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:
Zoë 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 clichés 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 cliché. 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:
Zoë 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 über alles"), which left
Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The
conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's
the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford
food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income
inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He
rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives,
he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated
to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan
élite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper
international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to
sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy,
a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration:
these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds
but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways
of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry
has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track
records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically
heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant
in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more
attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to
serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and
everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we
needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too
fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being
equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately
need more unity."
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to
Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters
recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying
serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple
and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign
intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions."
[ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called
Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he
didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do
more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about
religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of
occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's
seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would
be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist
who is misconstrued as an extremist.
Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social
order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic
or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in
that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the
traditional pecking order.
The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's
arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that
Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers
rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably
others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would
affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican
(much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the
effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The
post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like
suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better
dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they
no longer cared about the consequences.
The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply
confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality
is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get
pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust,
but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society.
Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging
Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 --
American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad
Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have
been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality
are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the
conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits
policy to flow ever further to the right.
I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced
the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without
embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has
become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base
didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco
Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the
support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for
by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence
and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that
Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy
while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the
imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only
question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage
his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't
strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to
help anyone else out.
Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a
truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his
failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines
an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions
to ridiculous ends.
Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President
in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell.
I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ
mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as
soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming
more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only
drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.
While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since
Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been
part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party
platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders --
was the plank restored.
This also ties into
Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Weak Labor Market: President Obama Hides Behind Automation:
Actually, I think Obama is right at the big picture level -- the main
source of losses in most job categories is automation rather than trade
or finance, but Baker is right at a more detailed level: it's political
policies that shape how automation, trade, and finance wreak their havoc,
and for a half-century or so those policies have favored capital over
labor, to an extent that has gone beyond unjust to downright cruel.
Baker has some of his pet examples, and points to a new book he has
written, available as a free PDF or Ebook:
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were
Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Tom Cahill: Democrats Lock Hands with Republicans and Big Pharma to
Screw Over Americans: Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar offered
an amendment to allow imports of prescription drugs, which would
undercut the industry's monopoly pricing in the US. Twelve Republicans
voted for the amendment, so its loss can squarely be blamed on thirteen
Democrats -- notably Cory Booker, who's raised over $400K from drug
companies. Also see:
Zach Cartwright: Bernie Sanders Shreds Fellow Democrats Who Voted with
Big Pharma, and, what the hell, Martin Longman's defensive brief,
The Stupid War on Cory Booker..
Patrick Cockburn: The Dodgy Trump Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over
Matthew Cole: The Crimes of SEAL Team 6: I've been reading Jeremy
Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, so I'm already
familiar with some of this.
Michelle Goldberg: "This Evil Is All Around Us": On Trump's future
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo ("amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the
Trump transition, however, Pompeo's extremism has been overlooked").
Personally, I've always found him much less of a religious fanatic than
Todd Tiahrt, the truly horrible man he replaced, but that's an awfully
low bar. Unrelated aside: The Eagle ran a piece on Pompeo's finances,
characterizing him as
"an average American" in contrast to Trump's billionaires, disclosing
that assets only add up to $345K -- not much for a guy who campaigns on
his record of building businesses, or even for a guy who draws $174K/year
as a member of Congress. Makes you wonder how good of a manager he really
Greg Grandin: Why Did the US Drop 26,171 Bombs on the World Last Year?
Moreover, I doubt that counts the ones "allies" like Israel and Saudi
Arabia dropped with our blessing.
John Judis: America's Failure -- and Russia and Iran's Success -- in
Syria's Cataclysmic Civil War: Interview with Joshua Landis, who
knows more than Judis does.
Allegra Kirkland: GOP Senator: 'Yeah,' Trump's Cabinet Picks Should Be
Treated Differently: James Inhofe (R-OK), but he only has the least
filter between what passes for his brain and the orifice he utters his
thoughts through. But Republicans have always supported double standards,
much like they always support the powerful beating down on those they
perceive as week. Only Democrats believe in fair play, equal treatment,
or underdogs. Don't you know that?
Dahlia Lithwick: Jason Chaffetz Doesn't Care About Ethics: Chafetz
is a Republican congressman, head of the House Oversight Committee, and
the one ethical issue he seems to be concerned about is Walter Shaub (of
"the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics") being at all critical of
Trump's numerous conflicts of interest.
Nancy LeTourneau: Being Outnumbered Doesn't Have to Mean Losing:
Posted back in August, before the prime example of its thesis became
infamous. Book review of Zachary Roth's The Great Suppression:
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on
Democracy. Recommended to all you Democrats out there who're
wondering whether you need to bone up on Putin to better understand
Melissa Murray/Kathleen Geier/Catherine Powell: What Happens to a
Feminist Dream Deferred?
Matt Taibbi: Trump Nominee Jay Clayton Will Be the Most Conflicted SEC
Chair Ever: Taibbi doesn't seem to consider FDR's SEC pick, Joseph
Kennedy Sr., who had some pretty huge conflicts of interest, but back
in the 1930s tigers were expected to change their stripes when they
became public servants -- an expectation that seems completely alien
to this hyperindividualistic revolving door era. Also helped that FDR
himself was devoted to the public interest, something that never seems
to have occurred to Trump.
Sunday, January 8. 2017
After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack
out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just
a few things that caught my fancy.
Some scattered links this week:
Jamelle Bouie: The Most Extreme Party Coalition Since the Civil War:
The first book I read on alternative politics back in the 1960s was called
The New Radicals, a survey of various thinkers and activists on the
New Left. In it, radicals were people who looked for root causes and core
principles, as opposed to those who casually wandered from one compromise
to another. While it's certainly true that radicals can be wrong, and that
they can become obsessed by their insights and oblivious to consequences,
the problem there is picking bad principles, not radical ones. In fact,
the only other time when "radical" was commonly used to describe politics
was after the Civil War, when the GOP was dominated by so-called radicals
like Thaddeus Stevens who advocated a deep-seated reconstruction of the
former Slave South. Bouie is right that today's GOP is chock full of folks
who hold very dangerous views, but those people are not radicals -- they're
just wrong. Indeed, in terms of their eagerness to impose their ideology
on a world that has moved way past it, they share much more than attitude
with pro-slavery activists like John Calhoun than with Republicans like
Stevens. But as Corey Robin has pointed out, the proper term for Calhoun
and his ilk isn't radical -- it's conservative. The first thing Bouie must
do to get smarter is to disabuse himself of the notion that conservatism
is a respectable political philosophy. Leftists learned this lesson long
ago, which is why they readily identify people who are willing to wreck
the world to save the rich -- people like Trump, Pence, and Ryan -- as
fascists. That may seem reflexive and excessive, but it serves us well.
Gorbachev: US Was Short-Sighted After Soviet Collapse: So true,
but America's effective policy toward the former Soviet Union was to
rub their faces in the dirt. We helped turn their collectivist economy
into a Mafia-run kleptocracy. The result was near-total economic collapse --
so severe that even life expectancy dipped by as much as a decade. And
to add insult to injury, the US started picking off former satellite
nations and SSRs that formerly propped up the Russian economy and turned
them westward, hugely expanding both NATO and the EU. This produced a
huge backlash in Russia, and its face is Vladimir Putin, a guy we fear
and loathe as a nationalist strongman, but who Russians flock to precisely
because he doesn't look like as an American flunky. Sure, it's not clear
why the US didn't handle the situation more adroitly, but from the start
American Cold Warriors did everything they could to prevent any form of
free/open/humane socialism from securing a foothold anywhere. Americans
always preferred to work through corrupt strongmen, and even if Yeltsin
didn't qualify as strong, he more than made it up as corrupt. Those who
complain so much about Putin today should bear this history in mind,
but the lesson they draw is inevitably wrong, because we are incapable
of considering what would be good for the welfare of people in other
nations -- Republicans, especially, don't even care about people living
here. And the only thing the foreign policy mandarins consider is whether
foreign leaders follow or challenge America's power dictates.
Bradley Klapper/Josef Federman/Edith M Lederer: US Rebukes and Allows
UN Condemnation of Settlements: Widely interpreted as a "parting shot"
rebuke of Netanyahu by the Obama administration, the fact is that it's
been US policy since 1967 that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967
armistice borders as part of a "land-for-peace" deal, a scheme which
later came to be described as "the two-state solution." That was,
after all, the basis for George Mitchell's mission to restart final
status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and before
that was the official expectation for Bush's Roadmap, for the Clinton-era
Oslo Accords, and for Carter's peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Mitchell himself spent most of his mission time trying to convince
Israel to halt settlement construction, and his complete failure to
limit Israel destroyed any hope for an American-brokered peace. In
past years, the intransigence of an Israeli PM like Yitzhak Shamir
would have led to a breach with the US, rectified by Israel electing
a more flexible leader (Yitzhak Rabin). Even GW Bush was able to put
pressure on Israel, at the time led by Ariel Sharon (not a pushover),
to dismantle settlements as part of his poisoned Gaza withdrawal. But
Obama never did anything like that, and over eight years Netanyahu
discovered he could walk all over Obama, ensuring that the US would
never challenge Israel in an international forum. Given that the
UNSCR resolution does nothing more than reiterate four decades of
US policy, the real question isn't why Obama didn't veto it. It's
why Obama didn't direct his ambassador to vote for it, indeed why
he didn't sponsor the resolution eight years ago, when it might have
been more effective -- when at least it would have served notice
that the US is serious about peace and justice in the Middle East.
Rather, Obama wasted eight years digging ever deeper holes in the
region, obliterating any doubts that the US could ever be a force
for peace, security, and equitable prosperity.
Of course, Netanyahu and his American political lackeys and
allies have gone ballistic over Obama's affront to Israeli power,
but that is less to punish him than to threaten Trump, who despite
his vaguer "America first" rhetoric has promised to be the most
servile American president ever. The vote stands, and hopefully
will help Palestinians seek justice in the international courts
system, but the intensity of the political rebuke that Obama's
belated gesture has raised, along with the imminent inauguration
of Trump, only goes to show how far the United States has strayed
from the ideals of international law and order, and cooperation,
that were once our best hope for world peace and prosperity. Trump
has, for instance, vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in
flagrant disregard for international law -- although that's pretty
minor compared to the practices Jeremy Scahill documents in Dirty
Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- his big book on how Bush
and Obama ran roughshod over international law to prosecute their
misguided "war on terror." The significance of the 14-0 UNSCR vote
isn't just that it shows how isolated and delegitimized Israel has
become in the eyes of the world. It also shows how marginal the US
has become after decades pursuing policies Israel has pioneered.
One clear conclusion must be that any notion the US might once
have had of being an "honest broker" for peace have vanished. If
Europe, Russia, China, etc., really want to do something to bring
peace and justice to Israel-Palestine, they're going to start with
the recognition that the US is a big part of the problem and no or
little part of the solution. Obama, Trump, and Netanyahu, each in
his own way, have helped clarify that point.
Richard Silverstein: Kerry's Speech: America Lost in Two-State Ether,
Israel Spied on Nations Supporting UN Vote.
Dennis Laumann: The first genocide of the 20th century happened in
Namibia: The party responsible was Germany, the time 1904-07,
the territory South-West Africa, the target the Herero, a tribe of
herders who got on the colonial power's wrong side mostly by just
being in the way. Laumann describes the Ottoman genocide against
the Armenians in 1915 as "indisputable" but it was nowhere near as
clear cut as Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha's Vernichtungsbefehl, which
specified: "Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed
or unarmed, with or without cattle, shall be shot." Oddly enough, I
first learned about this event from a novel, Thomas Pynchon's V.,
where it appears as a key link in a chain of increasingly mechanized
slaughter. Also worth seeking out is Sven Lindqvist's book "Exterminate
All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the
Origins of European Genocide, which puts the Herero genocide into
the broader context of European colonial brutality, making it more
the culmination of the 19th century than a harbinger of the 20th.
Reihan Salam: Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter? Sub-hed:
"We're on the cusp of either a transformative presidency or a party-killing
failure" -- oddly conflating Ronald Reagan with the former and Herbert
Hoover with the latter. I've never doubted that it's important to know
of and learn from history, but this sort of muddying makes me wonder.
The pairings suggest that Salam is uncertain whether Trump will be seen
as a winner (like Roosevelt-Reagan) or a loser (Hoover-Carter), so that's
one level of ignorance he brings to the table. Another is that while
Roosevelt is properly viewed as "transformational" that status is rooted
in his unique time period (the depression, which forced the state to
become a major economic factor, and the war, which transformed the state
into empire). On the other hand, there was nothing distinctive about
the Carter-Reagan years, and the myth of Reagan's success was largely
based on ignoring reality and engaging in fantasy -- the bankruptcy of
which would have long been obvious had not Democrats like Clinton, Gore,
and Obama not built their own careers on indulging that same fantasy.
At most, this article might have exposed the hollowness of this PoliSci
paradigm, but Salam rarely offers more than lines like "Trump will put
a candy-covered nationalist shell over Reaganism's chocolate-covered
peanut." Peanut? Wasn't Carter the peanut guy? Wasn't Reagan more into
Actually, Salam does try to make a case that some sort of Trumpian
nationalism might be politically successful enough to move Trump into
the winners column, but this would involve building on ideas from the
center-left, including embracing and defending the safety net. Whether
even such a hypothetical program might work isn't analyzed, but the
more obvious problems are touched on: that Republican regulars would
sabotage any gestures he might make toward the center, and that Trump
himself isn't really serious about the platform he ran on (as evidenced,
for instance, by his cabinet). Of course, someone who knows a little
history might help out here. One might argue that Hoover, for instance,
would actually have preferred to move toward what became the New Deal
but that he was checked at every step by the dead-enders within his
own administration (e.g., Andrew Mellon). One might equally argue that
Carter wanted to move toward what eventually became Reaganism -- he
did in fact start the recession that broke the back of the American
labor movement, and his anti-regulation schemes and anti-communist
militancy paved the way for Reagan, but he too faced a debilitating
revolt from his own party. Whatever people thought when they voted
for Trump, what they wound up with was a politician deep in hock to
his party and the insatiable greed of their donors, and that's more
or less the only thing he'll ever be able to deliver. If you think
that's going to be some kind of booming, transformational success,
well, you're fucking nuts.
Steven Waldman: The Strangest Winner on Election Night Was Not Trump:
He means the Republican Congress, enjoying an approval rating of just
15%, yet they only lost two Senate and six House seats, retaining a
thin but anomalous and ominous majority.
And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades,
and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.
How did this happen? While Trump occasionally clashed with Republican
leaders during the campaign -- leading to the impression that he was at
war with the GOP establishment -- it was always over lack of fealty more
than policy. The main exception was trade but so as long as the Republican's
are "saying nice things" to Trump, he was perfectly happy to embrace almost
all of their policies. The rift with the GOP establishment was always less
Second, as has been often noted, Trump's lack of knowledge and curiosity
about policy has meant he is totally reliant on the people who have the
plans -- who are congressional republicans, K street lobbyists and industry
groups. There is no shadow world of public policy centers crafting a Trumpian
alternative to Republican orthodoxy. With the exception of trade and
immigration, Trump's views are standard issue Republican policies, albeit
sprinkled with extra bile.
Finally, because so much of the GOP power is safeguarded by gerrymandering,
congressional Republicans can act like they have a mandate without much fear
that swing voters will punish them.
All in all, it adds up to an odd situation: the Republican party is less
popular than its been in ages -- and has more power.
One part of why this happened was that the GOP donor network focused
on down-ballot races, which had the effect of lifting Trump up without
having to bear all his dead weight. Indeed, all they needed to close
the deal was to convince their voters that Hillary was a tad worse, or
that they had nothing to lose by giving Trump a chance. Indeed, they
seemed to understand that in the end Trump would turn into the party
toady he's since become. The other part is that the Democrats focused
on supporting Hillary over, and free from, their party -- all those
appeals to "moderate suburban Republican housewives" and neocons and
other chimerical groups. The biggest gripe I've had against Obama and
the Clintons is how they've neglected building a party to compete with
the Republicans, instead usurping the party apparatus for their own
cult of personality (and appeals to elite donors).
Also, a few links very briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Barack Obama's Crash Course in Foreign Policy
Phyllis Bennis: Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of
Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview
Nate Cohn: How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for
David Dayen: Trump's Transition Team Is Stacked With Privatization
Enthusiasts: "If these officials get their way, America's schools,
roads, prisons, immigrant-detention centers, and critical social-insurance
programs will soon fall into private hands."
Eric Foner: American Radicals and the Change We Could Believe In
Paul Glastris/Nancy LeTourneau: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments,
Revisited: Useful, but still when I read most of these I find
myself thinking "but"; e.g., number seven is "Ended U.S. Combat
Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," but then he restarted both of
them, so it's unclear exactly what he accomplished there. And in
many more cases, he did such a poor job of defending them politically
that they are likely to be undone rather easily by Trump and the
Republican Congress. Still, the most remarkable item on the list,
one Trump is certain to reverse but unable to repeal, is: "50.
Avoided Scandal: Became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower
to serve two terms with no serious personal or political scandal."
Michelle Goldberg: Why Did Planned Parenthood Supporters Vote
Tony Karon: Trump's challenge is to reflect the people's will
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of
Steady Employment: Refers to a recent book by David Weil: The
Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be
Dont to Improve It. This reminds me that one of the biggest political
losses in recent years has been the idea of countervailing power: that we
need counterbalances against any concentration of power. The worst trend
in recent years has been the increasing dominance of corporations over
their employees. Indeed, many people get a glimpse of what life under
fascist dictatorship is like every day they go to work.
Laila Lalami: What Happened to the Change We Once Believed In
Martin Longman: Why the GOP Can't Repeal Obamacare
Barry C Lynn: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom:
Actually, he means the party that brings antitrust enforcement back
into play, to break up monopolies and end the rents they charge that
are one of the leading causes of economic inequality.
One of the by-products of monopolization is the concentration of
economic growth in a few metro areas, mainly along the coasts, while
heartland areas fall behind. It is no coincidence that this pattern
of growing regional inequality looks remarkably like the 2016 electoral
Lynn has been harping on this theme for quite a while. See,
especially, his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and
the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Karl Marlantes: Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust
Paul Offit: The Very Real Threat of Trump's Climate Denialism:
As someone who owns some very expensive beachfront property, you'd
think Donald Trump would be more concerned about the global warming
which is almost certain to wipe out his investment, but in fact he's
nominated petro-industry shills Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to the
most relevant government positions.
Jeremy Scahill: Alleged Target of Drone Strike That Killed American
Teenager Is Alive, According to State Department: Target was
Ibrahim al Banna. The collateral damage was Abdulrahman Awlaki, the
son of US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was also killed by an
Obama drone in 2009.
Daniel Stid: Why the GOP Congress Will Stop Trump From Going Too
Far: Maybe once in a blue moon, but the fact that an article
like this can even be written shows that pundits have yet to face
up to the fact that the real loonies in the Republican government
are the ones in Congress. I'd take more seriously a title like
"Will Trump Stop the GOP Congress From Going Too Far?" -- I think
the answer is no, basically because he's too lazy and careless
and doesn't really give a shit, but at least that's a question
one should think about -- if only to be conscious when he fails.
Steven Strauss: The Clintons have done enough damage: "Let me
make a suggestion to Bill and Hillary Clinton: You've done quite
enough damage. Keep your money and stay out of politics."
Matt Taibbi: Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman's New Book:
This is great satire, but I find it interesting that what Taibbi
sees as Friedman's only real idea -- "that technology was racing
past humanity's ability to govern itself wisely" -- is actually
true and important, so I'm left wondering why Friedman has never
managed to write anything insightful or interesting about it. Of
course, I haven't actually read much Friedman -- satire seems
to cover that need quite well -- but my own reflection is that
living in a world where we depend more and more on technology
that we rarely understand means that it is ever more important
that we develop trust, which means creating social constraints
so that the few people who do master this technology won't use
it against us. This flies directly in the face of actual policies
such as patents and protection of corporate trade secrets. This,
of course, never occurs to Friedman because he already trusts
the masters of technology to use their greed for public good.
Matt Taibbi: The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump's White House:
Even though they spent all that money to weasel their way into Hillary
Clilnton's White House, you must have suspected that Goldman Sachs
would have a Plan B. This is it.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump Taps Bear Stearns Economist Who Said Not to
Worry About Credit Crisis for Key Treasury Job: "Talk about
Set Freed Wessler: Donald Trump's Looming Mass Criminalization
Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't
share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all
text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):
TOP 10 REASONS FOR SINGLE PAYER
- Everybody in, nobody out
- Portability: Change jobs, get divorced, lose your job, etc. - won't lose coverage
- Uniform benefits for everyone
- Enhance Prevention
- Choose your physician
- Ends insurance industry interference with care
- Reduces administrative waste
- Saves money
- Common Sense Budgeting - set fair reimbursements and apply them equally
- Public oversight, public ownership
This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true,
and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the
problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly
parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is
better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit
health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and
inefficiencies is more complex.
Sunday, December 18. 2016
I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely
predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're
David Atkins: Democrats Should Hope the Economic Populists Are
More than a month after the election, a war of words and ideas still
rages on the left between the Sanders-leaning economic populists and
the more establishment defenders of the Clinton campaign. Broadly
speaking, the contours of the argument center around whether Clinton
could have done more from a populist messaging standpoint to appeal
to white working class Rust Belt voters and to disaffected voters who
stayed home, or whether Clinton's overall approach was good, but that
she was overwhelmed by the prejudices of white voters and stabbed in
the back by Comey, Russia, and various parts of the progressive left.
I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react:
well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support
than she would have given us over the next four years had she won.
And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably,
even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of
people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted
for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next
four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform,
because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans
into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what
we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left
weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's
problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it
wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy
people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing
to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief
backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.
There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to
make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate
real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the
emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways
that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at
the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the
former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are
beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity
there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long
term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially
effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the
sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.
Lauren Fox: Obama: 'Reagan Would Roll Over in His Grave' Over GOP
Support for Russia: One of Obama's strangest quirks is his
continuing affection for Ronald Reagan, even to the point of
imagining he's some sort of kindly national father-figure far
removed from his actual history and legacy. It's not as if Obama
wasn't conscious during the Reagan administration -- he was 18
when it started -- but he didn't have the Vietnam War to inform
his politics at that age (like I did), so maybe he's normalized
his memory in some way those of us who can recall Reagan from
his days as governor of California in the 1960s cannot. (Maybe
he's conflated Reagan with his first experiences of getting high
and getting laid?) In any
case, his comment reflects a simpler misunderstanding. Reagan's
wailing about the Soviet Union was purely ideological -- even
when he framed it as some sort of Manichaean struggle between
good and evil -- he never went off on nationalist rants against
the Russians, nor did he grasp the neoconservative doctrine that
seeks to punish any nation that isn't sufficiently obsequious
to American power. Moreover, like all conservatives of his era
(and for that matter today), he appreciated the efficient order
that dictators abroad offered -- one might even say he preferred
them to the risks of unruly democracy America itself posed. So
why on earth would Reagan be disturbed by Trump's fondness for
Putin? -- a fellow plutocrat who's willing to cut corners when
it comes to democratic niceties to consolidate the power of his
favored cronies? It's not like conservatives care any more about
ordinary Russians than they do about ordinary Americans.
Liberals (and leftists), at least, can offer a plausible claim
to caring about iniquities around the world, because they care
about them at home, and recognize that the rest of the world isn't
that different. Still, nothing Obama (nor any of the Democrats who
have lately been obsessed with Russian meddling in our election)
has said indicates any concern for the Russian people. Rather, he
has simply fallen for the post-Cold War neoconservative line that
demonizes any nation outside of America's "security" umbrella --
especially any political leaders who think they have any interests
beyond their own borders (as Russia does with Syria and Ukraine).
The neocons motives are pretty transparent: they like to puff up
Russia and China as rivals and enemies to justify America's expensive
indulgence in world-threatening arms. On the other hand, it's just
plain ignorant and lazy for Democrats like Obama (and the Clintons)
to take up the neocon cudgel against Russia. It leads to greater
militarization, less diplomacy, a world torn into hostile camps
where America rules by brute intimidation, and has ceded any
motivation except for self-interest.
As for the "Russian hack" of the election, which is presumably
the imagined (if not the real) inspiration for Obama's attempt at
Sam Kriss: The Rise of the Alt-Center, or as the subhed put
it, "Why did establishment liberals fall in love with a deranged
Twitter thread?" Or as the link I followed read: "Establishment
Liberals Have Lost Their Damn Minds." The tweet thread was by
Eric Garland, and Kriss adds a full paragraph of liberal praise,
including "if there were a Pulitzer for tweeting -- this thread
would be the updisputed winner of 2016." Kriss continues:
Clearly something horrifying has happened to America's great liberal
intellects. One moment they were yapping along in the train of a
historic political movement; now, ragged and destitute, they wander
with lolling tongues in search of anything that might explain their
new world to them. This is, after all, how cults get started. Cultists
will venerate any messianic mediocrity and any set of half-baked
spiritual dogmas; it's not the overt content that matters but the
security of knowing. If Trump's devoted hype squad of pustulent,
oleaginous neo-Nazis can now be euphemized as the "alt-right," the
Eichenwalds and Jefferys of the world might have turned themselves
into something similar: an alt-center, pushing its own failed
political doctrine with all the same vehemence, idiocy, and spleen.
So it's strange, but not surprising, that so many people would sing
the praises of Garland's masterpiece, because it is absolutely the
worst piece of political writing ever inflicted on any public in
human history. [ . . . ]
Whatever Russia did or didn't do, the idea that its interference
is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and
absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be
summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the
country's highest-ranking Democrat: "For every blue-collar Democrat
we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate
Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that
in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." As it turned out, he was fatally
wrong. It wasn't the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon
the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral
base. It wasn't the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign
that offered people nothing but blackmail -- "vote for us or Dangerous
Donald wins." The Russians didn't come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases
like "I'm with her" or "America is already great." The Russians never
ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the
country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did
that all by themselves.
Barack Obama's presidency will be defined by his failure to face
down Assad: No, Obama's presidency has been defined by his
failure to face down the real threat to the security and welfare
of the American people: the Republicans. He's done this by not
blaming them for their misdeeds. He's done this by not breaking
with their failed policies -- above all the wars against Muslims,
but also much of their domestic policy. And he's done this by
not offering real alternatives, and by not supporting his party
or its voters. As for Syria, sure, he screwed up, but not for
backing away from the "red line" over chemical weapons -- pace,
the author, he won the only meaningful resolution of that issue,
and did it diplomatically (the only way that would stick). But
in his early rejection of Assad, his congenital antipathy to
Russia and Iran, his willingness to give supposed allies (like
Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) a free hand to pursue radically
opposed goals), and his general belief in the effectiveness of
military might (and his continued support for the most clandestine
and irresponsible American warmakers), he made sure the US would
be a much bigger part of the problem than of the solution.
And briefly noted:
Eli Clifton: John Bolton's Cozy Relationship With Anti-Muslim Hate Groups
Should Disqualify Him From Public Service: Sure, but even when the
people pick up his paycheck he's never worked a day of public service in
his life. As a diplomat who refuses to negotiate (or even meet), he is a
prime example of how Republicans undermine government by undermining
Pedro Nicolai Da Costa: Why the Trump Economic Boom Will Never Come:
"subsidized deal-making and tax cuts for the rich are the surest sign
of a bubble."
Susan McWilliams: This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism.
His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy: By a former US ambassador to Israel, not someone
you'd ever take to be anti-Israel. The new guy is David Friedman, a
real piece of work.
Albert Mohler: The Post-Truth Era -- Welcome to the Age of Dishonesty:
review of Ralph Keyes' book, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and
Deception in Contemporary Life. I found this while trying to track
down a 1992 article by Steve Tesich called "A Government of Lies" --
evidently the original source for the "post-truth" meme, but seems to
only be available through subscription services.
Mark Joseph Stern: North Carolina Republicans' Legislative Coup Is an
Attack on Democracy: Republican Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded
his defeat in the North Carolina gubernatorial race this year after
drawing out the ugliest recount tantrums in recent history. Then, with
the Republican legislature, he schemed to change the game so incoming
Democratic governor Roy Cooper will have as little power as possible.
This is a textbook case of how the Republicans accept losing: mean and
ugly, totally devoid of faith in or respect for democracy.
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump's Pick for Interior
Secretary, and the Rising American Land Movements
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is going to be mad when he hears what his
appointees think about the TPP: "His top economic and foreign
policy advisers love it (as do his other advisers)." Well, you'd
think he'd be mad, but you didn't really believe anything he said
during the campaign? Now did you?
Sunday, December 11. 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little
else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40
years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical
of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure,
one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing
in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall
way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some
qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption.
And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally
distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has
never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic
fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own
bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving
others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that,
but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure
of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any
of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going
to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other
in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of
American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration,
titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with
their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not
the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately
know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past,
the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan)
combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture
of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his
business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals,
nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he
won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned
to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with
four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as
bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but
still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real
scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten
core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when
to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Trump Excuses the White Working Class From the Politics of
Personal Responsibility: The author has been reading JB Vance's
Hillbilly Elegy and detects some manner of irony:
Under Reagan, Republicans demanded personal responsibility from African
Americans and ignored the same cultural problems when displayed by whites.
Under Trump, Republicans acknowledge that whites exhibit those same
pathologies. Trump, for instance, spoke frequently during the campaign
about drug addiction in white, rural states like New Hampshire. But
instead of demanding personal responsibility, Trump's GOP promises
state protection. Unlike Vance, who speaks about his poor white neighbors
in the way Reagan-era conservatives spoke about poor blacks, Trump-era
conservatives describe the white working class as the victims of political
and economic forces beyond their control. Sounding a bit like Jesse Jackson
defending the black underclass in the 1980s, Trump Republicans say that
what the white underclass needs today is not moralistic sermonizing but
government assistance and cultural respect.
Of course, there is a simpler reason why Republicans would present
different sets of standards and prescriptions for white and blacks:
it's called racism. Such double standards are hardly novel. Nor was
"separate but equal" merely ironic. But Beinart is also wrong when he
thinks Trump intends to solve the problems of poor whites through
state actions. Like all Republicans since Reagan, his solution is to
reduce the political options of the state, reserving it for violence
against any challenges to authority, while allowing the private sector
to expand its power over workers, customers, and mere bystaders.
Rosa Brooks: Don't Freak Out About Trump's Cabinet Full of Generals:
I doubt I'd take Brooks seriously without knowing that her mother is
the brilliant left journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, as Brooks' own resume
paints her as an insider in Washington's foreign policy establishment,
a perch from which she's observed the creeping hegemonic encroachment
of military brass (her recent book is How Everything Became War and
the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon). So, yeah,
she's uncommonly comfortable with generals and admirals running things,
even respects and admires them. Still, she may be right that the problem
with all Trump's generals isn't that they'll upset the intricate checks
and balances the founding fathers devised, but she misses the real point:
that Trump's generals consummates a steady drift that started back in
WWII transforming the US military from a rarely-used last resort to an
everyday implement of world-hegemonic imperial policy. And sure, all
that (so far) happened before Trump, but in hiring those generals Trump
is demonstrating that his own foreign policy thinking is nothing more
than an echo of that long (and frankly disastrous) drift. Of course,
that should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention to him
during the long campaign. They only thing that doesn't alarm me about
the generals is the fact that I can think of even worse civilians to
hand power over to. (Brooks herself contrasts State candidates Rudy
Giuliani and David Petraeus, and she's got a point there, but I'm
still drawing a blank on who Michael Flynn is saving us from.)
Martin Longman: Breitbart Does Not Like Trump's Labor Pick:
So, if you
go look at the Breitbart website right now, you'll see an anti-Trump
headline that accuses him of nominating a Labor Secretary that prefers
foreign labor to American workers. And if you actually go ahead and read
the article, you'll see that it lashes out at Andy Puzder for standing
"diametrically opposed to Trump's signature issues on trade and
As an example, they cite his decision to "join forces with Michael
Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Rupert Murdoch's open borders lobbying firm,
the Partnership for a New American Economy, to call for 'free-market
solutions' to our immigration system." They also question Puzder's
support for "amnesty" and overall view him as a poster-boy for what
they oppose, which is bringing in low-wage immigrants that take jobs
from white Americans and suppress their wages.
The man Trump nominated to be Labor Secretary,
is CEO of a chain of fast food restaurants (Hardee's, Carl's Jr.), so
his labor expertise is in how to hire minimum wage, no benefit workers.
(His business experience includes taking his firm through a private
equity deal valued at more than $1 billion. The company generates $1.4
billion in revenues, operating in the US and 40 foreign countries.)
I'm not sure whether Puzder counts as one of Trump's billionaires, but
he comes pretty close.
One thing that worried me about the prospect of Sanders becoming
president was that the Democratic Party regulars -- the people he'd
have to draw on for appointments and support -- weren't ready to back
his "revolution." I never believed that Trump would veer significantly
from Republican Party orthodoxy, but I can see how those who did think
he offered something different -- notably the Breitbart crowd, and as
many "white populists" as you can count -- are likely to belatedly
discover the same problem. Much as Trump went with impeccably demented
Mike Pence as his VP, he's stocking his cabinet from the same stock of
Daniel Politi: Trump Explains Why He Rejects Daily Intelligence Briefings:
"I'm, Like, a Smart Person": I saw Michael Moore on Seth Myers the
other night making a big stink about how Trump has sloughed off going
to CIA briefings, and for once I thought, "good for Trump." As far as
I know, the first president to receive daily briefings was Shrub, and
the chemical reaction of misinformation-meets-ignorance there didn't
do anyone any good. Supposedly Obama tried to fix this by laying down
a rule -- "don't do stupid shit" -- but his own daily briefings allowed
all sorts of loopholes to that rule, backed by presidential authority.
The fact is that the "war on terror" isn't important enough to require
daily input and direction from the so-called Commander-in-Chief. A sane
president would simply, quietly wind it down, mostly by not encouraging
"stupid shit" to happen. The fact that Trump isn't a reasonable person,
that he pretty much campaigned on doing "stupid shit" all the time,
makes it even more important to steer him away from meetings about
killing people and embarrassing the country.
Nomi Prins: The Magnitude of Trump's Cronyism Is Off the Charts -- Even
for Washington: "The President-elect's incomplete cabinet is already
the richest one ever."
There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president
surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested
power-grabbers, but you'd have to return to Warren G. Harding's
administration in the early 1920s to find it. The "Roaring Twenties"
that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began,
ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as
well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under
Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the
deregulation of Wall Street. . . .
Harding's other main contributions to American history involved two
choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of
secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in
the years just preceding the Great Depression. And in a fashion that
now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth,
billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary. Mellon, a
Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National
Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for
which he'd be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary
(as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close
associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he
co-founded the Union Steel Company.
He promptly set to work -- and this will sound familiar today --
cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he
essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy "trusts"
that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in
companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash.
After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover's
administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes
and tax-related conflicts of interest.
Prins goes on to run down the wealth and interest conflicts of
several Trump picks, including Wilbur Ross ($2.9 billion, Commerce),
Betsy DeVos ($5.1 billion, Education), and Steven Mnuchin (up to $1
billion, Treasury, from Goldman Sachs). If, as reported, Trump picks
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, he's not going to
lower the average much.
Theda Skocpol/Alexander Hertel-Fernandez/Caroline Tervo: Behind "Make
America Great," the Koch Agenda Returns With a Vengeance: The Koch
network spent about $750 million on the 2016 elections, mostly on
down-ballot races that saved and shaped the Republican Congress,
and that is rapidly becoming the framework that shapes the Trump
presidency, even on issues where Trump publicly differed from the
Kochs and their cronies (like Scott Walker and Mario Rubio).
Publicly available numbers suggest that AFP's grassroots organizing
made a real difference -- and indirectly helped Trump, who had little
campaign capacity of his own. In Wisconsin, for instance, AFP claims
that it reached over 2.5 million voters in phone banking and canvassing
efforts. In North Carolina, AFP claimed over 1.2 million calls and
120,000 door-to-door efforts, or nearly the entire reported margin of
victory for Trump. And in Pennsylvania, AFP claims it made over 2.4
million phone calls and knocked on over 135,000 doors, more than twice
Trump's margin of victory in that state. AFP's grassroots efforts were
especially pronounced in Florida, where AFP boasts that its people
knocked on a record-breaking one million doors throughout the state
to help re-elect Senator Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton lost the state
by just over 100,000 votes. In all four of these states AFP helped to
re-elect the incumbent Republican Senator and make important down
ballot gains. Obviously, given what we know about the decline of
split ticking voting, most of the same citizens AFP mobilized for
state and Congressional contests also cast ballots for Donald Trump.
Jared Bernstein/Dean Baker: Why Trade Deficits Matter
Ben Castleman: Inequality Is Killing the American Dream
Sarah Chayes: It Was a Corruption Election. It's Time We Realized
Steve Coll: Rex Tillerson, From a Corporate Oil Sovereign to the State
David Dayen: Donald Trump Is Just Another Handmaiden to Capital
Rebecca Gordon: It's 2016, Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are
Greg Grandin: The Strange Career of American Exceptionalism: "and
Barack Obama's curious role as its most ardent recent champion and
Carl Levin/Jay Rockefeller: The Torture Report Must Be Saved:
"However, after Republicans took control of the Senate, the new
chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, took the unusual
step of trying to recall the full report that Senator Feinstein
had distributed -- to prevent it from ever being widely read or
declassified. . . . Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump,
there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the
Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden
indefinitely, or destroyed."
Jeff Madrick: How Much Did Alan Greenspan Really Know?: Review
of Sebastian Mallaby's book, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times
of Alan Greenspan.
Josh Marshall: Maybe the Answer Is That He Can't Divest; also the
He Won't Because He Can't. I'll add that the fact that Trump managed
to get away without releasing his tax returns simply because he never
did it sets a precedent for him not divesting or in any way distancing
himself from his business interests -- even though there are various
laws and some wording in the constitution that imply he has to. Even
if he did, his family is wrapped up in his business, and his business
is built around his name.
Sean McElwee/Jesse Rhodes/Brian Schaffner: Big Republican donors are
even more extreme than their party -- and they drive its agenda:
It strikes me that Trump has turned the tables on big party donors:
instead of doing their bidding, which is normal practice in Washington,
he's setting them up to take charge directly. (Betsy DeVos, Trump's
nominee for HEW Secretary, is perhaps the most flagrant example.)
Andrew McGill: Many of Trump's Own Supporters Don't Think He'll Fix
America: "Half expect their local communities to stay the same,
or get worse." That still strikes me as unreasonably optimistic, but
this report does damper what I had hoped would be the silver lining
of the election: that given complete power, people will finally
blame the Republicans for failing utterly.
William Saletan: Donald Trump's Locker Room: "he's always in the
locker room. He's always trying to endear himself to some people by
insulting others. If you're in the room, he's your buddy. If you're
not, you're just another pussy."
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here.
Alana Semuels: How to Kill the Middle Class: in Wisconsin, you do
it by killing off public sector unions.
Nobel Laureate Economist Says American Inequality Didn't Just Happen.
It Was Created: interview with Joseph E Stiglitz.
Jeffrey Toobin: The First Amendment After Hogan V. Gawker: "Sex
tapes, the Web site's demise, and what the Trump era means for press
Josh Voorhees: Pruitt's Plan to Make Climate Denialism Law: On
Trump's EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Also see:
Chris Mooney/Brady Dennis/Steven Mufson: Trump names Scott Pruit,
Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the
Stephen M Walt: 10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator:
On Trump, and more like "wants to be a dictator," which is really
the more relevant question.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is running the least popular transition
Trump's fast-food CEO Labor Department pick teaches us a lot about
Goldman Sachs alumni will likely have the 2 top Trump economic policy
jobs: the hits keep on coming.
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four
Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix,
one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality.
Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already
in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" --
not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich,
as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they
discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses
the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved
the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding,
"exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More
blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping
the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.
Sunday, November 27. 2016
I didn't really plan on posting a Roundup this week, but when I
looked at Salon's politics section way too may red flags jumped out
at me. I'm generally inclined to give Trump a little rope to hang
himself, but I'm surprised by the speed with which he's set about
the task. I realized that Trump was a guy who spent every waking
moment conniving to make money (well, aside from the time spent
plotting sexual conquests), and thought it unlikely that he'd
change for a moment. But these pieces are mostly self-explanatory,
so at least I don't have to annotate them.
Some scattered links this week on all things Trump:
Donald Trump's Caldron of Conflicts
Yoni Appelbaum: Donald Trump's Revival of 'Honest Graft'
Dan Bacher: Trump Appoints Big Oil Think Tank Director to Lead Interior
Thor Benson: Donald Trump's surveillance state: All the tools to suppress
dissent and kill free speech are already in place: Thanks to 9/11 and
the permanent state of war.
Jamelle Bouie: Government by the Worst Men: Bannon, Flynn, Sessions --
but isn't that only the beginning?
Donald Brownstein: Donald Trump's Fragile Hold on America
Matthew Daly: Donald Trump's stock in Dakota Access oil pipeline company
Amy Davidson: The Real Concerns of the Trump Transition
Joe Emersberger: How the Rich Are Getting Richer: Interview with
Garrett Epps: Donald Trump Has Broken the Constitution
Henry Farrell: Kissing the Ring: After considering Trump as Cosimo
de Medici, a prediction:
If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the
next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace
intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not
particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell's Cosimo) about attaining
specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the
center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter
what consequences this has for the integrity of the web.
Dana Goldstein: How Trump Could Gut Public Education: First clue
is his pick of fellow billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of
Education. Also note that Trump has some previous experience in
the business of education.
William Hartung: Trump for the Defense
Joshua Holland: Struggling White Voters Who Helped Elect Trump Are Headed
for Some Serious Pain
Paul Krugman: Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?
Gary Legum: Peak "crony captialism": Donald Trump indulging in corrupt
favoritism isn't surprising -- but so much of it so soon?!
Simon Maloy: The Trump sleaze factor: Let the GOP own the new, expanded
"culture of corruption" Trump promises
Josh Marshall: Must Reads on the Coming Privatization of Everything and
The Historic Cash-In Continues. Marshall has also been on top of Paul
Ryan's scheme to wreck Medicare -- for all the world it sounds like he's
trying to replace the popular and effective program with something similar
to but a bit shadier than Obamacare -- including this piece on the politics:
Medicare for the Win.
Richard C Paddock, et al: Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for
Trump, the Businessman President
Phil Plait: Trump's Plan to Eliminate NASA Climate Research Is Ill-Informed
Joy-Ann Reid: Already Happening: Media Normalization of Trumpism
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: What
was the president-elect doing this week to possibly make himself
David Swanson: Michael Flynn Should Remember Truths He Blurted Out Last
Year: like criticizing Obama for his obsession with death-by-drone.
Jim Tankersley: Trump can't revive industry. But his voters might still
get raises. Unfortunately, that depends on Trump sustaining growth
rates comparable to Clinton in the 1990s, and assuming that the labor
market hasn't deteriorated in the meantime -- I'm pretty doubtful on
both counts. On the other hand, if Trump succeeds in deporting virtually
all undocumented workers, that could tighten labor markets a bit (but
probably not enough).
Jeremy Venook: Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet
Matthew Yglesias: Don't let Donald Trump's antics distract you from what's
really important, following up on
We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our
Also a couple things not exactly on the incoming disaster, although
not exactly unrelated either:
I don't have much to say about Fidel Castro. I've never held any
romantic attachment for Cuba's communist regime, and I don't doubt
that it has sometimes been repressive and that its planned economy
could have been more dynamic. However, I can't begrudge their early
expropriation of foreign (mostly American) assets, and must admit
that they've built a literate, highly educated, and for the most
part egalitarian society, while maintaining a vibrant culture, all
despite cruel economic hardships imposed variously by America and
Russia. It's worth remembering that Cuba was the last slaveholder
society in the Americas, and the last of Spain's colonial outposts,
and after the US seized it in America's 1898 imperialist expansion
was only granted "independence" because it was thought easier to
run it through local puppet strongmen -- a scandalous series that
was only ended by Castro's revolution.
I've long thought that the vitriolic reaction of American politicos
to Cuba's real independence and defiance reflected a deep-seated guilt
(and embarrassment) about how badly we had mishandled our power there.
But it manifested itself as sheer spite, ranging from the CIA's Bay of
Pigs invasion and numerous assassination plots the CIA tried to mount
against Castro to the long-running blockade -- all of which reinforced
Castro's anti-Americanism and made him a hero for underdogs all around
the world. Obama's recent normalization of US-Cuban relations finally
gives us a chance to be less of an ogre -- although the reflexive
instinct is still apparent in recent comments by
Trump, Rubio, and others. Hopefully they'll blow this jingoistic
thinking out of their systems.
Here are a few scattered comments on Castro from:
Tony Karon (2008);
Stephen Gibbs/Jonathan Watts: Havana in mourning: 'We Cubans are Fidelista
even if we are not communist';
Kathy Gilsinan: How Did Fidel Castro Hold On to Cuba for So Long?.
One quote, from the Karon piece above:
There's been predictably little interesting discussion in the United
States of Fidel Castro's retirement as Cuba's commandante en jefe,
maximo etc. That's because in the U.S. political mainstream,
Cuba policy has for a generation been grotesquely disfigured by a
collective kow-towing -- yes, collective, it was that craven Mr.
Clinton who signed into law the Draconian Helms-Burton act that made
it infinitely more difficult for any U.S. president to actually lift
the embargo, and the equally craven Mrs. Clinton appears to pandering
to the same crowd -- to the Cuban-American Ahmed Chalabi figures of
Miami, still fantasizing about a day when they'll regain their
plantations and poor people of color will once again know their place.
[ . . . ]
What fascinates me, however, is the guilty pleasure with which so
many millions of people around the world revere Fidel Castro -- revere
him, but wouldn't dream of emulating his approach to economics or
governance. People, in other words, who would not be comfortable
actually living in Castro's Cuba, much as they like the idea of him
sticking it the arrogant yanqui, his physical and political
survival a sure sign that Washington's awesome power has limits --
and can therefore be challenged.
Saturday, November 19. 2016
First, a few summary points, many drawing on my previous
Hillary Clinton still has a popular vote margin over Donald
Trump, one that currently stands at 1,322,095 votes, up nearly one
million votes since I checked earlier, and up about 100,000 votes
since I started this post. (I've seen a tweet that has Clinton's
lead at 1.65 million votes.)
Still, that's less than Clinton's margin
in New York state alone (1,507,241), a mere 45% of her margin in
California (2,904,526). In fact, California topped Hawaii as her
best percentage state (61.78%; she won 90.4% in DC). By contrast,
Trump's biggest popular win, in Texas, was 813,774, followed by
Tennessee (651,073), Alabama (588,841), Kentucky (574,108), Missouri
(530,864), Indiana (520,429). Trump topped 60% in 9 states (AL, AR,
KY, NB, ND, OK, SD, WV, WY), but most were small.
Clinton lost three states that she was heavily favored in
by very slim margins: Michigan (0.27%), Wisconsin (0.93%), and
Pennsylvania (1.24%). Had she hung on to those three states she
would have won the electoral college. It's easy to imagine various
technical shifts in her campaign strategy that might have secured
those states and won her the election, even without any substantive
adjustments to her platform. She was not a hopeless candidate, but
was a flawed and for many people uninspiring one, and was not well
served by a staff and organization built to flatter her.
Voter turnout was down 1.2 points, to 53.7%. Trump was elected
president with about 25% of the vote, and Clinton lost with just a
hair more. As was widely reported, they were the two least approved
candidates in history. Clinton maintained a polling lead throughout
the campaign, but was never able to top 50%, her leads varying widely
as Trump's numbers waxed and waned. Trump caught a break a week before
the election when FBI Director James Comey re-opened Clinton's email
troubles, and Trump avoided major blunders in his last week, so his
win can be attributed to a lucky break.
The Democrats gained two Senate seats and seven House seats,
so the party as a whole was not swept up in a Republican tide. More
likely she was a drag on down-ticket Democrats. I believe that one
of the biggest tactical errors was Clinton's failure to run against
what Harry Truman once called "the do-nothing Congress" (Democrats
lost control of Congress in 1946, but recovered in 1948 with Truman's
come-from-behind campaign). Ultimately we'll see that most of the
bad things that happen in the next four years will originate in the
Republican Congress, and most of Trump's own disasters will be tied
to his forming an extremist Republican administration. The election
would have been very different if Clinton had run not on Obama's
"successes" but by blaming Republicans for his shortcomings.
I think it's safe to say that Bernie Sanders would have been
a more formidable candidate for the Democrats. What is certain is
that we didn't have any of Clinton's sleazy vulnerabilities. Also
that he was far enough removed from the Clinton-Obama mainstream
he could have run as a credible change, and that he has shown the
ability to rally large and enthusiastic crowds (which Trump did
and Clinton did not). Maybe the Republicans could have come up with
an effective set of slanders to undo him, but they wouldn't have
had the benefits of 24 years of target practice against Clinton.
Sanders' real vulnerability was that the Clinton-Obama Democrats
would sandbag him (much as previous generations of Democrats did
to Bryan and McGovern), but perhaps fear of Trump would have held
them in check.
Whatever divisions were thought to exist in the Republican
party have vanished. The only thing Republicans really care about
is winning and ruling, and they really don't care how ugly it
looks. And while their current margins are extremely thin, that
didn't impose any scruples on Bush and Cheney in 2000 -- another
time when the presidential victor lost the popular vote -- and
Republicans have only become more vicious and unscrupulous since
then. (Trump, for one, never had to feign compassion.)
One thing that we should bear in mind is that many disasters take
a long time to fully reveal themselves. That Republican Congress
elected in 1946 has had an especially long-lasting impact. George
Brockway, for instance, cited a banking "reform" bill that they
passed as the first chink in the deregulation that finally sunk the
economy in 2008. More obvious was the Taft-Hartley Act, which made
it significantly harder to form and maintain labor unions. After
that act was passed, the CIO gave up on organizing unions in the
South, which left American businesses with an alternative to union
labor in the North. That, more than anything else, gradually ate
away at the Rust Belt, leading to this year's Democratic debacle.
But then the Democrats haven't been passive observers to the
destruction of their party's base. Harry Truman was so militantly
opposed to worker strikes after WWII that he inadvertently validated
the public opinion behind Taft-Hartley (a bill he vetoed, but his
veto was overridden). And one can argue that the Clinton-sponsored
NAFTA was the straw that broke the camel's back -- he's certainly
the one who gets blamed, even though it was mostly Republicans who
voted for the agreement.
On the other hand, the half-life of disasters certainly seems
to be quickening, especially as public institutions become more and
more corrupt, as wealth and income are distributed ever more inequally,
as decades of bad choices slowly add up into harder ones. A lot of
the links below concern the destruction of the middle class, especially
in the Rust Belt, and raise the question of why even people who are
still doing OK have become anxious about the economy. This can only
remind me of a book published back in 1989, Barbara Ehrenreich's
Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. And
really, she wasn't way ahead of the learning curve. She was merely
more perceptive than most people were. Recent books, such as the
six recommended in the list below, focus more on those who have
fallen, and who can't get up. But fear came first, and Democrats
would have been better served had they recognized that, instead
of blundering on and pushing more and more people down and out.
Here are a mess of links I've collected, thinking they may be of
some interest (more or less alphabetical by author).
Scott Alexander: You Are Still Crying Wolf: Title refers to a piece,
Frank Bruni: Crying Wolf, Then Confronting Trump, which complains
that Democratic denunciations of "honorable and decent men" like McCain
and Romney have inoculated many Americans against even more strident
warnings about Trump (he cites an essay by Jonah Greenberg, "How the
Media's History of Smearing Republicans Now Helps Trump"). Alexander
argues that Trump did better than Romney among blacks, Latinos and
Asians, then concludes: "The only major racial group where he didn't
get a gain or greater than 5% was white people." He then goes on to
argue that Trump isn't nearly as racist (i.e., no more than "any other
70 year old white guy") as people think, and that white supremacists --
at least as represented by people like David Duke (who got 3% in his
Louisiana Senate campaign) or groups like the KKK (national membership
in the 3000-6000 range) are extremely marginal. I think he goes too
far in making excuses for Trump, but it does raise the question: given
that Republicans have spent forty-some years "dog-whistling" race-charged
themes, isn't it possible that Democrats have become hyper-sensitive to
that veiled rhetoric? (And conversely, isn't it possible that much of
the Republican target audience have grown so accustomed to it they no
longer pay it any mind?) On the other hand, Alexander does stress how
bizarre he finds Trump:
16. But didn't Trump . . .
Whatever bizarre, divisive, ill-advised, and revolting thing you're
about to mention, the answer is probably yes.
This is equally true on race-related and non-race-related issues.
People ask "How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that
Obama was born in Kenya, if he wasn't racist?" I don't know. How could
Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism?
How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that the Clintons
killed Vince Foster? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy
theory that Ted Cruz's father shot JFK?
Trump will apparently believe anything for any reason, especially
about his political opponents. If Clinton had been black but Obama
white, we'd be hearing that the Vince Foster conspiracy theory proves
Trump's bigotry, and the birtherism was just harmless wackiness.
Likewise, how could Trump insult a Mexican judge just for being
Mexican? I don't know. How could Trump insult a disabled reporter
just for being disabled? How could Trump insult John McCain just
for being a beloved war hero? Every single person who's opposed him,
Trump has insulted in various offensive ways, including 140 separate
incidents of him calling someone "dopey" or "dummy" on Twitter, and
you expect him to hold his mouth just because the guy is a Mexican?
I don't think people appreciate how weird this guy is. His
weird way of speaking. His catchphrases like "haters and losers!" or
"Sad!" His tendency to avoid perfectly reasonable questions in favor
of meandering tangents about Mar-a-Lago. The ability to bait him into
saying basically anything just by telling him people who don't like
him think he shouldn't.
Krishnadev Calamur: Donald Trump's CIA Pick Made His Name on the Benghazi
Committee: That's Mike Pompeo, currently 4th district congressman from
Canada, a district which includes Wichita and a half-dozen rural counties.
Pompeo was first elected in 2010 when Todd Tiahrt ran for Senate (and lost
to Jerry Moran). Tiahrt, who I had long regarded as the worst congressman
in America, tried to take back his House seat in 2012, and lost to Pompeo --
at the time I characterized them as R(Boeing) and R(Koch), respectively.
Indeed, the Wichita Eagle has an article today titled "Koch Industries,
Pompeo's biggest backer, cheers his CIA nomination." In Congress, Pompeo
has been a faithful defender of the Koch's brand of laissez-faire, but
far more than that he's emerged as one of the House's most rabid neocons --
a fact that was recognized by Bill Kristol when he put Pompeo's name on
his short list of vice presidential candidates. At this article points
out, Pompeo's was one of the Benghazi Committee's most forceful foes
of Hillary Clinton. Indeed, as CIA Director it wouldn't surprise me if
he forgoes the Special Prosecutor and just "renders" her to a black site
to be tortured until she confesses all. At least, nothing in that sentence
violates his understanding of law or morality.
Martin Longman has more on Pompeo (as well as Flynn and Sessions) here:
Trump Makes Three Catastrophic Picks. I do have a bone to pick with
one line: "What unites [Pompeo] with Mike Flynn is his outrage about
Obama's firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for disloyalty." Uh, McChrystal
was fired for incompetence. If you go back to the Rolling Stone
article where all this dirty laundry was aired, you'll find that Flynn
was even more outspoken in berating and belittling Obama, yet somehow
Obama looked past that to nominate Flynn to be head of the DIA. Sure,
that may rank as the worst appointment Obama ever made, but you can't
say it was because he was thin-skinned about criticism.
Robert Christgau on the End of the World
David Dayen: Beware Donald Trump's Infrastructure Plan:
Does this sound familiar? It's the common justification for privatization,
and it's been a disaster virtually everywhere it's been tried. First of
all, this specifically ties infrastructure -- designed for the common
good -- to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake
projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another
bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be
monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment
is more dicey without user fees.
So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding
Flint, Michigan's water system, for example, is to give them a cut of
the profits in perpetuity. That's what Chicago did when it sold off
36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now
pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless
to alter the rates.
Elizabeth Drew: How It Happened: Some fairly dumb things here,
including a metric comparing votes in counties that have Cracker
Barrel vs. Whole Foods stores, and an assertion that the third
party vote cost Clinton the election. Also includes this quote
from J.D. Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy):
"People who are drawn to Trump are drawn to him because he's a little
outrageous, he's a little relatable, and fundamentally he is angry
and spiteful and critical of the things that people feel anger and
spite toward," Vance has said. "It's people who are perceived to be
powerful. It's the Hillary Clintons of the world, the Barack Obamas
of the world, the Wall Street executives of the world. There just
isn't anyone out there who will talk about the system like it's
completely rigged like Donald Trump does. It's certainly not
something you're going to hear from Hillary Clinton."
Jason Easley: It Was a Union Contract, Not Trump, That Kept a Ford Plant
From Leaving the US
Barbara Ehrenreich: Forget fear and loathing. The US election inspires
projectile vomiting: Pre-election piece (sorry I didn't link to
it earlier). Still, this works fairly well as a post-mortem:
[Trump's] supporters -- generally portrayed as laid-off blue-collar
workers who, in the absence of unions, have devoted themselves to the
cause of whiteness -- cheer on each of his macro-aggressions. To them,
he is a giant middle finger in the face of the bipartisan political
elite, and the crazier he acts, the more resounding this fuck-you gets.
It doesn't matter that most of Trump's assertions can't stand up to
fact-checking; ignorance has been enshrined by an entire alternative
media, stretching from Fox News to Stormfront on the Nazi-leaning right.
On the liberal left, tragically, we do not have Bernie Sanders, who
would have dispatched Trump's populist pretensions with a wrist flick.
But no, representing the side of tolerance, good government and
cosmopolitanism, we have the very epitome of Democratic party elitism,
a woman who labeled half of Trump's supporters "deplorables," a politician
who is so robotic that any efforts to analyze her motives risk the charge
Liza Featherstone: Elite, White Feminism Gave Us Trump
Matt Feeney: The Book That Predicted Trump: The book touted here
is Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund
Burke to Sarah Palin (2012) -- I'm pretty sure those names are
just historical bookends and not meant to imply a general vector of
declining intelligence and coherence, as Robin's central thesis is
that conservatism, whether you're talking about Burke or John Calhoun
or Ronald Reagan or Trump is always pretty much the same thing, for
the same reasons: to defend the privileged few against anything that
might make us more equal.
Speaking of books, the New York Times recommends
6 Books to Help Understand Trump's Win:
- George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
- Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and
Mourning on the American Right (The New Press)
- J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in
- Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party
of the People? (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company)
- John B. Judis, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession
Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports)
- Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class
in America (Viking)
I've only read one of these -- Thomas Frank's critique of Clinton's
Democrats, a legacy which needs to be critically reviewed by anyone
who wants to rebuild the Democratic Party -- but the common theme here
is the economic and social stresses felt by the vanishing middle class
of white people.
Kathleen Frydl: The Oxy Electorate:
The number of people who cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential race
was greater than in 2012, even though, as a state, Ohio recorded a net
loss in turnout from the previous election. This pattern holds for
nearly all opioid-ravaged counties. And not just in Ohio -- in
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well, all of them crucial
to the presidential election's outcome. In 9 of the Ohio counties
that Trump successfully turned from Democrat to Republican, six log
overdose rates well above the national norm. All of the Pennsylvania
counties that chose Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 have exceptionally
high overdose rates, averaging 25 people per 100,000; in none of these
counties did vote totals fall.
Kathleen Geier: Inequality Among Women Is Crucial to Understanding
In these white working-class communities, it is the women who have
experienced some of the worst hardships. You may have heard of that
famous study that showed that showed an unprecedented decline in
longevity among white Americans who lack college degrees. But most
media reports missed a crucial point: As the statistician Andrew
Gelman pointed out, "Since 2005, mortality rates have increased
among women in this group but not men." And in addition to economic
insecurity and rising mortality rates, working-class women have
suffered from another indignity: invisibility. During the campaign,
there was a blizzard of articles about the concerns of elite
Republican women and white working-class men, but practically
nothing about female members of the working class.
John Judis: Why Trump Won - and Clinton Lost - and What It Could Mean for
the Country and the Parties: Quickie post-mortem, including some things
that don't make much sense to me (like the anti-third term pendulum), but
one thing I'm struck by is that immigration has different regional effects,
and appears particularly threatening when used to break or undermine unions --
meatpackers in Iowa is a case in point. One conclusion I'd draw is that
Democrats need to come up with better ways of talking about immigration,
because the way this campaign played out they came off as reflexively pro,
which raised legitimate questions of how much they cared about people who
were born here.
Theda Skocpol wrote a rejoinder which pokes a few holes without doing
much to fill them in (partly because she feels the need to defend Clinton
and to denigrate Sanders).
Mike Konczal: Preparing for the Worst: How Conservatives Will Govern
Unlike 2009, the conservative policy agenda is designed to not require
any Democratic votes. The idea that a conservative policy agenda would
create a dysfunctional system is a feature, not a bug. And the hope
that conflicting factions of the GOP will provide opportunities to
break them apart are not likely to pan out. But there's some reason
for hope, because their overreach and lack of preparedness will give
us opportunities. [ . . . ]
They aren't ready with a replacement for Obamacare. They aren't
ready for the heat of privatizing Medicare, or weakening Medicaid.
There are constituencies for both, and town halls can be flooded and
people organized. Those who desperately wanted a change towards
economic security are going to be surprised that the factories aren't
coming back and that they signed up for a libertarian kleptocracy
instead. But we should also be clear on the challenges of their
policy agenda, and that the cracks won't appear by themselves.
Konczal recommends a book (as do I): Thomas Frank's The Wrecking
Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2009) -- no mention of Trump, but lots
of things you're going to be seeing. And back on Sept. 21, Konczal wrote
a piece that provides useful background here:
Trump Is Actually Full of Policy.
Michael Kruse: What Trump Voters Want Now: Talking to blue collar
Trump voters in Pennsylvania:
"Your government betrayed you, and I'm going to make it right," Trump
told a boisterous crowd at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena less
than three weeks before Election Day. "Your jobs will come back under
a Trump administration," he said. "Your steel will come back," he said.
"We're putting your miners back to work," he said.
The people here who voted for Trump want all that. They want him
to loosen environmental regulations. They want their taxes to go down
and their incomes to go up. They want to see fewer drugs on their
streets and more control of the Mexican border. They want him to
"run the country like a business." And they want this fast. So now
comes the hard part for Trump -- turning rhetoric into results. Four
years ago, the largely Democratic voters in Cambria County flipped
on President Obama, disgusted that he had not made good on his
promise of change. What's clear from a series of interviews with
Trump supporters here is that they will turn on Trump, too, if he
doesn't deliver. [ . . . ]
But beyond flared tempers in the immediate aftermath of this
ugly election, said Rininger and Daloni, the larger point is that
this isn't going to work. There's next to no way, they believe,
that Trump can deliver on his promises.
"The infrastructure for the steel is all gone," Daloni said.
"It just doesn't exist anymore in Johnstown. It did used to be a
steel boomtown, but it was long before Obama was elected. It was
decimated, really, before Bill Clinton was elected. The mills
were going down in the '70s and '80s."
The Trump voters say they want change, but Daloni and Rininger
say the change has happened already. And despite what Trump promised
at the downtown arena a month ago, they believe there's a real chance
that Trump's solutions could make things worse. Incomes won't go up --
they'll go down. "I make $32 an hour, with good benefits, and that's
because I'm union," Rininger said. "I wouldn't even be f--king close
to that if I wasn't union."
And jobs, they worry, won't come back -- they'll disappear faster.
And before long, they said, the only work in Cambria County will be
minimum-wage counter jobs at the familiar collection of ring-road
fast food-joints. "The service industry, I'm afraid," Daloni said.
"If Trump starts trade wars," Rininger said, "you hurt us. You hurt
our plant" -- which is owned by Swedes, with a CEO from India. And the
steel the workers do still make, Rininger said, is sold to Brazil.
It's sold around the world.
Charles Pierce comments:
You Can Keep Studying White Working Class Voters, But We Know the
David Leonhardt: The Democrats' Real Turnout Problem: Cites a study
by Douglas Rivers of five east-to-midwest swing states that switched
from Obama to Trump (plus Minnesota, which was very close):
In counties where Trump won at least 70 percent of the vote, the number
of votes cast rose 2.9 percent versus 2012. Trump's pugnacious message
evidently stirred people who hadn't voted in the past. By comparison,
in counties where Clinton won at least 70 percent, the vote count was
1.7 percent lower this year.
Eric Lichtblau: US Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims:
I wouldn't call 6% a surge, but it turns out that's a gross "hate crime"
count. The real bottom line:
There were 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques
and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67
percent over 2014. It was the highest total since 2001, when more than
480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ryan Lizza: Donald Trump's First, Alarming Week as President-Elect:
Old history, now eclipsed by an even more disturbing second week
(e.g., Michael Flynn, Mike Pompeo).
Amanda Marcotte: Voter suppression helped make Donald Trump president --
now he'll make it worse
Sophia A McClennen: Like a double dose of Dubya: Donald Trump's presidency
will be like the George W. Bush disaster -- only worse
Michael Moore: 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win: This piece dates
from July 21, 2016, so it counts now as prophetic, but was meant
more as a warning, from someone who grew up in an industrial Great
Lakes state and has spent much of his career chronicling the hard
times his people have suffered. Here's the first point:
I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four
blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes -- Michigan,
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic
states -- but each of them have elected a Republican governor since
2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the
Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for
the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million).
Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and
tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after
everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it's because he's
said (correctly) that the Clintons' support of NAFTA helped to
destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going
to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade
policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states.
When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the
Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did
indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move
it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars
shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the
ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his
threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones
in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and
Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the
governor next-door, John Kasich. . . .
And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost
by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan,
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It's 64. All Trump needs to do to
win is to carry, as he's expected to do, the swath of traditional
red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that'll never vote
for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt
states. He doesn't need Florida. He doesn't need Colorado or Virginia.
Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put
him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.
And that was exactly what happened -- had Clinton held the
line in the three closest states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania;
forget Ohio) she would have been elected. She is, of course, one of
the other four points, but more interesting is what Moore calls "the
Jesse Ventura Effect":
Finally, do not discount the electorate's ability to be mischievous
or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists
once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It's
one of the few places left in society where there are no security
cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops,
there's not even a friggin' time limit. You can take as long as you
need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the
button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey
Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and
the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions
are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him,
not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because
they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy
and daddy mad. And in the same way like when you're standing on the
edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would
that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to
love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for
Trump just to see what that might look like.
Of course, the polls told them that Trump didn't have a chance,
that someone sane would catch them when they jumped. Moore also
wrote another pre-election piece called
5 Ways to Make Sure Trump Loses, which included this bit:
So many people have given up on our system and that's because the
system has given up on them. They know it's all bullshit: politics,
politicians, elections. The middle class in tatters, the American
Dream a nightmare for the 47 million living in poverty. Get this
straight: HALF of America is planning NOT to vote November 8th.
Hillary's approval rating is at 36%. CNN said it last night: No one
running for office with an approval rating of 36% has ever been
elected president (Trump's is at 30%). Even in these newer polls,
60% still say that Hillary is "untrustworthy to be president."
Disillusioned young people stop me every day to tell me they're not
voting (or they're voting 3rd Party). This is a problem, folks. Stop
ignoring it. You need to listen to them. Chastising them, shaming
them, will not work. Acknowledging to them that they have a point,
that Hillary Clinton is maybe not the best candidate, . . .
The rest of the paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense, and maybe
acknowledging your candidate's flaws won't convince many people to
overlook them, but one way to approach this would be to refocus the
campaign on electing Democrats to Congress, both to help her and to
keep her honest. And the easiest thing in the world should have been
running against our current batch of Congressional Republicans. Of
course, it didn't happen, perhaps because the Clintons rarely concern
themselves with any but the first person.
Toni Morrison: Making America White Again: This is one of sixteen
pieces the New Yorker commissioned as
Aftermath: Sixteen Writers on Trump's America. See especially
Jane Mayer on Trump and the Koch network. Also this from Jill Leopre:
The rupture in the American republic, the division of the American
people whose outcome is the election of Donald Trump, cannot be
attributed to Donald Trump. Nor can it be attributed to James Comey
and the F.B.I. or to the white men who voted in very high numbers
for Trump or to the majority of white women who did, too, unexpectedly,
or to the African-American and Latino voters who did not give Hillary
Clinton the edge they gave Barack Obama. It can't be attributed to the
Republican Party's unwillingness to disavow Trump or to the Democratic
Party's willingness to promote Clinton or to a media that has careened
into a state of chaos. There are many reasons for our troubles. But
the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural,
and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for
decades. Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.
[ . . . ]
Many Americans, having lost faith in a government that has failed
to address widening inequality, and in the policymakers and academics
and journalists who have barely noticed it, see Trump as their deliverer.
They cast their votes with purpose. A lot of Trump voters I met during
this election season compared Trump to Lincoln: an emancipator. What
Trump can and cannot deliver, by way of policy, remains to be seen; my
own doubts are grave. Meanwhile, though, he has added weight to the
burden that we, each of us, carry on our backs, the burden of old hatreds.
I agree that inequality infects everything, but would also have
blamed war: it's impossible to spend fifteen years at war, even if
it only rarely touches us personally (as has oddly been the case
with this one), without it coarsening and brutalizing us, and that
shows up in an increasingly bitter and violent campaign. Trump
evinced by far the more popularly resonant stance, on the one
hand disowning misguided conflicts like Bush's Iraq war yet on
the other hand showing an unflinching will to inflict violence
whenever threatened. Clinton, on the other hand, seemed to follow
Obama in thinking that war can be compartmentalized and managed,
something that can continue indefinitely without changing us.
For more on this point, see:
Tom Engelhardt: Through the Gates of Hell: How Empire Ushered in
a Trump Presidency.
Charles P Pierce: I Am Sure of Nothing Now: Concludes with this
quote from Hunter S. Thompson on the 1972 election, the first time
I was as grossly disappointed by American voters as this time (not
that there haven't been a couple more times sandwiched between):
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves;
finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation
of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy
guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world
who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that
George McGovern, for all his mistakes . . . understands what a
fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this
country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands
of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some
stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared
to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose . . .
Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country
to be President?
Sean T Posey: How Democrats lost the Rust Belt in 2016:
In 1964, 37 percent of Ohio workers belonged to a union; that number
fell to 12 percent by 2016, and incomes for the working class tumbled
in tandem. It's a similar story in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana,
West Virginia and Wisconsin. Republican policies are largely responsible,
but Democrats have done little to address the precipitous decline of
the working class.
When Hillary Clinton famously referred to half of Trump's supporters
as a "basket of deplorables," it rang hollow for voters who had waited
in vain for her to acknowledge their economic plight. Ohio, Pennsylvania
and Michigan helped elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. However, for
working families, the economic hangover of the post-industrial era never
went away. Clinton's campaign failed to fully appreciate their pain.
A couple years into the "recovery" it was reported that 97% of the
gains had been reaped by the 1%. Maybe that number has inched down a
bit since then, but that translates as a windfall for the very rich
and no recovery for most people.
John Quiggin: The dog that didn't bark: One of the most glaring
results from the election is that virtually none of the Republicans
who had been so critical of Trump early on failed to vote for him
in the end. Perhaps that's because socially liberal, economically
moderate, or libertarian Republicans have become urban myths --
even though Clinton wasted a lot of time courting them (she did
seem to be doing better among the neocons, but it looks like they'll
do quite nicely under Trump).
Sam Stein: The Clinton Campaign Was Undone by Its Own Neglect and a
Touch of Arrogance, Staffers Say
Steven Waldman: Did the Decline of Labor Finally Kill the Democrats?
Gary Younge: How Trump took middle America: Lead-in: "After a month
in a midwestern town, the story of this election is clear -- when people
feel the system is broken, they vote for whoever promises to smash it."
Steve Bannon: 'we'll govern for 50 years': A boast that only seems
modest next to "Thousand Year Reich." From the cited
interview (more of a profile piece than tete-a-tete):
When Bannon took over the campaign from Paul Manafort, there were many
in the Trump circle who had resigned themselves to the inevitability of
the candidate listening to no one. But here too was a Bannon insight:
When the campaign seemed most in free fall or disarray, it was perhaps
most on target. While Clinton was largely absent from the campaign trail
and concentrating on courting her donors, Trump -- even after the leak
of the grab-them-by-the-pussy audio -- was speaking to ever-growing
crowds of 35,000 or 40,000. "He gets it; he gets it intuitively," says
Bannon, perhaps still surprised he has found such an ideal vessel. "You
have probably the greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan, coupled
with an economic populist message and two political parties that are so
owned by the donors that they don't speak to their audience. But he
speaks in a non-political vernacular, he communicates with these people
in a very visceral way. Nobody in the Democratic party listened to his
speeches, so they had no idea he was delivering such a compelling and
powerful economic message. He shows up 3.5 hours late in Michigan at 1
in the morning and has 35,000 people waiting in the cold. When they got
[Clinton] off the donor circuit she went to Temple University and they
drew 300 or 400 kids."
Oh, then there's this final quote: "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court
of the Tudors."
As I was putting this post together, I started reading Corey Robin's
Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011), and noted
this quote (p. 59) on the asymmetry between left and right, on how
hard change is for the former, and how easy reaction is for the
Where the left's program of redistribution raises the questions of
whether its beneficiaries are truly prepared to wield the powers they
seek, the conservative prospect of restoration suffers from no such
challenge. Unlike the reformer or the revolutionary, moreover, who
faces the nearly impossible task of empowering the powerless -- that
is, of turning people from what they are into what they are not -- the
conservative merely asks his followers to do more of what they always
have done (albeit, better and differently). As a result, his
counterrevolution will not require the same disruption that the
revolution has visited upon the country.
My main worry about the Sanders campaign wasn't that he might get
slandered and lose his appeal, but that there wasn't a strong enough
movement under him to deliver on his promises. And that mattered, of
course, because his promises mattered. By contrast, all Trump voters
had to do was to put their guy in power. After that, go back to work,
and let their new right-thinking leader do what needs to be done.
I've never had any inkling why they would trust him with that power,
but then I don't think like they do: I learned early to question all
authority, and found that when you give a greedy monster more power
he only becomes greedier and more monstrous. But in a way, the great
appeal of the right is that it offers simplistic solutions, wrapped
in a little virus of paranoia which allows them to be used again and
again, regardless of their repeated failures.
Sunday, November 6. 2016
I was sorely tempted to write nothing more about the election until
it's all over. I doubt I'll write much below, but when I start out I
never know. Part of this is just plain disgust at how the last couple
weeks have played out. Part is that I've been sick, and that hasn't
helped my mood one bit. A big part of the disgust is simply that
Hillary Clinton seems to have blown a huge lead:
FiveThirtyEight gave her an 88.1% chance of victory on October 17,
81.5% as late as October 28. Today that's down to 64.5%. In terms of
states that posits her as losing six states she was previously leading
in: Arizona (her odds there are now down to only 25.8%), Iowa (27.1%),
Ohio (32.9%), Florida (47.4%), Nevada (48.0%), and North Carolina (48.4%).
That's still based on a 2.8% popular vote margin. Some polls are closer
than that, with at least one showing Trump ahead.
TPM had a narrower spread yesterday (2.4%) but a larger one today
(3.9%, despite Clinton dropping to 45.9% of the vote).
Throughout most of the election, the median state (as far as the
electoral college is concerned) has been New Hampshire: if Clinton
wins New Hampshire and every other state she's been polling better
in, she gets 272 electoral votes and wins the election. She's still
given a 61.2% chance in New Hampshire. Trump could win the election
by capturing New Hampshire, unless he loses a larger state he holds
a slim lead in (Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida are all very
early voting looks especially good for Clinton in Nevada). On
the other hand, Trump could lose New Hampshire and still win if he
pulls an upset in Colorado (where he's currently givens a 26.9%
chance) or Pennsylvania (25.9%).
At this stage, the presidential race has been reduced to these nine
"battleground" states. Kansas (97.5% R) isn't one of them. In fact, I
don't think I've seen a single street sign for either Trump or Clinton.
I did see two Trump advertisements last week, and thought they hit an
effective note: it is, after all, easy to tag Clinton as the candidate
of the status quo, without suggesting how attractive more status quo
would be compared to Trumpian change. I haven't seen any Clinton ads,
but am haunted by at least one of her soundbytes, where she warns us
of the danger of entrusting "America's nuclear codes" to someone as
"thin-skinned and impulsive" as Trump. That's probably as carefully
phrased as could be, but it mostly reminded me that she is decidedly
hawkish, someone who believes strongly in flaunting America's military
power, and someone who views the presidency as almost a secondary role
to being Commander-in-Chief. Isn't it odd that the numerous "checks
and balances" that limit what a president can do aren't sufficient to
keep a mad person from blowing up the world? I've said all along that
the surest way Clinton could lose would be to remind us of her appetite
for war, and she's found an inadvertent way of doing that. I figure
that must be part of her blown lead, even though the emails and her
linkage to Anthony Weiner (perhaps the most universally reviled man
in America right now) have gotten more attention.
By the way, as I was preparing this,
FBI Director Comey says agency won't recommend charges over Clinton
email, admitting, in his usual backhanded way, that his previous
letter about re-opening the Clinton email investigation -- the event
that precipitated Clinton's polling losses -- had come to nothing.
Too bad we can't inspect the internal FBI emails discussing why he
exposed this baseless innuendo in the first place. The FBI has a
terrible legacy of politically-minded "investigations" but they've
rarely set their sights on someone as mainstream as Hillary Clinton.
Once again they've embarrassed themselves.
More I could write about here, but let's wind up this intro with
Seth Meyers' "closer look" at the
Major Clinton and Trump scandals:
That's a problem for a lot of Americans: They just don't love the two
choices. Do you pick someone who's under federal investigation for using
a private email server?
Or do you pick someone who called Mexicans rapists, claimed the
president was born in Kenya, proposed banning an entire religion from
entering the US, mocked a disabled reporter, said John McCain wasn't
a war hero because he was captured, attacked the parents of a fallen
soldier, bragged about committing sexual assault, was accused by 12
women of committing sexual assault, said some of those women weren't
attractive for him to sexually assault, said more countries should get
nukes, said that he would force the military to commit war crimes,
said a judge was biased because his parents were Mexicans, said women
should be punished for having abortions, incited violence at his
rallies, called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese,
called for his opponent to be jailed, declared bankruptcy six times,
bragged about not paying income taxes, stiffed his contractors and
employees, lost a billion dollars in one year, scammed customers at
his fake university, bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself with
money from his fake foundation, has a trial for fraud coming up in
November, insulted an opponent's looks, insulted an opponent's wife's
looks, and bragged about grabbing women by the pussy?
How do you choose?
Problem here is that Meyers is still reducing the election to a
choice between two celebrity personalities, as opposed to the real
differences between the parties and interests they represent. Not
that there are no real issues buried in the Trump litany, nor that
some of the personal traits (like his seething contempt for women
and non-whites, and for that matter workers) don't portend policy
dangers, but one thing this campaign has spared (or cheated) us
was an opportunity to debate and vote on two radically different
political visions. Imagine how much different this election might
be if the choice was Bernie Sanders vs. Ted Cruz? One might learn
something there, and emerge from the election with a mandate and
a direction. But with Clinton vs. Trump we're stuck with muddled
results -- both candidates are widely viewed as crooked, greedy,
deceitful, treacherous, untrustworthy, pompous, arrogant, and
full of ungrounded bluster -- their few differences attributable
to irreconcilable identity allegiances. And even if Clinton wins,
her margin isn't going to be nearly large enough to win Congress
as well and to force a rethinking of those divisions. Republicans
running for Congress have pledged to block her every appointment,
to stalemate government and disable her administration from day
one. Trump has already convinced most of his supporters that the
only way he can lose is if the system is rigged against them.
It's fair to say that America is more divided now than at any
election since 1860, which precipitated the Civil War. In terms
of ideas and policies, those divisions have been growing since
the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns, with conservatives demanding
ever more complete domination of government and business, making
the state a tool of the rich while eliminating any countervailing
support government might provide for working people. Of course,
conservatives rarely argue their agenda coherently -- they prefer
to describe clear-cutting as their "healthy forests" initiative --
because they're aware that they'd lose. What Trump adds here is
an unprecedented degree of paranoia, and a demagogic style that
insists on degrading and dehumanizing his opponent and all of her
supporters, and that's what's made him so vile and dangerous.
Some scattered (election) links this week:
Nate Silver: Election Update: The Campaign Is Almost Over, and Here's
Where We Stand
Spencer Ackerman: 'The FBI is Trumpland': anti-Clinton atmosphere
spurred leaks, sources say:
This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau
he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton
should she win the White House.
The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is "the antichrist
personified to a large swath of FBI personnel," and that "the reason
why they're leaking is they're pro-Trump."
The agent called the bureau "Trumplandia," with some colleagues
openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented
condemnation from the party's national security wing and who has pledged
to jail Clinton if elected.
David Atkins: Trump Would Be a Radical Policy Disaster:
This dyspeptic election is finally coming to an end in just a few days
amid ugliness the likes of which has not been seen in modern American
history. This nastiness has focused on the personal and the irrelevant,
from the ridiculous non-scandal of Clinton's emails to the revolting
but ultimately superficial fact that Donald Trump apparently carried
on an affair for years that we're only just learning about.
Follow the article if you want the affair link. Read everything
else. Still, he missed the policy proposal that bothers me most: one
that would make it easier for rich guys like Trump to sue anyone and
everyone who said anything negative about them.
Jonathan Blitzer: A Scholar of Fascism Sees a Lot That's Familiar With
[Ruth] Ben-Ghiat has been broadening her studies ever since the primaries,
and is now considering a book-length examination of strongmen, from
Mussolini to Trump, with stops in Franco's Spain, Erdogan's Turkey, and
Qaddafi's Libya. In the speech of Mussolini, Putin, Trump, and also
Berlusconi, Ben-Ghiat notes a pattern: they are at once transparent
about their intentions and masters of innuendo. "Trump trails off. He
uses ellipses and coded language. He lets his listeners fill in what
they want." When Trump seemed to suggest that gun owners should deal
with Hillary Clinton themselves, or when he talked about needing to
"watch" certain communities out to steal the vote on Election Day, his
statements were more powerful for their ambiguity. "It's all about
letting listeners convince and mislead themselves," she said.
Amy Davidson: Bernie Sanders's Hard Fight for Hillary Clinton:
Seems like the Obamas and Joe Biden get all the media notice, but
did you know?
The truth is that Bernie Sanders is very, very angry -- at Donald Trump.
He is angry enough to have spent weeks traveling on behalf of Hillary
Clinton, speaking for her in union halls and arenas, to students and
activists. When he talks, he is entirely Bernie -- "We are going to
fight for that democracy; we are not going to become an oligarchy" --
and he hints strongly that he has done some negotiating with her before
getting on the stage, and will continue to do so after, as he hopes,
she is elected. When praising her positions, he often says "Secretary
Clinton has told me" or "Secretary Clinton has promised," as though he
knows that it might not work, with the sort of swing audiences he is
dispatched to persuade (students, working-class voters), simply to
declare that taking these stands is in her nature. But he knows what
he wants: for her to win. [ . . . ]
"There are many, many differences between Secretary Clinton and Mr.
Trump," Sanders told the crowd. "But there is one that is very, very
profound. Are you ready for a very radical thought right now? I don't
want anyone to faint! I think we have some paramedics here" -- "paramedics
here" is, it turns out, an excellent phrase for demonstrating a Brooklyn
accent -- "but I do want to make this announcement. Are you ready for
it?" The crowd indicated that it was. "All right. Madam Secretary, you
correct me if I'm wrong here; I don't want to misspeak for you --
Secretary Clinton believes in science!" [ . . . ]
A few hours later, Sanders was off on his own to Iowa. Trump is ahead
in that state, in the latest average of polls, by about two and a half
points. Sanders had three events scheduled for Friday -- Cedar Falls,
Iowa City, Davenport. On Saturday, there would be more.
Kerry Eleveld: Latino electorate both on track for historic turnout and
routinely undercounted in polls: One tidbit: in 2010, polls showed
Republican Sharon Angle leading Harry Reid by 3-5 points, but Reid wound
up winning 50.3-44.5%, largely due to a huge 90-10 Latino vote split.
Ron Fournier: Hillary Has No One to Blame but Herself: Concerns
itself with trivial pursuits like that email server. For insight into
the deeper Clinton problem, see:
Matt Stoller: How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. Or Thomas
Frank's latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the
Party of the People? -- although I don't recommend reading the
latter until Wednesday (either way).
Charles Franklin: Party Loyalty and Defection, Trump v Clinton:
Chart tracking polls so both parties with identically high (86.8%)
support for their candidates, after Republicans had trailed all year.
Defection rates similarly low, although Democrats (6.8%) more so than
Republicans (5.2%), the margin growing lately. Billmon's conclusion:
"The November non-surprise. The zombies came home."
Neil Irwin: A New Movement in Liberal Economics That Could Shape
Hillary Clinton's Agenda: The concept is "labor market monopsony,"
which has to do with how monopoly businesses are not only able to
charge rents (fix prices), they're able to use their power to depress
labor markets (wages). Ways to ameliorate this problem include higher
(and more comprehensive) minimum wages and stronger antitrust action
(something Democrats have not been good at, while Republicans have
abandoned any pretense of enforcement).
Ann Jones: Nasty Women:
In his own telling, he, not the women he's demeaned or assaulted, is
the abused one and he's taking it for us, for America. It's quite a
self-portrait when you think about it and should make us appreciate
all the more those women who stepped before the cameras, reported his
sexual assaults, and left themselves open to further abuse from Trump
and his supporters. They have done something rare and brave.
[ . . . ]
On the dark side, you never know what a sore loser and his loyal,
bullying, misogynist followers might do. Say, for example, followers
of the type who show up outside Hillary rallies with banners reading
"Trump that Bitch!"
Paul Krugman: Conservative Intellectuals: Follow the Money:
We're supposed to think back nostalgically to the era when serious
conservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol tried to understand
the world, rather than treating everything as a political exercise
in which ideas were just there to help their team win.
But it was never like that. Don't take my word for it; take the
word of Irving Kristol himself, in his book Neoconservatism: The
Autobiography of an Idea. Kristol explained his embrace of
supply-side economics in the 1970s: "I was not certain of its economic
merits but quickly saw its political possibilities." This justified a
"cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or
financial problems," because "political effectiveness was the priority,
not the accounting deficiencies of government."
In short, never mind whether it's right, as long as it's politically
useful. When David [Brooks] complains that "conservative opinion-meisters
began to value politics over everything else," he's describing something
that happened well before Reagan.
Paul Lewis/Tom Silverstone: Trump rally protester: I was beaten for a
'Republicans against Trump' sign
Martin Longman: Chris Christie Convicted By Proxy in Federal Court:
Would be a bigger story if Trump had picked Christie as his running
mate, but still . . . for anyone who wants to talk about locking people
up, we can start with "two of Chris Christie's 'loyal lieutenants' who
were taken down by Section 666 of Title 18 of the United States Code,"
who now "each theoretically face 20 years in prison (although nothing
close to that will be imposed)."
Caitlin MacNeal: With the End in Sight, Trump Goes All In on Criminalizing
John Nichols: Republicans Won't Stop Talking About Impeaching
Clinton: Specifically, Sen. Ron Johnson, likely to be defeated in
his reelection bid in Wisconsin. But that's only one example.
Amir Oren: Comey's Revenge: The Real Reason the FBI Intervened in the
The large spoke [Comey] put into the Hillary Clinton's wheels of victory
won't be enough to stop her but could well reduce her coattails enough to
keep the Democrats from regaining control of Congress, leaving Washington
paralyzed by the warring branches of government. His motive was a personal
grudge that Comey has held against Bill Clinton for a decade and a half,
along with fresh residue from the investigation he closed this summer
Oren dates that grudge from Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich and
Pinchas Green, financiers who "fled the country as they were about to
be indicted for tax evasion and doing business with Iran during the
hostage crisis," but who found advocates in Israel's government. But
Oren also points out that Comey is a Republican, a deputy attorney
general under Bush, but he supported Obama's nomination of Eric Holder
as attorney general, and was himself nominated by Obama to be FBI
Yochi Dreazen: The anti-Clinton insurgency at the FBI, explained.
Daniel Politi: Key to Trump's More Disciplined Campaign? He No Longer
Controls His Twitter Account:
Although Trump may be keeping some of his thoughts away from the public
spotlight, the Times also paints a scary picture of a candidate
who is obsessed with getting revenge from those he feels have wronged
him. "Offline, Mr. Trump still privately muses about all of the ways he
will punish his enemies after Election Day, including a threat to fund
a 'super PAC' with vengeance as its core mission," notes the Times.
The Times piece:
Inside Donald Trump's Last Stand: An Anxious Nominee Seeks
John Quiggin: Trump voters are (mostly) Romney voters: Who in turn
were mostly Bush voters:
Trump is getting overwhelming support from self-described Republicans
and Republican-leaning independents, and almost none from Democrats
and Democrat-leaning independents. The same was true for Romney four
years ago, and for Bush before him. [ . . . ]
This makes nonsense of much of the discussion of Trump voters as
the dispossessed, protesting against globalisation, predatory capitalism
and the destruction of American manufacturing. Conversely, it turns out
that the discussion of Romney's "dog whistle" appeals to racism was
misconceived. Replacing the dog whistle with a bullhorn has turned out
to be no problem for the great majority of those who voted for Romney.
[ . . . ]
Corey [Robin] here at CT and elsewhere has probably been the most
consistent exponent of the view that Trump is a traditional Republican,
in the line of
Reagan. I broadly agree, though I'd put more stress on new developments
over the past 20 years or so. Trump's complete disregard for truth, norms
of decency and so on, is an extrapolation of a process that's been going on
for quite a while, at the popular level with Fox News, birtherism and so on
and in the Republican intellectual apparatus with climate denial, zombie
economics and attacks on "political correctness."
The links are to pieces in Jacobin by Corey Robin. They're both worthwhile,
but an even better title is Robin's
The Conservative Movement Has No Decency. This piece, of course,
is mostly about Joseph Welch's 1954 rebuke of Joe McCarthy, but ties
in to Trump's denunciation of Khizr Khan after his speech at the
Democratic Convention. Still, Trump's outburst wasn't isolated or
even uniquely his own. Robin offers many other examples without ever
mentioning the abuse conservatives have heaped on Hillary Clinton --
a subject for whole books, likely to sprawl into multiple volumes
if she wins.
Robin titled his latest thoughts on the election
Viva Las Vegas! In it he includes a Brecht quote from 1942:
. . . to present Hitler as particularly incompetent,
as an aberration, a perversion, humbug, a pecuilar pathological case,
while setting up other bourgeois politicians as models, models of
something he has failed to attain, seems to me no way to combat Hitler.
Joe Romm: Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy
Alexis Sottile: The Trump Effect: How Hateful Rhetoric Is Affecting
America's Children: Solar, wind, efficiency, batteries, clean
cars, and climate science, too.
Matt Taibbi: The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump:
The best argument for a Clinton presidency is that she's virtually
guaranteed to be a capable steward of the status quo, at a time of
relative stability and safety. There are criticisms to make of Hillary
Clinton, but the grid isn't going to collapse while she's in office,
something no one can say with even mild confidence about Donald Trump.
But nearly two-thirds of the population was unhappy with the direction
of the country entering the general-election season, and nothing has been
more associated with the political inside than the Clinton name.
[ . . . ]
The "scandal" of the Wiki papers, if you can call it that, is that
it captured how at ease Clinton was talking to bankers and industrialists
about the options for the organization of a global society. Even in
transcript form, it's hard not to realize that the people in these
rooms are all stakeholders in this vast historical transformation.
Left out of the discussion over the years have been people like
Trump's voters, who coincidentally took the first hit along the way in
the form of lowered middle-class wages and benefits. They were also
never told that things they cared about, like their national identity
as Americans, were to have diluted meaning in the more borderless future.
This is why the "basket of deplorables" comment rankled so badly. It's
not like it was anywhere near as demeaning or vicious as any of 10,000
Trump insults. But it spoke to a factual disconnnect.
Matthew Yglesias: The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit
story has dominated the campaign
Matthew Yglesias: Melania's illegal immigration problem reminds us what
Trump's campaign has always been about: OK, now we have proof that
she entered the country to work illegally. American nativists should be
up in arms: isn't a big part of their spiel how we shouldn't offer amnesty
to people who don't follow the rules? Yet if they're so devoted to deep
American roots, why are they backing a guy who has only one native-born
American ancestor? Unless it matters what kind of immigrants we're talking
Indeed, going back to when the Nixon administration sued Trump for
discriminating against black and Latino tenants, Trump's long record
of racism isn't really disputable.
So there's really nothing so surprising about the Melania story.
Trump doesn't like immigrants who change the American cultural and
ethnic mix in a way he finds threatening and neither do his fans.
Europeans like Melania (or before her, Ivana) are fine. I get it,
David Duke gets it, the frog meme people get it, everyone gets it.
But it does raise the question of why mainstream press coverage
has spent so much time pretending not to get it. Why have we been
treated to so many lectures about the "populist appeal" of a man
running on regressive tax cuts and financial deregulation and the
"economic anxiety" of his fans?
PS: Just shook up by a 5.3 earthquake centered 3 miles west of
Cushing, Oklahoma. Fairly sharp for about 15 second here, unsettled for
another 20-30 seconds, but I doubt we suffered any damage. On the other
hand, Cushing bills itself as the "pipeline capital" of America, so they
have a lot of dangerously fragile infrastructure real close to the
epicenter. Happened at 7:44:25 local time.
Tuesday, October 18. 2016
Continuing my slog through the
online notebook, picking up in mid-2004,
just in time for another presidential election -- I think this was the
one that Matt Taibbi called "The Stupid Season," fully aware that what
he was describing was a periodic ritual, not a one-shot fluke. On
August 19, with the anti-Kerry "swift boaters" in full attack, I
It looks like the Bush campaign from here on out is going to be
nothing but lies and slander and terrorism. They're trying to work
their own base into a frenzy of paranoia, and they're trying to
swamp the media with ruses to crowd out any serious evaluation of
Bush, his record, and the real issues. Already we've seen a series
of terrorism alerts where they try to spook us with little more
than leaks and innuendos. We've even seen a flare-up in Iraq hard
on the heels of the latest economic debacle -- is this an indication
of how desperate they are to change the subject?
The election is still more than two months away. I seriously doubt
that anything much is going to change between now and then, but as
their policies continue to sink in their own quicksand, we can expect
the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy to become ever shriller and ever more
desperate. All a straight-thinking person can do from here on out is
to batten down the hatches and stay the course.
One of the evening news shows has a daily segment called "Fallen
Heroes" -- all someone has to do to get into that show is be a U.S.
soldier killed in Iraq. By that logic I've known several Vietnam War
heroes: my nextdoor neighbor, drafted, marched through the jungle,
where he sat down on a mine; a cousin, killed inside a tank when his
own gun accidentally discharged (the official story; some people
suspect he was fragged). It is said that these people made the supreme
sacrifice for their country, but the plain fact is that the country
wasted their lives for no good purpose. So I couldn't care less if
Kerry did or didn't do anything conventionally heroic in Vietnam.
The real heroes from that war were the ones who opposed it, as Kerry
himself dramatized when he threw away his medals or ribbons or
whatever they were.
I probably should have added something like "too bad he no longer
has the courage to remind us how right he was in opposing that war, as
opposed to how dumb he was in signing up for it in the first place."
Maybe even: "in retrospect, he's managed to make both stances look
like nothing more than opportune political stunts as he tried to
gauge which way the wind was blowing." But then we're talking about
a guy who voted against the Gulf War in 1990 and for the Iraq War
in 2003 and came to regret both votes.
On September 3, 2004, I wrote a fairly long post on Chechen
separatism and terrorism -- the occasion was an attack on a school
in nearby Beslan, which killed more than 300 people.
On September 13, 2004, I found myself looking back on 9/11:
Three years after the terrible attacks of 11 September 2001 I find
myself wondering whether anyone ever is so shocked by an unexpected
event that they reconsider and change course. The horror that we felt
that morning watching the World Trade Center burn and collapse was
not just for the victims. Every bit as horrifying was the expectation
of what would come: not what further attacks might come, but what the
U.S. would do in reaction. To call what happened afterwards revenge
would be to give it more purpose and sense than history demonstrates.
All Osama bin Laden actually did on that day was to poke a giant and
stir it into fitful action. He soon went into hiding and has been
irrelevant ever since, but the U.S. reaction has continued to rail
blindly against the world. In the three years since, the U.S. has
laid waste to two countries, killing at least ten times as many people
as died on that fateful day, perhaps twenty times, sacrificing another
thousand Americans in the process. The U.S. burned up over $200 billion
prosecuting those wars, now just hopeless sinkholes, festering pools
of hate. And three years out we're nowhere near closure.
That no good would come of America's reaction was clear from the
first day. The problem was no doubt made worse because the President
was a deceitful cynic who saw a ready chance to cover himself with
the glory of war, and because his administration was chock full of
liars and crooks and ideological megalomaniacs. But the U.S. had
long been cocked for this sort of reaction, much as, say, the world
of 1914 plunged into World War following the assassination of Archduke
Ferdinand. . . .
The attacks of 11 September 2001 should have been a moment for
sober reflection, but it wasn't. The collapse of the Soviet Union
should have been a time for healing, but it wasn't. Throughout
history there have been few cases where victors have been gracious,
and fewer still where nations have changed their ways without
having been forced to by catastrophe. That anyone believes that
Bush has a clue how to proceed from here tells us both that we're
not very smart about ourselves and the world and that, disastrous
as the War on Terror has been, we still haven't fallen hard enough
yet. Kerry's nomination and campaign are scarcely more encouraging:
he has a bad record for rushing into wars, but at least has some
capacity for learning from his mistakes. Bush's supporters are
blind to those mistakes, otherwise they'd recognize that he is
the necessary sacrifice in order to start to set things right.
On October 29, 2004, I wrote a piece about the Boston Red Sox
and their curse, on occasion of their first World Series victory
since 1918. Also wrote this:
Noted the cover this week of The Economist: Ariel Sharon
with an olive branch in his mouth. Evidently it's supposed to
represent him as a dove, but it looks to me like he's just ate
the West Bank.
On October 21, I sent a letter to virtually everyone in my
address book, titled "Vote for John Kerry (It's Important)."
It was the first time I ever done something like that (and it
will probably be the last). You can read the letter with a
postscript here. The
Bush has a big problem this year: reality. In less than four
years Bush has taken us from relative peace and prosperity to a
disastrous war and an economy which exposes the fundamental problems
of a government which favors the rich at the expense of everyone
else. A good part of this problem is systemic -- the decline of real
wages for the workers who built America has been going on for thirty
years, as the gulf between rich and poor has been broadening,
concentrating power for the rich and reducing opportunity and a sense
of fairness for everyone else. But much of the problem is due to the
arrogance, ignorance and incompetence of the Bush
administration. . . .
If Bush does somehow manage to win it will be a
sad time for America. Not only would it expose us to four more years
of depredations and mismanagement, it plainly broadcasts to us and the
world that the citizens of the United States just don't get how far
their country has decayed from the ideals of freedom, equality,
opportunity, and justice that we grew up believing in. A victory for
Bush would show us to be extraordinarily gullible, or downright
As we now know, Bush did win that election -- a very close one,
with some taint in Ohio -- but it wasn't long before the gullible
came to regret their choice: only Nixon sunk faster and further
after a successful re-election bid. Still, twelve years later few
people seem to recall what was at stake in 2004. And even though
the second Bush term merely brought the disasters seeded in his
first term to fruition, it seems like most people have forgotten
his party's responsibility for so many calamities.
After Kerry failed, I wrote a long postmortem, including this
prediction (November 3, 2004):
The most likely [scenario] is that Bush will make such a mess of his second
term that his now-blind followers will give up in disgust. But that's
been given a pretty severe trial by his first term, and he's emerged
stronger than ever. Historically mid-term congressional elections (the
next one is in 2006) have ran against the President's party, but the
Republicans managed to escape that effect in 2002, mostly by treating
each race as a separate forum (mostly not on Bush). The Democrats do
have the experience of massive volunteer efforts this year, which if
duplicated could make an impact in 2006.
My mood darkened later that week when Bush celebrated by destroying
the defiant Iraqi city of Falluja. From my November 9, 2004 post:
John Kerry campaigned using the slogan, "help is on the way." George
W. Bush's first act now that he's got his mandate was to launch a major
ground assault on Falluja in Iraq, following a few months of intensive
aerial bombardment. This has evidently been planned quite a while, but
they delayed launching it until the votes had been counted and the voters
safely put back to sleep. A more revealing campaign slogan for Bush would
be, "hell is on the way."
I'm not aware of Kerry commenting on the siege of Fallujah, although
I have to admit that I haven't been paying a lot of attention to him,
including his concession speech. Had Kerry won the election he presumably
would have something to say, as the assault on Falluja would have made
his task of coming up with a somewhat positive resolution even harder
than it is. But all I know about Kerry's concession speech is that it was
lauded as gracious, which probably means he didn't take the opportunity
to scold the electorate by pointing out that "help is not on the way."
That is, of course, the difference between a politician trying to make
nice and a leader who realizes how much was at stake, and now how much
has been lost, in this election. Kerry may be a dedicated public servant,
and he may have laudable personal principles, but he's not a guy who's
going to fight for once you're down.
From November 17, 2004, as Bush was reloading his administration for
a second term:
Colin Powell's resignation as Secretary of State is good riddance,
even if his successor is likely to be even less principled and even
more inept. My home town paper's editorial page toasted Powell today
under the heading "Moderate": "His moderate, multinational, pragmatic
views were routinely rejected in the Bush team's squabbles on nuclear
nonproliferation, Iraq, the Middle East and other major challenges
abroad." If this was Powell's strategy, the editorial writer (Randy
Scholfield) would have been right to conclude that "his tenure can
only be described as a failure." Yes, it's been a failure, maybe
even in Powell's own limited terms. But it hasn't been a failure
because Powell's moderation was rejected by hotter heads; it's been
a failure because of Powell's willingness to support the hawks. And
there's damn little evidence that Powell isn't one of the hawks.
His disagreements have at most been tactical.
Theodore Roosevelt's used to say "speak softly and carry a big
stick." Powell alone among Bush's War Cabinet seems to have taken
that as a maxim. But Roosevelt's intent was to camouflage a whole
administration. If only Powell speaks softly, he loses his voice.
The bigger question is why did the others speak so loudly. And the
evident answer is that Bush's foreign policy has first and foremost
been a matter of domestic politics. Bush's bully tactics are meant
to show his base that he's their strong leader; and the world be
damned -- it's not like their votes count. Powell's most famous
self-description was as the "bully on the block," so how much
space does that leave between Bush and Powell? Damn little, at
least in the realm of intentions. I don't discount that Powell
has a stronger grip on reality and the limits of American power,
but let's face it: for Bush that's off-message. Powell did nothing
effective to bring such concerns to bear on administration policy.
Maybe this too is just an act. . . . .
As the second term cabinet turns over, the most notable trend
is that the new cabinet members are almost all current White House
staff (e.g., Alberto Gonzalez for John Ashcroft). This bespeaks
an administration that will be even more closeted and close-minded
than the last one. You voted for it, America. This is just Bush's
way of saying: fuck you.
On November 25, 2004 I wrote about an event where a panel of
speakers held forth on "are we safer now?" (meaning safer from
terrorism). I introduced that piece by noting that a school in
Wichita had recently been blown up, not by terrorists but by
construction incompetence (probably a gas leak). I went on to
generate a long list of non-terrorist things that actually make
our lives more dangerous, then added this paragraph, which goes
a bit deeper:
All this might not matter much if the world were a well balanced
static system, but it isn't. We live in a world where resources are
shrinking while demand expands. We live in a world where expertise
is becoming rarefied, putting us at the mercy of experts who may or
may not have our interests at heart. We live in a world where a
clever few can exploit the ignorant many, but even the clever few
have to compete so ruthlessly that they lose their grip -- they've
constructed a world of hair triggers that surrender control and
amplify panic. We live in a world where the "movers and shakers"
move and shake so fast that they've become incapable of recognizing
the unexpected. We live in a world which continues to cling to the
ideology that the pursuit of private advantages serves the common
good, even though there are few if any cases where this is true.
And we live in a nation that has promoted its misconceptions to
such staggering heights that some sort of horrible crash seems
On January 21, 2015, I wrote about natural disasters, starting with
a local ice storm, then moving on to California mudslides and the big
tsunami in the Indian Ocean:
What this means is that as disasters mount up government has not
merely become the insurer-of-last-resort, it's increasingly becoming
the only insurer of note. This should give us pause, especially as
the political geniuses of the Republican party have set out on a
program to systematically bankrupt government. In doing so they run
the risk of leaving us in the rubble. The Bush administration's
response to the tsunami crisis is a good example of how this is
going to work: a tiny pittance, maybe a bit more after the media
shames them, plus whatever the charitably inclined might pitch in;
meanwhile the government's contribution gets delivered through the
military -- the only U.S. government agency functioning beyond U.S.
borders these days -- and only after they work out the payola
On February 23 I wrote a good deal about Boeing's outsourcing of
their plant in Wichita where my father and brother had worked for
many decades. I also wrote a little note on Hillary Clinton and her
presidential prospects (nearly four years ahead of the 2008 election):
Found in the Wichita Eagle "Opinion Line" (a good source of wise
cracks and insane rants): "What a complete joke that Hillary Clinton
is, quoting the Bible in her speeches." One reason I note this is that
she has been getting a lot of flack on a local mail list I subscribe
to for her murky position on abortion rights and her hawkishness on
Iraq and any other potential cruise missile target you'd care to name.
Juan Cole reports that she's also managed to tick off the presumptive
next Prime Minister of Iraq. Clearly she's launched her campaign, but
I have to wonder what her prospects are with an increasingly polarized
public where both ends of the spectrum can't stand her. Maybe that
would have worked to her advantage in the '90s when few cared about
issues and most distrusted those who did.
I remember listening to a radio interview with her back in '93 or
'94 when she was asked what her reaction would be if her health care
reform was rejected, and she said that would be a shame. That might
have been savvy had she been sure of winning, but when her plan went
down is was just aloof. It was worse than a shame -- it was tragic,
not so much what her lousy plan lost as that she blew a huge amount
of political capital on something that wouldn't have solved the
problem in the first place, that substituted for a serious plan,
and that by failing cut the Republicans loose to do all the damage
they've done since 1994. That health plan was the same sort of too
clever straddle-the-middle tactic she's building her campaign on.
I'm hoping that someone will take her to task in the NY Democratic
primary in 2006 and knock her out.
Sunday, October 16. 2016
Realizing I wasn't going to find much time, I started this early in
the week, and added things when I noticed them without making much in
the way of a systematic search. Since my last Weekend Roundup, much
as happened, including a debate of the vice-president candidates
(which failed to convince me that Tim Kaine was the smart choice), a
second presidential debate (which further cemented Trump's decline),
and major exposés of both candidates' dirty laundry (where Trump's
smelled much fouler).
At the moment, FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary a
86.2% chance of winning based on a 6.5% popular vote advantage,
with Arizona tilting slightly toward Hillary (51.0%), and progressively
better odds in Iowa (62.1%), Ohio (64.8%), North Carolina (69.2%),
Nevada (74.4%), Florida (74.5%), and New Hampshire (the state which
for most of this election was the one that would secure an electoral
college win for either candidate, now 83.7% for Hillary). Trump still
looks to be solid elsewhere, although a third party candidate named
Evan McMullin is polling well enough in Utah that he's given a chance
of picking up the state's electoral votes (Trump's chances there are
92.7%, Clinton 4.6%, so that could leave McMullin with 2.7%). Trump's
weakest leads are currently: Alaska (68.4%), Georgia (73.7%), Missouri
(77.8%), South Dakota (81.2%), South Carolina (83.6%), Texas (86.1%),
Indiana (86.2%), Kansas (87.3%), and Montana (87.4%).
I work out much of the logic under the Christgau link below, but
to cut to the chase, I plan on voting for Hillary Clinton in November,
and urge you to do so too. More importantly, I plan on voting for
Democrats down ballot (even though the ones in Kansas running against
Moran and Pompeo have less chance than Gary Johnson does), and hope
for big gains for the Democrats in Congress and elsewhere -- in many
ways that's even more important than the presidency. One thing I was
especially struck by this past week was interviews with Moran and
Pompeo where they casually referred to "the disaster of the Obama
administration." Do these guys have any fucking idea what they're
talking about? Or do they just mean Obama's been bad for them
personally, like by cutting into their graft and perks? Sure,
Obama has been disappointing, but mostly because he's been
crippled by Republicans -- who clearly live in their own fantasy
world these days.
Some scattered links this week:
Russell Berman: What Bill Clinton Meant When He Called Obamacare
'Crazy': Actually, there's nothing in his specific critique that
couldn't be fixed by rejiggering the subsidy tables to help people
with a bit more income than the current schedules allow -- but that
also rewards the insurance companies for pushing premiums up. The
other approach that is commonly talked about is trying to drive
premiums back down by providing a non-profit "public option" to
compete with the private insurers. What was really crazy about
Obamacare was thinking that you could solve the problem of a
growing number of uninsured people while keeping the profits of
all the parts of the industry propped up, and that problem isn't
going to be countered until you find a way to blunt or eliminate
those profit-seeking opportunities. And the truth is that the
private insurance racket, which could easily be obsoleted by a
single-payer system, is just the tip of that iceberg. We may not
be as far away from coming to that realization as many pundits
think -- in large part because we have the examples of so many
other countries that have figured that out and made health care
a public service and a universal right.
On the other hand, just because Obamacare is crazy doesn't
mean it wasn't a big improvement over the previous system. And
while is hasn't succeeded in making sure everyone is insured,
it reversed a longstanding trend that was stripping health
insurance from millions of Americans. The Republicans never
had an answer to that problem, and while they conceivably
could make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare, they
have no clue how to fix it. Berman talks a bit about various
tinkerings that might help a bit -- the sort of things that
Hillary Clinton is likely to push for. Still, I take Bill's
"crazy" comment as good news: mostly, it shows he's moved
beyond his own even lousier 1990s health care scheme.
Robert Christgau: Confessions of a Hillary Supporter: 'It's Not Like We
Can Breathe Easy': Returns to the Voice with a political
screed, much of it rehashing Nader's role in Gore's fateful
2000 loss to Bush, as well as his still snippy attitude toward Sanders:
I know, you can't stand [Trump] either. For you, Hillary is the hard
part. . . . Hillary lacks daring as well as grace, and
from Libya to Honduras, her instinct in foreign policy has always been
to fetishize "democracy" in an obtusely formalistic way. But she has a
long personal history of doing good for people, an unmatched grasp of
policy, thousands of exploitable relationships, and a platform where
Sanders taught her plenty about the expanding limits of what's
progressive and what's politic.
Best part of the piece is his recounting past efforts to dive
into the political weeds and call on voters. He urges you to do
the same this year: "we don't just want to win -- we want to win
so big across the board that Clinton will feel obliged to activate
her platform and that Trump's racist, xenophobic chauvinism will
seem a perilous tack even to the saner Republicans who are right
now scheming to deliver the U.S. to Big Capital in 2020."
I don't want to relitigate Nader in 2000, but I find it odd
that Christgau singles out Lieberman as the reason he voted for
Nader over Gore. I've never been a Lieberman fan, but I don't
think I gave Gore's VP pick any thought at the time. It was only
later, after Sharon came to power in Israel and put an end to
the Oslo Peace Process, and after 9/11 and Bush launched his
Crusade (aka Global War on Terror) that Lieberman transformed
into a conspicuously monstrous hawk. I don't doubt that he had
long harbored that stance, just as I don't doubt that he had
always been in the pocket of the insurance industry, but it's
not like Gore saw those things as problems. I suspected that
Gore would have tilted against peace in Israel/Palestine, and
I never doubted that he would have gone to war in Afghanistan
and elsewhere (including Iraq) in response to 9/11. He may
have done so less crudely and less carelessly than Bush did,
but those were pretty low bars. It's tempting to look back on
this history and think that Gore would have avoided the many
mistakes that Bush committed, but the whole DLC pitch in the
1990s (which Gore was as much a part of as Clinton) was to
cut into the Republican alignment with oligarchy by showing
that the Democrats could be even better for business, and
they picked up a lot of conservative baggage along the way.
That was Gore in 2000, and while we certainly underestimated
how bad Bush would turn out, that was a pretty good reason
to back Nader in 2000.
On the other hand, I now think that Nader made a major mistake
running as a third party candidate in 2000 (and 2004). We would
have been much better served had he ran in primaries as a Democrat.
He wouldn't have come close to beating Gore, but he would have
been able to mobilize a larger protest vote, and he would have
drawn the discussion (and maybe the party platform) toward the
left. But then we don't get to choose our options, just choose
among them. What persuaded me to give up interest in third party
efforts was the fact that even in 2000, even with no campaign
visibility, Gore outpolled Nader in Kansas by a factor of ten:
37.2-3.4%. I realized then that the people we wanted to appeal
to were stuck in the Democratic Party. Sometimes part of that
appeal means you have to vote for a poor excuse for a Democrat.
The Nation recently ran a pair of articles on Stein vs. Clinton:
Kshama Sawant: Don't Waste Your Vote on the Corporate Agenda -- Vote
for Jill Stein and the Greens, and
Joshua Holland: Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote.
I don't care for the thinking behind either of these articles,
but only one has a clue what "waste" means and it isn't Sawant.
If you want your vote to be effective, you should vote either
for or against one of the two leading candidates, and it really
doesn't make any difference whether you're positive or negative,
just so you can tell the difference. On the other hand, sure,
vote for a third party candidate if the following is the case:
you can't distinguish a difference you really care about, and
both leading candidates are objectionable on something you
really do care about.
Sawant may well be right if the one issue you really care
about is "the corporate agenda" -- assuming you can define that
in terms where Trump and Clinton are interchangeable, which I'm
not sure you can do. (For instance, Trump wants less regulation
of corporations but Clinton sometimes wants more; Trump wants
the rich to pay less in taxes but Clinton wants the rich to pay
more; Clinton favors a higher minimum wage but Trump doesn't.)
But personally, I don't see "the corporate agenda" (or its more
conceptual proxy, "capitalism") as something to get bent out of
shape about. I don't have a problem with corporations as long
as they are well regulated and we have countervailing mechanisms
to balance off problems like inequality. Clinton doesn't go as
far in that direction as I'd like, and she's much to comfy in
the company of billionaires, but Trump is a billionaire (one
of the worst of the breed), and he clearly has no concern for
the vast majority of Americans. I can think of several issues
I am so deeply concerned about that I might base a decision on
them: war is a big one, racism another, inequality all-pervasive,
and environmental degradation. Trump is clearly unacceptable on
all four accounts (as is the political party for which he stands).
Clinton is clearly better on all of those except war, and she's
probably more temperate and sensible there than Trump is. Perhaps
if Stein ran a campaign specifically against war and empire I might
find her candidacy more compelling, but "corporate agenda" doesn't
do the trick.
Sawant's other argument is that you can only build an alternative
to "the corporate agenda" by staying outside of the Democratic Party.
I don't see that working for three reasons: almost all of the people
who might be sympathetic are already invested as Democrats (and more
all the time are being driven to the Democrats by the Republicans);
your separatism demonstrates a lack of solidarity, and possibly even
an antipathy to the people you're supposedly trying to help; and
you're denying that reform is possible within the Democratic Party,
which given the existence of primaries and such would seem to be
But let's throw one more argument into the mix. Voting is at best
a rare and limited option, whereas there are other forms of political
action that are more direct, more focused, and more viable for people
who don't start with majority consensus: demonstrations, speeches,
boycotts. In these cases what may matter more isn't having politicians
to lead your side but having politicians willing to listen and open
to persuasion, especially based on traditionally shared values. One
instance that made this clear to me was when organizers who were
opposed to Israeli apartheid and occupation came to Wichita and
urged us to talk to our representative and senators. They pointed out
how they gained a receptive audience from longtime Israel supporters
like Ted Kennedy, but all we had to work with was Sam Brownback and
Todd Tiahrt -- bible-thumping end-of-times Zionists who regard us
less as constituents than as intractable enemies. So while it may
not be possible to turn Clinton against American imperialism and
militarism in principle, at least her administration will see a
need to talk to us -- if she's our leader, we're her people, and
that's not something I can imagine with Trump and the Republicans.
(Also not something that seems likely with today's crop of third
parties, which are almost anti-political and anti-social by design.)
Some other more or less leftish opinions:
Fred Kaplan: How Does Obama Respond to Russia's Cyberattacks?
The Obama administration has gone on record not only declaring that
Russia is responsible for recent hacks apparently meant to influence
US elections, but that the US will retaliate against Russia somehow.
Perhaps I'm being dense, but I've never understood what constitutes
cyberwarfare, let alone what the point of it is. I was hoping Kaplan,
who has written a recent book on the subject, might enlighten me,
but about all I've gathered from this article is that a picking a
fight here is only likely to hurt everyone. As Kaplan writes:
If the cyberconflict escalated, it would play into their strengths
and our weaknesses. Again, our cyberoffensive powers are superior
to theirs, as President Obama recently boasted; but our society is
more vulnerable to even inferior cyberoffensives. We have bigger
and better rocks to throw at other houses, but our house is made
of glass that shatters more easily.
What's implied here but rarely spelled out is that the US does
everything we've accused Russia of doing, and probably does it
better (or at least does it on a much more massive scale). I
don't know, for instance, to what extent the US has tried to
influence Russian elections, but clearly we have a long history
of doing things like that, from the CIA operations in post-WWII
Italy to keep the Communist Party out of power to the recent
toppling of a pro-Putin government in Ukraine.
Daniel Politi: Kansas Terrorists Wanted Anti-Muslim Attack to
End in "Bloodbath":
They called themselves the "Crusaders" and had a clear purpose: launch
an attack against Muslims that would lead to a "bloodbath." With any
luck that would help spark a religious war. But their plans were thwarted
as three Kansas men were arrested on Friday for planning an attack on a
Garden City, Kansas apartment complex filled with Somali immigrants that
is also home to a mosque. They planned to carry out the attack one day
after the November election. . . .
The complaint also notes that during one conversation Stein said that
"the only fucking way this country's ever going to get turned around is
it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherfucker. Unless
a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the fucking coffee
and decide they want this country back . . . we might be too late, if
they do wake up . . . I think we can get it done. But it ain't going to
be nothing nice about it." At one point Stein made it clear he was ready
to kill babies: "When we go on operations there's no leaving anyone
behind, even if it's a one-year old, I'm serious."
Police say they found "close to a metric ton of ammunition in Allen's
residence," which is what led authorities to believe the attack could be
imminent. "These individuals had the desire, the means, the capability
to carry out this act of domestic terrorism," an FBI official said.
The article notes that "There has been an incredible increase in
anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment over the past few years."
The article didn't note the Donald Trump campaign, nor America's
seemingly endless war in Somalia. On the latter, see
Mark Mazzetti/hjeffrey Gettleman/Eric Schmidt: In Somalia, U.S.
Escalates a Shadow War:
The Pentagon has acknowledged only a small fraction of these operations.
But even the information released publicly shows a marked increase this
year. The Pentagon has announced 13 ground raids and airstrikes thus far
in 2016 -- including three operations in September -- up from five in
2015, according to data compiled by New America, a Washington think tank.
The strikes have killed about 25 civilians and 200 people suspected of
being militants, the group found.
The strikes have had a mixed record. In March, an American airstrike
killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called
a "graduation ceremony," one of the single deadliest American airstrikes
in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more
than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against
Derek Thompson: No, Not Gary Johnson: It's unfortunate that the
Libertarian candidate isn't as articulate about foreign policy and
war someone like Ron Paul. For one thing, that might spare us some
gaffes like "what is a leppo?" or "when he failed to name a single
world leader in a televised town hall" (actually, he was asked for
the name of a foreign leader he admired, which frankly would have
stumped me -- my response would have been that it's inappropriate
for US politicians to render judgment on foreign politicians, as
indeed it was for Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte to defame Obama).
Thompson concludes that Johnson "suffers from an Aleppo mindset, a
proud lack of curiosity about foreign affairs lurking behind an
attractively simplistic rejection of military interventions." It
never occurred to Thompson that if you reject in principle the
whole idea of military interventions, you really don't need to
know a lot of detail about places hawks want to intervene in, or
the trumped up causes they think they're advancing. Still, it
would have been better to have smarter answers handy -- it's
not like candidates can assume that pundits won't ask stupid
Thankfully, Thompson moves past his dedication to preserving
the American empire to grill Johnson over issues where his
muddle-headedness is more glaring, such as the role of government
in the economy, increasing the contrast by comparing Johnson to
But on policy, the two could not be more opposite. Sanders, a
democratic socialist, proposed to raise taxes by historic sums
and spend hundreds of billions of dollars to nationalize health
insurance and make college free. Johnson's plans are the complete
reverse: He has proposed to eliminate the federal income tax code,
unwind 100 years of anti-poverty and health-insurance programs,
and shutter the Department of Education. His plan would almost
certainly raise the cost of college for many middle-class teenagers
and 20somethings who rely on federal loans and grants, and his
repeal of Obamacare would immediately boot tens of thousands of
them off their parents' health plans.
Beyond his jovial demeanor and admirably passionate anti-interventionist
position, Johnson puts a likable face on a deeply troubling economic
policy. Scrapping the Federal Reserve while cutting federal spending
by 40 percent, while eliminating federal income taxes and trying to
institute a new consumption tax would have a predictable effect: It
would take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy, likely
triggering a recession, while shifting the burden of paying for what's
left of the federal government to the poor just as unemployment started
to rise, all the while shutting off any possible monetary stimulus that
could provide relief to the ailing economy.
Thompson's numbers are probably understated -- certainly the number
who would lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed would be well
into the millions, and the economic collapse is probably more like
trillions. But these examples do help remind us how naïve and foolish
libertarian economic theory is. Still, without their crackpot notions
of economic freedom libertarians would just be liberals. On the other
hand, if liberals gave up the war on drugs and their defense of empire,
libertarians wouldn't have a prayer of siphoning off votes, as Johnson
does this year.
For a longer critique of Johnson, see
Nick Tabor: Gary Johnson's Hard-Right Record.
Miscellaneous election links:
Arthur Goldhammer: What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Have Made of the 2016
US Presidential Election
Donald Trump's Disastrous Debate: The Atlantic's live blog on
last Sunday's second debate. David A. Graham summed up:
It was a microcosm of the campaign: Clinton is a weak candidate, with
a train car's worth of luggage trailing behind her. But Trump is weaker
still, and at every turn, he seems to overshadow her problems with much
deeper problems of his own -- much louder gaffes, much more serious
political errors. That has been a rather depressing spectacle for the
Nate Silver: Where the Race Stands With Three Weeks to Go
Leslie Bennetts: Enough is enough: the 2016 election is now a referendum
on male entitlement: "Donald Trump's inflated masculinity and unabashed
claim over women's bodies speaks to female voters' lived experiences and,
hopefully, men's need for change."
John Cassidy: The Illuminating but Unsurprising Content of Clinton's
Paid Speeches: Nicholas Thompson linked to this and tweeted
(I'll spare you the shouting): "Breaking: new Clinton docs reveal
she's a cautious centrist with advisers who think about policy."
Cassidy quotes another comment, that the admissions also indicate
"a level of self-awareness unimaginable in her opponent." For more
on the speeches, see:
Lee Fang et al.: Excerpts of Hillary Clinton's Paid Speeches to
Goldman Sachs Finally Leaked. Also by Cassidy:
The Election May Be Over, but Trump's Blowup Is Just Starting.
Martin Longman: George Will and David Brooks Lead the Defection:
A quote from Brooks: "Politics is an effort to make human connection,
but Trump seems incapable of that. He is essentially adviser-less,
friendless. His campaign team is made up of cold mercenaries at best
and Roger Ailes at worst."
Matt Taibbi: The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump:
Trump Suggests Vets Who Need Mental Health Services Aren't Strong
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Still Thinks the Central Park Five Are
Dara Lind: Donald Trump shows the opposite of "political correctness"
isn't free speech. It's just different repression.
Katherine Noble: Evangelicals' Response to Assault and the Donald Trump
Russell Berman: Why the Supreme Court Matters More to Republicans than
Trump: Or, conversely, why it matters more to you than Hillary.
Heather Digby Parton: Wolf in sheep's clothing: Mike Pence conceals his
far-right radicalism with a sedate debate performance
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's problem isn't a conspiracy. It's him.
Emily Crockett: Donald Trump's books reveal his obsession with women --
Tierney Sneed: Former Bush DOJer John Yoo: Trump 'Reminds Me a Lot of
Early Mussolini': Funny thing: when someone asked who would be
willing to serve as Attorney General under Trump after he vowed to
jail Hillary Clinton, the first candidate I thought of was Bush's
torture enabler. I guess I underestimated him. On the other hand,
Twitter quickly answered my question: Rudy Giuliani (of course).
Tara Golshan: Donald Trump's Mormon problem, explained: One thing
I didn't know is that there is a third (or fifth) party candidate in
Utah named Evan McMullin who's evidently polling very well there.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's wild new rhetoric isn't about winning --
it's about what comes next, and
Donald Trump's epic meltdown, explained
Ryan Lizza: Steve Bannon's Vision for the Trump Coalition After Election
Amy Chozick/Nicholas Confessore: Hacked Transcripts Reveal a Genial Hillary
Clinton at Goldman Sachs Events
Jeff Stein: The math says Democrats have little shot at the House. Donald
Trump suggests otherwise. Main thing the article suggests is that the
Democrats would be in better shape if they made a systematic effort to
nominate good candidates (and, yes, Kansas is one of the prime examples).
But also there isn't much ticket-splitting (less than 10% in 2012), so a
Clinton landslide could bring some unexpected wins.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Apologies for Donald Trump:
The white working class is right to feel that those in power are not
acting in their interests. Of course they are not acting in the interests
of the African American or Hispanic working classes either. Unfortunately,
unless mainstream politicians stop doing the bidding of the wealthy, the
white working class will continue to look to political figures who blame
non-whites for their problems, since that will be the only answer they see.
Robert L Borosage: Inequality Is Still the Defining Issue of Our Time:
Title is clearly right, worth repeating at every opportunity. Another
way to make the case is to point out that the entire purpose of
conservativism is to defend and secure the privileges of the rich
and make them richer.
Patrick Cockburn: Talk of a No-fly Zone Distracts from Realistic
Solutions for Aleppo
Jonathan Cohn: The Future of America Is Being Written in This Tiny
Office: Long piece on Hillary Clinton's "policy team."
When it came to formulating her own ideas, Clinton wasn't starting from
scratch, obviously. But since her last run for the White House, the
Democratic Party had undergone a minor metamorphosis -- and in ways that
didn't seem like a natural fit for Clinton, at least as she was perceived
by most voters. The progressive wing was clearly ascendant, with groups
like Occupy Wall Street and Fight For 15 harnessing populist anger at the
financial system, and Black Lives Matter turning an unrelenting spotlight
on racial injustice. Minority voters had come to represent a larger
proportion of both the party and the population, giving Democrats an
electoral-college advantage whose influence was still unclear when Obama
ran for office. And there was another trend at work -- one that was less
obvious, but no less important: In just a few years, the Democratic elite
had quietly gone through a once-in-a-generation shift on economic thinking.
Thomas Geoghegan: 3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without
a College Degree: Lots of good ideas here, like "co-determination"
(giving workers a vote on corporate boards). Third point lumps a bunch
of good things into one:
Third, unlike Trump, Hillary can promise to use the welfare state to
make us more competitive. How? Consider what would happen if we expanded
Social Security. If we get more workers over age 65 to retire, instead
of hanging on because they lack a decent private pension, we could employ
more middle-aged and young workers now sitting at home, or promote them
sooner. We need the government to assume more of the private sector's
"non-wage" labor costs. There are yet other examples where the welfare
state could make us more competitive: Expand Medicare to workers between
ages 55 and 65, so employers can stop avoiding payment for working people
who have higher skills. Or have a fair federal system of worker
compensation, instead of states' using it to bid against each other. Or
have the federal government offer to take over state Medicaid in those
states that promise to use the savings for public education and worker
training. And isn't publicly funded childcare a way of ensuring that we
use human capital more efficiently instead of trapping highly educated
women at home?
Mark Mazzetti/Ben Hubbard: Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of
Royal Tradition: The new power in Saudi Arabia is 31-year-old Prince
bin Salman, seen here as extravagant and reckless, especially with his
war in Yemen which has lately dragged the US into missile exchanges.
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Stern Gang Mailed Letter Bomb to White
House, President Truman: In 1947, when LEHI was commanded by
future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Cass R Sunstein: Five Books to Change Liberals' Minds: Tries to
pick out books that liberals can take seriously, as opposed to, say,
the partisan paranoid crap published by Regnery. The books are:
- James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve
the Human Conditions Have Failed
- Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation
- Casey Mulligan, Side Effects and Complications: The Economic
Consequences of Health-Care Reform
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
- Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle
The Scalia book came out in 1997, when he still had a reputation
as a serious (albeit flawed) thinker, as opposed to the partisan
crank you remember him as. Scott and Ellickson would seem to be
libertarians, perhaps even anarchists. Haidt's book is a respectful
probe into how conservatives think (I bought a copy, but haven't
read it.) Mulligan complains that Obamacare disincentivizes work,
and as such is a drag on GDP. That makes sense but doesn't strike
me as such a bad thing. Moreover, it's not like there aren't any
countervaling incentives to work (though it doesn't help that so
many jobs suck).
Matthew Yglesias: This is the best book to help you understand the
wild 2016 campaign: The book is Democracy for Realists,
by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, and it's a depressing slog
if you've ever fancied the idea that rational arguments based on
real interests might persuade voters to choose candidates and parties
that actually advance those interests. One argument, for instance, is
that party allegiance is based on some unknowably primordial force
(probably identity), and that people pick up the views of their party
rather than the other way around. Another is that fluctuations in
voting results are due to factors beyond any party's control, ranging
from economic performance to the shark attacks and football games.
I'm not sure how much of this I buy, let alone care about. One of
the problems with the social sciences is that every piece of insight
they reveal about anonymous behavior becomes a lever for manipulation
by some interest group. That's one reason why when I was majoring in
sociology, I spent virtually all of my efforts trying to expose how
research incorporates biases, and thereby to increase the doubt that
findings could be usurped. That's also a reason why I quit sociology.
Also why I have no interest in reading this particular book, or any
of the other books on how voters think -- books that I'm sure both
parties (if not necessarily both presidential candidates) have been
diligently studying for whatever tricks they can find.
Sunday, September 25. 2016
I don't plan on watching Monday's first debate between Donald Trump
and Hillary Clinton. I'm not someone still trying to figure out where
I stand on those two, and I can't conceive of anything either might
say that might make a difference to me -- although I do harbor a fear
that Hillary might come off as so hawkish she makes Trump look sane
(at least relatively, for the moment). Besides, if I did watch, I'd
probably be preoccupied with trying to figure out how each nuance and
tick affects other folks' views -- you know, the people who don't know
enough to know any better. I'm still haunted by that 1984 debate where
Walter Mondale ran circles around Ronald Reagan -- the most one-sided
debate I ever saw, yet 32 years later the only thing other people
remember about it was Reagan's quip about not holding his opponent's
"youth and inexperience" against him. Reagan won in a landslide that
year -- one of the stupidest decisions the American people ever made
(and there's plenty of competition for that title).
Besides, I'll read plenty about it. And I'll probably tune in
Steven Colbert's after-debate Late Show. Meanwhile, no
comments on the political links below. The current
538 odds favor Clinton at 57.5%, popular vote 46.7-44.8%, the
electoral college teetering on Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania
-- those currently favor Clinton (62.7%, 63.0%, 68.2%) but Trump can
win by tipping any one of those three (or Wisconsin or Michigan). The
"chances" exaggerate much smaller percentage edges (D+ 2.2%, 2.7%, 3.1%),
but all three (and the election) would remain Democratic if the votes
were equal (on the other hand, Trump is less than 2.0% ahead in Nevada,
Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio).
Some scattered links this week:
Natalie Nougaryède: The devastation of Syria will be Obama's legacy:
I don't agree with this piece, but want to quote a couple paragraphs
as examples of the flawed thinking that surrounds this horrific and
tragic war. First:
There have long been two takes on Syria. One is the geopolitical realism
line, which Barack Obama has chosen to follow largely because it fits with
his reluctance to get involved in another war. The line is that US or
western security interests are not at stake in an intractable, far-flung
civil war that can more easily be contained than solved. The other is the
moral imperative line that Power has repeatedly advocated within the
administration. It refers to the doctrine of "responsibility to protect,"
according to which a state's sovereignty can be violated when a regime
slaughters its own citizens.
It's always a conundrum when you limit the options to two choices
that are both flat-out wrong. The problem with "geopolitical realism"
isn't that "western security interests are not at stake." It's that
the US doesn't know what its true interests are, because the US has
stumbled blindly through seventy years of blunders in the Middle East
based on three faulty precepts: what seems like good opportunities for
a few dozen multinational corporations, a set of heuristics that like
"the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and a growing conviction that
the only way the US can act abroad is through military force (which
has its own institutional interests, ranging from budget to political
influence but mostly focused on preserving its air of omnipotence).
There can be no doubt that "geopolitical realism" has contributed
to the devastation of Syria, but that fault goes back way before the
civil war started. The US missed an opportunity in 1951 to broker a
peace treaty between Syria and Israel which would have settled the
border and committed Syria to absorb a large number of Palestinian
refugees. When that Syrian missive failed, a series of coups led to
Assad seizing power, and turning to the Soviet Union for arms to
defend against Israel (which after many border skirmishes snatched
the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967). Through those long years the
US came to reflexively think of Assad as an enemy (despite Syrian
support for the US in the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq), so when the
Arab Spring protests broke out, Obama didn't hesitate to offer his
opinion that "Assad should go" -- implicitly aligning the US with
Assad's jihadi opposition (more explicitly backed by US "allies"
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE -- monarchies set up by British
imperialism and maintained by global business interests). By now
"realists" are split on Syria, with some recognizing that nothing
the US has done so far has worked in any tangible way to further
"American interests," while others (blending into the delusional
"neocons") see that same failure as undermining America's true
interest, which is projecting power so demonstrably that the rest
of the world is humbled into submission.
One problem that "geopolitical realists" have is that they
pride themselves on their unsentimental rejection of anything that
smacks of idealism -- notably democracy, free speech, human rights,
equality, economic justice -- so they unflinchingly embrace some
of the world's most greedy and cruel regimes. However, this lack
of principle makes it possible for "humanitarian interventionists"
like Power -- the author's second group -- to shame them into acts
of war (better described as "crimes against humanity"). It's hard
to encapsulate everything that's wrong with Power's analysis in a
single paragraph -- one could fill a whole book, which in Power's
honor should be titled A Solution From Hell.
The very phrase "responsibility to protect" is shot full with
puzzling nuances, but at a practical level, the US Military is not
designed to protect anyone. Its purpose is to intimidate, a bluff
which is backed up by extraordinary killing power and the logistics
to project that force anywhere. But once it's engaged, the army is
hard-pressed even to protect itself. (A typical tactic is whenever
an IED goes off they shoot indiscriminately in a full circle, just
in case there are any innocent bystanders.) In short, they "protect"
by killing, or as one Army officer put it, "we had to destroy the
village in order to save it." As Rumsfeld put it, "you go to war
with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to
have at a later time." At least in the short term, US intervention
in Syria would kill more people and destroy more property. Given
all the evidence we have in recent years, there is no way to paint
this as "responsibility to protect."
As for the longer term, it's also pretty clear that the US isn't
any good at setting up stable, representative governments to move
forward. Part of this is that the US, whether representing tangible
(business) or ideological (neocon) interests, can't help but choose
sides and favor some at the expense of others, who will inevitably
view their losses as unjust. Part is that once you've invested blood
and treasure to conquer a country, you inevitably feel like you're
entitled to some reward -- not least gratitude from the people you
"saved" (at least those still alive, living in the wreckage of your
bombs and shells).
The other paragraph I wanted to quote:
A key problem with the ceasefire deal was the plan to set up a US-Russia
"joint implementation centre" to coordinate strikes against Islamic State.
This was meant as an incentive, as Putin had long sought to be accepted
as a coalition partner alongside the United States. But if implemented,
such a coalition could make the US complicit in Russian airstrikes, which
have been designed to strengthen Assad. The US would endorse a Russian
intervention premised on the notion that there are only two actors in
Syria: Assad and the jihadis.
The key problem with the "ceasefire deal" is that it didn't require
all sides to stop firing. Carving out an exemption for the US and Russia
to bomb IS not only gave the latter no reason to join in, it set up a
debilitating round of excuses: almost immediately the US bombed Assad
forces mistaking them for ISIS, then Russia bombed a UN convoy, perhaps
thinking the same. (For more on this, see
Patrick Cockburn: Russia and US Provide a Lesson in Propaganda Over
Nougaryède then draws two conclusions. One is to blame Obama not so
much for Syria as for letting Russia show up American power ("Putin is
celebrated by populists around the world for having outmanoeuvred the
US by pulling himself up to the ranks of a leader whose cooperation is
almost begged for"). The other is to regurgitate Power's story of how
Clinton (having belatedly realized that Bosnia "had become a cancer on
our foreign policy and on his administration's leadership") "ordered
targeted strikes on Serbian forces, which forced Slobodan Milosevic to
the negotiating table" -- a fable of the magic of US intervention that
never stood a chance in Syria.
David Hearst: Sisi is a dead man walking: Presents a pretty grim
picture of Egypt under the post-coup leadership of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi:
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rule has indeed become torture and suffering for
He has lurched from one promise to another, each one a glittering
bauble dangled over a credulous and fearful nation. The first was the
untold billions that Egypt would continue to get from the Gulf states
who bankrolled his military coup. He boasted to his aides that their
money was so plentiful it was "like rice," a judgment that now looks
dated after the collapse in the price of oil and the Yemen war. He
burnt his way through up to $50bn of their cash, loans and oil
guarantees. [ . . . ]
Now salvation comes, we are told, in the form of a $12bn IMF loan.
For Egypt's currency market, its more life support than loan. In July,
foreign reserves dropped to their lowest level in 16 months, Bloomberg
reported, and constitute only three months of imports. There is no such
thing as a free IMF loan. They are expected to demand a devaluation of
the Egyptian pound, phasing out of subsidies, and the imposition of VAT,
reforms much talked about, but never implemented. The only salaries Sisi
has raised are those of the army, police and judges. As it is, spending
on public wages, salaries, subsidies and servicing debts represent 80
percent of the budget. This leaves little room for cuts. The only option
is to squeeze more out of those who cannot afford to pay.
[ . . . ]
The truth is that Sisi is failing despite the overwhelming financial
and military support of the Gulf and the West. Confidence in him as a
leader is imploding. His remaining weapons are paranoia and nationalist
fear. The question then is not whether Sisi can fight on through the
miasma of doubt which now surrounds him. Most people already know the
answer to that. The real question is how long has he got.
The article concludes with a list of possible successors, mostly
by coup. Meanwhile, al-Sisi and Donald Trump have been saying nice
things about one another. See
Cristiano Lima: Trump praises Egypt's al-Sisi: 'He's a fantastic
guy'. Trump's fondness for authoritarian leaders has often been
noted -- most often Russia's popularly elected Vladimir Putin, but
al-Sisi is a real dictator, one who seized power by force to end
Egypt's brief experiment with democracy, who outlawed his opponents
and killed "thousands of dissidents and protestors." Trump thinks
he's "a fantastic guy," but what he really likes is: "He took control
of Egypt. And he really took control of it." Pretty much what Trump
wants to do to America.
Matthew Yglesias: Republican senators outraged by Wells Fargo's fraud
want to eliminate the agency that uncovered it: More important this
year than deciding who will be the next Commander in Chief is the more
basic political decision whether we'll expose the country to ever more
blatant forms of predatory business behavior, or whether we'll cling
onto the modest levels of regulation that still provide some degree of
protection for consumers and the environment.
A funny thing happened in the United States Senate today, as a chorus
of cross-party agreement broke out during a Senate Banking Committee
hearing on revelations that Wells Fargo employees created hundreds of
thousands of fraudulent bank accounts and credit cards in order to meet
company targets for cross-selling new products to existing customers.
The targets were extremely aggressive -- so aggressive that they couldn't
actually be met -- so thousands of employees responded by faking it.
Wells Fargo is paying $185 million in fines and fired more than 5,000
rank-and-file employees, but so far nothing has been done to personally
punish the high-level executives who reap the rewards when the company
Senators today weren't having it, with banker scourge Elizabeth Warren
telling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf that he ought to resign and face
personal investigation. [ . . . ] But it featured
a surprising level of bipartisan agreement, with committee chair
Richard Shelby, a hard-right Alabama Republican, accusing Stumpf in
his opening statement of personally fostering "a corporate culture
that drove company 'team members' to fraudulently open millions of
accounts using their customers' funds and personal information without
their permission." [ . . . ]
But even while Republicans are outraged by Wells Fargo's wrongdoing,
all the Republican senators who spoke against the bank at today's
hearing have gone on record at various times in calling for the full
repeal of President Obama's financial regulation law -- which would
mean eliminating the agency that uncovered the wrongdoing and levied
the biggest fines.
Several big things started happening in the 1980s. One is that
major steps were taken to reduce regulation of many industries,
which allowed some businesses to play fast and loose with their
ethics. Another is that marginal tax rates on the wealthy were
reduced, which gave business owners more incentive to make money
any way they could. The result was, as I said many times at the
time, that America's fastest growth industry became fraud. That
didn't end late in the decade when the Savings & Loan banks
blew up. At most, they took a little breather before the stock
market bubble of the 1990s burst to reveal star companies like
Enron as built on little but fraud. Then there was another
bubble in the mid-2000s, which like the others burst to reveal
even more fraudulent activity, this time infecting the entire
financial sector. So now we have thirty-some years of experience
showing that deregulation and tax breaks lead to nothing more
than ever more destructive episodes of fraud -- as well as
inequality, inequity, austerity, poverty, and hardship -- but
the only remedy Republicans can imagine is more deregulation
and more tax breaks. They're so pathetic you'd think Democrats
would make an issue of this.
For some more in-depth reading:
Alana Semuels: Finance Is Ruining America. For example:
But as GE Capital was making money, GE was laying off staff, outsourcing
jobs, and shifting more costs onto employees. Welch laid off 100,000 in
five years and cut research-and-development spending as a percentage of
sales by half, according to Foroohar. GE closed an Indiana refrigerator
plant and relocated some of the production of models to Mexico. It cut
2,500 jobs in a turbine division to save $1 billion. In 2007, it shuttered
a 1.4 million-square-foot plant in Bridgeport that had once, in the heyday
of American manufacturing, made clocks, fans, radios, washing machines,
and vacuums, and employed thousands of people. In short, investors were
getting wealthy, but working class-people weren't sharing the rewards.
Instead, they were losing their jobs.
"The stereotype of what finance is supposed to do is take the income of
savers and channel that to productive investments," Marshall Steinbaum, an
economist at the Roosevelt Institute, told me. "That's not what finance
does now. A lot of finance goes in the opposite direction, where essentially
they are taking money out of productive corporations and sending it back to
Emma Green: Why Does the United States Give So Much Money to Israel?
In one of his "lame duck" acts, Obama signed a Memorandum of Understanding
stating that the US will give Israel $38 billion over the next ten years,
"an increase of roughly 27 percent on the money pledged in the last
agreement, which was signed in 2007." Most (or maybe all) of this is
for arms, pretty much the last thing Israel actually needs. One plus
is that all the money comes back to Americans arms merchants (under
the old agreement Israel could spend about one-quarter of the grants
on their own industry) so one could look at this as an American jobs
program -- indeed, Obama's record-setting arms sales have been the
only sort of jobs program Congress has allowed him. Not much analysis
of why. Support for Israel is eroding, especially among young Democrats,
and foreign aid for anyone has never been popular. Still, in Washington
lining up to pay homage to Israel is still the safe choice -- heavily
lobbied for, scarcely lobbied against.
Nathan Thrall: Obama & Palestine: The Last Chance, briefly
reviewing how little Obama accomplished in two terms, or how easily
Netanyahu has manage to deflect Obama's spineless ambivalence. Still,
most of the article is about something minor Obama could still hope
to pull off:
This leaves only one option that isn't seen as unrealistic, unpalatable,
or insignificant: to set down the guidelines or "parameters" of a peace
agreement -- on the four core issues of borders, security, refugees, and
Jerusalem -- in a US-supported UN Security Council resolution. Once passed,
with US support, these Security Council-endorsed parameters would become
international law, binding, in theory, on all future presidents and peace
Top US officials see a parameters resolution as Obama's only chance at
a lasting, positive legacy, one that history might even one day show to
have been more important to peace than the achievements of his predecessors.
Once Kerry's efforts extinguished the administration's last hopes of an
agreement on their watch, a parameters resolution became their brass ring;
since then, Israel-Palestine policy has largely been at a standstill in
Washington and capitals throughout Europe, hanging on the question of
whether Obama will decide to grab it.
If he doesn't grab it, and that's the bet I'd put my money on, all
he'll have to show for eight years of trying to reconcile Israel and
the Palestinians is a record-smashing arms deal -- munitions Israel
has used for a series of murderous assaults on Gaza "on his watch."
Ta-Nehisi Coates: What O.J. Simpson Means to Me: I did my best to
avoid the murder case news when it happened, viewing the grotesque
public focus with celebrity as just another of those ways television
perverts our sense of reality. I had followed the NFL back in his day,
watched him emerge on television and in advertising, thinking him a
little bland but likable enough, while not even curious about his
personal life. I do remember that during the trial my mother -- not
a racist but also not someone who felt any qualms about voting for
George Wallace -- thought he couldn't possibly be guilty. I did get
a refresher course in watching the FX drama series (The People v.
O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, although I bailed out midway
through the documentary O.J.: Made in America). That the
story has resurfaced in such a big way this year says something
about the heightened consciousness now of how fallible the justice
system remains -- not that it continues as it's always been, but
old stories have a way of becoming new again. Coates has much on
the complex racial dynamics surrounding Simpson, but the following
How many black men had the LAPD arrested and convicted under a similarly
lax application of standards? "If you can railroad O.J. Simpson with his
millions of dollars and his dream team of legal experts," the activist
Danny Bakewell told an assembled crowd in L.A. after the Fuhrman tapes
were made public, "we know what you can do to the average African American
and other decent citizens in this country."
The claim was prophetic. Four years after Simpson was acquitted, an
elite antigang unit of the LAPD's Rampart division was implicated in a
campaign of terror that ranged from torture and planting evidence to drug
theft and bank robbery -- "the worst corruption scandal in LAPD history,"
according to the Los Angeles Times. The city was forced to vacate
more than 100 convictions and pay out $78 million in settlements.
The Simpson jury, as it turned out, understood the LAPD all too well.
And its conclusions about the department's inept handling of evidence
were confirmed not long after the trial, when the city's crime lab was
overhauled. "If your mission is to sweep the streets of bad people . . .
and you can't prosecute them successfully because you're incompetent,"
Mike Williamson, a retired LAPD officer, remarked years later about the
trial, "you've defeated your primary mission."
Rob Sheffield: What 'O.J.: Made in America' Says About America Right
Now, where he notes, "The O.J. trial is a nightmare America has
kept having about itself for decades." That may be giving America too
much credit. Sheffield also wrote about
American Crime Story.
Miscellaneous election links:
Russell Berman: Five Reasons Why Ted Cruz's Endorsement of Donald
Trump Is Stunning. Also:
Amy Davidson: Why Ted Cruz Surrendered to Donald Trump, and
Cruz: Never Mind, I Guess There Is No Battle for the Soul of
Cruz probably thought Trump would lose badly, after which Wingnuttia
would conclude that the loss was because Trump was really a filthy
liberal; at that point, Cruz could pose as the "true conservative"
savior for 2020. But Trump, even if he doesn't win, is causing the
right's enemies conniption fits, so he's the strong horse the right
likes at this moment, and everyone on the right needs to get behind him.
Pat Buchanan: How Trump Wins the Debate
John Cassidy: The Presidential Debate Is Clinton's Chance to Outfox
Chauncey Devega: The lie of white "economic insecurity": Race, class and
the rise of Donald Trump:
Republicans and the broader right-wing movement profit from a Machiavellian
relationship where the more economic pain and suffering they inflict on
red-state America, the more popular and powerful they become with those
voters. This is political sadism as a campaign strategy.
Wilson Dizard: Trump praises Israeli policy of ethnic profiling following
bombing in Manhattan
Tom Engelhardt: America Has Gotten So Absurd That We Are Seriously
Considering Electing a Walking Ponzi Scheme as President
James Fallows: When Donald Meets Hillary
David Freedlander: Why Aren't Democrats Freaking Out Over Clinton's
Todd Gitlin: Be afraid, be very afraid: Trump is trying to cow journalists
out of doing their work
Keegan Goudiss: Rebooting Hillary: How Clinton can win the digital war
and make the debates great again
John Judis: Why Hillary Clinton hasn't been able to leave Donald Trump
in the Dust
Ben Kohlmann: Trump's Twitter dominance: Who's the Obama of 2016?
Simon Maloy: Trump's stop-and-frisk fiasco: A terrible plan for fighting
crime in Chicago (or anywhere)
Jim Newell: How to Beat Trump in a Debate
Evan Osnos: President Trump's First Term:
But envisaging a Trump Presidency has never required an act of imagination;
he has proudly exhibited his priorities, his historical inspirations, his
instincts under pressure, and his judgment about those who would put his
ideas into practice. In "Trump: Think Like a Billionaire," he included a
quote from Richard Conniff, the author of "The Natural History of the Rich":
"Successful alpha personalities display a single-minded determination to
impose their vision on the world, an irrational belief in unreasonable
goals, bordering at times on lunacy."
Heather Digby Parton: Nothing left but the dog whistle: Trump, "real America"
and the death of the conservative movement
Paul Rosenberg: Behold the GOP's not-so-secret plan to dismantle government
services: Defund, degrade and then privatize
Nate Silver: Election Update: Where the Race Stands Heading Into the
Matt Taibbi: The Unconquerable Trump
Michael Tomasky: Can the Unthinkable Happen?
Joan Walsh: Yes, Donald Trump Can Win the First Debate -- Here's
Matthew Yglesias: What Hillary needs to do at tomorrow night's
Bernie Sanders: The 'Nation' Interview
The Economist/YouGov Poll: Lots of tables, but note this
New YouGov poll: % of voters who think Trump is NOT crazy (38%) is 6 points
LOWER than % who pick him over HRC in head-to-head.
Sunday, September 18. 2016
Mostly writing this today because I have various tabs opened to
possibly interesting articles, and it's only a matter of time before
my antiquated browser crashes. Better, I think, to note them briefly
than to lose them forever.
I wrote some on the campaign horserace a couple days ago (see
Looks Like She Blew It), and nothing much has changed on that
front -- TPM still has Trump ahead by 0.1%, but 538 shows Clinton
with slightly better chance of winning (61.3%, up from 60.0%). So
she may still pull this out, but if she does she'll still wind up
with the lowest share of popular vote since 1992, when someone else
named Clinton won.
Some scattered links this week:
David Dayen: How Democrats Can Overcome Their Self-Defeating Cynicism:
By "pushing actual policies"? Dayen proposes adding a "public option" to
Obamacare as a good place to start. That's actually fairly non-controversial,
at least with mainstream Democrats. It was part of the original ACA, and
was dropped mostly because the bill couldn't be passed without 60 votes in
the Senate, and a couple of them were willing to wreck the whole thing to
spare private insurance companies from competition. He notes that Sen. Jeff
Merkley (Oregon) has a resolution backed by 27 other senators, and that
Obama and Clinton favor it. As for "cynicism" the more apposite term Dayen
uses is "defensive crouch" (although if you want an example of cynicism,
there's the attempt to bundle gun control on top of the rather arbitrary,
putatively anti-terror, "no fly list").
In their defensive crouch, Democrats have forgotten to explain why they
consider it important that "no family have the American dream ripped out
from under them because they can't afford medical care," as Merkley said
on the call. They forget to explain why health care ought to be a right
for every American, not a privilege only available to those who can buy
it at a high price.
This was actually the logic of the Sanders campaign, and a reason for
its unlikely success. Contrary to the political science pros, it was his
ideas, and more to the point his willingness to say them, that animated
his candidacy. It also pushed Clinton to outline a bolder agenda than she
might have been comfortable with in Sanders's absence. When the Democratic
primary pitted ideas against one another, rather than amplifying criticisms,
it let Americans know what Democrats stand for.
The bloodless technocracy that has ruled the Democratic Party has
forgotten how to inspire the body politic. After riding a wave of
enthusiasm to power in 2008, the last couple midterms and even Obama's
2012 campaign were nervy exercises in protecting the tentative gains
Democrats had made -- and seemed half-embarrassed by. Democrats too
often define themselves by who they oppose rather than their own
principles. Not only is this self-defeating for a party that promises
activist government, it makes governing itself harder down the road.
Of course, it's not just the emergence of a bit of political backbone
that's bringing the public option back into play. It's also that the
insurance companies have been conspiring to prevent the competition
that the ACA promised from eating into their profits -- most egregiously
by trying to merge the four largest private health insurers into two
companies (the first mergers I'm aware of the Obama administration
actually opposing). Even short of that they're cutting back on plan
availability, so many Americans will have no choices.
Eric Lichtblau: Hate Crimes Against American Muslims Most Since Post-9/11
Era: "up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived
as Arab rose even more sharply. . . . That was the most since the record
481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11
attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners,
Mr. Levin said. The huge increase last year was also the biggest annual
rise since 2001, he said." It's tempting to blame this on Trump, whose
anti-Muslim positions are based on and seem to legitimize more blatant
threats: "A number of experts in hate crimes said they were concerned
that Mr. Trump's vitriol may have legitimized threatening or even violent
conduct by a small fringe of his supporters. In a few cases, people accused
of hate crimes against Muslims and others have even cited Mr. Trump." On
the other hand, it's impossible to go to war against a people for fifteen
years and not engender hatred -- something Bush and Obama have worked hard
to cap because it so subverts their war aims, although Obama had a big
disadvantage in that those most inclined to hate Muslims started off by
Derek Thompson: America's Monopoly Problem: As I noted above, the
Obama administration has done a remarkably poor record of maintaining
competitiveness within supposedly free markets, scarcely even bothering
to use the rather antiquated antitrust laws that are still on the books.
Those laws, dating to the 1880s, targeted absolute monopolies where a
single company sought to gain complete control of a market. While such
combines are still a treat, the bigger problem now is what we might
call consensual monopoly blocks, where two or three large companies
effectively divvy up a market, crowding out competitors and focusing
more on growing their profit margins than cutting into one another's
market share. The net effect looks like this:
In the past few decades, however, the economy has come to resemble
something more like a stagnant pool. Entrepreneurship, as measured by
the rate of new-business formation, has declined in each decade since
the 1970s, and adults under 35 (a/k/a Millennials) are on track to be
the least entrepreneurial generation on record.
This decline in dynamism has coincided with the rise of extraordinarily
large and profitable firms that look discomfortingly like the monopolies
and oligopolies of the 19th century. American strip malls and yellow
pages used to brim with new small businesses. But today, in a lot where
several mom-and-pop shops might once have opened, Walmart spawns another
superstore. In almost every sector of the economy -- including manufacturing,
construction, retail, and the entire service sector -- the big companies
are getting bigger. The share of all businesses that are new firms,
meanwhile, has fallen by 50 percent since 1978. According to the Roosevelt
Institute, a liberal think tank dedicated to advancing the ideals of
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, "markets are now more concentrated and
less competitive than at any point since the Gilded Age."
Even where there are entrepreneurs, as in high-tech, their typical
business plans focus on building companies to the point where they
be sold profitably to larger companies. For instance, have any of the
biotech startups that were spun up in the 1990s not been sold off to
pharmaceutical giants? Much of this is driven by financial firms, who
can overpay for a startup knowing that it's worth more as part of a
monopolistic conglommerate. Joseph Stiglitz cites monopoly rents as
a major source of increasing inequality, and this is what he means.
A big part of the reason inequality is spiraling out of control is
that government, influenced (as you well know) by those profiting from
monopoly rents, has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that markets
are free, open, transparent, and therefore efficient. It is impossible
to overstate the importance of this issue, so this piece is one you
need to read.
Maggie Koerth-Baker: How the Oil and Gas Industry Awakened Oklahoma's
Sleeping Fault Lines: The first recorded earthquake in Oklahoma
occurred in 1882, before the first oil well was drilled in 1897. This
piece has a map of the known fault lines crossing Oklahoma, and they
are numerous, especially in the southeast corner of the state, home
of what's left of the Ouchita Mountains (high point 2681 feet above
sea level). Still, earthquakes remained rare until less than a decade
ago, rising to more than 900 earthquakes (3.0 or stronger) in 2014 --
the most of any state in the nation. As another map shows, those
earthquakes are located not where most of the faults are, but rather
in the north-central part of the state: relatively flat prairie west
of the Arkansas River, bisected by the Canadian River. This has been
oil country since way before I was born -- indeed, the main tourist
attractions in Ponca City are tours of the mansions of pioneering oil
barons. The yields of those oil wells have long been declining -- a
chart here shows that Oklahoma pumps up five barrels of wastewater
for every barrel of oil (or equivalent natural gas, at this point 80%
of Oklahoma's hydrocarbon production). That would have been uneconomical
back when oil was cheap, but the high prices of the Bush years urged
marginal producers to invest in injection wells -- there are now more
than 4000 across the state -- as they seek to slurp up the last of
their remaining oil. (By contrast, the water/fuel ratio in the newer
fields of North Dakota is currently running just slightly above 1/1.)
The injected wastewater, along with techniques like fracking, may help
increase oil production, but it also lubricates often unseen faults,
which then slip to produce earthquakes. The largest to date, a 5.8
centered between Pawnee and Ponca City, was felt as far away as Omaha
and Austin. Here in Wichita, about 110 miles away, it woke us up as
the house shook for nearly a minute. I've been following this story
since it started to break -- oil geology is one of those subjects I
read for pleasure -- and this is one of the better pieces on it. So
now, in addition to anthropogenic climate change, the oil industry
has brought us anthropogenic earthquakes. You'd think they'd be the
least bit embarrassed, but even before they proved to be so ingenious
at creating "natural" disasters, their sudden riches spawned many of
America's most reactionary political entrepreneurs, from H.L. Hunt
to the Kochs to Dick Cheney. The biggest mistake this country ever
made was letting individuals own the nation's mineral resources.
Miscellaneous election links:
Charles V Bagli: A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million
in Tax Breaks: How to get ahead by starting there. Of course, Trump isn't
the only businessman who taken advantage of "what he calls the pay-to-play
culture of politics and a 'rigged' system of government." Pretty much everyone
does it, a relationship so symbiotic neither side dares question it even
though practically everyone else thinks it stinks to high hell. Long
article with lots of details, mostly on New York real estate.
John Cassidy: Does Donald Trump Pay Any Income Taxes at All? Well,
if he doesn't, that would be one reason he might have for withholding
his tax returns. Cassidy quotes
James Stewart: "No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J.
Trump has paid far less -- perhaps even zero federal income tax in
some years. Indeed, that's the expectation of numerous real estate
and tax professionals I've interviewed in recent weeks." That just
reflects the numerous loopholes that benefit real estate developers,
just part of a crooked system. Also quotes David Cay Johnston, who
"pointed out that Trump paid no income tax in 1978, 1979, 1992, and
1994" and "several times received a type of tax rebate that is
restricted to property owners who report taxable income of less
than half a million dollars."
Also by Cassidy:
Birtherism, Bombs, and Donald Trump's Weekend.
Russel Berman: Hillary Clinton Has a Lot of Money: She raised
$143 million in August, and seems to have been more concerned with
raking in contributions than with winning over voters. The good
news there is that $81 million goes to the DNC and state parties.
How successful she is as president depends on how successful the
Democratic Party is in state and local elections, especially for
Congress -- a point that neither her husband nor Obama learned as
president. Still, she lost ground in the polls while catering to
wealthy donors. We'll see if she can use their money to turn the
Amy Davidson: Clinton's Sick Days: At least she got some help to
make up for her down time -- from Obama, his wife, Biden, her husband.
Still, Davidson's best line was parenthetical: "(Why, at this stage,
her schedule includes so many travel-intensive fund-raisers, when
she is suffering from a shortage not of funds but of voter rapport,
is one of many side questions that her illness raised.)"
David A Graham: Just Why Does Hillary Clinton Want to Be President?
First thought on seeing this is that it reminded me of the unhealthy
obsession the press in 2000 had with Gore's supposed obsession with
running for president, suggesting that if he failed he might as well
kill himself because his whole life would have been wasted. In point
of fact, after he lost he got a job as a venture capitalist, he got
rid of his wife, he wrote a book that wasn't about himself, he made
a movie about global warming, he won an Oscar for the movie, he won
a Nobel Prize. If he was so obsessed with becoming president, why
did he never run again? He's 68 now, but he's still a few months
younger than Hillary Clinton. So I don't have much interest in
psychological speculation about "what makes Hillary run?" -- I
would, however, find a credible explanation for Trump interesting.
Or maybe just amusing.
Clare Foran: The Curse of Hillary Clinton's Ambition. Foran
catches a lot of flying innuendo in her net, and seems willing to
give credence to all of it. She quotes one "man" as saying, "This
has been her entire life's work, it seems like, has been building
up to this moment, so she doesn't have any shots left." Just like
Gore in 2000, except she's even more of a crone. Foran adds, "But
some voters also seem to distrust Clinton because they believe
she wants to win at any cost." This is a journalist? She wouldn't
have to search very hard to find Trump supporters who see that
very same trait in their man and admire him for it.
Harry Enten: Why Clinton's Electoral Map Isn't as Good as Obama's:
Had Obama and Romney received the same number of votes (basically, by
moving 3.9% from D to R in every state), Obama would still have been
elected president by the electoral college. The map this year looks to
me to be much the same, but Enten argues that it has shifted in such a
way that Trump has "a better shot of winning the Electoral College while
losing the popular vote (at 6.1 percent) than Clinton (1.5 percent)."
Of course, there's a chart, showing that 11 of 14 battleground states
have "moved right relative to the country" --Iowa and Nevada enough
to switch sides. Part of this is that Clinton is leading Obama in
some states she'll still lose (Enten mentions Oklahoma, Utah, and
Wyoming). But I also suspect part of this is that they're comparing
Clinton's current polls to Obama's actual votes, so they haven't yet
factored in the intense battleground state "ground game."
Todd S Purdum: What's Really Ailing Hillary: "A long time ago,
Clinton was far more transparent, emotional and open than she is
today. Then the media began slamming her -- and didn't stop."
Matt Taibbi: Stop Whining About 'False Balance': Mostly this is
a rant about the overwhelming banality (not to mention stupidity)
of the mass media, arguing that those are worse problems than bias
which knowledgeable people can see through anyway. Also points out:
The irony is, the Clinton Foundation thing is a rare example of an
important story that is getting anything like the requisite attention.
The nexus of elite connections that sits behind tales like Bill Clinton
taking $1.5 million in speaking fees from a Swiss bank (and foundation
donor) while that same bank is seeking relief from Hillary Clinton's
State Department is exactly the kind of thing that requires the scrutiny
Yeah, sort of, but those reporters are often so wrapped up in their
preconceived notions they wind up shilling for campaign narratives
that don't clarify anything.
Brian Mittendorf: Clinton charities 101: What do they actual do and
where does their money go? Fair amount of detail here on the
structure and organization of Clinton's various foundations/charities.
Much less on the direct involvement of the Clintons: they put some
money in at one end, but that's dwarfed by money raised from others;
they put their name out, which is both used for raising money and
for whatever "good works" the Foundation ultimately does. Clearly,
they must benefit somehow, if only in good will. The benefits to
other donors are unclear, which is perhaps inevitable, and certainly
open to suspicion. I've never been a fan of foundations, which even
at best seem like arbitrary penance for lives of avarice and shoddy
providers of social goods, but given the inequities of the present
I also doubt that any of this would be suspect but for Hillary
running for president, once again making her the target of people
much more greedy and careless than herself.
Heather Digby Parton: The general of gossip: Colin Powell's leaked
emails depict a juvenile busybody rather than an elder statesman:
how devious of him to talk Hillary into using that private email
Colin Powell has a long history of being in the middle of scandals and
wriggling out of any responsibility for them. From his involvement in
the My Lai massacre, to Iran Contra, to personally blocking President
Bill Clinton's promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military,
to his infamous testimony before the UN that led to the Iraq war,
Powell's fingerprints are on the wrong side of history and the truth
time and again and he's always got some excuse as to why it wasn't
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
'Hunting of Hillary' Author on Clinton Conspiracies and Conservative
Attacks: Interview with Joe Conason, who has a new book on what
Bill Clinton's been up to since leaving the White House: Man of
the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, following up
on his 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year
Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. He's a reliable
fan, eager to point out all the good the Clintons have done, as
well as how shabbily they've been treated by that vast right-wing
Patrick Cockburn: The US and Russia Have Less Influence in Syria Than
They Think: True, no doubt, as it's often the case that in what
you think of as a proxy war the tail winds up wagging the dog. Russia
can bring Assad a cease fire but getting his forces to stick with it
has never been easy. And the US doesn't even have the luxury of backing
a significant force on the ground. Rather, they have multiple enemies,
making it possible to inadvertently help one at the expense of the
other. Cockburn offers a good example here: the US misidentified a
target as ISIS and bombed it, killing at least 62 Syrian soldiers,
after which ISIS was able to capture the territory the US had cleared
Atul Gawande: Overkill: On how "an avalanche of unnecessary medical
care is harming patients physically and financially." This is an old
story, something whole books have been written on -- Shannon Brownlee's
2007 book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and
Poorer is probably the classic -- but the author adds his usual insights
and nostrums. He could be more explicit that the core cause is the focus
on profits that turns it all into such a tug of war.
Greg Grandin: The Free-Marketeers Take Over in Brazil -- and the US
The Obama administration was less confrontational than its predecessor,
but no less ideological in its preference for Latin America's
free-marketeers. . . . But with a new round of economic
shock therapy being applied in Latin America, Washington is preparing
for the inevitable "social explosions" the way it does best: According
to the Washington Office on Latin America, the Pentagon has, since 2007,
tripled its special-ops training in the region.
Fred Kaplan: China Won't Stop Kim Jong-un. The US Must Stand Up to
Both of Them: "Sanctions won't work. We can't destroy his nukes.
We can rattle a few sabers, however." Really, very disappointing
piece. We should remind Kim that if the North invades the South,
even having some sort of "nuclear umbrella," we'll come to South
Korea's defense and annihilate North Korea. Really? You think he
somehow doesn't understand that already? You think rattling sabers
will make him less touchy? Less defensive? Less desperate? What
should happen is that the US needs to focus less on muscling North
Korea around and more on figuring out a sane posture which would
allow both Koreas and the US to coexist without threats. Once the
US is willing to live with North Korea -- to formally end the 1950
war, to normalize relations, to open trade, to proportionately
dial back military readiness -- we can worry about getting China,
Japan, the South, and everyone else to buy in.
Mike Konczal: These Policies Could Move America Toward a Universal
Basic Income: Three "simple policies": children's allowance,
$12-an-hour minimum wage, 12 weeks' paid medical leave and 2 weeks'
paid annual leave.
Peter Van Buren: Class of 2017 -- So Sorry!: Subtitle: "Apologizing
to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War."
Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater
chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn't work that way. There's
no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or "if you see something, say
something" signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no
need to apologize for lightning.
But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was
that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most
frightened country on Earth.
Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more
vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 -- the
highest percentage ever.
But there is one difference between terrorism and lightning, which
is that much terrorism can be prevented by eliminating the motivations.
Both before and after 9/11 the US became a target by targeting the
Middle East with injustice and violence.
I read the introduction to Ira Katznelson's big book on the 1930s,
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, where he
makes the point that FDR's famous line "we have nothing to fear but
fear itself" was aimed to preserve democracy, which at the time was
under attack from fearmongers who insisted we needed a strongman to
run the country, Il Duce in Italy and Der Führer in Germany. Fear
continues to be a potent cloak for the right. For example, see
Daniel Politi: Trump Tells Crowd "Bomb" Went Off in New York, Proceeds
to Brag About Polls. Trump quote: "We better get very tough, folks.
We better get very, very tough."