Sunday, April 9. 2017
On Thursday, April 6, 2017, Donald Trump ordered the US Navy to
fire 59 cruise missiles from ships in the Mediterranean targeting
the al-Shayrat airbase in central Syria (near Homs). This was widely
reported as the first time US forces had directly attacked forces
loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. My first reaction to write
Day of Infamy post, like
I did the day after March 17, 2003, when Bush launched his invasion
and occupation of Iraq with a similar volley of cruise missiles.
But since those missiles blew up on or near their target, the US
hasn't followed up with an invasion or any notable escalation of
war. It's not even much of a precedent, as the US has been bombing
Syrian territory held by ISIS for several years, and has stationed
"military advisers" ("special forces") well inside Syria's pre-war
borders. And the US and its nominal allies have been running guns
and munitions to various anti-Assad groups within Syria almost from
the very start of Syria's Civil War. Obama had gone on record as
insisting that Assad "must go" early in that war -- an extraordinarily
arrogant stance coming from the leader of a nation which used to
proclaim its belief that each nation has a right to choose its own
leaders and political system ("self-determination").
The US has had a checkered relationship with Syria and the Assad
dynasty since it seized power in the mid-1960s, sometimes forming
alliances against common enemies (like Iraq and al-Qaeda), but one
issue has effectively kept Syria on the US enemies list and that is
Israel -- especially since 1967 when Isreal seized and annexed a
strip of territory it calls the Golan Heights. That issue pushed
Syria into becoming a military client of the Soviet Union (later
Russia -- in neither case for ideological reasons, but because its
opposition to Israel closed off access to American arms), and that
alignment only (plus the similar one with Iran) only added to the
peculiar combination of antipathy, indifference, opportunism, and
intolerance which has characterized America's increasingly violent
and fitful intervention in the Middle East.
The immediate rationale for this particular act of war was the
use of poisonous gas, allegedly by Assad's forces, in the town of
Khan Sheikhoun, in "rebel-held territory" in Idlib Province. Obama
had arbitrariy proclaimed a "red line" that would be crossed should
Syria use poison gas. When Syria appeared to have used poison gas in
2013, the US prepared a "punitive" attack against Syria, but backed
down, partly because Congress was wary of authorizing US intervention
in Syria, but also because Russia intervened and negotiated a deal
between Assad and Kerry committing Syria to destroy its stocks of
chemical weapons. Although few Republicans wanted to intervene in
Syria, neocons were critical of Obama for failing to punish Syria,
and Trump picked up that theme on the campaign trail. Given a similar
provocation, it's hardly surprising that Trump would want to show his
toughness by bombing first -- especially given that the US had a long
history, dating back to Reagan in Libya, of punitive bombing against
Middle Eastern targets. (Clinton did the same in Afghanistan and Sudan,
and turned the pummeling of Iraq into a kneejerk response every time
he wanted to deflect attention from his own scandals. Trump understood
this political tactic well enough to tweet (not sure when): "Now that
Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin -- watch for him to launch a
strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.")
But while Trump's now-signature attack isn't far removed from
"business as usual" for the US in the region, it will take some
effort to various threads that came together to make Trump's own
decision little more than a kneejerk response. One question has
to do with the chemical attack cited as the rationale. It's hard
to get politically untainted data from the site, but it makes
little if any sense that Assad would use chemical weapons after
having given them up. As
Jason Diltz reports, one possible explanation, promoted by Russia,
is "that no such gas attack took place to begin with, and that a Syrian
conventional strike hit a rebel warehouse full of chemicals." Russia,
having brokered the deal to rid Assad of chemical weapons, isn't a
disinterested observer here, but it is likely that chemical weapons
caches fell into "rebel" hands early in the war, and there has been
reason to suggest that some of the pre-2013 poison gas incidents had
been "false flag" operations by "rebels" to goad the US into taking
punitive action against Assad.
More generally, Assad has evidently been gaining ground recently,
and several countries had come to the conclusion that Assad would
continue to play a role in a negotiated post-conflict Syria -- even
the US seemed to be moving toward that conclusion, at least as part
of Trump's more amicable stance toward Russia. So why would Assad
risk all that by doing something practically guaranteed to trigger
a belligerent response from Trump? It makes no sense -- which doesn't
prove it's untrue but does raise suspicion. If you look at who benefits
from the chemical attack, it isn't Assad or his foreign allies; it's the
anti-Assad "rebels" and elements within the US security establishment
who have long benefited from sowing discord with Russia and Iran;
e.g., the very people who applauded Trump loudest. Diltz also reports
the Pentagon is investigating whether Russian planes took part in
the chemical attack, and that Rex Tillerson says
Russia bears responsibility for Assad's gas attack. Strategic
thinkers in and around the Pentagon have long cherished Russia as
The key thing in Trump's attack against the Syrian airfield wasn't
what he did so much as how quickly he did it. Speed saved Trump from
a lot of possible headaches: he never had to explain what he intended
to do, and he didn't give anyone the chance to second-guess him, let
alone organize opposition. He didn't consult anyone in Congress. Despite
Nikki Haley's recent flurry of tantrums, he didn't engage the UN. What
he wanted to do was to show that he could act decisively (unlike Obama,
or even Bush, but ironically much more like Clinton). He informed the
president of China only after the missiles were launched, and only
because they were having dinner together and he was too pleased with
himself to keep a secret like that. About the only one he did as much
as notify before the fact was the Russians, who were given ample time
to clear the air base, minimizing damage and casualties. (Press reports
stated that the 59 cruise missiles -- at $1.5 million each he liquidated
$90 million in inventory in seconds -- had killed nine Syrians.) You'd
think that hardcore Trump-Russia conspiracy devotees would be up in
arms over such collusion, but most of them are Clinton dead-enders,
and by and large they were so elated by the fireworks they let such
So even if you've forgotten the movie Wag the Dog, it was
pretty obvious that the chief objective in bombing Syria had to do
with domestic politics. Trump has been struggling in the polls, and
he's especially been dogged by charges of underhanded hanky-panky with
Vladimir Putin and the Russians -- whose interference in America's
notoriously corrupt political system is popularly regarded as nefarious
(as opposed to, say, Israel's completely kosher manipulations). So in
one stealth blow, Trump shows his independence from Putin as well as
his allegiance to the imperial war state, and gets a moment doing the
one thing Americans of most political stripes seem to regard as truly
"presidential": blowing shit up. And to think that until he did just
that, Trump was widely regarded as a dangerous maniac.
Conspicuous among those applauding Trump were not only perennial
Republican war-mongers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but
virtually all of the so-called opposition leadership, starting with
Chuck Shumer ("the right thing to do") and Nancy Pelosi. Even former
presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton came in from the woods to, just
before the fact, demand that Trump step up to the challenge and bomb
Syria's airfields. (Anyone who thought that Trump might be less
hawkish than Clinton has by now been thoroughly disabused of such
fantasies, but thus far Trump still hasn't done anything crazier
than Clinton herself promised.) Even John Kerry, who negotiated the
chemical weapons deal with Assad and Putin, has turned into one of
Trump's loudest cheerleaders.
Still, the speed with which Trump acted belies the likely fact
that he actually has no idea how to end the war. When someone like
Kerry looks at Trump's escalation, he sees pressure pointed toward
a negotiated settlement, and he sees bombing Assad now as a means
of bringing his ambitions down a notch or two. He no doubt recalls
Bosnia, where a round of American bombing brought the Serbs to an
agreement known as the Dayton Accords. But that was a relatively
simple and easy conflict, and the US had virtually no history as a
nemesis to Serbia (or Yugoslavia) so had a relatively clean track
record as an arbiter. Yugoslavia was also a country that could be
sliced up into fairly neat regions, so the outlines of a solution
were much more obvious. Also there was very little international
involvement, so other countries (even the US) had no real stakes
in the outcome. Even so, the Dayton Accords were hardly a model of
impartial diplomacy: they halted a war, but didn't repair the ruins,
and war soon flared up again in Kosovo, which was resolved far less
Anyone who gives Syria even a modicum of thought must realize that
the only way the war ends there is in an agreement which shares power
among all factions. That is especially difficult because there are so
many factions, many defined against each other, and many backed by
various foreign powers, few (if any) out of any concern for the people
who live (or, increasingly, lived) in Syria. The only way to cut through
this Gordian Knot is to systematically focus on what would be best for
the people, regardless of what it means for the outside parties -- but
that is a skill that Americans in particular have great difficulty with.
Some aspects of a solution seem fundamental. First, power should be
radically decentralized, with each section determined democratically,
and much flexibility as to how to organize each section. (This is what
should have been done in Aghanistan and Iraq, but wasn't because the
US wanted to control local politics through the apparatus of a central
state, no matter how alien or unpopular that state became.) This would
allow, for instance, some sections to be popularly organized as Islamist
statelets, others to be dominated by Sunnis or Alawis or Kurds, and
others to favor secular socialism (or even Texas-style crony capitalism,
Bush's initial plan for Iraq). Those local sections would need to be
demilitarized, and to allow free movement of people to other sections.
There would need to be a comprehensive amnesty, and limits on punishment
inside sections (some sort of "bill of rights," where mobility was one
Such an agreement could be agreed to or imposed, and indeed a broadly
agreed to framework might have to be imposed on recalcitrant factions.
If imposed, it should be done by neutral soldiers who have no lasting
political interests in Syria, and should involve disarmament. An agreed
framework could slowtrack disarmament. The settlement would gradually
remove all foreign forces, and provide an international agreement against
aggression against Syria (Israel and Turkey are two countries with bad
track records here). It would also come with a redevelopment bank that
would provide grants and loans for rebuilding and development, and would
be subject to policing of corruption.
I don't see how any other solution might work, although I can imagine
various half-assed compromises, like leaving Assad in charge of a rump
Syrian state that would be prohibited from infringing the basic rights
of the Syrian people, with vague promises of future elections, etc. --
you might call this "surrender with dignity." Or if you cannot condone
Assad, you might conspire to turn the country over to Al-Qaeda and hope
they evolve into Saudi Arabia. Or I suppose the world powers might get
Turkey to occupy and annex Syria, although there's no reason to think
they'd do a better job than they have in their Kurdish regions. But
none of these are remotely good ideas. They're merely better than
maintaining Syria as a hot battleground for the cold wars of a dozen
regional and international rivals -- i.e., the status quo.
While Kerry might relish the prospect of using the Trump stick to
bully Assad and others to a Bosnia-like settlement (or better), it's
hard to see Rex Tillerson (let alone Trump) even imagining as much,
much less accomplishing it having basically decapitated the State
Department (he, of course, in the role of the chicken's disembodied
head). Ironically, the only one involved who possesses anything near
that sort of imagination is Putin, so wouldn't a plan designed to
drive a wedge between Putin and Trump be counterproductive? That's
pretty clearly why McCain and Graham, and for that matter Shumer and
Pelosi and Clinton and her crew, were so quick to climb on board.
Still, without a plan this will go down in history as just another
arbitrary and ultimately pointless American atrocity, like so many
before it, and Trump's blip in the polls will dissolve into the hole
dug by his nasty incompetence. His day of infamy is likely to quickly
be forgotten, until his next one anyway. It's not just that those who
are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it. Those who respond
only to the moment's temptation will never have firm ground to stand
One last point I want to make: what disturbs me more than Trump's
missile attack has been how easily, how uncritically many Democrats
and most of the media have lapped up the rationale behind the attack.
OK, whatever rationale suited their prejudices best -- some exalted
in American power and Trump's "presidential" resolve, some preferred
to play up the vileness of the "enemy," some even believed that the
killing and destruction served some humanitarian greater good. But
all of them bought into the idea that the US (and the US alone) is
entitled to play God and deliver justice. Back in 2008 when Barack
Obama said he wants to change the way we think about war, nobody
expected that what he meant was that the US should simply become
more efficient and precise in its ability to project power across
the globe, especially through riskless, remotely controlled long
distance weapons. Surely a more reasonable reading would have been
that the US should back away from its world policing role in favor
of developing international organizations that could keep the peace
by putting all nations on an equal footing.
Of course, no one expects the Republicans to understand all that,
but shouldn't we demand as much from the Democrats. After all, what
kind of practical resistance can they offer against Trump and company
without making a commitment to peace, justice, and humanity?
Some more links on Trump's little venture into Syria:
Michael R Shear/Michael R Gordon: 63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to
Trump's Strike in Syria: An hour-by-hour countdown focusing on
Trump: what he knew (not much), what options he had (not many), when
he decided to blow things up.
Peter Baker: For Obama, Syria Chemical Attack Shows Risk of 'Deals
With Dictators': Misleading title, and for that matter article.
I don't see any current quote from Obama -- just lots of former
Obama advisers like Anne-Marie Slaughter who were always hawkish
on Syria, who felt like the US missed an opportunity to flex its
muscles when Obama agreed to chemical weapons disarmament. The
dumbest of these quotes is from
Tom Malinowski, arguing that "deterrence is more effective than
disarmament." The real problem with the deal was that it didn't end
the war, which was the context that made any surviving chemical
weapons (including those in "rebel" hands) so dangerous. Still,
from a PR angle, it's automatically assumed that any poison gas in
Syria is Assad's fault, and this article (like so many in the NY
Times) reinforces that propaganda. (Not that I don't mind saying
that the war is Assad's fault, although its continuation is not
exclusively his fault.)
Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's senseless Syria strikes accomplish nothing;
Julian Borger/Spencer Ackerman: Trump's response to Syria's chemical
attack exposes administration's volatility.
Phyllis Bennis: The War in Syria Cannot Be Won. But It Can Be Ended.
I heard Bennis interviewed on Democracy Now with two Syrian women who
were almost giddy with delight over Trump's rocket attack in Syria, so
when she says "the left is profoundly divided over the conflict" that
may be in the back of her mind. I'd say that the Syrian women failed
to understand that the problem in Syria is not just Assad (although
it's hard to overstate how badly he's acted) but war itself, something
Trump and Putin and many others are fully guity of. The fact is that
nothing good can happen until the war stops.
Lauren Carroll: Fact-checking Trump's changing opinion on Syria and the
Peter Cary: Hillary Clinton called for Donald Trump to 'take out' Assad
airfields hours before air strikes: Talk about lending comfort to
the enemy. The day after the strikes, Michelle Goldberg posted
Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away and answering "Good." Goldberg's
apologia included this paragraph:
As bittersweet as it was to hear Clinton talk and imagine the sort of
president she might have been, the interview offered a stark reminder
of why many on the left distrusted her. Speaking hours before Trump
launched airstrikes on Syria, she made it clear that she'd also have
been a hawkish president. The United States, she said, should take out
Bashar al-Assad's airfields, "and prevent him from being able to use
them to bomb innocent people and drop Sarin gas on them." During the
campaign, she said, people asked her if she was afraid that her plan
to impose a no-fly zone in Syria would lead to a Russian response.
"It's time the Russians were afraid of us!" she said heatedly.
"Because we were going to stand up for human rights, the dignity
and the future of the Syrian people."
The Russians should be afraid of us? The whole world should cower
before our Shock and Awe? Running guns to Al-Qaeda while bombing ISIS
somehow is a stand for "human rights, the dignity and the future of
the Syrian people"? Given the alternative, I'm still sorry that she
lost, but really, this is batshit insane! And while at least I can
ascribe much of the horror that Trump leads on his own peculiar mix
of cynicism and laziness, compounded by the general mean-spiritedness
of his adopted political party, Clinton comes off as a true believer
in her self-aggrandizing fantasy. The rejection of her was the only
sane aspect of the 2016 election. It speaks volumes that the American
people were so desperate to get rid of her that they were willing to
accept the alternative. The more she returns to public life, the more
she detracts from the urgent task of resisting Trump.
Juan Cole: What Is It With US Presidents and Tomahawk Cruise-Missile
Strikes? Cole notes numerous examples, some I've referred to above,
others I hadn't -- e.g., Obama's first air assault against ISIS in
Syria started in 2014 with 47 Tomahawk missiles. I think the answer
to Cole's question is that the Tomahawks have much more range than
fighter-bombers or drones and require little preparation, so they're
the easiest weapon to choose when presidents want immediate results.
Still, the real question is why are such missile attacks so addicting
to presidents? What makes them feel entitled to kill so cavalierly?
And why can't they come up with more effective ways to resolve such
problems? A big part of this is that American politicians have become
obsessed with their omnipotence, so they find these massive missile
volleys very reassuring. I remember that back in the 1980s when DOD
planners were thinking of putting weapons in space, they designed one
that was nothing more than a huge tungsten rod that could be dropped
anywhere in the world. The tungsten would resist burning up in the
atmosphere, and it would gather the speed (and energy) of a meteor
before it crashed in a tremendous explosion. They named this terror
From God. And more generally, their term for showering a target
with overwhelming force was Shock and Awe.
Steve Coll: Trump's Confusing Strike on Syria: Another comment
which shows that once you get past gut reactions, Trump had no plan
or inkling what he was doing:
If President Trump broadens his aims against Assad, to establish
civilian safe havens, for example, or to ground Syria's Air Force,
or to bomb Assad to the negotiating table, he will enter the very
morass that Candidate Trump warned against. He would have to manage
risks -- military confrontation with Russia, an intensified refugee
crisis, a loss of momentum against ISIS -- that Obama studied at
great length and concluded to be unmanageable, at least at a cost
consistent with American interests.
Michael Crowley: Democratic Syria hawks love Trump's airstrikes
Robert Dreyfuss: Trump's Dangerous Syria Attack; also
Janet Reitman: What to Make of Trump's About-Face on Syria.
Greg Grandin: The Real Targets of Trump's Strike Were His Domestic
Critics: Six "thoughts," each hitting home. For example:
The bombing reveals that there are no limits to the media's ability
to be awed, if not shocked, by manufactured displays of techno-omnipotence.
Just as it did in the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon passed footage of its
nighttime missile launches to the networks. And just as what happened
then -- when, CBS's Charles Osgood called the bombing of Iraq "a marvel"
and Jim Stewart described it as "two days of almost picture-perfect
assaults" -- today MSNBC's Brian Williams called the Tomahawk takeoff
"beautiful." In fact, he described it as "beautiful" three times: "'They
are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them
what is a brief flight over to this airfield,' he added, then asked
his guest, 'What did they hit?'" Why, don't you know, they hit their
target: Williams and his colleagues' ability to have a critical thought.
Glenn Greenwald: The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished With Media and
Bipartisan Praise for Bombing Syria
Simon Jenkins: His emotions have been stirred -- but Trump's bombs won't
There is nothing in the world more dangerous than an American president
watching television. Donald Trump last night followed Ronald Reagan in
1982 and George Bush in 2001 as an isolationist turned interventionist
in the Middle East. His past pragmatism towards Syria's Assad regime and
its Russian backers underwent a 180-degree turn as 59 American missiles
rained down on a Syrian airbase. Welcome back to mission creep.
None of those three really count as isolationists (a historical stance
I have much respect for, although no one who held such views would have
ever described themselves as such; the label was coined by their opponents,
meant to suggest an ostrich burying its head in the sand, oblivious to
real threats all around). But all three share a remarkably shallow sense
of the world, as well as a cavalier eagerness to use violence when they
see some short-term political advantage. And like any good politician,
Trump put his heart on his sleeve:
Breaking from dinner with the Chinese leader, Trump spoke of his reaction
to "slow and brutal deaths," choking bodies and beautiful babies. He three
times invoked God. He had been moved to act, he said, because Assad's
"attack on children had a big impact on me." As for Russia's role in the
attack, Trump's secretary of state said it was "either complicit or
Safe to say that Trump won't react with the same "emotion" to
reports of Syrian children mangled by American bombs, because he
won't be able to find any political advantage in doing so.
Adam Johnson: Five Top Papers Run 18 Opinion Pieces Praising Syria
Strikes -- Zero Are Critical: Leave the dissent to The Onion.
Fred Kaplan: The Morning After in Syria
Alex Lockie: Syrian forces defiantly take off from airfield hit by
onslaught of US cruise missiles: Additional fallout:
Russia just suspended key military agreements with the US -- raising
the risk of war.
Carol Morello: Trump officials tell Russia to drop its support for Syria's
Assad: Henry Kissinger liked to study Clausewitz. Others preferred
to draw strategy lessons from Sun Tzu. This makes it sound like Trump's
people have been reading up on stupid pet tricks: Roll over. Play dead.
Robert Parry: Trump's 'Wag the Dog' Moment
Vijay Prashad: Is Trump Going to Commit the Next Great American Catastrophe
in Syria? This focuses on the alleged chemical weapons attack, and
covers what (little) is known and how it is known. It doesn't really
move into the question of how the US might parlay misunderstanding into
full-scale catastrophe, although there is a long record of just that
sort of thing.
David Smith: Doves and hawks: how opinion was divided about airstrikes
in Syria: Features four hawks and four doves, the former deeply
ensconced in Trump's White House and War Machine, the doves rather
oddly all right-wingers more/less associated with Trump: Steve Bannon
(recently booted from the NSC), Mike Cernovich (alt-right blogger),
Ann Coulter (all-around bigot), and Rand Paul (part-time libertarian).
Smith also co-wrote
As warplanes return to scene of sarin attack, Trump defends missile
launch: Twenty-four hours after Trump's attack, the bombed airbase
is open again, and planes from it are attacking "rebel"-held Khan
Sheikhun, albeit not with sarin gas this time. Meanwhile, Trump is
basking in the adoring glow of "liberal humanitarians" for making
the children of Syria so much safer.
Joan Walsh: Too Many of Trump's Liberal Critics Are Praising His Strike
on Syria: And not just Democrats with long records as neocon hawks
(like Hillary Clinton):
On CNN's New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, "I
think Donald Trump became president of the United States" last night.
To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a "bullshit artist"
and said, "He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting." But Zakaria
apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential.
Walsh cites many others, including Bernie Sanders and Kirsten
Gillibrand, who at least had reservations. She also cited
Mark Landler: Acting on Instinct, Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy,
which points out how impulsively Trump reacted (original title: "On Syria
attack, Trump's heart came first"): quotes Trump as saying "even beautiful
babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack" -- referring
to the Syrian chemical attack, but those words could just as well describe
many of Trump's own authorized bombing runs.
Owen Jones: Why are liberals now cheerleading a warmongering
One of the main objections to Trump was that he was unstable, impulsive,
with authoritarian instincts, and would disregard constitutional norms.
This has turned out to be true, while being applauded by his erstwhile
detractors for doing so, emboldening him to go further. Yet "I'm no fan
of Trump, but . . ." will be the battle cry of his erstwhile detractors.
Still, the children of Syria will die, just as they will die in Yemen and
Iraq and elsewhere. History will ask: how did this man become president?
And how did he maintain power when he did? Look no further than the
brittle, weak, pathetic liberal "opposition."
Whitney Webb: Russia Reports Discovery of Rebel-Held Chemical Weapons
at Site of Idlib Gas Attack
Matthew Yglesias: Trump brought his economics team to his Syria strike
watch party, for some reason: Well, there's also this story:
Tom Boggioni: Donald Trump personally profited from missile-maker
Raytheon's stock jump after his Syria attack. There was also
a spike in oil stock prices, which should warm Rex Tillerson's
North Korea says Syria airstrikes prove its nukes justified:
And here you were, thinking Trump's best and brightest had figured
out all the angles.
The Onion: Trump Confident US Military Strike on Syria Wiped Out
Russian Scandal: OK, probably satire (as "fake news" used to
be called), not least the alleged Trump quote:
After ordering the first U.S. military attack against the regime of
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Donald Trump held a press
conference Friday to express his full confidence that the airstrike
had completely wiped out the lingering Russian scandal. "Based on
intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack
on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all
discussions and allegations about my administration's ties to the
Russian government," said Trump, adding that at approximately 4:40
a.m. local time, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval
ships obliterated all traces of the widespread controversy in news
outlets across the media. "Ordering this strike was not a decision
I took lightly, but given that it was the only way to decisively
eradicate any attention being paid to congressional investigations
into possible collusion between key members of my staff and high-ranking
Kremlin officials, I decided it was a necessary course of action. If
we learn that any remnants of this scandal remain after this attack,
I will not hesitate to order further strikes." Trump went on to say
that he is leaving the option open for a potential ground invasion
of Syria if any troubling evidence emerges that the Russian government
manipulated the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Tweets I've noticed along the way:
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Donald Trump has done the right thing on
Syria. Finally!! After years of useless handwringing in the face
of hideous atrocities.
Lee Fang: Like clock work all cable news has retired generals
(many of whom work at defence firms) on air to give the sports-style
Christopher Hayes: As legions of ex-Obama officials endorse the
strike, it's more and more clear the degree to which Obama was
resisting his own advisors.
Asad Abukhalil: Let me get this straight: so according to DC
pundits, Trump was a dangerous maniac . . .until he started bombing?
A couple of unrelated links, just to note them:
Part I: Our Dishonest President: I linked to this Los Angeles Times
editorial a while back. It was promised as the first of four daily jeremiads,
so now we also have:
After reading the first one, I predicted they'd have trouble stopping
Andrew J Bacevich: The Odds Against Antiwar Warriors: Review of
Michael Kazin, War Against War: The American Fight for Peace,
Ari Berman: The GOP Has Declared War on Democracy: One of probably
many articles on new Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch and/or the
way he was confirmed. As far back as Nixon, Republicans have adopted
Vince Lombardi's maxim: "winning is the only thing." They've just
become more craven (and sometimes desperate) about it.
Lee Fang: Koch Brothers' Operatives Fill Top White House Positions,
Ethics Forms Reveal
Rebecca Gordon: Donald Trump Hasa Passionate Desire to Bring Back
Torture: The essential purpose of torture is, and has always
been, to show the subject who's boss, so how surprising is it that
America's most famous (notorious, even) boss should be a fan. That
I'm not may well explain why I've never watched Trump's television
Greg Grandin: Obsession With the Russia Connection Is a High-Risk
Anti-Trump Strategy: "It lets Democrats off the hook for their own
failures -- and betting the resistance on finding a smoking gun is a
fool's game." Article graphic features Rachel Maddow.
William Greider: Why Today's GOP Crackup Is the Final Unraveling of
Nixon's 'Southern Strategy'
Gary Younge: The Far Right Finally Has Brexit -- and It's Making a
Royal Mess of It
Sunday, April 2. 2017
Let's start with a tweet from Dak Zak, in response to someone asking
"Why couldn't they have done this before the election!?!":
Newspapers everywhere did this before the election. Editorial after
editorial said "stop this man." People didn't hear, listen or care.
As best I can tell (the twitter links are circuitous) the original
question refers to the Los Angeles Times' editorial
Our Dishonest President (the first of a promised four-part series
running through Wednesday, not that I wouldn't be surprised if they find
enough new material for a fifth installment by Thursday. Zak's response
is pretty much true, but he underestimates the media's failure by an order
or magnitude or more. Sure, they warned us to "stop this man," but they
were also so thoroughly bemused by him, and enticed by the ratings his
campaign offered, that they repeatedly let him slip the hook. But more
important, they didn't say "stop this party" -- because ultimately what
makes Trump so disastrous is not that he's "a narcissist and a demagogue
who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters"
(to quote the LA Times), but that he was swept into power with complete
control of Congress ceded to the Republican Party and its agenda to rig
politics and the economic and social systems to perpetuate oligarchy.
Trump may be especially flagrant (or perhaps just embarrassingly
transparent) but the Republican Party has embraced demagoguery and
dishonesty as essential political tactics for well over a generation.
Trump is more a reflection of the party's propaganda machine than he
is a leader. For proof, look how often he gets caught up in obvious
contradictions and incoherencies, yet always resolves them by moving
in the direction of party orthodoxy.
On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the media is still
being bamboozled by the aura of Republican legitimacy, even while
individual cases like Trump and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback turn into
public embarrassments. For instance, south-central Kansans will go
to the polls a week from Tuesday to elect a replacement for Trump's
CIA director Mike Pompeo. The Wichita Eagle, which we often think of
as a voice for moderation in Kansas, endorsed Republican Ron Estes,
a Brownback flunky lacking a single original thought (they like to
describe him as "affable"). The Eagle even singled out Estes' vow
to repeal Obamacare as one of their reasons -- even without the
usual nostrum "and replace," even with the editorial facing a
Richard Crowson cartoon slamming Brownback for vetoing a bill
passed by Kansas' Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under
the ACA. You'd think a public-interested media would easily see
through a partisan hack like Estes, especially given that the
Democrats have nominated their strongest candidate in decades
James Thompson -- saw one of his ads tonight and I can't say
I was pumped by the gun bits or even the concern for veterans and
jobs, but those things have their constituencies; also thought
he should have hit Trump harder, but if he wins that'll be the
More fallout from the GOP's health care fiasco:
Angela Bonavoglia: The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really
a Class Battle
EJ Dionne: The lessons Trump and Ryan failed to learn from history:
Also some lessons they never learned:
But the bill's collapse was, finally, testimony to the emptiness of
conservative ideology. . . . To win the 2012 presidential nomination,
Romney could not afford to be seen as the progenitor of Obamacare
because conservatism now has to oppose even the affirmative uses of
government it once endorsed.
Lee Fang: GOP Lawmakers Now Admit Years of Obamacare Repeal Votes Were a
Richard Kim: The Tea Party Helped Build the Bridge to Single-Payer:
Picture shows a young guy holding a sign that reads "Health care is a
human right." That, of course, has nothing to do with the Tea Party,
and the argument here is forced:
Since the first year of Obama's presidency, the Republican establishment
has allowed its extreme right-wingers to run off the leash. It has amplified
their every outburst, fed every conspiracy theory, nurtured every grievance,
and enabled every act of hostage-taking. Now, it -- and the vandal in chief
that the Tea Party helped elect president -- is their hostage. In the
battles ahead on infrastructure spending, taxation, and the debt ceiling,
there's no reason to believe that the GOP will behave in any less
dysfunctional a manner.
A better way to look at it is this: during the Obama years, the Tea
Party acted as the "shock troops" of Republican obstruction, and somehow
their role there has come to be viewed as a success. So why shouldn't
the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus continue to obstruct, even with Republicans
controlling Congress and the White House, if they still do things that
the insurgents find objectionable? That's what's happening, and mainline
Republicans don't have the margins they need to rule without the Caucus,
and sometimes realize that catering to them will cause even worse things
to happen. Given that the mainliners are pretty awful on their own, we
might as well enjoy the Caucus's obstruction, but that doesn't get us
to anywhere we need to go.
Sam Knight: Bannon-Style "Administrative Deconstruction" of Obamacare Is
Coming: Aside from the Bannon-speak, the point here is that the guy
in charge of the Obamacare system is its arch-enemy, Tom Price, and there
is still a lot of harm bad administration can do, even if it's nominally
pledged to support the law. Reminds me that the OEO (Office of Economic
Opportunity, one of LBJ's main "War on Poverty" programs) had done quite
a bit of good until Nixon appointed Donald Rumsfeld to run it.
Mike Konczal: Four Lessons from the Health Care Repeal Collapse: I
mentioned this piece in Monday's post, but it's worth mentioning again.
I also just noticed Konczal's December 2, 2016 piece:
Learning From Trump in Retrospect. Probably could only be written
between the election and the inauguration, a period when one could
balance off the sensations of surprise and disgust. Two months into
his reign and we're back to wondering how anyone could have been
taken in by this shallow fraud.
Charles Krauthammer: The road to single-payer health care:
Rest assured he's against it, and wants to see something far worse
than Obamacare even, but he understands the logic that universal
coverage, even in its corrupt Obamacare form, makes more efficient
solutions like "single payer" ("Medicare for All") more attractive.
Paul Krugman: How to Build on Obamacare: Krugman has long been
the most persuasive propagandist for the ACA, so no surprise that
he sticks within its limits: urging that we spend more money to lower
deductibles and make policies more attractive, and revive the "public
option" to provide more marketplace competition. His point is that
"building on Obamacare wouldn't be hard," but Trump would rather see
it "explode," and just for the satisfaction of blaming Democrats --
a tactic which proved viable when Democrats were in power, but looks
pretty puerile at the moment.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Country Is a State of Mind, picking on West Virginia, where:
Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West
Virginia retain such a hold on the region's imagination, and lead its
residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?
Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did
indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep
decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal
production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction
techniques -- like blowing the tops off mountains -- require far less
labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated
about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap
So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in
West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century
since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.
What, then, do West Virginians actually do for a living these days?
Well, many of them work in health care: Almost one in six workers is
employed in the category "health care and social assistance."
Oh, and where does the money for those health care jobs come from?
Actually, a lot of it comes from Washington.
West Virginia has a relatively old population, so 22 percent of its
residents are on Medicare, versus 16.7 percent for the nation as a whole.
It's also a state that has benefited hugely from Obamacare, with the
percentage of the population lacking health insurance falling from 14
percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015; these gains came mainly from a
big expansion of Medicaid.
It's true that the nation as a whole pays for these health care
programs with taxes. But an older, poorer state like West Virginia
receives much more than it pays in -- and it would have received
virtually none of the tax cuts Trumpcare would have lavished on the
Now think about what Trumpism means for a state like this. Killing
environmental rules might bring back a few mining jobs, but not many,
and mining isn't really central to the economy in any case. Meanwhile,
the Trump administration and its allies just tried to replace the
Affordable Care Act. If they had succeeded, the effect would have been
catastrophic for West Virginia, slashing Medicaid and sending insurance
premiums for lower-income, older residents soaring.
A couple quick points here. First is that we live in a time when
business is gaining increasing influence on politics, so while coal
companies represent a vanishingly small number of jobs, they dominate
the political discourse in states like West Virginia. (If, indeed,
jobs mattered you wouldn't find politicians backing company schemes
like mountain-top removal, which is profitable primarily because it
reduces jobs -- well, as long as the companies don't have to pay the
costs of their pollution.) Second, while Democrats are more dependable
supporters of effective transfers to poorer states like West Virginia
(and Mississippi and much of the South), they almost never campaign on
the fact, as they have very little presence in states that have swung
against them primarily on race. Rather, Democrats focus on states where
they have more upscale supporters, and cater to the businesses of those
states (like high-tech in California and Massachusetts, and banking in
Bill Moyers: Trump and the GOP in Sickness and Health
Charles Ornstein/Derek Willis: On Health Reform, Democrats and Republicans
Don't Speak the Same Language
Jon Queally: Sen. Bernie Sanders Will Introduce "Medicare for All" Bill;
Zaid Jilani: Bernie Sanders Wants to Expand Medicare to Everybody -- Exactly
What Its Architects Wanted.
Kate Zernike et al.: In Health Bill's Defeat, Medicaid Comes of Age
Some scattered links this week in the world of Trump:
Stephen Braun/Chad Day: Flynn Earned Millions From Russian Companies:
OK, that's the jump headline. The article itself is "Document Dump Reveals
Flynn's Russian and Turkish Income Sources." And the "millions" shrink to
"$1.3 million for work for political groups and government contractors, as
well as for speeches to Russian companies and lobbying for a firm owned by
a Turkish businessman." Doesn't seem like much, but then what else can a
former general do? You don't expect him to live on his exorbitant pension,
do you? Lachlan Markay has more:
Michael Flynn Failed to Disclose Payments From Russian Propaganda
Zack Beauchamp: Michael Flynn's immunity request, explained:
More fundamentally, it's hard to see Democrats granting one to a widely
disliked former Trump official when there's still a chance the FBI might
prosecute him for allegedly lying to the bureau about his contacts with
the Russian envoy to the US. The Trump administration's call for Flynn
to appear before Congress, in Sean Spicer's Friday press briefing, could
very well harden their resolve against immunity.
This is all very bad news for Flynn, who ironically said that asking
for immunity was proof that you had done something wrong when discussing
Hillary Clinton's email scandal during the campaign. "When you are given
immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime," he told
NBC's Chuck Todd in an interview.
Esme Cribb: Trump Will Sign Repeal of Obama-Era Internet Privacy Rules:
The bill, which passed Congress on straight party votes, allows Internet
service companies to track your on-line activity and sell that information
to other companies without your permission or awareness.
Amy Davidson: Trump v. the Earth: About Trump's executive order to
pretend that burning coal doesn't have any impact on the environment.
Or, as Trump put it, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth":
President Trump said that his order puts "an end to the war on coal."
In reality, it is a declaration of war on the basic knowledge of the
harm that burning coal, and other fossil fuels, can do. Indeed, it
tells the government to ignore information. The Obama
Administration assembled a working group to determine the "social cost"
of each ton of greenhouse-gas emissions. Trump's executive order disbands
that group and tosses out its findings. Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A.
administrator -- who, as attorney general of Oklahoma, had joined a
lawsuit attempting to undo the endangerment finding -- announced that
the agency was no longer interested in even collecting data on the
quantities of methane that oil and gas companies release.
Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Profits,
the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock: Actually $90k in stocks of six
drug companies, so his payback would more closely model the industry-wide
average. "Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a
bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration,
which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe
expensive drugs that don't necessarily improve patient outcomes." This
was back when Price was in Congress, before joining Trump's cabinet.
Fired US Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS
Secretary Tom Price; also
When a Study Cast Doubt on a Heart Pill, the Drug Company Turned to
Ane Gearan: US leads major powers in protesting UN effort to ban nuclear
weapons: Nikki Haley asks, "Is it any surprise that Iran is supportive
of this?" Nearly every nation signed the NPT renouncing nuclear weapons on
the understanding that the grandfathered nuclear powers would disarm as
well -- something which hasn't happened, largely because the US feels it's
important that someone like Donald Trump should have the option of blowing
the world up.
Michelle Goldberg: Why Won't Republicans Resist Trump? That's the link
headline. The article title is even funnier: "Where Are the Good Republicans?"
We're talking about people in Congress whose singular mission over the past
eight years (and this really dates back to the arrival of Newt Gingrich as
House Speaker in 1995) has been to make Democrats look bad. They've refused
to even consider Obama appointees. They passed bills to repeal the ACA fifty
times but couldn't agree on anything to replace it with this year. They've
tried to extort favors by holding the federal debt limit hostage. And when
you ask them for anything they'd consider working with Obama on, the only
things they can come up are points that would make Obama look bad to the
Democratic Party base (like TPP, or more war). If any Republican member of
Congress has felt the slightest twinge of shame over this behavior, he or
she has done a good job of hiding it. And their bottom line is that Trump's,
well, not their leader but their winner, the guy whose surprise win has
allowed them to advance their agenda, which may have some more
hopeful aims but for all practical purposes is to wreck, ruin and despoil
America, to the detriment of nearly everyone who lives here. And really,
the only examples we've seen so far of dissent within Republican ranks
have come from the fringe right, who feel Trump and Ryan and McConnell
aren't moving fast or hard enough toward the end times. Even there the
media is struggling to salvage Republican reputations; see. e.g.,
Ross Barkan: Give Donald Trump credit: the Freedom Caucus really is
Malak Habbak: War Correspondents Describe Recent US Airstrikes in Iraq,
Syria, and Yemen.
Ben Hubbard/Michael R Gordon: US War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With
No Endgame in Sight: Anyone who thought that Trump might tone down the
War on Terror -- and I gave that non-zero but not very good odds -- has by
now been thoroughly disabused of such wishful thinking:
The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during
all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line
positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq,
American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive
in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.
Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are
mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in
a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.
Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action,
however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military
decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some
of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing
under a president who has vowed to make the military "fight to win."
The suggestion is that the only thing that has happened is that the
military has been freed of whatever limiting or inhibitory role Obama
played: Trump's basically given them carte blanche to keep doing what
they've been doing so badly for years. On the other hand, Trump hasn't
gotten involved enough to really screw things up with his "fight to win"
slogan. The fact is the US hasn't "fought to win" since WWII for the
simple reason that there's never been anything you could actually win
by fighting. Rather, US military policy has been to make any challenge
to US power and hegemony as painful as possible, to deter challengers
from even raising the issue. Arguably, that has yielded diminishing
returns as it's become increasingly obvious that US forces are vulnerable
to asymmetric strategies (ranging from guerrilla war to "terrorism") and
because the US has become increasingly inept at occupying hostile areas.
Still, the solution to that problem isn't resolving to "fight to win" --
it's reducing the need to fight at all.
Charles Pierce: The Trump Administration Has Pushed the Limits of American
Absurdity: If one were to teach a writing class, that title might be
a good little assignment. I can imagine dozens of ways to approach it, all
equally valid, and I'd still be surprised when Pierce handed in a piece
with a piece starting with an Ignatius Donnelly quote. (And I'm one of
the few people around who knows who Donnelly was, having read him as a
teenager back before Paul Ryan, for instance, lost his mind in Ayn Rand.)
Of course, Pierce soon moves on to more disturbing, although curiously
mundane, realms of fantasy: namely Sean Spicer's press conferences.
Daniel Politi: Judge: Lawsuit Against Trump Can Proceed, Inciting
Violence Isn't Protected Speech
David E Sanger/Eric Schmitt: Rex Tillerson to Lift Human Rights Conditions
on Arms Sale to Bahrain
Jon Schwarz: Russia Investigation Heading Toward a Train Wreck Because
Republicans Don't Care What Happened: Not a subject I'm at all
partial to, mostly because it seems to cast a Cold War gloss on what
strikes me as ordinary corruption, and partly because it skips over
decades of stories about US interference in other peoples' politics,
as well as the much more common (and I think damaging) Israeli efforts
to steer American politics (anyone remember Netanyahu's campaigning
for Romney, or his collusion with Boehner?). Still, if Republicans
(and Democrats) learned anything from the Clinton years it's that
unbridled investigations take on a life of their own, where being
investigated is never a good omen.
Unfortunately, on this planet we're on a trajectory to the worst possible
outcome. It's now easy to imagine a future in which Trump and Russia become
the millennials' equivalent of the John F. Kennedy assassination: A subject
where no one can honestly be sure whether there was no conspiracy or a huge
conspiracy, the underlying reality concealed by the thick murk of government
secrecy, and progressives exhausting themselves for decades afterwards
trying to prove what really happened.
Lisa Song: As Seas Around Mar-a-Lago Rise, Trump's Cuts Could Damage
Local Climate Work: This is an amusing little piece. I've long
thought that the people who should be most worried about global warming
are the rich -- the people who own nearly all of the property endangered
by climate change, especially from rising sea levels. Yet Republicans
have been oblivious to the threats. They've convinced themselves of the
importance of protecting the rights of individuals to practice predatory
capitalism, and they pretty much completely deny that there can be any
public interest separate from private profit-seeking (although they
somehow believe that no those private interests are harmful to others,
and that the sum of them must be good for everyone). I can't think of
any idea more misguided and dangerous, but they've built not just an
ideology but a political movement around it. I just wonder: when
Mar-a-Lago is underwater, is Trump still going to be thrilled that
those coal and oil magnates were able to make all that money?
Jessica Valenti: Mike Pence doesn't eat alone with women. That speaks
volumes: Evidently, the VP can't pull his mind out of the gutter
long enough to consider sharing a meal with a woman other than his
wife. But then these are strange times, especially in the company
Pence does keep:
The same week the first lady gave a speech at the state department's
International Women of Courage Awards, insisting: "We must continue
to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it
takes in our lives," the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer,
chastised the veteran reporter April Ryan for "shaking her head" at
him. (Just last month, Trump asked Ryan if the those in the
Congressional Black Caucus were "friends" of hers.)
While the president was asking a room full of women if they had
ever heard of Susan B Anthony, the conservative Fox News host Bill
O'Reilly was under fire for making a racist and sexist comment about
the California congresswoman Maxine Waters' hair and an Iowa legislator
said that if a pregnant woman found out her fetus has died, she should
carry the pregnancy to term anyway.
And while Pence trended on Twitter for his old-school sexism, what
went largely unremarked on was that the vice-president cast the
tie-breaking vote to push forward legislation that allows states to
discriminate against Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers
that provide abortion when giving out federal Title X funds.
Matthew Yglesias: So far, Donald Trump as delivered almost nothing on
his trade agenda:
On trade, exactly nothing has happened. The long-dead TPP is still dead,
but NAFTA is very much still with us. No new protective measures have
been put in place, and American companies have been subject to no punitive
retaliations. No legislation appears to be in the works.
This status quo acknowledges rising anti-trade sentiment on the left
and right by halting forward progress on any new trade and investment
deals, while refusing to take the risk of altering any existing arrangements.
Part of the reason is that those "existing arrangements" all have
big business supporters, especially among the Goldman-Sachs wing of
the Trump administration, whereas Trump has yet to pick an unemployed
auto-worker or coal miner for any post of influence (they shot their
wad on Nov. 9 and won't get another chance for four years). Yglesias
doesn't mention the "border adjustment tax" here, but it does show up in
The 7 big questions Republicans have to answer on tax reform.
Taxes look to be the next big Congressional battle for Trump and
Ryan, and their proposals are likely to be every bit as unpopular
as what they came up with for health care. Again, their problem
won't be Republicans coming to their senses, but ones who want to
seize the opportunity to make things even worse. At least you
can't say you weren't warned.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Eric Alterman: The Perception of Liberal Bias in the Newsroom Has Nothing
Whatsoever to Do With Reality: Unlike, say, the conservative bias in
the board rooms. But even that oversimplifies the story. Conservative
scapegoating both presses and seduces the media, with its completely normal
self-image as fair and objective, into legitimizing outrageous claims from
the right and gives viewers/listeners/readers a readymade excuse to doubt
everything they see/hear/read. Moreover, it's not entirely wrong. The fact
is no one can be free from biases any more than one can escape experience
or language. Critical self-reflection helps, as does a willingness to
question one's own precepts. A friend recently asked me how these days
one can figure out who to trust. My reaction is that I never trust anyone
beyond what I can make sense of and verify. If, for instance, you told me
that cutting marginal tax rates on the rich would make the economy grow
in ways that helped people beyond those who saved on their tax bills, I
could look for test cases and see how they turned out. Same if you told
me that spending more money on the military would make it less likely
that a country would be attacked by others. It so happens that there is
a lot of evidence on both of these questions, and the evidence strongly
disputes the assertions. If you look at many such questions, you may
start to think that some sources are more trustworthy than others, but
you should never cease to question them, especially when they don't
To take a slightly different perspective, and I find it often helps
to try to refocus from different angles, I've been worrying about (and
distrusting) "liberal bias" since the mid-1960s, when liberals tended
to take political positions I disagreed with (like supporting the US
war in Vietnam). Liberals back then had an active fantasy life, as they
in some cases still have today (e.g., their obsession with Russia).
Both then and now it's fairly easy to pick apart issues where they
are wrong and where their errors are self-serving (the Russia thing
seems to be a way Clinton-supporters can avoid the shortcomings of
their candidate). It shouldn't be surprising that conservatives are
pretty adept at spotting and exploiting cases where liberals spin
things to their own advantage. Nor vice versa -- perspective often
gets clearer from a distance. Still, in reality, bias and interest
isn't symmetrical between right and left, and it is a grave error to
think otherwise. The right, by definition, serves private interests,
often at the expense of the public. The left takes the opposite tack,
favoring the broadest class interest over the most elite. We should
at least be able to agree on that much, but the right has struggled
mightily to confuse the issue, not least with their charges that the
media is rife with "liberal bias."
To understand this, you need to recognize that America was founded
on liberal (Enlightenment) principles, notably on the notion that "all
men are born equal" and share "equal rights under the law," a law meant
to advance "the common welfare" and which is vouchsafed through a system
of democracy. And those principles have been so internalized that even
the right, which at all times has defended the claims of "virtuous elites"
to rule over everyone else, has had to pay lip-service to democracy and
to argue that their self-serving policies benefit some greater good. To
do so they've dressed up their rhetoric with all sorts of market-tested
claims, often disguising themselves as "populists" while practicing their
art of divide-and-conquer -- flattering one part of the demos as the only
true Americans while derogating others as deservedly inferior. And the
more their claims fail, the harder they work as obfuscating their failures.
One way they've done this has been to convince their followers that any
unseemly facts are the product of "liberal bias." Of course, such charges
ring hollow to anyone who's bothered to examine the right's own agenda,
but thus far they've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of this ruse. To
get an idea of how much, consider the Occupy Wall Street formulation
that divides us between a 1% (which is clearly the orientation of the
Republican platform) and the remaining 99%. If politics were understood
this way, the Republicans should never win an election, yet somehow they
manage to keep their share around 30% (vs. a more/less equal 30% for the
Democrats and 40% for those who don't vote). Of course, relatively even
results aren't solely due to the skill of Republican machinations --
many Democrats, including Obama and the Clintons, seem to be very cozy
with the 1% and have a mediocre record of serving the 99%, both making
them vulnerable to the "populist" ploys of a Trump.
Dean Baker: Trade Denialism Continues: Trade Really Did Kill Manufacturing
Jobs: Rebuts and debunks "a flood of opinion pieces and news stories
in recent weeks wrongly telling people that it was not trade that led to
the loss of manufacturing jobs in recent years, but rather automation."
Baker also wrote
The Fed's Interest Rate Hike Will Prevent People From Getting Jobs.
Pepe Escobar: North Korea: The really serious options on the table
Chris Hayes: Policing the Colony: From the American Revolution to
Ferguson: Adapted from Hayes' new book, A Colony in a Nation,
on the persistence of racism in America, explained by the tendency to
even now treat black people as something different from equal citizens
under the law. One sample paragraph:
In Ferguson, people were enraged at Michael Brown's death and grieving
at his passing, but more than anything else they were sick and tired of
being humiliated. At random, I could take my microphone and offer it to
a black Ferguson resident, young or old, who had a story of being harassed
and humiliated. A young honors student and aspiring future politician told
me about watching his mother be pulled over and barked at by police. The
local state senator told me that when she was a teenager, a police officer
drew a gun on her because she was sitting in a fire truck -- at a fireman's
invitation. At any given moment, a black citizen of Ferguson might find
himself shown up, dressed down, made to stoop and cower by the men with
John Judis: Can Donald Trump Revive American Manufacturing? An Interview
With High-Tech Expert Rob Atkinson: Short answer: well, someone could,
but clearly not Donald Trump.
Greg Kaufmann: A Cruel New Bill Is About to Become Law in Mississippi:
"Legislation passed this week would enrich a private contractor while
throwing people off public assistance." Not Trump's fault, per se, but
another example of the Republicans at work, preying on the poor.
Richard D Wolff: Capitalism Produced Trump: Another Reason to Move Beyond
Democratic Mega-donor Saban Doesn't Rule Out Hillary Clinton 2020
Run: More proof that cluelessness is endemic among billionaires.
Sunday, March 26. 2017
We went to two funerals on Saturday: the first for long-time peace and
justice activist Mary Harren (91), the second for my last uncle, James
Hull (85), who spent 26 years as a mechanic in the Air Force, and was
well known to Wichita Eagle readers as a right-wing crank. Main
thing I was struck by was the difference in the crowds: close to 300
turned out for Mary, compared to about fifteen (not counting the Color
Guard you taxpayers provided) for James. The former was quite properly
a celebration of a long and fruitful life. The latter was rather sad,
bitter, and pathetic.
We spent much more time with Mary over the last fifteen years: she
was one of the first to welcome us to Wichita's small cadre of anti-war
activists; she was quick to visit whenever we ran into troubles; and
she was a frequent (and delightful) dinner guest. But she was so active
and engaged that even while she made you feel special, you knew that
she had dozens of other people and groups she did the same for. And
she had been doing this for ages, sometimes regaling us with stories
of political struggle over events I only vaguely remember from my teen
My interaction with James dates from those same years. Seems like
he spent most of the 1950s stationed elsewhere -- Germany and somewhere
near Las Vegas are places that stuck in my mind, although he joined in
1950 so was involved in Korea -- but after 1960 he was mostly based at
McConnell AFB here in Wichita, and his family stayed here through two
tours in Vietnam. After I turned 17 he lobbied me hard to sign up, but
by then I was resolutely opposed to the Vietnam War and detested pretty
much everything related to the military, so he was one of the first
people I can recall arguing with about politics. (I was so withdrawn
I'd scarcely speak to anyone, but he was so unflappable you couldn't
help but argue with him.) After I moved away from Wichita, I had very
little to do with him: while he was always very affable and loved a
good (even a dirty) joke, his wife (Bobbie Ann) had terrified me as
a child, and was so dim-witted and erratic I actively avoided her (and
less actively their two shell-shocked sons -- the younger was what we
used to call retarded; he wound up in some kind of special care facility
and died at age 21). But I did run into him a few years ago, after Bobbie
Ann had died, and he was cheerful as ever. He gave me a book he had
written: a memoir plus a compilation of poems and political letters
and a piece of his "scholarly" research which claimed that American
economic performance correlates with frequency of executions, so to
get the country moving again we should execute more felons.
He titled his memoir I Survived!, but there was virtually
nothing in it about his wife or sons, so it's hard to imagine readers
without personal knowledge making sense of his point. His work, and
his bowling, and probably even his politics, make more sense as an
escape from a disappointing home life. One pleasing thing about the
funeral was that the pastor was a neighbor and friend, as was another
person who spoke. So they made an effort to talk about the actual man
rather than wander off into the hereafter. And they pretty much agreed
that the man himself was a difficult, cranky person to be around.
The most revealing story was one where the pastor asked James what he
had been doing today, and James answered "spreading hate and discontent."
Asked what he had done yesterday, James answered the same, as he did when
asked what he was planning on doing tomorrow. I'm not sure exactly what he
thought he meant by that, but his politics was rooted in state violence,
something he celebrated both in war and in his obsession over executions.
Hate just greases the skids toward violence, which is part of why Trump
has escalated the killing in places like Yemen and Syria despite claiming
he opposes the disastrous wars Bush and Obama led. You can't sustain those
wars without engendering and feeding off a lot of hate.
Another possibility was that James was conscious of how he rubbed people
wrong with his crackpot theories. He did on occasion joke about the Secret
Service coming after him after letters he wrote to the president. I suspect
that in some cases he was contrarian for its own sake. Indeed, like with
my father, his sense of humor was often rooted in irony against invisible
foes. Still, at some point his right-wing bent hardened, probably egged on
by the Fox News cabal. (Several people commented on how every time they saw
him he had Fox News blaring -- his father and mine were very hard of hearing,
and having worked around jet engines for many years I'm sure he was too.)
That he wound up bitter and cranky and full of "hate and discontent" was,
I think, baked into his political bent. The contrast to Mary couldn't have
been more stark. She was probably every bit as critical of the world as he,
but everything she did was imbued with hope and love. Even toward the end,
she was full of grace. His pastor talked about grace, too, but it seemed
like a long shot for James.
By the way, speaking of crowd numbers, there also was a "Make America
Great" rally for Trump on Saturday. The Eagle's headline on the story was
Dozens brave cold winds to rally for Trump. Not sure if the numbers
are exaggerated, but the adverse weather sure was.
I got into a bit of a Facebook argument with Art Protin, who had posted
a meme-pic showing the left half of Hillary Clinton's head and the caption
(imagine in all caps): "The next time someone tries to tell you that Hillary
Clinton was a weak candidate, remind them that it took the RNC, Wikileaks,
the FBI and Russia to narrowly bring her down in an election she won by
nearly 3 million votes." Being a reality-based sort of guy, my initial
response was to list a dozen or so areas where she had acted or had taken
positions that proved detrimental to most Americans, as if voters had been
rational in rejecting her. That's not quite it, although we certainly
shouldn't neglect the fact that, rightly or wrongly, she's picked up a
lot of unfavorable baggage over the years, and that she's been the target
of an awful lot of focused political hate -- both personally and due to
her association with two Democratic administrations that promised much
and delivered little to their neediest supporters. Those things worked
to weaken her credibility and to tarnish her integrity, and that's the
main thing we mean when we describe her as a weak candidate.
But really, the more glaring proof of her weakness is that she lost
to DONALD J. TRUMP, who even before the election had the most negative
approval ratings of any major party candidate ever, and who afterwards
was subject to the greatest "buyer's remorse" we've seen since Nixon
in 1972. Clearly, a lot of people hated Clinton so much that they voted
for a guy they didn't like instead. I think a lot of factors entered
into that choice, and I don't think any of them were very rational.
(Sure, she's dishonest and corrupt and much more, but is she worse in
any of these respects than Donald Trump? That comparison should have
been laughably easy, yet somehow lots of people didn't realize it.)
Given all of the points one could make against Trump, it's pretty
much axiomatic that anyone who could still lose to him was an awfully
The meme also has several other faults. Leave aside the RNC for
the moment, the other three forces arrayed against Clinton are/were
pretty lame: Wikileaks, the FBI, and Russia. What Wikileaks did was
one-sided (does anyone doubt that a hack of the RNC would have made
them look like buffoons?) and Comey's dredging up of the whole email
mess was unfortunate, but it's hard to believe that they had any more
than the tiniest of impacts. And I have no idea what Russia did
(beyond the DNC hack, and that's not clear) other than to soften the
heads of some DNC types, who thought that red-baiting Trump as soft
on Putin would be an easy score -- I can't prove it, but I think the
net effect was to make Hillary look more recklessly hawkish, and
that was something that hurt her. Of course, the continuing Russia
obsession of frustrated Hillary-bots means something else: how hard
it is to them to admit that they might bear any blame for policies
or organization or candidate. Indeed, the whole meme is just another
instance of scapegoating.
The three million vote margin is also at risk of being overplayed.
Sure, it points to a structural problem (which Republicans will never
allow to be fixed), but the problem is not just the structure for how
it has been gamed, not least by the Democrats. Trump supporters can
point out that they lost in states where they hardly campaigned at
all (New York, Illinois, especially California), but the same was true
for the 20-30 states Clinton didn't campaign in at all (including a
couple she thought she'd carry): the net result being that the popular
vote is bogus both ways. I think the net result is a wash, so Trump's
failure to gain a plurality is a leading indicator of his unpopularity,
but that only gets you so far. As Trump likes to say, "I'm president,
and you're not." So while it properly embarrasses him that he only got
paltry inauguration crowds, that his rallies regularly play to empty
seats, and that he can only get 80 marchers out on a Spring day here
in Wichita, it doesn't amount to much.
Biggest story this week was the demise of Paul Ryan's health care
bill, which Donald Trump had pledged full allegiance to. Some links:
Ross Barken: Trump tried to burn down Obamacare. He set his hair on fire
ZoŽ Carpenter: Donald Trump Can't Make a Deal: "Now that the GOP's
health-care bill is dead, plan B is to sabotage Obamacare."
Michelle Goldberg: The Biggest Lesson From the Trumpcare Debacle:
"It showed us how government by misogynists actually translates into
policy." This fits in with a picture that's been going around, depicting
the "diverse group of people" brought together to craft the bill -- all
white males, about equally divided between those with pattern baldness
Paul Krugman: The Scammers, the Scammed and America's Fate: Krugman's
favorite sport is "I told you so," and he's been telling us that Ryan is
a fraud for many years now -- he cites a 2010 post called
The Flimflam Man -- so he understands that this is no time to let up.
He notes how the media has repeatedly promoted Ryan, and he think that
this is due to "the convention of 'balance'." "This meant, in particular,
that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present
both sides as having equally well-founded arguments." I suspect that the
truth is crasser: that Ryan was a pet project of the Kochs and their
think-tanks long before you heard of him, and the people backing him
have ever since been whispering in the ears of media managers and
Tom McCarthy: Health insurance woes helped elect Trump, but his cure
may be more painful: Some Republicans, including most of the
so-called Freedom Caucus who torpedoed the Ryan-Trump bill, believe
that any form of government regulation in the health care markets
is improper, that people should not be required to have insurance,
that businesses should be free to sell any form of insurance (even
policies that don't cover anything). Moreover, such people have no
idea what such a world would look like, in part because nothing
like that has ever been allowed in America. But most Republicans
have done this hand-waving thing, arguing that if they were in
power they'd "replace and repeal" Obamacare with something which
would be so much better for everyone: that costs would go down
and care would improve and everyone would be better off. They've
never detailed how that might work, because they've never been
in a position to pass it, until now, when it turns out that their
proposals would quite obviously, one way or another, make it all
worse. And this is not just health care: Republicans often feel
the need to argue that their proposals will benefit everyone,
even when it's clear that they'll be massively harmful.
Alice Ollstein: Trump to House GOP: Vote Yes on O'Care Repeal or Lose
Your Seat: Early-week threat from the White House. Trump campaigned
in the primaries on a relatively heterodox (or schizophrenic?) platform,
but wound up stuck with a straight Republican Congress (well, actually
one that is split between a hardcore conservative majority and an even
more extreme right-wing faction), with virtually no personal commitment
to the president. The effect is to allow him to pivot only one direction
(right), which means he can only pass what they let him pass. So there's
always been this fleeting fancy that Trump might try to steer the party
his direction by purging uncooperative Republicans in the primaries. So
that's sort of what's going on here, except that Trump didn't produce
his own health care bill -- he acceded to Ryan's bill -- and most of
the successful primary challenges lately have come from the right (Tim
Huelskamp in Kansas was a rare exception, but he was very far out, and
specifically his extreme anti-government stance offended agribusiness
interests, who control damn near all of the economy in his district).
So it's interesting that Trump made this threat, but it didn't work,
and now seems pretty hollow.
Another view of the purge story is:
Daniel Politi: Bannon Pushed Trump to Use Health Care Vote to Write Up
"Enemies List": After all, if Republicans only understand one big
thing, it's how to exploit a list of enemies.
Amber Phillips: Donald Trump is giving a lot of mixed messages about whom
to blame on health care; or pretty much the same thing:
Joanna Walters: Trump blames everyone but himself for failure of GOP
Andrew Prokop: On health reform, Donald Trump followed Republican leaders
into a ditch: Many of these pieces assume that Trump promised something
better (even "really great") and got blind-sided by Ryan. More likely is
that Trump never could care about health care, and was only mouthing words
(including blatant lies) fed to him by right-wing propagandists, because
that's easier than actually thinking.
Heather Richardson: The showdown that exposed the rift between Republican
ideology and reality:
Republicans have been able to paper over the vast gulf between their
ideology and reality, so long as they could blame Democrats for their
inability to put their ideology into law. They could rail about lower
taxes and liberty, and then, when Democrats saved the policies that
voters liked, could blame the socialistic Democrats for Republicans'
own failure to enact their ideological vision. This tactic was at the
heart of their rage against Obamacare, the symbol of their oppression
since it passed seven years ago. Republicans in the House of Representatives
voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, knowing they could count on
Obama's veto to protect them from voters who would, in reality, be furious
at the loss of their healthcare. . . .
The initial draft of the bill reflected Republican ideological principles
by giving the wealthiest Americans an $880bn tax cut. Even still, its
retention of government regulations on healthcare were too much for purists.
Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus insisted that the government must
not interfere in healthcare, defending the principle that the law must be
repealed entirely to resurrect American liberty. Other members of Congress,
swamped by popular outcry against repeal, had to bow to reality: Americans
actually like the law.
The showdown over Obamacare finally brought into the open the fundamental
rift between Republican ideology and reality. Speaker Ryan and President
Trump tried to skirt that gulf by forcing the bill through in an astonishing
17 days. When that failed, Trump tried to bluster it out with the old
Republican narrative, blaming Democrats, who are in the minority, for
this epic failure. Neither worked. Since 1980, the Republican party has
won power by hiding its unpopular ideology under a winning narrative, and
reality has finally intruded.
Matthew Sheffield: Downfall of a policy wonk: Paul Ryan becomes the latest
victim of the American right's fundamental dysfunction.
Some more scattered links this week in the Trump swamp:
Philip Bump: Nearly 1 out of every 3 days he has been president, Trump
has visited a Trump property
Roqayah Chamseddine: Despite Campaign Promises, Trump Set to Outdo Obama
on Military Adventurism: Yemen remains a prime example, and last week
saw extensive civilian deaths from American bombing in Mosul.
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's Rise Has Coincided With an Explosion of
Lawrence Douglas: Donald Trump's dizzying Time magazine interview was
'Trumpspeak' on display: "Predictably, the president offered nothing
in the way of substantiation or contrition. Instead, he overwhelmed his
interviewer with such a profusion of misstatements, half-truths, dodges
and red herrings that one grows dizzy trying to untangle it all."
John Judis: Democrats Need to Reclaim the Issue of Manufacturing from
Martin Longman: Trump Built His Own Prison: I don't think Trump ever
had the option of not ruling as a Republican stooge -- joining the party
is a lot like getting a lobotomy (or becoming a zombie) -- but Longman
still likes to fantasize:
Personally, I think Trump should have taken a different route with them
by explaining in no uncertain terms that he didn't run on creating a
health care system anything like what was in the bill, and that he was
already going to take a massive amount of heat for dispossessing tens
of millions of people of their health care. He should have threatened
that if he couldn't rely on the Freedom Caucus on this most important
first test, he'd be forced to cut them out of negotiations on pretty
much everything else and go to the Democrats for his votes for
infrastructure, trade, and tax reform, which would result in a major
defeat for conservative ideology.
Daniel Politi: Trump Reportedly Handed Merkel a $374 Billion Invoice
for NATO: "Trump's statements on NATO suggest he really does not
understand how the alliance is funded. Merkel reportedly 'ignored the
provocation.' She appears to be a bit more adept at diplomacy than
her U.S. counterpart." Also on Trump-Merkel:
Jessica Valenti: Trump did to Merkel what men do to women all the
Eric Roston: The Hidden Risks of Trump's EPA Cuts: Birth Defects, Bad
Mark Joseph Stern: Can Neil Gorsuch Answer a Question? On Trump's
Supreme Court nominee's hearings: "Gorsuch has smiled and quipped. He
has frowned and mused. He has brooded, hedged, dodged, vacillated,
hesitated, temporized, and mulled. What he has not yet done is directly
answer a substantive question posed by a United States senator. Will
he? Can he? That mystery is becoming the central drama of these
hearings." Also on Gorsuch:
Dahlia Lithwick/Camille Mott: The Democrats Must Filibuster Neil
Gorsuch. This, of course, is specifically about Gorsuch. Still,
I wouldn't mind taking a more general approach, such as the Senate
shouldn't confirm any Supreme Court appointee until we have an
election producing an unambiguous presidential winner (which, by
the way, would be a less extreme position than the one Republicans
took on the Garland nomination). Of course, the majority could
abolish the filibuster, but that too would be a long-term win.
Bill Raden: "Elections have consequences": What we can expect from
a Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Jacob Sugarman: A Handful of Trump Voters Are Coming to the Painful
Realization That They've Been Had: A predictable headline after
the election. Features four prototypical examples, who misunderstood
Trump in fundamental (but not unusual) ways when he was campaigning,
and have the presence of mind to realize their mistakes now. Just a
trickle at present, but there will be more and more over time.
Matt Taibbi: Trump the Destroyer: A long piece written for the
print issue, a big picture survey of Trump's first 5-6 weeks -- the
high tone seems more and more like a hedge, the author's big fear
that between deadline and publication dates Trump will do something
so astoundingly weird and/or evil the article will have been eclipsed
(a problem he's been hit with several times already). He does manage
to reel off some juicy lines, especially about Trump's cabinet, and
his overarching theme is something folks need to hear.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Why the NY Times Is Chiefly Responsible for the Mass Ignorance
About the US Budget
Steven A Cook/Michael Brooks: Bill Maher makes us dumber: How ignorance,
fear and stupid pop-culture clichťs shape Americans' view of the Middle
East: "Americans used to be just ignorant about Muslims and the
Middle East. Now we're also fearful, stupid and wrong."
Richard Falk: The Inside Story on Our UN Report Calling Israel an Apartheid
Frank Rich: No Sympathy for the Hillbilly: Alerted to this piece by
a Matt Karp tweet: "Elite liberals keep writing about sympathy because
they have no concept of solidarity." Headline-wise this reinforces
stereotypes as much about New York liberals as about hillbillies, Down
in the text Rich cites various (mostly right-wing) studies complaining
that hillbillies are morally degenerate (Charles Murray, really?). Not
that Rich is really that stupid -- I can't object to his pull quote,
"Instead of studying how to talk to 'real people,' might Democrats start
talking about real people?" Also, this starts out accurate enough before
plunging over the deep end:
Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they've
put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be
condescending. "Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,"
Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National
Review. "The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities
is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets.
Morally, they are indefensible." He was only saying in public what
other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the "47 percent" in
private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening.
Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to
die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used
their ballots to commit assisted suicide?
The problem here is that the Republicans aren't the only political
party who have written off the vast expanses of America outside the
mostly coastal urban areas. The Democrats offer a bit more generous
"safety net" but they still make it look and smell like welfare, and
with their trade deals and bank deregulation and indifference to unions
(which in any case are out of reach to most workers) the Democrats been
as complicit in the decline of the heartland as the Republicans. The
main difference is that Republicans have been much more successful at
blaming Democrats for policies that both parties' elites support, at
least in "red states" where Democrats have abandoned and no longer
campaign in -- partly due to the ascendancy of snobs like Rich, and
partly from sheer expediency.
Got a late start on this, so it feels more scattered than usual.
So much crap to deal with these days. So little time.
Sunday, March 19. 2017
Chuck Berry died.
Jimmy Breslin died. My uncle, James Hull, died.
It's been one of those weeks.
The big thing Trump did this week was to release a new budget proposal.
Who Wins and Loses in Trump's Proposed Budget; also
The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.
A grim budget day for US science: analysis and reaction to Trump's
plan: E.g., "NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2016."
Graham Bowley: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts?
Public arts funding has been a political hot potato for many years now, so
it's not surprising that conservative churls would take this opportunity
to slash it, indeed to cut it out altogether. I could nitpick myself, but
I also recall that during the 1930s the WPA financed all sorts of public
art, some of which we're still fortunate enough to enjoy. One cannot even
imagine government funding programs like that today, but if you give it
a wee bit of thought, you might wonder why. Given today's technology, the
ability to digitize sound and vision, to reproduce and disseminate those
bits at zero marginal cost, there has never been a better time to make a
big public investment in the arts. Sure, we need to come up with a funding
scheme that isn't subject to arbitrary commissars, but the costs and risks
are almost trivial. Especially compared to the Defense Department; after
all, without art and entertainment, what is there left to defend?
David S Cohen: Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism
Jeff Daniels: Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's
Zaid Jilani: Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think
Tank: Explores how "many of the White House proposal's ideas are
identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year." Also quotes
from a statement put out by Heritage praising the Trump budget, with one
little demur: "it complained that Trump's call for an additional $54
billion in defense spending just isn't big enough."
Eric Levitz: White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is 'Compassionate':
Quote comes from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who you'll
read more about elsewhere. Levitz also wrote
6 Promises That President Trump's Budget Betrays.
Charles Pierce: This Is the Ending Conservatives Always Wanted:
This budget is short-sighted, cruel to the point of being sadistic,
stupid to the point of pure philistinism, and shot through with the
absolute and fundamentalist religious conviction that the only true
functions of government are the ones that involve guns, and that the
only true purpose of government is to serve the rich. . . .
A lot of this is going to make the members of Congress choke, so
a lot of it may not pass. Its very existence is important, though,
as a document that lays out quite clearly the vision of government
shared almost everywhere in modern conservatism. This is a DeMint
Budget, a Heritage Budget, a Gingrich Budget, a Reagan Budget, and
a Tea Party Budget. It may be crude and lack a certain polish, but
its priorities and goals are clear. There is no modern Republican
Party without movement conservatism, and this budget is the most
vivid statement yet of that philosophy.
By the way, Piece also wrote:
Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump's Budget Director Has a Breathtakingly Cynical
Excuse for Cutting Aid to the Poor
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's budget blueprint is a war on the future of
the American economy: I caught a whiff here of Robert Reich's old
scheme for education transforming American workers into highly paid
"symbolic manipulators" -- sure, boring old manufacturing jobs get
stripped due to "free trade" deals, but we'll all wind up richer than
ever. That was bullshit then and is bullshit now, but that doesn't
mean the opposite is even close to right: you don't need Friedman to
realize that business today requires more technical skill than ever
before, and the future more so. So why would anyone push a government
budget that seriously undermines scientific research and education?
But Trump's rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don't just push
back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious
truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is
evolving and changing over time. . . .
One of the main things that was good about the "good old days" is
that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education
opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products
and cures. This happened while the government invested more -- not less --
on health, education, science, and regional development.
Didn't Trump spend much of his campaign complaining about how we've
neglected essential investments in infrastructure? Science, research
and engineering are what infrastructure is built on, and education is
fundamental to all that.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 8th Week That
- Released a very skinny budget.
- Moved to loosen fracking rules.
- Delayed chemical-safety regulations.
- Fired 46 US Attorneys nationwide.
- Made a formal apology to United Kingdom over wild spying claims.
- Put military action against North Korea on the table.
Doug Bandow: Why Is Trump Abandoning the Foreign Policy that Brought Him
Victory? Starts by pointing out that Trump was often critical of the
neoconservatives who had plunged America into endless war, quoting him
as saying, "unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression
will not be my first instinct." Indeed, many single-issue neocons like
the Kagans were quick to flock to Hillary Clinton, trusting her record
for hawkishness. Still, although Trump has been able to torpedo much
bruited nominations for the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams,
his administration has done a lot of sabre-rattling so far. But the
author ("a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special
Assistant to President Ronald Reagan") has a selective memory of Trump's
campaign -- he also insisted he'd crush ISIS and increase military
spending. Unlike anti-war conservatives (like Justin Raimondo) who
fell for Trump's promise, I actually considered him more bellicose
and more dangerous than Clinton (and I've repeatedly attacked her on
just this issue). The reasons: the Republicans Trump would surround
himself with would be more consistently hawkish (many Democrats have
better things to do), and Trump himself is ignorant of and prejudiced
about the world, and much given to macho posturing. A good example of
this is the rapidly developing crisis with North Korea; e.g., see two
recent Jason Ditz pieces:
Tillerson: North Korea Diplomacy Has Failed, and
Tillerson: Attacking North Korea Remains an Option;
Charles P Pierce: Don't Poke North Korea with a Stick Just to See What
Michelle Chen: Trump's Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America
Julie Hirschfield Davis: Trump, Day After Merkel's Visit, Says Germany
Pays NATO and US Too Little: Trump's been complaining for some time
about NATO member not paying enough for their common defense, and he's
sent Rex Tillerson out to shake down America's supposed allies, so this
isn't exactly new. There's much Trump doesn't understand, but one thing
is that a big part of the reason the US has so many subservient allies
is that the US pays for the deference, not just in allowing the US to
base troops on foreign soil but in ways like generous trade deals that
help countries develop through exports. Take those perks away and won't
people start wondering whether it's all worth it?
Allegra Kirkland: Huck: Trump Should Ignore Travel Ban Ruling, Like
Jackson With Trail of Tears: Says a lot when you take inspiration
from one of the most shameful facts in American history, but that's
where many Republicans are at: until they manage to stock the courts
with like-minded conservatives, they invite like-minded executives to
run amuck over niceties like law and constitution. Not clear that
Trump, a man who has put a lot of stock into using the courts for his
own gains, is there yet, or that if he was he wouldn't be facing a
widespread revolt from civil servants forced to choose between the
legal system and his executive ego.
Ezra Klein: Does Donald Trump know what the GOP health bill does?
Conclusion: "maybe not"; more to the point: "the AHCA does literally
none of the things Trump says it does."
Nancy LeTourneau: Checking in on Trump's 'Contract With the American
Voter': This is becoming a staple piece on the left, dredging up
Trump campaign promises and showing how few of them -- especially the
relatively decent ones -- have been implemented, or even followed up
on. This doesn't seem to phase Trump's actual supporters yet: they
have, after all, almost by definition become jaded cynics about the
political process, leaving them more inclined to see Trump's failures
as subversion by unseen forces. On the other hand, LeTourneau's list
includes a lot of "not introduced" Acts, which goes to show how the
Republicans in Congress have proceeded their own agenda, regardless
of how that fits in with Trump's own promises. Ryan, in particular,
seems to view Trump as his stooge, aided by the fact that Trump is
too lazy to work on his own agenda, and too hamstrung by the people
he's allowed himself to be surrounded by. Still, I suspect the day
is coming when we'll consider ourselves lucky anytime Trump breaks
a campaign promise.
Josh Marshall: He Seems Nice: Irony still in plan: "he" is Greg
Knox, described in a Pence tweet as "a small biz owner hurting under
Obamacare." So here's some context: "It shows Knox to be what policy
specialists refer to as a 'toxic right wing asshole.'"
Ian Millhiser: Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for
the poor at his college keggers: "Meet the most insufferable frat boy
in human history."
Tessa Stuart: Four Things We Learned About Trump's Tax Returns From
Rachel Maddow: Explained much more succinctly than what you got
from watching Maddow's program.
Amy B Wang: Why Trump's plan to slash UN funding could lead to global
Paul Woodward: Donald Trump's deceitful and misleading statements have
consequences: This keys off a long quote from
John Cassidy: Donald Trup Finally Pays a Price for His False and Reckless
Words, but I found Woodward's commentary more to the point:
Donald Trump could accurately assert: "I didn't get where I am today by
Like many people who believe in the supremacy of will power, he may
believe that being faithful to ones own interests and objectives is all
Trump is consistent in his unwillingness to bend to the will of others.
His America First policy is merely an inflation of his Trump
The idea that Trump might have the capacity to mend his ways -- to see
that his dishonesty no longer works -- derives, perhaps, from a misreading
of his pragmatism.
Trump isn't bound to any ideology. At the same time, he exhibits no
psychological flexibility whatsoever.
Trump believes in his own innate capabilities with which, in his own
imagining, he is so richly endowed he has no need to learn anything.
This reminds me a bit of another president not bound to any ideology:
Franklin Roosevelt. The difference, of course, was that Roosevelt did
learn from his mistakes. He saw, for instance, that his more conservative
impulses -- especially his fetish for balanced budgets -- were harmful,
while his more generous, more liberal, impulses worked much better. The
result was the most progressive administration in American history, but
few voters imagined that at the start. They simply wanted to try something
different, because the reign of Andrew Mellon and his three presidents
had been so disastrous. The election of Trump was based on much the same
reaction, but less decisive because disaster was much less universally
recognized (let alone commonly understood) in 2016, and because quite a
few people understood that Trump and/or the Republicans didn't offer any
real solutions -- indeed, they were major problems.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Patrick Cockburn: Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should
Stay Out. Should, but thus far Yemen is the war Trump has most
dramatically inserted himself in.
Tom Engelhardt: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home: Actually, his
third-tier title, after "Walled In" and "President Blowback." I'm not
sure "blowback" is correct, because most of the damage done to America
since Trump took office has been self-inflicted: the problem is less
that others are attacking so much as we've internalized the scars of
fifteen-years of the shocks of war:
It's clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far
beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to
unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police,
and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall
Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration
policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as
part of a project to construct another kind of "great wall," a conceptual
one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not
welcome or wanted here. Don't come. Don't visit.
All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears
that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that
Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted
heartland of the country. In the process, he loosed a brand of hate
(including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a
rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically
speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its
intensity in our present moment.
TomDispatch also published
Michael Klare: Winning World War II in the Twenty-First Century, on
Trump's nostalgia for the days when America actually won wars -- ignoring
that times have changed as pre-WWII empires have been rolled back on every
front, and that the US is no longer viewed as a country normally content
to mind its own business, that only joins wars when attacked, and that
doesn't plot to keep and plunder other nations. Indeed, the real problems
the US military face today aren't the sort that can be fixed with a few
more ships, planes, and troops.
Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was
funded and built: Robert Mercer is a hedge fund exec, the plural
evidently refers to daughter Rebekah, and the article goes into some
depth on how they've sowed their millions to promote right-wing causes,
especially through Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
While other donors gave more to support Trump's presidential bid last
year, the Mercers are now arguably the most influential financiers of
the Trump era. Bannon, who went on to manage the final months of Trump's
campaign before joining the White House, is the senior architect of the
president's policy vision. He is joined in the West Wing by counselor
Kellyanne Conway, a friend of Rebekah Mercer who led the family-funded
super PAC that backed first Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 race.
People who know them say the Mercers, who soured on traditional
political operatives, appreciated Bannon's business savvy and share
his belief that the conversation around politics must be changed for
their ideas to prevail. For all of their power and privilege, both the
family and their longtime adviser see themselves as outsiders, fighting
the grip of elite institutions.
One thing I was surprised by here was a $4 million donation to John
Bolton Super PAC. I wasn't aware of such a thing, but it probably explains
why such a useless and incompetent buffoon keeps managing to get his name
in the news.
Gold also wrote a comparable analysis of the Kochs (in 2014):
Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million
in 2012 elections; also co-wrote one on the Clintons (in 2015):
Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.
William Greider: Here's What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve:
"We demand way too much from the central bank -- but that's because our
elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy." The
Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates last week, in an effort
to throttle back the economy lest it grow to the point where wages actually
start to rise. That would normally be bad news for a sitting president,
but not for the bankers who sit with this particular one.
Greider also wrote:
Trump Is Fighting a New Trade War -- and This One Is Intramural,
about the "nasty White House battle [that] has broken out between
right-wing nationalists and globalist financiers," asking the
question: "Who owns this president -- the folks who voted for him,
or the power hitters of big business and banking?" That's actually
a novel question for a Republican president: with leaders like the
Bushes, Republican voters were merely consenting to oligarchic rule,
but didn't Trump promise something else? I'm not sure, but given
how readily Clinton and Obama turned against their voters, I hardly
expect Trump to show much spine.
Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Right-Wing Populism With 'Left-Wing
Economics': Article spends too much time rebutting a red herring from
Zack Beauchamp. My own suspicion is that the key to making an "Left-Wing
Economics" argument work is to name enemies and show how those enemies
take unfair advantage of working people, especially through their bought
influence on government, how their lobbying perverts the course of justice.
Not that we needed more examples, but the Trump administration is rife with
them. (Trump sure had a field day painting the Clintons that way.)
Richard Silverstein: Knesset Votes to Ban Palestinian Parties, Destroy
Israeli Democracy: In 1951 Palestinians still residing in Israel
were granted citizenship (a right that was not extended after 1967 as
Israel occupied and in some cases annexed additional Palestinian land),
and since then Palestinian political parties have been represented in
Israel's parliament (Knesset) -- to little effect, of course, as ruling
coalitions have very rarely even considered including them, but it's
always been a talking point, a big part of the Israel's claim to be a
This paragraph is meant as an aside, but is noteworthy:
Coincidentally, today a UN body issued a report
finding that Israel had become an apartheid state. It further urged
that the UN reactivate the methods, resolutions and commissions it used
to ostracize South Africa, when it too faced international opprobrium
for its racist policies. The new version of the Basic Law further
strengthens such findings.
Sunday, March 12. 2017
Donald Trump likes to talk about how he "inherited a mess": here's
one measure of that, a chart of private-sector payroll employment over
Obama's eight years:
Note first that the guy who really did inherit a mess was Obama,
following eight years of Republican misrule under GW Bush. Also, that
by ignoring cuts to public sector employment due to austerity measures
mostly (but not exclusively) pushed by Republicans, this overstates
the overall jobs gains a bit. Still, Trump's going to be hard-pressed
to sustain Obama's rate, given hat he's working with the same "wrecking
crew" that sunk Bush. Of course, you may not know all this, because
Obama spent very little time bitching about the hole Republicans dug
for him: he felt it important to recovery to project confidence, so
he consistently understated the recession early on. In doing so, he
did himself (and the country) a disservice, as he undercut the political
case for more emphatic reforms.
Dean Baker reviews the latest jobs figures:
Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery in February.
On the other hand, no false modesty from Trump:
Trump keeps claiming he's created US jobs since Election Day. As
the title continues: "Not so." Also:
Spicer: Trump Says Formerly 'Phony' Jobs Numbers Are Now 'Very Real'
For more, see
Matthew Yglesias: Sean Spicer's appalling answer about economic data
shows how far we've lowered the bar for Trump. Spicer's quip: "They
may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 7th Week That
Really Matters: Sub-heads:
- Instituted a new travel ban.
- Sent 400 Marines into Syria.
- Bombed Yemen more in a week than Obama did in a year.
- Broke a federal rule about the jobs report.
I've featured these pieces every week since inauguration, but frankly
the "federal rule" broken in the last point is a really stupid one, on
the order of misusing a comma in a press release. As the rest of this
post shows, there was much more amiss in the Trump world this week --
the purge of federal prosecutors, for instance, which shows the extent
to which partisan politics has taken over law enforcement in the minds
of Republican strategists.
More fallout on the Paul Ryan's health care hack (graphic right from
ZoŽ Carpenter: The GOP's Health-Care Plan Could Strip Addiction and
Mental-Health Coverage From 1.3 Million: Part of the Republican
effort to roll back Medicaid expansion.
Esme Cribb: Trump Admin Keeps Up Attacks on CBO Before It Scores ACA
Jesse Drucker: Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare
Jessica Glenza: Trump supporters in the heartland fear being left behind
by GOP health plan
Ezra Klein: Is the Republican health plan designed to fail? This piece
has gotten a lot of attention for Klein's fawning portrait of Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan isn't an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy
entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from
political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of
conservatism. The backing he's built for past proposals comes from
painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing
them for what he'll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing
processes where they feel heard, and so on. He's good at this kind of
The implication is that since he didn't do all that this time he
must not be serious about it.
Paul Krugman has a response:
But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance
of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals
that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely
operational -- they were filled not just with magic asterisks -- tax
loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved
via means to be determined later -- but with elements, like converting
Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if
they got anywhere close to actually happening.
In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling
social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically
just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be
produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has
he ever managed that?
What I'd say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur.
He's just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous
media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative
Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which
is a very different process. There's nothing strange about his inability
to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act. . . .
In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is.
Ryan isn't a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he's a
con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn't hammer
out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have
no idea what that would involve.
Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered
Jordan Weissmann: Trumpcare's Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That
Really Need a Favor Right Now
Matthew Yglesias: The Republican health plan is a huge betrayal of
Trump's campaign promises: As if anything Trump's done as president
Julia Belluz: Scott Gottlieb, Trump's FDA pick, explained: "Trump wants
to deregulate the Food and Drug Administration. He chose the right guy for
Anna Lenzer: Trump's Panama Problem And the Panama story didn't even
make Matthew Rosza's
This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest, the juiciest of
which was "Trump opened a hotel in the capital of Azerbaijan with 'The
Corleones of the Caspian' as his partners." Also this quote from Eric
Trump: "The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest
it has ever been." That quote was pulled from
Eric Lipton/Susanne Craig: With Trump in White House, His Golf Properties
Les Leopold: 6 reasons why Trump is too weak to save American jobs:
All six boil down to the fact that Trump, as a lifelong businessman,
inevitably winds up siding with investors in their pursuit of profits
over concerns for jobs and livelihoods. The "six reasons" are simply
examples of that, and are far from exhaustive.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Trump's Second Immigration Ban Unconstitutional?
Yes, among other things at least as troubling.
Bill Moyers/Henry A Giroux: Our President Is Up to No Good:
Actually, two pieces. Giroux's is especially stirring (at least,
reading it right after writing the piece on the Olathe shootings
Trump's ascendancy has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic
illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason
that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering
of civic attachments, the decline of public life and the use of
violence and fear to shock and numb everyday people. Galvanizing
his base of true-believers in post-election rallies, the country
witnesses how politics is transformed into a spectacle of fear,
divisions and disinformation. Under President Trump, the scourge
of mid-20th century authoritarianism has returned, not only in the
menacing plague of populist rallies, fear-mongering, hate and
humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of war, militarization
and violence that looms over society like a rising storm.
Matthew Nussbaum/Josh Dawsey: Trump's in the White House bubble, and he
loves it: "He's a creature of habit . . . and it works for him."
Janet Reitman: Betsy DeVos' Holy War: Some things you may not know:
Betsy DeVos' father, Edgar Prince, made his fortune manufacturing auto
parts (including perhaps his greatest innovation, the lighted sun visor),
and was one of the single largest donors to the Christian right. "No one
in the United States gave more money to James Dobson's Focus on the Family,
its Michigan Family Forum affiliate or its Washington, D.C., arm, the
Family Research Council, than the late Edgar Prince," notes Russ Bellant,
a Michigan author who has written extensively about the religious right.
After Prince died in 1995, Betsy's mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen,
continued funding religious-right causes, as has Betsy's brother, Erik
Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. Among the causes
the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has supported is the Foundation
for Traditional Values, which produced multi-media seminars and presentations
on "America's Judeo-Christian heritage," including the "biblical roots" of
government and our education system.
And some stuff you probably did:
Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended
a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the
education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure
in education circles, a leading advocate of "school choice" through student
vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private
and parochial schools.
There is also a quote from Trump calling school choice the "civil rights
issue of our time." Admittedly, not a fellow well known for his devotion to
Alexandra Rosenmann: Trump supporters call for "liberal genocide" and
deportation of Jews at Arizona rally
Harry Siegel: Trump to US Attorney Preet Bahrara: You're Fired:
This followed a political purge as Trump and Sessions "ordered 46
United States attorneys to resign immediately." When Bahrara didn't,
he was fired. Also see:
US Attorney in NY Fired by DOJ After Trump Previously Promised He'd
Stay On; also
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Amy B Wang: Preet Bharara said he wanted to be a
US attorney 'forever.' Well, he was just fired. One unfortunate
thing here is that focus on Bharara, whose record on prosecuting Wall
Street was checkered at best, has distracted from the bigger story,
which is the extent Trump and Sessions have decided to use federal
prosecutors for their own political agenda. [PS: Belatedly found one
piece that picks up this thread:
Elizabeth Warren says Trump pushed out prosecutors to install
Mark Joseph Stern: Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets: "The
president's solicitor general nominee Noel Francisco thinks executive
privilege should shield pretty much everything."
Cary Wedler: US Drone Strikes Have Gone Up 432% Since Trump Took Office:
On a per/day basis, compared to Obama's much longer term.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Bernard Avishai: It's Not Too Early for the Next Democratic Ticket:
Dude, it's way too fucking early. In fact, the subject should be zipped
until way after the 2018 elections, and I wish we could put it off until
well into 2020: partly because it'll do nothing but distract the press
from the real issues, but mostly because the next candidate should
represent the party, not usurp the party to stroke her or his ego
(which is what being the designated leader would do).
Dean Baker: Drugs Are Cheap: Why Do We Let Governments Make Them Expensive?
It's worth remembering that private health insurance was quick to add
pharmaceutical coverage to their plans because drug therapies were often
cheaper than medical interventions. Medicare was slow to follow suit,
and by the time they did drugs weren't so cheap any more. The price rise
was partly the effect of more money being available through insurance,
and partly the increasing callousness of the profit motive, but to cash
in the key has been government-granted patent monopolies, which give
companies the right to push patients (and insurers) to their limits --
a "right" they've lately been exploiting so universally it's become a
major driver of health care cost. There is an easy fix to this, and a
little public investment would more than make up for any reductions
companies might make to r&d.
Baker also wrote a major piece on the track record of his fellow
The Wrongest Profession.
Thomas Frank: The Revolution Will Not Be Curated: There must be a
better word for what he's getting at, but the people he's talking about
are those who sort and select things (originally art) to be presented
to larger groups of people (originally exhibitions). To call these people
filters suggests they're more passive than they in fact are. Another word
that comes to mind is experts, but that suggests they know more than most
seem to, and that they work by some relatively objective criteria which
we should respect -- in fact, many people who call themselves experts
are distinguished mostly by their partisan support for special interests.
Obviously, much can go wrong with all this curating, but it's impossible
to be broadly informed without tapping into intermediaries who pay much
more attention to specialists. Virtually all of the links in this post
came to my attention through curators I've found worthwhile, and if
you're reading this you're doing the same. Indeed, that makes me a
curator, as I suppose I am in other domains, such as recorded jazz.
Still not sure what Frank's title means, unless it's that in order to
break out of today's debilitating conventional wisdom you have to be
aware of how all this curating limits your options, and seek out info
beyond the commonplace. But as a practical matter, that just means
that you need to find better curators (and, I would add, hold them
Henry Grabar: Corporate Incentives Cost US $45 Billion in 2015,
Don't Really Work: Photo features Boeing, who recently extorted
$8.7 billion from Washington state for not (for now) moving jobs
Aamna Mohdin: The Dutch far right's election donors are almost exclusively
American: So rich Americans are trying to buy another election, something
they have a lot of practice doing at home, and as a little reporting would
easily reveal, abroad. For more on right-wing Dutch candidate Geert Wilders:
Michael Birnbaum: The peroxide-blonde crusader who could soon top Dutch
elections. Especially interesting is Wilders' experience of working
on an Israeli kibbutz ("a trip he described as transformative in shaping
his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views"). Another American publicly supporting
Wilders is Rep. Steve King (R-IA):
Iowa congressman lauds far-right Dutch politician, warning over
'demographics'. Curious how chummy the International Fraternal
Order of Fascists is at the moment, because one lesson history
teaches us is that nationalists ultimately find themselves at war
with one another, or falling obediently into the orbit of stronger
nationalists (as Quisling, Petain, and others prostrated their
nations to Hitler's Germany). Do the Dutch really want to elect
Wilders (or the French Le Pen) to be even more under Trump's (or
Putin's) thumb? [PS: Also on Wilders' funding:
Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate.]
Rich Montgomery/Andian Cummings: Arcs of two lives intersect in tragedy
at Austins bar in Olathe: Profiles of the Trump-inspired shooter
(Adam W. Purinton: "51, had long since seen his career as an air traffic
controller come to an end, gaining a reputation as an unhappy drinker as
he drifted from one low-level job to another") and victim (Srinivas
Kuchibbotla, 32, an engineer who had immigrated from Hyderabad, India;
he "had the American dream in his grasp: great job, happy marriage,
new house and plans for children"). Of course, Trump's spokespeople
were quick to disavow the shooting, but aside from its ending (which
they'd prefer to leave ambiguous) the whole Trump campaign was based
on exploiting the frustrations of folks like Purinton and rallying
their furor against people like Kuchibbotla. And it certainly is the
case that American businesses prefer hiring brilliant and optimistic
foreign-born professionals to trying to train undereducated and aging
malcontents like Purinton. We live in a society where even such paltry
welfare efforts as we make are more meant to belittle beneficiaries
than to build them up, so it's easy to see how Trump's supporters can
think the system favors immigrants over natives. And Democrats, having
taken every side of the issue (including for the Clintons a leading
roll in "ending welfare as we know it"), have had no coherent message,
allowing Trump to exploit this simmering wrath -- and to stir it up,
as we see here.
Vijay Prashad: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal
Paul Rosenberg: Stronger than Tea: The anti-Trump resistance is much
bigger than the Tea Party -- and it has to be.
Danielle Ryan: WikiLeaks CIA dump makes the Russian hacking story even
murkier -- if that's possible: I haven't followed the latest WikiLeaks
dump of confidential CIA documents enough to form an opinion on whether
it's a good or bad or mixed thing, and frankly don't much care. Clearly,
we already knew that the CIA was out of control, which we should have
expected simply due to the cloak of secrecy under which it works. Still,
this article makes some interesting points:
The Vault 7 leaks are not exactly a smoking gun for those who maintain
Russia's innocence where the DNC hacks and leaks are concerned -- but
they're not insignificant either. If anything, the new leaks should make
people think a little harder before putting their complete trust in the
CIA's public conclusions about the acts (or alleged acts) of enemy
states. . . .
The fact that the CIA -- an organization of professionals trained
in the most sophisticated methods of deception -- is front and center
promoting the idea that Assange is a Russian agent, should be enough
for anyone to take that idea with a pinch of salt.
Thursday, March 9. 2017
Top local story here has been wildfire, the predictable result of
a very dry winter and three or more days of high winds. On Wednesday,
the Wichita Eagle front page, above the fold, consisted of one huge
picture of fire and the headline "Unprecedented." The story revealed
that about 60% of
Clark County (WSW of Wichita, south and a bit east of Dodge City,
at population 2215 pretty much the definition of nowhere) has been
burnt. That fire spread east into Comanche County (pop. 1891), and
there have been more scattered fires near Hays and Hutchinson. For
a rundown as of Wednesday, see
Tim Potter: Over 650,000 acres burned so far, state says. The
wind died down a bit on Thursday, so presumably the worst is over.
Note, however, that the annual record broke last week (a bit early,
don't you think?) dates from just last year.
The big story of the week was that Paul Ryan, with Donald Trump's
evident blessing, unveiled his "repeal-and-replace" health care bill.
He's managed to disgust both the right and the left, and more than
a few people in between. Some reactions:
Jamelle Bouie: How Republicans Botched Their Health Care Bill: Title
from the link, better than "Trumpcare Is Already on Life Support" on the
David Dayen: The Republican Health-Care Bill Is the Worst of So Many
Worlds: it "fails on every score -- except cutting rich people's
Tim Dickinson: The Dark Strategy at the Core of the GOP Health Care
Richard Eskow: The American Health Care Act Is a Wealth Grab, Not a
Mike Konczal: The Truth About the GOP Health-Care Plan
Paul Krugman: A Plan Set Up to Fail
Josh Marshall: Let's Agree Not to Lie About GOPCare: Starts with a
rather striking lie: "Here is the simple secret of health insurance and
health care provision policy: You can create efficiencies and savings
by constructing functioning markets." Actually, it's been clear for
decades that health care markets are inherently dysfunctional -- i.e.,
that Marshall's assumption is horribly faulty. His next line is also
untrue: "But at the end of the day, more money equals more care." This
doesn't even demand theory: it implies that the US has 3-4 times more
care than France or Japan, which is empirically false. Marshall then
argues that when Ryan promises to reduce costs, he's really just saying
he'll be offering less care, which is, well, true, but that's mostly
because Ryan isn't trying to change any of the cost factors behind
health care (e.g., by limiting private party profits). He then seems
to endorse right-wing opponents of Ryan's plan, saying "the real way
to do this is simply to repeat the Affordable Care Act root and branch --
no pretending about making it better and 'access' and other nostrums,"
but he doesn't see that happening because "Republicans have essentially
accepted the premise of the ACA: which is to say, the people who got
coverage under the ACA should have coverage." But Republicans
refuse to admit to that position, so Ryan has tailored the program to
fit Republican biases, which is to say to protect the insurability of
people who can afford it and screw everyone else. Marshall ultimately
make some solid points ("The current plan also starts the phaseout of
Medicaid and preps for the phaseout of Medicare -- a key policy goal
for Paul Ryan"), but makes a lot of stupid blunders along the way.
John Nichols: Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump's Health-Care Debacle:
Joy-Ann Reid: Donald Trump Signs On to Paul Ryan's Let-Them-Die 'Health-Care'
Michael Tomasky: It Sure Looks Like Paul Ryan Wants Ryancare to Fail:
"The tip-off to me came Tuesday around noon, when Heritage Action, the
political arm of the Heritage Foundation, issued a tweet condemning the
bill. If Ryan didn't even bother to grease this with Heritage, he's just
not being serious."
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are now playing the price for a years-long
campaign of Obamacare lies: "Republican leaders and conservative
intellectuals, for the most part, didn't really believe nonsense about
death panels or that Obama was personally responsible for high-deductible
insurance plans. What they fundamentally did not like is that the basic
framework of the law is to redistribute money by taxing high-income
families and giving insurance subsidies to needy ones." I want to add
two points here: the first is that every health care reform going back
at least to Medicare protected industry profits and allowed the industry
to increase those profits by inflating costs, even though this quickly
price health care beyond what most families could afford; and second,
that the Republicans have always had to jump through hoops to pretend
that increasing industry profits was good for the people (at least the
ones they profess to care about). These positions have become increasingly
untenable over time, but Republicans have been able to make political hay
as long as they could get people to blame the Democrats, whose own policies
have only been marginally more viable, and whose reforms have saddled them
with the lion's share of blame for their shortcomings.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert L Borosage: Foreign Policy Elites Have No Answer for Trump:
"Few entities have been more discombobulated by our madcap president
than the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which former Obama
foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes once dubbed 'the blob.'" The Blob,
in the form of "a bipartisan committee of the impeccably credentialed --
eight men, two women, all white" working under the Brookings Institute
trademark, answered Trump with a report rehashing all the nostrums that
have worked so badly over the last 10-20-30 years:
The nabobs recommend a measured course, a posture more muscular than
"the detachment" of Barack Obama and less reckless than the "over-commitment"
of George W. Bush. They detail the elements. We will police the seas and
the heavens. We will allow no rival power to claim even a regional sphere
of influence. We will be dominant militarily in every theater from the
Russian border to the South China Sea to cyberspace.
This requires a major military buildup, including investments in
modernizing our nuclear weapons, "long-range strike capability, armed
unmanned aviation, ISR platforms, undersea warfare, directed energy,
space, and cyber security" and more. Yes, our allies should spend more
too, but we should "not ask to much of fragile Europe."
What does this mean on the ground? They recommend dispatching more
forces to the Russian border to counter "Russian revisionism," including
"a robust US and allied presence in the Baltic States, Central and
Eastern Europe and the Balkans." They want greater assistance to Ukraine
"to help ensure its prosperity and success," with a promise of "lethal
military aid" if Russia escalates its interference.
They propose "increasing engagement" to "restore stability" in the
Middle East, ramping up the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda. They also
urge continued deployment of military forces in the Gulf "to keep the
oil flowing," even though the United States doesn't need it.
Trump's first erratic weeks in office have already created a horrifying
sense that the commander in chief is not in command of himself. But the
conventional wisdom of the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment is in
many ways even more disconnected from reality than Trump's tweets.
Jordan Charlton: Donald Trump's Hoodwinking of Working Class People Now
Stephen F Cohen: The 'Fog of Suspicion' and of Worsening Cold War. Also
Matt Taibbi: Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the
Dan De Luce/Paul McCleary: Trump's Ramped-Up Bombing in Yemen Signals More
Aggressive Use of Military: Trump managed to sow enough ambiguity in
his campaign it wasn't clear whether he's dial back the reckless and often
pointless military adventures of the past 15 years, or escalate them like
crazy. Early evidence suggests the latter, which is why so many of these
links point to possible wars, but this one deals with an active front, a
harbinger of things to come. Also see:
Paul McLeary: More US Troops Bound for Afghanistan, as Marines, Comandos,
Arrive in Syria. The situation in Syria is further complicated by
warfare between ostensible US allies (Turks and Kurds); see:
Liz Sly: With a show of Stars and Stripes, US forces in Syria try to
keep warring allies apart.
Lawrence Douglas: President Donald Trump is the most powerful cornered
animal in the world: I'm not sure we should be reminding him how
powerful he is, and quoting Joseph Welch ("have you left no sense of
decency?") is rather beside the point.
Katelyn Fossett: The Trouble with Trump's Immigrant Crimes list:
Specifically, VOICE (Victims Of Immigrant Crime Engagement).
DD Guttenplan: How Donald Trump Speaks to Ohio's Autoworkers:
Some quotes: "When Barack Obama ran, people here were not afraid of
his blackness. They saw someone who talked about things that had
meaning: getting the health-care system to work. Less focus on
foreign wars." And: "I think the vote in Ohio was as much against
Hillary as it was for Trump." And: "People still perceive NAFTA
and TPP as the root of the problem. Until we say it will never be
profitable to oppress other workers, corporations will always
move for cheap labor."
Dhar Jamail: On Labor and Beyond, Trump Is Following Scott Walker's
Patrick Lawrence: Are We Drifting Toward War With North Korea?
Officially, the US is still at war with North Korea, and has been
ever since the "temporary" 1953 armistice, although it's gotten to
the point where it'd be awful costly to renew it, and there's hardly
any cost to maintaining the status quo. At least that's Washington's
view. North Korea is far more affected by sanctions and isolation,
and has been frustrated at every corner in their efforts to move the
status quo. About the only thing they've found that gets the world's
attention is threats, which have repeatedly given American hawks the
opportunity to advocate military actions. What's new, of course, is
Trump, who combines ignorance and antipathy and bully bluster to an
unprecedented degree. I doubt he came into office scheming, as Bush
did viz. Iraq, to start a war, but he's so unstable, and his security
and state picks put so little stock in diplomacy, that any number of
situation could flare up out of control. Korea is an obvious one,
and Iran is another, and some are even worried about China.
Jeffrey Lewis: North Korea Is Practicing for Nuclear War: More
inflamatory is the subhed: "It's preparing for a nuclear first strike."
This is a good example of how Washington foreign policy mandarins
exacerbate tension by inflating the threat North Korea poses.
Eric Lipton/Binyamin Appelbaum: Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers,
Polluters and More
Trita Parsi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Didn't Start the Anti-Iranian Fire:
The anti-Iran war lobby goes back many years.
Philip Rucker/Robert Costa/Ashley Parker: Inside Trump's fury: The president
rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations
Rucker and Costa also wrote:
Bannon vows a daily fight for 'deconstruction of the administrative
state': Not sure why he'd use an academic term for deep analysis
"a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings,
metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions . . . are
always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary
signifiers") when he more likely means "dismantling" or "destruction" --
unless, that is, he's one of those all talk, no action guys.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Progressives Should Support Policies That Help All Working-Class
People: This is all good; for example:
On trade this means policies designed to reduce the trade deficit. This
issue here is not "winning" in negotiations with our trading partners.
It's a question of priorities in trade negotiations.
Rather than demanding stronger and longer protections for Pfizer's
patents and Microsoft's copyrights, we should be getting our trading
partners to support a reduction in the value of the dollar in order to
make our goods and services more competitive. If we can reduce the trade
deficit by 1-2 percentage points of GDP ($180 billion to $360 billion)
it will create 1-2 million manufacturing jobs, improving the labor market
for the working class.
We should use trade to reduce the pay of doctors and other highly paid
professionals. If we open the door to qualified professionals from other
countries we can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health
care and other costs, while reducing inequality.
We should also support policies that rein in the financial sector,
such as reducing fees that pension funds pay to private equity and hedge
funds and their investment advisors. This money comes out of the pockets
of the rest of us and goes to some of the richest people in the country.
A financial transactions tax, which could eliminate tens of billions of
dollars spent each year on useless trades, would also be a major step
towards reducing inequality.
Policies that put downward pressure on the pay of CEOs and other top
executives would also help the working class. This could mean, for example,
making it easier for shareholders to reduce CEO pay. In the nonprofit
sector we could place a cap on the pay of employees for anyone seeking
tax-exempt status. Universities and nonprofit charities could still pay
their presidents whatever they wanted; they just wouldn't get a taxpayer
There is a long list of market-based policies that we can pursue to
reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. (For the
fuller list see
Rigged). These are policies that we should pursue because it is the
right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including
the white working class.
I've been reading Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and
the Origins of Our Time, which puts a lot of emphasis on how white
Southern Democrats supported radical New Deal policies up to about 1938,
when many switched sides, most famously joining with Republicans to pass
the Taft-Hartley Act which halted the growth of unions and ultimately
did them great damage. The South was, at the time, by far the poorest
part of the country (well, still is), so as long as New Deal policies
were crafted not to upset the South's Jim Crow racial order politicians
were happy for the help. However, by the late 1930s, especially with
the Wagner Act supporting unionization in 1935, Southern whites started
to feel threatened, and decided they'd rather keep their racial order
pure and poor than do anything that might help both whites and blacks.
It is one of the great shames of American history that one of our few
major periods of progressivism was so fraught with racism. (Actually,
the same combination hampered Wilson's progressivism, and before that
the Populist Party, at least in the South. For that matter, the great
expansion of voting rights in the Jackson-Van Buren era was more often
than not accompanied by disenfranchisement of free blacks.)
Thomas Frank: Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance
movement: I agree that there's a lot of similarity between the
anti-Trump resistance and the anti-Obama Tea Party, but there is very
little symmetry between left and right, either in the streets or among
the partisan establishment (although I suspect the Republicans were
more inclined to feed their protest movement because they considered
it less of a personal threat -- wrongly, perhaps, if you take Trump
to be a Tea Party champion, but for now let's just say that Democratic
party centrists have a lot more to feel guilty about).
Joseph P Fried: Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies
Paul Glastris: Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic
Rebecca Gordon: Forever War:
During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a
pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought
the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today,
he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He's referred to his
latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as
"a military operation." He's similarly stocked his cabinet with one
general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other
military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana
Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.
Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. He's
more ambivalent about what the military actually does. On the campaign
trail, he railed against the folly that was -- and is -- the (second)
Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was "totally
against" it from the beginning. It's not clear, however, just where
Trump thinks the folly lies -- in invading Iraq in the first place or
in failing to "keep" Iraq's oil afterward. It was a criticism he reprised
when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. "Mike," he
explained, "if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because
that's where they made their money in the first place." Not to worry,
however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, "Maybe we'll have another
chance." Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and
Donald Trump's version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!
Perhaps Trump's objection is simply to wars we don't win. As February
ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia
for the good old days when "everybody used to say 'we haven't lost a war" --
we never lost a war -- you remember." Now, according to the president,
"We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't
fight to win. So we either got to win, or don't fight it at all."
Well, if you'd just stop to give it a bit of thought, you'd realize
that no one ever wins a war. Maybe you lose less bad than the other
side does, but everyone comes out worse for the experience. Anyone who
thought we won the 20th century's two world wars simply didn't account
for everything we lost (admittedly, a pretty widespread problem, given
how much money some people who didn't fight made off those wars). And
anyone who tells you we won (or could have won if only we'd shown more
unity and resolve) wars in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq
simply has their head wedged. What makes Trump so dangerous is his
obsession with winning, and worse still his conviction that's he such
a big winner -- that the only possible result of whatever he chooses
to do will be winning, and indeed that all it takes to "make America
great again" is leadership by a great winner like himself.
Danny Sjursen: I Was Part of the Iraq War Surge. It Was a Disaster.
Sunday, March 5. 2017
For a while there, I thought I had shot my wad on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, but it didn't take long for the floodgates to open.
I thought I'd start this with a remarkable letter that appeared in the
Wichita Eagle by Gregory H. Bontrager, under the title "Trump on our
side" (emphasis added):
The same media that is hounding President Trump are the same ideological
malcontents that gave President Obama a free pass for eight lost years
of American history. Finally, the middle class has a friend in the White
If you like welfare, food stamps or unchecked borders, Obama is the
man for you. But if you work for a living or own your own business,
Trump is on your side. Despite media hype, the age of the working man
has arrived, as personified by Trump.
No more apologies will be accepted from America-hating elitists and
the clueless children they foster on college campuses.
The American worker will no longer be held hostage to insane
regulations by runaway bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency or rogue tax collectors in the IRS who have been weaponized by
Democrats to suppress political opposition.
The Democratic Party cares more about the rights of illegal aliens
than your children being able to walk safely down the streets of their
Whether they sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the city
councils of sanctuary cities, it is time to push aside these apostate
Americans and take our country back.
As someone who grew up in a union household, I can't help but be
moved by this "working man" rhetoric, although I recognize that close
to half of wage-earners in America are women, and that most of the
jobs people work at today are in the service sector, more or less
removed from the muscle and grime associated with the working men of
yore -- hardly a vanished species, but much less prevalent than in
my father's and grandfather's days. Nor do I begrudge the right of
some people "who own their own business" to think of themselves as
"working men" -- those, at least, who actually do some of their own
work, as opposed to the ones who merely bark orders and push papers,
but I know full well that nothing changes a person like controlling
a business' checkbook, especially politically.
Still, what I find unfathomable is how anyone who's not a real
estate magnate (or maybe a hedge fund manager) can imagine that
Donald Trump -- a man who's spent every waking moment in the last
fifty years pursuing his own wealth and celebrating his own ego --
would be on their side, or even give half a shit about them. Even
the author's laundry list of phobias doesn't justify his leap of
Most wage earners -- a more accurate if less romantic term than
"working man" -- understand that welfare and food stamps are part
of a safety net that, when properly supported, protects the lowest
earners from disaster. Even people who never directly make use of
such support benefit from living in a society which doesn't allow
abject poverty to fester. Similarly, most government regulation is
meant to protect workers and communities from the sort of abuses
that inevitably tempt profit-seeking private businesses. It's easy
to see why some short-sighted business owners may take umbrage at
inspectors and tax collectors, but aside from lost jobs when badly
managed businesses fail, workers generally benefit from policies
which keep businesses from cutting corners.
It is true that if you think your problems are caused by policies
which limit the greed and avarice of private companies, Trump will
(sometimes) be "on your side." And if you see "illegal aliens" as
some sort of plague, you may take some pleasure in Trump's callous
and cruel demonization of America's most downtrodden immigrants and
refugees. But neither of those stances makes you a "working man,"
nor does it guarantee that Trump will be your champion. For starters,
the man is a world class liar and demagogue, as should already be
clear from his selective memory of his campaign promises.
The stuff about Obama and the Democrats is harder to explain,
other than that the author appears to have indeed been held hostage
the last eight years, not by federal bureaucrats but by the right-wing
fantasy media. Although appeals to the vanishing middle class have
been a staple of both parties, few politicians in recent memory have
devoted so much of their rhetoric to the cause as has Barack Obama.
One might fault Obama for delivering so little to the middle class:
under him, despite a modest tax increase on the rich, income inequality
has continued to increase, the safety net has continued to fray, and
his signature health care program delivered at best a mixed blessing.
But the idea that with Trump replacing Obama "the middle class has a
friend in the White House" is patently absurd.
To be clear, the "middle class" most of my generation grew up in --
we're talking 1950s here -- was the product of two things: a strong
union movement which lifted both blue- and white-collar wage-earners
to the level where they could own houses and send their kids to public
colleges, and near-confiscatory (up to 90%) income tax rates on the
still well-to-do managers and owners. (Paul Krugman called this "the
great compression" -- see The Conscience of a Liberal.) Look
for anything like this in Trump's platform: there's not even a hint
of anything comparable. Rather, what the Republicans -- and this is
certainly why Trump chose to become one -- have pushed ever since
Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or the robber barons
who took over the GOP in the 1870s) is the notion that we'll all be
better off if only we let businesses pursue profits unfettered by
any sense of social responsibility. It should be clear by now that
only the very rich have benefited from that theory, and only to the
extent that they've been able to isolate themselves from the world
they've left behind. The "middle class" is not a natural condition
in capitalist society: it exists only because policies have forced
a more equal distribution of the national wealth. Take those policies
away, and, sure, a few people can become much richer, while a great
many slip into increasing poverty. And that's not just theory. That's
what has actually happened, to the extent that Republicans have been
able to seize power since 1980.
So there's nothing in Trump's platform to make him "a friend of the
middle class." But it's just as incredible to think he might be a friend
of anyone. Friendship is based on empathy, common understanding, and
mutual respect. To achieve that usually requires familiarity, engagement,
and interaction. But how much opportunity does someone like Trump get
to interact with even "middle class" (much less poor) people when he
lives in the penthouse on top of Trump Tower, is chauffeured around
town, and flies on private planes around the world -- at least to the
few spots where he owns luxury resorts full of deferential employees
and frequented by guests as rarefied as he himself is? Even leaving
aside his personality, charitably described as narcissistic, no one
can reasonably expect him to relate to, much less empathize with, the
everyday problems of most Americans.
The letter contains more absurdities, both of fact -- Obama, rather
notoriously, deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous
president -- and of interpretation -- I can't even imagine the "free
pass" he thinks Obama was granted, or what "eight lost years of American
history" even means. (Although thanks to Bush and Republican obstruction
of Obama we've wasted sixteen years. and counting, that could have been
used to counter global warming -- something future generations are sure
to judge us harshly for.)
The Kansas State Legislature passed a law repealing Gov. Sam Brownback's
income tax exemption for business owners, at long last promising to fill
a budgetary hole that has plagued Kansas since 2011. Brownback vetoed,
the House overrode, but the Senate barely sustained the veto, primarily
thanks to Republican Majority Leader Susan Wagle switching her position.
Richard Crowson drew the cartoon at right to mark the occasion. Sedgwick
County Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception to the cartoon, noting
that depicting Wagle as a "female dog" was tantamount to calling her a,
well, you know. Ranzau is probably the most outrageously reactionary
politician in Kansas, at least in recent years. Of course, it isn't his
fault that his name resonates as some lesser known Nazi extermination
camp, one you can't quite put your finger on. Still, one would be less
likely to make the connection if he had somewhat more moderate take on
Crowson thanks Ranzau for showcasing cartoon.
Robert Christgau forwarded this tweet by
James F Haning II, proclaiming it "perfect":
Donald Trump is a stupid man's idea of a smart man, a poor man's idea
of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man.
There certainly is a lot of projection concerning Trump. There is
scant evidence to support many of the traits his fans attribute to
him (although, even without tax returns, he does a fairly good job of
passing for rich, even compared to the bottom of the top percentile).
And rich seems to buttress the notions of smart and strong, especially
given that they don't stand up all that well on their own. He has a
bully aspect, but that's mostly exercised through lawyers; other than
that he talks big, but is known to tone it down when faced with likely
opposition (as during his campaign stop in Mexico, where he offered
none of the slander and fury of his post-visit immigration rant). As
for smart, he's clearly not even remotely a smart man's idea of smart.
Whether stupid men are that stupid is another question: he clearly has
a knack for exploiting some people's insecurities, and for projecting
himself as their savior. Part of that comes from a very instinctual,
almost bred-in, sense humans have that in crisis they should rally
behind the guy who looks strongest -- an instinct that's likely to
give you a Napoleon, a Churchill, or a Hitler (most of whom turned
out to be disasters). Part is that many Americans have way too much
admiration for the rich. And part is the luck of running against
people who hardly inspire anyone at all. But much of it is that with
Trump we have a man who is extraordinarily self-centered and immodest,
so much so he doesn't betray any lack of confidence in his abilities,
even though they are manifest to anyone who bothers to look.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
George Zornick/ZoŽ Carpenter: Everything Trump Did in His 6th Week That
Really Matters: A regular series that goes beyond chasing tweets.
- Halted a probe into airline-price transparency. "Stocks in
major airlines increased 2 percent."
- Absolved senior adviser Kellyanne Conway of wrongdoing. Re
her promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, contrary to federal
ethics rules. "The White House concluded that Conway acted 'without
nefarious motive,' and did not announce any disciplinary actions."
- Swore in a commerce secretary with serious conflicts of
interest. Multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross, who among other things
"served as the vice-chair of the Bank of Cyprus, 'one of the key
offshore havens for illicit Russian finance.'"
- His attorney general recused himself from Russia inquiries.
Jeff Sessions, who falsely testified to the US Senate during confirmation
that he had no contact with Russian officials.
- Announced a special exemption for the Keystone XL pipeline.
He also ordered that all pipelines be made with American steel "to the
maximum extent possible," which turns out to be not at all. (See
Keystone Pipeline Won't Use US Steel Despite Trump Pledge.)
- Ordered a review of water regulations. The first step
toward undoing clean water rules developed by the EPA under Obama.
Julia Edwards Ainsley: Trump administration considering separating women,
children at Mexico border
Eric Alterman: The Media's Addiction to False Equivalencies Has Left
Them Vulnerable to Trump: "Decades of conservative efforts to work
the press are paying off handsomely." I've described this as the "Earl
Weaver effect": you always argue with the umps, not so much to convince
them now as to make them more likely to give you a call later on (thus
avoiding another scarifying encounter).
Coral Davenport; Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming:
"The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for
California that was allowing the state to enforce tougher tailpipe
standards for its drivers." Also by Davenport:
Top Trump Advisers Are Split on Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
A few, like Rex Tillerson, recognize that withdrawal will have adverse
impact on how the US is viewed throughout the world. After all, it's
a pretty clear message: to protect our industry profits, we don't care
what the impact is to the rest of the world: fry, drown, whatever.
Note that even if the US doesn't formally withdraw, Trump's EPA is
already working hard to make climate catastrophe irreversible. Also
Steven Mufson/Jason Samenow/Brady Dennis: White House proposes steep
budget cut to leading climate science agency: maybe if we stop
studying the problem, we won't notice when it happens, so won't know
who to blame.
Josh Dawsey: Trump's advisers push him to purge Obama appointees:
Well, actually they'd like to purge much of the civil service as well
as a few dozen holdovers still trying to do their jobs. ("Candidates
for only about three dozen of 550 critical Senate-confirmed positions
have even been nominated.") A big part of the problem here is that
Trump campaigned by totally misrepresenting what Obama's administration
had been doing, treating it as all bad and therefore all in need of
radical change. But the election didn't change any laws, and policy
changes are subject to many checks and balances. No past administration
started with a clean slate, and most saw continuity as a virtue. Trump
is different partly because he set up the expectation of radical change,
and partly because his people have proven unusually incompetent -- I'd
say that's largely due to his party having made obstruction its norm
for eight years (after making destruction the norm for two terms under
GW Bush). Still, the immediately burning issue is that they're steamed
about leaks revealing their incompetence. A better solution would be
to try to behave in ways that aren't embarrassing to the public, but
that's a level of maturity they haven't grown into yet (if indeed they
Paul Feldman: A deadly pattern: States that went red during 2016 election
saw more workplace fatalities: Chart is pretty starkly amazing, with
only two states above 3.0 (New Mexico and Nevada) voting Democratic, and
only one state below 3.0 (Arizona) voting Republican.
Jon Finer/Robert Malley: How Our Strategy Against Terrorism Gave Us
Trump: Actually, the US doesn't have a strategy against terrorism
any more, and hasn't since it became clear that reconstructing Iraq
along Texas lines wasn't going to pay off. What passes for one is no
more than whacking all the terrorists we notice, or people in their
vicinity -- the sort of knee-jerk spasms dead chickens are noted for.
What gave us Trump was the callousness and ignorance of continuing a
hopeless and hapless war despite clear proof that of having no clue.
In early Bush days the US could present itself as some kind of friend,
and occasionally find acceptance and support, but those days are long
gone as the frustration of losing has turned Americans into haters of
all things Islamic. I think it was predictable from the start that
this approach would fail, but the authors are still committed to the
mission no matter how badly it fails.
Todd C Frankel: How Foxconn's broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt
on Trump's jobs plan: One thing I'm struck by is how many of the
companies Trump's counting on to "invest in America" are Chinese -- not
just that their offers are subject to political ploys but that their
bottom line depends on getting lower labor costs in the US than they
are already getting in China. This doesn't seem like much of a golden
Jonathan Freedland: Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican
party shares the blame
David Cay Johnston: Trump's Lament That He 'Inherited a Mess' of an
Economy? False! Sad! Various measures of the economy were actually
up for the last months of Obama's second term, with the median wage
"began rising in 2013 after 15 years of being in the doldrums." This
momentum, a far cry from the "mess" Trump has already started blaming
for his own incompetence, will likely continue to buoy Trump for months
or even a couple years to come, until Trump (like Bush before him)
blows it all to hell. For more on this, see:
Christian Weller: The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's
Paul Krugman: Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty:
At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been
caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.
[ . . . ]
In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character
of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S.
political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently
as Donald Trump. But this isn't just a Trump story. His ability to get
away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers:
almost all of his party's elected officials, a large bloc of voters
and, all too often, much of the news media.
[ . . . ]
But then you watch something like the way much of the news media
responded to Mr. Trump's congressional address, and you feel despair.
It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but
read calmly off the teleprompter -- and suddenly everyone was declaring
the liar in chief "presidential."
The point is that if that's all it takes to exonerate the most
dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we're doomed.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Is a State of Mind: Trump keeps insisting that he'll bring back
coal mining jobs, but nothing -- not technology and not economics --
suggests he can, no matter how much political will he puts behind it:
The answer, I'd guess, is that coal isn't really about coal -- it's a
symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community)
and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order
can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs
mostly just packaging.
One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by
the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can't deliver coal
jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.
Laila Lalami: Donald Trump Is Making America White Again: The detail
points are worth reading, but file this under really bad titles. For
one thing, America has never been white, no matter how marginalized
the political system made non-whites. For another, while Trump will
make America more hurtful for non-whites, nothing he can do will change
the racial, religious, and/or ethnic demography of the nation to any
meaningful degree. The most he and his fans can hope for is to slow
down what they view as a demographic disaster, and perhaps to jigger
the system a bit to politically marginalize what they view as undesirable
Americans -- that is, after all, the point of the voter suppression laws
that are all the rage in Republican legislatures.
Jefferson Morley: Who wins? Donald Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on jobs:
I had to read down the article to even find out what Trump was thinking
of as his jobs program: turns out it's the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax),
which is really just a tariff. The Kochs are organizing against BAT, and
they have things Trump doesn't have, like a grass roots organization
that has been very successful at getting Republicans elected to Congress.
(In many ways Trump sailed to the presidency on their coat tails.) So
no, it's pretty much dead in Congress, and there's damn little Trump
can do about that.
Paul Rosenberg: America's infrastructure disaster -- and why Donald Trump
will do nothing to fix it:
The last time it was issued, back 2013, our infrastructure got an overall
grade of D+, with a projected $3.6 trillion investment needed by 2020 --
more than 3 1/2 times the amount that President Donald Trump has promised
(mostly from private investors) over a much longer period. Grades ranged
from a high of a single B- for solid waste to a low of D- in two categories --
levees and inland waterways. There were more straight Ds than anything else --
for schools, dams, aviation, roads, transit, wastewater, drinking water and
hazardous waste. Rail and bridges both rated C+, ports a straight C, public
parks and recreation a C- and energy a D+. Even Bart wouldn't be proud of
The key problem is that we let business ideologues (mostly but not
exclusively Republicans) convince us that government can't do anything
competently (except wage war, which kind of proved their point) so
we're better off not wasting our money -- just wait for the private
sector to fill the need. This is, of course, exactly not how we got
all our infrastructure in the first place (the whole point of Jacob
S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government
Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper).
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest:
Favoritism from Vancouver to New York City. Rosza also wrote
President Pence's problems: Indiana Democrats say VP was "the worst
governor we ever had" -- something to bear in mind before you
Katy Waldman: We All Talk Like Donald Trump Now: Sad! Oh, dear!
Even when we satirize him the mental rot is contagious! As if we didn't
have enough to worry about already!
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is Mad Online at Obama, Schwarzenegger, and
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: This day (March 4)
in tweets. Personally, I'm just gratified that when Trump refers to
"McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate" he's treating them as bad things.
Nor do I especially mind him dissing Schwarzenegger, recently departed
from Trump's former reality show. For more on the latter (possibly
the week's least momentus "news") see:
Todd VanDerWerff: Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving The Celebrity
Apprentice. He blames President Trump.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's broader bout of political insanity:
William Astore: In Afghanistan, America's Biggest Foe Is Self-Deception:
Actually, that's true in America as well. When future generations look
back on America today (assuming they should be so lucky), one big thing
they will puzzle over is how so many people could have believed in so
much really crazy shit.
Tony Blair, Who Brought US the War in Iraq, Lectures on the Evils of
Populism: Or more to the point, "he criticizes the left for abandoning
centrist politicians," like himself -- where centrism means pretending
to have a social conscience while serving the advancement of "clean"
businesses like high-tech and finance. ("Tony Blair has worked as an
advisor to JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, since retiring as
James Carden: Why Does the US Continue to Arm Terrorists in Syria?
Well, because the US doesn't have a clue what it's doing in Syria, or
for that matter all across the Middle East. Because US strategists feel
the need to choose sides in a contest where no sides are viable let
alone right. Because they can't contemplate of resolving problems but
by force of arms. And because they, like the "terrorists" they claim
to oppose, see terror as a tactic for advancing political goals.
Ian Cummings: FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots -- but how many
are agency-created? I think it's pretty clear that Terry Loewen here
in Wichita would never have done anything but for FBI prodding. Several
other cases mentioned here are similar. I think the Garden City case
where three guys planned an attack on a Somali neighborhood was real,
but the FBI has a long history of trying to provoke crimes, and that
has probably gotten worse with all the "war on terror" nonsense.
Nelson Denis: After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans
Have Little to Show for It
Richard J Evans: A Warning From History: Review of Volker Ullrich's
recent biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, by the author of
The Coming of the Third Reich and two massive sequels. I can
see the fascination, but I'm more struck by the dissimilarities between
then and now -- one is reminded of Marx's quip about the arrival of
Napoleon III: "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Nor do I mean to downplay the real people hurt by Trump's policies and
acts. But Germany faced a real crisis in 1928-32, and Hitler presented
a plausible (albeit totally wrong-headed) solution until his absolute
self-confidence and ruthlessness drove the nation over a cliff. Trump's
demons are almost totally imaginary (his 40% unemployment rates, the
rampaging crime wave, hordes of demented illegal aliens, more hordes
of fanatical Muslims), and despite a modest Defense Department budget
bump (that will quickly be sopped up by graft) one doubts that he or
his anti-government henchmen will ever be able to turn the state into
a truly ominous force. Still, his impulses and tendencies are so bad
it helps to be reminded how catastrophically they've failed in the
Still, if you want to go further down this rathole:
Anis Shivani: Trump and Mussolini: Eleven key lessons from historical
fascism. Some key points:
- Fascism rechannels economic anxiety: key thing
is that it doesn't relieve it, it just redirects blame.
- Liberal institutions have already been fatally
weakened: I wouldn't say it's fatal here (yet), but Trump
wouldn't have risen without the discrediting of key institutions,
like the military in the Middle East and bankers everywhere.
- Of course it's a minority affair: The Tea Party
and the alt-right are every bit as vanguardist as the Bolsheviks,
but are rooted in venerable Americanisms, like Nixon's "dirty tricks"
and Lombardi's "winning is the only thing."
- Its cultural style makes no sense to elites:
which in turn makes it hard to counter; it's easy to prove that
Trump isn't smart but you won't impress his fans by doing so --
they've spent every moment of the last eight years loathing Obama,
suspecting that his brains are merely the engine of deviousness.
(Nor did Meryl Streep dissing football gain any traction.)
- No form of resistance works: Have fascists
ever been voted out of office, given that one thing they've always
been quick to do is to rig the system (much like the Republicans
with their voter restriction laws, though often even more brutal).
"Nothing ever works until fascism's logic, the logic of empire,
stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media
coverup is possible anymore." Actually the Axis was only "discredited"
by the most brutal military counterattack in history.
Daniel Politi: Pentagon Has Been Waging Secret Cyberwar Against North
Korea Missiles for Years: Perhaps this has something to do with why
North Korea is so paranoid, so erratic, and ultimately so dangerous?
We have thus far failed to develop the sort of taboo that inhibits
other forms of war, like chemical weapons -- in fact, cyberwar usually
doesn't even get recognized as such. In a better world, our recent brush
with Russian hacking would lead the US and Russia to work toward mutual
controls, including suppressing their own independent hackers. But as
long as we all think this sort of thing is OK it continues, sometimes
with dire consequences.
Thursday, March 2. 2017
Some weeks the shit's piling up so fast you have to get the shovel
out a few days early. I have little doubt that there will be this much
more by the weekend. Less sure I have the time and energy to keep up
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Glenn Kessler/Michelle Ye Hee Lee: Fact-checking President Trump's address
to Congress: The "fake news" media was, of course, much taken with
Trump's tone ("so presidential"), which as far as I can tell means he
refrained from pooping on stage and flinging it at the Democrats (and
for good measure Paul Ryan).
More on the speech:
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's War on Science: Mostly focused
on environmental science, which is a big enough subject, but most
likely nowhere near the sum. Stiff upper lip at the end: "At the
dawn of the Trumpocene, even under a regime fueled by contempt for
truth, facts will still matter." Even more so laws of physics, such
as the one that points out that every molecule of carbon dioxide
added to the atmosphere increases the amount of heat from sunlight
that is retained by the atmosphere.
David Dayen: Crony Capitalism at Work? Trump Adviser Carl Icahn Strong-Arms
Ethanol Lobby to Save His Company Millions
William Greider: Is Our President Bonkers?: Maybe, but he came up with
a clever con and sold it to just enough Americans.
Fred Kaplan: Money for Nothing: Trump is following through on his
campaign promise to increase Defense Department spending, submitting a
$54 billion increase over Obama's 2016 budget. Other pieces on the
Anne Kim: Why Trumpism Is Here to Stay: The author's antidote is
"broadly shared economic expansion," as this "puts more Americans in
a generous mood." But isn't that one thing that we can be sure will
not happen under Republican rule? After all, their prime directive
is to increase the concentration of wealth among the already rich,
even if that means producing less of it overall. You'd think that
Trump (if not Trumpism) would lose all credibility soon, but for now
they seem to figure they can hang on by decrying the "fake news"
that might rat them out.
Daoud Kuttab: US and Israel join forces to bury Palestinian statehood:
A point made clear by Netanyahu's very early visit to see Trump, who
knows little about the conflict, has no respect for America's customary
(albeit hapless) advocacy of international law, nor any concern that
the world view the US as a fundamentally friendly world power. Still,
could be worse: in 2008 Israel feared that Obama might make a serious
effort to pressure Israel into accepting a two-state partition, so
started a war against Gaza. Netanyahu knows better than to fear Trump,
who's so eager to please he's willing to do things that Israel only
says they want (tearing up the Iran deal, moving the US embassy to
Jerusalem) that he needs to be gently nudged back to sanity. Still,
Netanyahu has a problem: for the next four years, no one will look
toward the US to ineptly muddle up the "peace process" -- the idea
that Trump will be "an honest broker" is beyond laughable -- but in
the meantime people (especially in Europe) will see Israel as it
actually is: a deeply racist society and unjust oppressor state.
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy;
Jonathan Cook: Trump shows his hand on Israel-Palestine.
Jessica Lipsky: Ben Carson, Rick Perry confirmed to Cabinet posts:
On the same day, two of Trump's more ridiculous picks.
Lachlan Markay: Big Steel Sees Gold in Trump's Commerce Secretary
Wilbur Ross: Well, of course: after all, Ross made his billions
in big steel.
Jennifer Rubin: Why Jeff Sessions is in deep trouble: Sure, he
met with Russians, and sure, he lied about it. The former bothers
me far less than Nixon's efforts to sabotage Vietnam War negotiations
in 1968, or even Reagan's ploy to keep Iran from releasing hostages
to Jimmy Carter. After all, what Trump's people were telling Putin
is "keep your cool and don't overreact to Obama's sanctions -- when
we win we'll be more reasonable." There are innumerable things wrong
with Trump and his posse, but his Russia stance was actually saner
than what Obama and Clinton were offering. Of course, it's hard not
to applaud any scandal that undermines Jeff Sessions, but I'd rather
focus on real reasons for getting rid of him, like
Sophia Tesfaye: Jeff Sessions drops DOJ lawsuit against discriminatory
Texas voter ID case, reverses 6 years of litigation. Not that I
condone his lying, but it's no victory for progressives if the only
lying anyone gets sacked over is offending the neocon anti-Russia lobby
(cf. Flynn, Manafort, etc.) -- in fact, it's fucked up.
By the way, see
Glenn Greenwald: The New Yorker's Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable
Truths About US and Russia. Number one on that list is how much more
hawkish against Russia Clinton was than Obama. Way back I argued that she
would lose if people came to perceive her as the more dangerous warmonger,
and I think that's a big part of what's happening. Of course, her fans
didn't think that, nor did more critically balanced observers like myself,
but all of her campaign talk about "the Commander-in-Chief test" and her
obsession with nuclear launch codes may well have unnerved less informed
voters. In any case, until Democrats get over their obsession with
vanquishing foes abroad and focus on the real ones that are robbing us
bind, they won't be able to mount a credible defense against the class
war the rich are still winning within America.
Reihan Salam: Paul Ryan Could Kill Donald Trump's Political Future:
"If the president accedes to congressional Republicans' wishes to slash
the social safety net, he'll pay a very hefty price." While lots of
liberal-leaning pundits have been imploring the so-called sane regular
Republicans to rein in the patently insane president, I've been saying
all along that the most ominous threat comes from empowering Ryan and
his ilk in Congress -- a perception that is finally beginning to sink
in. For all their bluster, conservatives have always had to fall back
on the promise that their crackpot theories would ultimately be good
for all (well, most) people -- and not just the 1% (give or take a
little) they shill for. Still, now they have enough power to do some
real damage, and the more they exercise that power the more they will
Jordan Weissmann: Republicans Are Trying to Build a Welfare State That
Sucks for Everyone but Mutual Fund Managers
Richard Wolffe: Steve Bannon lifted his mask of death at CPAC; also
Sarah Posner: How the Conservative Movement Went All in for
Matthew Yglesias: What Trump has done (and mostly not done) from his
first 100 days agenda
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Bill Gates Is Clueless on the Economy
R Mike Burr: The Self-Serving Hustle of "Hillbilly Elegy": On J.D. Vance's
book, widely acclaimed as a book you should read to understand "Trump's
America" (well, not Trump, really, but some of the fools who voted for
Juan Cole: Sorry, Trump, China's cut-back on Coal Dooms Industry:
A few years ago China was poised to build so many coal-fired electricity
generators that it became likely that one nation, at the time a nation
in complete denial about global warming, would wind up frying the rest
of us. Since then at least half of those coal plants have been canceled.
Since then, it's become clear that if you consider the externalities --
which for China includes the good will of other nations fearful of being
fried -- coal is already an inefficient energy source. That's increasingly
obvious in the US as well, even though thanks to fossil fuel industry
clout most of those externalities go uncharged. And the trendline for
coal is getting worse, even with the President and Congress securely
in the industry's pocket.
Stanley L Cohen: Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel: The analogy
hits closer to home than "apartheid" (although that was merely the
South African term for a legal code of segregation inspird by and
borrowed from America's Jim Crow laws). Of course, the analogy is not
quite precise: the US and SA systems were meant primarily to preserve
a low worker caste their respective economies were built on, whereas
the Israeli system seeks to make Palestinian labor (hence Palestinians)
superfluous, and as such is an even more existential threat. Article
does a good job of reminding you not just that separate is inherently
unequal but that segregated systems are sustained with violence and
Cohen also wrote
Trump's 'Muslim ban' is not an exception in US history, rubbing it
in a little when it might be more effective to explain how such bans
are inimical to American ideals even if they've recurred frequently
throughout American history.
Mark Lawrence Schrad: Vladimir Putin Isn't a Supervillain: This
seems like a fairly realistic evaluation of Russia, after first
positing two strawman arguments and showing how neither is all that
true. I'll add that there are a few countries what once had larger
empires and have never quite shaken the mental habit of thinking
they should still be more powerful than they are: this is true of
Russia and China, would-be regional powers like Iran and Turkey,
and several ostensible US allies (notably Britain, France, and
Saudi Arabia), and if you possess the ability to look cleary in
a mirror, the United States as well. (Germany and Japan were
largely cured of this by the crushing weight of defeat in WWII,
although you see glimpses in, e.g., Germany's role in breaking
up Yugoslavia and Japan's weird dread of North Korea.) What has
thus far passed for Russian aggression has so far been limited
to adopting breakaway regions of now independent former SSRs --
Crimea from Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.
On the other hand, the US has been extending its NATO umbrella
into previously neutral former SSRs, building up its Black Sea
fleet, installing anti-missle systems focused on Russia, and
imposing sanctions to undermine the Russian economy, and trying
to influence elections in places like Ukraine and Georgia to
heighten anti-Russian sentiments. Given all this, who's really
Of course, were I a Russian, I'm quite certain that I'd have
no shortage of
political disagreements with Vladimir Putin. But the US doesn't
have (or deserve) a say in who runs Russia. At best we can refer
to standards of international law, but only if we ourselves are
willing to live by them -- which, as was made clear by Bush's
refusal to join the ICC we clearly are not. An old adage is that
you should clean up your own house first, and that's the thing
that American politicians should focus on.
Sunday, February 26. 2017
Another week, so here we go again.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Kevin Carey: Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era
Tom Engelhardt: A Trumpian Snapshot of America: The list of things
gone wrong in America is trenchant as usual, but his nutshell conclusion
leaves something to be desired:
We're living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run
(to the extent it's run at all) by billionaires and retired generals,
and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant
parts of the national security state. That, in a nutshell, is the
America created in the post-9/11 years. Put another way, the U.S. may
have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq
in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade
itself with remarkable success.
Not sure what the last part even means, but the state we're in is
clearly due to two inadequately checked notions: one is the fact that
we've allowed the rich in America (and throughout much of the world)
to become utterly shameless in their pursuit of ever greater wealth;
the other is that we've allowed the US and its "allies" to engage in
perpetual war. Unfortunately, it's not just the Republicans who have
invested in those notions. A large segment of the Democratic Party has
too -- notably Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and new DNC Chairman Tom
Julie Hirschfield Davis/Michael M Grynbaum: Trump Intensifies His Attacks
on Journalists and Condemns FBI 'Leakers'
Max Paul Friedman: Trump's Refugee Ban Is Even Crueler Than You Think.
Michelle Goldberg: It's Bad: "The first month of the Trump presidency
has been more cruel and destructive than the majority of Americans feared.
The worst is yet to come." More (although I would have picked a totally
different laundry list, emphasizing how mainstream Republicans loom as
the real threat to most people):
Every day there's a new Trumpian outrage that in an ordinary presidency
would be a multiday scandal: an ostensibly light-hearted threat to invade
Mexico, a casual dismissal of a potential Palestinian state, a feud with
a reporter or an actor or a department store. Trump lies so much it's as
if he's intentionally mocking the impotence of truth. He shamelessly
profits off his office, reveling in our powerlessness to stop him. His
closest aide is an unkempt racist who has described Nazi propagandist
Leni Riefenstahl as a role model. A senior adviser uses her administration
perch to hawk the president's daughter's line of polyester-blend workwear
in a blatant violation of ethics rules. Trump himself is either enmeshed
in a subversive relationship with Vladimir Putin, or he's willing to appear
to be. He and his coterie make a fetish of patriotism yet take a perverse
antinomian pleasure in defiling the presidency.
I count Goldberg among those left-leaning liberals who actually thought
Hillary Clinton promised good progressive policy, as opposed to those of
us who saw her as a marginal (but clear) alternative to the vicious slime
that other party was offering. Scapegoating Putin and Russia is ridiculous
on its face, and wrapped up with the sort of imperialist and belligerent
jargon Democrats should know better than spouting, but evidently Clinton's
most dead-end supporters still find that preferable to admitting her faults
and starting to correct for them.
Glenn Greenwald: The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a
Long-Standing US Playbook. Also see:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Neo-McCarthyite furor around Russia is
Nicholas Kulish/et al: Immigration Agents Discover New Freedom to Deport
Under Trump. Another example:
Australian children's author Mem Fox detained by US border control.
Josh Marshall: Tourism Industry Hit by Trumpism Bigly, also
Anne Kim: The Long-Term Economic Wreckage of Trump's Travel Ban.
Oliver Milman: Scott Pruitt vows to slash climate and water pollution
regulations at CPAC: Pruitt is Trump's new EPA head -- one of the
very worst imaginable people for the job, and likely to be one of the
most destructive forces in our near future.
Sarah Posner: CPAC's Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward.
Steven Simon/Daniel Benjamin: The Islamophobic Huckster in the White
House: Specifically, Sebastian Gorka, "an itinerant instructor in
the doctrine of irregular warfare and former national security editor
at Breitbart," which is, of course, the rock Steve Bannon found him
lurking under. Also see:
Jacky Fortin: Who Is Sebastian Gorka? A Trump Adviser Comes Out of the
Shadows. If you're keeping track of such things, note that Gorka
is an immigrant (born in the UK of Hungarian parents, although he is
now a US citizen) and was recently arrested (for carrying a gun into
an airport, but the charge was later dropped).
Jessica Valenti: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't the only bigot Republicans
are cozy with.
Olathe shooting: Friend and widow on US shooting: Surprised not
to see any coverage of this in the Wichita Eagle, but BBC is all
over it. Olathe is near Kansas City. The shooter targeted several
people of Indian descent, first asking if they were "in the United
States illegally, questioning where he'd come from." Of course,
White House: 'Absurd' to Suggest KS Shooting Linked to Trump's
Jamelle Bouie: A Deafening Silence.
Paul Woodward collected this and similar links, including other events
following the same pattern.
The Eagle did have a lot of coverage of the one-year
anniversary of a mass shooting in Hesston, northwest of Wichita.
One tidbit there was that the shooter explained he did meth rather
than marijuana because his company (the scene of the shooting)
drug-tested employees and meth was harder to detect.
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Andrew Bacevich: At the Altar of American Greatness: There's a line
deep into this piece about how "it's the politics that's gotten smaller,"
and indeed this piece is a good deal smaller than at first advertised --
see the subtitle: "David Brooks on Making America Great Again." Brooks
is normally an easy target, but Bacevich stumbles, declaring "among
contemporary journalists, he is our Walter Lippmann, the closest thing
we have to an establishment-approved public intellectual." Lippmann
retired in 1967, so for me was a famous name that signified little --
even today most of what I know about him I had gleaned from Walter
Karp's The Politics of War, which featured him as a prominent
hawk behind the so-called Great War, but while he often catered to
political power, the main thing he's remembered for was his cynicism
about the ignorance and gullibility of the American people. Brooks,
on the other hand, is little more than a partisan hack with a bit of
cosmopolitan make up to pass muster with New York/Washington elites.
Still, it's interesting that Bacevich digs up a Brooks column from
1997 prefiguring Donald Trump (cue Marx's joke about tragedy/farce),
titled "A Return to National Greatness" -- a title Brooks reiterated
in 2017. Especially precious is the line: "The things Americans do
are not for themselves only, but for all mankind." He should pinch
himself to recall that he's talking about a country which positively
worships the ideal of individuals pursuing their self-interest -- as
witnessed by the fact that we just elected as president a guy who has
done nothing but for more than fifty years.
Under the circumstances, it's easy to forget that, back in 2003, he
and other members of the Church of America the Redeemer devoutly
supported the invasion of Iraq. They welcomed war. They urged it.
They did so not because Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil -- although
he was evil enough -- but because they saw in such a war the means
for the United States to accomplish its salvific mission. Toppling
Saddam and transforming Iraq would provide the mechanism for affirming
and renewing America's "national greatness."
Anyone daring to disagree with that proposition they denounced as
craven or cowardly. Writing at the time, Brooks disparaged those
opposing the war as mere "marchers." They were effete, pretentious,
ineffective, and absurd. [ . . . ]
In refusing to reckon with the results of the war he once so
ardently endorsed, Brooks is hardly alone. Members of the Church of
America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably
incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary
efforts have yielded.
Brooks belongs, or once did, to the Church's neoconservative branch.
But liberals such as Bill Clinton, along with his secretary of state
Madeleine Albright, were congregants in good standing, as were Barack
Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So, too, are putative
conservatives like Senators John McCain, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, all
of them subscribing to the belief in the singularity and indispensability
of the United States as the chief engine of history, now and forever.
[ . . . ]
That Donald Trump inhabits a universe of his own devising, constructed
of carefully arranged alt-facts, is no doubt the case. Yet, in truth,
much the same can be said of David Brooks and others sharing his view of
a country providentially charged to serve as the "successor to Jerusalem,
Athens, and Rome." In fact, this conception of America's purpose expresses
not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own
arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the
wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump.
Srecko Horvat: Tom Hardy's Taboo goes to the heart of our new imperialist
darkness: Not sure the series is that coherent, but the asides like how
"colonialism doesn't cause misery only in poorer countries, it boomerangs
back to rich countries with their rising inequality" are spot on. Also he
notes how today private companies, much like the "honourable" British East
India Company two centuries ago, have become far-from-benign forces all
around the world (and he didn't even cite Exxon Mobil as an example).
Robin McKie: Biologists say half of all species could be extinct by end
of century: Not really a new story: I read a lot about mass extinction
back in the 1990s and maybe earlier, when the Alvarez theory of the K-T
extinction event became popular and Carl Sagan came up with the notion of
"nuclear winter." So, no surprise that it's gotten worse. Still, I'm struck
by how the threat has receded in our consciousness as our politicians keep
coming up with more urgent short-term crises. Thinking about the end of
the century has started to look like a luxury.
John Nichols: Tom Perez Narrowly Defeats Keith Ellison for DNC Chair:
Margin over Keith Ellison was 35 votes. It's tempting to regard Perez
as a corporate stooge, but
Esme Cribb has him saying some useful things, like: "I heard from rural
America that the Democratic Party hasn't been there for us recently"; "We
also have to redefine our mission"; and "Our unity is our greatest strength,
and frankly our unity is Donald Trump's greatest nightmare." Underscoring
that unity, he named Ellison "deputy chair" (see
Trump Claims DNC Chair Race Was 'Totally Rigged,' Offers No Evidence.
Sunday, February 19. 2017
Trump's crazy, disjointed press conference had me thinking: I doubt
that Donald Trump has ever read David Ogilvy, but he's done a bang-up
job of following Ogilvy's main piece of advice on living one's life:
Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you
get old, people won't think you're going gaga.
Trump's biography is chock full of such peculiarities, and indeed
that's given him a certain protection against anything he does now --
a way of making excuses, rationalizing his tirades and outrages.
Still, I think the most important lesson from last week is the
extent to which Trump has chosen to vilify the media. Admittedly,
that's a tactic that has served him well in the past, but there is
a fundamental difference between attacking the system from outside
and defending the system he's gained control of. The media has
always been eager to kowtow to power, but that's partly because
they expect some stroking in return. Trump's characterization of
everything they say as "fake news" is an affront (and a challenge)
to their self-image.
On the other hand, Trump's emergence as crazy-in-chief has thus
far worked out nicely for the Republican party regulars, both in
Congress and increasingly in the administration (and eventually in
the courts). As any con artist knows, the key is to get the marks
to pay attention elsewhere while they pull off their manipulations
unseen, and Trump is a marvelous distraction. Isn't it interesting
that Trump's own staunchest campaign supporters have failed to get
job offers in the new regime: Rudy Giulliani, Chris Christie, Newt
Gingrich? Even Kris Kobach, the only Republican in Kansas to endorse
Trump before the caucuses here, was passed over despite a couple of
high-profile photo ops with Trump. The only exception I can think
of is former Senator, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has
managed to keep a couple pet advisers like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne
Conway in non-policy positions, but that's about it. He's well on
his way to becoming the loneliest and most expendable man in his
administration. I can't say as I'm surprised.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 4th Week That
Actually Matters: e.g., "it was a bad week for clean water."
- Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
- Signed a bill to allow coal-mining operations to put more pollution
- Allowed oil companies to hide bribes to foreign governments.
- Pulled back a defense of an Obama-era transgender protection
- Nominated a new secretary of labor. Alex Acosta, after
Andrew Puzder withdrew.
- Issued a new Obamacare rule that makes getting coverage more
- Stepped up immigration raids.
Trump's Mar-a-Lago insecure Situation Room where club members and staff
can eavesdrop freely: Actually, I thought it somewhat charming that a
president can operate in such a public setting, until I remembered that
the other guests had to pay Trump $200K to join his club -- "pay for
access" at a level the Clintons can only dream of.
Albert Burneko: Donald Trump Stunned to Learn Presidency Is an Actual
Job, his First
Zach Cartwright: Here's the stunning number of White House staffers who
quit or got fired this week: Michael Flynn, of course, but he merely
heads the list.
Stephen F Cohen: Kremlin-Baiting President Trump (Without Facts) Must
Stop: This is a little weird in that Cohen, who's been one of the
saner "Russia experts" of the last couple decades, refers to himself
in the third person. He provides a six-point debunking of various
charges leveled about Trump's (and Flynn's) relationship to Russia,
and I reckon he's mostly right there -- even where he seems to excuse
Trump. What he doesn't do is explain why such misinformation "must
stop": it may seem easy to score points against Trump by playing on
decades of Cold War myth -- basically the old McCarthyite red-baiting
smear tactic, but even less specific about the evil Putin putatively
represents -- but it should be embarrassing for Democrats to fall
back on clichťs that were then and still are meant to undermine world
peace. (Isn't a peaceful world subject to international law and order
and norms of justice something Democrats still believe in?) It also
belies any notion that Democrats are the "reality-based" party --
they're so hepped up on the jargon of American exceptionalism they
can't begin to see how America and the world have changed. Moreover,
they've fallen behind the American people, who no longer appreciate
such sabre-rattling against "evil empires": not that Trump himself
has turned realist -- he still sees plenty of evil to vanquish, but
his reluctance to demonize Russia is at least one step in the right
Tom Boggioni: Michael Flynn's Replacement Turned Down the Job After
Watching Trump's 'Unhinged' Press Conference: Admiral (and
Lockheed-Martin executive) Robert Harward was next in line for the
job. Fred Kaplan also wrote about this:
Robert Harward Just Gave Cover to Every Competent Professional Who Wants
to Turn Down Trump. On Flynn, see
Nicholas Schmidle: Michael Flynn, General Chaos.
John Feffer: Steven Bannon's Real Vision Isn't America First. It's America
Alone. Isn't that always the problem with nationalists? Their appeal
is limited to one favored country, and sooner or later -- and any measure
of success means sooner -- they repel all other countries. The US built
its world-straddling pre-eminence less by dealing harshly with enemies
than by cultivating allies, sometimes playing on fear of other powers but
more often by offering generous rewards (like free trade for export-minded
Asian countries, and cheap defense for war-weary Europe). Take the carrots
away, or worse still demand tribute from your former allies, and they'll
eventually turn away, or even retaliate. America Alone is likely to turn
into a much poorer place. Feffer also wrote
Killer Presidents, on the current political popularity of tough guys
like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, or indeed Trump himself. It's
no accident that Trump ordered a botched Seal Team 6 raid in his first
weeks. He want to show the world he's eager to kill too -- indeed, it
seems like a rite of passage for all American presidents. For another
take on the self-limits of nationalism, see (hard to believe I'm
Max Boot: Trump's Big Mouth Has Already Weakened America:
After detailing many examples, he admits:
In fairness to Trump, it's true that Rome wasn't
destroyed in a day, and it will take him more than three weeks to
undo 70 years of American foreign policy and trade relations.
[ . . . ]
But for the time being the 54 percent of Americans who didn't
vote for Trump -- and the roughly 95 percent of the world that was
horrified by his campaign -- should be breathing a sigh of relief
that his actions are not turning out to be quite as radical as his
rhetoric. [ . . . ]
[Why?] Because his words are so immoderate. He continues to engage
in fraudulent rhetoric and unhinged personal attacks -- he especially
loves to tweet in UPPERCASE LETTERS! -- that create an unsettled
environment of crisis, uncertainty, and concern. His own babble and
bluster does more than any critic to discredit him.
Larry Fink: The Faces of the Women's March on Washington
Thomas Frank: How Steve Bannon captured America's spirit of revolt
Olivia Golden: The Trump Agenda Poses a Major Threat to America's
Jacob Heilbrunn: The Most Dangerous Man in Trump World? Profile of
Peter Navarro, nominally head of Trump's National Trade Council -- like
so many Trump officials, he was given a job he doesn't believe in just
so he can wreck it -- and a long-time crackpot anti-China hawk.
Allegra Kirkland: The 8 Craziest Moments of Trump's Impromptu Press
Esme Cribb: Reporter: I've 'Never' Seen Anything Like Trump's Press
Conference in 20 Years.
David Ferguson: Trump's Constant Lies and 'Endless Self-Pity' Are Unlike
Any Other American President: So says Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain's
Kali Holloway: 21 Facts That Explain Exactly Who Stephen Miller Is:
A "White House adviser," recently emerged as a Trump spokesman.
Richard Lardner: Trump's Plan for Spike in Defense Spending Faces Big
Hurdles: I'm especially struck by this:
Senior U.S. commanders have flatly warned that the spending caps set
by the Budget Control Act are squeezing the armed forces so hard that
the number of ready-to-fight units is dwindling. That means beating
powers such as Russia or China is tougher than it used to be as aging
equipment stacks up, waiting to be repaired, and troops don't get
Uh, someone actually thinks the US can "beat" Russia or China in
a war? Or that that should be a goal of the US "Defense" Department?
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Is Proving to Be the Embodiment of Everything
Republicans Have Stood For:
To expect anything different from Trump than the worst Republicans
have put forward over the last few decades is a fool's errand. They
share a world view that just so happens to be antithetical to what
most of us mean when we refer to democracy.
Amanda Marcotte: Michael Flynn, right-wing hero: Will conservatives
embrace him the way they did Ollie North: I doubt it, mostly
because I doubt Flynn has ever been coherent enough to develop the
sort of consistency that attracts believers. Nor can Flynn claim
to be a martyr to the cause -- North and G. Gordon Liddy (Marcotte's
other example) both did jail time, and Marcotte notes "These two men
are beloved by conservatives because of their criminal histories,
not despite them." Flynn just seems to be political roadkill, and
while there were plenty of good reasons for getting rid of him, the
one that worked wasn't one of them. (Unfortunately, this only helps
reinforce the Democrats' notion that the best way to counter Trump
is to play up the "soft on Russia" card, as opposed to hammering
him on any of dozens or hundreds of policies that really do harm
to working Americans.)
Heather Digby Parton: Donald Trump's disastrous reality show: Master
trash-talker turned flailing president searches for a new villain
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Repeal of Bipartisan Anti-Corruption Measure Proves
He's a Fake; also
The End of Facts in the Trump Era.
Sophia Tesfaye: Republicans rush to confirm Trump's EPA nominee Scott
Pruitt after federal judge orders release of fossil fuel emails:
one of Trump's worse nominees, having spent most of his career trying
to keep the EPA from doing its job. One Republican voted against, two
Democrats for. "After Friday's vote, the Republican chair of the Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works -- John Barrasso, R-Wyoming --
attend a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by energy lobbyists at a Capitol
Along the way, I wandered across a lot of liberal links critical
of Trump but obsessed with Russia, including posts by John Cassidy,
Paul Krugman, George Packer, and David Remnick. In particular,
Packer complains about "the heads of key House and Senate committees
who are doing as little as possible to expose corruption and possible
treason in the White House." The word that sticks in my craw there is
"treason." I can't overstate how sick and tired I am of that word --
not least because it implies that we're obligated to be loyal to some
hidden, unknowable, and unquestionable power. Packer goes on to describe
"an authoritarian and erratic leader" -- I mean, which is it? Doesn't
the latter subvert the former? He also names John McCain and Lindsey
Graham as among "the few critical Republican voices" -- the only thing
they've been critical of is that Trump hasn't started any new wars yet
(and the word for that isn't "critical" -- it's "impatient").
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: The Job Cremators: "If folks are worried about automation
killing jobs, why don't they care about the Federal Reserve Board killing
jobs?" Basically, a quarter-point rate hike costs us "0.1 to 0.2 percentage
points off the economy's growth rate over the course of 2017. That would
likely mean 100,000 to 200,000 fewer jobs than would otherwise be
Michael Kimmelman: Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis:
It's a city of nearly nine million people built on a dried lake bed 7300
feet above sea level, every aspect of which put strain on the city's
viability -- and global warming is no exception, just not in the same
way that it threatens coastal cities. Also see
Ioan Grillo: Climate change is making Mexico City unbreathable.
Alex Pareene: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain
Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once: Ever the
gentleman, Pareene: I would have flipped the last two clauses and changed
the conjunction to "and." But Pareene does note that the only Trump nominee
McCain objected to was the budget director who supported defense budget
cuts: for some time now, the only thing McCain has really believed in is
Paul Rosenberg: Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure
of 2016, the press must master "crucial evidence": Mostly an interview
with William Berkson, who's specialty is philosophy of science. The history
of science offers many examples where "crucial evidence" led scientists to
radically revise their views -- Thomas Kuhn called them "paradigm shifts."
I'm skeptical that you can do the same thing for news, because we have no
real common framework for evaluating policies. Still, you can certainly do
better than the present system, where competing political interests have
taken over the news and turned journalism into propaganda operations. A
start might be to work out broadly agreeable criteria for judging whether
various policies are working as intended.
James Traub: Marine Le Pen Is Donald Trump Without the Crazy:
a portrait of the leader of France's ultra-nationalist party, who
is gaining ground for reasons similar to Trump's triumph. Traub
The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth, about Sweden's
problems integrating an exceptionally large number of refugees --
the issue that is fueling the rise of Le Pen and other nationalists
Sunday, February 12. 2017
Running the image again. I doubt I'll really keep that up for four years,
but for now it inspires me to dig up this shit.
Still need to write up something about Matt Taibbi's Insane Clown
President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus -- recently read, although
it recycles a lot that I had previously read, including a sizable chunk
of Taibbi's 2009 book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story
of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire --
an excavation so profound that Maureen Dowd snarfed up a keyword for her
own regurgitation of campaign columns, The Year of Voting Dangerously:
The Derangement of American Politics (a title which makes me wonder
how she would have faired in Taibbi's 2004 Wimblehack -- see Spanking
the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season).
Still, I suspect that the weakness of both Taibbi and Dowd books is
their focus on the more obvious story: how ridiculous the Republicans
were (a subject that served Taibbi best in 2008 when he compiled his
brief Smells Like Dead Elephants before taking the time to craft
The Great Deformation). In retrospect, the real story wasn't
how Trump won, but how Hillary Clinton lost. Looking ahead, books by
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's
Doomed Campaign, out April 18) and/or Doug Wead (Game of Thorns:
The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's
Winning Strategy, February 28) promise some insight (or at least
insider dope). Still, I doubt anyone is going to write something that
satisfactorily explains the whole election for some time.
One thing that keeps eating at me about the election is that while
Trump's polls oscillated repeatedly, falling whenever voters got a
chance to compare him side-by-side (as in the debates, or even more
strongly comparing the two conventions), then bouncing back on the
rare weeks when he didn't say something scandalous, Clinton's polls
never came close to topping 50%. She was, in short, always vulnerable,
and all Trump needed to get close was a couple weeks where he seemed
relatively sane (on top of all that Koch money organizing down ballot,
especially in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and the Midwest).
I doubt if any other Republican could have beat Clinton: Trump's ace
in the hole was his antithesis to Washington insider-dom, which gave
him credibility she couldn't buy (despite massive evidence that he was
the crooked one). But just as importantly, Trump suckered her into
campaigning on high-minded centrism (including support from nearly
everyone in the permanent defense/foreign affairs eatablishment),
which weakened her support among traditional Democrats. Any other
Republican would have forced her to run as a Democrat, and she would
have been better off for that.
Again, it's not that working people rationally thought they'd be
better off with Trump. It's just that too many didn't feel any affinity
for or solidarity with her. Of course, those who discovered their own
reasons for voting against the Republicans -- which includes the
left, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, single women, and others the
Democrats bank on but don't invest in -- voted for her anyway. But
others needed to be reminded of the differences between the parties,
and Clinton didn't do a good job at that (nor did Obama give her much
to build on, as he almost never blamed Republicans for undermining his
Meanwhile, Trump's net favorability polling is down to -15.
Some links on the Trump world this week:
80,000 March in Raleigh for Voting Rights, Democracy &
Andrew Bacevich: Conservatism After Trump: Still identifying as a
conservative, he hates Trump's populism (even conceding that Bernie
Sanders' would be better). Bacevich is often an astute critic of the
American militarism, but his efforts to map himself onto a left-right
political line are often embarrassing. Also his effort to salvage the
old fascist slogan "America First" -- he argues that Trump "seem[s]
determined to gut the concept" without grasping that the main thing
the concept tries to do is advance an abstract America above and
beyond any actual Americans. Same problem with "Make America Great"
which exalts and projects a hypothetical empire that actually does
nothing for most Americans.
Peter Bergen: Trump's terrorism claim is baloney: Searching a media
database shows that "78 terrorist incidents the White House cited as
under-covered by the media" were the subject of over 80,000 articles.
Ari Berman: House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal
Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can't Be Hacked
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's Real Plan for Coal-Mine Workers:
"Safety protections are standing in the way of making coal great
Bryce Covert: Trump's Obsession With Manufacturing Is About Politics,
Not Jobs: "Most of us work in the service sector, but you won't
hear the president talk about that."
James Crabtree: Steve Bannon's War on India's High-Tech Economy. Also,
John Feffer: Steven Bannon's Real Vision Isn't America First. It's
Amy Davidson: The Ninth Circuit Rejects Trumpism
Justin Elliott: Inside Trump's watered-down ethics rules: Now a lobbyist
helps run federal agency he lobbied: Geoff Burr, who used to lobby
"opposing wage standards for federal construction contracts and working
against an effort to limit workers' exposure to dangerous silica dust,"
not works for Trump's Labor Department.
Philip Giraldi: Iran Hawks Take the White House: Specifically,
Michael Flynn ("well known for what his staff referred to as "Flynn
facts," things he would say that were demonstrably untrue"). I'm a
bit surprised that Trump has come out of the gate so belligerent
over Iran. In Syria, for instance, Iran has been allied with Russia
in support of Assad and in opposition to ISIS, and Trump and Flynn
seem to favor a less antagonistic approach to Russia. It would also
make sense for a president who (or so he claims) thought invading
Iraq to be a mistake would like to put a little distance between
the US and Saudi Arabia's military adventurism (with its obsession
Interesting that David Atkins is already complaining,
Why Won't Trump Fire Michael Flynn? Atkins is more worried that
Flynn is soft on Russia than too hard on Iran, but in his own lame
way this sort of highlights how unsuited Flynn is for a position
which has historically required the intellectual flexibility and
moral laxity of a McGeorge Bundy or a Condoleezza Rice. Flynn's only
qualification was his rabidly hysterical antipathy to everything
Obama said or did, so his usefulness to Trump is likely to be very
short-lived. Although most likely Flynn will be pushed out by the
"intelligence community" itself: see
CIA Denies Security Clearance for Top Flynn Aide, and
Cummings: It Would Be 'Appropriate' to Revoke Flynn's Security
Clearance. The New York Times reports further:
Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down, with
the Editorial Board adding its two cents:
America's So-Called National Security Adviser.
Dino Grandoni: Exxon's Seven-Year Campaign to Kill an Anti-Corruption
Rule Finally Worked
Sean McElwee: Trump's supporters believe a false narrative of white
victimhood -- and the data proves it: that they believe it, not
that it's true:
Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived
social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that
requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization.
This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to
remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime
is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of
abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist
attacks en masse (they aren't at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it's
the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving
black people (black people receive government support in accordance with
their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large
share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe
that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a
dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.
Bill McKibben: Trump's Pipeline and America's Shame: Trump's decision
to restart the Dakota Access Pipeline seen as a renewal of centuries of
attacks on Native Americans.
Kristin Salaky: Spicer: Nordstrom Dropping Ivanka Trump's Line Is 'Direct
Attack' on Prez: So the White House press secretary, supposedly a
public servant (at least he draws a government paycheck) is working as
a lobbyist for the First Daughter's personal business interests? Pretty
clear that Trump hasn't separated himself from his family's business
interests (as well as that he continues to focus on the petty). Seems
to me like this is just the free market in action, and that Ivanka will
wind up with new, more demographically appropriate partners -- Cabella's,
maybe, or Hobby Lobby?
Paul Woodward: Trump family brand losing its value noted that
Nordstrom's stock closed higher after dumping Ivanka. He also linked
to an article,
Melania Trump Inc. Imperiled, about how Mrs. Trump is suing the
Daily Mail for defamation, claiming that their story undermined her
opportunity to cash in on her newfound fame. As the New York Times
noted, "President Donald Trump and his family have done little to
assuage concerns that they see the White House as a cash cow."
Michelle Goldberg argues that Kellyanne Conway violated the law
by endorsing Ivanka's products on TV, and quotes the relevant section
of law, which is indeed pretty clearly applicable. She winds up
quoting Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center:
"The system is based on the assumption that people are going to want
to follow the law or enforce it," he says. In 20 days, this administration
has exploded that assumption. "They are stress-testing our democracy,"
says Noble. "What happens if the administration just refuses to follow
the laws and Congress doesn't want to do anything about it?"
Speaking of Spicer, also see
Esme Cribb: Spicer: Questioning Success of Yemen Raid Does 'Disservice'
to KIA Commando: I would have thought that being sent on that
ill-conceived and botched raid was the real disservice to the commando,
but you know, when threatened, terrorists always try to hide behind
Richard Silverstein: As Bibi Readies for Trump Summit, He Dumps Two-States
for "State-Minus": Sounds like a revival of the Bantustan project,
although I doubt it's that benign. Also see
Ayman Odeh: Israel Bulldozes Democracy:
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win
his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination
against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This
takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government's
racist, unjust land use and housing policies.
Jacob Sugarman: Officials heate each other: 5 disturbing revelations about
what's happening inside Trump's White House: Not a lot of red meat
here, but it's totally plausible that factions around Reince Priebus,
Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner have very different agendas and are prone
to sabotaging one another. Also that Trump himself doesn't have a clue.
Matt Taibbi: The End of Facts in the Trump Era:
A primary characteristic of any authoritarian situation, from East Germany
to high school, is the total uselessness of facts and evidence as a defense
against anything. Trump is in the White House because he and his people
understood this from the start. His movement isn't about facts. All that
matters to his followers is that blame stays fixed in the right direction.
Glad he mentioned high school, although most of corporate America is
even worse (i.e., more authoritarian, or we leftists like to call it,
Glenn Thrush/Jennifer Steinhauer: Stephen Miller Is a 'True Believer' Behind
Core Trump Policies: Former aide to former Senator Jeff Sessions,
now a White House aide "at the epicenter of some of the administration's
most provocative moves, from pushing hard for the construction of a wall
along the border with Mexico to threatening decades-long trade deals at
the heart of Republican economic orthodoxy, to rolling out Mr. Trump's
travel ban on seven largely Muslim nations, whose bungled introduction
Zoe Tillman: Gorsuch Would Join the Supreme Court Millionaires' Club if
Jordan Weissmann: The Hot New Corporate PR Strategy? Giving Trump Credit
for Stuff He Didn't Do. Like Intel deciding to build a plant in
Arizona it was going to build there anyway.
Matthew Zeitlin: Republicans Are Moving to Scrap Rules That Limit Overdraft
Also a few links not so directly tied to America's bout of political
TomDispatch this week:
Tom Engelhardt: Crimes of the Trump Era (a Preview);
Raja Menon: Is President Trump Headed for a War with China?.
Menon, by the way, has a book called The Conceit of Humanitarian
Intervention (2016). Regarding China, I'm reminded of a scenario
sketched out by the late Chalmers Johnson: suppose a country launched
a dumptruck-load of gravel into earth orbit (something well within
China's capability); it would in short order destroy every satellite
(including China's, but most are American or owned by corporations).
Without killing any people, the economic effects would be devastating,
and it would cripple America's ability to spy on friend and foe, or
indeed to direct foreign wars. I'd argue that this capability all by
itself makes China too big to attack (Russia, of course, could do the
same, at more cost to itself; moreover, the technology isn't far out
for emerging rocket builders, notably Iran and North Korea). Given
these realities, the US would be well advised to work on cooperation
instead of intimidation. Still, that's not Trump's style, nor is it
China's: "Xi Jinping, like Trump, presents himself as a tough guy,
sure to trounce his enemies at home and abroad. Retaining that image
requirse that he not bend when it comes to defending China's land
and honor." Neocon Robert Kagan has his own alarming scenario:
Backint Into World War III. But then he's arguing to march
forward into conflict, rather than back into it -- which, by the
way, he sees Trump doing in his "further accommodation of Russia"
(as opposed to his "tough" stance against China).
Stan Finger: Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge:
Could a 50% increase in aggravated assault cases since the 2013 passage
of Kansas' "open carry" gun law have anything to do with that law? Minds
boggle, especially as the delayed opening up of open gun carry on college
campuses is looming. One complaint is new gun toters haven't been "properly
trained," but wasn't a big part of the 2013 law the elimination of training
Also in the Eagle today:
Dion Lefler/Stan Finger: Race to replace Pompeo in Congress is down to
three candidates: Republicans nominated Brownback crony Ron Estes,
while the Democrats are backing civil rights attorney James Thompson,
who will hopefully turn the election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo
into a referendum on the Trump and Brownback administrations. (Salon
has a piece by
Rosana Hegeman on Thompson.) Also:
Dion Lefler: 1,500 Sanders tickets sold so far, leading to move to a
bigger venue, who will be speaking in Topeka on February 25.
Sayed Kashua: Preparing My Kids for the New America: One thing I've
long noted is how much the right-wing, traditionally the last bastion of
anti-semitism, has grown to admire Israel. So as they consolidate their
power, it shouldn't be surprising that they're starting to make America
look more like Israel, or that the first to notice would be Palestinians
who lived in (and fled from) Israel.
John McQuaid: Coastal cities in danger: Florida has seen bad effects
from Trump-like climate gag orders: North Carolina, too. Also,
John Upton: Coastal Cities Could Flood Three Times a Week by 2045.
Daniel Oppenheimer: Not Yet Falling Apart: "Two thinkers on the left
offer a guide to navigating the stormy seas of modernity." Quasi-review of
Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, trying
to contrast it with Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism
From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (due for a new edition, with Trump
eclipsing Palin, as indeed it does get worse, not to mention dumber).
Oppenheimer make much of Lilla reviewing (and panning) Robin's book,
then not including the review in his short collection (like Robin,
the book stakes out the terrain of a broad, systematic study but
falls short by recycling old book reviews -- in this case "thinkers"
such as Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Strauss, Eric Vogelin, and Michel
Sunday, February 5. 2017
Picked up this image off Twitter. Looks like we've found our Weekend
Roundup motto, for the next four years anyways. More links than usual
because so much shit's been happening. Less commentary than in the
old days because it's all so straightforwardly obvious.
I had meant to write about Matt Taibbi's book Insane Clown President:
Dispatches From the 2016 Circus, but should hold off and do that later.
I will say that the big problems with the book are due to the concept: it
mostly a compilation of previously published pieces, so tends to preserve
the moment's misconceptions in amber rather than taking the time to rethink
the story from its conclusion in a way that might make more sense of it all.
On the other hand, it didn't make sense, and still doesn't make sense, and
as the consequences of the election unfold becomes more and more surreal.
In Taibbi's defense, he probably had a better grasp both of Trump's appeal
and of Clinton's repulsion than any journalist I can think of. Also does
a heroic job of not mincing words, and remains exceptionally conscious of
how presidential campaigns warp the media space around them. Still, he
can't quite believe how it turned out, and neither can I.
A short bit from a New York Times "By the Book" interview with Viet
Tranh Nguyen (wrote a novel, The Sympathizer, which my wife read
I've been reading news and opinion pieces on Facebook and
Twitter. They're utterly terrifying and depressing, since my social
circle basically thinks that a Trump presidency spells the end of the
world. To get out of the echo chamber, I read Donald Trump's Twitter
feed. It's utterly terrifying and depressing, and I run back into the
I take comfort in the children's literature that I read to my
3-year-old son. He will tolerate the tales of Beatrix Potter, which I
find soothing, but mostly he wants to hear about Batman, Superman,
Ghostbusters and Star Wars. The moral clarity is comforting not just
for a 3-year-old, but also for many adults. This is why they are
relevant to our divided age, where most people identify with the
rebels but so many in fact are complicit with the Empire.
The links below, of course, come from the left-liberal echo
chamber (well, plus some anti-war paleo-conservatives). They're
the ones paying attention (in some cases a welcome change after
sleepwalking through the Obama years).
I picked this up off Twitter, but I also saw the video clip (OK, on
Saturday Night Live, but it sure looked authentic. Comes from
Bill O'Reilly interviewing Trump:
O'REILLY: But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.
TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers.
What do you think -- our country's so innocent?
There are a lot of things one can say about this. For one thing it's
true, which isn't often the case with Trump. But it's hardly a revelation.
It's just something that no politician would say -- least of all someone
like Obama or the Clintons who have personally signed off on execution
orders then gone on to gloat about their killings in public. So you can
chalk Trump's admission up to his anti-PC ethic: his willingness to call
out truths in blunt language. But more specifically, he's denying O'Reilly
resort to a PC clichť. He's saying you can't dismiss working with Putin
out of hand because he's a killer. We're all killers here -- Trump joined
the club last week in ordering a Seal Team 6 assault in Yemen -- so that
hardly disqualifies Putin. The disturbing part is that being a killer is
probably something Trump admires in Putin. Back during the campaign, Trump
not only vowed to kill ostensible enemies like ISIS, he talked on several
occasions about shooting random people on Fifth Avenue, like the ability
to do that and not be held accountable would be the pinnacle of freedom.
Being elected president doesn't quite afford him that latitude, but it
does offer plenty of opportunities to indulge his blood lust. Worse still,
Trump's championing of killers helps establish murder as a political and
social norm. Sure, assassination has been sanctioned as expedient politics
by US presidents at least as far back as Kennedy, but Trump threatens to
make it a uniquely new bragging point.
As this and similar stories play out, all sorts of nonsense is likely
to ensue. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at
Adam Gopnik: Trump's Radical Anti-Americanism. The truth is that
America has a long history of split-personality disorder, at once
touting lofty progressive intentions while having committed a long
series of inexcusable atrocities. So will the real America stand up?
At least with the exceptionalist cant you knew they'd try to put on
a kind and honorable face. But with Trump and his more bloodthirsty
followers, you're liable to get something else: a celebration of the
underside of American history, a legacy that celebrates brutal and
Some scattered links this week:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Donald Trump Did in His Second
Week as President
Dean Baker: A Trade War Everyone Can Win: Argues a way Mexico can
respond to Trump's tariff threats: "announce that it would no longer
enforce U.S. patents and copyrights on its soil." He gives some examples
where this would save Mexico tons of money, but doesn't go back over
some key history. First, the US refused to recognize foreign patents
while we were developing our own industrial economy. Second, a major
aim of US trade policy for decades now has been our willingness to
sacrifice domestic jobs in exchange for more patent/copyright rents.
Since jobs mostly affect working people and rents accrue to the already
rich, US trade policy has contributed mightily to increasing inequality
in America. Also see Baker's
End Patent and Copyright Requirements in NAFTA.
Stephen Burd: How the GOP Became For-Profit College Abuse Deniers:
As the piece points out, "for-profit" schools have been plagued with
fraud as far back as the GI Bill in the 1950s, despite periodic efforts
at regulation. Republicans hate it when regulation gets in the way of
profit-making, even when profits are fueled mostly by fraud -- cf. many
other examples from many other industries -- and education has become
something many conservatives feel we need less of, so they can hardly
object to it not being done well.
Ira Chernus: Now Who's the Enemy?: "The terror inside Trump's White
Susanne Craig/Eric Lipton: Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied
to His Empire
Yasmeen El Khoudary: Israel: An Inspiration for Trump: "Israel has
set a great example of racist bans and walls for Trump to follow." I've
said for some time now neocons suffer from an acute case of Israel Envy:
all they want is to see America flaunt its power as capriciously and
unilaterally as Israel does. The alt-right may be just as envious, but
Israel's apartheid policies will be harder for Americans to swallow --
indeed, it's not something many Israelis like to talk about. Also, see
William Parry: Donald Trump is wrong about Israel's 'security'
James P Rooney: What Trump Doesn't Understand About Immigration From
Jonathan Freedland: First on the White House agenda -- the collapse of the
global order. Next, war? Trying to predict where Trump is going by
following Steve Bannon: "Bannon is not destroying the old, clunky post-1945
order for the sake of a fairer, more equal, more interdependent world. He
seems instead to dream of a bloody, fiery war that will kill millions --
out of which will be forged a new, cleansed and even more dominant America."
Greg Grandin: About That Kissinger Quote Neil Gorsuch Likes . . . :
About Trump's Supreme Court nominee, highly touted as a devotee of Antonin
Scalia's mystical "originalism" doctrine. The Kissinger quote, which
Gorsuch picked to go with his Columbia yearbook photo: "The illegal we
do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer." Also see:
David S Cohen: Meet Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Of course, I've also seen
Neal K Katyal: Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch: suggests to
me that it could have been worse, but I'm not sure how you square the
nominee's "commitment to judicial independence" with the guy who wrote
the Hobby Lobby decision.
William Hartung: Trump's 5th Bankruptcy: Budget-Busting Trillions to US
Department of War Originally from
TomDispatch, but Juan Cole's title
is more apt. Also:
Nick Turse: Will Trump Really Be Isolationist? Or Will He March Us to
Fred Kaplan: What Happened Behind the Scenes Before the Yemen Raid? I
referred to this assault above.
Anne Kim: The Long-Term Economic Wreckage of Trump's Travel Ban.
Mike Konczal: Trump Picks Wall Street Over Main Street: Trump's first
executive order on finance starts to unravel the Dodd-Frank reforms --
any campaign suggestions that he would be tough on banks to the contrary.
No big surprise, given that he's already handed the Treasury Department
over to Goldman-Sachs. Konczal also wrote:
Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of Steady
Paul A Kramer: Now Who We Are: "Our xenophobic impulses and loftiest
ideals have been in conflict since the founding." And behind the magic
word, unsurprisingly, is Frank Luntz.
Nancy LeTourneau: How Can We Believe Anything This Administration Says?
Kellyanne Conway, the "Bowling Green massacre," and other "alternative
Daniel Larison: Elliott Abrams Will Be Deputy Secretary of State:
Most of Trump's nominees are merely terrible, but sometimes he manages
to pick the worst person imaginable. This is one of those cases. Also:
Eric Alterman: An Actual American War Criminal May Become Our Second-Ranking
Martin Longman: This Situation Is More Dire Than I Want to Admit and,
a day later, his more detailed
The 12 Early Warning Signs of Fascism. Not sure I'd call it Fascism,
but the sign reads like the GOP platform (not just Trump's agenda).
Simon Maloy: Trump's "amazing" ignorance: The president's Black History
Month celebration was embarrassing.
Jim Newell: The GOP Has No Obamacare Bill. It Does Have a New Buzzword:
"Repeal and replace is out. Repair is in.
Sarah Posner: Leaked Draft of Trump's Religious Freedom Order Reveals
Sweeping Plans to Legalize Discrimination. Also:
Adele Stan: Trump Leads the Religious Right to the Promised Land:
"Evangelicals' alignment with Trump shows their affinity for power over
Bernie Sanders; Trump 'Is a Fraud' Sending Nation in 'Authoritarian
Richard Silverstein: Steve Bannon's Romance with Hollywood Islamophobia,
Steve Bannon, the Church Militant and Global War Against Islam.
Mark Joseph Stern: Why Judge Robart Blocked the Muslim Ban: "There's
no constitutional way to implement an unconstitutional order."
Matt Taibbi: Extreme Vetting, but Not for Banks, as well as
The Anti-Refugee Movement Is America at Its Most Ignorant.
Ben Walsh: A Citigroup Lawyer Helped Trump Pick Bank Regulators, Then
Returned to Work at the Bank: See, it isn't all Goldman-Sachs.
Stephen M Walt: America's New President Is Not a Rational Actor, and
Trump Has Already Blown It. Before inauguration Walt also wrote:
Trump Doesn't Know What He Doesn't Know About Foreign Policy, where
he noted "The president-elect sometimes says the right things, but always
does the wrong ones." On the other hand, Walt's been hard to please, as
is clear from his final word on Trump's predecessor:
Barack Obama Was a Foreign-Policy Failure.
One of the most alarming things Trump has done so far has been
his campaign to impose sanctions on Iran amidst much sabre-rattling.
Phyllis Bennis: The Trump Administration Is Recklessly Escalting Tensions
Juan Cole: Here We Go Again: Trump Admin Threatens Iran;
Dan De Luce/Paul McCleary: Yemen Is the First Battleground in Trump's
Confrontation With Iran;
Ben Norton: Trump and the Saudi king discuss major pact to confront Iran;
Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Comments Toward Iran Could Deepen Conflict in
Trita Parsi: What Flynn Could Learn From Kerry About Iran;
Daniel Larison: The Trump Administration's Lies About Iran;
Muhammad Sahimi: Do Iran's Missile Tests Violate the Nuclear Agreement?
(short answer: no).
Also a few links not so directly tied to America's bout of political
Sunday, January 22. 2017
Just brief links this week. For what it's worth, about 3,000 people
showed up for Wichita's edition of the anti-Trump Women's March. As
someone who's always wanted politics to be boring and irrelevant, I'm
clearly not going to enjoy the next four years. On the other hand, I
voted for Hillary Clinton knowing full well that she, too, would bring
us four years or war and financial mayhem to protest against. But she's
boring enough we'd be hard pressed to get 30 people out to a march.
Whatever else you think, Trump is much more effective at moving us to
Women's March was the largest protest in US history as an estimated 3.6
to 4.5 million marched; also
Millions join women's marches in an historic international rebuke of
Tom Cahill: Trump's new slogan is copied verbatim from horror film 'The
Purge': The article claims "You can't make this shit up," but if
the movie in question was, as the article also claims, based on Trump's
2016 campaign slogan, they already have. Of course, The Purge
isn't the only imaginable Trumpian future. When I saw 2015's Mad
Max: Fury Road, its fetishes struck me as so literally Trumpian
I half-expected the GOP to adopt it as an infomercial.
Ben Casselman: Stop Saying Trump's Win Had Nothing to Do With
Noah Charney: No deal for the arts: It's no surprise that Donald Trump
wants to tell the arts and humanities "you're fired": Reminds me of
a Facebook meme I recently saw, that pointed out that when Winston Churchill
was asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort, his reply was "Then
what are we fighting for?"
William DeBuys: Election rigging 101: Donald Trump's crash course in
Jonathan Chait: Donald Trump to America: I Won, Accountability Is
It is impossible to know what course American democracy will take under
Trump's presidency. The fears of authoritarianism may prove overblown,
and Trump may govern like a normal Republican. But the initial signs are
quite concerning. Trump believes he can demolish normal standards of
behavior, like the expectation of disclosing tax returns, and placing
assets in a blind trust. He has received the full cooperation of his
party, which controls Congress and has blocked any investigation or
other mechanism for exerting pressure. His dismissal of the news media
might simply be a slightly amped-up version of the conservative tradition
of media abuse, but it seems to augur something worse. Rather than making
snide cracks about liberal bias, Trump escalated into abuse and total
delegitimization. Will the abuse of the media be seen as an idiosyncratic
episode, or the beginning of something worse to come? We don't know. His
early behavior is consistent with (though far from proof of) the thesis
that he is an emerging autocrat. The people have granted him license to
steal and hide as he wishes. The bully has his pulpit.
The phrase that catches in my throat here is "normal Republican."
The fact is Republicans haven't been "normal" since they accepted
Richard Nixon's rewriting the rules on campaign ethics. Since then
they've hosted two of the most corrupt and ideologically corrosive
administrations in American history, while their efforts to spoil
(by any means possible) the Clinton and Obama administrations have
set new standards for political cynicism. The Trump administration
starts with no real popular legitimacy, and the Republican agenda
has even less popular support, so the big question will be whether
they can leverage their current grasp of institutional power to do
things contrary to the welfare and desires of most Americans. The
United States has a long and hallowed tradition of popular rule,
which has never before been challenged severely as Trump and his
party are doing.
Mike Konczal: The Austerity of the Obama Years: This is an important
piece. Even though it's not entirely Obama's fault, his inability either
to fix the problem or properly assign blame for his failures is what let
The economic landscape adjusted to the missing prosperity, with economic
power concentrating at the highest levels. Trillions of dollars simply
went into mergers and acquisitions, leaving the economy more concentrated
than at any point in decades. Yet this power also seeped into everyday
life. Work became even more precarious and disintermediated towards
smaller, weak firms attached through contracts to rich flagships. Over
the past ten years workers in traditional employment declined slightly,
with contract and independent workers driving the increases. Beyond
making activism and regulations much more difficult, this shift greatly
accelerated inequality as corporate profits skyrocketed. People became
contract workers and took on boarders in their homes again, like those
trying to survive the nineteenth century, and elites celebrated it as
an entrepreneurial wonderland.
That the Democrats could never figure out what to do about this gap
in our economy showed up in the Democratic primary. An economist named
Gerald Friedman argued that Bernie Sanders's proposals would fix the gap,
that if his large expansion of public works, taxes, and spending had a
chance, the economy would get to and go far beyond its full potential.
He walked into a bandsaw of Democratic economists attacking his argument
as voodoo economics. Friedman's analysis did have serious flaws, but the
Democratic economists counter was that where we were was just the reality,
that there was little-to-no room to grow further and faster. This output
gap, introduced during Obama's years, was a permanent reduction in our
potential that we would have to live with. It was the economic equivalent
of the Democrats' "America is Already Great," a messaging that delivered
our country to Trump.
Richard Silverstein: America First, Israel First: the Lobby Loves
James Thindwa/Kathleen Geier: Does the Left Bear Any Blame for Donald
Trump? More waffling than I'd really like. I wasn't asked, but have
two answers: the first is no (if, as stated, 90 percent of Sanders
supporters backed Clinton she did better on the left than she did with
"locked in" constituencies like blacks, Latinos, and labor), and second,
it doesn't matter, because now and in the near future the Democrats need
the left even more than ever -- for activism, and for a more acute and
resonant critique of what Trump and the Republicans are doing. The real
shame is that there are still some mainstream Democrats who seem to be
much more ready to attack the left than to stand up against the right.
They need to change their priorities, and they can start by letting up
on their Cold War dogma about the left.
Zephyr Teachout: Donald Trump Will Violate the Constitution on Day
Nathan Wellman: Trump just deleted the White House's website on protecting
people with disabilities
China's winding down coal use continues -- the country just canceled 104
new coal plants: Meanwhile, Trump plans to ramp up coal burning in
Don't think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how
the Democrats helped elect Trump: Paul Rosenberg interviews Lakoff.
Also links to Lakoff's own analysis:
A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, and What the Majority Can
Do. Reiterates much of what Lakoff has been saying for several
decades now. Still, I have trouble thinking of Trump as a "strict
father" conservative archetype. I have to wonder if we haven't mutated
into something far more ominous.
Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom
Trump gives 'most disastrous speech ever given at CIA' says former CIA
WH Staffers Pile on Former CIA Head for Criticizing Trump's Off-the-Rails
Robin Wright: Trump's Vainglorious Affront to the CIA.
Again, very important for readers to contribute to the project to
Help Us Save the Elizabeth M. Fink Attica Archive. Please go there,
read about what's being done, and contribute some money. And pass this
note on to other people who might. Thanks.
Also a reminder that you can read Dean Baker's new book, Rigged:
How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured
to Make the Rich Richer free,
Sunday, January 15. 2017
Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting
things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not
necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the
overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.
Some scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Democrats Should Follow John Lewis' Lead: I have
considerable respect for Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader before
he became (thanks to gerrymandering) Georgia's token black Democrat in
the House, and it doesn't bother me in the least that he's decided not
to attend Trump's inaugural. I don't see why his presence is in any way
necessary, and I sure can't think of anything more stupefying a person
can do on that day than attend. But according to Goldberg, this all
turns on the Clinton Democrats' favorite scapegoat, Vladimir Putin:
Lewis was speaking for many of us who are aghast at the way Trump benefited
from Russian hacking and now appears to be returning the favor by taking
a fawning stance toward Putin. He spoke for those of us who are shocked by
the role of the FBI, which improperly publicized the reopening of its
investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails but refuses to say whether
it is investigating Trump's ties with Russia. Trump lost the popular vote;
he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the
democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it
turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was
crooked -- if Trump's campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- his
legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating
the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the
popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who
will be contravening the Constitution the second he's sworn in is due
neither respect nor deference.
I suppose there's a focus group somewhere that says anti-Putin rants
are politically effective, but really, this has got to stop. The fact is
Hillary Clinton lost for dozens of reasons, and the fact that WikiLeaks
(with or without Russian help) exposed John Podesta and Donna Brazile
as political hacks didn't help but is surely way down the list. They
must realize as much because they never mention the substance of Russian
interference: they focus on Putin as an evil manipulator who will wind
up dominating a submissive US president because Trump owes his election
not to the millions of Americans who voted for him but to a foreign ogre
who orchestrated some dirty tricks -- a ruse they can only get away with
by replaying cold war stereotypes (e.g., Putin is a dictator, although
he's been elected several times by large margins in reasonably fair and
competitive elections, and his background in the KGB proves he's always
been anti-US); and secondly, they posit Trump as a dissenter from the
consensus views of the American "intelligence community" -- the secret
clan of spooks who have one of the world's worst track records for truth
Worse still, I think, are the practical consequences: they are demanding
that the US ramp up its hostility toward Russia, including sanctions that
were previously in place for other supposed affronts, threatening a war
that unlike America's recent attacks on marginal or failed states could
be genuinely disastrous. And why should we risk world peace? To revenge
Podesta's tarnished reputation? Because Clinton Democrats can bear to
take responsibility for blowing the election to Donald Trump? There's
plenty of blame to go around for the latter, and it's well nigh time for
Clinton and her career to admit that they should have done a better job
campaigning. And when they do so, they should realize that obsessing
over the Trump-Putin connection was one of the things they did wrong.
The first fact is that people don't care. The second is that it's not
healthy for Democrats to be seen as the war party (and bear in mind that
Hillary, given her past hawkishness, is already so tainted).
Still, if you have to blame someone else, there are real ogres much
closer to home. Look first at the Republican laws aimed at suppressing
the vote, and gerrymandering congress. Look especially at the billion
dollars or so that the Koch network and other GOP mega-financiers spent
on getting their vote out. I think it's quite clear that there was a
sustained, methodical effort to undermine democracy in 2016, but it
wasn't the Russians who were behind it. It was the Republicans. Maybe
if you hack some emails -- seems like fair play at this point -- you
might even find a smoking gun showing that the Russians were working
for the Republicans (a much more credible story than vice versa; it
would, in fact, be reminiscent of finding out that Nixon interfered
with the talks to end the Vietnam War, or that Reagan kiboshed Carter's
efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Tehran).
And by all means, note that Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton
by nearly three million votes, yet through a 227-year-old quirk in the
constitution is being allowed to install the most extreme right-wing
oligarchy ever. Then, if you like, you can point out that Putin enjoys
a similar relationship to Russia's oligarchy -- I never said he was
beyond reproach, let alone a saint, but has to be respected as leader
of a major nation, and (unlike Trump) a democratically-elected one at
As for John Lewis, bless him: after spending his life working hard
to make this country a better place for all who live here, he's earned
the right to take a day off, especially when the alternative is having
to witness such tragedy.
Patrick Lawrence: Trump, Russia, and the Return of Scapegoating, a
Timeless American Tradition.
Tony Karon: The US media is not equipped to handle a Trump White
House: There's an old adage that generals always prepare to refight
the last war, and as such are always surprised when a new war happens.
Something similar has been happening in media coverage of politics, but
in many ways the media landscape has changed over the last 4-8-16 years,
yet veterans of past campaigns (and clearly HRC fits this mold) still
seem to believe that what worked in the past must still work today. Not
clear whether Trump was smart or lucky -- I'd say he was selected from
the large Republican field because he fit the evolving right-wing media
model remarkably well, and he merely lucked out over Clinton due to a
wide range of factors, including an electoral structure which allowed
him to squeak out a win despite losing the popular vote by nearly three
million votes. Still, his election was especially astonishing to those
of us who thought, based on long experience, we understood how the
system works. In the end, his biggest assets were a vast electorate
willing to believe anything and the opportunistic and unscrupulous
media that indulged them with all manner of fantastic innuendo.
Mr Trump emerged as a public figure by mastering this fractured landscape,
where distinctions between news and entertainment were increasingly blurred
and where the business model's reliance on "click-bait" favours provocation.
He connects instinctively with a public likely to judge the veracity of
information not on its own merits, but according to existing attitudes
towards the news outlets publishing it. Thus the logic behind his
off-the-cuff remark last summer that "I could stand in the middle of 5th
Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
But while painting him as a pawn of Moscow is certainly unlikely to
weaken Mr Trump's political base, his empty promises on health care and
job creation are a real weakness, because failure to deliver will increase
the pain of many people who voted for him.
It's critically important, therefore, for the media to focus on what
Mr Trump's government and their allies on Capitol Hill are actually doing --
not simply what they say about what they're doing.
The problem is that sort of journalism hardly exists anymore, anywhere,
and certainly not on the 24-hour news torrents. And while the election
seemed to set new qualitative lows practically every week, post-election
coverage has been even lamer: even for "reporters" who never delve any
deeper than sifting quotes for gotchas, the only Washington source sure
to get reported on is Trump's latest tweetstorm -- and that's more for
entertainment than insight. You'd think that as America goes to hell the
vested interests that own big media would realize that they actually need
to better know and understand what's happening, but recent experience
suggests that groupthink (the Bushies used to call it "message discipline")
Paul Krugman: There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement: Read past the
snark about Comey and Putin, and look at the policy analysis.
From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized
that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one
of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically
possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and
subsidies. [ . . . ]
It's actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye
to this logic, and some -- maybe even a majority -- are still in denial.
But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I've ever seen; and it
means that you can't tamper with the basic structure without throwing
tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can't even scale back
the spending very much -- Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.
Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of
working-class voters to the way they've been scammed? I have no idea.
But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their
willful policy ignorance, it couldn't happen to more deserving people.
I have little faith that sanity will save the Republicans at this
late date, but to destroy Obamacare they're going to run afoul of some
powerful special interests, and while they may try to assuage them by
permitting them to operate even more fraudulently than before the ACA
was passed, the result will be millions of people screwed, and most
likely the health care industry itself will lurch into contraction.
David Dayen: Trump Just Stumbled Into a Canyon on Obamacare.
Kelefa Sanneh: Intellectuals for Trump: I must admit that I never
liked the idea of intellectuals -- I always thought that learning and
reasoning were things that everyone did, so dividing people between
a self-defining intellectual elite and the ignorant masses never set
well with my democratic instincts (not to mention that those same
self-identified intellectuals tended to exclude me, not because I
didn't know or think but because I often knew and thought the wrong
things -- elites, as ever, being jealous guardians of their ranks).
But I was also quick to realize that thinking doesn't always work
out right: indeed, that clever people could contort their command
of history, logic, and rhetoric to justify almost anything, most
often whatever their interests and upbringing (which is to say,
class identity) favored. So perhaps we're best off characterizing
intellectualism as a style with no intrinsic merit. Throughout
history, political leaders have had little trouble gaining the
rationalizing support of intellectuals, just as intellectuals
have struggled to raise their baser instincts to fine principles.
Donald Trump makes for a fine case in point. He has so little
cred and rapport with liberal intellectuals that some scurried off
to re-read Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American
Life for a refresher course on how willfully stupid the people
can be. Even conservatives with intellectual pretensions were almost
unanimous in their dismay over Trump: his early vocal supporters were
almost exclusively limited to professional bigots like Ann Coulter
and Michael Savage. Still, what finally made Trump palatable to
Republican elites was the only thing they really cared about:
winning. So, as Sanneh chronicles, of late right-wing intellectuals
have started flocking to Trump. Two varieties have emerged. One,
including Heritage Foundation chief honcho Jim DeMint and his crew,
are ordinary conservatives continuing to spout their usual nostrums
while claiming validation by Trump's victory. The others, including
an anonymous group which evidently started "The Journal of American
Greatness" as "'an inside joke,' which in the course of a few months,
attracted a large following, and 'ceased to be a joke.'" The website
was subsequently deleted, but blogger Publius Decius Mus, the main
subject of Sanneh's piece, is still attempting to develop a coherent
Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown
frustrated with the Republican Party's devotion to laissez-faire economics
(or, in his description, "the free market Łber alles"), which left
Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The
conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's
the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford
food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income
inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He
rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives,
he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated
to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan
ťlite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper
international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to
sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy,
a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration:
these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds
but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways
of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry
has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track
records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically
heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant
in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more
attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to
serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and
everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we
needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too
fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being
equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately
need more unity."
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to
Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters
recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying
serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple
and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign
intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions."
[ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called
Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he
didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do
more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about
religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of
occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's
seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would
be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist
who is misconstrued as an extremist.
Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social
order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic
or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in
that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the
traditional pecking order.
The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's
arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that
Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers
rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably
others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would
affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican
(much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the
effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The
post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like
suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better
dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they
no longer cared about the consequences.
The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply
confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality
is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get
pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust,
but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society.
Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging
Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 --
American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad
Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have
been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality
are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the
conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits
policy to flow ever further to the right.
I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced
the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without
embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has
become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base
didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco
Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the
support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for
by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence
and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that
Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy
while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the
imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only
question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage
his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't
strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to
help anyone else out.
Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a
truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his
failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines
an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions
to ridiculous ends.
Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President
in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell.
I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ
mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as
soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming
more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only
drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.
While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since
Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been
part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party
platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders --
was the plank restored.
This also ties into
Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Weak Labor Market: President Obama Hides Behind Automation:
Actually, I think Obama is right at the big picture level -- the main
source of losses in most job categories is automation rather than trade
or finance, but Baker is right at a more detailed level: it's political
policies that shape how automation, trade, and finance wreak their havoc,
and for a half-century or so those policies have favored capital over
labor, to an extent that has gone beyond unjust to downright cruel.
Baker has some of his pet examples, and points to a new book he has
written, available as a free PDF or Ebook:
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were
Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Tom Cahill: Democrats Lock Hands with Republicans and Big Pharma to
Screw Over Americans: Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar offered
an amendment to allow imports of prescription drugs, which would
undercut the industry's monopoly pricing in the US. Twelve Republicans
voted for the amendment, so its loss can squarely be blamed on thirteen
Democrats -- notably Cory Booker, who's raised over $400K from drug
companies. Also see:
Zach Cartwright: Bernie Sanders Shreds Fellow Democrats Who Voted with
Big Pharma, and, what the hell, Martin Longman's defensive brief,
The Stupid War on Cory Booker..
Patrick Cockburn: The Dodgy Trump Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over
Matthew Cole: The Crimes of SEAL Team 6: I've been reading Jeremy
Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, so I'm already
familiar with some of this.
Michelle Goldberg: "This Evil Is All Around Us": On Trump's future
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo ("amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the
Trump transition, however, Pompeo's extremism has been overlooked").
Personally, I've always found him much less of a religious fanatic than
Todd Tiahrt, the truly horrible man he replaced, but that's an awfully
low bar. Unrelated aside: The Eagle ran a piece on Pompeo's finances,
characterizing him as
"an average American" in contrast to Trump's billionaires, disclosing
that assets only add up to $345K -- not much for a guy who campaigns on
his record of building businesses, or even for a guy who draws $174K/year
as a member of Congress. Makes you wonder how good of a manager he really
Greg Grandin: Why Did the US Drop 26,171 Bombs on the World Last Year?
Moreover, I doubt that counts the ones "allies" like Israel and Saudi
Arabia dropped with our blessing.
John Judis: America's Failure -- and Russia and Iran's Success -- in
Syria's Cataclysmic Civil War: Interview with Joshua Landis, who
knows more than Judis does.
Allegra Kirkland: GOP Senator: 'Yeah,' Trump's Cabinet Picks Should Be
Treated Differently: James Inhofe (R-OK), but he only has the least
filter between what passes for his brain and the orifice he utters his
thoughts through. But Republicans have always supported double standards,
much like they always support the powerful beating down on those they
perceive as week. Only Democrats believe in fair play, equal treatment,
or underdogs. Don't you know that?
Dahlia Lithwick: Jason Chaffetz Doesn't Care About Ethics: Chafetz
is a Republican congressman, head of the House Oversight Committee, and
the one ethical issue he seems to be concerned about is Walter Shaub (of
"the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics") being at all critical of
Trump's numerous conflicts of interest.
Nancy LeTourneau: Being Outnumbered Doesn't Have to Mean Losing:
Posted back in August, before the prime example of its thesis became
infamous. Book review of Zachary Roth's The Great Suppression:
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on
Democracy. Recommended to all you Democrats out there who're
wondering whether you need to bone up on Putin to better understand
Melissa Murray/Kathleen Geier/Catherine Powell: What Happens to a
Feminist Dream Deferred?
Matt Taibbi: Trump Nominee Jay Clayton Will Be the Most Conflicted SEC
Chair Ever: Taibbi doesn't seem to consider FDR's SEC pick, Joseph
Kennedy Sr., who had some pretty huge conflicts of interest, but back
in the 1930s tigers were expected to change their stripes when they
became public servants -- an expectation that seems completely alien
to this hyperindividualistic revolving door era. Also helped that FDR
himself was devoted to the public interest, something that never seems
to have occurred to Trump.
Sunday, January 8. 2017
After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack
out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just
a few things that caught my fancy.
Some scattered links this week:
Jamelle Bouie: The Most Extreme Party Coalition Since the Civil War:
The first book I read on alternative politics back in the 1960s was called
The New Radicals, a survey of various thinkers and activists on the
New Left. In it, radicals were people who looked for root causes and core
principles, as opposed to those who casually wandered from one compromise
to another. While it's certainly true that radicals can be wrong, and that
they can become obsessed by their insights and oblivious to consequences,
the problem there is picking bad principles, not radical ones. In fact,
the only other time when "radical" was commonly used to describe politics
was after the Civil War, when the GOP was dominated by so-called radicals
like Thaddeus Stevens who advocated a deep-seated reconstruction of the
former Slave South. Bouie is right that today's GOP is chock full of folks
who hold very dangerous views, but those people are not radicals -- they're
just wrong. Indeed, in terms of their eagerness to impose their ideology
on a world that has moved way past it, they share much more than attitude
with pro-slavery activists like John Calhoun than with Republicans like
Stevens. But as Corey Robin has pointed out, the proper term for Calhoun
and his ilk isn't radical -- it's conservative. The first thing Bouie must
do to get smarter is to disabuse himself of the notion that conservatism
is a respectable political philosophy. Leftists learned this lesson long
ago, which is why they readily identify people who are willing to wreck
the world to save the rich -- people like Trump, Pence, and Ryan -- as
fascists. That may seem reflexive and excessive, but it serves us well.
Gorbachev: US Was Short-Sighted After Soviet Collapse: So true,
but America's effective policy toward the former Soviet Union was to
rub their faces in the dirt. We helped turn their collectivist economy
into a Mafia-run kleptocracy. The result was near-total economic collapse --
so severe that even life expectancy dipped by as much as a decade. And
to add insult to injury, the US started picking off former satellite
nations and SSRs that formerly propped up the Russian economy and turned
them westward, hugely expanding both NATO and the EU. This produced a
huge backlash in Russia, and its face is Vladimir Putin, a guy we fear
and loathe as a nationalist strongman, but who Russians flock to precisely
because he doesn't look like as an American flunky. Sure, it's not clear
why the US didn't handle the situation more adroitly, but from the start
American Cold Warriors did everything they could to prevent any form of
free/open/humane socialism from securing a foothold anywhere. Americans
always preferred to work through corrupt strongmen, and even if Yeltsin
didn't qualify as strong, he more than made it up as corrupt. Those who
complain so much about Putin today should bear this history in mind,
but the lesson they draw is inevitably wrong, because we are incapable
of considering what would be good for the welfare of people in other
nations -- Republicans, especially, don't even care about people living
here. And the only thing the foreign policy mandarins consider is whether
foreign leaders follow or challenge America's power dictates.
Bradley Klapper/Josef Federman/Edith M Lederer: US Rebukes and Allows
UN Condemnation of Settlements: Widely interpreted as a "parting shot"
rebuke of Netanyahu by the Obama administration, the fact is that it's
been US policy since 1967 that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967
armistice borders as part of a "land-for-peace" deal, a scheme which
later came to be described as "the two-state solution." That was,
after all, the basis for George Mitchell's mission to restart final
status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and before
that was the official expectation for Bush's Roadmap, for the Clinton-era
Oslo Accords, and for Carter's peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Mitchell himself spent most of his mission time trying to convince
Israel to halt settlement construction, and his complete failure to
limit Israel destroyed any hope for an American-brokered peace. In
past years, the intransigence of an Israeli PM like Yitzhak Shamir
would have led to a breach with the US, rectified by Israel electing
a more flexible leader (Yitzhak Rabin). Even GW Bush was able to put
pressure on Israel, at the time led by Ariel Sharon (not a pushover),
to dismantle settlements as part of his poisoned Gaza withdrawal. But
Obama never did anything like that, and over eight years Netanyahu
discovered he could walk all over Obama, ensuring that the US would
never challenge Israel in an international forum. Given that the
UNSCR resolution does nothing more than reiterate four decades of
US policy, the real question isn't why Obama didn't veto it. It's
why Obama didn't direct his ambassador to vote for it, indeed why
he didn't sponsor the resolution eight years ago, when it might have
been more effective -- when at least it would have served notice
that the US is serious about peace and justice in the Middle East.
Rather, Obama wasted eight years digging ever deeper holes in the
region, obliterating any doubts that the US could ever be a force
for peace, security, and equitable prosperity.
Of course, Netanyahu and his American political lackeys and
allies have gone ballistic over Obama's affront to Israeli power,
but that is less to punish him than to threaten Trump, who despite
his vaguer "America first" rhetoric has promised to be the most
servile American president ever. The vote stands, and hopefully
will help Palestinians seek justice in the international courts
system, but the intensity of the political rebuke that Obama's
belated gesture has raised, along with the imminent inauguration
of Trump, only goes to show how far the United States has strayed
from the ideals of international law and order, and cooperation,
that were once our best hope for world peace and prosperity. Trump
has, for instance, vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in
flagrant disregard for international law -- although that's pretty
minor compared to the practices Jeremy Scahill documents in Dirty
Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- his big book on how Bush
and Obama ran roughshod over international law to prosecute their
misguided "war on terror." The significance of the 14-0 UNSCR vote
isn't just that it shows how isolated and delegitimized Israel has
become in the eyes of the world. It also shows how marginal the US
has become after decades pursuing policies Israel has pioneered.
One clear conclusion must be that any notion the US might once
have had of being an "honest broker" for peace have vanished. If
Europe, Russia, China, etc., really want to do something to bring
peace and justice to Israel-Palestine, they're going to start with
the recognition that the US is a big part of the problem and no or
little part of the solution. Obama, Trump, and Netanyahu, each in
his own way, have helped clarify that point.
Richard Silverstein: Kerry's Speech: America Lost in Two-State Ether,
Israel Spied on Nations Supporting UN Vote.
Dennis Laumann: The first genocide of the 20th century happened in
Namibia: The party responsible was Germany, the time 1904-07,
the territory South-West Africa, the target the Herero, a tribe of
herders who got on the colonial power's wrong side mostly by just
being in the way. Laumann describes the Ottoman genocide against
the Armenians in 1915 as "indisputable" but it was nowhere near as
clear cut as Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha's Vernichtungsbefehl, which
specified: "Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed
or unarmed, with or without cattle, shall be shot." Oddly enough, I
first learned about this event from a novel, Thomas Pynchon's V.,
where it appears as a key link in a chain of increasingly mechanized
slaughter. Also worth seeking out is Sven Lindqvist's book "Exterminate
All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the
Origins of European Genocide, which puts the Herero genocide into
the broader context of European colonial brutality, making it more
the culmination of the 19th century than a harbinger of the 20th.
Reihan Salam: Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter? Sub-hed:
"We're on the cusp of either a transformative presidency or a party-killing
failure" -- oddly conflating Ronald Reagan with the former and Herbert
Hoover with the latter. I've never doubted that it's important to know
of and learn from history, but this sort of muddying makes me wonder.
The pairings suggest that Salam is uncertain whether Trump will be seen
as a winner (like Roosevelt-Reagan) or a loser (Hoover-Carter), so that's
one level of ignorance he brings to the table. Another is that while
Roosevelt is properly viewed as "transformational" that status is rooted
in his unique time period (the depression, which forced the state to
become a major economic factor, and the war, which transformed the state
into empire). On the other hand, there was nothing distinctive about
the Carter-Reagan years, and the myth of Reagan's success was largely
based on ignoring reality and engaging in fantasy -- the bankruptcy of
which would have long been obvious had not Democrats like Clinton, Gore,
and Obama not built their own careers on indulging that same fantasy.
At most, this article might have exposed the hollowness of this PoliSci
paradigm, but Salam rarely offers more than lines like "Trump will put
a candy-covered nationalist shell over Reaganism's chocolate-covered
peanut." Peanut? Wasn't Carter the peanut guy? Wasn't Reagan more into
Actually, Salam does try to make a case that some sort of Trumpian
nationalism might be politically successful enough to move Trump into
the winners column, but this would involve building on ideas from the
center-left, including embracing and defending the safety net. Whether
even such a hypothetical program might work isn't analyzed, but the
more obvious problems are touched on: that Republican regulars would
sabotage any gestures he might make toward the center, and that Trump
himself isn't really serious about the platform he ran on (as evidenced,
for instance, by his cabinet). Of course, someone who knows a little
history might help out here. One might argue that Hoover, for instance,
would actually have preferred to move toward what became the New Deal
but that he was checked at every step by the dead-enders within his
own administration (e.g., Andrew Mellon). One might equally argue that
Carter wanted to move toward what eventually became Reaganism -- he
did in fact start the recession that broke the back of the American
labor movement, and his anti-regulation schemes and anti-communist
militancy paved the way for Reagan, but he too faced a debilitating
revolt from his own party. Whatever people thought when they voted
for Trump, what they wound up with was a politician deep in hock to
his party and the insatiable greed of their donors, and that's more
or less the only thing he'll ever be able to deliver. If you think
that's going to be some kind of booming, transformational success,
well, you're fucking nuts.
Steven Waldman: The Strangest Winner on Election Night Was Not Trump:
He means the Republican Congress, enjoying an approval rating of just
15%, yet they only lost two Senate and six House seats, retaining a
thin but anomalous and ominous majority.
And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades,
and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.
How did this happen? While Trump occasionally clashed with Republican
leaders during the campaign -- leading to the impression that he was at
war with the GOP establishment -- it was always over lack of fealty more
than policy. The main exception was trade but so as long as the Republican's
are "saying nice things" to Trump, he was perfectly happy to embrace almost
all of their policies. The rift with the GOP establishment was always less
Second, as has been often noted, Trump's lack of knowledge and curiosity
about policy has meant he is totally reliant on the people who have the
plans -- who are congressional republicans, K street lobbyists and industry
groups. There is no shadow world of public policy centers crafting a Trumpian
alternative to Republican orthodoxy. With the exception of trade and
immigration, Trump's views are standard issue Republican policies, albeit
sprinkled with extra bile.
Finally, because so much of the GOP power is safeguarded by gerrymandering,
congressional Republicans can act like they have a mandate without much fear
that swing voters will punish them.
All in all, it adds up to an odd situation: the Republican party is less
popular than its been in ages -- and has more power.
One part of why this happened was that the GOP donor network focused
on down-ballot races, which had the effect of lifting Trump up without
having to bear all his dead weight. Indeed, all they needed to close
the deal was to convince their voters that Hillary was a tad worse, or
that they had nothing to lose by giving Trump a chance. Indeed, they
seemed to understand that in the end Trump would turn into the party
toady he's since become. The other part is that the Democrats focused
on supporting Hillary over, and free from, their party -- all those
appeals to "moderate suburban Republican housewives" and neocons and
other chimerical groups. The biggest gripe I've had against Obama and
the Clintons is how they've neglected building a party to compete with
the Republicans, instead usurping the party apparatus for their own
cult of personality (and appeals to elite donors).
Also, a few links very briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Barack Obama's Crash Course in Foreign Policy
Phyllis Bennis: Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of
Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview
Nate Cohn: How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for
David Dayen: Trump's Transition Team Is Stacked With Privatization
Enthusiasts: "If these officials get their way, America's schools,
roads, prisons, immigrant-detention centers, and critical social-insurance
programs will soon fall into private hands."
Eric Foner: American Radicals and the Change We Could Believe In
Paul Glastris/Nancy LeTourneau: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments,
Revisited: Useful, but still when I read most of these I find
myself thinking "but"; e.g., number seven is "Ended U.S. Combat
Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," but then he restarted both of
them, so it's unclear exactly what he accomplished there. And in
many more cases, he did such a poor job of defending them politically
that they are likely to be undone rather easily by Trump and the
Republican Congress. Still, the most remarkable item on the list,
one Trump is certain to reverse but unable to repeal, is: "50.
Avoided Scandal: Became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower
to serve two terms with no serious personal or political scandal."
Michelle Goldberg: Why Did Planned Parenthood Supporters Vote
Tony Karon: Trump's challenge is to reflect the people's will
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of
Steady Employment: Refers to a recent book by David Weil: The
Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be
Dont to Improve It. This reminds me that one of the biggest political
losses in recent years has been the idea of countervailing power: that we
need counterbalances against any concentration of power. The worst trend
in recent years has been the increasing dominance of corporations over
their employees. Indeed, many people get a glimpse of what life under
fascist dictatorship is like every day they go to work.
Laila Lalami: What Happened to the Change We Once Believed In
Martin Longman: Why the GOP Can't Repeal Obamacare
Barry C Lynn: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom:
Actually, he means the party that brings antitrust enforcement back
into play, to break up monopolies and end the rents they charge that
are one of the leading causes of economic inequality.
One of the by-products of monopolization is the concentration of
economic growth in a few metro areas, mainly along the coasts, while
heartland areas fall behind. It is no coincidence that this pattern
of growing regional inequality looks remarkably like the 2016 electoral
Lynn has been harping on this theme for quite a while. See,
especially, his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and
the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Karl Marlantes: Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust
Paul Offit: The Very Real Threat of Trump's Climate Denialism:
As someone who owns some very expensive beachfront property, you'd
think Donald Trump would be more concerned about the global warming
which is almost certain to wipe out his investment, but in fact he's
nominated petro-industry shills Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to the
most relevant government positions.
Jeremy Scahill: Alleged Target of Drone Strike That Killed American
Teenager Is Alive, According to State Department: Target was
Ibrahim al Banna. The collateral damage was Abdulrahman Awlaki, the
son of US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was also killed by an
Obama drone in 2009.
Daniel Stid: Why the GOP Congress Will Stop Trump From Going Too
Far: Maybe once in a blue moon, but the fact that an article
like this can even be written shows that pundits have yet to face
up to the fact that the real loonies in the Republican government
are the ones in Congress. I'd take more seriously a title like
"Will Trump Stop the GOP Congress From Going Too Far?" -- I think
the answer is no, basically because he's too lazy and careless
and doesn't really give a shit, but at least that's a question
one should think about -- if only to be conscious when he fails.
Steven Strauss: The Clintons have done enough damage: "Let me
make a suggestion to Bill and Hillary Clinton: You've done quite
enough damage. Keep your money and stay out of politics."
Matt Taibbi: Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman's New Book:
This is great satire, but I find it interesting that what Taibbi
sees as Friedman's only real idea -- "that technology was racing
past humanity's ability to govern itself wisely" -- is actually
true and important, so I'm left wondering why Friedman has never
managed to write anything insightful or interesting about it. Of
course, I haven't actually read much Friedman -- satire seems
to cover that need quite well -- but my own reflection is that
living in a world where we depend more and more on technology
that we rarely understand means that it is ever more important
that we develop trust, which means creating social constraints
so that the few people who do master this technology won't use
it against us. This flies directly in the face of actual policies
such as patents and protection of corporate trade secrets. This,
of course, never occurs to Friedman because he already trusts
the masters of technology to use their greed for public good.
Matt Taibbi: The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump's White House:
Even though they spent all that money to weasel their way into Hillary
Clilnton's White House, you must have suspected that Goldman Sachs
would have a Plan B. This is it.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump Taps Bear Stearns Economist Who Said Not to
Worry About Credit Crisis for Key Treasury Job: "Talk about
Set Freed Wessler: Donald Trump's Looming Mass Criminalization
Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't
share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all
text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):
TOP 10 REASONS FOR SINGLE PAYER
- Everybody in, nobody out
- Portability: Change jobs, get divorced, lose your job, etc. - won't lose coverage
- Uniform benefits for everyone
- Enhance Prevention
- Choose your physician
- Ends insurance industry interference with care
- Reduces administrative waste
- Saves money
- Common Sense Budgeting - set fair reimbursements and apply them equally
- Public oversight, public ownership
This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true,
and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the
problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly
parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is
better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit
health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and
inefficiencies is more complex.