Clinton still leading the popular vote (46.3 to 45.5%, with
Gary Johnson at 6.9% and Jill Stein off the chart). Clinton's decline
nudged Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and New Hampshire into the Trump
column. On Sunday new polls bumped Clinton up to 51.0%, 270.2-267.4 in
the electoral college, 46.3-45.4% popular vote, but didn't tip any
states. Right now, the closest state is Pennsylvania, only D+0.8,
followed by Nevada R+0.9, Florida R+1.2, and Virginia D+1.2. Clinton
has been sinking since FBI Director James Comey's press conference
put the private email server issue to rest (at least the threat of
a possible indictment), so the RNC bounce had some prior momentum.
We're not seeing much of a DNC bounce yet -- at least it's not coming
as fast as what was taken as a RNC bounce did. (Silver footnote from
the article cited above: "Although interestingly, if you chart the
numbers, it's not easy to distinguish Trump's convention bounce from
a continuation of the previous trend toward him.")
Don't know if this has been factored in, but RABA Research's
post-DNC poll has Clinton ahead of Trump 46-31% (7% for Johnson,
2% for Stein), a big bump from their post-RNC/pre-DNC poll, which
Clinton led 39-34%. (Still, aren't the undecided remains awfully
large here? Seems like a lot of people don't want to face the choice
they've been given.)
Friday, July 29. 2016
The first day of the Democratic National Convention put the party's
best face forward. It featured Michelle Obama, a couple of prominent
senators who could have mounted credible campaigns for what Howard
Dean once called "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party" --
Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren -- but didn't dare run up against the
the Clinton machine, and one guy who did have the guts to try, and
who damn near won, because he had the issues and integrity to pose
a real alternative to the party's comfort with the status quo: Bernie
Sanders. It offered a glimpse of what might have been, and more than
hinted that Hillary Clinton might have learned something from Sanders'
I didn't see
Michelle's speech, which was by all accounts monumental.
I did catch bits of Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, and all of the
speeches by Warren and Sanders -- both superb, and in the former's
slam on Trump and the latter's mapping of his agenda to her platform
more than she could have hoped for. Could be that if the occasion
presents itself she's opportunistic enough to slide to the left. At
least in presenting this night she showed some recognition that she
understands what the Democratic base wants. Not that she didn't keep
three more days open to pander to the donors.
One retrospectively nice thing about the first night was that I
didn't hear a single mention of foreign policy, war, America's vast
military-security-industrial complex, and all the mayhem that they
have caused. This is odd inasmuch as those issues weigh heavily in
any comparison between Sanders and Clinton, but expected in that
they still loom as major differences. It's not so much that Sanders
has promised much change from fifteen years of "war on terror" --
the self-perpetuating struggle to shore up American hegemony over
a part of the world which has suffered much from it -- as that
Clinton's instinctive hawkishness promises even more turmoil as
far out as anyone can imagine. Of course, the jingoism would come
back in subsequent nights, but for Monday at least one could hope
for a world where such things would no longer be worth fretting
I skipped the second night completely, including
Madeleine Albright's neocon horror show and
Bill Clinton's soggy valentine valentine ("not quite first-spouse
Also missed the third night when Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and Barack Obama
spoke. I gather that Obama spoke in his usual mode, as a pious Americanist,
a super-patriot proud of his country's deep liberal roots, validated by
his own elevation to the presidency. He may not have reconciled Republicans
and Democrats in the real world, but he's unified us all in his own mind,
and that's such a pretty picture only those with their heads implanted in
their asses can fail to take some measure of pride. Even if he hasn't
fully convinced the talking heads of the right, hasn't he at least made
it ludicrous for people like Trump and Cruz and Ryan to argue that they
can "bring us together" in anything short of a concentration camp?
I paid even less attention to
Hillary Clinton's speech, which I gather was superbly crafted
and broadly targeted.
Josh Marshall faulted her for not weasel-wording enough on
immigration -- after all, Trump already set the bar on that issue
awfully low. Paul Krugman tweeted: "I keep talking to people
asserting that she'll 'say anything,' but last night she clearly
only said things she really believes. Socially (very) liberal,
wonkish with center-left tilt on economic and domestic policy,
comfortable with judicious use of military power. So, do we
people realize that HRC's speech didn't involve any pandering
at all? It was who she is." Either that, or Krugman's fooled
himself into thinking he's looking at her when he's looking in
But rather than ruminating more on this -- at some point I
do have to just post what I have and catch up with what I missed
sometime later -- let me point you to a long piece on the many
complaints people have had lodged against her since she came to
prominence in 1992:
Michelle Goldberg: The Hillary Haters. Goldberg comes up with
a long list illustrated by real people: "She strikes me as so
programmed and almost robotic"; "She is disingenuous and she lies
blatantly"; "I think she's more of a Republican than a Democrat";
"If I could make her a profit she'd be my best friend"; "She is
a sociopath"; "She feels like she's above the law, and she's above
us peasants." Reading this list (and the article that expands on
them) I'm not sure which I'd rather argue: for one thing, none of
these strike me as particularly true, but even if they were true
they don't strike me as good reasons not to vote for her (at least
given the Republicans she's run against). On the other hand, the
Goldberg line that the editors pulled out as a large-type blurb --
"Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices" --
does strike me as being at the root of much opposition to her (and
also helps explain why some people, and not just women, like her
so much even when they disagree with much of her policy record).
I had rather high hopes for Bill Clinton after his 1992 campaign,
which were quickly diminished after he cozied up to Alan Greenspan
and capitulated to Colin Powell and sunk ever lower pretty much
month by month over eight years. By 1998 I would have voted to
impeach him, not because I cared about the Republicans' charges
but because I was so alarmed by his bombings of Iraq and elsewhere,
acts I considered war crimes (even if I didn't fully comprehend
how completely they set the table for the Bush wars that followed).
Even so, I thought he might redeem himself after leaving office,
much as Jimmy Carter had done. However, it's been hard to see his
Foundation as anything other than the vehicle for a political
machine, one intent on returning him to power through proximity
to his wife. My view was influenced by the fact that through the
1980s most of the women who had become governors in the South
were nothing more than proxies for their term-limited husbands.
Nor had I ever been a fan of political dynasties, a view that
became all the more bitter after the Bore-Gush debacle.
Of course, Hillary was different from all those other Southern
governors' wives, and I recognized that -- even admired her at
first, a view that diminished as her husband got worse and worse
but never quite sunk so low. Still, her own record of policy and
posturing in the Senate, as Secretary of State, and campaigning
for president, never impressed me as especially admirable -- and
sometimes turned out to be completely wrong, as with her Iraq War
vote. Given a credible alternative in 2008 -- one that would break
the tide of nepotism and dynasty building, and one that offered
what seemed at the time like credible hope -- I supported Obama
against her. Of course, I was later disappointed by many things
that I thought Obama handled badly -- all too often noticing folks
previously associated with Clinton in critical proximity -- but I
also appreciated how much worse things might have been had a wacko
warmonger like McCain or an economic royalist like Romney had won
instead. Again this year I found and supported an alternative to
Hillary -- one I felt could be trusted to stand up to the Republicans
without degrading into what I suppose we could call Clintonism. In
the end, she wound up beating Sanders, something I don't ever expect
to be happy about. But we're stuck with her, and all I can say is
that we owe it to her to treat her honestly and fairly. Which means
rejecting all the mean, vicious, repugnant, and false things people
and pundits say about her, while recognizing her limits and foibles,
and resolving to continue saying and doing the right things, even if
doing so challenges her. After all, what really matters isn't whether
we're with her. It's whether she's with us. That's something she's
actually made some progress towards this week -- not that she doesn't
still have a long ways to go.
George Zornick: Welcome to the 2016 DNC, Sponsored by Special Interests:
Points out that these are the first presidential conventions since 1968
for which there is no government financing, leaving the parties at the
mercy of private donors and loose regulations.
The Atlantic is doing daily coverage of the DNC, with
lead-in pieces and lots of short notes from their many writers. See
Day 1: Bernie Gives in to Hillary,
Day 2: The First Lady to Become the Nominee,
Day 3: Obama Endorses Hillary as America's Best Hope,
Day 4: Hillary Clinton Begins Building Her Coalition. The comments jerk
in and out of chronological sequence, some are scattered and many are trivial,
but they probably give you as thorough an idea of what's happened as sitting
on a cable new station (or surfing between them whenever anything annoying
happens, which is often).
Molly Ball: The Long Fall of Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The Sanders
campaign has been feuding with the Democratic Party Chair since she
tried to stack the debate schedule to ensure minimum press coverage.
Her bias was unsurprising given how effective the Clintons were at
clearing the field of potential challengers, and of course became
even more obvious with last week's Wikileaks dump of her emails, but
she would probably have been dumped anyway.
Few Democrats will miss Wasserman Schultz, who was widely seen as an
ineffective leader. She was a poor communicator whose gaffes often
caused the party headaches; a mediocre fundraiser; and a terrible
diplomat more apt to alienate party factions than bring them together.
"Only Donald Trump has unified the party more," Rebecca Katz, a
Democratic consultant who supported Sanders in the primary, told
me wryly. [ . . . ]
The litany of Wasserman Schultz's offenses during the primary was
familiar to supporters of Sanders and other Clinton rivals: scheduling
debates at odd times, shutting Sanders out of the party's data file,
stacking convention committees with Clinton supporters. But her tenure
was rocky long before that -- in fact, within a month of her being named
in 2011 to finish the term of Tim Kaine, who had just been elected to
the Senate, Democrats were starting to grumble about her. When her term
ended after Obama's reelection, there was more sniping about her leadership,
and Obama's advisors urged him to bring in someone new, but Wasserman
Schultz made it clear she wouldn't go without a fight, according to
reports at the time and my sources inside the DNC. And so the White
House chose the path of least resistance and kept her in.
"Good fucking riddance," one former top DNC staffer during her tenure
told me of Wasserman Schultz's ouster. "But she was convicted for the
wrong crime." Critics charged that Wasserman Schultz treated the committee
as a personal promotion vehicle, constantly seeking television appearances
and even urging donors to give to her personal fundraising committee. A
different former staffer went so far as to compare her personality to
Donald Trump's, describing a "narcissism" that filtered everything through
her personal interests.
The larger issue, many Democrats told me, was the White House's lack
of concern with the health of the party, which allowed the DNC to atrophy.
"There's a lot of soul-searching and reckoning to be done going forward
about the role of the party," Smith said. Obama won the nomination by
running against the party establishment, and once he got into office
converted his campaign into a new organization, Organizing for America.
It was technically a part of the DNC, but in reality served as a rival
to it that redirected the party's organizing functions, effectively
gutting its field operation. The weakened DNC bears some of the
responsibility for the epic down-ballot losses -- in Congress, state
offices, and legislatures -- that have occurred during Obama's presidency.
"The president doesn't give a shit about the DNC, and he's the only
one with the leverage to do something about it," said Jamal Simmons, a
Democratic consultant and commentator who has advised the DNC. "Barack
Obama made it abundantly clear that he didn't care about the DNC, so
why have that fight?" [ . . . ]
The irony to many of Wasserman Schultz's critics was that if she was,
in fact, trying to "rig" the primary for Clinton, she didn't do it very
well, and by antagonizing Sanders supporters she might have even helped
power Clinton's opposition. "She had lost trust from every corner of the
party," said Mo Elleithee, a former communications director for the DNC
under Wasserman Schultz. "Congressional Democrats had lost trust in her,
the White House had lost trust in her, the Clinton campaign was rapidly
losing trust in her. So once she started to lose the grassroots, which
was her only strength, she had nothing left."
Timothy B Lee: DNC email leaks, explained: A fair introduction to
the Wikileaks dump of some 20,000 DNC emails. Key lines: "The email
trove contains some embarrassing revelations but no bombshells"; "The
hack included a lot of donors' personal information"; and "There's
significant evidence linking the attacks to the Russian government."
I'm not so sure about the latter point, which has been repeated so
many times that it's turning into an assumption -- see, e.g.,
Patrick Tucker: Was Russia Behind the DNC Hack? and
Isaac Chotiner: Is the DNC Hack an Act of War?. It's easy to be
sloppy here because anti-Russian prejudice is such a well-practiced
art in Washington that it's almost second nature. (For instance, we
routinely hear that Putin is a dictator, even though he's in power
by virtue of having clearly been elected in competitive contests.
Also, Putin is easily charged with being the aggressor in places
like Georgia and Ukraine -- ignoring that the US engaged in covert
campaigns in both to turn governments there against Russia.) It's
easy to imagine that Democrats jumping on the opportunity to blame
Russia -- it certainly helps distract from the embarrassments in
the emails itself, and it's the sort of rhetoric that Americans
have long fallen for. The big problem here is that the US seems
hell-bent to resurrect some sort of Cold War against Russia, as
seems clear by the steady advance of NATO forces toward Russia's
borders and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions on
Russia's already depressed economy. Given all this, it's pretty
easy to imagine Russia "striking back" via cyberwarfare -- after
all, the US is already heavily invested in that sort of mischief.
On the other hand, the stakes -- chiefly embarrassing the already
discredited Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- are pretty low.
On the other hand, this gives Democrats who have already shown
a knack for Putin-baiting an opportunity to rehash the supposed
ties between Putin and Trump, which must be true because Trump
hasn't shown much relish at joining in on the Putin-bashing as
have the Democrats -- one of the few areas where Trump has been
significantly less crazy and reckless than Clinton. Possibly the
most extreme statement of this is
Franklin Foer: Putin's Puppet:
Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West -- and that plan looks
a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing
populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France,
well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign
alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier
Silvio Berlusconi, who profited "personally and handsomely" from Russian
energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it.
[ . . . ]
There's a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of
politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away
from NATO. He's been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in
Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. [ . . . ]
Donald Trump is like the Kremlin's favored candidates, only more so.
He celebrated the United Kingdom's exit from the EU. He denounces NATO
with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump's
devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish
enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump's statements of
praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion.
[ . . . ] Still, we should think of the Trump
campaign as the moral equivalent of Henry Wallace's communist-infiltrated
campaign for president in 1948, albeit less sincere and idealistic
than that. A foreign power that wishes ill upon the United States has
attached itself to a major presidential campaign.
Most of this is fantasy stitched into conspiracy -- not that I doubt
that Putin has pitched some money at right-wing (ultra-nationalist)
political movements in Europe, but Russians got a raw deal in the '90s
when they opened their doors to capitalism, leaving them defensive and
nostalgic for a leader that demanded more respect. One can argue whether
he is one, or whether he's succumbed to the corruption of the Yeltsin
era, or whether his occasional flex of muscle is productive, but it's
absurd to claim he intends to destroy Europe and America, and even more
so to think he can do so by cyberhacks -- especially ones that at most
reveal their victims to have been fools.
On the other hand, the neocon idea that they can push and prod a
nation with a staggering number of nuclear weapons into a powerless
little corner is dangerous indeed -- and that's what Clinton risks
by slipping into Cold War revanchism. As for Trump, he's demonstrating
a truism: that people and nations that do business together are less
likely to confront each other militarily. Indeed, the real distinction
between America's "allies" and "enemies" almost exactly correlates with
ease of doing business together -- which is why, of course, neocons are
so eager to impose sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran (and
why they turn a blind eye to the real Islamic state, Saudi Arabia,
and why they are so eager to quash Boeing's airliner deal with Iran).
For more on Trump's business dealings with Russia, see
Josh Marshall's initial post,
Jeffrey Carr's fact-check, and
Marshall's riposte. I do admit that all this leaves me with a serious
question: if Trump's business ties to Russia compromise his ability to
put his own finances aside and serve the interests of the American people,
what about the rest of his business interests? As I recall, the Kennedys
put all of their vast inherited wealth into blind trusts when they went
into politics. Wouldn't it be fair and reasonable to insist that Trump do
the same thing?
PS: Marshall later tweeted: "Everything else aside, let's stop
talking about 'red-baiting,' 'McCarthyism.' Russia's not a communist or
a left state. That's silly." Sure, there's no reason to think that Trump
has fallen under the spell of Bolshevism, but anti-Russian rhetoric both
before and after the fall of Communism has been remarkably consistent --
in both cases Russia is casually charged with plotting the destruction
of Europe and America, and motives are rarely discussed (mostly because
they would make one wonder "really?"). And today's Putin-baiting works
so effortlessly because yesterday's red-baiting so effectively greased
the slide. Moreover, although Russia may have moved from left to right
since 1990, America's unelected "security state" is still run by the
same people who cut their teeth on the Cold War, and who will to their
deaths view Russia as the enemy. Does anyone really think that the US
is surrounding Russia with anti-ballistic missile rings because we're
worried about oligarchy and corruption?
Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Could Hillary Clinton Become the Champion of the
99 Percent? The political winds have changed since the early '90s
brought the Clintons and their "blue dog" DLC coalition to Washington,
so opportunist that Hillary has always been, could she blow back the
other way? One thing that's happened is that as the right-wing "think
tanks" have lost touch with reality, left-leaning ones have matured --
the article here features Felicia Joy Wong of the Roosevelt Institute,
and also singles out long-time Clinton economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz
(who's moved steadily leftward since the '90s), whose Rewriting the
Rules of the American Economy is a full-fledged political platform.
Another thing is that Bernie Sanders nearly beat her running further to
the left than anyone previously imagined possible. Still, very little
here about Clinton:
To Wong, though, much of the hand-wringing about Clinton is beside the
point. People like to kibitz on the subject of who a politician "really"
is, to claim that some votes or statements or gaffes or alliances are
deeply revealing and others merely accidents, frivolities or improvisatory
performances. We isolate and label a politician's essence in the hope we
might predict with certainty how she'll behave in the future. But in Wong's
view, the question of who a politician is -- and above all who this
particular presidential candidate is -- is irrelevant. Her strategy is
to proceed in public as if the candidate is certain to rise to the occasion.
[ . . . ]
"After all," Wong said to me more than once, "she is unknowable. Nobody
can know her. I certainly can't know her. All I can go by is what is on the
public record, and who she's got around her. I'm sure I'll be disappointed
again. Over the next few months, we'll all be disappointed again. But I'm
only optimistic because there's evidence for me to be that way."
When people talk about Hillary as a "genuine progressive" I can't help
but scoff: where's the evidence, anyone? On the other hand, it has occurred
to me that the situation might nudge her in the right direction. I even
came up with a precedent, Woodrow Wilson: early in his administration he
oversaw a number of progressive reforms, even though he really didn't have
a progressive bone in his body -- he also adopted Jim Crow as federal
policy, started two fruitless wars with Mexico, blundered into the big
war in Europe, implemented the most draconian assault on civil liberties
in the nation's history, and was so ineffective in negotiating the end
of the war that he was soundly rejected both at home and abroad. Still,
if Wilson can be remembered as a progressive, maybe the bar isn't too
high for Clinton. Of course, you might argue that FDR was another one
who rose to progressivism because the circumstances dictated it.
Also along these lines:
Mark Green: Is Hillary Ready for a Progressive 'Realignment'?, and
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Hillary Clinton Can Become the Real Candidate of
Allegra Kirkland: Conservatives Stunned by How Much They Liked Obama's
DNC Speech: There's an old Mort Sahl joke where he quotes Charlton
Hesston as saying that he hopes his children will some day live in a
fascist dictatorship, then quips that if Hesston was more perceptive
he'd be a happy man today. One of the great absurdities of our times
is that conservatives have been so hateful to Obama, who has always
gone out of his way to embody and celebrate their most cherished and
most hackneyed myths. As I've said before, Barrack Obama is a man
whose conservatism runs so deep he's incapable of imagining a world
where Jamie Dimon isn't still head of JP Morgan-Chase. There has
never been a better "poster child" for the American Dream than him,
yet many self-proclaimed conservatives have insisted on attacking
him, insisting that he is perversely bent on destroying the very
nation had flattered him so by electing him president. That's never
been credible, but it's taken eight years and the counterexample of
Donald Trump for it to sink into these numbskulls.
Pundits who fundamentally disagree with the majority of Obama's
policies expressed grudging admiration for an optimistic speech
that praised America's inclusive democracy. It provided a stark
contrast to the ominous address about the threats facing the
United States that Donald Trump gave at last week's Republican
convention in Cleveland.
Some suggested that Obama's speech, which quoted the Declaration
of Independence and framed the U.S. as a "light of freedom, dignity
and human rights," did a better job at expressing conservative
values than Trump's did.
In some ways we're fortune that they were so dense. Give his
lifelong habit of sucking up to power and his earnest desire for
"bipartisan" solutions, there's no telling what "compromises" he
might have made had the Republicans not been so obstructionist.
His continuation of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his
revival of the war in Iraq and Syria, his expansion of loosely
targeted assassinations via the drone program, and his relentless
defense of America's secret police against whistleblowers have
been among the darket blots on his administration -- all cases
where Republicans have cheered him on and taunted him to do even
worse. Even today, Obama remains the last significant politician
supporting TPP. In time conservatives will appreciate what they
missed and lost -- much like today they hail the once-hated Harry
Truman for blundering his way into the Cold War. But their blinders
are a necessary part of their identity: whenever you look back at
American history for something inspiring, something to be proud of,
you necessarily have to embrace some aspect of liberal tradition.
What makes Obama such a great conservative is his liberalism, and
that's what they cannot abide, even less admit -- at least until
they've found themselves stuck with Trump, a convervative standard
bearer who promises to usher a smaller, poorer, meaner America --
and all he has to do is call it Great. That makes Trump the perfect
anti-Obama, logically the ideal candidate for everyone who bought
the anti-Obama vitriol of the last eight years. If some conservatives
are having second thoughts, maybe they're more perceptive than we
Shibley Telhami: Are Clinton's supporters to the right of Sanders's on
the Middle East? Hardly. Telhami has been polling on questions like
this for years:
Over the past few years, I have asked Americans about their attitudes
on American policy toward Israeli settlements. In a November 2015 poll,
49 percent of Democrats expressed support for imposing sanctions or
harsher measures on Israeli settlements. In a May 2016 poll, 51 percent
of Democrats expressed the same view (within the margin of error of the
Those expecting Clinton's backers to be less supportive of such
measures than Sanders's are in for a surprise: 51 percent of Sanders's
supporters wanted punitive measures imposed, and 54 percent of Clinton's
expressed the same opinion -- a statistical tie. In contrast, only 24
percent of Trump supporters voiced support for such measures.
Telhami asks a number of similar questions, again finding no real
differences between Clinton and Sanders supporters' views, so he asks
"why are candidates' rhetoric different when supporters' views are
similar?" He doesn't really answer this clearly, but two reasons seem
obvious to me: one is that Clinton has two levels of donors, and the
big shots -- the ones who kick in enough to get personal contact --
are rabidly pro-Israel, so they pull her in that direction; Sanders,
on the other hand, draws nearly all of his financing from his base,
so he leans that direction. But also, both Sanders and Clinton start
out exceptionally pro-Israel, partly because the Israel lobby has
become so hegemonic in Washington, partly because the very powerful
defense complex is so intertwined with Israel. Sanders is also Jewish,
and of an age when Israel was a much more attractive proposition.
Still, I would imagine that while there is no general difference in
opinion between Sanders and Clinton supporters, those who are very
concerned about the issue should favor Sanders -- if only because
Clinton has boxed herself into a hole from which she has effectively
committed to do nothing whatsoever to help resolve the conflict.
Sanders at least understands something that political expediency
doesn't allow Clinton to admit: that Palestinians must be treated
as human beings. This makes me wonder how many other issues there
are where Clinton supporters are well to the left of their
Clare Foran: Can Jill Stein Lead a Revolution? Nothing here suggests
to me that she can -- not that there's much here to suggest what she
stands for or why that matters -- it's mostly about Bernie supporters
who aren't reconciled to Hillary, a number that's likely to drop by
half come election day. The fact that Stein is in Philadelphia this week
suggests she realizes that the real forum for the left isn't her third
party effort -- it's the Democratic Party, which Bernie came close to
winning over, and even after Hillary's win is still where most of the
people "the revolution" needs do their business. Still, neither Foran
nor Jordan Weissmann (in
Jill Stein's Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is
Looking For) talk about the one idea that could make a difference,
which is to play up the fear that Hillary's hawkishness could be even
more self-destructive than Trump's brutishness, and that people who
believe that America should radically retrench from the ambition to
be the world's sole hegemon need to withdraw their votes from both.
That at least is an argument, one that needn't depend on the tired
homily that both sides are equivalent, and one that might scare or
shame Hillary enough that she makes an effort not to alienate the
large number of antiwar voters who otherwise see her as preferable
to Trump. Of course, Stein will still lose half of her sympathizers
on election day (as will libertarian Gary Johnson), just because
votes aren't worth so much that they have to be perfect.
Michelle Goldberg: The DNC Has Been a Rousing Success. So Why Am I
Terrified? Basically because she doesn't trust the American
people to do the sane thing:
One of the unofficial slogans of this election, at least among the green
room flotsam and millennial ironists on Twitter, is "nothing matters."
It's an expression of weary incredulity at each new Trumpian outrage
that should be the end of him but isn't. This election isn't a contest
of ideology. It's certainly not about experience or competence. It's
being fought at the level of deep, unconscious, Freudian drives. Trump
promises law and order, but he is the Thanatos candidate, appealing to
the people so disgusted by the American status quo that they're willing
to blow it up. Clinton is the candidate of dull, workmanlike order and
continuity. She once described herself as a "mind conservative and a
heart liberal," but her convention has almost been the opposite, with
the most liberal platform in decades married to a show of sunny, orderly
patriotism. "America is already great!" is as anti-radical slogan as can
be imagined. The question in this election is whether the forces of
stability are a match for those of cynical nihilism. This convention
has been, for the most part, impeccably choreographed. Will it matter?
That "mind conservative/heart liberal" thing tells me that she's
bought the conservative line hook and sinker: only conservatives
think that liberalism is an ailment of the heart, and only people
hopelessly mired in the past fail to recognize that conservatism
has become a form of mental derangement. (I would concede that a
conservative ethos is a good thing for a person to have, provided
you understand that it doesn't work for social/political/economic
matters. It's all good and well any person to be self-sufficient,
but as a society we need mutual respect, concern, and help.)
My own great fear is watching Hillary one-on-one in the debates
as Trump goads her into World War III.
On the other hand, see:
Jamelle Bouie: The Democrats Make Their Pitch to a New Silent
Majority. Not my favorite turn of phrase, but they started
making this pitch in 2012, when after four years when it seemed
like only the Tea Party could get media attention Obama won the
presidential election rather easily. (Still, only 57.5% came
out to vote in 2012, less than the 62.3% who voted in 2008 when
Obama won even more handily.) I'm less impressed by the Wednesday
lineup than Bouie is ("figures of authority -- all white men --
who in different ways sought to delegitimize Donald Trump and
persuade the most Republican-leaning whites with degrees to
switch sides and abandon the GOP") -- Leon Panetta, Admiral John
Hutson, Michael Bloomberg -- but they do suggest that a swath
of the establishment realizes they'd be better off with Hillary,
and not rocking the boat has much to do with that. I think it
is the case that an awful lot of Americans don't like to rock
the boat -- otherwise why would they have stuck with so many
losers for so long?
Plus a few shorts:
Harry Reid Wants Intelligence Agencies to Give Trump "Fake" Briefings
After Russia Comments: Because, I suppose, he's not misinformed
enough as it is.
No, Donald Trump Did Not Commit Treason When He Suggested Russia Hack
Clinton's Emails: Glad we cleared that one up.
David Frum: Donald Trump Has Turned the Republicans Into the Party of
Russia: Piling on, from the guy who coined the phrase "axis of
Ron Fournier: How TV Networks Can Force Trump to Release His Tax Returns:
"broadcast outlets need to apply pressure where it counts -- to Trump's
ego." Yeah, good luck with that. But he would be exposing himself to huge
liability: I doubt if anyone who makes that kind of money from as many
sources as Trump can file a tax return that doesn't have something dodgy
enough that it can't be turned into a federal case on close inspection.
Then there's the suspicion that he's not actually making that much money
and not worth nearly as much as he claims.
Uri Friedman: What If Russia Invaded the Baltics -- and Donald Trump
Was President? My first reaction is if Trump was president we'd have
far worse problems. But what do they want him to do? Start WWIII?
Trump: You Know I Love the Disabled Because My Buildings Are Accessible:
Couldn't possibly be because federal law mandates accessability?
Peter Beinart: Bill Clinton's Lapse Into Trumpism: Actually just a
quibble over an unfortunate turn of speech, even if, like most gaffes,
it exposes mental rot underneath. On the other hand, Beinart trivializes
Trumpism by suggesting it's just about Muslims -- so Beinart matches one
gaffe with another.
Trump Jr.: Obama Plagiarized a Line From My RNC Speech! He further
asked, "where's the outrage?" The line was "This is not the America I
know." Turns out Obama had used the same line previously, so maybe
Trump Jr. is the plagiarist? But others have also used the line, or
close variants. Really not a very original turn of phrase -- just
another cliché, something political speeches (Obama's included) are
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Says That He Wants to Hit the "Little Guy":
Watching the DNC, all Trump can do is lash out: "I was gonna hit one guy
in particular, a very little guy" -- evidently fellow billionaire and
New Yorker Michael Bloomberg. LeTourneau suspects the cause was this bit
from Bloomberg's speech: "Throughout his career, Trump has left behind
a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry
shareholders, and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned
customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation
like he's run his business. God help us."
Tamara Draut: The new working class: Trump can talk to disaffected
white men, but they don't make up the "working class" anymore:
And, one might add, those who do got more urgent things to worry
about than immigrants and terrorists.
Andrew Kahn: How to Tell When Donald Trump Is Joking: Of course,
it's hard for people who find Trump utterly horrifying to distinguish
when he's merely being sardonic, as opposed, say, to when he's saying
something utterly horrifying. Would be easier if he were funnier but,
hey, not everybody is.
John Judis: Trump's very peculiar and unprecedented appeal to Bernie
Sanders' supporters: Evidently Trump has been taken in by some
of the dumbest political observers in the country -- the ones who
see the Trump and Sanders campaigns as parallel efforts by outsiders
to counter the deep corruption of American politics. So now he's
accusing Sanders of "selling his soul" and hoping that will deflect
his followers to the last outsider champion still in the race. In
fact, the campaigns have nothing in common, and Trump has no answers
for the problems Sanders identified. Still, amusing to watch him
Katherine Krueger: The Reviews Are In: Conservatives Say the DNC Was
'Disaster' for the GOP: As recounted in 14 tweets. Not sure that
constitutes a significant sample. Of course, she could have pointed to
David Brooks: The Democrats Win the Summer, but maybe that was
too long to read (or maybe she already knew better). Brooks quote:
"Trump has abandoned the Judeo-Christian aspirations that have always
represented America's highest moral ideals: toward love, charity,
humility, goodness, faith, temperance and gentleless. He left the
ground open for Joe Biden to remind us that decent people don't
enjoy firing other human beings."
Ezra Klein: This election isn't just Democrat vs. Republican. It's
normal vs. abnormal. Klein argues that "the Republican Party
has become an abnormal political party that has nominated an abnormal
presidential candidate," but maybe he should consider why. Since
Obama won in 2008, Republicans have done everything they could to
prevent the Democrats from delivering on their campaign promises,
repeatedly predicting doom if the Democrats succeed, yet during
that time the economy has gotten stronger, and almost everything
else has improved, at least relative to the eight previous years
when Bush was president. So the Republicans have to keep repeating
their narrative, even though it's long lost any tether to reality.
Consequently, Republicans have abdicated any claim to the status
quo, allowing the Democrats to take over the center (in addition
to being the only realistic haven for the left). For more, see
Have we stopped to appreciate how crazy Donald Trump has gotten
Greg Grandin: Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn't Learn During His
Time in Honduras: One of the blackest marks on Hillary Clinton's
tenure as Secretary of State was her support for a murderous coup in
Honduras. Kaine spent nine months in a Jesuit mission in Honduras,
learned Spanish, says that time "made him who he is." Those nine months
coincided with the CIA setting up the Contras in Honduras to wage war
against Nicaragua, also with targeted assassinations of Jesuits in El
Salvador, also backed by the US. "Kaine helps the Clinton campaign
transform Honduras from a real place, engaged in political struggle,
into an imaginary kingdom of banality."
Sunday, July 24. 2016
First, some leftover (or late-breaking) links on Donald Trump, Mike
Pence, and last week's Republican National Convention:
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Appetite for Destruction: That was the week that
was. Some highlights, but not necessarily the best jokes:
It wasn't what we expected. We thought Donald Trump's version of the
Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise
in Nazistic excess.
We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section
where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with
guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold
bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of "New York,
New York" while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building
a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed
to the start of Donald's acceptance speech . . .
But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird.
The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate
Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF
telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.
[ . . . ]
That the press seemed let down by the lack of turmoil on the streets
was odd, given that the Trump convention itself was, after all, a
Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had
defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar
insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political
destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history
of democracy was really a secondary issue.
It was a tremendous accomplishment that real-life conservative voters
did what progressives could not quite do in the Democratic primaries.
Republican voters penetrated the many layers of money and political
connections and corporate media policing that, like the labyrinth of
barricades around the Q, are designed to keep the riffraff from getting
their mitts on the political process.
But it wasn't covered that way. What started a year ago as an amusing
story about a clown car full of bumbling primary hopefuls was about to
be described to the world not as a groundbreaking act of defiance, but
as a spectacular failure of democracy. [ . . . ]
We could never quite tell what [Trump] was: possibly the American
Hitler, but just as possibly punking the whole world in the most ambitious
prank/PR stunt of all time. Or maybe he was on the level, birthing a weird
new rightist/populist movement, a cross of Huey Long, Pinochet and David
Hasselhoff. He was probably a monster, but whatever he was, he was
Then came Thursday night.
With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror
turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment's ankles. He spent
the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican
Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election
Day. [ . . . ]
But it wasn't new, not one word. Trump cribbed his ideas from the
Republicans he spent a year defaming. Trump had merely reprised Willie
Horton, Barry Goldwater's "marauders" speech, Jesse Helms' "White Hands"
ad, and most particularly Richard Nixon's 1968 "law and order" acceptance
address, the party's archetypal fear-based appeal from which Trump borrowed
in an intellectual appropriation far more sweeping and shameless than
Melania's much-hyped mistake. [ . . . ]
In the end, Trump's populism was as fake as everything else about him,
and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only
dumber and less plausible to the political center.
Which meant that after all that we went through last year, after that
crazy cycle of insults and bluster and wife wars and penis-measuring
contests and occasionally bloody street battles, after the insane media
tornado that destroyed the modern Republican establishment, Trump concluded
right where the party started 50 years ago, meekly riding Nixon's Southern
Strategy. It was all just one very noisy ride in a circle. All that
destruction and rebellion went for nothing. Officially now, he's just
another party schmuck.
Rick Perlstein: Mr. Trump, You're No Richard Nixon: Paul Manafort
promised that Trump's acceptance speech would be based on Nixon's 1968
speech, but as Perlstein says, "I've studied Richard Nixon. And you're
no Richard Nixon." He goes on to explain:
And, contra Manafort, there was a hell of a lot of "happy talk"
in Nixon's speech. That was the soul of its success. Nixon was fond of
a spiritual ideal he learned in his Quaker youth: "peace in the center."
This speech's very logic was saturated by it -- that a God-spark of
grace lay buried underneath America's currently, temporarily degraded
circumstances: the "quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting," heirs
to "world's oldest revolution, which will never grow old."
Sure, it was in some respects a rhetorical con: Nixon identified that
quiet voice with a certain type of American, the "good people,"
the "decent people; they work and they save, and they pay their taxes,
and they care." But his conception of this core -- which he later, with
a more snarling tinge, tagged the "Silent Majority" -- was considerably
more gracious than the angry, cornered victims, straining to lash out at
their tormenters, that Trump had in mind last night. Nixon stepped back
from that brink, granting them a charitable core and calling them to
further charity: "They know that this country will not be a good place
for any of us to live in unless it is a good place for all of us to live
in." Later, he said, "Just to be alive in America, just to be alive at
this time, is an experience unparalleled in history. Here is where the
Try imagining those words coming out of Donald Trump's mouth. Try to
imagine them getting the warm, extended applause that they got from the
Republicans of 1968. [ . . . ]
But the single most telling divergence between Trump's acceptance
speech and its Nixonian model, and the easiest to forget, comes down
to this: Nixon never said it would be easy. Trump says nothing
else. It was the theme of his convention.
Nixon: "And so tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning.
I do not promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination,
eliminate all danger of war in the space of four or even eight years."
Trump: "I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that
today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end." (That was what the
teleprompter said. Trump spontaneously added, "and I mean very soon.")
"Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored."
Trump, again: "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS." (Again,
that was the teleprompter version; he added, "And we're going to defeat
them fast.") And then these words on the teleprompter -- "we must work
with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping
out Islamic terror" -- followed by his own hasty interposition: "Doing it
now, doing it quickly, we're going to win, we're going to win fast!"
[ . . . ]
It all came down to Donald Trump's own patented brand of alchemical
magic: turning coal into diamonds, bending steel with his mind. After
all, "Our steelworkers and miners are going back to work. With these
new economic policies, trillions of dollars will start flowing into
our country. This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The Strangely Quiet Streets of Cleveland: As
Taibbi pointed out in the piece above, protesters and counter-protesters
in Cleveland for the RNC were vastly outnumbered by journalists, many
evidently hoping for some street-fighting to fuel the notion that Trump's
1968 Nixon rip-off had some relevance to the real world. The fact is not
many people showed up, and nothing much happened.
One feature of American politics right now is a sensitivity to the
influence of the fringe. The campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders,
and the angry call-and-response of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives
Matter, have raised the possibility of new forces at work, and a popular
anthropology has followed. People like the young white nationalist writers
Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos have become ubiquitous, because they
fit the general story and because they suggest something new. But in
Cleveland the people who embraced the racial grievances of the Convention
were not the bearded conspiracists of the fringe but the delegates
David Frum: Donald Trump's Bad Bet on Anger: Compares Trump's speech
to Nixon's from 1968 and also mentions Pat Buchanan's in 1992, citing
Michael Barone's observation that "Buchanan would no nowhere in politics
because Americans aren't angry people, and they don't trust angry people
with power." That observation will certainly be tested this year.
But unlike Richard Nixon, Donald Trump is not speaking for a silent
majority. He is speaking for a despairing minority.
The range and reach of Trump's voice will be inescapably limited by
all the people he does not speak to. He does not speak to those rising
and thriving in today's America. He does not speak to entrepreneurs and
business owners. He does not speak to people who work in creative
industries or the sciences or technology. He does not speak to those
who feel emancipated by the lifting of inherited cultural and physical
limits. He does not speak to those who feel that this modern age, for
all its troubles, is also a time of miraculous achievement and
I've compared Donald Trump to William Jennings Bryan, who forfeited
the chance in 1896 to build an alliance of all those discontented with
industrial capitalism because he only truly felt at home with rural
people -- and could not refrain from inflammatory language about cities
and city people. Tonight this comparison seems even more valid than ever.
Trump's right about the shock of globalization and the disruption of
migration. But it's not enough to be right to become president, as Henry
Clay famously quipped. You have to be right in the right way and at the
right time. You have to be the right messenger to carry the right message.
Actually, Trump's not even very right on "the shock of globalization
and the disruption of migration" -- those are fairly minor problems (to
the extent they are problems at all), ones that could have been handled
by more sensible policies and a greater commitment to a "safety net" to
help out those few people who were hurt. (Same for those unemployed coal
miners and their depressed communities, although their plight was caused
by something else entirely.) Still, one has to wonder how many people
actually believe the Republicans' endlessly repeated message of America's
economic and cultural and political decline under Obama. Compared to Bush,
I can't find a single objective indicator of such decline: the economy
has grown steadily, (as has been much commented on) crime rates continue
to decline, and the number of American soldiers killed or maimed abroad
is also down. Sure, none of these metrics are as good as they should be,
but much of the blame there belongs with the Republican stranglehold on
Congress (and so many state governments -- Wisconsin vs. Minnesota is an
especially telling example).
This is the first I've seen of the Bryan comparison, and there is
something interesting to it, but it's also a bit misleading. For one
thing, the two major political parties in the 1890s weren't polarized
by class like they are now: there were progressive movements in both
parties, struggling against oligarchic control of each. Bryan led a
revolt in the Democratic Party against extreme conservatives like
Grover Cleveland, and the conservatives got their revenge by throwing
the election to McKinley (something they repeated in 1972, and would
have been tempted to do this year had Sanders won). So, sure, it's
interesting that Bryan didn't have the temperament to rally urban
workers and blacks (most of whom voted Republican back then). And,
sure, neither does Trump, but one other similarity is that both
embraced simplistic and ultimately non-credible solutions: silver
for Bryan, and walls and barricades for Trump. Also, Bryan was a
heroically decent politician (not unlike McGovern later, but much
preachier), whereas Trump is a greedy self-centered asshole -- and
while the latter may be a better fit for our times, it's still not
clear how many people have sunk to his level.
Corey Robin: Check Your Amnesia, Dude: On the Vox Generation of
Punditry: Feedback from Trump's
foreign policy interview (which I wrote about last time) included a
tweet from Peter W. Singer: "It is the most irresponsible foreign policy
statement by a presidential nominee of any party in my lifetime." Robin
notes that "Barry Goldwater said the US should consider using tactical
nukes in Vietnam," but that was before Singer was born, so he concentrated
on various outrageous Ronald Reagan pronouncements. Robin goes on to make
some generalizations about "the Vox generation of pundits" that may (or
may not) be insightful (I'm not sure), but his "Update" is worth quoting.
There he's responding to Matt Yglesias attacking Trump for having "proven
time and again he's much too lazy to do the job." Robin responds with
four bullet items from Ronald Reagan, then adds:
Yglesias's complaint is a frequently heard among liberals. As Alex
Gourevitch reminded me, they said the same thing about George W. Bush.
Remember all those vacations he took? (879 days, or 30% of his time
But here's the thing: Ronald Reagan (or George W. Bush] wasn't
terrifying because he was lazy. Do we honestly think that if he had
worked harder he would have been less terrifying? When your entire
belief system is jackboots and smiles, it doesn't get less scary
because you work harder; the opposite, in fact. Honestly, I'm thankful
Reagan was as lazy as he was. God only knows how much more havoc he
might have wreaked had he been awake during those precious afternoon
Likewise, Donald Trump. The notion here is that if he had more
knowledge of the things he talks about, if he just worked harder at
his job, his positions would be moderated. Like Ted Cruz?
On the other hand, laziness at the top allowed those they had
(perhaps carelessly) appointed to lower positions to do considerable
damage (as bit Reagan in the HUD and Iran-Contra scandals, although
the machinations of Ed Meese's Justice Department were probably more
damaging in the long run; Bush may have been the primary instigator
of his war and terror regime, but he stocked his administration with
people who would not only go along but would push him further). There
is no reason to think Trump will pick better underlings. Exhibit A:
As for the rest of the world, some scattered links:
John Quiggin: Anti-militarism: A short piece on definitions.
My case for anti-militarism has two main elements.
First, the consequentialist case against the discretionary use of
military force is overwhelming. Wars cause huge damage and destruction
and preparation for war is immensely costly. Yet it is just about
impossible to find examples where a discretionary decision to go to
war has produced a clear benefit for the country concerned, or even
for its ruling class. Even in cases where war is initially defensive,
attempts to secure war aims beyond the status quo ante have commonly
led to disaster.
Second, war is (almost) inevitably criminal since it involves killing
and maiming people who have done nothing personally to justify this; not
only civilians, but soldiers (commonly including conscripts) obeying the
lawful orders of their governments.
Quiggin allows an exception for "humanitarian intervention" which is
neither well-developed nor well-critiqued. Most actual wars justified
on "humanitarian" grounds have turned out to have bad consequences --
Iraq and Libya are pretty clear recent examples -- often because the
motives of the "humanitarians" are never quite pure but also because
no amount of good intentions ever really compensates for the criminal
killing inextricably bundled into war. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky has
cited two wars that he approved of: India's 1971 war with Pakistan
which spun Bangladesh off as an independent country, and the 1999 UN
defense of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor against forced
annexation by Indonesia. Both resulted in independent states which
were not subsequently controlled or dominated by interveners -- which
isn't to say they didn't have their own reasons that were only loosely
cloaked in "humanitarian" rhetoric.)
Advocates of "humanitarian intervention" point to the high death
tolls in places like Rwanda where no military jumped in, or to Syria
now (although how anyone could think there's been no intervention in
Syria is way beyond me). The fact is that nobody knows whether fewer
people would have died in Rwanda had outside powers intervened, because
no one know what the effect would be of Euroamericans, with their long
histories of racism and colonialism, coming in and shooting up the
place, killing people on both sides ostensibly to keep them from
killing each other. Nor does anyone have any idea what the invaders
would have done after the shooting stopped (although with the US, UK,
France and others, the temptation would have been to set up shop and
recoup expenses; i.e., neocolonialism).
It's easy enough to conjure up a fantasy that some omnipotent foreign
force could march through Syria and end the civil war there by killing
anyone who resists (assuming, of course, you could keep all the other
foreign forces from supporting their own favorite factions), but would
such a force be willing to turn the spoils over to the Syrian people
and let them decide to do whatever they wished with their country --
just without the resort to violence. We've seen the US in a position to
do just that at least twice (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and neither time
the US was capable of even feigning neutrality. The odds the US might
do the right thing in Syria are even slimmer, given that the Americans
who plot wars (and imagine them to be humanitarian) already see Syria
as a microcosm of region- and world-wide rivalries with "enemies" like
Russia and Iran and both Islamist and secular (socialist) tendencies
in all Arab nations and "allies" having as many conflicting views and
aims as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, France, the UK, and
its former (but still reigning) emirates and vassals.
As Quiggin notes, we are now well into the hundredth anniversary of
the original Great War. The reaction to that horror was to demilitarize,
but that world was still driven by dreams of empire, and the inequitable
settlement left Germany hungering for another shot and Japan and Italy
thinking they were still on the rise, so there followed another, even
more devastating and frightful war, capped by the emergence of a bomb
capable of devastating whole cities in seconds. Again, nearly everyone
hoped to render war obsolete and impossible. Some measures were taken,
starting with declaration of a universal "rights of man" that if truly
honored would render the old reasons for war -- chiefly, empire and
plunder -- obsolete. It would be smart to revisit those ideas and try
to reinvigorate them. Because clearly piling one armed outrage on top
of another isn't working.
Matt Taibbi: Democrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons From Brush
With Bernie: This came out after the California and New Jersey
primaries in early June. I don't recall whether I saw it at the time,
but it's still timely with the Democratic National Convention up this
Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to
be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually
can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be
pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic
voters this year wasn't an organic expression of mass disgust, but
wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed
as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line.
Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to
voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the
rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of
self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. And the
narrative will be that with him out of the picture, the crisis is
over. No person, no problem.
This inability to grasp that the problem is bigger than Bernie
Sanders is a huge red flag. As Thacker puts it, the theme of this
election year was widespread anger toward both parties, and both the
Trump craziness and the near-miss with Sanders should have served
as a warning. "The Democrats should be worried they're next," he
But they're not worried. Behind the palace walls, nobody ever is.
Since then we have seen Sanders having some influence on the
Democratic Party platform, although many issues remained firmly
within Clinton parameters (Israel, for one). Clinton has even
moved a bit toward free college, but with numerous caveats. On
the other hand, picking Tim Kaine as her running mate showed no
desire to reward or even acknowledge Sanders' voters -- not that
Kaine is so awful, just that he offers nothing Clinton doesn't
Michael Tomasky: Can the Monster Be Elected? It may seem like I
should have filed this under Trump, but on the cover of The New
York Review of Books this was titled "Will She Win?" with a less
than flattering picture of Hillary Clinton. Inside it's nominally a
review of two books: John Sides/Lynn Vavreck: The Gamble: Choice
and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, and Christopher
H. Achen/Larry M. Bartels: Democracy for Realists: Why Elections
Do Not Produce Responsive Government, not that he has much to
say about either. Nor does he make a case that either candidate is
a monsters (although Trump, and for that matter Clinton, are vivid
enough you can confirm your own conclusions. Rather, his main argument
is that not much actually changes in an election. He points out, for
instance, that in December 2011 Obama was leading Romney in the polls
by four points, and eleven months later Obama won by the same four
points. "Nothing that happened seems to have made any difference.
[ . . . ] The whole race, and all those billions
of dollars spent on it, might as well never have happened." He
attributes most of this to polarization, the process by which most
people have locked themselves into one party/worldview regardless
of candidate. One could take such an analysis and argue that Trump,
at least, is something different, but Tomasky doesn't go there. He
sees Clinton winning, narrowly but solidly, for the usual reason:
there's just not so much so wrong that most people will risk such
a seemingly radical change. Indeed, Sides and Vavreck argue that
"Mitt Romney's crucial error was his relentless hammering away at
the terrible economy," because that message then strayed so far
from reality. Yet they don't draw the obvious conclusion, that
Trump is painting a far more extreme picture, even farther from
reality, and offering "solutions" that can hardly be described as
anything but magic. So for me a key question is why so many on
the left are so terrified by Trump. By all evidence, he is less
trigger-happy than McCain, and less of an economic royalist than
Romney -- those two were my idea of really scary candidates --
but he is racist like we've rarely seen in recent years, he seems
excited by violence, he has extraordinary delusions of grandeur,
but those are all things sensible candidates would ridicule, not
fear. Those who fear him seem to think he has some special yoke
on the white working class, a group they seem to fear and despise
as if they've been locked in a theatre and force fed Richard Nixon
speeches -- but also a group that they know New Democrats have
screwed over and abandoned, something they should feel guilty
Several pieces on Turkey:
Mustafa Akyol: Who Was Behind the Coup Attempt in Turkey? Argues
that it was, indeed, followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, so
Erdogan's insistence that the US arrest Gulen and turn him over to
Turkey isn't so far-fetched.
The Gulen community is built around one man: Fethullah Gulen. His
followers see him not merely as a learned cleric, as they publicly
claim, but the "awaited one," as I have been told in private. He is
the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the Messiah, who will save the
Muslim world, and ultimately the world itself. Many of his followers
also believe that Mr. Gulen sees the Prophet Muhammad in his dreams
and receives orders from him.
Besides Mr. Gulen's unquestionable authority, another key feature
of the movement is its cultish hierarchy. The Gulen movement is
structured like a pyramid: Top-level imams give orders to second-level
imams, who give orders to third-level imams, and it goes on like that
to the grass roots.
What does the group do? Its most visible activities include opening
schools, running charities that provide social services to the poor and
maintaining "dialogue centers" that preach love, tolerance and peace.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. I personally have spoken
many times at Gulen institutions as a guest, and met modest, kind,
But, as one disillusioned Gulenist told me last year, "there is a
darker side of the movement, and few of its members know it as it is."
For decades, the movement has been infiltrating Turkey's state institutions,
like the police, judiciary and military. Many believe that some Gulenists,
taking orders from their imams, hide their identities and try to rise
through these institutions in order to capture state power.
The Turkish army has long been a bastion of Kemalist secularism, but
Akyol argues that an alliance of Erdogan and the Gulenists effectively
purged the armed forces of secularists, and that the coup itself was
precipitated by Erdogan's efforts to purge the Gulenists from the
Dov Friedman: The Causes of the Coup Attempt in Turkey: A History of
the Usual Suspects: Much more on the history of Islamist movements
in Turkish history, including the 1997 "postmodern coup" which deposed
Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and send Fethullah Gulen
into exile. When democracy was restored, Erdogan's AKP rose to power,
and formed an alliance with the Gulenists to counter the secular bias
in the military and government bureaucracy. That alliance fell apart
The rift only widened. Gulen himself voiced criticisms of the government's
handling of the May 2013 Gezi protests, when the government's grip on power
momentarily appeared to wobble. In October of that year, the government
proposed legal changes to close university entrance exam prep schools --
a key source of Gulenist revenue and youth recruitment.
In December 2013, the Gulenists revealed evidence of large-scale
corruption that reached all the way to the highest ranks of the AK Party,
implicating Erdogan himself, his family, and key ministerial allies. The
attempted coup de grace failed. Erdogan survived the crisis and unleashed
a backlash of sustained intensity that continues to this day. He purged
Gulenist sympathizers from every part of the bureaucracy, closed Gulenist
media organizations, punished Gulenist-owned companies, and orchestrated
the insolvency and takeover of the formerly Gulenist-aligned Bank Asya.
Since this eruption, Erdogan has taken every opportunity to accuse the
Gulenist movement of functioning as an illegal parallel state subverting
institutions and engaging in terrorism.
Another factor here is the breakdown of peace talks with the Kurds,
increasing aggressiveness of the Turkish military against Kurdish forces
in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey's own rather schizophrenic approach to
Syria (promoting anti-Assad forces, allowing the US to bomb ISIS from
Turkey, trying to undermine Syria's Kurds, and finding itself targeted
by ISIS terrorists). It's just not clear how these factors play out,
in part because the main effect of the coup attempt has been to allow
Erdogan to greatly accelerate his power grab within Turkey.
Ever the opportunist, Erdogan has recognized an opening to amass the
formalized broad powers he seeks -- and long sought, even before the
failed coup. This is why the Erdogan loyalist-controlled judicial
appointments board sacked 2,745 judges within hours of the coup. The
government has been in the slow process of remaking the judiciary --
one of the last state institutions not entirely under thumb. The purges
have only deepened -- with more than 50,000 suspended or detained,
among them teachers, civil servants, and university administrators.
The AK Party government has accelerated the process in a way that
would not have been possible without the coup attempt.
Friday, July 22. 2016
I started this on day two of the Republican National Convention, and
it just kept growing as the writing came in. Still doesn't cover day four,
with Trump's monumental acceptance speech, very well, but you can kind of
fill that in given all you already know about Trump. Some late-breaking
Trump Just Rehashed Literally Every Feud He's Ever Had With Cruz,
John Nichols: If Trump's Speech Sounded Familiar, That's Because Nixon
Gave It First,
Charles Pierce: Donald Trump Sold Us Fear. Next Comes the Wrath,
Margaret Doris: And Then the Balloons Dropped, and Then the World Started
Coming to an End,
Nate Silver: Donald Trump Goes 'All-In.' How Will Clinton Respond?,
DD Guttenplan: The RNC Is a Disaster -- So Why Can't I sleep at Night,
Ben Cohen: The RNC Was Not the End of the GOP, It Was Its Rebirth as a Fascist
Andrew O'Hehir: After that diabolical, masterful performance, Donald
Trump could easily end up president, and
New Media Guru Clay Shirky Drops 'Stop Trump' Tweetstorm on White
Liberals. The latter posts may seem alarmist, but
538's Election Forecast has reduced Clinton's "chance of winning"
to 58.5% (from 77.2% as recently as on July 11). That suggests that
Trump did indeed get a bounce from the Convention, even though I can't
recall one that looked more haggard and repulsive. Actually, most of
that drop occurred before the convention, following the FBI's report
on Hillary Clinton's email server affair.
The links below come from a mix of left, liberal, and mainstream
sites -- I don't bother with anything on the far right, although my
wife has a weak spot for Fox News (especially on days most embarrassing
to the right), so I watched more of that than I would have if it were
up to me. In my youth, I used to watch party conventions gavel to
gavel, but haven't for many decades, especially as they became ever
more tightly programmed for propaganda effect. But also the coverage
has changed, so you have a lot more commentary on the side, fewer
interviews with delegates, and even some of the speeches get skipped
(in part because they've become ever more predictable). I did manage
to watch late-night coverage by Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers, much
of which could have been scripted before events -- not that I have
any reason to think they missed their marks.
One theme you'll see much of below is the notion that Donald Trump
is the vilest and scariest candidate any party has ever nominated.
Indeed, you'll find Wichita's own mild-mannered centrist Davis Marritt
describing the prospect of a Trump triumphant as "democracide." Or as
Seth Myers put it: "Donald Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort,
told reporters that, 'once Donald Trump is accepted by the American
people as someone who can be president the race will be over with.'
I assume he means the human race."
I can't think of any level on which I admire or even like Trump, but
I can't view him as uniquely apocalyptic. Rather, I think the rot has
been setting into the Republican Party for decades now, and any of the
sixteen original candidates would have been more/less equally atrocious.
In strictly policy terms most of the candidates were much worse than
Trump -- not that he's consistent enough to trust, but rigor made Cruz
perhaps the worst of all. And even in terms of personality and temperament,
I'm not not certain that Trump is worse than Carson or Jindal or Huckabee
or Santorum or even Chris Christie. Still, there is one area where Trump
stands out: he's given vent to, and effectively legitimized, racism to a
degree that no American politician, at least on the national stage, has
dared since George Wallace. And the effect of his example has been to
elicit the worst instincts in his followers -- indeed, diehard racists
from all around the world have flocked to his cause. He's especially
horrible in that regard, which would be reason enough to oppose him.
I doubt that even most of his followers back him there, although they
are the sort that can be amazingly blind to racial slurs, and he has
clearly earned points with them for refusing to back down any time he
offends the imaginary "code of political correctness" -- what we more
generally refer to as civil decency.
Then there is the charge that Trump is a fascist, or would be our
first fascist president. I don't think it took his Mussolini tweets
or his father's Hitler fetish to show that his temperament and belief
system leaned that way. There was, for instance, his endorsement of
street violence by his supporters, and his more general way with
hateful speech. And even before him segments of his party have been
obsessed with enforcing their notions of religious morality on the
population, and in undermining democracy -- both preventing their
opponents from being able to vote and allowing business interests to
flood campaigns with money and false advertising. Moreover, Trump's
expressed a desire for extraordinary powers, including the ability
to purge the government of Democrats. He hardly seems like someone
whose oath to "defend and protect the constitution" would be worth
Then there's his goal of "making America great again" -- a claim,
a project, that reeks of war and imperialism, although it is far
from clear how he intends to accomplish that, or even what he means.
(Clinton, on the other hand, will counter that "America has never
not been great," and will embrace American exceptionalism on her way
to continuing the same world-hegemonic ambitions of her predecessors,
even though the entire project has been patently absurd for decades
now. Trump may be less predictable and more dangerous because of his
combination of ignorance and petulance, but she is more certain to
continue the bankrupt policies of the last fifteen years.) For one
thing, he fancies himself more the dealmaker than the conquistador,
and sees America's interests as more economical than ideological.
However, there is one area of American life where near-totalitarian
power exists, and that is Trump's area: business. Not since the 1920s,
if ever, have businesses had more control over their employees than
they have now -- a fact that Trump has flaunted on his TV show given
the flourish with which he fires underlings who in any way displease
him. No doubt he will expect the same powers as President -- indeed,
his plans may depend on them -- and he will certainly promote them.
Anyone concerned about Trump's potential for fascism should start by
looking at the culture he comes from. Indeed, that culture is a rich
source of reasons why Trump should not be president.
Next week, we move on to the Democratic Convention, where Hillary
Clinton will be nominated as the only realistic alternative to Donald
Trump. One hopes that she will be able to present herself as a much
different person than Trump, and also that she will show that America
need not be the dystopia that fires the desire for a Führer like
Trump. That's going to be a tall order.
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he
shouldn't be president:
Back in May, E.J. Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering
Donald Trump would be "staying shocked." Watching him, day after day,
week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize
his behavior, "to move Trump into the political mainstream."
But today helped. Trump's introduction of Mike Pence was shocking.
Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the
mainstream for normal human behavior. [ . . . ]
Even when he did mention Pence, he often managed to say exactly the
wrong thing. "One of the big reasons I chose Mike is party unity, I have
to be honest," Trump admitted midway through his speech, at the moment
another candidate would have said, "I chose Mike because he'll be a great
president." Trump then segued into a riff on how thoroughly he had
humiliated the Republican establishment in state after state. Thus he
managed to turn Pence from a peace offering into a head on a pike, a
warning to all who might come after.
When Trump finally stuck to Pence, at the end of his lengthy speech,
he seemed robotic, bored, restless. He recited Pence's accomplishment
like he was reading his Wikipedia page for the first time, inserting
little snippets of meta-commentary and quick jabs as if to keep himself
The final humiliation was yet to come: Trump introduced Pence and
then immediately, unusually, walked off the stage, leaving Pence alone
at the podium.
When Trump initially picked Pence I was pretty upset. The one thing
I always gave Trump credit for was his rejection of the economic nostrums
that had were the bedrock of the conservative movement, that obviously
had proven so hurtful to the vast majority of the Republican base but
were locked into Republican dysfunction by the donor class. Yet picking
Pence tied him to the same program of devastation that his voters had
just rejected -- the only saving grace was that Pence seems never to
have had an original thought, unlike figures like Gingrich, Brownback,
and Cruz who have pioneered new ways of degrading America. But what I
hadn't realized was how utterly colorless Pence was -- Trump needn't
have denigrated him so, as he was quite capable of humiliating himself.
Indeed, in his speech he uttered the best joke line of the convention:
"Trump is a man known for his large personality, a colorful style and
lots of charisma, so I guess he was looking for some balance." Funny
line, but he made it seem pathetic.
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's nomination is the first time American politics
has left me truly afraid: I've always been more focused on policy, so
I found the extreme ideological neoconservatism of McCain and the equally
extreme ideological neoliberalism of Romney, combined with the eagerness
of both to kowtow to the neofascist Christian right, scarier than the
scattered heterodoxy and opportunism of Trump, but Klein crafts a pretty
strong case, with sections on (follow the link for details):
- Trump is vindictive.
- Trump is a bigot.
- Trump is a sexist.
- Trump is a liar.
- Trump is a narcissist.
- Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism.
- Trump is a conspiracy theorist.
- Trump is very, very gullible.
- Trump doesn't apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations.
- Trump surrounds himself with sycophants.
- Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy.
- Trump as run an incompetent campaign and convention.
- Trump is a bully.
- Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters.
Not specifically on the convention but on the candidate, see
Jane Mayer: Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All -- based on the
co-author of Trump's Art of the Deal, which he now feels would
be better titled Sociopath. (James Hamblin examines the evidence
for that claim in
Donald Trump: Sociopath?.) Mayer recounts Schwartz's attempts to
elicit information for the book from Trump:
After hearing Trump's discussions about business on the phone, Schwartz
asked him brief follow-up questions. He then tried to amplify the material
he got from Trump by calling others involved in the deals. But their
accounts often directly conflicted with Trump's. "Lying is second nature
to him," Schwartz said. "More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has
the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given
moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true." Often,
Schwartz said, the lies that Trump told him were about money -- "how much
he had paid for something, or what a building he owned was worth, or how
much one of his casinos was earning when it was actually on its way to
bankruptcy." [ . . . ]
When challenged about the facts, Schwartz says, Trump would often
double down, repeat himself, and grow belligerent. This quality was
recently on display after Trump posted on Twitter a derogatory image
of Hillary Clinton that contained a six-pointed star lifted from a
white-supremacist Web site. Campaign staffers took the image down,
but two days later Trump angrily defended it, insisting that there
was no anti-Semitic implication. Whenever "the thin veneer of Trump's
vanity is challenged," Schwartz says, he overreacts -- not an ideal
quality in a head of state.
Trump's response to this piece, unsurprisingly, has been to threaten
to sue Schwartz. See Mayer's follow-up,
Donald Trump Threatens the Ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal.
George Saunders: Who Are All These Trump Supporters?: Many anecdotes
in the article, including some about how some Trump supporters seem to
relish violence, but this is close to a fair definition:
The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time,
flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they
knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved
their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt
urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something
precious. They were, generally, in favor of order and had a propensity
toward the broadly normative, a certain squareness. They leaned toward
skepticism (they'd believe it when they saw it, "it" being anything
feelings-based, gauzy, liberal, or European; i.e., "socialist"). Some
(far from all) had been touched by financial hardship -- a layoff was
common in many stories -- and (paradoxically, given their feelings about
socialism) felt that, while in that vulnerable state, they'd been let
down by their government. They were anti-regulation, pro small business,
pro Second Amendment, suspicious of people on welfare, sensitive (in a
"Don't tread on me" way) about any infringement whatsoever on their
freedom. Alert to charges of racism, they would pre-counter these by
pointing out that they had friends of all colors. They were adamantly
for law enforcement and veterans' rights, in a manner that presupposed
that the rest of us were adamantly against these things. It seemed
self-evident to them that a businessman could and should lead the
country. "You run your family like a business, don't you?" I was asked
more than once, although, of course, I don't, and none of us do.
It seems like a lot of liberal writers have this fixed idea of
Trump's supporters as an ignorant, embittered white lumpenproletariat,
ground down by globalized business and lashing out at the blacks and
immigrants who they see as gaining from their misfortune and the
overeducated urban liberals who help them. (For example, see
Davis Merritt: The day of GOP's democracide arrives: "Consider
that [Trump] has drawn millions of votes from America's unhappiest,
most dispossessed people by inflaming their righteous grievances and
deepest fears for their future.") But in fact Trump's supporters are
relatively well off -- I've seen a study that indicates that their
average family income is about $20,000 over the national average.
Of course, some of that is that they're white and they're mostly
older, and both of those skew the median up. I see them as basic
conformists: the kind of people who get promoted at work not just
because they work hard but because they suck up to the boss and
adopt his worldview, as well as conforming to the time-tested
verities of faith and patriotism. Such people believe that they
earned their success, and that others could do the same if only
they conformed to the social order like they did. There's nothing
terribly wrong with this -- my recommendation for anyone who wants
to succeed in America is to adopt a conservative lifestyle -- but
several factors work to twist their worldview. One is that their
success isn't generalizable: their success, their promotions, etc.,
depend on bypassing other people, deemed less worthy mostly because
they are less able to conform. Second, these people tend to live
in homogeneous suburbs where they rarely encounter diversity --
of course, when they do see other kinds of people as human like
themselves, they make exceptions, but not often enough to shed
their generalizations. Third, they experience the distant world
through a media that is finely tuned to flatter themselves and
shock them with the horrors of the outside world -- especially
those that threaten their worldview.
That media, of course, is a key part of a political project
launched by the conservative business class in the 1970s, aimed
at making sure that as America declined in the world the pinch
wouldn't be felt by themselves. Richard Nixon came up with the
basic concept in what he called the "silent majority" and sought
to agitate them into becoming a loyal political force. Later,
under Reagan, they were rebranded the "moral majority." After
Clinton won in 1992 -- conservative economic ideas were already
proving to be disastrous for America's once vast middle class --
the media effort went into overdrive with its scorched earth
attacks on "liberal elites," and that only intensified after
Obama's win in 2008 (following the incompetence revealed in eight
disastrous years of Bush's aggressive conservative agenda). Many
of us have had no trouble rejecting this agenda, but much of the
targeted audience have bought it all, bringing electoral success
to a party which seems bound and determined to dismantle much of
the framework that makes our country and world livable. Saunders
has an explanation for this:
Where is all this anger coming from? It's viral, and Trump is
Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of
steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate
ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different
languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries
reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and
access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach
a castle. One of us has watched only "Monty Python and the Holy Grail,"
the other only "Game of Thrones." What is the meaning, to the collective
"we," of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it.
You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little
unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a "dove" and
a "hawk," say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs,
a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus
starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable,
limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational
universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our
existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms
do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with
spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional.
I don't get the castle example, but you can substitute many other
concepts/events and see clear divides -- torture comes to mind, as
I'm currently reading James Risen's Pay Any Price. Still, the
left/right breakdown doesn't depend solely on one's chosen ideological
envelope: one chooses that envelope based on other factors, perhaps
most importantly whether you can see yourself or can empathize with
the victim of some act. The RNC made it very clear that Republicans
are deeply moved by violence against police, yet their only concern
about police who kill unarmed black is the racism they perceive in
the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
For an example of how absurd
this can get, see
Kansas Senate president: Obama 'has stoked the fires of anger and
hostility' toward police. Susan Wagle is rarely the dumbest
Republican in Kansas, yet she took the prize this time attempting
to reap political gain from a tragic shooting. Of Obama, she said:
"He's our national leader. We take his responses very seriously,
and I think his role should be one of being an encourager for
people to get along and for people to build relationships and
for police to be fair in their treatment of all people and for
the public to appreciate their role in our communities." It's
obvious to me that that's exactly what he's always done, yet
she refuses to recognize that and goes further to accuse him
of the opposite, based on absolutely nothing but her visceral
hatred of the man. That sort of carelessness about facts and
views and the motives of people is endemic in her party.
Christine Aschwenden: There's Probably Nothing That Will Change Clinton
or Trump Supporters' Minds: Another iteration of Saunders' conclusions
(with gratuitous equivalencies about Clinton -- the author is evidently
one of those "both sides do it" middle-of-the-roaders):
To his ardent supporters, Donald Trump is an exemplar of power and status.
Donald Trump is going to make America great again. He'll put America First.
He refuses to be silenced by the thought police. He's so rich, he can't be
bought. He speaks his mind. He'll get the job done.
To those who oppose him, he's a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic
buffoon. Repeated lies, racist statements and attacks on women have led
many people, including some prominent conservative donors, to conclude
that Trump is unfit to be president, yet these missteps don't seem to
bother his supporters much. Trump told a campaign rally in January that,
"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I
wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's incredible."
Trump's claim might seem like an exaggeration, played up for drama,
but research suggests that once people board the Trump train, there's
little that can prod them to jump off. (You could probably say something
similar about Hillary Clinton supporters.) As much as we like to think
that we use reason to evaluate evidence and come to conclusions, "It
really goes back assward, a lot of times," said Peter Ditto, a psychologist
at University of California, Irvine. "People already have a firm opinion,
and that shapes the way they process information." We hold beliefs about
how the world works and tend to force new information to fit within these
There's also this, which reminds me of Goebbels' "big lie" principle:
Detractors shake their heads over Trump's habit of repeating lies that
have already been publicly debunked. (PolitiFact has documented at least
17 times when Donald Trump said one thing and then denied it, and they've
found that only five of the 182 Trump statements they evaluated were true,
while 107 of them were false or "pants on fire" false.) But this strategy
might not be as foolish as it seems. Work by political scientists Brendan
Nyhan and Jason Reifler has shown that once an incorrect idea is lodged
in someone's mind, it can be hard to overturn and corrections can actually
strengthen people's belief in the misperception via the "backfire effect."
When presented with information that contradicts what they already believe
about controversial issues or candidates, people have a tendency to
counterargue. They draw on the available considerations, malign the source
of unwelcome information and generate ways to buttress the position they
are motivated to take. As a result, they can end up becoming surer of
their misconceptions, Nyhan said.
Jeff Carter: Terrifying politics aside, let's take a moment to lavish in
the supreme weirdness of the RNC spectacle:
Say what you will about Donald Trump's almost infinite ignorance about
every issue confronting the country, there is nobody, absolutely and
unequivocally nobody, who can stage a Trump adore-a-thon better than
Donald Trump. It's going to be huge! The best convention ever convened!
The best speakers ever gathered! It will have the best platform ever
conjured forth by a political party (not that Trump will ever read it
or know what's in it, but it'll be great!). Xenophobes, Klansmen, White
Nationalists, misogynists, Birthers and other Republican constituency
groups will be gathered as one to sing hosannas to Donald Trump.
Heather Digby Parton: Fear and loathing of Clinton:
After Melania Trump left the stage people began filtering out of the hall
since she'd been billed as the main attraction but the speeches went on
and on afterwards with a bizarre, rambling speech from retired general
Michael Flynn that sounded like it too was plagiarized -- from "Dr.
Strangelove." Senator Joni Ernst spoke to a hall that was two thirds
empty and there were even more people speaking late into the night after
she was done. For a convention that was supposed to be showbiz slick,
the first night certainly had a haphazard feeling to it.
Tierney Sneed/Lauren Fox: Gloomy Old Party: GOP Clings to Themes of Threats,
Violence, and Betrayal:
The night's other prevailing theme -- besides America is going to hell --
is that Hillary Clinton is going to prison.
"Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president. We all know she loves her
pantsuits. Yes, you know what's coming. We should send her an e-mail and
tell her she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit," said Colorado Senate
candidate Darryl Glenn, merging two of the GOP's favorite Hillary memes
Later in the night the convention crowd broke out into chants of
"lock her up."
The rhetoric provided a theme around which the fractured Republican
Party could rally. They may not all see Trump as their white knight,
but they were united in fear about the state of the world and the country.
Incarcerating Clinton may actually be a minority position among GOP
delegates. There is, for instance, this:
Trump Adviser: Clinton Should Be 'Shot for Treason' Over Benghazi
Attack. But really, judging from the tone of the speakers and
the crowd chants, many won't be satisfied until they see her head
on a spike. And while Trump is amazingly quick to recant any time
he says something that offends conservative orthodoxy, he has never
shied away from his followers' penchant for racism and violence,
The Trump Campaign Is Now Wink-Winking Calls to Murder Clinton:
Calls for violence or the killing of a political opponent usually spurs
the other candidate to totally disavow the person in question. Frankly,
it's a pretty new thing for a prominent supporter of a prominent politician
to call for killing opposing candidates at all. But the Trump campaign is
still "incredibly grateful his support" even though "we don't agree" that
Clinton should be shot.
Emily Plitter: Trump could seek new law to purge government of Obama
appointees: When I first read this headline, I wondered whether
Trump was jealous of Turkish president Erdogan, who has started a
massive purge of the Turkish military and bureaucracy to get rid of
anyone who had gone along with the coup attempt (or more generally,
anyone hostile to the ruling AKP party). Turns out this is more
focused at a small number of appointees whose jobs are reclassified
as civil service. Still, such a law would be a step toward such a
purge, and could be used to further politicize the civil service --
as, e.g., GW Bush did when he fired a couple dozen federal prosecutors
who weren't adequately following his partisan program.
Lauren Fox/Tierney Sneed: 'I Feel Like I Am Living a Dream': The GOP
Convention From the Inside:
[Mary Susan Rehrer, a delegate from Minnesota] said she was floored so
many in the media had walked away from Monday night's convention with
the similarities between Melania's speech and Michelle Obama's in 2008
as their headline.
"I'm in business, OK, and I speak for a living as one of the things
that I do. All the best stuff is stolen and there is nothing original,
so it's all hocus pocus," Rehrer said. "We're supposed to share."
Daniel Victor: What, Congressman Steve King Asks, Have Nonwhites Done
for Civilization?: From one of those panel discussions that have
filled up the airways during the RNC, this one on MSNBC chaired by
Chris Hayes with Iowa Rep. King as the only far right voice:
"If you're really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that
old white people would command the Republican Party's attention, its
platform, its public face," Charles P. Pierce, a writer at large at
Esquire magazine, said during the panel discussion.
In response, Mr. King said: "This whole 'old white people' business
does get a little tired, Charlie. I'd ask you to go back through history
and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these
other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any
other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"
"Than white people?" Mr. Hayes asked.
Mr. King responded: "Than Western civilization itself that's rooted
in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and
every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That's
all of Western civilization."
I see this mostly as an example of how Trump's ascendancy has loosened
the tongues of white supremacists. But I can't say as it's helpful to
have their opinions freely expressed again -- and make no mistake that
such opinions had a long run as freely spoken, to extraordinarily cruel
effect. But even if his assertion is true -- and you can't say "western
civilization" without conjuring up, at least in my mind, Gandhi's quote
that "that would be a nice idea" -- what does King think that means?
That white people deserve due respect? Sure. That white people are
entitled to special privileges in our democracy? Not really. I think
that Pierce is wrong: that white Republicans would rather go down with
the ship than diversify, clinging to their control of "red states" even
if they cease to be competitive nationally. Of course, a different kind
of Republican Party could incubate in "blue states" but it's hard to
see how they gain traction after the party has so totally succumbed to
conservative extremism. If the core idea of Republicanism is to help
rich business interests against labor and the poor, that isn't a very
promising platform on which to build a political majority: that's why
they've had to resort to racism, religious bigotry, and militaristic
jingoism in the first place. What else do they have?
Article includes several reaction tweets. My favorite, not included,
is from Jason Bailey: "Steve King must have the shittiest iTunes
Scott Eric Kaufman: Ted Cruz refuses to endorse Trump: To quote
him: "Vote your conscience, for candidates you believe will be faithful
to the Constitution."
Mario Rubio also tiptoed through his speaking slot without offering
a Trump endorsement, while
Nikki Haley offered a "tepid semi-endorsement." Other GOP luminaries
didn't bother to attend, especially Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was
reportedly offered the
vice-president slot and who could have justified attending just to
promote home-state business, also the Bush clan. But Cruz was widely
reviled afterwards, although I don't see how imploring folks to "vote
your conscience" implicates one who has none. My main question about
Cruz (and for that matter Kasich) is why if he's so adamantly opposed
to Trump did he fold up his tent after losing Indiana? Surely there
were still Republican voters, especially in California, prepared to
resist Trump? The most likely reason is that his billionaire backers
pulled the plug, and he was so totally their creature he didn't have
the guts to continue on his own. Aside from Trump and Carson, that
was the situation with all the Republicans: they ran because they
lined up rich backers, and quit as soon as the money ran dry. Bernie
Sanders, on the other hand, could hang on to the bitter end because
his supporters backed his program, rather than looking for an inside
track on favors if he won.
Martin Longman, by the way, saw the Cruz speech thus:
I Thought Trump Sabotaged Cruz. He makes a pretty good case that
Trump, who had seen the speech two hours before, timed the disruption
to highlight Cruz's treachery, even if it turned him into a martyr:
In other words, he simply didn't say anything at that particular point
in the speech that would logically inspire a spontaneous stomping protest
of outrage. On the other hand, if you had read the speech ahead of time
and were planning to boo Cruz off the stage, that was the logical point
to do it. It was the point in which he failed to say the magic words.
That was knowable with the speech in hand, but not knowable if you were
just listening to the speech and had no idea what was coming next or how
it would end.
To me, it's clear that Trump coordinated the whole thing, told the
New York delegation when to protest, timed his entrance for just that
time, prepped his running mate and others to have their talking points
ready, and "loved" the result, as he said.
David E Sanger/Maggie Haberman: Donald Trump Sets Conditions for Defending
NATO Allies Against Attack: Details Trump's latest pontifications on
foreign policy, which among other things questioned why the US should foot
much of the bill for NATO.
"This is not 40 years ago," Mr. Trump said, rejecting comparisons of his
approaches to law-and-order issues and global affairs to Richard Nixon's.
Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around
the world, he said, "We are spending a fortune on military in order to
lose $800 billion," citing what he called America's trade losses. "That
doesn't sound very smart to me."
Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely
in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear
deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human
rights and as a guarantor of allies' borders were each quickly reduced
to questions of economic benefit to the United States.
The neocons went beserk over this, with
John Bolton, and
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prominent. (Trump flack
Scott Brown assures us there's nothing to worry about because Melania
"is from that region.") More worrisome to me is that counterattacks have
also sprung up among liberals (as opposed to the left, as they frequently
are): e.g., in TPM
Sara Jerde: The 3 Most Dangerous Things Trump Said in Bonkers NYT Foreign
Policy Interview. I don't doubt that the interview was bonkers, but
what's so dangerous about these three things? -- "America's role in
assisting NATO allies," "Reining in US bases abroad," and "Solving Islamic
State unrest through 'meetings'"? In the first place, the US has never
actually assisted any allies through NATO. The US uses NATO to threaten
Russia, exacerbating tensions that could more easily be reduced through
neutrality, trade and openness (as has happened within Europe). Why the
US does this is more complex, some combination of neocon "sole super
power" supremacism, subsidies for the US defense industry, and providing
a fig leaf of international support for America's wars in Afghanistan,
the Middle East, and North Africa -- but there's not a single good idea
in that mix. Moreover, Trump's right that most US bases abroad are no
more than economic subsidies, tolerated because they pay their own way.
One could go further and point out that major US base complexes in
Germany and Japan, while largely inoffensive to those countries, are
critical way stations for America's wars in Asia and Africa. Shutting
them down would make it harder for the US to try to solve problems by
warfare and would (horror of horrors) make it more important to hold
"meetings." (In fairness, I don't think Trump proposed meetings with
ISIS; rather, he was talking about Turks and Kurds, and Jerde took
license to poison the argument.)
What I fear happening here is that liberal hawks (Hillary Clinton
certainly qualifies) will seize this opportunity to attack Trump as
soft on Putin (and ISIS). I am especially reminded of the 1984 debates
between Reagan and Mondale, where Mondale proved himself to be the far
more rigorous and militant red-baiter -- a stance that did him no good,
partly because most people didn't care, partly because Reagan's own
"star wars" dreams were so loony he held onto the lunatic right, and
possibly because he turned off anyone actually concerned about peace.
Trump's interview suggests that he might actually be saner regarding
world war than Clinton. It would be a terrible mistake should she
prove him right.
Note that Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater bad
by convincing people that Goldwater would be the dangerous lunatic,
even though it was Johnson who insanely escalated the war in Vietnam.
Similarly Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on their
kill at keeping America out of world wars they joined post-election.
Even GW Bush was circumspect when campaigning about the wars he hoped
we now know he had every intention of launching. So why would Clinton
want to present herself as the warmonger in the 2016 race? Insecurity
perhaps, or maybe conviction, but clearly not smarts.
PS: Jeffrey Goldberg has already fired the first shot of Hillary's
campaign to out-warmonger Trump: see
It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin.
Featured blurb: "Unlike Trump, leaders of countries like Estonia
believe that the US still represents the best hope for freedom." So
why shouldn't tiny, unstrategic countries like Estonia (or Georgia
or Israel) be able to usurp and direct American foreign policy simply
by uttering a few magic words?
Unlike Trump, leaders of such countries as Estonia believe that the
United States still represents the best hope for freedom. In his
interview with Haberman and Sanger, Trump argued, in essence, that
there is nothing exceptional about the U.S., and that therefore its
leaders have no right to criticize the behavior of other countries:
"When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we
go and talk about civil liberties, I don't think we're a very good
PPS: More liberal hawks:
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump's Outrageous Foreign Policy Views (in
Washington Monthly), and
Kevin Drum: Donald Trump Just Invited Russia to Attack Eastern Europe
(in Mother Jones).
Paul Krugman: The GOP's Original Sin: I'd trace this back a bit
further, but lots of bad ideas that fermented in the 1970s only became
manifest once Reagan became president.
What I want to talk about is when, exactly, the GOP went over the edge.
Obviously it didn't happen all at once. But I think the real watershed
came in 1980-81, when supply-side economics became the party's official
doctrine. [ . . . ]
Yet 35 years ago the GOP was already willing to embrace this doctrine
because it was politically convenient, and could be used to justify tax
cuts for the rich, which have always been the priority.
And given this, why should anyone be surprised at all the reality
denial and trashing of any kind of evidence that followed? You say
economics is a pseudo-science? Fine. First they came for the economists;
then they came for the climate scientists and the evolutionary biologists.
Now comes Trump, and the likes of George Will, climate denier, complain
that he isn't serious. Well, what did you think was going to happen?
Michelle Obama's Glorious, Savvy 'Carpool Karaoke' Clip, with
James Corden. We've spent much of the last eight years griping about
Obama, but will miss her -- and may even miss him. Also see
John Stewart Returns to Savage Trump, Hannity: well, he doesn't
actually refer to Hannity. Calls him "Lumpy."
Sunday, July 17. 2016
July is a month I can hardly wait to get done with, even though it
leaves six or seven weeks of brutal heat to come. This year is about
average for Kansas, aside from a surplus of rain that more than wiped
out the spring deficit. Fitting that the major party conventions will
also be dispatched during this month, although as I'm writing this
they still loom: the candidates are settled, so no suspense there,
and one of the veeps was revealed this week -- the utterly repugnant
Mike Pence -- so the only remaining question is how to what extent
each party embarrasses itself in trying to put forth its best face.
Most years there is a post-convention bump in the polls. This year
there's a fairly good chance for a post-convention slump.
Some prominent news items from this past week:
- Bernie Sanders gave up his presidential campaign, acknowledging that
Hillary Clinton had clinched the nomination, and endorsed her, vowing to
do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump in November -- mostly
by repeating the planks of his "political revolution" platform, which
Hillary is increasingly obliged to cozy up to.
- Donald Trump, on the other hand, boxed himself into a corner and got
stuck with Cruz-supporter Pence as his VP nominee. Pence is considered
a sensible mainstream choice because he rarely initiates the right-wing
lunatic programs he invariably winds up supporting. He's acceptable to
Trump because he's so pliable he's already reversed himself on all of
Trump's campaign platform, setting a fine example for all the other
Republicans who had opposed Trump by showing them how a good puppy can
roll over and play dead.
- The UK has a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, committed to carrying
out the Brexit referendum, in her own sweet time (and without the possible
complication of electing a new parliament). She then picked the more
flamboyant and demagogic Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister.
- Factions of the Turkish military attempted a coup to seize power and
oust democratically elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been
widely criticized lately for recent laws that have restricted popular
rights -- a power grab occasioned by worsening relations with Turkey's
Kurdish minority and several "terrorist incidents" blamed on ISIS. The
coup appears to have failed, with various members of the military being
arrested in what threatens to turn into a large-scale purge.
- Obama decided against a planned withdrawal of American troops from
Afghanistan, changing their engagement orders to initiate offensive
operations against the Taliban, thus widening and extending the war
there. Escalations against Syria and Iraq continue, putting the US
on its most aggressive military stance in years. At the same time,
Obama is committing more US/NATO troops to the Russian frontier in
Eastern Europe, increasing "cold war" tensions.
- Eighty-four people were killed by a truck plowing through a Bastille
Day crowd in Nice, France. The driver was Tunisian, so this is being
played up as a "terrorist attack" although there doesn't seem to be any
indication that he was politically or religiously motivated. (Which
isn't to say the ISIS folks don't dig what he did.)
- Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, a little over a
week after Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling, starting off a
round of Black Lives Matter protests. Early reports show that the
shooter was another ex-Marine (like the shooter in Dallas).
Meanwhile, some scattered links this week:
Julie Bosman: Public Schools? To Kansas Conservatives, They're 'Government
Schools': And like conservatives everywhere, they understand that the
first step in demonizing someone or something is establishing what it's
called. Until recently, Kansans prided themselves on their public school
system (not that my own experience was very positive). That started to
change as home schooling became popular for Christian fundamentalists,
and turned into something more vicious when Republicans discovered that
school teachers might pose a political threat, and more generally that
education in the liberal arts and sciences might work against their
dogmatically cultivated interests. And lately, of course, it has come
down to money: public spending on education adds to deficits and/or
Patrick Cockburn: A Hillary Clinton Presidency Could End Up Letting Isis
Off the Hook: Cites a paper by Michele Flournoy, widely considered
to be Hillary's likely pick as Secretary of Defense, arguing that the US
should refocus its Syria efforts against Assad rather than against ISIS.
Still, it's not like she'd switch sides and back ISIS against Assad --
something that might actually work (distasteful as it may be; it's not
as if the US has never supported Islamist fanatics before). No, she wants
to buck up the pro-American Syrian rebels, the least effective group in
the long civil war. Still, that doesn't justify Cockburn's provocative
headline: Hillary is enough of a hawk she'd be happy to pound ISIS and
Assad alike, and for however long it takes. Cockburn also implies that
Hillary would forget the lessons Obama had learned about the futility
of war in the Middle East (giving Obama far more credit than he deserves):
The world may soon regret the passing of the Obama years as a Clinton
administration plunges into conflicts where he hung back. He had clearly
learned from the outcome of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in a way
that she has not. He said in a speech on terrorism in 2013 that "any US
military action in foreign land risks creating more enemies" and that the
Washington foreign establishment's tendency to seek ill-considered military
solutions was self-defeating. [ . . . ]
All this is good news for Isis and al-Qaeda, whose spectacular growth
since September 11 is mainly due to the US helping to spread the chaos
in which they flourish. Obama could see the risks and limitations of
military force, but Clinton may play straight into their hands.
As for Hillary, what I find more worrying is that she still doesn't
seem to be totally onboard with Obama's Iran Deal; see
Philip Weiss: Iran deal is still imperilled by deep state -- hardliners,
Israel lobby, Hillary Clinton. Part of the problem here is that
Democrats and GOP are in a race to the bottom on Israel.
Donald Johnson: The iron law of institutions versus Bernie Sanders:
Cites various editorials at the New York Times, finding them consistently
obsessed with demonizing Sanders.
Clinton supporters at the NYT have been almost uniformly nasty -- they
hate Sanders and don't bother concealing it. Ultimately his policy based
critiques of Clinton terrifies them and they don't want him or the movement
he represents to have any credibility even if he endorses Clinton, because
he hasn't retracted his critique. And yes, this does tie in with the
Israel-Palestine conflict, because Clinton support for Benjamin Netanyahu
flatly contradicts liberal ideals, so she either does this for the money
or because she is a militarist like Netanyahu or both. (I think both).
They tiptoe around that.
This is a quibble, but I think Netanyahu is much more racist than
militarist, not that they don't share an abiding belief in their
respective nation's exceptionalism, especially as exemplified through
military prowess (in both cases long in moral decline). But then I
guess I'm leaning toward the "money" explanation for Hillary. Despite
a term as Secretary of State which should have opened her eyes a bit,
she seems completely in thrall to the donor class, which has in turn
been completely cowed by Netanyahu, rendered blind to the racism which
pervades Israeli political culture.
It's not just institutions that are bitter over Sanders. Consider
this Robert Christgau tweet: "This is more than I thought the progressives
would get and has cut into how personally dislikable I find Sanders."
Heather Gautney: How Bernie Sanders Delivered the Most Progressive
Platform in Democratic Party History. Christgau is clearly closer
on the issues to Sanders than to Hillary but supported the latter,
I guess because he found Sanders "personally dislikable" -- I doubt
that the two ever met, yet this seems to matter more to him more than,
say, the Iraq War vote. There are others I know and respect politically
who have directed even worse snark at Sanders, a personal bitterness
I find unfathomable -- I certainly can't rationalize it like Johnson
does for those New York Times flacks.
Martin Longman: Mike Pence Is Not a Conventional Politician: On
Let's start with some things that are being said that simply aren't true.
Writing for the BBC, Anthony Zurcher says "In a year that has defied
political conventions, he was a very conventional choice."
But there's absolutely nothing "conventional" about Mike Pence. He is
a man who cannot say if he believes in the theory of evolution and has
spent twenty years spreading doubt about climate change. He's a man who
wants teenage girls (including victims of incest) to get parental consent
to use contraceptives, who has done all he can to deny contraception to
women of every age, who signed a law mandating that all aborted fetuses
should receive proper burials, who supports discrimination against gays
and wants to withhold federal funding from any organization that
"encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of
the HIV virus." [ . . . ]
Obviously, I could go on for a long time highlighting things about
Pence that are alarming or ridiculous, but I'm trying to focus on things
that set him apart from even mainstream conservatives. I mean, it matters
that he loved the idea of fighting in Iraq or that he has rigorously
supported the same kinds of free trade agreements that Trump opposes,
but he's not alone in those things.
To the degree that it can be legitimately argued that Pence is
"conventional," it's an enormous testimony to how far right the party
has drifted since the time of Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle and Poppy Bush
and Gerald Ford. But it's actually not true that we've seen someone
this far right nominated before. No, not even Palin or Cheney were
this radical across the board.
For more, see Longman's pre-pick
Mike Pence Makes Zero Sense as Veep:
If Trump is using the same theory of the case that McCain used in
picking Sarah Palin, that it was necessary to shore up weak support
from the Christian conservative base, then we already saw that this
is a losing strategy.
Selecting Pence will drive responsible business leaders even
further into Clinton's camp. It will severely alienate women and
moderates on social issues. Millennials will flee in panic. And,
once the press picks over Pence's congressional record, any
reassurance that Trump will have a steady hand to deal with
Congress will be completely undermined.
Pence has actual negative charisma, so he won't win over
anyone by being smart or funny or charming.
Other pieces on Pence:
Sean Illing: The sad incurious case of Mike Pence;
Nico Lang: Mike Pence is even worse than you think;
John Nichols: Trump Pick Pence Is a Right-Wing Political Careerist Who
Desperately Wants Out of Indiana;
Charles Pierce: Of Course, Donald Trump's Vice Presidential Announcement
Was All About Trump;
Mike Pence Is a Smooth-Talking Todd Akin;
George Zornick: Vice President Pence Would Be a Dream for the Koch
Ron Paul: Fool's Errand: NATO Pledges Four More Years of War in
Afghanistan: Obama may be a "lame duck" as far as appointing new
judges is concerned, but no one seems to be using the term as he's
laying out the framework that will tie up his successor in hopeless
wars through that successor's term: adding troops in Afghanistan
and Iraq/Syria (and on the Russian frontier in Eastern Europe). I
don't often cite Paul because I don't generally approve of his snark,
but this isn't terribly off base:
President Obama said last week that the US must keep 3,000 more troops
than planned in Afghanistan. The real reason is obvious: the mission
has failed and Washington cannot bear to admit it.
[ . . . ] Where else but in government would you
see it argued that you cannot stop spending on a project because you
have already spent so much to no avail? In the real world, people who
invest their own hard-earned money in a failed scheme do something
called "cut your losses." Government never does that.
[ . . . ]
The neocons argue that Iraq, Libya, and other US interventions fell
apart because the US did not stay long enough. As usual they are wrong.
They failed and they will continue to fail because they cannot succeed.
You cannot invade a country, overthrow its government, and build a new
country from the ground up. It is a fool's errand and Washington has
turned most Americans into fools.
Paul underestimates the ingenuity of the war crowd. For instance,
Mark Perry: How Islamic State Is Getting Beaten at Home -- and Taking
Terror Abroad argues that events like Nice show how much progress
Obama is making against ISIS in Syria. Perry confuses killing people,
which the US is quite proficient at, with providing a viable, peaceful
alternative, something the US evidently has no clue how to do. He could
have noted that the recent shootings of police in Dallas and Baton
Rouge are at least as much a part of the war coming home as the "sudden
radicalization" of the truck driver in Nice.
Dani Rodrik: The Abdication of the Left: An important economist on
globalization issues faults the left in Northern Europe for failing to
respond coherently to the negative repercussions for their countries:
Latin American democracies provide a telling contrast. These countries
experienced globalization mostly as a trade and foreign-investment shock,
rather than as an immigration shock. Globalization became synonymous with
so-called Washington Consensus policies and financial opening. Immigration
from the Middle East or Africa remained limited and had little political
salience. So the populist backlash in Latin America -- in Brazil, Bolivia,
Ecuador, and, most disastrously, Venezuela -- took a left-wing form.
The story is similar in the main two exceptions to right-wing resurgence
in Europe -- Greece and Spain. In Greece, the main political fault line
has been austerity policies imposed by European institutions and the
International Monetary Fund. In Spain, most immigrants until recently
came from culturally similar Latin American countries. In both countries,
the far right lacked the breeding ground it had elsewhere.
But the experience in Latin America and southern Europe reveals perhaps
a greater weakness of the left: the absence of a clear program to refashion
capitalism and globalization for the twenty-first century. From Greece's
Syriza to Brazil's Workers' Party, the left has failed to come up with
ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond
ameliorative policies such as income transfers.
[ . . . ]
A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right
thrives on deepening divisions in society -- "us" versus "them" -- while
the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that
bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left --
Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state -- both saved capitalism
from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a
response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right
groups, who will lead the world -- as they always have -- to deeper division
and more frequent conflict.
We in America have far too little appreciation for the destructiveness
of the right's conflicts, not just because we fight our wars far away --
not that US policy in Central America and Haiti hasn't sent waves of
emigrés our way, but refugees from US wars in the Middle East mostly
head for Europe -- but also because we are reluctant to credit our wars
with the right's division and depradation of the middle class here, let
alone the growing frequency of sporadic violence.
David Smith: Donald Trump: the making of a narcissist: Long profile
on a guy you probably think you already know too much about. Still, some
of his key insights are based on a profile and book by Mark Singer:
In the nine years since, Singer has seen nothing to alter his view of
Trump as unburdened by a hinterland. "People talk about a private Trump
and a public Trump," he says in his Manhattan apartment. "I'm not so
convinced because I've seen both and the bombast is there, the obvious
extreme self-involvement has always been there. He doesn't have a sense
of irony. He's a terrible listener but that's a characteristic of
narcissistic people. They're not engaged with anybody else's issues."
Tierney Sneed: Forget Trump! The GOP's Convention Platform Makes It
the Party of Kris Kobach: Kobach's day job is Secretary of State
in Kansas -- i.e., the guy in charge of making sure that undesirables
can't vote -- but he's also a notorious moonlighter, crafting dozens
of pieces of legislation for Republican state legislatures, most of
which are subsequently declared unconstitutional. He was the only
Republican of note in Kansas who endorsed Trump before the caucuses
(Brownback, Roberts, and Pompeo lined up for Rubio, while Huelskamp --
locked in another primary challenge by farmers who don't appreciate
his opposition to farm subsidies -- is still proud to be known as a
Cruz supporter), so he had an inside track on Trumpifying the GOP
platform, and as usual he's first in line to take credit for feats
normal lawyers would find embarrassing. One peculiarly Kansas touch
was "language opposing the inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage
grouse on the endangered species list" -- oil people find those birds
annoying, and Kansas Republicans can hardly wait for them to become
extinct, and therefore no longer a threat to the oil bidness.
For more on the platform, see
Donald Trump's weaponized platform: A project three decades in the
making. I seriously doubt that Trump came up with any of his idea
by reading William S. Lind and/or Paul Weyrich or that he's come up
with anything as coherent (if that's the word).
Sophia Tesfaye: Will Republicans listen to one of their own? The Senate's
only black Republican reveals his own experiences with racial profiling:
I've seen reports that the late Philando Castile (shot dead by police in
Minnesota) had been repeatedly pulled over by police for minor or imaginary
infractions, but it's worth noting that wealth or ideology doesn't prevent
this sort of profiling from happening, as Scott's story makes clear.
But during his speech, the second on policing and race this week, Scott
also shared the story of a staffer who was "pulled over so many times
here in D.C. for absolutely no reason other than driving a nice car."
The staffer eventually traded in his Chrysler for a "more obscure form
of transportation" because "he was tired of being targeted."
He asked his Senate colleagues to "imagine the frustration, the
irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of
"I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very
similar story to tell no matter their profession. No matter their
income, no matter their disposition in life," he said. "There is
absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul than
when you know you're following the rules and being treated like you
"Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish
of another, does not mean it does not exist," the Republican reminded
his fellow conservatives.
Some links on the Turkish coup:
Sunday, July 10. 2016
The biggest story in the US last week involved the fatal shootings
of seven people in three separate incidents: one each in
Louisiana and Minnesota (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), and five in
Dallas. All of the shootings involved police and race, and appear
to be unjustifiable by any conceivable criteria. Needless to say, they
all involved guns, but one thing they had in common point been little
commented on: all eight victims were armed, and their guns worthless
for self-defense. (Remind me again how safe
we would all be if everyone had guns for self-defense.) As a practical
matter, carrying guns not only failed to save the victims, but probably
contributed to their deaths. The Louisiana and Minnesota incidents may
have occurred because police panicked when they discovered that the
black people they were harrassing were armed. The Texas incident came
later, when an ex-army soldier snapped and decided to shoot some white
police -- perhaps as indiscriminate revenge (isn't that how he was
trained to respond to "the enemy" in Afghanistan?), the sort of warped
injustice self-appointed vigilantes are prone to.
For some time now, I've felt that as long as people legimately
believe that they need to own and carry a gun for their own protection
it would be unwise and unfair for government to deny them that option.
However, I've always wondered whether carrying a gun actually made
anyone safer: has anyone ever studied this, putting such (probably
rare) events in statistical context against all the other things
that can go wrong with guns?
There are other ways one can approach these tragic events. One I
think should be given more weight is that the Dallas shooter learned
his craft in the US military, which no doubt considered him a hero
until the moment he started shooting at white American cops. Not all
killers were trained by the US military, but they do pop up with some
frequency. I'm reminded of a scene in Full Metal Jacket where
the Marine Gunnery Sergeant lectures his boot camp trainees on "what
one motivated Marine and his rifle can do," offering a few examples:
Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman, Richard Speck. Should we be
surprised that a country that is so invested in celebrating its
heroic killers abroad should more than occasionally encounter the
same at home? And not infrequently by the same hands?
Of course, another way to approach this is to note that last week's
bombing in Baghdad killed over 175 -- more than twenty times the death
toll discussed above. But that scarcely registers here, even though
the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq is still most responsible for
continued bloodshed there. As bad as gun violence has become here, it
still pales against the violence of US forces and the rivals they stir
I suppose the second biggest story last week was the FBI decision
not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for risking classified data by running
a private email server while she was Secretary of State. FBI Director
Comey went out of his way to scold Clinton for being "extremely careless"
regarding state secrets before admitting that they couldn't come up with
a credible criminal case against her. The way Comey put it allowed
Republicans to reiterate their talking points, adding they couldn't
understand the decision not to indict based on Comey's exposition.
As I understand the "scandal" (see
Wikipedia for a long rundown, and perhaps also Clinton's own
The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails), the problem with running
a non-government server is that it doesn't allow for efficient collection
of emails that are considered to be public records (under the Federal
Records Act). To comply with the FRA, Clinton had to sort through her
emails and turn over the ones she considered to be State Department
business while retaining ones she considered to be personal -- i.e.,
the two had been mixed. A better solution might have been to turn all
the emails over and let the Department sort out which ones were personal --
at least then she couldn't be accused of hiding emails that should have
gone into the public record. On the other hand, had she kept separate
public and private email accounts, there still would likely have been
cross-contamination. (There is a similar controversy here in Kansas,
where a member of Gov. Sam Brownback's staff was found to be communicating
with lobbyists via his personal account, thereby avoiding public records
Still, one wonders why the FRA issue didn't arise while Clinton was
actually Secretary of State. It only seems to have been recognized as
a problem several years after she left office, when the Republican
Benghazi! witchhunt got under way. Further complicating things is the
question of whether Clinton's emails contained classified material.
Clinton, of course, had a top security clearance, but her private
email server wasn't fully secured for handling "secret" missives, so
it could have been, well, I'm not sure what, some form of breach in
the security state. Again, this seems not to have bothered anyone
until well after the fact. And curiously, the audits revealed that
some emails contained material that was classified only after it was
sent, so most of this charade has been focused on Clinton's threat
to national security. Frankly, I'd respect her more if she had been
a source of leaked data. But all this episode really shows is her
knack for getting caught up in trivial scandals.
I'd be happy to never hear of the email matter again, but there's
little chance of that. Instead, I expect the Republicans to flog the
matter on and on, much as they did every conjured taint from Whitewater
to Benghazi, even though their complaints will fail to impress anyone
but themselves, and in the end prove counterproductive. In particular,
those of us who consider Hillary at best a lesser evil will wonder why
they don't attack her with something she's truly guilty of, like voting
for Bush's Iraq War.
Some scattered links this week:
Phyllis Bennis: What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where
We Are on War: Unwilling to break with a past that has caused us
nothing but grief, of course. "The draft asserts that the United States
'must continue to have the strongest military in the world' and criticizes
the 'arbitrary cuts that the Republican Congress enacted as part of
Carl Bialik: The Police Are Killing People As Often As They Were Before
Ferguson: "The deaths [of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile] have
driven renewed attention to the more than 1,000 people killed each year
by police officers." I have to admit that's a higher number than I would
have expected, but maybe I was just being naïve. For instance, see:
Ben Norton: Before Alton Sterling, Louisiana police killed mentally ill
black father Micahel Noel -- and 37 others since 2015.
Jessica Elgot: Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over
Iraq war: Not quite a full hearing at the Hague, but the Chilcot
Report makes clear what we already pretty much knew -- that Blair lied
to Parliament and the public to join Bush in invading and occupying
Iraq in 2003 -- and a public rebuke is in order. Public opinion in the
US is if anything even more unanimous in recognizing Bush's scheming
to launch that war, yet the prospect of Congress acknowledging this
with a similar resolution is, well, unthinkable.
Harry Enten: Is Gary Johnson Taking More Support From Clinton or Trump?:
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian
candidate for president this year. In theory a larger than usual slice
of Republicans should lean Libertarian given that the GOP candidate is
basically a Fascist. A Libertarian should have less appeal to Democrats,
especially on economic issues, but Hillary is exceptionally weak on two
issues that many Democrats care about, ones Johnson could exploit: drug
prohibition and global warfare. Enten's research doesn't shed much light
here, but polls that bother to list Johnson show him gathering close to
10% in western states like Arizona and California (also Vermont). I have
a friend who thinks that Trump will destroy the Republican Party and
Johnson's Libertarians will rise to take the GOP's place. I think the
chances of that happening are nil. For one thing, more of the Republican
base leans fascist than libertarian, and for another, the Kochs have
pretty clearly shown that no matter how much they may philosophize
about freedom, they put their money on the party of graft. On the
other hand, given that both major party candidates have extremely low
favorability ratings, this will likely be a good year to be "none of
Stephen Kinzer: Is NATO Necessary?: I would have preferred that the
UK vote on leaving NATO over quitting the EU, but I have seen a number
of (admittedly left-wing) Brexiters touting their win as a rebuke of
NATO. Indeed, any Englishman worried about loss of sovereignty to the
EU should be apoplectic about NATO, which the US regularly uses to
consign British soldiers to fight and die in America's imperial wars.
Britain's vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted
world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should
be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they
will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression
threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America's
instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need
less NATO, not more. [ . . . ]
This week's NATO summit will be a festival of chest-thumping, with
many warnings about the Russian "threat" and solemn vows to meet it
with shows of military force. The United States plans to quadruple
spending on NATO military projects on or near Russia's borders. In
recent weeks NATO has opened a new missile base in Romania, held the
largest military maneuver in the modern history of Poland, and
announced plans to deploy thousands more American troops at Baltic
bases, some within artillery range of St. Petersburg. Russia, for
its part, is building a new military base within artillery range of
Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Both sides are
Ever since the Brexit vote the US has been escalating its focus
on Russia, inflating the threat by provoking it, all the better to
keep Europe subservient to US schemes in Africa and the Middle East.
Nancy LeTourneau: Some Things You Need to Know About the Dallas Police
Department: Evidently before last week's shootings, Dallas Police
Chief David Brown had made notable progress on reducing complaints of
excessive police force, including "a 30 percent decline in assaults on
officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police."
Conor Lynch: Paranoid politics: Donald Trump's style perfectly embodies
the theories of renowned historian: Reference is to Richard Hofstadter's
1964 book The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Lynch is part
wrong: the book was written at a time when McCarthyite paranoia could
be viewed as history, which is part of the reason Goldwater seemed so
ridiculous. Hofstadter's examples go further back in history, and it is
true that had he not died he could update with a new chapter on Trump,
with Roy Cohn and Glenn Beck key intermediaries. (Indeed, the Cohn
connection is almost too karmic to be believed.)
Sean D Naylor: Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray: A
profile of former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who appears to be a leading
candidate as Trump's running mate. Flynn's name was familiar to me
mostly due to Michael Hastings' book The Operators: The Wild and
Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan. Flynn
was deputy to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by Obama for
insubordination and/or his monumental cock up of command -- Flynn,
of course, was a key factor in both. Flynn was subsequently head
of the DIA, then retired to become Trump's "military adviser."
The US has a long history of nominating ex-generals for president,
but unlike Flynn all the previous ones achieved distinction in
wars the US won -- most recently Eisenhower. (Since then George
Wallace selected a general for his running mate, and Ross Perot
picked an admiral -- precedents, sure, but not the sort that make
Trump look better. Flynn, by the way, has a book coming out, The
Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam
and Its Allies, written with neocon Michael Ledeen, one of the
dumbest fucking assholes in America.)
Heather Digby Parton: Following the Trump money: He's running his campaign
just like his casinos -- as a big scam: "If it's true that they've
collected somewhere between $25 and $50 million for the campaign in the
last month then the real grift is just about to kick in. Remember, Trump
told Fortune magazine back in 2000, 'It's very possible that I could be
the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.'"
Nomi Prins: Donald Trump's Anti-Establishment Scam: "After all, he's
brought his brand to a far broader global audience on a stage so much
larger than any Apprentice imaginable. He could lose dramatically,
blame the Republican establishment for being mean to him, and then expand
the Trump brand into new realms, places like Russia, where he's long
craved an opening."
Saturday, July 2. 2016
Started this more than a week ago, but things dragged out, making
me late, or perhaps now I should say early?
After last week's referendum when 52% of the UK's voters decided to
chuck it all and take Britain out of the European Union, David Eversall
sent me this clipping from the Financial Times, adding "Probably has
relevance for the Presidential election especially the last point."
A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working
classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically
disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term
from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one
distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger
generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries.
We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships,
marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken
away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a
generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.
Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual
democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets
bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Micahel Gove
said 'the British are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody
tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has
lead to anything other than bigotry?
Aside from the quibble that I suspect it's bigotry that leads to
anti-intellectualism rather than the other way around, my reaction
to the third point was "welcome to my world." Politics in America went
counterfactual in the 1980s when Reagan came up with his "Morning in
America" con (more on that at the end).
I'm afraid I didn't know much about Brexit before plodding through
the links below. Let me try to summarize what I've learned:
Many in England never liked Europe, or thought of themselves as
being part of Europe. They grew up on stories of how Britain won the
great European wars of the last two centuries and built the largest
empire the world has seen, and they never got over the loss of that
empire or of their exceptional status in the world. They never lost
their righteousness or their racism. They skew right -- always have --
and they formed the core of the Leave block, as they always would
The EU was originally a center-left concept, intent on erasing
borders, on entangling the many separate nations of a rather small
continent into a cohesive entity that would render impossible the
myriad wars of recent centuries. This entity would be built on basic
human rights and would advance political and economic equality. But
this idea was repeatedly corrupted by business interests, knee-jerk
appeals to nationalism, and the parallel cloak of war known as NATO --
which since 2001 has mostly served to exacerbate the divides between
north and south, west and east, Crusader (for lack of a better term)
and Muslim. One result was that the core for Remain was tepid and in
many cases disillusioned.
In the 1980s Thatcher laid waste to industrial Britain while
opening Europe to British capital, and later Blair delivered Labour
to the financiers while committing the UK to Bush's disastrous "terror"
wars. Britain hasn't had a credible leftist government since Wilson's
in the 1970s (if not Attlee's in the 1940s), so Britain's experience
of the EU has skewed horribly right.
The EU's bravest policy was the insistence on labor mobility.
This didn't have a huge impact as long as the national economies were
rich and relatively equal, but the EU was easily pressured to expand
into less developed countries, and transfers to rebalance the economies
have never been adequate. When this happened capital flowed out while
cheaper labor flowed in -- the latter easily scapegoated by the right
for depressed areas actually caused by capital flight. One result has
been the growth of racist right-wing parties throughout Europe (like
the anti-EU UKIP in Britain).
The rise of the right, both in Europe and in the US, has pushed
immigrants and minorities into the hands of the left-center parties,
often becoming significant stakeholders in those parties. This has
tended to defocus the traditional class-schism between left and right --
perhaps more so in the US, where Democrats have few qualms about shafting
labor in favor of liberal businesses, knowing that minorities have no
choice but to vote for them. As this happens, older/whiter workers can
lash back against the left-center. Conversely, liberals tend to focus
on opposing racism and xenophobia rather than actually working for more
After the global finance bubble burst in 2008, the bankers and
their politicians conspired to save themselves at the expense of everyone
else. They controlled the EU, which ceased to be a reform movement and
became an instrument for denying democracy and imposing austerity across
the entire continent. This was perhaps worse in the Eurozone, but the
UK, which had the flexibility of its own currency, followed suit with a
crippling austerity program benefitting no one but the London banks. The
right, which had caused most of this pain, found it easy to blame Europe,
and many (even some on the left) readily bought that line.
Then there was sheer political opportunism. Tory leader Cameron
promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU during the last elections
in a crass move to prevent conservative voters from defecting to UKIP.
He assumed a referendum would be harmless, as all three major parties
were committed to staying in the EU. Still, the Conservatives had long
had a sizable anti-EU core, and Labour had recently revolted against
the Blairites and elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as party leader (who
post-facto was charged as ineffective, possibly even uncommitted to
the Remain cause). One result was that the campaign for Remain spanned
the entire ideological spectrum without having any coherent vision or
much commitment. (As I note below, "remain" itself is a remarkably
passive and for that matter nonchalant verb.) Another was that it was
practically defenseless against misleading and often ridiculous charges,
the stock-in-trade of the right-wing tabloid press.
After the vote, the markets panicked, as markets tend to do.
Still, nothing has happened yet, and separation will by all accounts
take at least two years from whenever it starts, which isn't now
because Cameron resigned and Parliament isn't actually required to
pull the suicide trigger. Most likely there will be new elections
and prolonged negotiations while nothing much actually happens --
other than continuation of the current rot -- and the folks who pull
strings behind curtains get their ducks lined up.
One thing that's little commented on is the pernicious effect
of NATO on Europe. Through NATO, the US sucked Europe into its Global
War on Terror (most specifically its parochial war against Islam in
Afghanistan), and also into its rekindled Cold War against Russia.
The EU expanded aggressively into Eastern Europe, thereby unbalancing
the equality of member states, mostly because NATO led the way. NATO
aggression in North Africa and the Middle East then triggered a refuge
crisis on top of Europe's previous immigration problem. One terrible
result is that Europe has become targeted by ISIS-affiliated (a very
loose definition) terrorists, which mostly serves to provoke hatred
and backlash. The right builds on this, even though you'd think that
anyone who frets over sovereignty worry more about the US/NATO.
I suspect that eventually we'll find that the EU has spun such
a thick institutional web that it will prove impossible to disentangle
it all. That is to say, the core nations are stuck with it, regardless
of whether their people understand why. Still, movements to exit and
hoist up renewed national borders will continue until the EU reforms
into something that actually benefits most of the people pretty much
everywhere, and their failure will continue to embarrass leaders of
all parties but the most fringe. To do this, the EU needs to move left,
if anything out ahead of the national parties. And it needs to do this
not just to deliver on its original concept but to give people all
across the continent reason to support it, and through it each other.
These are things your center-right neo-liberals, dedicated as they
are to making the rich richer and otherwise letting the chips land
where they might, just can't do. Unfortunately, the center-left isn't
able to either, especially when faced with the sort of "scorched earth"
opposition the Republicans excel at in the US.
One last point: I cite several anti-EU leftists below, who are
right to blame the US/NATO and who are not wrong to see the referendum
as a broad rejection of neoliberal consensus. It's not clear that they
also believe that the UK is more likely to move left without the EU
than within, but I imagine they can make a fair case to that effect --
just now sure if that's because recession will make voters more desperate,
because a nation not in the EU has more options, or both. Still, I can't
share their enthusiasm for Brexit. I just can't see how a retreat into
narrow-minded prejudice advances a more equitable society and a more
In what follows, it may be tempting, sobering, even chilling to think
of Leave as Trump and Remain as Clinton. I think that's probably why we
often take away the notion that Leave was primarily racist/xenophobic
and Remain as liberal/integrationist, even though there were many more
nuances to each. But working that angle out should really be another
exercise. I suspect we'll find many more angles there too (with Trump
it's hard to think of anything as a nuance).
Some Brexit links:
Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion -- worst ever.
Anne Applebaum: What the media gets wrong about Brexit: "The leave
campaign does not have a common vision and does not have a common plan
because its members wouldn't be able to agree on one."
Torsten Bell: The referendum, living standards and inequality: Several
charts show that recent changes to income have little bearing on the vote.
Rather, look at 1980s Thatcherism: "The legacy of increased national
inequality in the 1980s, the heavy concentration of those costs in certain
areas, and our collective failure to address it has more to say about what
happened last night than shorter term considerations from the financial
crisis or changed migration flows."
Mike Carter: I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise:
"Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have
never recovered. Their pain explains why people voted to leave in the EU
John Cassidy: Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote: Cites,
and agrees with, Torsten Bell (above). Then notes how uninspiring the
Remain campaign, backed lamely by leaders of all three major political
parties, was: "The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U.
isn't great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned
out to be a losing story." It occurs to me that "remain" is probably
the most passive word in the English language. Why would anyone pick
it as a slogan? In 2004, when the Iraq War had gone sour, Bush (or
Rove or whoever) didn't campaign to Remain in Iraq. They opted for
Stay, or more often Stay the Course, suggesting that there is a plan
that will eventually pan out if only we don't lose our will. European
Union, frankly, was a lot more promising idea than the Iraq War ever
was, yet its so-called defenders seem to have lost faith in it or
understanding of it and are left with nothing more to offer than the
threat that if we fail to accept the status quo, things will only get
Cassidy also wrote
Why Brexit Might Not Happen at All and
Sunderland and the Brexit Tragedy. I don't find the former very
convincing, although I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the Leave win
gets circumvented. There are a number of ways Britain's elites might
go about ignoring the referendum results, with Cameron's resignation
a first step, and Boris Johnson's reluctance to replace him a second.
The former shipbuilding city Sunderland is another example: industry
was shut down there during the Thatcher years, depressing the region
to the point where the EU actually helps out, they still voted Leave.
"Unless the Brexit vote is somehow reversed, the residents of places
like Sunderland will most likely be left to fly the Union Jack and
Amy Davidson: Brexit Should Be a Warning About Donald Trump: In
particular, it reminds us that there are people who will vote for
Trump not because of who Trump is but because of their own jaundiced
worldview. I know a Trump supporter whose only explanation is "chaos" --
I suspect he'd vote for Charles Manson if given the chance. After all,
what is Brexit other than a vote for chaos? Davidson quotes Hillary's
response: "This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm,
steady, experienced leadership in the White House." And she thinks
that's a winning argument against a clown who promises unpredictable
Tom Ewing: Obsolete Units Surrounded by Hail: "An A to Z of Brexit.
Cathartic fragments, pessimistic conjectures." Encyclopedic, but let's
single out: "David Cameron is the worst post-war Prime Minister, a gambler
without even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country's economy)
on something he believed in."
Tony Karon: It's the end of the world as we know it -- again: "The
Brexit result -- a vote of no-confidence in the elites of London and
Brussels by an English working class that has been steadily marginalised
over three decades -- underscores the peril that the system that has
aggrandised those elites now faces through its failure to deliver
economic security and dignity to millions of citizens." He mentions
that economists have largely turned against austerity, and notes some
opportunities for fruitful spending like the $3.6 trillion needed "to
restore and modernise crumbling infrastructure [in the US] by 2020,"
adding that "Hillary Clinton proposes an infrastructure spend less
than 10 per cent of what the Civil Engineers recommend; Mr Trump has
offered no plan."
Paul Krugman: Brexit: The Morning After: "It seems clear that the
European project -- the whole effort to promote peace and growing political
union through economic integration -- is in deep, deep trouble." Also:
The Macroeconomics of Brexit: Motivated Reasoning? "Economists have
very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long
run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very
dubious claims about the short run." Still, Dean Baker has some quibbles
about Krugman's claims (see
Paul Krugman, Brexit, and Bubbles): namely, he suspects London is
enjoying a real estate bubble that Brexit is likely to
pop . . . and, well, you know how that goes.
Alex Massie: Is Brexit the beginning of the End of Britain?: Focuses
mostly on Scotland, which voted against independence when threatened
with exile from the UE, and voted heavily to remain in the EU. There
are also similar feelings in Northern Ireland (where unification with
Ireland would keep them in the EU) and even in Wales. But breaking up
the UK may not be the only way out for Scotland; see
Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish parliament could block Brexit.
Chris Patten: A British Tragedy in One Act: Quotes Churchill: "The
trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret
John Pilger: A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to
Europe: "The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was
an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied,
intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in
the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and
the media." Depends on your point of view, but when you say no to the
entire establishment, you're not necessarily just voting for a narrow
flag-waving anti-immigrant platform (although Pilger ignores those who
did just that).
Norman Pollack: Fissures in World Capitalism: The British Vote:
"The elephant in the room is NATO. Obviously, the EU is its economic
counterpart, and was never conceived in isolation as a mere trading
bloc. With Britain out, hopefully others will follow, the EU will
tighten its ship as an economic union and NATO, now presently at
Russia's borders, will be forced to rethink its dangerous course."
A referendum on British membership in NATO would have been more
interesting, and indeed might have started a dissolution of an
organization that these days serves mostly to entangle Europe in
America's post-imperial wars. But my initial reaction was opposite
of Pollack's: Brexit will push Britain even more into the US orbit,
increasing its stake in subduing the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
One might hope that "old Europe" would respond by ditching NATO,
but the EU has already followed NATO deep into "new Europe" and
the latter are keen on poking the Russian Bear.
Randeep Ramesh: Racism is spreading like arsenic in the water supply:
"The far right preys on the weakest members of society and by letting
anti-immigrant rhetoric bed in we are eroding civil rights not strengthening
them." I.e., a spike in such incidents led to
Cameron condemns xenophobic and racist abuse after Brexit vote.
Jeffrey D Sachs: The Meaning of Brexit: "In Europe, the call to punish
Britain pour encourager les autres -- to warn those contemplating
the same -- is already rising. This is European politics at its stupidest
(also very much on display vis-à-vis Greece)." Also, he points out that
US foreign policy viz. Syria and Ukraine are much to blame for the crisis,
and just falls short of pointing out that NATO is what Europe should be
exiting. For more on "stupidest" politics, see
European leaders rule out informal Brexit talks before article 50 is
George Soros: Brexit and the Future of Europe: "Now the catastrophic
scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of
the EU practically irreversible."
Andre Vltchek: Brexit -- Let the UK Screw Itself!: "Almost no
commentator bothered to notice what was truly shocking about the
entire referendum process: an absolute lack of progressive ideology,
of internationalism and concern for the world as a whole. Both sides
(and were there really two sides there) presented a fireworks of
shallow selfishness and of pettiness. The profound moral corruption
of the West was clearly exposed."
Paul Woodward: Who gets democracy?: A number of interesting points
here. One that especially struck me: "Last Thursday, 2.7 million people
who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although
they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British
citizens." Don't you think people who are so affected by a vote should
get to vote? Good chance that bloc would have swung the election. (FWIW,
I also think that immigrants, at least the ones with legal jobs, should
be able to vote in US elections: if you live and work somewhere, you are
part of the public, and therefore a stake holder.)
Simon Wren-Lewis: The triumph of the tabloids: "Of course we should
blame Johnson and Farage and the rest: the UK has paid a very high price
to facilitate political ambition. Of course we should blame Cameron and
Osborne for taking the referendum gamble and stoking anger with austerity.
But a few politicians alone are not capable of fooling the electorate so
consistently. To do that they need to control the means of communicating
Meanwhile, some short links on other subjects:
Patrick Cockburn: An Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars: Tom Engelhardt's
introduction cites a statistic that should help you understand Brexit: "If
you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment, it's
65 million. That's the record-setting number of people that the Office of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates were displaced in 2015 by
'conflict and persecution,' one of every 113 inhabitants of the planet."
Most of them result from the US/NATO wars against Islam, and I include
Syria in that list, and as Cockburn shows, they keep getting worse because
the US/NATO can't manage to bring them to any sort of conclusion, diplomatic
or otherwise. And yes, here's another Brexit quote, restating what should
by now be obvious:
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels
with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments
since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich
and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country.
Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the
prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union,
the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became
the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave"
voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United
Donald Cohen: The History of Privatization: Part 1 (of 4).
Thomas Frank: Worshipping Money in DC: Author of the best political
book of 2016, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of
the People, although you might consider holding off until after you
vote for Hillary in November -- it offers few inducements to support her
now, but will help you understand what went wrong after she's inaugurated.
This piece is more on lobbying -- the principal subject of Frank's equally
worthy 2008 book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and
of the newsletter Influence, extensively cited here. Conclusion:
"This is not an industry, Influence's upbeat and name-dropping
style suggests. It is a community -- a community of corruption, perhaps,
but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous, and joyously oblivious
to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class."
I'll add that American politicians have always been easy to bribe, because
they've never been very skeptical of hustlers out to make money -- that's
just part of America's boom ethic. The only thing that's changed is the
scale of the graft and how systematic it's become, plus how our campaign
system selects for the best moneygrubbers.
Henry Grabar: Kansas' Insane Right-Wing Experiment Is About to Destroy
Its Roads: Well, it is true that Kansas has been raiding the highway
fund ever since Brownback blew a hole in the budget with his massive tax
giveaways, and consequently new roads aren't being built and old roads
aren't being maintained -- at least not at prudent levels. This is the
sort of short-sighted policy that doesn't fully impact you right away:
it takes time for weather and wear to break down those roads, but the
toll accumulates until it does become catastrophic, at which point debt
will make it even harder to address.
John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B: Actually, starts with recent
elections in Poland which brought the reactionary PiS to power, arguing
that shows a backlash by those left behind ("Poland B") by the urban
neoliberals who have dominated Polish politics ("Poland A") -- a dynamic
that is sweeping across Europe and finds an analog in the Trump bandwagon
here. I don't know about Poland, but in the US I doubt Trump's supporters
are that poor -- I've seen surveys that show them averaging about $20K
above average US family income (whereas Sanders and Clinton run about
even). This also ignores the growth of leftist parties in non-ex-communist
states, especially ones crushed by austerity measures like Greece and
Spain (but also within left-center parties, like Corbyn in the UK and
Sanders in the US).
Elizabeth Kolbert: Drawing the Line: On gerrymandering old and new,
especially the REDMAP project which was so successful for Republicans
in 2010, as detailed in David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind
the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. "In House races in
2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans.
And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked,
Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats."
Elizabeth Kolbert: Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change:
Piece from May 5 -- a lot more burnt since then. More generally: "In
Canada, and also in the United States and much of the rest of the world,
higher temperatures have been extending the wildfire season. Last year,
wildfires consumed ten million acres in the U.S., which was the largest
area of any year on record."
Evan Osnos: Making a Killing: Useful brief history of (as the sub
puts it) the business and politics of selling guns.
More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all
the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War. When an
off-duty security guard named Omar Mateen, armed with a Sig Sauer
semiautomatic rifle and a Glock 17 pistol, killed forty-nine people at
a gay club in Orlando, on June 12th, it was historic in some respects
and commonplace in others -- the largest mass shooting in American
history and, by one count, the hundred-and-thirtieth mass shooting so
far this year. High-profile massacres can summon our attention, and
galvanize demands for change, but in 2015 fatalities from mass shootings
amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when
Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.
None of that has hurt the gun business. In recent years, in response
to three kinds of events -- mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and talk
of additional gun control -- gun sales have broken records. "You know
that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there's a shooting
somewhere, sales spike like crazy," Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of
American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told me.
Jeffrey Toobin: Clarence Thomas Has His Own Constitution: "The
abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even
from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn't respect the Court's precedents.
He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he
rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law." Toobin
also quotes Scalia on how his judicial philosophy differed from
Thomas's: "I'm an originalist," Scalia said, "but I'm not a nut."
Paul Waldman: Trump's response to terrorism is both weak and barbaric:
"It seems that nothing is more horrifying to Donald Trump than the idea
that somebody might be laughing at us, or more specifically, at him." Too
much after that trying to cast GW Bush as an enlightened alternative ("a
fatherly reassurance that their president would keep them safe"), but it's
a measure of Trump's instability that makes such comparisons possible.
Julia Carrie Wong/Danny Yadron: Hillary Clinton proposes student debt
deferral for startup founders: Worst faux pas (of its type) since
Paul Ryan took
Labor Day as an occasion to tout "America's job creators" deprecating
the people who actually do the work to keep everything running. What
was she thinking? That the people most able to repay their debts should
be spared? That tomorrow's business leader should get a head start on
sucking the public tit? That the people should subsidize MBA programs
that teach young people to become sociopaths? Or just that, to agree
with Ryan and Ayn Rand, entrepreneurs are so much better than everyone
else? Surely she can't imagine that this will be a universal benefit,
that it will lead to a world where everyone is an entrepreneur and no
one actually has to do any work? Or maybe she just sees it as a cheap
sop, as a way of shaming all those poor sods who went to college just
to learn a trade, or worse still to learn liberal arts, to become more
knowledgeable citizens, to contribute a little something to what we
used to call civilization?
The authors quote Hillary: "I disagree with free college for everybody.
I don't think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump's kids to
college." Well, maybe Trump's kids should go to college -- especially if
college meant something other than rubberstamping credentials (like, you
know, learning how to get along and now just how to get ahead). And maybe
if the public paid for it, Trump wouldn't be so motivated to grab money
for his own personal aggrandizement (or if he still was, we'd be less
relucatant to tax it back). A world where everyone, regardless of how
rich or poor they start out, has the same opportunity to learn as much
as they can would likely be much better than the one we live in now.
For more, see
Rana Foroohar: Why Hillary Clinton's Student Debt Idea Is Smart,
one of those pieces that exposes how ridiculous Clinton's program is
by assuming it's brilliant. In particular:
Start-ups are a key driver of productivity. But the birthrate of
startups has been in decline since the 1970s. Since then, it has
dovetailed with a shift in how the financial sector business model
works -- it no longer invests primarily in new business, but rather
buys up and trades existing assets, and funding for small and
mid-sized start ups is still scarce (while increasing monopoly
power on the part of large firms squashes new ones, as Robert
Reich and others have recently written.)
And how exactly is a modest tax incentive (debt deferral) going
to fix these problems? If monopoly power is the problem (and it's
certainly a big one), the classic remedy is antitrust enforcement,
and I'd add that it's also important to open up ways to provide
financing and build capital that bypass the exclusive control of
predatory financiers. You also need to look hard at what finance
does, and undercut the rewards of bad short-term behavior even if
you can't figure out how to reward long-term productive investment --
as it is the financial sector is sucking up far too much money, so
you need to both that less likely and tax it away when it happens.
Also, another thing that has been driving productivity down "since
the 1970s" has been the decline of worker control, so that, too, is
something to direct policy at promoting. Clinton's proposal hardly
even amounts to a gesture against these problems. Rather, it hints
that she's still in thrall to the high-tech is going to save the
world from endemic corruption. This is actually a common myth in
New Democratic circles -- a major theme in Thomas Frank's Listen,
Meanwhile, the evidence on using tax incentives to influence business
behavior is pretty damning. This came as no surprise to me. From the
beginning I thought that every "incentive" was a distortion leading
to warped thought. In 1984 I was looking for a job. I recall driving
up I-93 from Boston with a headhunter who pointed out Compugraphic's
various buildings along the route and explained the tax advantages of
each. When I arrived at corporate headquarters I found that most of
the managers actually lived in "tax-free New Hampshire," and several
explained that matters most isn't income, it's after-tax profits. I
knew then the company was doomed, and indeed it was. But they were
spouting "truths" that were clichés at the time, spread hither and
yon by the business press, so my judgment wasn't just limited to this
one company: I figured the whole economy was doomed, if not to the
tragedy of the Great Depression then at least to the farce we've
lived through ever since the 1980s, occasionally propped up then
blown apart by increasingly desperate bubbles.
Sunday, June 19. 2016
Travel disrupts my normal news browsing. I'm lucky to keep up with my
email, find it hard to write on notebook keyboards, never listen to the
radio, only watch TV when that's happening somewhere I'm staying (which
did get me some History Channel in CT, CNN in Buffalo, and Weather Channel
in AR). So I'm catching up here, and this week's links and comments are
David Atkins: Gun Violence Research: If Republicans in Congress Won't Do
It, California Will: One of the major problems with debates over gun
control is the general lack of serious research into the problem. We have
some rough numbers about total shootings but little else, in large part
because the NRA has worked very hard to keep any research from getting
funding. So if California does this, it will be a big help to anyone who
wants to base policy on real data.
Andrew Cockburn: Victory Assured on the Military's Main Battlefield --
Washington: Back in the 1980s the "star wars" program was originally
dubbed SDI, but I recall someone quipping that it should have been SFI,
for Strategic Funding Initiative. It is one of the Pentagon's more famous
multi-billion-dollar boondoggles, but far from alone. The military may or
may not get the wars they lobby for, but somehow they always manage to
get extravagant funding:
Inside the Pentagon, budget planners and weapons-buyers talk of the "bow
wave," referring to the process by which current research and development
initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in
commitments to massive spending down the road. Traditionally, such waves
start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible
spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.
[ . . . ]
The latest nuclear buildup is only the most glaring and egregious
example of the present bow wave that is guaranteed to grow to monumental
proportions long after Obama has retired to full-time speechmaking. The
cost of the first of the Navy's new Ford Class aircraft carriers, for
example, has already grown by 20% to $13 billion with more undoubtedly
to come. The "Third Offset Strategy," a fantasy-laden shopping list of
robot drones and "centaur" (half-man, half-machine) weapons systems,
assiduously touted by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, is similarly
guaranteed to expand stunningly beyond the $3.6 billion allotted to its
development next year.
Steve Fraser: How the Age of Acquiescence Came to an End: Author
of last year's The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American
Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, now admits that:
So consider this essay a postscript to that work, my perhaps belated
realization that the age of acquiescence has indeed come to an end.
Millions are now, of course, feeling the Bern and cheering The Donald.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to the first signs of what was
to come as I was finishing my book: the Tea Party on the right, and on
the left Occupy Wall Street, strikes by low-wage workers, minimum and
living wage movements, electoral victories for urban progressives, a
surge of environmental activism, and the eruption of the Black Lives
Matter movement just on the eve of publication.
Also, after noting that not just the left but also the right has
rediscovered the class struggle of the 1930s:
Hillary Clinton is broadly distrusted. Sanders has consistently outpolled
her against potential Republican opponents for president because she is
indeed a limousine liberal whose career has burned through trust at an
astonishing rate. And more important than that, the rebellion that has
carried Sanders aloft is not afraid to put capitalism in the dock. Trump
is hardly about to do that, but the diseased state of the neoliberal
status quo has made him, too, a force to be reckoned with. However you
look at it, the age of acquiescence is passing away.
It should be added that while both right and left seek to build on
mass disposession, the left offers programs that appeal to those without
power, whereas the right seeks to redirect that fear and anger against
others, thereby insulating the wealthy from the wrath of the masses --
if not from the consequences of their own lust for violence.
Paul Krugman: Notes on Brexit: Eleven of them, concluding that Britain
would be slightly better off if they vote down the referendum threatening
to part company with the European Union. Still, the biggest point is that
exit would be bad for the City's financiers, which probably means as little
to the average Briton as Wall Street bonuses mean to most Americans. Beyond
that, he dismisses "claims that Britain, freed from EU rules, could achieve
spectacular growth via deregulation." I haven't read much on this topic
and don't have much to offer, other than the thought that exit might be
preferable if Britain was solidly to the left of Europe -- and therefore
able to use its independence to further equality -- but with the Tories
controlling Parliament that pretty clearly isn't the case. (On the other
hand, Scottish independence would likely have moved Scotland to the left,
although that wouldn't have been good for English Labour.)
The Brexit thing took a nasty turn with the assassination of
Jo Cox, a Labour MP who strongly opposed Brexit, by a right-winger
who shouted "Britain first" while attacking her. It would be fitting
if her martyrdom swings the vote to no, but I can think of more than a
few strategic assassinations that, often despite initial sympathy, did
the job. As for the killer, there is much available, like
Ben Norton: Suspected killer of British lawmaker is neo-Nazi -- but media
blamed mental illness, like Charleston 1 year ago.
Stephen Kinzer: Don't mythologize Ali's rage: Probably much more
worth reading on the late Muhammad Ali, but this is a good start,
focusing on his courageous political stances against racism at home
and imperialism abroad, and how recent eulogies tend to sanitize him
in a time when "his message is every bit as urgent today as it was
when he first began preaching it."
Ronald B Rapoport/Alan I Abramowitz/Walter J Stone: Why Trump Was
Inevitable: Nothing deep or surprising or even very informative
here. The authors merely did some polling among likely Republican
voters and found out that Trump was the most popular candidate,
beating all the others in one-on-one contests with Cruz (48%),
Rubio (43%), Carson (42%), Paul (37%), and Fiorina (36%) his closest
challengers -- the most notable finding is that among ten contenders
(the polling was done around Iowa caucus time) the lowest rating
belonged to Jeb Bush (31%), with Kasich and Christie just a whisker
better (32%). Another chart shows that Republicans thought Trump was
more likely to win in November than any other candidate (56%, vs.
44% for Cruz, 39% for Rubio, and a mere 13% for Bush). Other charts
show that Trump's signature issues (banning Muslims, building his
wall) were widely favored not just among Trump supporters but among
all Republicans. As I said, nothing revealing there (except perhaps
how doomed the Bush campaign was from the beginning).
Aaron Rupar: Senator Who Has Received More NRA Suport Than Anyone
Blames Obama for Orlando Shooting: John McCain, $7.7 million,
although most of that came during his 2008 presidential campaign, an
unfair advantage compared to all the other NRA stooges in Congress.
McCain's thinking here is that Obama opened the door for ISIS when
he oversaw the withdrawal of US occupation forces from Iraq. The
implication is that were it not for Obama's folly no one would have
heard of ISIS, so no deranged westerner could pledge allegiance to
the group in the midst of a killing spree. McCain may be one of the
last true believers in the magical powers of American military power,
or he may just have wanted US troops to stay in Iraq because their
presence sustains the war he so dearly loves. If one has to blame
Obama for this, it would make more sense to question his decision to
send troops back to Iraq (and on to Syria) to fight ISIS, reinforcing
the view that America is at war with Islam and has callous disregard
for anyone who gets in the way. Clearly, America's long and seemingly
intractable involvement in the Middle East's wars is leading to both
sides disrespecting and dehumanizing the other. I don't think either
Bush or Obama ever wished to paint their wars with racism but as those
wars drag on, with us and them killing the other, their remonstrations
are lost on demagogues like Trump. McCain, at least, has started to
walk back his charges. Still, he hasn't betrayed his sponsors.
Of course, what actually happened in Orlando doesn't fit at all well
with the preconceived notions of someone like McCain. That the shooter
was born a Muslim and had heard of ISIS seems almost incidental, even
as that he was so filled with rage and armed with an assault rifle is
so quintessentially American. For a profile, see
'Always Agitated. Always Mad': Omar Mateen, According to Those Who Knew
Some light reading on Donald Trump:
Geoff Blades: Why Donald Trump has defied the odds: It's insulting to think
he wins by insulting
Steven Shepard: Trump's poll ratings in a historic hole:
Trump is setting modern records for political toxicity -- at least for
a major-party candidate this far out from an election. Seventy percent
of Americans surveyed in an ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week
had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, up 10 points over the past month.
The poll showed Trump's favorable rating cratering at 29 percent, down
from 37 percent last month. [ . . . ]
But it's not just the overall unfavorable numbers -- it's the intensity
of the antipathy toward Trump, and the lack of enthusiasm for him. In
the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent of respondents had a
"strongly unfavorable" opinion of Trump, compared to just 15 percent
who had a "strongly favorable" opinion.
Shepard's piece was cited by
Paul Woodward: Trump's plan for winning if he loses, on how Trump's
"already crafting a plan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat -- not
by winning but election but by turning his campaign experience into the
launchpad for his next commercial venture."
Jamelle Bouie: Whether He Wins or Loses, We're Stuck With Trump.
Tom Engelhardt: Donald Trump Is the Mosquito, Not the Zika Virus
Ann Jones: Donald Trump Has the Traits of a Wife Abuser and Women Know
Seth Stevenson: Former Apprentice crew members on their old
boss, Donald Trump: Actually, that's the subhed. The title they
went with was "He's Obsessed With Menstruation."
Warren Tears Into Trump: He's a 'Thin-Skinned, Racist Bully':
Perhaps she's auditioning for the role of Spiro Agnew, if you can
imagine Hillary Clinton as Dick Nixon -- you know, looking presidential,
above the fray and the dirt (not that he was/she is).
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Andrew Bacevich: America's Sinkhole Wars
William deBuys: No More Wide Open Spaces?
Ben Ehrenreich: How Israel Is Inciting Palestinian Violence: Author
also has a new book on the subject: The Way of the Spring: Life and
Death in Palestine. Philip Weiss comments on the piece and reaction:
'Politico' dares to publish Ehrenreich saying occupation fosters terrorism,
and 'Camera' goes haywire.
Hassan Hassan: Washington's War on the Islamic State Is Only Making It
Barry C Lynn/Philip Longman: Populism With a Brain: Ten old/new ideas
to give power back to the people:
- Protect democracy by restoring market competition
- Use trade power to restore American independence
- Ban price and data discrimination
- Break up Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Comcast
- Localize banking, retail, and farming
- Make all government public
- Protect the industrial arts
- Take back leisure
- Keep planes, trains, and robotic cars out of the hands of plutocrats
- Power (and ideas) from the people
Lynn, by the way, is the author of an important recent book on why
we need stronger antitrust regulations: Cornered: The New Monopoly
Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Kansas Isn't Home Anymore . . .: A statement from the head of the
company Pathfinder Health Innovations on why they're relocating from
Kansas to Missouri. Hint: has a lot to do with Sam Brownback.
Sunday, May 22. 2016
No real time for this today, so I'll just try to note a few brief
links without providing much in the way of commentary. Main thing that
chewed up time today was my sister's birthday. She wanted a party in
the new/very old house, although circumstances pretty much restricted
us to the living room (repainted bright blue, wood floors refinished).
She set up a table on my sawhorses, and I brought over a large pot of
jambalaya and a
spice cake -- two old
never-fail standbys. Only work on the house today was to reinstall the
toilet, but after rebuilding the bathroom floor and covering it with
vinyl sheet that feels like a milestone.
One minor piece of housekeeping: Laura Tillem urged me to send an
excerpt from last week's
post on Hiroshima and Obama, and something like it was published in
the Wichita Eagle's
Letters to the Editor today:
Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., who normally is sensitive to racial
affronts, insists that we not apologize for killing 200,000 Japanese
with atom bombs -- the only time such weapons have been used on
civilians -- because it was war
not apologizing for Hiroshima, nor should he," May 16 Opinion).
So war means never having to say you're sorry?
I get that "war is hell," but I don't see that one should deny
regrets after a war, or that there's no value in the simple decency
of an apology, however paltry.
I fear that refusing to apologize for Hiroshima implies that
atomic bombing of cities is something we can excuse doing again --
that it's one of those "options" that our political leaders insist
they won't ever "take off the table." Indeed, current plans to spend
more than $1 trillion to upgrade America's nuclear arsenal suggest
that America's leaders are more committed than ever to threatening
what we're repeatedly told is "a dangerous world" with instant
On the other hand, if we started to apologize for the atrocities
that even Pitts admits America committed, maybe we'd be less prone
to repeat them going forward.
OK, one big piece and long quote and comment:
Matt Taibbi: RIP, GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party:
Just riffing on the headline, my initial reaction is that he's got it
totally wrong. The Republican Party has been intellectually and morally
dead for some time now. The Bush administration proved that any pieces
of their agenda that they managed to implement rebounded disastrously,
they've continued to perform similarly awful at the state and local
levels, and under Obama congressional Republicans (even with their
recent majority control) have failed to offer a single constructive
proposal -- all they seem capable of doing is jeering and obstructing.
So they're already brain dead, not that the media -- so fascinated with
their spastic twitching -- has noticed let alone certified. Still, one
thing Trump has going is that he's pretty clearly not implicated in
their past failures, so how can one accuse him of killing the party?
The more apt metaphor is that the party is already dead, and Trump is
reanimating it, much like Dr. Frankenstein animated his monster. (I'm
not current enough on the relevant pop culture to judge whether some
sort of zombie trope might fit better, but John Quiggin's critique of
"zombie economics" -- "how dead ideas still walk among us" -- applies
to most of the rare occasions when Republicans attempt to present us
with their version of thinking.)
The main argument against the death of the Republican Party is that
Republicans keep polling well and winning elections, despite a track
record of unmitigated horror. While some pundits argue that Trump is
so repugnant and reviled that he may drag the whole party down to a
calamitous defeat this fall, I don't see how adding palpable energy
(and a soupçon of deniability) hurts the GOP. Taibbi's article is more
nuanced than his headline, partly because it's more about Ted Cruz's
failures than Trump's successes:
This led to the hilarious irony of Ted Cruz. Here was a quintessentially
insipid GOP con man culled straight from the halls of Princeton, Harvard,
the Supreme Court, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Republican
Senatorial Committee to smooth-talk the yokels. But through a freak accident
of history, he came along just when the newest models of his type were
selling "the Republican establishment sucks" as an electoral strategy.
Cruz was like an android that should have self-destructed in a cloud
of sparks and black smoke the moment the switch flipped on. He instead
stayed on just long enough to win 564 delegates, a stunning testament to
just how much Republican voters, in the end, hated the Republican
kingmakers Cruz robotically denounced.
All of these crazy contradictions came to a head in Indiana, where
Cruz succumbed in an explosion of hate and scorn. The cascade started
the Sunday night before the primary, with a Cruz stump speech in La
Porte that couldn't have gone worse.
Things went sideways as Cruz was working his way into a "simple flat
tax" spiel, a standard Republican snake-oil proposal in which all
corporate, estate and gift taxes would be eliminated, and replaced
with a 10 percent flat tax and a 16 percent consumption tax. Not
because the rich would pay less and the poor would pay more, but
because America and fairness, etc. He was just getting to his beloved
money line, claiming, "We can fill out our taxes on a postcard," when
a 12-year-old boy interrupted with cries of "You suck!" and "I don't
Cruz couldn't quite handle the pressure and stepped straight into
the man-trap the moment presented. He lectured the kid about respecting
his elders, then suggested the world might be a better place if someone
had taught a young Donald Trump that lesson. It was a not-half-bad line
of the type that the Harvard lawyer is occasionally capable. But Cruz
couldn't help himself and added, "You know, in my household, when a
child behaves that way, they get a spanking."
Boom! Within hours the Internet was filled with headlines
about how Ted Cruz had suggested spanking someone else's 12-year-old
for telling him he sucked.
This was on top of the ignominy of having already called a basketball
hoop a "ring" while giving a speech on the gym floor in Knightstown, the
home of the fictional Hickory team from Hoosiers. No American male
would call a basketball hoop a ring, and even a French immigrant would
know better than to do so in Indiana, but this was the kind of run he
The rest of the race was a slapstick blowout. Carly Fiorina fell off
a stage, and Cruz's wife, Heidi, actually had to answer a question from
a Yahoo! reporter about her husband being called the Zodiac Killer.
Heidi Cruz calmly responded that she'd been married to Ted for 15 years
and "I know pretty well who he is." This, of course, was exactly what
the wife of the actual Zodiac Killer would say, making for a perfectly
absurd ending to a doomed campaign. [ . . . ]
Finally, on the morning of the Indiana primary, Cruz woke up to hear
opponent Trump babbling that Cruz's own father had been hanging out with
Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a bizarre
take on a ridiculous National Enquirer story that Trump, of course,
believed instantly. Trump brought this up on Fox and Friends, which let
him run the ball all the way to the end zone. "I mean, what was he doing
with Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly before the death -- before the shooting?"
Trump asked. "It's horrible."
American politics had never seen anything like this: a presidential
candidate derided as a haggardly masturbating incarnation of Satan, the
son of a presidential assassin's accomplice, and himself an infamous
uncaptured serial killer.
Despite the media humiliations, Cruz talked passionately of his
supporters' resolve. "Just a few days ago, two young kids, ages four
and six, handed me two envelopes full of change," he said. "All of
their earnings from their lemonade stand. They wanted the campaign
to have it."
The crowd cooed: Awwww! There was no way he could quit now
and let those kids down. Except that moments later, Cruz did just
that, announcing he was suspending his campaign because "the path
to victory has been foreclosed." Then he fled the stage like he was
Didn't initially plan to quote all of that, but it kept coming, and
helps explain why Cruz, who had long been favored to win Indiana, and
who supposedly cinched the win with a deal to get Kasich to skip the
state and not split the anti-Trump vote, imploded so suddenly. But the
key word there was "foreclosed": precisely the sort of word a Harvard
lawyer would choose to indicate that he was quitting not because he
had lost face with the voters or had decided that the principled
differences he claimed against Trump had ceased to matter; rather,
the moneyed interests behind his campaign decided to cut their
losses and live with the consequences. Then, less than a week later,
Kasich -- who after his deal with Cruz had nothing riding on the
Indiana results -- dropped out as well, conceding the nomination
and obviating the rest of the primary schedule. Clearly, the folks
with the money decided that whatever uncertainty Trump posed wasn't
enough of a threat to keep fighting against.
And a few real brief links:
Sunday, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a
huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie
Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first
majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs.
25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York
values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so
this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a
first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth
noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday.
Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats
got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries
where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's
What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked
was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found
was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much
stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only
losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9)
districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state
average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo
and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester).
What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage
network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped
the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the
vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year,
often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I
expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew
Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it
underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's
power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he
appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats
so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the
nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters
worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was
reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened
to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the
Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals
(following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often
at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been
the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net
effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business
as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll
try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit
less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort
of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that
we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though
there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that
need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot
in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw
New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination,
it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton
is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6),
Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%,
closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island,
but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut
(although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting
much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up:
45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1%
in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania
(Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4%
in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in
New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican
races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in
Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2%
(T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with
three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet
somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we
find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another,
and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their
former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among
this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince
most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate,
and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds
of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high --
especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the
Some scattered links this week:
Gerald Friedman: Orthodox Economics Has Become a Place Where Visions Die
and Hopes Are Banished: Subhed: "Why liberal economists dish out
despair." Friedman was the economist who analyzed Bernie Sanders'
platform and concluded that it would lead to a growth rate that the
US economy hasn't seen in over fifty years. He was, in turn, attacked
by economists like Christine Romer and Paul Krugman for suggesting
that such growth rates were even possible. Basically, they regarded
Friedman's calculations as proof that Sanders was fantasizing. (In
fairness, a few economists like James Galbraith defended Friedman.)
Much of interest here:
There is, of course, a politics as well as a psychology to this economic
theory. If nothing much can be done, if things are as good as they can be,
it is irresponsible even to suggest to the general public that we try to
do something about our economic ills. The role of economists and other
policy elites (Paul Krugman is fond of the term "wonks") is to explain to
the general public why they should be reconciled with stagnant incomes,
and to rebuke those, like myself, who say otherwise before we raise false
hopes that can only be disappointed. But this approach leaves liberals
like Hillary Clinton with few policy options to offer in response to the
siren call of demagogues like Donald Trump. And it makes the work of
self-proclaimed "responsible" elite economists that much more pressing.
They have to work even harder to persuade the public that nothing can be
done to head off the challenge of Trump and other irresponsible politicians
who capitalize on the electorate's appetite for change. They have to slap
down critics like myself. "Responsible" elite economists have to keep the
party of "good arithmetic" from overpromising at all costs.
Were the orthodox classical economists correct, then of course their
politics would follow. But what if they are wrong? What if government
action could, in fact, raise growth rates or narrow disparities? What
would be the expected value of a higher GDP growth rate? Would it be
worth some academic debate, even if it leaked into the public realm?
Might this debate even serve a socially useful function by giving voters
an alternative to the xenophobic political economy of Donald Trump? Many
Americans believe that government action can improve economic conditions,
especially for workers, and many of these support Trump because they see
him as the only candidate who is even willing to consider government
action to help working Americans. These voters can look long and hard
at the "responsible" Clinton platform for some policy, for any policy
to raise growth rates and narrow income disparities. But they won't find
it, because policy elites have closed their minds to the possibility of
This reminds me that Krugman has repeatedly defended Democratic Party
compromises (e.g., ACA, Dodd-Frank) as adequate and satisfactory (even
if not ideal) solutions, while implying that little more can be done,
and that when Sanders argues otherwise, he's out on some lark beyond
anything that is economically possible. This gets me wondering whether
there were any Keynesians during the 1930s, even after it had become
clear that government spending was working to bring the economy out of
the Great Depression, who could imagine what a radical expansion --
one aimed not just as restoring the pre-depression equilibrium but
achieving a whole new level of prosperity -- might accomplish. That
experiment was (perhaps unwittingly) done with the total mobilization
for WWII. What Sanders is proposing goes way beyond repairing the
damage done by Bush's bubble. What's lacking is political will, not
the "laws of economics," and the net effect of Krugman's (and others')
naysaying is to help suppress that political will.
I don't doubt that there are long-term issues with sustaining
economic growth, but it's also clear that the US economy is performing
way below what it's capable of, and a crash program of public works --
not just to fix our sorely degraded infrastructure -- would make a big
difference (even Krugman understands that much, although his argument
doesn't go nearly as far as Sanders or Friedman). The infrastructure
work would also move a huge current liability into the asset column,
and would improve future productivity, but there's much more value to
be gained from spending on public works. One area where Sanders may
be overly optimistic is how to pay for this: it's not clear to me that
simply "soaking the rich" with higher taxes will raise enough revenue
(not that that's not worth doing in its own right), especially if one
implements other reforms to reverse increasing inequality. Most likely
we would need some sort of broad-based consumption tax (in addition to
more progressive taxes on profits and estates), but that's almost a
technical issue compared to the broader question of vision.
I should also remind you of Philip Mirowski's big book, Never
Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the
Financial Meltdown (2013), which is largely about how mainstream
economists throttled (well, more like strangled) any serious political
change following a severe crisis which pretty clearly proved that
their understanding of the economy was faulty.
Emmett Rensin: The smug style in American liberalism: Much I agreed
with here, and much that rubbed me the wrong way. I believe that good
politics derives from respect for everyone, notably people who grew up
differently from yourself, who consequently have different world views.
However, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't disagree with some of
those world views. It's just that the ones you should reject are the ones
where respect isn't reciprocal or generalizable. Many people, for instance,
think they should be privileged over other groups of people, and that is
a creed that is based on disrespect for the unprivileged, that cannot be
generalizable. We can all, for instance, settle for equality, which is
what makes it such a fundamental principle of political society. Given
all this, smugness is inappropriate and often counterproductive. Yet it
is pretty much impossible to engage in political discourse without at
some point appearing to someone as smug. And consequently, Rensin's
examples are all over the range from sensible to outrageous. There are
some ideas -- the gold standard, for instance, or creationism -- that
are so indefensible many of us skip past re-litigating them and resort
to derision, even if that leaves the impression of smugness. Similarly
there are people -- e.g., Sen. Jim Inhofe on climate change (fresh on
my mind because I read a quote from him today) -- who having repeatedly
clung to indefensible positions have lost the right to be taken seriously,
even though such instant rejection smacks of smugness. At some point you
have to realize that it's not practical to re-argue everything from first
principles every time it comes up (though it is useful to be able to cite
someone who has thought the issue through). Still, I don't disagree with
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people
from the duty to respect them. It becomes all at once too easy to decide
you know best, to never hear, much less ignore, protest to the contrary.
At present, many of those most in need of the sort of help liberals
believe they can provide despise liberalism, and are despised in turn.
Is it surprising that with each decade, the "help" on offer drifts even
further from the help these people need?
Even if the two could be separated, would it be worth it? What kind
of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people
it is advocating for?
The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a
failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion
that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must
capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts. [ . . . ]
The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished
with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause
with the larger section of the American working class, they will search
for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will
find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further.
They will choose the smug style.
One thing that Rensin has stumbled onto here is that the relationship
between liberalism and the working class has been fraught with difficulty
throughout American history, perhaps only bound together by accident of
the egalitarian words of the Declaration of Independence and the power
shifts of the New Deal. Liberalism has always focused on individuals,
defined as free and equal as opposed to the old orders of aristocracy
(and peasantry or slavery). As such, liberals sought to advance people
one-by-one based on merit, whereas socialists sought to "level up" the
working class to share in the entire nation's wealth (mostly created
by the labor of the working class). As such liberals -- Chris Hedges
and Thomas Frank speak of a distinct "liberal class" rooted in highly
educated professionals -- have tended to accept inequities, provided
that opportunities were more or less equal -- all the more so in times
of increased inequality, such as ours.
Indeed, at this point I suspect that the only thing that keeps the
liberal class and the working class -- which is a pretty fair first
approximation of the Clinton-Sanders contest -- from splitting the
Democratic Party in two is their shared horror at the prospect of
Republican rule. It will be interesting to see whether the dominant
liberal faction makes any serious nods toward the white working class
(with Republicans like Trump and Cruz, blacks and Latinos are pretty
much locked in).
Yusef Munayyer: Wanted: A US Strategy in the Middle East:
In 2006, as Israel and Hezbollah were engaged in what would be a 34day war,
the longest of any ArabIsraeli war since 1948, US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice reflected on the region's volatile dynamics calling them
"the birth pangs of a new Middle East." She further stated, "We have to be
certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East not back to the
Indeed, there was something new in the Middle East that Dr. Rice was
observing then. For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all
seemed to align with Israel in the war and condemned Hezbollah in a very
overt way. Earlier in the year, Al-Qaeda in Iraq launched the first major
salvo in what became a sectarian war in Iraq when it bombed the Shi'a
AlAskari Mosque in Samarra. The Iraq war had made this regional
realignment, which we have seen develop further in the years since,
come into fruition.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent dismantlement of the
Iraqi state had many devastating implications for the region. Perhaps
most significant was the fact that it shattered any semblance of regional
order in the Middle East and the longstanding modus vivendi
between Riyadh and Tehran. Saddam had been a bulwark against Iran and
a buffer that limited Iranian influence from reaching the Arab Gulf
countries and the Levant. With Saddam gone, the US fired the starting
pistol in a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Militias, insurgencies, sectarianism and bloodshed would characterize
this power struggle.
Today, more than a decade into this contest, the labor pains have
subsided and a demon child called ISIS, nurtured from embryo to beast
in the womb of a failed Iraqi state, has not only learned to walk but
is running amok across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Munayyer's big point is that while the US thought it had all the
power in the world, it had no real idea what it wanted to do with
that power, and consequently wound up thrashing, unable to decide
on goals, or even friends and enemies (actually, both camps tended
to be defined by their opposite in ways that wound up contradicting
one another). And in this context US power turned out to be far less
than super (let alone hyper). Munayyer sees the 2003 invasion of Iraq
as pivotal, but the 1990 war was nearly as bad, and the US had made
a muddle of its strategy ever since Carter declared the Persian Gulf
a "vital US interest," or Nixon looked to Saudi fundamentalism as a
bulwark in the Cold War, or LBJ had no interest in brokering an end
to the Arab-Israeli wars despite having friends on both sides. And
all through America's Orientalists never showed the slightest interest
in the welfare of the region's people, least of all their desires for
free societies and modern economies.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Patently Absurd Logic on Budget Deficits and Debt:
Time did a cover story attempting to rile up hysteria about the
federal deficit again, so Baker knocks it down plank by plank -- stuff
you should already know by now, but I'm flad he's also talking about
There is one other point about treating the debt as a serious measure
of generational equity. Interest payments on debt are just one of the
ways in which the government makes commitments for the future. When
the government grants patent and copyright monopolies, it is also
making commitments that carry into the future. Patent and copyright
monopolies allow the holders to charge prices for the protected items
that are hugely higher than the free market price. They are in effect
a tax that is privately collected by drug companies, software companies,
the entertainment industry and others.
These payments are in fact enormous relative to the interest burdens
that get the deficit hawks so excited. In the case of prescription drugs
alone, the difference between what we pay for patent protected drugs,
compared to drugs being sold at free market prices, is in the neighborhood
of $360 billion a year. That's equal to 2 percent of the GDP, twice the
size of the current interest burden on the public debt.
Jesse Eisinger: Why Haven't Bankers Been Punished? Just Read These Insider
SEC Emails: Follows longtime SEC lawyer James Kidney. Ends with:
Kidney became disillusioned. Upon retiring, in 2014, he gave an impassioned
going-away speech, in which he called the SEC "an agency that polices the
broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors."
In our conversations, Kidney reflected on why that might be. The oft-cited
explanations -- campaign contributions and the allure of private-sector jobs
to low-paid government lawyers -- have certainly played a role. But to Kidney,
the driving force was something subtler. Over the course of three decades,
the concept of the government as an active player had been tarnished in the
minds of the public and the civil servants inside working inside the agency.
In his view, regulatory capture is a psychological process in which officials
become increasingly gun shy in the face of criticism from their bosses,
Congress, and the industry the agency is supposed to oversee. Leads aren't
pursued. Cases are never opened. Wall Street executives are not forced to
explain their actions.
Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit One in Any Future American War Crimes Trial:
Author of a new book titled American Nuremberg: The US Officials
Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Previously wrote
Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United
States (2014, Oxford University Press). This excerpt focuses on
the torture of Abu Zubaydah, which surely qualifies although I'd say
that the decisions to invade and start decades-long wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq are far more serious crimes.
William Hartung: What a Waste, the US Military: Given all the evil
that the US military perpetrates, the fact that they do such a lousy job
of managing their bloated allowance ranks rather low on in my view, but
it's always worth a reminder that their lack of care and foresight starts
at home, well before they use it to screw up the rest of the world.
Matt Karp: Against Fortress Liberalism;
Lily Geismer: Atari Democrats;
Rick Perlstein: The Chicago School: three essays from Jacobin
magazine, which we recently subscribed to. On the other hand, they also
published a hatchet job by Jonah Walters on "hippie-hating hawk" Merle
Haggard that totally misses the boat. (Kathleen Geier fumes
here, and Eric Loomis gets down to brass tacks in a reply titled
Walking on the Fighting Side of Me.)
David Swanson: US Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity or for Democracy:
Interview by Mark Karlin with the author of War Is a Lie, originally
written in 2010 and now out in a 2nd edition paperback (Just World Books),
and founder of the
World Beyond War website.
In 2006, Republicans believed they'd have to end the wars, and Democrats
were elected to congressional majorities with that mandate. Rahm Emanuel
then openly told The Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the
wars going for two more years in order to run "against" them again in
2008. The Democrats took the chairs of committees and proceeded to do
nothing with them. And people who identified with the Democratic Party
in 2007 began obsessing with the 2008 presidential election, at the
expense of ending the slaughter in 2007 or 2008.
Endless, lawless war at massive expense was clearly established as a
bipartisan norm. Entire presidential debates in 2016 have passed by
without a single mention of the world outside the United States. No
candidate has been asked whether 54 percent of discretionary spending
on militarism is too much, too little or just right. Young people have
grown up in this climate and accepted in some cases -- just like most
old people -- all the propaganda or at least the part that maintains
that we are powerless to stop wars. Corruption by war profiteers and
general cultural taboos contribute: The big environmental groups won't
take on the biggest destroyer of the environment, the big civil liberties
groups won't touch the biggest cause of rights violations etc. But the
fact is that a massive movement against war is extremely active and
broad in comparison to what the media suggests.
For an excerpt from the new edition of War Is a Lie, see
Fear of ISIS Used to Justify Continued Military Intervention in Middle
How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk: As Secretary of State, Clinton
was consistently more hawkish than President Obama. Indeed, she's
always been quick to resort to military force. Long story, including
a possibly apocryphal story about Clinton wanting to join the Navy.
Sunday, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
George Monbiot: Neoliberalism -- the ideology at the root of all our
problems: The term is scarcely ever used in the US, where right-wing
pundits insist that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (pictured at
the top) are regarded as purely conservative folk heroes. Yet the term
was coined at a 1938 conference featuring Austrian economists Ludwig
von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who used it to articulate an extreme
belief in free markets in opposition to "collectivism" -- a term they
felt rounded up all the evil political movements of the era: nazism,
communism, and most importantly social democracy. The term soon fell
out of use: in the US the ideas mostly appealed to red-baiting right
wingers who preferred to call themselves "conservatives"; in Britain,
the term has mostly been picked up by its opponents, since it seems
to tie together both the Conservative and Liberal parties, as well as
describe where the "New Labour" party faction went so terribly wrong.
Of course, the same ideas infected the Democratic Party, particularly
through Carter's deregulation mania, Clinton's embrace of "free trade"
deals and "small government," continuing through Obama (whose signature
plans, like health care reform and a "cap-and-trade" greenhouse gas
market were originally hatched in neoliberal "think tanks"). Still,
I wonder if it isn't too pat to catalog every instance of self-serving
capitalist greed and dignify it with an innocuous ideological label.
Monbiot notes that neoliberal policy directives have failed so often
their underlying theories have achieved zombie status, then complains
that "The left has produced no new framework of economic thought for
80 years. This is why the zombie walks." The zombie walks because the
rich have rigged the system. What we need isn't another framework;
it's countervaling power.
Much quotable here; this is just a sample:
The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes.
Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to
cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the
social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens.
The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the
Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the
economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the
domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course
of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal
theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But
some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or
shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The
result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of
the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies,
disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people
have been shed from politics.
Monbiot has a new book, How Did We Get Into This Mess?
(Verso). He also cites another interesting title, Andrew Sayer:
Why We Can't Afford the Rich (Policy Press, paperback in
May). Also links to
Paul Verhaeghe: Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.
Michael Specter: Life-Expectancy Inequality Grows in America:
It will surprise nobody to learn that life expectancy increases with
income. Coming, however, in the midst of a Presidential campaign in
which the corrosive effects of income inequality have been a principal
debate topic, the data and its implications for public policy are
particularly striking: the richest one per cent of American men live
14.6 years longer on average than the poorest one per cent. For women,
the average difference is a just over ten years.
The gap appears to be growing fast. The researchers, led by Raj
Chetty, a professor of economics at Stanford University, analyzed
more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns, as well as mortality data
from the Social Security Administration, from the years 2001 to 2014.
In that period, the life expectancy of the richest five per cent of
Americans increased by roughly three years. For the poorest five per
cent, there was no increase.
DR Tucker: Ship of Fools: The fourth down of five straight rants
about "Bernie or Bust"-ers ("who still insist that under no circumstances
will they vote for the 'corporatist' Hillary Clinton if she defeats
Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination"). After
five paragraphs of imagining Trumpian hell, he concludes:
The inconvenient truth is that the "Bernie or Bust" crowd is
indistinguishable from right-wing fundamentalists in their loathing
of compromise and their refusal to recognize that sometimes people
can make bad decisions in good faith. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton
and Al Gore are neither evil nor corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders,
for that matter . . . but what does it say about those who only
recognize morality in the latter, and malevolence in the former?
First, he probably should have stopped at "evil" and not brought
up "corrupt": if there's anything the Clintons have done consistently
throughout their political careers, it's been to cozy up to moneyed
interests -- be they Tyson and Walmart in Arkansas, or Goldman Sachs
and Citibank in New York. Maybe it's legal for a company that was
saved by billions of dollars of federal bailouts to pay you $650k
for one little speech, but it's hard to say there's nothing corrupt
about it. Second, are we really talking about compromises, or simply
different goals? When the Clinton's concocted their health care
scheme, were they backing off from a single-payer approach just
enough to secure passage, or were they trying to pitch fat business
opportunities to the insurance companies and HMOs? If you want an
example of a compromise, take Sanders supporting Obama's ACA even
though he clearly was aware of and wanted something better. I'm
not saying that the Clintons don't compromise, let alone that they
have no principles to compromise. But I do think it's fair to say
that their principles and aims are very different from those of
people who prefer Sanders. Probably very different from their own
It's pathetic that Tucker can't tell the difference between Sanders
supporters and right-wing fundamentalists. Also that he doesn't recognize
that most Sanders supporters aren't died-in-the-wool leftists. The least
of Clinton's problems is that those "Bernie-or-bust"-ers will wind up
voting for Jill Stein. Two much bigger problems are that Clinton won't
campaign on anything that materially promises to help the lives of the
voters who have been energized by Sanders' campaign and/or that she's
already lost so much credibility that many people won't trust her. And
again, her problem isn't with confirmed leftists, who are hypersensitive
to the perils of fascism and accustomed to settling for "lesser evils."
Her problem is the vast mass of Americans who can't tell the difference
between the two parties, either because they're uninformed or because
they're all too aware that changing the guard in Washington hasn't made
any appreciable difference in their own lives.
Worse still is Tucker's
Running Up That Hill, where he urges the DNC to ban Sanders from
speaking at the Democratic Convention:
Why should Clinton genuflect to someone who a) explicitly said she
doesn't have what it takes to be president, b) called for a primary
challenge to the current Democratic President, and c) is not a
Speaking of concessions, a compelling case can be made that if
Sanders suspends his campaign after losing badly in this Tuesday's
New York Democratic primary, he should be excluded from speaking in
any capacity at the Democratic convention. It would be rather divisive
to give a prominent speaking position at that convention to someone
who seems to believe that the Democratic Party has prostituted itself
to economically powerful johns and contracted the social disease of
"corporatism." If Sanders addressed the convention and repeated his
campaign rhetoric, would he not offend convention attendees who regard
certain elements of Sanders's shtick as a tone-deaf and tacky trashing
of President Obama? [ . . . ] Those who are
thinking dispassionately will not be offended by the exclusion of
Sanders from the convention, and will understand the reasons why he
wasn't invited to speak.
Didn't the DNC try to suppress dissent (or do I mean democracy?)
once before -- in 1968? As I recall, that didn't work out so well.
A sane person would see the convention as an opportunity to bind the
Party divided by the primaries back together, but Tucker seems to
prefer laying waste to those who had challenged party orthodoxy,
thereby exacerbating the split in the Party. I suppose he could
point to Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention in 1992
as an example where such a concession backfired. (If you recall that
speech, it's probably because Molly Ivins allowed that "it probably
sounded better in the original German.") Nonetheless, I can't imagine
Sanders following suit -- especially after the votes are counted --
unless Clinton follows Tucker's advice and pushes him out. And if
she's that thin-skinned, she's unprepared for the job ahead.
PS: I wouldn't have read these pieces had they not appeared in
the otherwise admirable
Washington Monthly blog,
which Tucker has totally hijacked for his rants. Please bring back
Corey Rubin: Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions:
Among many other thoughts, this on the obsolescence of the DLC
Though I'm obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it's
the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us
who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary
Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders
ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one
or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance:
that for us is the real point of this whole thing.
I'm always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view.
While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that
kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely
mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton's supporters seem to be more
in synch with Sanders's politics. They say they like Bernie and agree
with his politics; it's just not realistic, they say, to think that
the American electorate will support that.
Which makes these liberals' attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling.
If it's all pure pragmatism for you -- despite your personal support for
Bernie's positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the
United States -- what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when
there's no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of
organizational support, who's able to articulate that kind of politics?
Daniel Larson: The Libyan War and Obama's 'Worst Mistake': When
asked one of those self-flagellating questions, Obama offered that
his worst mistake was "Probably failing to plan for the day after
what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya." I
can think of several worse ones. One was not fixing the Bush tax
cuts when he had the votes to do so right after the 2008 election.
(Sure, I understand that he didn't do so because raising taxes in
a recession would have seemed contractionary, and because he wanted
to play up his bipartisanship, and because they were due to sunset
in a few years anyway, but they would have cut into the swollen
deficits that caused so much alarm, in turn leading to austerity
cutbacks that really were contractionary. Moreover, he could have
floated tax rebates to counter the increases short-term, so they
would have been neutral or better while improving the long-term
outlook.) Another was pretending that the US had succeeded in Iraq
when his belated withdrawal was complete, which left him open to
the charge that his withdrawal turned Bush's victory into the rise
of ISIS. I could come up with a few dozen more before getting into
Libya, where in retrospect the intervention has come to look like
a worse decision than the aftermath. As Larson puts it:
I don't think this was Obama's biggest mistake, but it is revealing
that he remains convinced that this lack of post-Gaddafi planning is
worse than the far greater error of intervening in Libya in the first
place. As we saw last week, this has become the self-serving rallying
cry of Libyan war supporters. The only error interventionists are
capable of recognizing is that of doing "too little." They can't admit
that the intervention itself is a mistake without fully acknowledging
their bad judgment in supporting it. [ . . . ]
Obama knew at the time that there was absolutely no political
support in the U.S. or anywhere else for a prolonged mission in Libya.
Promising not to start an open-ended mission in Libya is what made the
war politically viable here at home. The public would tolerate bombing
for eight months and then writing off the country, but there wouldn't
be similar patience for a new occupation in yet another Muslim country
with the costs and casualties that would likely entail.
It was not an oversight by the intervening governments when they
left Libya to its own devices. That was part of the plan, such as it
was, from the very beginning. So it is hard to take Obama seriously
when he faults himself for not committing the U.S. to a larger, costlier
role in Libya when he and the other allied leaders deliberately decided
against doing that. They made that decision because they wanted a low-risk
intervention on the cheap, and they certainly weren't prepared to make a
long-term commitment to police and rebuild Libya. But they were willing
to help throw the country into chaos and to destabilize the surrounding
region and declare victory when the regime change they supposedly weren't
seeking had been achieved.
One last point is that the US intervention didn't end when the bombing
did. Obama may not have planned for the aftermath, but the CIA blundered
in anyway, which is how that Benghazi! fiasco happened.
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new
book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the
People? (pp. 89-91):
[Bill] Clinton's wandering political identity fascinated both his
admirers and biographers, many of whom chose to explain it as a quest:
Bill Clinton had to prove, to himself and the nation, that he was a
genuine New Democrat. He had to grow into presidential maturity. And
the way he had to do it was by somehow damaging or insulting
traditional Democratic groups that represented the party's tradition
of egalitarianism. Then we would know that the New Deal was really
dead. Then we could be sure.
This became such a cherished idea among Clinton's campaign team
that they had a catchphrase for it: "counter-scheduling." During the
1992 race, as though to compensate for his friend-of-the-little-guy
economic theme, Clinton would confront and deliberately antagonize
certain elements of the Democratic Party's traditional base in order
to assure voters that "interest groups" would have no say in a New
Democratic White House. As for those interest groups themselves,
Clinton knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else
to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centralism.
The most famous target of Clinton's counter-scheduling strategy was
the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the bête noir of centrists and
the living embodiment of the poilitics the Democratic Leadership
Council had set out to extinguish. At a 1992 meeting of Jackson's
Rainbow Coalition, with Jackson sitting to his left, Clinton went out
of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah
who had addressed the conference on the previous day. The exact
circumstances of Clinton's insult have long been forgotten, but the
fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of
genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should
always be doing in order to discipline their party's base.
Once Clinton was in the White House, counter-scheduling mutated
from a campaign tactic to a philosophy of government. At a retreat in
the administration's early days, Bill's chief political adviser,
Hillary Clinton, instructed White House officials how it was going to
be done. As Carl Bernstein describes the scene, Hillary announced that
the public must be made to understand that Bill was taking them on a
"journey" and that he had a "vision" for what the administration was
doing, a "story" that distinguished good from evil. The way to
dramatize this story, the first lady continued (in Bernstein's
telling), was to pick a fight with supporters.
You show people what you're willing to fight for, Hillary said,
when you fight your friends -- by which, in this context, she clearly
meant, When you make them your enemy.
NAFTA would become the first great test of this theory of the
presidency, with Clinton defying not only organized labor but much of
his own party in Congress. In one sense, it achieved the desired
results. For New Democrats and for much of the press, NAFTA was
Clinton's "finest hour," his "boldest action," an act befitting a real
he-man of a president who showed he could stand up to labor and
thereby assure the world that he was not a captive of traditional
But there was also an important difference. NAFTA was not
symbolism. With this deed, Clinton was not merely insulting an
important constituency, as he had done with Jesse Jackson and Sister
Souljah. With NAFTA he connived in that constituency's ruin. He
assisted in the destruction of its economic power. He did his part to
undermine his party's greatest ally, to ensure that labor would be too
weak to organize workers from that point forward. Clinton made the
problems of working people materially worse.
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable
to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill.
Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton
never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive
reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able
to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something
which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when
Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in
2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed
her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential
crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this
year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align
with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans --
yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the
Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot
be trusted to support them.