Sunday, July 17. 2016
July is a month I can hardly wait to get done with, even though it
leaves six or seven weeks of brutal heat to come. This year is about
average for Kansas, aside from a surplus of rain that more than wiped
out the spring deficit. Fitting that the major party conventions will
also be dispatched during this month, although as I'm writing this
they still loom: the candidates are settled, so no suspense there,
and one of the veeps was revealed this week -- the utterly repugnant
Mike Pence -- so the only remaining question is how to what extent
each party embarrasses itself in trying to put forth its best face.
Most years there is a post-convention bump in the polls. This year
there's a fairly good chance for a post-convention slump.
Some prominent news items from this past week:
- Bernie Sanders gave up his presidential campaign, acknowledging that
Hillary Clinton had clinched the nomination, and endorsed her, vowing to
do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump in November -- mostly
by repeating the planks of his "political revolution" platform, which
Hillary is increasingly obliged to cozy up to.
- Donald Trump, on the other hand, boxed himself into a corner and got
stuck with Cruz-supporter Pence as his VP nominee. Pence is considered
a sensible mainstream choice because he rarely initiates the right-wing
lunatic programs he invariably winds up supporting. He's acceptable to
Trump because he's so pliable he's already reversed himself on all of
Trump's campaign platform, setting a fine example for all the other
Republicans who had opposed Trump by showing them how a good puppy can
roll over and play dead.
- The UK has a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, committed to carrying
out the Brexit referendum, in her own sweet time (and without the possible
complication of electing a new parliament). She then picked the more
flamboyant and demagogic Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister.
- Factions of the Turkish military attempted a coup to seize power and
oust democratically elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been
widely criticized lately for recent laws that have restricted popular
rights -- a power grab occasioned by worsening relations with Turkey's
Kurdish minority and several "terrorist incidents" blamed on ISIS. The
coup appears to have failed, with various members of the military being
arrested in what threatens to turn into a large-scale purge.
- Obama decided against a planned withdrawal of American troops from
Afghanistan, changing their engagement orders to initiate offensive
operations against the Taliban, thus widening and extending the war
there. Escalations against Syria and Iraq continue, putting the US
on its most aggressive military stance in years. At the same time,
Obama is committing more US/NATO troops to the Russian frontier in
Eastern Europe, increasing "cold war" tensions.
- Eighty-four people were killed by a truck plowing through a Bastille
Day crowd in Nice, France. The driver was Tunisian, so this is being
played up as a "terrorist attack" although there doesn't seem to be any
indication that he was politically or religiously motivated. (Which
isn't to say the ISIS folks don't dig what he did.)
- Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, a little over a
week after Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling, starting off a
round of Black Lives Matter protests. Early reports show that the
shooter was another ex-Marine (like the shooter in Dallas).
Meanwhile, some scattered links this week:
Julie Bosman: Public Schools? To Kansas Conservatives, They're 'Government
Schools': And like conservatives everywhere, they understand that the
first step in demonizing someone or something is establishing what it's
called. Until recently, Kansans prided themselves on their public school
system (not that my own experience was very positive). That started to
change as home schooling became popular for Christian fundamentalists,
and turned into something more vicious when Republicans discovered that
school teachers might pose a political threat, and more generally that
education in the liberal arts and sciences might work against their
dogmatically cultivated interests. And lately, of course, it has come
down to money: public spending on education adds to deficits and/or
Patrick Cockburn: A Hillary Clinton Presidency Could End Up Letting Isis
Off the Hook: Cites a paper by Michele Flournoy, widely considered
to be Hillary's likely pick as Secretary of Defense, arguing that the US
should refocus its Syria efforts against Assad rather than against ISIS.
Still, it's not like she'd switch sides and back ISIS against Assad --
something that might actually work (distasteful as it may be; it's not
as if the US has never supported Islamist fanatics before). No, she wants
to buck up the pro-American Syrian rebels, the least effective group in
the long civil war. Still, that doesn't justify Cockburn's provocative
headline: Hillary is enough of a hawk she'd be happy to pound ISIS and
Assad alike, and for however long it takes. Cockburn also implies that
Hillary would forget the lessons Obama had learned about the futility
of war in the Middle East (giving Obama far more credit than he deserves):
The world may soon regret the passing of the Obama years as a Clinton
administration plunges into conflicts where he hung back. He had clearly
learned from the outcome of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in a way
that she has not. He said in a speech on terrorism in 2013 that "any US
military action in foreign land risks creating more enemies" and that the
Washington foreign establishment's tendency to seek ill-considered military
solutions was self-defeating. [ . . . ]
All this is good news for Isis and al-Qaeda, whose spectacular growth
since September 11 is mainly due to the US helping to spread the chaos
in which they flourish. Obama could see the risks and limitations of
military force, but Clinton may play straight into their hands.
As for Hillary, what I find more worrying is that she still doesn't
seem to be totally onboard with Obama's Iran Deal; see
Philip Weiss: Iran deal is still imperilled by deep state -- hardliners,
Israel lobby, Hillary Clinton. Part of the problem here is that
Democrats and GOP are in a race to the bottom on Israel.
Donald Johnson: The iron law of institutions versus Bernie Sanders:
Cites various editorials at the New York Times, finding them consistently
obsessed with demonizing Sanders.
Clinton supporters at the NYT have been almost uniformly nasty -- they
hate Sanders and don't bother concealing it. Ultimately his policy based
critiques of Clinton terrifies them and they don't want him or the movement
he represents to have any credibility even if he endorses Clinton, because
he hasn't retracted his critique. And yes, this does tie in with the
Israel-Palestine conflict, because Clinton support for Benjamin Netanyahu
flatly contradicts liberal ideals, so she either does this for the money
or because she is a militarist like Netanyahu or both. (I think both).
They tiptoe around that.
This is a quibble, but I think Netanyahu is much more racist than
militarist, not that they don't share an abiding belief in their
respective nation's exceptionalism, especially as exemplified through
military prowess (in both cases long in moral decline). But then I
guess I'm leaning toward the "money" explanation for Hillary. Despite
a term as Secretary of State which should have opened her eyes a bit,
she seems completely in thrall to the donor class, which has in turn
been completely cowed by Netanyahu, rendered blind to the racism which
pervades Israeli political culture.
It's not just institutions that are bitter over Sanders. Consider
this Robert Christgau tweet: "This is more than I thought the progressives
would get and has cut into how personally dislikable I find Sanders."
Heather Gautney: How Bernie Sanders Delivered the Most Progressive
Platform in Democratic Party History. Christgau is clearly closer
on the issues to Sanders than to Hillary but supported the latter,
I guess because he found Sanders "personally dislikable" -- I doubt
that the two ever met, yet this seems to matter more to him more than,
say, the Iraq War vote. There are others I know and respect politically
who have directed even worse snark at Sanders, a personal bitterness
I find unfathomable -- I certainly can't rationalize it like Johnson
does for those New York Times flacks.
Martin Longman: Mike Pence Is Not a Conventional Politician: On
Let's start with some things that are being said that simply aren't true.
Writing for the BBC, Anthony Zurcher says "In a year that has defied
political conventions, he was a very conventional choice."
But there's absolutely nothing "conventional" about Mike Pence. He is
a man who cannot say if he believes in the theory of evolution and has
spent twenty years spreading doubt about climate change. He's a man who
wants teenage girls (including victims of incest) to get parental consent
to use contraceptives, who has done all he can to deny contraception to
women of every age, who signed a law mandating that all aborted fetuses
should receive proper burials, who supports discrimination against gays
and wants to withhold federal funding from any organization that
"encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of
the HIV virus." [ . . . ]
Obviously, I could go on for a long time highlighting things about
Pence that are alarming or ridiculous, but I'm trying to focus on things
that set him apart from even mainstream conservatives. I mean, it matters
that he loved the idea of fighting in Iraq or that he has rigorously
supported the same kinds of free trade agreements that Trump opposes,
but he's not alone in those things.
To the degree that it can be legitimately argued that Pence is
"conventional," it's an enormous testimony to how far right the party
has drifted since the time of Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle and Poppy Bush
and Gerald Ford. But it's actually not true that we've seen someone
this far right nominated before. No, not even Palin or Cheney were
this radical across the board.
For more, see Longman's pre-pick
Mike Pence Makes Zero Sense as Veep:
If Trump is using the same theory of the case that McCain used in
picking Sarah Palin, that it was necessary to shore up weak support
from the Christian conservative base, then we already saw that this
is a losing strategy.
Selecting Pence will drive responsible business leaders even
further into Clinton's camp. It will severely alienate women and
moderates on social issues. Millennials will flee in panic. And,
once the press picks over Pence's congressional record, any
reassurance that Trump will have a steady hand to deal with
Congress will be completely undermined.
Pence has actual negative charisma, so he won't win over
anyone by being smart or funny or charming.
Other pieces on Pence:
Sean Illing: The sad incurious case of Mike Pence;
Nico Lang: Mike Pence is even worse than you think;
John Nichols: Trump Pick Pence Is a Right-Wing Political Careerist Who
Desperately Wants Out of Indiana;
Charles Pierce: Of Course, Donald Trump's Vice Presidential Announcement
Was All About Trump;
Mike Pence Is a Smooth-Talking Todd Akin;
George Zornick: Vice President Pence Would Be a Dream for the Koch
Ron Paul: Fool's Errand: NATO Pledges Four More Years of War in
Afghanistan: Obama may be a "lame duck" as far as appointing new
judges is concerned, but no one seems to be using the term as he's
laying out the framework that will tie up his successor in hopeless
wars through that successor's term: adding troops in Afghanistan
and Iraq/Syria (and on the Russian frontier in Eastern Europe). I
don't often cite Paul because I don't generally approve of his snark,
but this isn't terribly off base:
President Obama said last week that the US must keep 3,000 more troops
than planned in Afghanistan. The real reason is obvious: the mission
has failed and Washington cannot bear to admit it.
[ . . . ] Where else but in government would you
see it argued that you cannot stop spending on a project because you
have already spent so much to no avail? In the real world, people who
invest their own hard-earned money in a failed scheme do something
called "cut your losses." Government never does that.
[ . . . ]
The neocons argue that Iraq, Libya, and other US interventions fell
apart because the US did not stay long enough. As usual they are wrong.
They failed and they will continue to fail because they cannot succeed.
You cannot invade a country, overthrow its government, and build a new
country from the ground up. It is a fool's errand and Washington has
turned most Americans into fools.
Paul underestimates the ingenuity of the war crowd. For instance,
Mark Perry: How Islamic State Is Getting Beaten at Home -- and Taking
Terror Abroad argues that events like Nice show how much progress
Obama is making against ISIS in Syria. Perry confuses killing people,
which the US is quite proficient at, with providing a viable, peaceful
alternative, something the US evidently has no clue how to do. He could
have noted that the recent shootings of police in Dallas and Baton
Rouge are at least as much a part of the war coming home as the "sudden
radicalization" of the truck driver in Nice.
Dani Rodrik: The Abdication of the Left: An important economist on
globalization issues faults the left in Northern Europe for failing to
respond coherently to the negative repercussions for their countries:
Latin American democracies provide a telling contrast. These countries
experienced globalization mostly as a trade and foreign-investment shock,
rather than as an immigration shock. Globalization became synonymous with
so-called Washington Consensus policies and financial opening. Immigration
from the Middle East or Africa remained limited and had little political
salience. So the populist backlash in Latin America -- in Brazil, Bolivia,
Ecuador, and, most disastrously, Venezuela -- took a left-wing form.
The story is similar in the main two exceptions to right-wing resurgence
in Europe -- Greece and Spain. In Greece, the main political fault line
has been austerity policies imposed by European institutions and the
International Monetary Fund. In Spain, most immigrants until recently
came from culturally similar Latin American countries. In both countries,
the far right lacked the breeding ground it had elsewhere.
But the experience in Latin America and southern Europe reveals perhaps
a greater weakness of the left: the absence of a clear program to refashion
capitalism and globalization for the twenty-first century. From Greece's
Syriza to Brazil's Workers' Party, the left has failed to come up with
ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond
ameliorative policies such as income transfers.
[ . . . ]
A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right
thrives on deepening divisions in society -- "us" versus "them" -- while
the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that
bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left --
Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state -- both saved capitalism
from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a
response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right
groups, who will lead the world -- as they always have -- to deeper division
and more frequent conflict.
We in America have far too little appreciation for the destructiveness
of the right's conflicts, not just because we fight our wars far away --
not that US policy in Central America and Haiti hasn't sent waves of
emigrés our way, but refugees from US wars in the Middle East mostly
head for Europe -- but also because we are reluctant to credit our wars
with the right's division and depradation of the middle class here, let
alone the growing frequency of sporadic violence.
David Smith: Donald Trump: the making of a narcissist: Long profile
on a guy you probably think you already know too much about. Still, some
of his key insights are based on a profile and book by Mark Singer:
In the nine years since, Singer has seen nothing to alter his view of
Trump as unburdened by a hinterland. "People talk about a private Trump
and a public Trump," he says in his Manhattan apartment. "I'm not so
convinced because I've seen both and the bombast is there, the obvious
extreme self-involvement has always been there. He doesn't have a sense
of irony. He's a terrible listener but that's a characteristic of
narcissistic people. They're not engaged with anybody else's issues."
Tierney Sneed: Forget Trump! The GOP's Convention Platform Makes It
the Party of Kris Kobach: Kobach's day job is Secretary of State
in Kansas -- i.e., the guy in charge of making sure that undesirables
can't vote -- but he's also a notorious moonlighter, crafting dozens
of pieces of legislation for Republican state legislatures, most of
which are subsequently declared unconstitutional. He was the only
Republican of note in Kansas who endorsed Trump before the caucuses
(Brownback, Roberts, and Pompeo lined up for Rubio, while Huelskamp --
locked in another primary challenge by farmers who don't appreciate
his opposition to farm subsidies -- is still proud to be known as a
Cruz supporter), so he had an inside track on Trumpifying the GOP
platform, and as usual he's first in line to take credit for feats
normal lawyers would find embarrassing. One peculiarly Kansas touch
was "language opposing the inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage
grouse on the endangered species list" -- oil people find those birds
annoying, and Kansas Republicans can hardly wait for them to become
extinct, and therefore no longer a threat to the oil bidness.
For more on the platform, see
Donald Trump's weaponized platform: A project three decades in the
making. I seriously doubt that Trump came up with any of his idea
by reading William S. Lind and/or Paul Weyrich or that he's come up
with anything as coherent (if that's the word).
Sophia Tesfaye: Will Republicans listen to one of their own? The Senate's
only black Republican reveals his own experiences with racial profiling:
I've seen reports that the late Philando Castile (shot dead by police in
Minnesota) had been repeatedly pulled over by police for minor or imaginary
infractions, but it's worth noting that wealth or ideology doesn't prevent
this sort of profiling from happening, as Scott's story makes clear.
But during his speech, the second on policing and race this week, Scott
also shared the story of a staffer who was "pulled over so many times
here in D.C. for absolutely no reason other than driving a nice car."
The staffer eventually traded in his Chrysler for a "more obscure form
of transportation" because "he was tired of being targeted."
He asked his Senate colleagues to "imagine the frustration, the
irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of
"I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very
similar story to tell no matter their profession. No matter their
income, no matter their disposition in life," he said. "There is
absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul than
when you know you're following the rules and being treated like you
"Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish
of another, does not mean it does not exist," the Republican reminded
his fellow conservatives.
Some links on the Turkish coup:
Sunday, July 10. 2016
The biggest story in the US last week involved the fatal shootings
of seven people in three separate incidents: one each in
Louisiana and Minnesota (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), and five in
Dallas. All of the shootings involved police and race, and appear
to be unjustifiable by any conceivable criteria. Needless to say, they
all involved guns, but one thing they had in common point been little
commented on: all eight victims were armed, and their guns worthless
for self-defense. (Remind me again how safe
we would all be if everyone had guns for self-defense.) As a practical
matter, carrying guns not only failed to save the victims, but probably
contributed to their deaths. The Louisiana and Minnesota incidents may
have occurred because police panicked when they discovered that the
black people they were harrassing were armed. The Texas incident came
later, when an ex-army soldier snapped and decided to shoot some white
police -- perhaps as indiscriminate revenge (isn't that how he was
trained to respond to "the enemy" in Afghanistan?), the sort of warped
injustice self-appointed vigilantes are prone to.
For some time now, I've felt that as long as people legimately
believe that they need to own and carry a gun for their own protection
it would be unwise and unfair for government to deny them that option.
However, I've always wondered whether carrying a gun actually made
anyone safer: has anyone ever studied this, putting such (probably
rare) events in statistical context against all the other things
that can go wrong with guns?
There are other ways one can approach these tragic events. One I
think should be given more weight is that the Dallas shooter learned
his craft in the US military, which no doubt considered him a hero
until the moment he started shooting at white American cops. Not all
killers were trained by the US military, but they do pop up with some
frequency. I'm reminded of a scene in Full Metal Jacket where
the Marine Gunnery Sergeant lectures his boot camp trainees on "what
one motivated Marine and his rifle can do," offering a few examples:
Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman, Richard Speck. Should we be
surprised that a country that is so invested in celebrating its
heroic killers abroad should more than occasionally encounter the
same at home? And not infrequently by the same hands?
Of course, another way to approach this is to note that last week's
bombing in Baghdad killed over 175 -- more than twenty times the death
toll discussed above. But that scarcely registers here, even though
the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq is still most responsible for
continued bloodshed there. As bad as gun violence has become here, it
still pales against the violence of US forces and the rivals they stir
I suppose the second biggest story last week was the FBI decision
not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for risking classified data by running
a private email server while she was Secretary of State. FBI Director
Comey went out of his way to scold Clinton for being "extremely careless"
regarding state secrets before admitting that they couldn't come up with
a credible criminal case against her. The way Comey put it allowed
Republicans to reiterate their talking points, adding they couldn't
understand the decision not to indict based on Comey's exposition.
As I understand the "scandal" (see
Wikipedia for a long rundown, and perhaps also Clinton's own
The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails), the problem with running
a non-government server is that it doesn't allow for efficient collection
of emails that are considered to be public records (under the Federal
Records Act). To comply with the FRA, Clinton had to sort through her
emails and turn over the ones she considered to be State Department
business while retaining ones she considered to be personal -- i.e.,
the two had been mixed. A better solution might have been to turn all
the emails over and let the Department sort out which ones were personal --
at least then she couldn't be accused of hiding emails that should have
gone into the public record. On the other hand, had she kept separate
public and private email accounts, there still would likely have been
cross-contamination. (There is a similar controversy here in Kansas,
where a member of Gov. Sam Brownback's staff was found to be communicating
with lobbyists via his personal account, thereby avoiding public records
Still, one wonders why the FRA issue didn't arise while Clinton was
actually Secretary of State. It only seems to have been recognized as
a problem several years after she left office, when the Republican
Benghazi! witchhunt got under way. Further complicating things is the
question of whether Clinton's emails contained classified material.
Clinton, of course, had a top security clearance, but her private
email server wasn't fully secured for handling "secret" missives, so
it could have been, well, I'm not sure what, some form of breach in
the security state. Again, this seems not to have bothered anyone
until well after the fact. And curiously, the audits revealed that
some emails contained material that was classified only after it was
sent, so most of this charade has been focused on Clinton's threat
to national security. Frankly, I'd respect her more if she had been
a source of leaked data. But all this episode really shows is her
knack for getting caught up in trivial scandals.
I'd be happy to never hear of the email matter again, but there's
little chance of that. Instead, I expect the Republicans to flog the
matter on and on, much as they did every conjured taint from Whitewater
to Benghazi, even though their complaints will fail to impress anyone
but themselves, and in the end prove counterproductive. In particular,
those of us who consider Hillary at best a lesser evil will wonder why
they don't attack her with something she's truly guilty of, like voting
for Bush's Iraq War.
Some scattered links this week:
Phyllis Bennis: What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where
We Are on War: Unwilling to break with a past that has caused us
nothing but grief, of course. "The draft asserts that the United States
'must continue to have the strongest military in the world' and criticizes
the 'arbitrary cuts that the Republican Congress enacted as part of
Carl Bialik: The Police Are Killing People As Often As They Were Before
Ferguson: "The deaths [of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile] have
driven renewed attention to the more than 1,000 people killed each year
by police officers." I have to admit that's a higher number than I would
have expected, but maybe I was just being naïve. For instance, see:
Ben Norton: Before Alton Sterling, Louisiana police killed mentally ill
black father Micahel Noel -- and 37 others since 2015.
Jessica Elgot: Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over
Iraq war: Not quite a full hearing at the Hague, but the Chilcot
Report makes clear what we already pretty much knew -- that Blair lied
to Parliament and the public to join Bush in invading and occupying
Iraq in 2003 -- and a public rebuke is in order. Public opinion in the
US is if anything even more unanimous in recognizing Bush's scheming
to launch that war, yet the prospect of Congress acknowledging this
with a similar resolution is, well, unthinkable.
Harry Enten: Is Gary Johnson Taking More Support From Clinton or Trump?:
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian
candidate for president this year. In theory a larger than usual slice
of Republicans should lean Libertarian given that the GOP candidate is
basically a Fascist. A Libertarian should have less appeal to Democrats,
especially on economic issues, but Hillary is exceptionally weak on two
issues that many Democrats care about, ones Johnson could exploit: drug
prohibition and global warfare. Enten's research doesn't shed much light
here, but polls that bother to list Johnson show him gathering close to
10% in western states like Arizona and California (also Vermont). I have
a friend who thinks that Trump will destroy the Republican Party and
Johnson's Libertarians will rise to take the GOP's place. I think the
chances of that happening are nil. For one thing, more of the Republican
base leans fascist than libertarian, and for another, the Kochs have
pretty clearly shown that no matter how much they may philosophize
about freedom, they put their money on the party of graft. On the
other hand, given that both major party candidates have extremely low
favorability ratings, this will likely be a good year to be "none of
Stephen Kinzer: Is NATO Necessary?: I would have preferred that the
UK vote on leaving NATO over quitting the EU, but I have seen a number
of (admittedly left-wing) Brexiters touting their win as a rebuke of
NATO. Indeed, any Englishman worried about loss of sovereignty to the
EU should be apoplectic about NATO, which the US regularly uses to
consign British soldiers to fight and die in America's imperial wars.
Britain's vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted
world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should
be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they
will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression
threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America's
instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need
less NATO, not more. [ . . . ]
This week's NATO summit will be a festival of chest-thumping, with
many warnings about the Russian "threat" and solemn vows to meet it
with shows of military force. The United States plans to quadruple
spending on NATO military projects on or near Russia's borders. In
recent weeks NATO has opened a new missile base in Romania, held the
largest military maneuver in the modern history of Poland, and
announced plans to deploy thousands more American troops at Baltic
bases, some within artillery range of St. Petersburg. Russia, for
its part, is building a new military base within artillery range of
Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Both sides are
Ever since the Brexit vote the US has been escalating its focus
on Russia, inflating the threat by provoking it, all the better to
keep Europe subservient to US schemes in Africa and the Middle East.
Nancy LeTourneau: Some Things You Need to Know About the Dallas Police
Department: Evidently before last week's shootings, Dallas Police
Chief David Brown had made notable progress on reducing complaints of
excessive police force, including "a 30 percent decline in assaults on
officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police."
Conor Lynch: Paranoid politics: Donald Trump's style perfectly embodies
the theories of renowned historian: Reference is to Richard Hofstadter's
1964 book The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Lynch is part
wrong: the book was written at a time when McCarthyite paranoia could
be viewed as history, which is part of the reason Goldwater seemed so
ridiculous. Hofstadter's examples go further back in history, and it is
true that had he not died he could update with a new chapter on Trump,
with Roy Cohn and Glenn Beck key intermediaries. (Indeed, the Cohn
connection is almost too karmic to be believed.)
Sean D Naylor: Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray: A
profile of former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who appears to be a leading
candidate as Trump's running mate. Flynn's name was familiar to me
mostly due to Michael Hastings' book The Operators: The Wild and
Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan. Flynn
was deputy to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by Obama for
insubordination and/or his monumental cock up of command -- Flynn,
of course, was a key factor in both. Flynn was subsequently head
of the DIA, then retired to become Trump's "military adviser."
The US has a long history of nominating ex-generals for president,
but unlike Flynn all the previous ones achieved distinction in
wars the US won -- most recently Eisenhower. (Since then George
Wallace selected a general for his running mate, and Ross Perot
picked an admiral -- precedents, sure, but not the sort that make
Trump look better. Flynn, by the way, has a book coming out, The
Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam
and Its Allies, written with neocon Michael Ledeen, one of the
dumbest fucking assholes in America.)
Heather Digby Parton: Following the Trump money: He's running his campaign
just like his casinos -- as a big scam: "If it's true that they've
collected somewhere between $25 and $50 million for the campaign in the
last month then the real grift is just about to kick in. Remember, Trump
told Fortune magazine back in 2000, 'It's very possible that I could be
the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.'"
Nomi Prins: Donald Trump's Anti-Establishment Scam: "After all, he's
brought his brand to a far broader global audience on a stage so much
larger than any Apprentice imaginable. He could lose dramatically,
blame the Republican establishment for being mean to him, and then expand
the Trump brand into new realms, places like Russia, where he's long
craved an opening."
Saturday, July 2. 2016
Started this more than a week ago, but things dragged out, making
me late, or perhaps now I should say early?
After last week's referendum when 52% of the UK's voters decided to
chuck it all and take Britain out of the European Union, David Eversall
sent me this clipping from the Financial Times, adding "Probably has
relevance for the Presidential election especially the last point."
A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working
classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically
disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term
from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one
distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger
generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries.
We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships,
marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken
away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a
generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.
Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual
democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets
bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Micahel Gove
said 'the British are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody
tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has
lead to anything other than bigotry?
Aside from the quibble that I suspect it's bigotry that leads to
anti-intellectualism rather than the other way around, my reaction
to the third point was "welcome to my world." Politics in America went
counterfactual in the 1980s when Reagan came up with his "Morning in
America" con (more on that at the end).
I'm afraid I didn't know much about Brexit before plodding through
the links below. Let me try to summarize what I've learned:
Many in England never liked Europe, or thought of themselves as
being part of Europe. They grew up on stories of how Britain won the
great European wars of the last two centuries and built the largest
empire the world has seen, and they never got over the loss of that
empire or of their exceptional status in the world. They never lost
their righteousness or their racism. They skew right -- always have --
and they formed the core of the Leave block, as they always would
The EU was originally a center-left concept, intent on erasing
borders, on entangling the many separate nations of a rather small
continent into a cohesive entity that would render impossible the
myriad wars of recent centuries. This entity would be built on basic
human rights and would advance political and economic equality. But
this idea was repeatedly corrupted by business interests, knee-jerk
appeals to nationalism, and the parallel cloak of war known as NATO --
which since 2001 has mostly served to exacerbate the divides between
north and south, west and east, Crusader (for lack of a better term)
and Muslim. One result was that the core for Remain was tepid and in
many cases disillusioned.
In the 1980s Thatcher laid waste to industrial Britain while
opening Europe to British capital, and later Blair delivered Labour
to the financiers while committing the UK to Bush's disastrous "terror"
wars. Britain hasn't had a credible leftist government since Wilson's
in the 1970s (if not Attlee's in the 1940s), so Britain's experience
of the EU has skewed horribly right.
The EU's bravest policy was the insistence on labor mobility.
This didn't have a huge impact as long as the national economies were
rich and relatively equal, but the EU was easily pressured to expand
into less developed countries, and transfers to rebalance the economies
have never been adequate. When this happened capital flowed out while
cheaper labor flowed in -- the latter easily scapegoated by the right
for depressed areas actually caused by capital flight. One result has
been the growth of racist right-wing parties throughout Europe (like
the anti-EU UKIP in Britain).
The rise of the right, both in Europe and in the US, has pushed
immigrants and minorities into the hands of the left-center parties,
often becoming significant stakeholders in those parties. This has
tended to defocus the traditional class-schism between left and right --
perhaps more so in the US, where Democrats have few qualms about shafting
labor in favor of liberal businesses, knowing that minorities have no
choice but to vote for them. As this happens, older/whiter workers can
lash back against the left-center. Conversely, liberals tend to focus
on opposing racism and xenophobia rather than actually working for more
After the global finance bubble burst in 2008, the bankers and
their politicians conspired to save themselves at the expense of everyone
else. They controlled the EU, which ceased to be a reform movement and
became an instrument for denying democracy and imposing austerity across
the entire continent. This was perhaps worse in the Eurozone, but the
UK, which had the flexibility of its own currency, followed suit with a
crippling austerity program benefitting no one but the London banks. The
right, which had caused most of this pain, found it easy to blame Europe,
and many (even some on the left) readily bought that line.
Then there was sheer political opportunism. Tory leader Cameron
promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU during the last elections
in a crass move to prevent conservative voters from defecting to UKIP.
He assumed a referendum would be harmless, as all three major parties
were committed to staying in the EU. Still, the Conservatives had long
had a sizable anti-EU core, and Labour had recently revolted against
the Blairites and elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as party leader (who
post-facto was charged as ineffective, possibly even uncommitted to
the Remain cause). One result was that the campaign for Remain spanned
the entire ideological spectrum without having any coherent vision or
much commitment. (As I note below, "remain" itself is a remarkably
passive and for that matter nonchalant verb.) Another was that it was
practically defenseless against misleading and often ridiculous charges,
the stock-in-trade of the right-wing tabloid press.
After the vote, the markets panicked, as markets tend to do.
Still, nothing has happened yet, and separation will by all accounts
take at least two years from whenever it starts, which isn't now
because Cameron resigned and Parliament isn't actually required to
pull the suicide trigger. Most likely there will be new elections
and prolonged negotiations while nothing much actually happens --
other than continuation of the current rot -- and the folks who pull
strings behind curtains get their ducks lined up.
One thing that's little commented on is the pernicious effect
of NATO on Europe. Through NATO, the US sucked Europe into its Global
War on Terror (most specifically its parochial war against Islam in
Afghanistan), and also into its rekindled Cold War against Russia.
The EU expanded aggressively into Eastern Europe, thereby unbalancing
the equality of member states, mostly because NATO led the way. NATO
aggression in North Africa and the Middle East then triggered a refuge
crisis on top of Europe's previous immigration problem. One terrible
result is that Europe has become targeted by ISIS-affiliated (a very
loose definition) terrorists, which mostly serves to provoke hatred
and backlash. The right builds on this, even though you'd think that
anyone who frets over sovereignty worry more about the US/NATO.
I suspect that eventually we'll find that the EU has spun such
a thick institutional web that it will prove impossible to disentangle
it all. That is to say, the core nations are stuck with it, regardless
of whether their people understand why. Still, movements to exit and
hoist up renewed national borders will continue until the EU reforms
into something that actually benefits most of the people pretty much
everywhere, and their failure will continue to embarrass leaders of
all parties but the most fringe. To do this, the EU needs to move left,
if anything out ahead of the national parties. And it needs to do this
not just to deliver on its original concept but to give people all
across the continent reason to support it, and through it each other.
These are things your center-right neo-liberals, dedicated as they
are to making the rich richer and otherwise letting the chips land
where they might, just can't do. Unfortunately, the center-left isn't
able to either, especially when faced with the sort of "scorched earth"
opposition the Republicans excel at in the US.
One last point: I cite several anti-EU leftists below, who are
right to blame the US/NATO and who are not wrong to see the referendum
as a broad rejection of neoliberal consensus. It's not clear that they
also believe that the UK is more likely to move left without the EU
than within, but I imagine they can make a fair case to that effect --
just now sure if that's because recession will make voters more desperate,
because a nation not in the EU has more options, or both. Still, I can't
share their enthusiasm for Brexit. I just can't see how a retreat into
narrow-minded prejudice advances a more equitable society and a more
In what follows, it may be tempting, sobering, even chilling to think
of Leave as Trump and Remain as Clinton. I think that's probably why we
often take away the notion that Leave was primarily racist/xenophobic
and Remain as liberal/integrationist, even though there were many more
nuances to each. But working that angle out should really be another
exercise. I suspect we'll find many more angles there too (with Trump
it's hard to think of anything as a nuance).
Some Brexit links:
Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion -- worst ever.
Anne Applebaum: What the media gets wrong about Brexit: "The leave
campaign does not have a common vision and does not have a common plan
because its members wouldn't be able to agree on one."
Torsten Bell: The referendum, living standards and inequality: Several
charts show that recent changes to income have little bearing on the vote.
Rather, look at 1980s Thatcherism: "The legacy of increased national
inequality in the 1980s, the heavy concentration of those costs in certain
areas, and our collective failure to address it has more to say about what
happened last night than shorter term considerations from the financial
crisis or changed migration flows."
Mike Carter: I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise:
"Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have
never recovered. Their pain explains why people voted to leave in the EU
John Cassidy: Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote: Cites,
and agrees with, Torsten Bell (above). Then notes how uninspiring the
Remain campaign, backed lamely by leaders of all three major political
parties, was: "The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U.
isn't great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned
out to be a losing story." It occurs to me that "remain" is probably
the most passive word in the English language. Why would anyone pick
it as a slogan? In 2004, when the Iraq War had gone sour, Bush (or
Rove or whoever) didn't campaign to Remain in Iraq. They opted for
Stay, or more often Stay the Course, suggesting that there is a plan
that will eventually pan out if only we don't lose our will. European
Union, frankly, was a lot more promising idea than the Iraq War ever
was, yet its so-called defenders seem to have lost faith in it or
understanding of it and are left with nothing more to offer than the
threat that if we fail to accept the status quo, things will only get
Cassidy also wrote
Why Brexit Might Not Happen at All and
Sunderland and the Brexit Tragedy. I don't find the former very
convincing, although I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the Leave win
gets circumvented. There are a number of ways Britain's elites might
go about ignoring the referendum results, with Cameron's resignation
a first step, and Boris Johnson's reluctance to replace him a second.
The former shipbuilding city Sunderland is another example: industry
was shut down there during the Thatcher years, depressing the region
to the point where the EU actually helps out, they still voted Leave.
"Unless the Brexit vote is somehow reversed, the residents of places
like Sunderland will most likely be left to fly the Union Jack and
Amy Davidson: Brexit Should Be a Warning About Donald Trump: In
particular, it reminds us that there are people who will vote for
Trump not because of who Trump is but because of their own jaundiced
worldview. I know a Trump supporter whose only explanation is "chaos" --
I suspect he'd vote for Charles Manson if given the chance. After all,
what is Brexit other than a vote for chaos? Davidson quotes Hillary's
response: "This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm,
steady, experienced leadership in the White House." And she thinks
that's a winning argument against a clown who promises unpredictable
Tom Ewing: Obsolete Units Surrounded by Hail: "An A to Z of Brexit.
Cathartic fragments, pessimistic conjectures." Encyclopedic, but let's
single out: "David Cameron is the worst post-war Prime Minister, a gambler
without even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country's economy)
on something he believed in."
Tony Karon: It's the end of the world as we know it -- again: "The
Brexit result -- a vote of no-confidence in the elites of London and
Brussels by an English working class that has been steadily marginalised
over three decades -- underscores the peril that the system that has
aggrandised those elites now faces through its failure to deliver
economic security and dignity to millions of citizens." He mentions
that economists have largely turned against austerity, and notes some
opportunities for fruitful spending like the $3.6 trillion needed "to
restore and modernise crumbling infrastructure [in the US] by 2020,"
adding that "Hillary Clinton proposes an infrastructure spend less
than 10 per cent of what the Civil Engineers recommend; Mr Trump has
offered no plan."
Paul Krugman: Brexit: The Morning After: "It seems clear that the
European project -- the whole effort to promote peace and growing political
union through economic integration -- is in deep, deep trouble." Also:
The Macroeconomics of Brexit: Motivated Reasoning? "Economists have
very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long
run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very
dubious claims about the short run." Still, Dean Baker has some quibbles
about Krugman's claims (see
Paul Krugman, Brexit, and Bubbles): namely, he suspects London is
enjoying a real estate bubble that Brexit is likely to
pop . . . and, well, you know how that goes.
Alex Massie: Is Brexit the beginning of the End of Britain?: Focuses
mostly on Scotland, which voted against independence when threatened
with exile from the UE, and voted heavily to remain in the EU. There
are also similar feelings in Northern Ireland (where unification with
Ireland would keep them in the EU) and even in Wales. But breaking up
the UK may not be the only way out for Scotland; see
Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish parliament could block Brexit.
Chris Patten: A British Tragedy in One Act: Quotes Churchill: "The
trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret
John Pilger: A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to
Europe: "The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was
an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied,
intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in
the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and
the media." Depends on your point of view, but when you say no to the
entire establishment, you're not necessarily just voting for a narrow
flag-waving anti-immigrant platform (although Pilger ignores those who
did just that).
Norman Pollack: Fissures in World Capitalism: The British Vote:
"The elephant in the room is NATO. Obviously, the EU is its economic
counterpart, and was never conceived in isolation as a mere trading
bloc. With Britain out, hopefully others will follow, the EU will
tighten its ship as an economic union and NATO, now presently at
Russia's borders, will be forced to rethink its dangerous course."
A referendum on British membership in NATO would have been more
interesting, and indeed might have started a dissolution of an
organization that these days serves mostly to entangle Europe in
America's post-imperial wars. But my initial reaction was opposite
of Pollack's: Brexit will push Britain even more into the US orbit,
increasing its stake in subduing the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
One might hope that "old Europe" would respond by ditching NATO,
but the EU has already followed NATO deep into "new Europe" and
the latter are keen on poking the Russian Bear.
Randeep Ramesh: Racism is spreading like arsenic in the water supply:
"The far right preys on the weakest members of society and by letting
anti-immigrant rhetoric bed in we are eroding civil rights not strengthening
them." I.e., a spike in such incidents led to
Cameron condemns xenophobic and racist abuse after Brexit vote.
Jeffrey D Sachs: The Meaning of Brexit: "In Europe, the call to punish
Britain pour encourager les autres -- to warn those contemplating
the same -- is already rising. This is European politics at its stupidest
(also very much on display vis-à-vis Greece)." Also, he points out that
US foreign policy viz. Syria and Ukraine are much to blame for the crisis,
and just falls short of pointing out that NATO is what Europe should be
exiting. For more on "stupidest" politics, see
European leaders rule out informal Brexit talks before article 50 is
George Soros: Brexit and the Future of Europe: "Now the catastrophic
scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of
the EU practically irreversible."
Andre Vltchek: Brexit -- Let the UK Screw Itself!: "Almost no
commentator bothered to notice what was truly shocking about the
entire referendum process: an absolute lack of progressive ideology,
of internationalism and concern for the world as a whole. Both sides
(and were there really two sides there) presented a fireworks of
shallow selfishness and of pettiness. The profound moral corruption
of the West was clearly exposed."
Paul Woodward: Who gets democracy?: A number of interesting points
here. One that especially struck me: "Last Thursday, 2.7 million people
who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although
they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British
citizens." Don't you think people who are so affected by a vote should
get to vote? Good chance that bloc would have swung the election. (FWIW,
I also think that immigrants, at least the ones with legal jobs, should
be able to vote in US elections: if you live and work somewhere, you are
part of the public, and therefore a stake holder.)
Simon Wren-Lewis: The triumph of the tabloids: "Of course we should
blame Johnson and Farage and the rest: the UK has paid a very high price
to facilitate political ambition. Of course we should blame Cameron and
Osborne for taking the referendum gamble and stoking anger with austerity.
But a few politicians alone are not capable of fooling the electorate so
consistently. To do that they need to control the means of communicating
Meanwhile, some short links on other subjects:
Patrick Cockburn: An Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars: Tom Engelhardt's
introduction cites a statistic that should help you understand Brexit: "If
you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment, it's
65 million. That's the record-setting number of people that the Office of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates were displaced in 2015 by
'conflict and persecution,' one of every 113 inhabitants of the planet."
Most of them result from the US/NATO wars against Islam, and I include
Syria in that list, and as Cockburn shows, they keep getting worse because
the US/NATO can't manage to bring them to any sort of conclusion, diplomatic
or otherwise. And yes, here's another Brexit quote, restating what should
by now be obvious:
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels
with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments
since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich
and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country.
Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the
prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union,
the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became
the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave"
voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United
Donald Cohen: The History of Privatization: Part 1 (of 4).
Thomas Frank: Worshipping Money in DC: Author of the best political
book of 2016, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of
the People, although you might consider holding off until after you
vote for Hillary in November -- it offers few inducements to support her
now, but will help you understand what went wrong after she's inaugurated.
This piece is more on lobbying -- the principal subject of Frank's equally
worthy 2008 book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and
of the newsletter Influence, extensively cited here. Conclusion:
"This is not an industry, Influence's upbeat and name-dropping
style suggests. It is a community -- a community of corruption, perhaps,
but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous, and joyously oblivious
to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class."
I'll add that American politicians have always been easy to bribe, because
they've never been very skeptical of hustlers out to make money -- that's
just part of America's boom ethic. The only thing that's changed is the
scale of the graft and how systematic it's become, plus how our campaign
system selects for the best moneygrubbers.
Henry Grabar: Kansas' Insane Right-Wing Experiment Is About to Destroy
Its Roads: Well, it is true that Kansas has been raiding the highway
fund ever since Brownback blew a hole in the budget with his massive tax
giveaways, and consequently new roads aren't being built and old roads
aren't being maintained -- at least not at prudent levels. This is the
sort of short-sighted policy that doesn't fully impact you right away:
it takes time for weather and wear to break down those roads, but the
toll accumulates until it does become catastrophic, at which point debt
will make it even harder to address.
John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B: Actually, starts with recent
elections in Poland which brought the reactionary PiS to power, arguing
that shows a backlash by those left behind ("Poland B") by the urban
neoliberals who have dominated Polish politics ("Poland A") -- a dynamic
that is sweeping across Europe and finds an analog in the Trump bandwagon
here. I don't know about Poland, but in the US I doubt Trump's supporters
are that poor -- I've seen surveys that show them averaging about $20K
above average US family income (whereas Sanders and Clinton run about
even). This also ignores the growth of leftist parties in non-ex-communist
states, especially ones crushed by austerity measures like Greece and
Spain (but also within left-center parties, like Corbyn in the UK and
Sanders in the US).
Elizabeth Kolbert: Drawing the Line: On gerrymandering old and new,
especially the REDMAP project which was so successful for Republicans
in 2010, as detailed in David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind
the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. "In House races in
2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans.
And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked,
Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats."
Elizabeth Kolbert: Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change:
Piece from May 5 -- a lot more burnt since then. More generally: "In
Canada, and also in the United States and much of the rest of the world,
higher temperatures have been extending the wildfire season. Last year,
wildfires consumed ten million acres in the U.S., which was the largest
area of any year on record."
Evan Osnos: Making a Killing: Useful brief history of (as the sub
puts it) the business and politics of selling guns.
More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all
the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War. When an
off-duty security guard named Omar Mateen, armed with a Sig Sauer
semiautomatic rifle and a Glock 17 pistol, killed forty-nine people at
a gay club in Orlando, on June 12th, it was historic in some respects
and commonplace in others -- the largest mass shooting in American
history and, by one count, the hundred-and-thirtieth mass shooting so
far this year. High-profile massacres can summon our attention, and
galvanize demands for change, but in 2015 fatalities from mass shootings
amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when
Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.
None of that has hurt the gun business. In recent years, in response
to three kinds of events -- mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and talk
of additional gun control -- gun sales have broken records. "You know
that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there's a shooting
somewhere, sales spike like crazy," Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of
American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told me.
Jeffrey Toobin: Clarence Thomas Has His Own Constitution: "The
abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even
from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn't respect the Court's precedents.
He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he
rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law." Toobin
also quotes Scalia on how his judicial philosophy differed from
Thomas's: "I'm an originalist," Scalia said, "but I'm not a nut."
Paul Waldman: Trump's response to terrorism is both weak and barbaric:
"It seems that nothing is more horrifying to Donald Trump than the idea
that somebody might be laughing at us, or more specifically, at him." Too
much after that trying to cast GW Bush as an enlightened alternative ("a
fatherly reassurance that their president would keep them safe"), but it's
a measure of Trump's instability that makes such comparisons possible.
Julia Carrie Wong/Danny Yadron: Hillary Clinton proposes student debt
deferral for startup founders: Worst faux pas (of its type) since
Paul Ryan took
Labor Day as an occasion to tout "America's job creators" deprecating
the people who actually do the work to keep everything running. What
was she thinking? That the people most able to repay their debts should
be spared? That tomorrow's business leader should get a head start on
sucking the public tit? That the people should subsidize MBA programs
that teach young people to become sociopaths? Or just that, to agree
with Ryan and Ayn Rand, entrepreneurs are so much better than everyone
else? Surely she can't imagine that this will be a universal benefit,
that it will lead to a world where everyone is an entrepreneur and no
one actually has to do any work? Or maybe she just sees it as a cheap
sop, as a way of shaming all those poor sods who went to college just
to learn a trade, or worse still to learn liberal arts, to become more
knowledgeable citizens, to contribute a little something to what we
used to call civilization?
The authors quote Hillary: "I disagree with free college for everybody.
I don't think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump's kids to
college." Well, maybe Trump's kids should go to college -- especially if
college meant something other than rubberstamping credentials (like, you
know, learning how to get along and now just how to get ahead). And maybe
if the public paid for it, Trump wouldn't be so motivated to grab money
for his own personal aggrandizement (or if he still was, we'd be less
relucatant to tax it back). A world where everyone, regardless of how
rich or poor they start out, has the same opportunity to learn as much
as they can would likely be much better than the one we live in now.
For more, see
Rana Foroohar: Why Hillary Clinton's Student Debt Idea Is Smart,
one of those pieces that exposes how ridiculous Clinton's program is
by assuming it's brilliant. In particular:
Start-ups are a key driver of productivity. But the birthrate of
startups has been in decline since the 1970s. Since then, it has
dovetailed with a shift in how the financial sector business model
works -- it no longer invests primarily in new business, but rather
buys up and trades existing assets, and funding for small and
mid-sized start ups is still scarce (while increasing monopoly
power on the part of large firms squashes new ones, as Robert
Reich and others have recently written.)
And how exactly is a modest tax incentive (debt deferral) going
to fix these problems? If monopoly power is the problem (and it's
certainly a big one), the classic remedy is antitrust enforcement,
and I'd add that it's also important to open up ways to provide
financing and build capital that bypass the exclusive control of
predatory financiers. You also need to look hard at what finance
does, and undercut the rewards of bad short-term behavior even if
you can't figure out how to reward long-term productive investment --
as it is the financial sector is sucking up far too much money, so
you need to both that less likely and tax it away when it happens.
Also, another thing that has been driving productivity down "since
the 1970s" has been the decline of worker control, so that, too, is
something to direct policy at promoting. Clinton's proposal hardly
even amounts to a gesture against these problems. Rather, it hints
that she's still in thrall to the high-tech is going to save the
world from endemic corruption. This is actually a common myth in
New Democratic circles -- a major theme in Thomas Frank's Listen,
Meanwhile, the evidence on using tax incentives to influence business
behavior is pretty damning. This came as no surprise to me. From the
beginning I thought that every "incentive" was a distortion leading
to warped thought. In 1984 I was looking for a job. I recall driving
up I-93 from Boston with a headhunter who pointed out Compugraphic's
various buildings along the route and explained the tax advantages of
each. When I arrived at corporate headquarters I found that most of
the managers actually lived in "tax-free New Hampshire," and several
explained that matters most isn't income, it's after-tax profits. I
knew then the company was doomed, and indeed it was. But they were
spouting "truths" that were clichés at the time, spread hither and
yon by the business press, so my judgment wasn't just limited to this
one company: I figured the whole economy was doomed, if not to the
tragedy of the Great Depression then at least to the farce we've
lived through ever since the 1980s, occasionally propped up then
blown apart by increasingly desperate bubbles.
Sunday, June 19. 2016
Travel disrupts my normal news browsing. I'm lucky to keep up with my
email, find it hard to write on notebook keyboards, never listen to the
radio, only watch TV when that's happening somewhere I'm staying (which
did get me some History Channel in CT, CNN in Buffalo, and Weather Channel
in AR). So I'm catching up here, and this week's links and comments are
David Atkins: Gun Violence Research: If Republicans in Congress Won't Do
It, California Will: One of the major problems with debates over gun
control is the general lack of serious research into the problem. We have
some rough numbers about total shootings but little else, in large part
because the NRA has worked very hard to keep any research from getting
funding. So if California does this, it will be a big help to anyone who
wants to base policy on real data.
Andrew Cockburn: Victory Assured on the Military's Main Battlefield --
Washington: Back in the 1980s the "star wars" program was originally
dubbed SDI, but I recall someone quipping that it should have been SFI,
for Strategic Funding Initiative. It is one of the Pentagon's more famous
multi-billion-dollar boondoggles, but far from alone. The military may or
may not get the wars they lobby for, but somehow they always manage to
get extravagant funding:
Inside the Pentagon, budget planners and weapons-buyers talk of the "bow
wave," referring to the process by which current research and development
initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in
commitments to massive spending down the road. Traditionally, such waves
start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible
spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.
[ . . . ]
The latest nuclear buildup is only the most glaring and egregious
example of the present bow wave that is guaranteed to grow to monumental
proportions long after Obama has retired to full-time speechmaking. The
cost of the first of the Navy's new Ford Class aircraft carriers, for
example, has already grown by 20% to $13 billion with more undoubtedly
to come. The "Third Offset Strategy," a fantasy-laden shopping list of
robot drones and "centaur" (half-man, half-machine) weapons systems,
assiduously touted by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, is similarly
guaranteed to expand stunningly beyond the $3.6 billion allotted to its
development next year.
Steve Fraser: How the Age of Acquiescence Came to an End: Author
of last year's The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American
Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, now admits that:
So consider this essay a postscript to that work, my perhaps belated
realization that the age of acquiescence has indeed come to an end.
Millions are now, of course, feeling the Bern and cheering The Donald.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to the first signs of what was
to come as I was finishing my book: the Tea Party on the right, and on
the left Occupy Wall Street, strikes by low-wage workers, minimum and
living wage movements, electoral victories for urban progressives, a
surge of environmental activism, and the eruption of the Black Lives
Matter movement just on the eve of publication.
Also, after noting that not just the left but also the right has
rediscovered the class struggle of the 1930s:
Hillary Clinton is broadly distrusted. Sanders has consistently outpolled
her against potential Republican opponents for president because she is
indeed a limousine liberal whose career has burned through trust at an
astonishing rate. And more important than that, the rebellion that has
carried Sanders aloft is not afraid to put capitalism in the dock. Trump
is hardly about to do that, but the diseased state of the neoliberal
status quo has made him, too, a force to be reckoned with. However you
look at it, the age of acquiescence is passing away.
It should be added that while both right and left seek to build on
mass disposession, the left offers programs that appeal to those without
power, whereas the right seeks to redirect that fear and anger against
others, thereby insulating the wealthy from the wrath of the masses --
if not from the consequences of their own lust for violence.
Paul Krugman: Notes on Brexit: Eleven of them, concluding that Britain
would be slightly better off if they vote down the referendum threatening
to part company with the European Union. Still, the biggest point is that
exit would be bad for the City's financiers, which probably means as little
to the average Briton as Wall Street bonuses mean to most Americans. Beyond
that, he dismisses "claims that Britain, freed from EU rules, could achieve
spectacular growth via deregulation." I haven't read much on this topic
and don't have much to offer, other than the thought that exit might be
preferable if Britain was solidly to the left of Europe -- and therefore
able to use its independence to further equality -- but with the Tories
controlling Parliament that pretty clearly isn't the case. (On the other
hand, Scottish independence would likely have moved Scotland to the left,
although that wouldn't have been good for English Labour.)
The Brexit thing took a nasty turn with the assassination of
Jo Cox, a Labour MP who strongly opposed Brexit, by a right-winger
who shouted "Britain first" while attacking her. It would be fitting
if her martyrdom swings the vote to no, but I can think of more than a
few strategic assassinations that, often despite initial sympathy, did
the job. As for the killer, there is much available, like
Ben Norton: Suspected killer of British lawmaker is neo-Nazi -- but media
blamed mental illness, like Charleston 1 year ago.
Stephen Kinzer: Don't mythologize Ali's rage: Probably much more
worth reading on the late Muhammad Ali, but this is a good start,
focusing on his courageous political stances against racism at home
and imperialism abroad, and how recent eulogies tend to sanitize him
in a time when "his message is every bit as urgent today as it was
when he first began preaching it."
Ronald B Rapoport/Alan I Abramowitz/Walter J Stone: Why Trump Was
Inevitable: Nothing deep or surprising or even very informative
here. The authors merely did some polling among likely Republican
voters and found out that Trump was the most popular candidate,
beating all the others in one-on-one contests with Cruz (48%),
Rubio (43%), Carson (42%), Paul (37%), and Fiorina (36%) his closest
challengers -- the most notable finding is that among ten contenders
(the polling was done around Iowa caucus time) the lowest rating
belonged to Jeb Bush (31%), with Kasich and Christie just a whisker
better (32%). Another chart shows that Republicans thought Trump was
more likely to win in November than any other candidate (56%, vs.
44% for Cruz, 39% for Rubio, and a mere 13% for Bush). Other charts
show that Trump's signature issues (banning Muslims, building his
wall) were widely favored not just among Trump supporters but among
all Republicans. As I said, nothing revealing there (except perhaps
how doomed the Bush campaign was from the beginning).
Aaron Rupar: Senator Who Has Received More NRA Suport Than Anyone
Blames Obama for Orlando Shooting: John McCain, $7.7 million,
although most of that came during his 2008 presidential campaign, an
unfair advantage compared to all the other NRA stooges in Congress.
McCain's thinking here is that Obama opened the door for ISIS when
he oversaw the withdrawal of US occupation forces from Iraq. The
implication is that were it not for Obama's folly no one would have
heard of ISIS, so no deranged westerner could pledge allegiance to
the group in the midst of a killing spree. McCain may be one of the
last true believers in the magical powers of American military power,
or he may just have wanted US troops to stay in Iraq because their
presence sustains the war he so dearly loves. If one has to blame
Obama for this, it would make more sense to question his decision to
send troops back to Iraq (and on to Syria) to fight ISIS, reinforcing
the view that America is at war with Islam and has callous disregard
for anyone who gets in the way. Clearly, America's long and seemingly
intractable involvement in the Middle East's wars is leading to both
sides disrespecting and dehumanizing the other. I don't think either
Bush or Obama ever wished to paint their wars with racism but as those
wars drag on, with us and them killing the other, their remonstrations
are lost on demagogues like Trump. McCain, at least, has started to
walk back his charges. Still, he hasn't betrayed his sponsors.
Of course, what actually happened in Orlando doesn't fit at all well
with the preconceived notions of someone like McCain. That the shooter
was born a Muslim and had heard of ISIS seems almost incidental, even
as that he was so filled with rage and armed with an assault rifle is
so quintessentially American. For a profile, see
'Always Agitated. Always Mad': Omar Mateen, According to Those Who Knew
Some light reading on Donald Trump:
Geoff Blades: Why Donald Trump has defied the odds: It's insulting to think
he wins by insulting
Steven Shepard: Trump's poll ratings in a historic hole:
Trump is setting modern records for political toxicity -- at least for
a major-party candidate this far out from an election. Seventy percent
of Americans surveyed in an ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week
had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, up 10 points over the past month.
The poll showed Trump's favorable rating cratering at 29 percent, down
from 37 percent last month. [ . . . ]
But it's not just the overall unfavorable numbers -- it's the intensity
of the antipathy toward Trump, and the lack of enthusiasm for him. In
the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent of respondents had a
"strongly unfavorable" opinion of Trump, compared to just 15 percent
who had a "strongly favorable" opinion.
Shepard's piece was cited by
Paul Woodward: Trump's plan for winning if he loses, on how Trump's
"already crafting a plan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat -- not
by winning but election but by turning his campaign experience into the
launchpad for his next commercial venture."
Jamelle Bouie: Whether He Wins or Loses, We're Stuck With Trump.
Tom Engelhardt: Donald Trump Is the Mosquito, Not the Zika Virus
Ann Jones: Donald Trump Has the Traits of a Wife Abuser and Women Know
Seth Stevenson: Former Apprentice crew members on their old
boss, Donald Trump: Actually, that's the subhed. The title they
went with was "He's Obsessed With Menstruation."
Warren Tears Into Trump: He's a 'Thin-Skinned, Racist Bully':
Perhaps she's auditioning for the role of Spiro Agnew, if you can
imagine Hillary Clinton as Dick Nixon -- you know, looking presidential,
above the fray and the dirt (not that he was/she is).
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Andrew Bacevich: America's Sinkhole Wars
William deBuys: No More Wide Open Spaces?
Ben Ehrenreich: How Israel Is Inciting Palestinian Violence: Author
also has a new book on the subject: The Way of the Spring: Life and
Death in Palestine. Philip Weiss comments on the piece and reaction:
'Politico' dares to publish Ehrenreich saying occupation fosters terrorism,
and 'Camera' goes haywire.
Hassan Hassan: Washington's War on the Islamic State Is Only Making It
Barry C Lynn/Philip Longman: Populism With a Brain: Ten old/new ideas
to give power back to the people:
- Protect democracy by restoring market competition
- Use trade power to restore American independence
- Ban price and data discrimination
- Break up Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Comcast
- Localize banking, retail, and farming
- Make all government public
- Protect the industrial arts
- Take back leisure
- Keep planes, trains, and robotic cars out of the hands of plutocrats
- Power (and ideas) from the people
Lynn, by the way, is the author of an important recent book on why
we need stronger antitrust regulations: Cornered: The New Monopoly
Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Kansas Isn't Home Anymore . . .: A statement from the head of the
company Pathfinder Health Innovations on why they're relocating from
Kansas to Missouri. Hint: has a lot to do with Sam Brownback.
Sunday, May 22. 2016
No real time for this today, so I'll just try to note a few brief
links without providing much in the way of commentary. Main thing that
chewed up time today was my sister's birthday. She wanted a party in
the new/very old house, although circumstances pretty much restricted
us to the living room (repainted bright blue, wood floors refinished).
She set up a table on my sawhorses, and I brought over a large pot of
jambalaya and a
spice cake -- two old
never-fail standbys. Only work on the house today was to reinstall the
toilet, but after rebuilding the bathroom floor and covering it with
vinyl sheet that feels like a milestone.
One minor piece of housekeeping: Laura Tillem urged me to send an
excerpt from last week's
post on Hiroshima and Obama, and something like it was published in
the Wichita Eagle's
Letters to the Editor today:
Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., who normally is sensitive to racial
affronts, insists that we not apologize for killing 200,000 Japanese
with atom bombs -- the only time such weapons have been used on
civilians -- because it was war
not apologizing for Hiroshima, nor should he," May 16 Opinion).
So war means never having to say you're sorry?
I get that "war is hell," but I don't see that one should deny
regrets after a war, or that there's no value in the simple decency
of an apology, however paltry.
I fear that refusing to apologize for Hiroshima implies that
atomic bombing of cities is something we can excuse doing again --
that it's one of those "options" that our political leaders insist
they won't ever "take off the table." Indeed, current plans to spend
more than $1 trillion to upgrade America's nuclear arsenal suggest
that America's leaders are more committed than ever to threatening
what we're repeatedly told is "a dangerous world" with instant
On the other hand, if we started to apologize for the atrocities
that even Pitts admits America committed, maybe we'd be less prone
to repeat them going forward.
OK, one big piece and long quote and comment:
Matt Taibbi: RIP, GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party:
Just riffing on the headline, my initial reaction is that he's got it
totally wrong. The Republican Party has been intellectually and morally
dead for some time now. The Bush administration proved that any pieces
of their agenda that they managed to implement rebounded disastrously,
they've continued to perform similarly awful at the state and local
levels, and under Obama congressional Republicans (even with their
recent majority control) have failed to offer a single constructive
proposal -- all they seem capable of doing is jeering and obstructing.
So they're already brain dead, not that the media -- so fascinated with
their spastic twitching -- has noticed let alone certified. Still, one
thing Trump has going is that he's pretty clearly not implicated in
their past failures, so how can one accuse him of killing the party?
The more apt metaphor is that the party is already dead, and Trump is
reanimating it, much like Dr. Frankenstein animated his monster. (I'm
not current enough on the relevant pop culture to judge whether some
sort of zombie trope might fit better, but John Quiggin's critique of
"zombie economics" -- "how dead ideas still walk among us" -- applies
to most of the rare occasions when Republicans attempt to present us
with their version of thinking.)
The main argument against the death of the Republican Party is that
Republicans keep polling well and winning elections, despite a track
record of unmitigated horror. While some pundits argue that Trump is
so repugnant and reviled that he may drag the whole party down to a
calamitous defeat this fall, I don't see how adding palpable energy
(and a soupçon of deniability) hurts the GOP. Taibbi's article is more
nuanced than his headline, partly because it's more about Ted Cruz's
failures than Trump's successes:
This led to the hilarious irony of Ted Cruz. Here was a quintessentially
insipid GOP con man culled straight from the halls of Princeton, Harvard,
the Supreme Court, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Republican
Senatorial Committee to smooth-talk the yokels. But through a freak accident
of history, he came along just when the newest models of his type were
selling "the Republican establishment sucks" as an electoral strategy.
Cruz was like an android that should have self-destructed in a cloud
of sparks and black smoke the moment the switch flipped on. He instead
stayed on just long enough to win 564 delegates, a stunning testament to
just how much Republican voters, in the end, hated the Republican
kingmakers Cruz robotically denounced.
All of these crazy contradictions came to a head in Indiana, where
Cruz succumbed in an explosion of hate and scorn. The cascade started
the Sunday night before the primary, with a Cruz stump speech in La
Porte that couldn't have gone worse.
Things went sideways as Cruz was working his way into a "simple flat
tax" spiel, a standard Republican snake-oil proposal in which all
corporate, estate and gift taxes would be eliminated, and replaced
with a 10 percent flat tax and a 16 percent consumption tax. Not
because the rich would pay less and the poor would pay more, but
because America and fairness, etc. He was just getting to his beloved
money line, claiming, "We can fill out our taxes on a postcard," when
a 12-year-old boy interrupted with cries of "You suck!" and "I don't
Cruz couldn't quite handle the pressure and stepped straight into
the man-trap the moment presented. He lectured the kid about respecting
his elders, then suggested the world might be a better place if someone
had taught a young Donald Trump that lesson. It was a not-half-bad line
of the type that the Harvard lawyer is occasionally capable. But Cruz
couldn't help himself and added, "You know, in my household, when a
child behaves that way, they get a spanking."
Boom! Within hours the Internet was filled with headlines
about how Ted Cruz had suggested spanking someone else's 12-year-old
for telling him he sucked.
This was on top of the ignominy of having already called a basketball
hoop a "ring" while giving a speech on the gym floor in Knightstown, the
home of the fictional Hickory team from Hoosiers. No American male
would call a basketball hoop a ring, and even a French immigrant would
know better than to do so in Indiana, but this was the kind of run he
The rest of the race was a slapstick blowout. Carly Fiorina fell off
a stage, and Cruz's wife, Heidi, actually had to answer a question from
a Yahoo! reporter about her husband being called the Zodiac Killer.
Heidi Cruz calmly responded that she'd been married to Ted for 15 years
and "I know pretty well who he is." This, of course, was exactly what
the wife of the actual Zodiac Killer would say, making for a perfectly
absurd ending to a doomed campaign. [ . . . ]
Finally, on the morning of the Indiana primary, Cruz woke up to hear
opponent Trump babbling that Cruz's own father had been hanging out with
Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a bizarre
take on a ridiculous National Enquirer story that Trump, of course,
believed instantly. Trump brought this up on Fox and Friends, which let
him run the ball all the way to the end zone. "I mean, what was he doing
with Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly before the death -- before the shooting?"
Trump asked. "It's horrible."
American politics had never seen anything like this: a presidential
candidate derided as a haggardly masturbating incarnation of Satan, the
son of a presidential assassin's accomplice, and himself an infamous
uncaptured serial killer.
Despite the media humiliations, Cruz talked passionately of his
supporters' resolve. "Just a few days ago, two young kids, ages four
and six, handed me two envelopes full of change," he said. "All of
their earnings from their lemonade stand. They wanted the campaign
to have it."
The crowd cooed: Awwww! There was no way he could quit now
and let those kids down. Except that moments later, Cruz did just
that, announcing he was suspending his campaign because "the path
to victory has been foreclosed." Then he fled the stage like he was
Didn't initially plan to quote all of that, but it kept coming, and
helps explain why Cruz, who had long been favored to win Indiana, and
who supposedly cinched the win with a deal to get Kasich to skip the
state and not split the anti-Trump vote, imploded so suddenly. But the
key word there was "foreclosed": precisely the sort of word a Harvard
lawyer would choose to indicate that he was quitting not because he
had lost face with the voters or had decided that the principled
differences he claimed against Trump had ceased to matter; rather,
the moneyed interests behind his campaign decided to cut their
losses and live with the consequences. Then, less than a week later,
Kasich -- who after his deal with Cruz had nothing riding on the
Indiana results -- dropped out as well, conceding the nomination
and obviating the rest of the primary schedule. Clearly, the folks
with the money decided that whatever uncertainty Trump posed wasn't
enough of a threat to keep fighting against.
And a few real brief links:
Sunday, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a
huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie
Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first
majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs.
25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York
values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so
this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a
first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth
noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday.
Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats
got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries
where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's
What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked
was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found
was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much
stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only
losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9)
districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state
average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo
and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester).
What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage
network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped
the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the
vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year,
often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I
expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew
Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it
underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's
power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he
appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats
so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the
nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters
worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was
reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened
to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the
Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals
(following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often
at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been
the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net
effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business
as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll
try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit
less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort
of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that
we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though
there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that
need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot
in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw
New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination,
it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton
is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6),
Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%,
closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island,
but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut
(although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting
much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up:
45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1%
in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania
(Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4%
in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in
New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican
races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in
Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2%
(T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with
three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet
somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we
find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another,
and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their
former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among
this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince
most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate,
and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds
of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high --
especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the
Some scattered links this week:
Gerald Friedman: Orthodox Economics Has Become a Place Where Visions Die
and Hopes Are Banished: Subhed: "Why liberal economists dish out
despair." Friedman was the economist who analyzed Bernie Sanders'
platform and concluded that it would lead to a growth rate that the
US economy hasn't seen in over fifty years. He was, in turn, attacked
by economists like Christine Romer and Paul Krugman for suggesting
that such growth rates were even possible. Basically, they regarded
Friedman's calculations as proof that Sanders was fantasizing. (In
fairness, a few economists like James Galbraith defended Friedman.)
Much of interest here:
There is, of course, a politics as well as a psychology to this economic
theory. If nothing much can be done, if things are as good as they can be,
it is irresponsible even to suggest to the general public that we try to
do something about our economic ills. The role of economists and other
policy elites (Paul Krugman is fond of the term "wonks") is to explain to
the general public why they should be reconciled with stagnant incomes,
and to rebuke those, like myself, who say otherwise before we raise false
hopes that can only be disappointed. But this approach leaves liberals
like Hillary Clinton with few policy options to offer in response to the
siren call of demagogues like Donald Trump. And it makes the work of
self-proclaimed "responsible" elite economists that much more pressing.
They have to work even harder to persuade the public that nothing can be
done to head off the challenge of Trump and other irresponsible politicians
who capitalize on the electorate's appetite for change. They have to slap
down critics like myself. "Responsible" elite economists have to keep the
party of "good arithmetic" from overpromising at all costs.
Were the orthodox classical economists correct, then of course their
politics would follow. But what if they are wrong? What if government
action could, in fact, raise growth rates or narrow disparities? What
would be the expected value of a higher GDP growth rate? Would it be
worth some academic debate, even if it leaked into the public realm?
Might this debate even serve a socially useful function by giving voters
an alternative to the xenophobic political economy of Donald Trump? Many
Americans believe that government action can improve economic conditions,
especially for workers, and many of these support Trump because they see
him as the only candidate who is even willing to consider government
action to help working Americans. These voters can look long and hard
at the "responsible" Clinton platform for some policy, for any policy
to raise growth rates and narrow income disparities. But they won't find
it, because policy elites have closed their minds to the possibility of
This reminds me that Krugman has repeatedly defended Democratic Party
compromises (e.g., ACA, Dodd-Frank) as adequate and satisfactory (even
if not ideal) solutions, while implying that little more can be done,
and that when Sanders argues otherwise, he's out on some lark beyond
anything that is economically possible. This gets me wondering whether
there were any Keynesians during the 1930s, even after it had become
clear that government spending was working to bring the economy out of
the Great Depression, who could imagine what a radical expansion --
one aimed not just as restoring the pre-depression equilibrium but
achieving a whole new level of prosperity -- might accomplish. That
experiment was (perhaps unwittingly) done with the total mobilization
for WWII. What Sanders is proposing goes way beyond repairing the
damage done by Bush's bubble. What's lacking is political will, not
the "laws of economics," and the net effect of Krugman's (and others')
naysaying is to help suppress that political will.
I don't doubt that there are long-term issues with sustaining
economic growth, but it's also clear that the US economy is performing
way below what it's capable of, and a crash program of public works --
not just to fix our sorely degraded infrastructure -- would make a big
difference (even Krugman understands that much, although his argument
doesn't go nearly as far as Sanders or Friedman). The infrastructure
work would also move a huge current liability into the asset column,
and would improve future productivity, but there's much more value to
be gained from spending on public works. One area where Sanders may
be overly optimistic is how to pay for this: it's not clear to me that
simply "soaking the rich" with higher taxes will raise enough revenue
(not that that's not worth doing in its own right), especially if one
implements other reforms to reverse increasing inequality. Most likely
we would need some sort of broad-based consumption tax (in addition to
more progressive taxes on profits and estates), but that's almost a
technical issue compared to the broader question of vision.
I should also remind you of Philip Mirowski's big book, Never
Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the
Financial Meltdown (2013), which is largely about how mainstream
economists throttled (well, more like strangled) any serious political
change following a severe crisis which pretty clearly proved that
their understanding of the economy was faulty.
Emmett Rensin: The smug style in American liberalism: Much I agreed
with here, and much that rubbed me the wrong way. I believe that good
politics derives from respect for everyone, notably people who grew up
differently from yourself, who consequently have different world views.
However, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't disagree with some of
those world views. It's just that the ones you should reject are the ones
where respect isn't reciprocal or generalizable. Many people, for instance,
think they should be privileged over other groups of people, and that is
a creed that is based on disrespect for the unprivileged, that cannot be
generalizable. We can all, for instance, settle for equality, which is
what makes it such a fundamental principle of political society. Given
all this, smugness is inappropriate and often counterproductive. Yet it
is pretty much impossible to engage in political discourse without at
some point appearing to someone as smug. And consequently, Rensin's
examples are all over the range from sensible to outrageous. There are
some ideas -- the gold standard, for instance, or creationism -- that
are so indefensible many of us skip past re-litigating them and resort
to derision, even if that leaves the impression of smugness. Similarly
there are people -- e.g., Sen. Jim Inhofe on climate change (fresh on
my mind because I read a quote from him today) -- who having repeatedly
clung to indefensible positions have lost the right to be taken seriously,
even though such instant rejection smacks of smugness. At some point you
have to realize that it's not practical to re-argue everything from first
principles every time it comes up (though it is useful to be able to cite
someone who has thought the issue through). Still, I don't disagree with
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people
from the duty to respect them. It becomes all at once too easy to decide
you know best, to never hear, much less ignore, protest to the contrary.
At present, many of those most in need of the sort of help liberals
believe they can provide despise liberalism, and are despised in turn.
Is it surprising that with each decade, the "help" on offer drifts even
further from the help these people need?
Even if the two could be separated, would it be worth it? What kind
of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people
it is advocating for?
The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a
failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion
that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must
capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts. [ . . . ]
The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished
with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause
with the larger section of the American working class, they will search
for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will
find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further.
They will choose the smug style.
One thing that Rensin has stumbled onto here is that the relationship
between liberalism and the working class has been fraught with difficulty
throughout American history, perhaps only bound together by accident of
the egalitarian words of the Declaration of Independence and the power
shifts of the New Deal. Liberalism has always focused on individuals,
defined as free and equal as opposed to the old orders of aristocracy
(and peasantry or slavery). As such, liberals sought to advance people
one-by-one based on merit, whereas socialists sought to "level up" the
working class to share in the entire nation's wealth (mostly created
by the labor of the working class). As such liberals -- Chris Hedges
and Thomas Frank speak of a distinct "liberal class" rooted in highly
educated professionals -- have tended to accept inequities, provided
that opportunities were more or less equal -- all the more so in times
of increased inequality, such as ours.
Indeed, at this point I suspect that the only thing that keeps the
liberal class and the working class -- which is a pretty fair first
approximation of the Clinton-Sanders contest -- from splitting the
Democratic Party in two is their shared horror at the prospect of
Republican rule. It will be interesting to see whether the dominant
liberal faction makes any serious nods toward the white working class
(with Republicans like Trump and Cruz, blacks and Latinos are pretty
much locked in).
Yusef Munayyer: Wanted: A US Strategy in the Middle East:
In 2006, as Israel and Hezbollah were engaged in what would be a 34day war,
the longest of any ArabIsraeli war since 1948, US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice reflected on the region's volatile dynamics calling them
"the birth pangs of a new Middle East." She further stated, "We have to be
certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East not back to the
Indeed, there was something new in the Middle East that Dr. Rice was
observing then. For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all
seemed to align with Israel in the war and condemned Hezbollah in a very
overt way. Earlier in the year, Al-Qaeda in Iraq launched the first major
salvo in what became a sectarian war in Iraq when it bombed the Shi'a
AlAskari Mosque in Samarra. The Iraq war had made this regional
realignment, which we have seen develop further in the years since,
come into fruition.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent dismantlement of the
Iraqi state had many devastating implications for the region. Perhaps
most significant was the fact that it shattered any semblance of regional
order in the Middle East and the longstanding modus vivendi
between Riyadh and Tehran. Saddam had been a bulwark against Iran and
a buffer that limited Iranian influence from reaching the Arab Gulf
countries and the Levant. With Saddam gone, the US fired the starting
pistol in a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Militias, insurgencies, sectarianism and bloodshed would characterize
this power struggle.
Today, more than a decade into this contest, the labor pains have
subsided and a demon child called ISIS, nurtured from embryo to beast
in the womb of a failed Iraqi state, has not only learned to walk but
is running amok across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Munayyer's big point is that while the US thought it had all the
power in the world, it had no real idea what it wanted to do with
that power, and consequently wound up thrashing, unable to decide
on goals, or even friends and enemies (actually, both camps tended
to be defined by their opposite in ways that wound up contradicting
one another). And in this context US power turned out to be far less
than super (let alone hyper). Munayyer sees the 2003 invasion of Iraq
as pivotal, but the 1990 war was nearly as bad, and the US had made
a muddle of its strategy ever since Carter declared the Persian Gulf
a "vital US interest," or Nixon looked to Saudi fundamentalism as a
bulwark in the Cold War, or LBJ had no interest in brokering an end
to the Arab-Israeli wars despite having friends on both sides. And
all through America's Orientalists never showed the slightest interest
in the welfare of the region's people, least of all their desires for
free societies and modern economies.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Patently Absurd Logic on Budget Deficits and Debt:
Time did a cover story attempting to rile up hysteria about the
federal deficit again, so Baker knocks it down plank by plank -- stuff
you should already know by now, but I'm flad he's also talking about
There is one other point about treating the debt as a serious measure
of generational equity. Interest payments on debt are just one of the
ways in which the government makes commitments for the future. When
the government grants patent and copyright monopolies, it is also
making commitments that carry into the future. Patent and copyright
monopolies allow the holders to charge prices for the protected items
that are hugely higher than the free market price. They are in effect
a tax that is privately collected by drug companies, software companies,
the entertainment industry and others.
These payments are in fact enormous relative to the interest burdens
that get the deficit hawks so excited. In the case of prescription drugs
alone, the difference between what we pay for patent protected drugs,
compared to drugs being sold at free market prices, is in the neighborhood
of $360 billion a year. That's equal to 2 percent of the GDP, twice the
size of the current interest burden on the public debt.
Jesse Eisinger: Why Haven't Bankers Been Punished? Just Read These Insider
SEC Emails: Follows longtime SEC lawyer James Kidney. Ends with:
Kidney became disillusioned. Upon retiring, in 2014, he gave an impassioned
going-away speech, in which he called the SEC "an agency that polices the
broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors."
In our conversations, Kidney reflected on why that might be. The oft-cited
explanations -- campaign contributions and the allure of private-sector jobs
to low-paid government lawyers -- have certainly played a role. But to Kidney,
the driving force was something subtler. Over the course of three decades,
the concept of the government as an active player had been tarnished in the
minds of the public and the civil servants inside working inside the agency.
In his view, regulatory capture is a psychological process in which officials
become increasingly gun shy in the face of criticism from their bosses,
Congress, and the industry the agency is supposed to oversee. Leads aren't
pursued. Cases are never opened. Wall Street executives are not forced to
explain their actions.
Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit One in Any Future American War Crimes Trial:
Author of a new book titled American Nuremberg: The US Officials
Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Previously wrote
Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United
States (2014, Oxford University Press). This excerpt focuses on
the torture of Abu Zubaydah, which surely qualifies although I'd say
that the decisions to invade and start decades-long wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq are far more serious crimes.
William Hartung: What a Waste, the US Military: Given all the evil
that the US military perpetrates, the fact that they do such a lousy job
of managing their bloated allowance ranks rather low on in my view, but
it's always worth a reminder that their lack of care and foresight starts
at home, well before they use it to screw up the rest of the world.
Matt Karp: Against Fortress Liberalism;
Lily Geismer: Atari Democrats;
Rick Perlstein: The Chicago School: three essays from Jacobin
magazine, which we recently subscribed to. On the other hand, they also
published a hatchet job by Jonah Walters on "hippie-hating hawk" Merle
Haggard that totally misses the boat. (Kathleen Geier fumes
here, and Eric Loomis gets down to brass tacks in a reply titled
Walking on the Fighting Side of Me.)
David Swanson: US Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity or for Democracy:
Interview by Mark Karlin with the author of War Is a Lie, originally
written in 2010 and now out in a 2nd edition paperback (Just World Books),
and founder of the
World Beyond War website.
In 2006, Republicans believed they'd have to end the wars, and Democrats
were elected to congressional majorities with that mandate. Rahm Emanuel
then openly told The Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the
wars going for two more years in order to run "against" them again in
2008. The Democrats took the chairs of committees and proceeded to do
nothing with them. And people who identified with the Democratic Party
in 2007 began obsessing with the 2008 presidential election, at the
expense of ending the slaughter in 2007 or 2008.
Endless, lawless war at massive expense was clearly established as a
bipartisan norm. Entire presidential debates in 2016 have passed by
without a single mention of the world outside the United States. No
candidate has been asked whether 54 percent of discretionary spending
on militarism is too much, too little or just right. Young people have
grown up in this climate and accepted in some cases -- just like most
old people -- all the propaganda or at least the part that maintains
that we are powerless to stop wars. Corruption by war profiteers and
general cultural taboos contribute: The big environmental groups won't
take on the biggest destroyer of the environment, the big civil liberties
groups won't touch the biggest cause of rights violations etc. But the
fact is that a massive movement against war is extremely active and
broad in comparison to what the media suggests.
For an excerpt from the new edition of War Is a Lie, see
Fear of ISIS Used to Justify Continued Military Intervention in Middle
How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk: As Secretary of State, Clinton
was consistently more hawkish than President Obama. Indeed, she's
always been quick to resort to military force. Long story, including
a possibly apocryphal story about Clinton wanting to join the Navy.
Sunday, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
George Monbiot: Neoliberalism -- the ideology at the root of all our
problems: The term is scarcely ever used in the US, where right-wing
pundits insist that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (pictured at
the top) are regarded as purely conservative folk heroes. Yet the term
was coined at a 1938 conference featuring Austrian economists Ludwig
von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who used it to articulate an extreme
belief in free markets in opposition to "collectivism" -- a term they
felt rounded up all the evil political movements of the era: nazism,
communism, and most importantly social democracy. The term soon fell
out of use: in the US the ideas mostly appealed to red-baiting right
wingers who preferred to call themselves "conservatives"; in Britain,
the term has mostly been picked up by its opponents, since it seems
to tie together both the Conservative and Liberal parties, as well as
describe where the "New Labour" party faction went so terribly wrong.
Of course, the same ideas infected the Democratic Party, particularly
through Carter's deregulation mania, Clinton's embrace of "free trade"
deals and "small government," continuing through Obama (whose signature
plans, like health care reform and a "cap-and-trade" greenhouse gas
market were originally hatched in neoliberal "think tanks"). Still,
I wonder if it isn't too pat to catalog every instance of self-serving
capitalist greed and dignify it with an innocuous ideological label.
Monbiot notes that neoliberal policy directives have failed so often
their underlying theories have achieved zombie status, then complains
that "The left has produced no new framework of economic thought for
80 years. This is why the zombie walks." The zombie walks because the
rich have rigged the system. What we need isn't another framework;
it's countervaling power.
Much quotable here; this is just a sample:
The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes.
Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to
cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the
social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens.
The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the
Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the
economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the
domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course
of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal
theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But
some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or
shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The
result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of
the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies,
disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people
have been shed from politics.
Monbiot has a new book, How Did We Get Into This Mess?
(Verso). He also cites another interesting title, Andrew Sayer:
Why We Can't Afford the Rich (Policy Press, paperback in
May). Also links to
Paul Verhaeghe: Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.
Michael Specter: Life-Expectancy Inequality Grows in America:
It will surprise nobody to learn that life expectancy increases with
income. Coming, however, in the midst of a Presidential campaign in
which the corrosive effects of income inequality have been a principal
debate topic, the data and its implications for public policy are
particularly striking: the richest one per cent of American men live
14.6 years longer on average than the poorest one per cent. For women,
the average difference is a just over ten years.
The gap appears to be growing fast. The researchers, led by Raj
Chetty, a professor of economics at Stanford University, analyzed
more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns, as well as mortality data
from the Social Security Administration, from the years 2001 to 2014.
In that period, the life expectancy of the richest five per cent of
Americans increased by roughly three years. For the poorest five per
cent, there was no increase.
DR Tucker: Ship of Fools: The fourth down of five straight rants
about "Bernie or Bust"-ers ("who still insist that under no circumstances
will they vote for the 'corporatist' Hillary Clinton if she defeats
Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination"). After
five paragraphs of imagining Trumpian hell, he concludes:
The inconvenient truth is that the "Bernie or Bust" crowd is
indistinguishable from right-wing fundamentalists in their loathing
of compromise and their refusal to recognize that sometimes people
can make bad decisions in good faith. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton
and Al Gore are neither evil nor corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders,
for that matter . . . but what does it say about those who only
recognize morality in the latter, and malevolence in the former?
First, he probably should have stopped at "evil" and not brought
up "corrupt": if there's anything the Clintons have done consistently
throughout their political careers, it's been to cozy up to moneyed
interests -- be they Tyson and Walmart in Arkansas, or Goldman Sachs
and Citibank in New York. Maybe it's legal for a company that was
saved by billions of dollars of federal bailouts to pay you $650k
for one little speech, but it's hard to say there's nothing corrupt
about it. Second, are we really talking about compromises, or simply
different goals? When the Clinton's concocted their health care
scheme, were they backing off from a single-payer approach just
enough to secure passage, or were they trying to pitch fat business
opportunities to the insurance companies and HMOs? If you want an
example of a compromise, take Sanders supporting Obama's ACA even
though he clearly was aware of and wanted something better. I'm
not saying that the Clintons don't compromise, let alone that they
have no principles to compromise. But I do think it's fair to say
that their principles and aims are very different from those of
people who prefer Sanders. Probably very different from their own
It's pathetic that Tucker can't tell the difference between Sanders
supporters and right-wing fundamentalists. Also that he doesn't recognize
that most Sanders supporters aren't died-in-the-wool leftists. The least
of Clinton's problems is that those "Bernie-or-bust"-ers will wind up
voting for Jill Stein. Two much bigger problems are that Clinton won't
campaign on anything that materially promises to help the lives of the
voters who have been energized by Sanders' campaign and/or that she's
already lost so much credibility that many people won't trust her. And
again, her problem isn't with confirmed leftists, who are hypersensitive
to the perils of fascism and accustomed to settling for "lesser evils."
Her problem is the vast mass of Americans who can't tell the difference
between the two parties, either because they're uninformed or because
they're all too aware that changing the guard in Washington hasn't made
any appreciable difference in their own lives.
Worse still is Tucker's
Running Up That Hill, where he urges the DNC to ban Sanders from
speaking at the Democratic Convention:
Why should Clinton genuflect to someone who a) explicitly said she
doesn't have what it takes to be president, b) called for a primary
challenge to the current Democratic President, and c) is not a
Speaking of concessions, a compelling case can be made that if
Sanders suspends his campaign after losing badly in this Tuesday's
New York Democratic primary, he should be excluded from speaking in
any capacity at the Democratic convention. It would be rather divisive
to give a prominent speaking position at that convention to someone
who seems to believe that the Democratic Party has prostituted itself
to economically powerful johns and contracted the social disease of
"corporatism." If Sanders addressed the convention and repeated his
campaign rhetoric, would he not offend convention attendees who regard
certain elements of Sanders's shtick as a tone-deaf and tacky trashing
of President Obama? [ . . . ] Those who are
thinking dispassionately will not be offended by the exclusion of
Sanders from the convention, and will understand the reasons why he
wasn't invited to speak.
Didn't the DNC try to suppress dissent (or do I mean democracy?)
once before -- in 1968? As I recall, that didn't work out so well.
A sane person would see the convention as an opportunity to bind the
Party divided by the primaries back together, but Tucker seems to
prefer laying waste to those who had challenged party orthodoxy,
thereby exacerbating the split in the Party. I suppose he could
point to Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention in 1992
as an example where such a concession backfired. (If you recall that
speech, it's probably because Molly Ivins allowed that "it probably
sounded better in the original German.") Nonetheless, I can't imagine
Sanders following suit -- especially after the votes are counted --
unless Clinton follows Tucker's advice and pushes him out. And if
she's that thin-skinned, she's unprepared for the job ahead.
PS: I wouldn't have read these pieces had they not appeared in
the otherwise admirable
Washington Monthly blog,
which Tucker has totally hijacked for his rants. Please bring back
Corey Rubin: Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions:
Among many other thoughts, this on the obsolescence of the DLC
Though I'm obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it's
the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us
who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary
Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders
ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one
or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance:
that for us is the real point of this whole thing.
I'm always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view.
While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that
kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely
mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton's supporters seem to be more
in synch with Sanders's politics. They say they like Bernie and agree
with his politics; it's just not realistic, they say, to think that
the American electorate will support that.
Which makes these liberals' attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling.
If it's all pure pragmatism for you -- despite your personal support for
Bernie's positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the
United States -- what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when
there's no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of
organizational support, who's able to articulate that kind of politics?
Daniel Larson: The Libyan War and Obama's 'Worst Mistake': When
asked one of those self-flagellating questions, Obama offered that
his worst mistake was "Probably failing to plan for the day after
what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya." I
can think of several worse ones. One was not fixing the Bush tax
cuts when he had the votes to do so right after the 2008 election.
(Sure, I understand that he didn't do so because raising taxes in
a recession would have seemed contractionary, and because he wanted
to play up his bipartisanship, and because they were due to sunset
in a few years anyway, but they would have cut into the swollen
deficits that caused so much alarm, in turn leading to austerity
cutbacks that really were contractionary. Moreover, he could have
floated tax rebates to counter the increases short-term, so they
would have been neutral or better while improving the long-term
outlook.) Another was pretending that the US had succeeded in Iraq
when his belated withdrawal was complete, which left him open to
the charge that his withdrawal turned Bush's victory into the rise
of ISIS. I could come up with a few dozen more before getting into
Libya, where in retrospect the intervention has come to look like
a worse decision than the aftermath. As Larson puts it:
I don't think this was Obama's biggest mistake, but it is revealing
that he remains convinced that this lack of post-Gaddafi planning is
worse than the far greater error of intervening in Libya in the first
place. As we saw last week, this has become the self-serving rallying
cry of Libyan war supporters. The only error interventionists are
capable of recognizing is that of doing "too little." They can't admit
that the intervention itself is a mistake without fully acknowledging
their bad judgment in supporting it. [ . . . ]
Obama knew at the time that there was absolutely no political
support in the U.S. or anywhere else for a prolonged mission in Libya.
Promising not to start an open-ended mission in Libya is what made the
war politically viable here at home. The public would tolerate bombing
for eight months and then writing off the country, but there wouldn't
be similar patience for a new occupation in yet another Muslim country
with the costs and casualties that would likely entail.
It was not an oversight by the intervening governments when they
left Libya to its own devices. That was part of the plan, such as it
was, from the very beginning. So it is hard to take Obama seriously
when he faults himself for not committing the U.S. to a larger, costlier
role in Libya when he and the other allied leaders deliberately decided
against doing that. They made that decision because they wanted a low-risk
intervention on the cheap, and they certainly weren't prepared to make a
long-term commitment to police and rebuild Libya. But they were willing
to help throw the country into chaos and to destabilize the surrounding
region and declare victory when the regime change they supposedly weren't
seeking had been achieved.
One last point is that the US intervention didn't end when the bombing
did. Obama may not have planned for the aftermath, but the CIA blundered
in anyway, which is how that Benghazi! fiasco happened.
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new
book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the
People? (pp. 89-91):
[Bill] Clinton's wandering political identity fascinated both his
admirers and biographers, many of whom chose to explain it as a quest:
Bill Clinton had to prove, to himself and the nation, that he was a
genuine New Democrat. He had to grow into presidential maturity. And
the way he had to do it was by somehow damaging or insulting
traditional Democratic groups that represented the party's tradition
of egalitarianism. Then we would know that the New Deal was really
dead. Then we could be sure.
This became such a cherished idea among Clinton's campaign team
that they had a catchphrase for it: "counter-scheduling." During the
1992 race, as though to compensate for his friend-of-the-little-guy
economic theme, Clinton would confront and deliberately antagonize
certain elements of the Democratic Party's traditional base in order
to assure voters that "interest groups" would have no say in a New
Democratic White House. As for those interest groups themselves,
Clinton knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else
to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centralism.
The most famous target of Clinton's counter-scheduling strategy was
the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the bête noir of centrists and
the living embodiment of the poilitics the Democratic Leadership
Council had set out to extinguish. At a 1992 meeting of Jackson's
Rainbow Coalition, with Jackson sitting to his left, Clinton went out
of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah
who had addressed the conference on the previous day. The exact
circumstances of Clinton's insult have long been forgotten, but the
fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of
genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should
always be doing in order to discipline their party's base.
Once Clinton was in the White House, counter-scheduling mutated
from a campaign tactic to a philosophy of government. At a retreat in
the administration's early days, Bill's chief political adviser,
Hillary Clinton, instructed White House officials how it was going to
be done. As Carl Bernstein describes the scene, Hillary announced that
the public must be made to understand that Bill was taking them on a
"journey" and that he had a "vision" for what the administration was
doing, a "story" that distinguished good from evil. The way to
dramatize this story, the first lady continued (in Bernstein's
telling), was to pick a fight with supporters.
You show people what you're willing to fight for, Hillary said,
when you fight your friends -- by which, in this context, she clearly
meant, When you make them your enemy.
NAFTA would become the first great test of this theory of the
presidency, with Clinton defying not only organized labor but much of
his own party in Congress. In one sense, it achieved the desired
results. For New Democrats and for much of the press, NAFTA was
Clinton's "finest hour," his "boldest action," an act befitting a real
he-man of a president who showed he could stand up to labor and
thereby assure the world that he was not a captive of traditional
But there was also an important difference. NAFTA was not
symbolism. With this deed, Clinton was not merely insulting an
important constituency, as he had done with Jesse Jackson and Sister
Souljah. With NAFTA he connived in that constituency's ruin. He
assisted in the destruction of its economic power. He did his part to
undermine his party's greatest ally, to ensure that labor would be too
weak to organize workers from that point forward. Clinton made the
problems of working people materially worse.
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable
to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill.
Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton
never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive
reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able
to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something
which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when
Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in
2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed
her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential
crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this
year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align
with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans --
yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the
Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot
be trusted to support them.
Sunday, April 3. 2016
Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain
froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist
is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.
Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has
long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages
are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is
likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a
first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling,
but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has
a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's
poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).
More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives
to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with
Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point
I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is
still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but
the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the
71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in
the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in
Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.
Some scattered links this week:
Steve Coll: Global Trump:
Trumpism is a posture, not a coherent platform.
[ . . . ]
Trump hasn't indicated that he would definitely pull out of treaty
commitments to Europe and Asia. He seems to think that his threats and
his pleas of poverty will soften up allies so that, once in the White
House, he can close some of those great deals he often talks about. For
"many, many years," he told the Times, the U.S. has been the "big stupid
bully and we were systematically ripped off by everybody," providing
military security without adequate compensation.
Like a hammer viewing everything as a nail, Trump desperately wants
to reconceive foreign relations as something that can be fixed by a
flamboyant and shrewd deal maker -- i.e., by himself. He reminds me
of a guy who was brought in to become CEO of a troubled company I used
to work for. The company had racked up massive losses over several
quarters, staving off bankruptcy only because they had sold a lot of
bonds a few years earlier -- they didn't need the bonds but sold them
"because they could" and just sat on the cash until they burned it all
up. Anyhow, this new CEO (I don't even remember the name now) had the
huge ego you get in jobs like that, so the first thing I decided to do
was to renegotiate all of the company's supplier contracts, just because
he figured he was a better negotiator than his predecessor. Turned out
that he never successfully renegotiated a thing: all he did was piss off
suppliers the company was already in arrears to, companies that no longer
saw us as viable long-term customers. America isn't in as bad shape as my
company was, but if Trump follows through and tries to shake down traditional
allies, he's not likely to net much other than bad will. (Japan, for instance,
pays us for defense because it's a pittance compared to our trade deficits.
Maybe they'll pay a bit more, but the US market isn't what it used to be,
nor is the US commitment to defend them.)
Coll has a pretty rosy view of American military spending abroad --
surprising for someone who's mostly covered the Middle East for the last
Trump also argues that reduced defense spending abroad would free up funds
for investment at home. We do need to rebuild bridges, airports, railways,
and telecommunications. But defense spending isn't stopping us from doing
so; the problem is the Republican anti-tax extremists in Congress, who
refuse to either raise revenues or take advantage of historically low
long-term interest rates. In all probability, the U.S. can afford its
global-defense commitments indefinitely, and an open economy, renewed by
immigration and innovation, should be able to continue to grow and to
share the cost of securing free societies. The main obstacle to realizing
this goal is not an exhausted imperial treasury. It is the collapse of the
once-internationalist Republican Party into demagoguery, paralysis, and
That, of course, is pretty much the Clinton position, one that argues
that America is still great, has never been anything else. Such platitudes
are baked into the Belt Area foreign/security policy professional class.
They even seep into
Stephen M Walt: No, @realDonaldTrump Is Not a Realist.
Tierney Sneed: How Trump Ticked Off Anti-Abortion Groups by Trying to
Prove His Creed: So Trump commits this gaffe, realizes his error
(or more likely has it pointed out to him), and walks it back within
In practical terms this should be treated as a wash -- like a muons
which appears in a high-energy burst then vanishes within microseconds --
except that I think it shows two things:
For months, the major concern the anti-abortion movement had with Donald
Trump was that he was too wobbly on the issue. But on Wednesday, Trump
staked out an abortion position so extreme that he blew up years of
abortion foes' careful messaging.
Trump's remark at an MSNBC town hall that an abortion ban should carry
a punishment for women who seek out the procedure sent anti-abortion
activists immediately scrambling to correct the damage.
"Mr. Trump's comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life
movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as
abortion," Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life Education and
Defense Fund, said in a statement rushed out about an hour after Trump's
remarks were first broadcast. "No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a
woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we
- Trump understands the logic of the anti-abortion movement, which is
about little more than punishing women (for sexual licentiousness, or
getting raped, or just being poor), much as he understands punishment
as the essential means of disciplining errant children and other rabble.
No doubt being a major league misogynist helped Trump on this score.
- The much alleged "political correctness" police on the left are pikers
compared to those who dictate orthodoxy on the right: the latter turned
Trump around in hours, whereas Trump held firm on his assertions that
"Mexicans are rapists" and his embrace of support from the KKK and
outright Fascists. Sure, one might argue that this proves that the
offenses he held firm on reflected deeply held beliefs, whereas his
anti-abortion stance was never more than pure political opportunism.
But I doubt he has any bedrock beliefs beyond his obsessions with
the media spotlight and making money off that.
Here's How a Republican Is Supposed to Answer That Abortion Question
Trump Flubbed, which shows how Ted Cruz handled the same question.
See, Donald? That's how you do it. When someone asks you about abortion
penalties after the overturn of Roe, here's what you do:
You attack the questioner.
You attack the media.
You attack Barack Obama.
You tell them what a swell pro-life person you are.
You do everything except answer the question.
Olivia Ward: Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? I'll add that leftists
like myself are hypersensitive to fascist airs, and apply the label broadly
to any right-winger who threatens violence, glories in empire, and/or seeks
to reverse liberal progress (which they often decry as decadence and decay).
Trump loosely qualifies, but so does Cruz and Kasich and most Republican
activists, especially anyone who thinks America enjoyed a golden age under
Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley (or Jefferson Davis). What makes Trump
seem exceptional is the way he draws the sort of people who historically
have supported fascism: racists, xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, those
who want to use state power to enforce religious morality, those who hate
unions, those who are contemptous of democracy (and other people), those
who are prone to violence and hung up on patriarchy, those who feel the
need to follow a charismatic and forceful leader. So it's not so much that
Trump started out as a fascist as that by style and temperament he's been
anointed as the Führer of the fascists, a role he hasn't shirked.
Susan Sarandon Lives in a Very Small World: A not-very-smart critique
of the "scandal" caused when Sarandon said that some Sanders supporters
won't vote for Clinton against Trump, and that her own view was "I don't
know. I'm going to see what happens." I wrote more about this piece then
tore it up. Two points are that Sanders' popularity shows that there is
much more quasi-left in America than anyone gave us credit for, and that
transitioning from voting for one candidate who wants changes you want
to another one who wants to defend the status quo (or somewhat mitigate
the damage the goons on the other side are plotting) isn't likely to be
smooth or automatic: perhaps if Clinton wins the nomination she should
campaign for Sanders' supporters instead of veering to the right so to
come off as slightly saner than Trump or Cruz, assuming everyone else
will fall in line. At any rate, it's premature to worry about Sanders'
supporters breaking ranks. As for the ad hominem attacks about Sarandon
"living in a very small world," I think her political engagement is
admirable and far-sighted, showing much more awareness of other people
than is common in her tax bracket.
Sunday, March 27. 2016
We finally got around to seeing the movie Spotlight (A-) on
Wednesday afternoon. When we came out of the theatre in west Wichita,
the sky to the west was extremely dark but mostly featureless, and
the wind was blowing hard from the south. Looked very ominous, but
not like the squall lines and thunderstorms we're used to seeing.
Turns out that what we were seeing was smoke from wildfires to our
southwest: at the time, about 72,000 acres had burned from the
Oklahoma border to near Medicine Lodge, and there were two smaller
fires to the northwest in Reno and Harvey counties. The next day
the wind turned around to the north, which cleared the smoke from
Wichita but expanded the wildfire to more than 400,000 acres (625
square miles). Here's a report on
Anderson Creek fire in Oklahoma and Kansas. The fire is still
burning as I write this, although reports are that it is no longer
Winters are typically dry in south-central Kansas, and high winds
are common, so this is the prime season for grass fires. (A large
chunk of south-central Kansas was subject of a
red flag warning back on February 8.) Still, this
year has been dryer than normal, and much warmer, which set the stage
for what is already the largest wildfire in Kansas history. The area
is very sparsely populated, the farms more used to pasture cattle
than to grow wheat. No cause has been determined (although we can
rule out lightning). I've seen lots of reports about cattle (and deer)
but nothing yet about oil wells, which are fairly common in the most
heavily fracked (and recently most earthquake-prone) part of the
state. (Most wells collect oil in adjacent tanks, so I'd be surprised
if a few didn't contribute to the fire.)
I also ran across
this report on a 160-acre fire near Salina caused by gun nuts
shooting at exploding targets:
Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end
user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They
have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years,
have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In
June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota
was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen
causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman
in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video
of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about
150 feet away.
You'd think that natural selection would start to limit this kind of
stupidity, and evidently it works very slow.
Meanwhile, Governor Brownback declared two counties to be disaster
areas. That leaves him 103 counties short, but if he declared disasters
everywhere he has caused them he'd have to commit to fixing some of
the problems he's caused. That would cost money, and require that
someone in power care, so no chance of that.
Bernie Sanders won all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, by
landslides, with 69.8% in Hawaii, 72.7% in Washington, and 81.6% in
Alaska. When Kansas voted back on March 5, Sanders' 67.7% share here
was his second largest total (after Vermont), but he has since done
better in Idaho (78.0%), Utah (79.3%), and yesterday's trio. Next up
is Wisconsin on April 5, Wyoming on April 9, and New York on April 19.
538's polling average favors Clinton in Wisconsin 55.6-42.1%, and
much more dubious polling has Clinton ahead in New York 67.4-24.3%
(only one poll in March, a 71-23% outlier; three previous polls had
Clinton +21, going back to September). Nothing on Wyoming, but Sanders
has won four (of four) abutting states (Montana and South Dakota haven't
If you care about such things, Cruz is heavily favored to win
Wisconsin (polling average 42.8-32.2-22.4%, Trump ahead of Kasich),
while Trump is ahead in New York (limited polling: 58.8-11.6-2.8%,
which would give him his first majority win, but Kasich's share
strikes me as way low). The Republicans have already done Wyoming,
with Cruz winning.
Not much time for this, but some quick scattered links this week:
Franklin Foer: Donald Trump Hates Women: E.g.:
Humiliating women by decrying their ugliness is an almost recreational
pastime for Trump. When the New York Times columnist Gail Collins
described him as a "financially embittered thousandaire," he sent her
a copy of the column with her picture circled. "The Face of a Dog!" he
scrawled over her visage. This is the tack he took with Carly Fiorina,
when he described her facial appearance as essentially disqualifying
her from the presidency. It's the method he's used to denounce Cher,
Bette Midler, Angelina Jolie, and Rosie O'Donnell -- "fat ass," "slob,"
"extremely unattractive," etc. -- when they had the temerity to criticize
him. The joy he takes in humiliating women is not something he even
bothers to disguise. He told the journalist Timothy L. O'Brien, "My
favorite part [of the movie Pulp Fiction] is when Sam has his
gun out in the diner and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to
shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: 'Bitch be cool.' I love those
lines." Or as he elegantly summed up his view to New York magazine
in the early '90s, "Women, you have to treat them like shit."
Nancy LeTourneau: The Nexus of Trump's Racism/Sexism: Dominance.
She quotes Foer and various others, including Rebecca Traister, whose
summed up her reflections on Trump (and Cruz) as
The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power. While I don't
disagree with the general point, pieces like this tempt me to point out
that Trumpism isn't the only common response to economic and/or social
decline by whites (even males). Said group also makes up a substantial
slice of support for Bernie Sanders' campaign -- and I doubt that any
white males who've backed Sanders have done so expecting him to restore
lost white/male privileges, or to deny the benefits he's campaigned for
to blacks, Latinos, and/or women.
Meanwhile, I suppose this is where I should file links like
Mary Elizabeth Williams: Donald Trump despises women: Mocking Heidi Cruz's
looks is a new low in this grotesque sausage-waving campaign and
Gary Legum: Trump vs. Cruz: How the National Enquirer became a battleground
in the GOP primary
David Kurtz: What Just Happened in North Carolina?: Quotes a reader,
who was more on the ball than TPM:
In a span of 12 hours, the GOP political leadership of this state [North
Carolina] called the General Assembly back to Raleigh for a special session,
introduced legislation written by leadership and not previously made
available to members or the public, held "hearings" on that legislation,
passed it through both chambers of the legislature, and it was signed by
the GOP Governor.
The special legislation was called, ostensibly, to prevent an ordinance
passed last month by the Charlotte City Council, from going into effect on
April 1. That ordinance would have expanded the city's LGBT anti-discrimination
ordinance, and would have allowed transgendered people to use public restrooms
that corresponds with their gender identity.
But the legislation introduced and passed into law by the General Assembly
yesterday didn't simply roll back that ordinance. It implemented a detailed
state-wide regulation of public restrooms, and limited a person's use of
those restrooms to only those restrooms that correspond with one's "biological
sex," defined in the new state law as the sex identified on one's birth
certificate. [ . . . ]
But wait, there's more. The legislation also expressly states that there
can be no statutory or common law private right of action to enforce the
state's anti-discrimination statutes in the state courts. So if a NC
resident is the victim of racial discrimination in housing or employment,
for example, that person is now entirely barred from going to state court
to get an injunction, or to get damages of any kind. The new law completely
defangs the state's anti-discrimination statute, rendering it entirely
unenforceable by the citizens of the state.
For more, see
Caitlin MacNeal: NC's Sweeping Anti-Gay Law Goes Way Beyond Targeting
LGBTs. The US prides itself on a unique system of "checks and
balances," but this is the clearest example yet of what can happen
when voters cede complete political control to one party, at least
if that party is of one mind -- in North Carolina that would be Art
Pope, who personally spent millions electing that legislative majority
and governor. (Of course, it's still possible that the courts will
throw this law out, but the Republicans are working that angle too.)
Also note two key things: the speed, intended to produce a fait
accompli before there could be any public discussion let alone
organized opposition; also how the bill's used the "emergency" to
push through extra measures that most likely couldn't have stood on
Also in the captured red state category:
Amanda Marcotte: Mike Pence's sadistic abortion law: Indiana passes
draconian anti-choice bill geared towards humiliating and bankrupting
women who have abortions.
Caitlin MacNeal: AIPAC Denounces Trump Criticism of Obama's Relationship
With Israel: Trump's actual speech to AIPAC contained nothing but
red meat for Israel's bloodthirsty right wing, yet somehow he managed to
offend at least one important faction in the lobby's leadership -- perhaps
the one that realizes that Obama is still president, and that while he
hasn't been the perfect lackey of their dreams, he has still treated
pretty generously. AIPAC's annual conference provided an opportunity for
all aspiring American politicians to show their colors and salute the
flag of the Jewish State. And once again pretty much everyone played
their assigned role as expected -- indeed, Hillary Clinton was second
to none in her obsequiousness, which may be why she has a fair number
of AIPAC's high rollers backing her. I doubt that they really minded
what Trump said in his speech -- I heard the thing, and he certainly
didn't lack for applause -- so their worries have more to do with what
he's said elsewhere. And even there it's probably not so much that he's
promised to be a "neutral" peacemaker (hard to take that seriously) or
that he doesn't think the US should spend so much on military aid to
the 4th (or 5th) largest military power on earth (more possible, but
still not likely) as in his slogan about "making America great again" --
as opposed to being a big country in thrall to its little "ally."
Some other AIPAC-related links:
You can also
Read the speech Bernie Sanders planned to give to AIPAC. Doesn't go
nearly as far as I'd like, but wouldn't have gone over well at AIPAC
(see the link above). Also see:
Richard Silverstein: Bernie Finally Addresses Israel-Palestine.
Eamon Murphy: 'Do we get to win this time?': Trump foreign policy appeal
based on revenge for Iraq War failure: The notion that the American
military's persistent failure to win wars -- in the sense of achieving
initial intentions; I'm more inclined to argue that all sides in war
invariably lose, so the concept of winning is excluded by definition --
is caused by civilian leaders holding the soldiers back is America's own
peculiar version of the Dolchstoßlegende (the stab-in-the-back myth).
Trump's embrace of this theory is one more thing he shares with past
generations of fascists, a minor one unless his own ego is so huge that
he thinks his leadership genius will turn the tide.
Though the public may feel burned by what was undeniably a wasteful war
launched on trumped-up pretexts, withdrawal is always unacceptable, on
patriotic grounds -- a sentiment at least as old as the overseas U.S.
empire. ("American valor has easily triumphed in both sea and land,"
declared Senator David Hill, an advocate of annexing the Philippines,
in 1898, "and the American flag floats over newly acquired territory --
never, as it is fondly hoped, to be lowered again.") The advent of ISIS
compounded this problem, mocking official claims that American arms had
achieved some measure of progress in Iraq. The resultant agony was
epitomized by a January 2014 New York Times story, "Falluja's Fall
Stuns Marines Who Fought There": completely ignoring Iraqi suffering,
the reporter rendered vividly the anguish of veterans at the city's
takeover by Sunni insurgents, which left them "transfixed, disbelieving
and appalled," and was "a gut punch to the morale of the Marine Corps
and painful for a lot of families who are saying, 'I thought my son died
for a reason.'"
So what is to be done? If invading Iraq was a costly mistake, how
can we keep fighting there? But if we paid so dearly for it, how can
Richard Silverstein: Identities of IDF Soldier Who Executed Unarmed
Palestinian -- and His Commanding Officer -- Exposed: You've
probably read about stabbing incidents in Israel/Palestine, where
typically Jewish victims receive light injuries, often treated at
the scene, and Palestinian assailants are usually shot dead. You
may be expected to think that the shooting was necessary to disarm
fanatic knife-wielders, but this is a case where the Palestinian
was executed after being disarmed, and this case is not unique or
all that exceptional (aside from the video).
The shooter later told investigators that he shot a-Sharif because
he was "moving," and was afraid he would detonate a suicide vest.
The victim is seen clearly on the video and he has no suicide vest.
Nor does his Shapira seem to sense danger as he stands near the
wounded man speaking on the telephone.
Let no one think of this is a one-off aberration. Palestinians
are executed in the same fashion virtually every day. Nor are these
summary executions a product of Israeli policy over the past few
months alone. Such murders go all the way back to the 2002 incident
I described above. The murderers are rewarded for their callousness
as Levy has been, by being a respected member of the Knesset.
Stephen M Walt: Monsters of Our Own Imaginings: A big news story
last week was the terror bombing in Brussels, which unlike other big
bombings last week (e.g., in Baghdad and Lahore) was meant to scare
us and/or was used to promote further reinforcement of the war against
More US Combat Troops Headed to Iraq Soon -- no, we don't get any
say in the matter; how could we when Brussels is on TV 24/7?). Walt
says, sure, this is a serious problem, but let's not get hysterical,
and offers four key points. The fourth is the most important: "Terrorists
cannot deeat us; we can only defeat ourselves."
The bottom line: Terrorism is not really the problem; the problem is
how we respond to it. My first thought when I heard the news from
Brussels, I'm sorry to say, was "Brexit," meaning my worry that this
act of violence might irrationally bolster support for the United
Kingdom leaving the EU, thereby dealing that already-struggling
experiment another body blow. It might also boost the political
fortunes of xenophobes in other Western countries, further poisoning
the political climate in Europe. It is also worth noting that
presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have already
offered up idiotic proposals of their own (such as Cruz's call for
stepped-up police patrols in Muslim neighborhoods in the United
States), steps that would give the Islamic State a new propaganda
victory. But these developments would be entirely our own doing,
and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we try to fight
extremism by abandoning our own values and becoming more like them.
Does anyone really fail to understand that Brussels was attacked
because it's the headquarters of NATO and NATO is engaged in killing
Muslims in a broad swath from Afghanistan to Libya but especially in
the parts of Iraq and Syria ISIS is trying to govern? But who actually
says that? Hardly anyone, because doing so would imply that the most
effective way to safeguard Europe and America against terrorism would
be to withdraw from the fruitless wars the US and Europe (and proxies
like the Saudis who epitomize "Islamic extremism") have been waging.
Walt prays for leaders who understand the "value the calm resolution
in the face of danger or adversity" without noting that (a) that's a
fair description of Barack Obama, and (b) Obama still hasn't managed
to end the wars his predecessors started. Granted, replacing Obama
with Trump or Cruz could result in even more counterproductive acts --
their proposals to "police Muslim neighborhoods" (are there any?) and
otherwise harass Muslims seem deliberately designed to radicalize US
Muslims, even worse than their reckless escalation abroad.
Walt's exemplars are WWII heroes -- he even asks "what would
Churchill say?" which is like asking the proverbial stopped clock
for the time -- but his list includes one name who did successfully
face a colonial quagmire not unlike the present situation: Charles
DeGaulle, who stood up to enormous pressure and withdrew French
forces from Algeria.
Tom Engelhardt: Don't Blame It All on Donald Trump, or "Entering
Uncharted Territory in Washington," which points out how far "grown ups"
like Obama have already veered toward creating a world where terrorism
will long be a fact of life. Engelhardt cites a news story from the
last week or two (I forget exactly), when the US "killed 150 more or
less nobodies (except to those who knew them) and maybe even a top
leader or two in a country most Americans couldn't locate on a map"
The essential explanation offered for the Somali strike, for instance,
is that the U.S. had a small set of advisers stationed with African
Union forces in that country and it was just faintly possible that
those guerrilla graduates might soon prepare to attack some of those
forces (and hence U.S. military personnel). It seems that if the U.S.
puts advisers in place anywhere on the planet -- and any day of any
year they are now in scores of countries -- that's excuse enough to
validate acts of war based on the "imminent" threat of their attack.
[ . . . ]
When was it, by the way, that "the people" agreed that the president
could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to
write new "law" that covered any future acts of his (including the
killing of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what
essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to knock off
thousands of people across the Greater Middle East and parts of
Africa? Weirdly enough, after almost 14 years of this sort of behavior,
with ample evidence that such strikes don't suppress the movements
Washington loathes (and often only fan the flames of resentment and
revenge that help them spread), neither the current president and his
top officials, nor any of the candidates for his office have the
slightest intention of ever grounding those drones.
And when exactly did the people say that, within the country's vast
standing military, which now garrisons much of the planet, a force of
nearly 70,000 Special Operations personnel should be birthed, or that
it should conduct covert missions globally, essentially accountable
only to the president (if him)? And what I find strangest of all is
that few in our world find such developments strange at all.
William Astore: America's Post-Democratic Military
David Atkins: Republicans Don't Care What Works; whereas "moderate"
Democrats will drop any principle if the polls don't support it (and
some that actually do poll well), e.g.
On Marijuana, the American People Agree with the "Radical" Left, not the
Patrick Cockburn: How Politicians Duck the Blame for Terrorism
Branko Marcetic: Neocon War Hawks Want Hillary Clinton Over Donald Trump.
No Surprise -- They've Always Backed Her.
Adam Hochschild: The Oilman Who Loved Dictators: Cites Jane Mayer's
book Dark Money on how Fred Koch, sire of the dynasty that's
working so hard to undermine American democracy, got his start building
oil refineries for Hitler and Stalin, but Hochschild's main subject is
Torkild Rieber of Texaco, who blatantly broke America's neutrality laws
to ship oil to Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Adapted
from Hochschild's new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the
Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
Paul Krugman: Return of the Undeserving Poor -- a meme that's never
actually gone away among right-wing "thinkers" (Michael B Katz wrote an
important book on this in 1989 (revised in 2013), The Undeserving
Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation With Poverty, although
William Ryan had figured most of this out in his 1971 Blaming the
Victim -- and
Trump Didn't Put the Con in Conservatism.
No More Mr Nice Blog: Dear David Brooks: The "Post-Trump" GOP Will Be
Exactly Like the Pre-Trump GOP, Only Trumpier, and
Trump Will Lose, but I Don't See a GOP Crack-Up Coming:
the right-wing rank-and-file just want someone or something to hate, and
they're not picky: Show them a clip of George W. Bush standing on the
9/11 rubble with a bullhorn and they'll cheer. Show them a clip of
Trump denouncing W for lying about Iraq WMDs and they'll cheer. They
don't know what they believe. They just want enemies.
Sandy Vargas: A Successful Fight for Universal All-Day Kindergarten in
Minnesota: This is a far cry from free college, but shows that a
state government (legislature and governor) controlled by Democrats
can get something worthwhile (albeit modest) done -- as opposed to the
Republicans in states like North Carolina and Kansas.
Sunday, March 13. 2016
Not much time for my usual weekly survey, but I did find a few pieces
on the Donald Trump/Fascism axis, and for your convenience I've added a
bit of forecasting for Tuesday's elections at the bottom.
Josh Marshall: Someone Will Die: Reflecting on recent incidents
at Trump rallies, violent and merely threatening or maybe just
For all the talk about Mussolini, let alone Hitler, George Wallace is
the best analog in the last century of American politics -- the mix of
class politics and racist incitement, the same sort of orchestrated
ratcheting up of conflict between supporters and protestors. As all
of this has unfolded over the course of the day there have been
numerous instances of Trump supporters calling for protestors to "go
back to Africa" and another on video calling on them to "go to fucking
Is the man invoking Nazi concentration camps in that video an
anti-Semite or just a ramped hater in a frenzy of provocation? I'm not
sure we know. And as I'll argue in a moment, in a climate of incitement
and crowd action, it doesn't necessarily matter.
It may sound like hyperbole. But this is the kind of climate of
agitation and violence where someone will end up getting severely
injured or killed. I do not say that lightly.
Actually, more than Wallace this reminds me of the Rolling Stones
at Altamont, hiring Hell's Angels for "security" then playing "Sympathy
for the Devil" as they killed a fan. That's the sort of thing that
happens when a cavalier attitude toward violence makes it cool.
I'll add that I don't particularly approve of protesting at Trump
events. That's partly because I don't regard him as in any way unique
in the Republican Party today -- he's certainly not the "worst of the
worst" policy-wise, although he does seem to be the most careless and
cavalier regarding the racist violence they all more or less pander
to. I do understand that the people who protest Trump are concerned
to nip his attitude in the bud, and to make it clear that his kind of
incivility will always be challenged in America today -- although I
also think it's hard to make that point in the heat of a rally. But
also I think there's a fuzzy line where protest becomes harrassment --
indeed, I think anti-abortion activists often cross that line -- and
I worry it might backfire. Marshall concludes:
The climate Trump is creating at his events is one that not only
disinhibits people who normally act within acceptable societal norms.
He is drawing in, like moths to a flame, those who most want to act
out on their animosities, drives and beliefs. It is the kind of
climate where someone will eventually get killed.
I'm reminded that one of the defining characteristics of fascism
is how readily, in the very early days in Italy and Germany, fascists
resorted to violence against people they regarded as enemies (which
is to say pretty much everyone).
David Atkins: Donald Trump is Merely the Symptom. The Republican Party
Itself is the Disease: We on the left have long had an acute sense
of the smell of fascism -- possibly the most basic definition is that
fascists are the people who want to kill you, so we're talking less
about political theory than existential anxiety. It's long been clear
to me that there are elements of fascism in the American right, but
I've been more focused on the anti-democratic manipulations of the
elites than on the swelling tide of hatred they've stirred up. Still,
interesting to read this:
We no longer have to speculate whether fascism, in Sinclair Lewis'
famous words, would come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying
a cross. We already know what its beginnings look like in the form of
Trump rallies, which are carrying an increasingly violent, overtly
racist, authoritarian aura strongly reminiscent of the 1930s in
Germany or Italy.
Those comparisons were once the province of liberal activists or
traffic-seeking headline writers. No longer. The incipient racist
violence has reached such a fever pitch that a Trump rally in Chicago
had to be canceled entirely. It's one thing to talk in theoretical
or strictly political terms about Trump's authoritarian behavior,
his effect on the Republican Party generally or the potential
feasibility of Trump's policy proposals. But the influence of
Trumpism on the country is already so obviously toxic and dangerous
that it must be called out and mitigated before people start getting
seriously hurt or killed.
That's not the fault of Donald Trump. It's the fault of the GOP itself,
for three main reasons.
First, the Republican Party abandoned the notion of shared truths
and shared reality. They set up an alternative media empire and convinced
their voters that every set of authorities from journalists to scientists
were eggheaded liberals not to be trusted. They peddled conspiracy theories
and contrafactual dogmas of all stripes -- from the notion that climate
scientists were all lying about global warming in order to get more grant
money, to the notion that tax cuts for the rich grow the economy and pay
for themselves. Their base became convinced that no one could be trusted
except for the loudest and angriest voices who told them exactly what they
wanted to hear. Fox News, talk radio and the Drudge Report became the only
trusted media sources. But at a certain point those outlets stopped becoming
the media arm of the Republican Party; instead, the Republican Party became
the legislative arm of those media outlets. It should come as no surprise
that when the Republican establishment seemed unable to deliver on its
promises to their voters, conspiracy theory peddlers new and old from
Breitbart to Drudge would turn on the establishment and convince the GOP
masses that Fox News was the new CNN, just another liberal arm of the media
not to be trusted.
Second is, of course, the Southern Strategy of exploiting racial
resentment. That worked just fine for Republicans while whites were the
dominant majority under no particular threat. It was a great way to win
elections in much of the country while discounting voters who couldn't
do them much damage. As long as the rhetoric remained, in Lee Atwater's
words, "abstract" enough, the tensions created wouldn't boil over into
anything much more damaging than the slow, quiet destruction of generations
of minority communities via legislatively enforced instituional racism.
But as whites have become a smaller and smaller part of the electorate,
that Southern Strategy has not only cost the GOP elections by throwing
away the minority vote; it has also heightened the fears and tensions of
the formerly dominant white voters it courts. What was once quiet and
comfortable racism has become a loud and violent cry of angst. That,
again, isn't Donald Trump's fault. It's the Republican Party's.
Third and most important is the effect of conservative economics. For
decades laissez-faire objectivism has hurt mostly the poorest and least
educated communities in America. Due mostly to institutional racism,
those have tended in the past to be communities of color. The deregulated
economy simply didn't need their labor so it tossed them aside, leaving
squalor and a host of social problems in its wake. This was convenient
for those peddling racist theories, as it laid the blame for drug and
family problems in those communities directly on the individuals involved --
and by extension on their racial background.
I would phrase these last two points slightly differently. Republicans
not only swept up white southerners who had grown up as the supposedly
top dogs in a racially segregated society. They also appealed to new
suburbanites in the north, again white, many Catholic, many moving up
the economic ladder, hoping (among other things) to escape what they
viewed as the decay of the (increasingly black) central cities. These
were the so-called Reagan Democrats, and they were recruited through
ploys as tinged with racism as the Southern Strategy.
I would also point out that Republican economic orthodoxy did more
to destroy the middle class than it did to pillage the already poor.
They used a two-prong strategy to slide their agenda past an unwary
and somewhat oblivious base: on the one hand, they convinced their
target voters that the were only for those other people and
that real Americans like themselves didn't need to be propped up by
the government -- indeed, they made it a point of pride that they
weren't; on the other, they made it possible for their audience to
live beyond their means by offering credit so things like education
and housing, previously "affordable" thanks to government programs,
could still be had. They realized that most people don't recognize
a declining standard of living until it smacks them in the face,
and even then they assured you that your misfortune was you own
damn fault -- not something government could (let alone should)
help you out with.
Tuned up a bit, this is pretty accurate, but still missing a key
fourth point: war. You may think that war's good for "absolutely
nothing," but it's proven very useful for Republicans. For one thing
it creates a false unity of us-against-them, which they can exploit
with God-and-country shtick; it undermines democracy, which they
fear and dread anyway; more importantly, it debases the value of
human life, elevating killing to a patriotic act, and tempting us
to think that the solution to all our problems is to kill supposed
enemies; needless to add, it also opens up incredible opportunities
for graft; it forestalls any pressure to collaboratively work on
worldwide problems, to shift from competition to cooperation. It
also turns out that it's been pretty easy to sucker Democrats into
supporting war, which both saddles them with insupportable costs
and alienates them from their base.
Michael Tomasky: The Dangerous Election: Written before "Super
Tuesday" this has some details that have been overtaken by events --
one certainly wouldn't write about Rubio's nomination path today --
but it's worth quoting his own three-item explanation for Trump's
domination of the Republican Party (it is both more succinct and
more narrowly political than Atkins'):
The fury that led to Trump's rise has three main sources. It begins
with talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh, and all the conservative
media -- Fox News and, now, numerous blogs and websites and even hotly
followed Twitter and Instagram feeds -- that have for years served up
a steady series of stories aimed at riling up conservatives. It has
produced a campaign politics that is by now almost wholly one of
splenetic affect and gesture. If you've watched any of the debates,
you've seen it. The lines that get by far the biggest applause rarely
have anything to do with any vision for the country save military
strength and victory; they are execrations against what Barack Obama
has done to America and what Hillary Clinton plans to do to it.
A second important factor has been the post-Citizens United
elevation of megarich donors like the Koch brothers and Las Vegas's
Sheldon Adelson to the level of virtual party king-makers. The Kochs
downplay the extent of their political spending, but whether it's
$250 million or much more than that, it's an enormous sum, and they
and Adelson and the others exist almost as a third political party.
When one family and its allies control that much money, and those
running want it spent supporting them (although Trump has matched them),
what candidate is going to take a position counter to that family and
the network of which it is a part? The Kochs are known, for example,
to be implacably opposed to any recognition that man-made climate
change is a real danger. So no Republican candidate will buck that.
[ . . . ]
This fear of losing a primary from the right is the third factor
that has created today's GOP, and it is frequently overlooked in the
political media. [ . . . ]
Few Americans understand just how central this reality is to our
current dysfunction. All the pressure Republicans feel is from the
right, although they seldom say so -- no Republican fears a challenge
from the center, because there are few voters and no money there. And
this phenomenon has no antipode on the Democratic side, because there
exists no effective group of left-wing multimillionaires willing to
finance primary campaigns against Democrats who depart from doctrine.
Very few Democrats have to worry about such challenges. Republicans
This creates an ethos of purity whose impact on the presidential
race is obvious. The clearest example concerns Rubio and his position
on immigration. He supported the bipartisan bill the Senate passed in
2013. He obviously did so because he calculated that the bill would
pass both houses and he would be seen as a great leader. But the base
rebelled against it, and so now Rubio has reversed himself on the
question of a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens and taken
a number of other positions that are designed to mollify the base but
would surely be hard to explain away in a general election were he to
become the nominee -- no rape and incest exceptions on abortion,
abolition of the federal minimum wage, and more.
Bob Dreyfuss: Will the Donald Rally the Militias and the Right-to-Carry
Movement?: OK, that makes three straight pieces on Donald Trump and
fascism, a subject we'll have to call "trending." This one consults
Richard J Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich -- premature
antifascist that I am, that occurred to me more than a decade ago,
but I have to admit I never got around to reading the book:
If you decide to read the book, try doing what I did: in two columns
in your head draw up a list of similarities and differences between
the United States today and Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early
In this edgy moment in America, the similarities, of course, tend
to jump out at you. As Trump repeatedly pledges to restore American
greatness, so Hitler promised to avenge Germany's humiliation in World
War I. As Trump urges his followers, especially the white working class,
to blame their troubles on Mexican immigrants and Muslims, so Hitler
whipped up an anti-Semitic brew. As Trump -- ironically, for a
billionaire -- attacks Wall Street and corporate lobbyists for
rigging the economy and making puppets out of politicians, so Hitler
railed against Wall Street and the City of London, along with their
local allies in Germany, for burdening his country with a massive
post-World War I, Versailles Treaty-imposed reparations debt and for
backing the Weimar Republic's feckless center-right parties. (Think:
the Republican Party today.) As with Trump's China-bashing comments
and his threats to murder the relatives of Islamist terrorists while
taking over Iraq's oil reserves, Hitler too appealed to an atavistic,
reckless sort of ultra-nationalism.
He finds some differences too, but expects American fascism to be
Corey Robin: This is why the right hates Donald Trump: He doesn't question
their core beliefs, but they still see the danger:
Trump hasn't dared touch a lot of the orthodoxy of the right, including
its penchant for tax cuts, which is the keystone of the conservative
counterrevolution, as everyone from Howard Jarvis to George W. Bush
understood. But without the fear of the left -- listening to the
Republican debates, you'd never know the candidates were even concerned
about their opposition, so focused is their fratricidal gaze -- Trump
is free to indulge the more luxurious hostilities of the right.
And this, in the end, may be why Trump is so dangerous. Without
the left, no one has any idea when his animus will take flight and
where it will land. While counterrevolutionaries have always made
established elites nervous, those elites could be assured that the
wild Quixotism of a Burke or a Pat Buchanan would serve their cause.
As today's Republicans and their allies in the media have made clear,
they have no idea if Trump won't turn on them, too. Like Joe McCarthy
in his senescence, Trump might try to gut the GOP. At least McCarthy
had a real left to battle; Trump doesn't.
Trump is dangerous, then, not because he is an aberration from
conservatism but because he is its emblem. He's a threat not because
the movement he aspires to lead is so strong but because the one he
will lead is so weak. It's weak not because it has failed but because
it has succeeded.
This doesn't make an obvious lot of sense, but we can unpack a few
things here. The best evidence of the weakness of the left is how much
politicians like Clinton and Obama remain in thrall to still hegemonic
parts of the conservative mindset, even as the so-called conservative
movement has moved on to even more dysfunctional hysteria. Or maybe
the best evidence is how alien Sanders' programs seem to the Clinton
(and Obama) worldview, even though they'd be little more than common
sense in any social democracy in western Europe. On the other hand,
the conservative movement has greatly weakened since Reagan, at least
in the sense that nothing they do works (unless you consider obstruction
and fraud forms of art). I've long assumed that the right hates Trump
because they fear that if given power he would abandon their batshit
theories for compromises that might at least muddle through, and that
that would undermine the hegemony of key ideas they've invested so
much money and effort in. Or to put it slightly differently, they
may just fear that he wouldn't follow orders like the political hacks
who've spearheaded the party for the last few decades. I suspect in
this they're giving him too much credit.
Bill Clinton's odious presidency: Thomas Frank on the real history
of the '90s: The history should be familiar. The conclusion:
Some got bailouts, others got "zero tolerance." There was really no
contradiction between these things. Lenience and forgiveness and
joyous creativity for Wall Street bankers while another group gets
a biblical-style beatdown -- these things actually fit together
quite nicely. Indeed, the ascendance of the first group requires
that the second be lowered gradually into hell. When you take
Clintonism all together, it makes sense, and the sense it makes
has to do with social class. What the poor get is discipline; what
the professionals get is endless indulgence.
I don't necessarily agree with the argument that financialization
requires dismantling the safety net, although history does show us
that once the bankers got their bailout, they weren't bothered that
nobody else did. The bigger point, I think, is that the Clintons
went to elite colleges and spent all their lives rubbing shoulders
with the rich and super-rich and that rubbed off on them. Whereas
in politics they were ready to do whatever was expedient, in their
personal lives they always yearned to be one with the rich, and
they were pretty successful at that. I also think the same can be
said for Obama, which is a big part of why he worked so hard to
avoid upsetting the status quo.
By the way, here are the latest poll projections at 538, for Tuesday's
primaries. First, Democrats:
- Florida: Clinton 67.6%, Sanders 29.4%. Best Sanders poll 34%.
- Illinois: Clinton 56.2%, Sanders 40.8%. Latest polls show Sanders
+2 (YouGov, 3/9-11) and Clinton +6 (3/4-10), so this has tightened up a lot;
all earlier polls Clinton +19 or more (two early March polls have Clinton
+37 and +42). Nonetheless, 538 gives Clinton a 95% chance of winning.
- North Carolina: Clinton 63.0%, Sanders 33.7%. Best Sanders poll
- Ohio: Clinton 58.9%, Sanders 38.4%. Latest polls are +9 and +20
for Clinton; Sanders led one poll in February, but his best recent poll is
Clinton is likely to sweep, but Sanders has a real upset chance in
Illinois, and a more remote one in Ohio. I wouldn't be surprised if
Sanders beats his polling averages in all four states.
- Florida: Trump 39.9%, Rubio 30.6%, Cruz 17.2%, Kasich 10.1%.
Rubio's best poll is 32%, but other recent polls give him 22% and 20%.
538 gives Trump a 85% chance of winning.
- Illinois: Trump 32.1%, Rubio 27.1%, Cruz 21.1%, Kasich 17.4%.
Trump has led every poll there since last July, when Walker was the
front runner, but 538 doesn't give any of the polls much weight.
- North Carolina: Trump 36.4%, Cruz 28.8%, Rubio 20.3%, Kasich
12.5%. Latest, highly weighted poll shows Trump over Cruz 41-27%.
- Ohio: Kasich 37.8%, Trump 31.8%, Cruz 20.9%, Rubio 7.7%.
Latest poll shows a Kasich-Trump tie at 33%, with Cruz at his highest
polling number ever, 27%. Two previous polls show Kasich +6 and +5
leads, but everything before that favored Trump.
Florida and Ohio are "winner take all" states, so the stop Trump
effort has to stop him there. Kasich is done if he loses Ohio, and
Rubio is done if he loses Florida. Cruz isn't likely to have much
good news, but he can rationalize away his losses -- especially if
Rubio is eliminated.
Thursday, March 10. 2016
The Wichita Eagle was a veritable catalog of horrors yesterday.
I'm working off hard copy, but if you hurry you might find the URIs
Kansas.com. Here are some of the
things that caught my eye (or nose, as the case may be).
Page 1: Wichita school district officials will consider staff
cuts. This story has gone around the block several times before. When
Sam Brownback was elected governor in 2010, he passed a state income tax
cut, promising it would act as "a shot of adrenaline" straight into the
heart of the Kansas economy. (To reduce his credibility, he even hired
Arthur Laffer to study and recommend the cut.) The most notable thing
about the cut wasn't that it favored the already rich: it zeroed out
all income taxes on "small business owners," i.e., those with "Chapter
S" businesses, e.g., Wichita billionaires Charles Koch and Phil Ruffin.
The result was that tax revenues fell far short of spending, so Brownback
tried balancing the books with spending cuts, while the state legislature
raised taxes on sales and "sins" (like tobacco) -- Kansas now has the
highest sales tax on food in the country, and it's even higher in many
counties since they've been encouraged to levy their own sales taxes
(as opposed to, say, property taxes). So state and local government
have been severely pinched for five years now.
To complicate matters, there's a clause in the Kansas state constitution
which says that the state government has a responsibility to provide
adequate funding for local school districts. Many school districts have
repeatedly sued the state for failing to honor the constitution, and
the Kansas Supreme Court has repeatedly sided with them, ordering the
state to pony up more money. A couple years back the legislature came
up with what they called a "block funding" scheme to satisfy a court
order, which promptly was challenged and ruled unconstitutional. This
year the legislature is considering various bills to replace the sitting
Supreme Court with one more to their liking. (To be fair, the Justices
have been remiss in dying, like Antonin Scalia had the decency to do,
so Brownback hasn't had much opportunity to leave his mark, as he has
done to virtually every corner of the state.)
Page 1: Westar seeking rate hike for homes, cuts for businesses:
Wester is the local electric company, formerly known as Kansas Gas &
Electric before it got conglomerated. Like most electric companies, they
are a natural monopoly, and as such are regulated by a state utility
board. Every year Westar asks for ridiculous rate increases, and every
year they get beat down to something slightly less ridiculous. However,
Brownback has managed to restaff that board with crony appointments,
and sometime last year then decided to fire the staff that reviews the
rate proposals and rededicate themselves to fighting against federal
government regulation of utilities, leaving those utilities free to
gouge Kansas consumers. Well, it turns out that Westar is taking full
advantage of this "regulatory capture" and proposing a 31% increase
in residential electric rates. They're willing to give some of this
increase back in the form of rate cuts to large business users --
after all, you can't be too grateful to "job creators" in Kansas --
but that looks pretty paltry by comparison. Like I said, normally
when you read about rate increase proposals, you know it's a game
and most of the hit will be knocked down, but this time it's
different: the "regulators" having surrendered, there is no one
to stand up for Kansas consumers, so the predators will feast.
Page 2: Police: Hutch students planned to detonate pipe
bombs in school: Juveniles, ages 14 and 15, no names released.
Page 2: Hesston police chief: 'I am not a hero':
There was a mass shooting at the Excel factory in Hesston (a small,
mostly Mennonite, town less than an hour north of Wichita) a week or
two ago. The shooter killed three and wounded more than a dozen,
before the police chief fatally wounded the shooter. Needless to
say, another triumph for gun rights in Kansas.
Page 5: Kansas bills seek to reduce early-term birth costs:
Kansas has its own privatized Medicaid service ("KanCare"), which costs
the state a lot of money. The legislature has been looking for ways to
trim costs, so they hired someone to study the situation, and they've
come up with long lists of ways to reduce costs by denying services they
regard as inessential. One of these is to outlaw cesarean deliveries of
premature babies (any under 39 weeks). Presumably there is still some
way to establish a medical necessity, but this adds a whole new layer of
legal interference with women's reproductive care. (Of course, a more
effective way to save money would be to allow, or even encourage, covered
women to opt for abortions, but it's taboo to even mention that in the
state legislature.) Another proposed law would "require physicians to
offer birth risk factor screenings for women in the first trimester to
determine whether a pregnant woman uses tobacco, consumers alcohol,
abuses substances, suffers from depression or is a victim of domestic
violence." (No info on what happens if she does.)
Page 6: Old Town shooting a test of new chief's approach to
policing: Another mass shooting, the first since Wichita got a new
Chief of Police a few weeks ago.
Page 6: 4 people shot to death in KCK; fifth killing in
mid-Missouri may be linked: Kansas City, Kansas. Shooting deaths
there hardly ever get reported here, so I guess 4 must be the magic
Page 6: Trump wins Mich., Miss.; Democrats split states:
So, Tuesday's presidential primary election results get buried deep
in the paper, a single column about eight inches long, under a head
no larger than "Prepaid card users, under scrutiny, find tax refunds
frozen" and "Drug in Sharapova case used by Soviet troops in 1980s."
The night's big story, barely mentioned, was Bernie Sanders' surprise
upset of Hillary Clinton in Michigan (a state 538 gave her a 21-point
poll advantage and a 99% chance of winning). On the other hand, they
make no mention of Trump's third win in Hawaii, or Cruz's solo win in
Idaho, or that Marco Rubio got zero delegates from those states.
Page 12: Sports Authority default ripples through sporting-goods
industry: One store in Wichita, now shuttered, employees sacked.
Another overleveraged chain bites the dust.
Page 13: Two Sedgwick County officials back measure that would
restrict property tax increases: Not enough for Sedgwick County
Commissioners Jim Howell and Karl Peterjohn to not pass property tax
increases, they want to use their limited time in office to lobby the
state legislature to prohibit future tax increases -- otherwise, like,
future county commissioners might try to use county and local government
to, like, do things for people.
Page 13 (Opinion): Cal Thomas: Culture beast to blame for
Trump's rise: Nearly everything in this column is absurdly wrong,
but my eyes were drawn to this paragraph:
On the other side of the political fence, Bernie Sanders and Hillary
Clinton feed into the entitlement mentality that the government exists
to give you stuff and take care of you. Democrats have exploited race
and class for political advantage, deepening the divide between whites
and blacks (and increasingly Hispanics), as well as the three classes --
poor, middle class and wealthy. If the left really cared about
African-Americans, wouldn't that core Democratic constituency be
better off now than they have ever been, given the amount of money
spent on social programs supposedly created to improve their lot in life?
First point: the United States government does exist to "give
us stuff" (the wording in the US Constitution is "promote the general
welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty"). What Thomas calls an
"entitlement mentality" is what most of us think of as the basic rights
of citizenship -- one of which is that we elect, and therefore effectively
own, the government. If the government is ours, why shouldn't we use it
for our own benefit? Where Sanders and (even) Clinton run afoul of Thomas
is that they encourage us to take advantage of our own citizenship and
use our votes to increase "the general welfare." On the surface, it's
hard to understand how people like Thomas can even write this nonsense,
but that they can gives you an idea of how completely they are enclosed
in the right-wing media bubble.
Second point: Thomas remains a captive of one of the right wing's
oldest and deepest cons: the notion that helping people hurts them.
Conservatives love this con because they hate sharing: it makes them
feel especially virtuous, and if the disadvantaged fall for it they
might go away blaming themselves for a system that is rigged against
them. A corollary to this point is the belief that liberal efforts to
improve the general welfare of Afro-Americans have only hurt them (and
that the Democrats are hypocrites or just plain cruel for pursuing
such policies). The problem with this point and corollary is not just
that they're cynical and self-serving: it's that they're flat out
falsehoods. The fact is that most Afro-Americans are much better off
now than they were before the Great Society programs, before the Civil
Rights laws, before the New Deal. It's certainly true that much more
could be done, that there is much room for improvement, but you can't
begin to justify an argument that those programs haven't helped. (As
I'm writing this, one example of this is the full-color Berkshire
Hathaway ad on the opposite page, showing showing a prosperous-looking
black couple talking to a real estate agent in front of some rather
upscale suburban housing. Ads like that didn't exist when I was a
child. You can readily find examples elsewhere. For example, this
piece was written to dispell misconceptions Sanders' supporters
may have about blacks, but could enlighten Thomas as well.)
Third point: blaming the Democrats for exploiting "race and class
for political advantage" and "deepening the divide between whites and
blacks (and increasingly Hispanics)" is, well, obscene. Class exists
because one group owns property and makes its income from rents and
profits, and another only makes a living by selling its labor, and
that difference puts those two classes in conflict with one another.
Political parties didn't invent capitalism; they arose because of it.
What Thomas is really saying is that it would be good for his side if
the other side never talked about class conflict. Race complicates
this only a little bit: most Afro-Americans came to America as
slaves, were held as such until 1865, and even after emancipation
were discriminated against in ways designed to maintain them as a
low-wage labor pool. Slaveholders, in turn, used the ever-present
threat of slave revolts to organize poor white militias, a division
that persists to this day, undermining class solidarity which could
improve the lot of both black and white working classes. Similar
divisions have long existed between native and immigrant workers --
again something that owners have often exploited to increase their
advantages in class struggle.
Thomas is not objecting to class, racial, or ethnic divisions --
indeed, he views them as immutable, the very foundation of his ideal
conservative order. What he objects to is any possibility that the
people not favored by his ideal hierarchy should become conscious
and realize that change is possible -- that the general welfare can,
in fact, becomg more general.
Page 13: Letters to the Editor: One letter points out
the value of burying electrical lines rather than the cheaper (and
much more outage-prone) stringing of lines from poles -- perhaps
something that could be added to Sanders' infrasructure program,
but that's hard to do when the power grid is trusted to predators
like Westar. One letter touted Sanders' supporters, and two more
had praise for Ted Cruz. Consider this paragraph:
Beck opined that unless Republicans quit their infighting and unite
behind a principled Republican conservative such as Sen. Ted Cruz,
R-Texas, they will lose the election to an unworthy Democrat, who
will follow President Obama's job-killing policies.
It still shocks me when I find people so totally ignorant of the
facts. GW Bush was the job killer, winding up with negative job growth
after eight years after his short-term housing bubble gains were wiped
out when the bubble burst. Obama, on the other hand, has seen America
steadily add jobs after an initial dip bequeathed by Bush, and the net
result as been sharply positive (despite a loss in public sector jobs
thanks to Republican slagging on government spending, especially at
the state and local level -- remember Brownback?). In fact, ever since
WWII Democratic presidents have average over twice the growth rates of
Republicans (despite huge increases in deficit spending by Reagan and
the Bushes). I'll leave it to you to look up the numbers, but believe
me, the differences are huge.
There is also a letter on Trump:
Trump is what the base of the Republican Party has been clamoring for --
nay, demanding -- for decades and has given an outlet to racists, bigots
and misogynists who blame political correctness on their inability to
practice these openly. So why is the party surprised?
Well, because Republicans' capacity for self-delusion is boundless --
almost as great as their knack for passing the buck (for example, see
Bobby Jindal Blames President Obama for Donald Trump's Rise; it's
really pretty galling how easily Republicans fling about "job-killing,"
especially with "Obamacare" -- but never with job-massacres like NAFTA
or TPP). Leaving
Trump aside for the moment, I've seen Ted Cruz talk passionately about
stagnating wages, and then in the next breath proposing to abolish the
IRS to solve the problem. How is that supposed to work? If the federal
government has no facility for collecting taxes, how can it afford to
do anything, much less encircle the globe in military bases armed to
the hilt with state-of-the-art weapons systems? Without future tax
income the federal government won't even be able to borrow money.
Printing more money doesn't begin to solve the problem. And then what
happens to the 20-25% of the workforce who lose their government jobs?
And the millions more who lose Social Security and Medicare? You know,
I hate taxes too, but I can't pretend nothing bad will happen if you
abolish the IRS.
As for Trump, Republicans have plenty of reason to be embarrassed
by him, but the actual complaints coming from people like Thomas and
Jindal and everyone from Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol to David Brooks
and Mitt Romney boil down to two points: one is that Trump deviates
from (and is not seen as a true believer in) the conservative dogma
that right-wingers have spent millions (possibly billions) of dollars
drumming into the movement, and the other is that Trump isn't wholly
dependent on said right-wingers -- so they fear he's liable to go off
For many years we suffered bad politicians with bad ideas and somehow
muddled through. Even now, people my age are more likely to die quietly
than to see their world descend into dystopia. But I have little faith
now that young people today will be able to muddle through even as we
did. Throughout much of my lifetime the left tried to organize on the
basis of helping other people -- something noble but when push came to
shove not exactly dependable. But with the Sanders campaign what I see
is young people mobilizing to defend themselves against a future full
of peril. Meanwhile, when you look at newsdays like the above, that
peril appears not just as something looming like global warming but as
something frightfully urgent.
A couple quick links on the election:
FiveThirtyEight: What Went Down in the March 8 Presidential Primaries:
Live blog from the night, closed out before anything from Hawaii reported,
so not really the whole night. They spent a lot of time patting themselves
on the back for nailing the Republican contests, and more time complaining
about the bad polling data that screwed up their 99% prediction of a
Clinton win in Michigan. For more of the latter, their Carl Bialik
added a post-mortem,
Why the Polls Missed Bernie Sanders's Michigan Upset. The reason
that makes the most sense to me was that Sanders really hit the right
notes with the Flint debate and the Detroit town hall events, although
that's too subjective for these guys (they complain about not having
any post-event polls, an excuse they also used with Cruz in Iowa). The
one I don't believe at all is that over-confident Clinton supporters
switched to the Republican primary to stop Trump. That doesn't make
sense on any level, and exit polls tell us that only 4% of identified
Democrats crossed over anyway so it couldn't have been much of an
effect (sure, 4% would have tilted the election to Clinton, but I
really suspect that most of that 4% crossed to vote for Trump, not
against him, and I doubt that Trump-leaning Democrats would have
preferred Clinton over Sanders -- unless they were super hawkish).
Nate Silver: Marco Rubio Never Had a Base: Rubio finished below
the delegate threshold in all four Republican primaries on Tuesday,
so he wound up with zero delegates. He trailed Kasich (and Cruz) in
Michigan, so wound up fourth there. He significantly underperformed
expectations in all four states. He's trailing in 538's poll average
in his home state of Florida to Trump 30.6-39.9% (or 24.7-40.2%,
depending on which chart you use; his best recent polls are 30-38%
and 32-42%, but others are 22-42%, 20-43%, and 22-45%). He's dropped
from 2nd to 3rd in all recent polls in North Carolina. He's still a
bit better in Illinois (20.4%), but that reflects more on Trump
(33.0%) and Cruz (19.5%). Silver has some ideas on why Rubio hasn't
done well, but they don't go far toward explaining why he's tanked
so much lately. I'd say it's basically because he's a placeholder --
a way of saying "none of the above." Let's face it, no one really
likes him, even if they think they should. Silver trots out one
revealing bit of data: Rubio's best districts so far are all very
Democratic. Good chance what those voters like about Rubio is that
they see him as someone they may be able to slip him past a more
liberal electorate. Sure, he's a phony, but their phony, and no
one doubts that if he wins he'll do as he's told.
This is probably as good a place as any to mention two popular
memes that came out of Super Tuesday and intensified this week.
One is the proposition that if conservatives really want to stop
Trump, the only choice they have left is to back Cruz. Sure, he's
possibly the most toxic politician in America right now, but with
him you get the whole package: a doctrinaire conservative even
more principled (i.e., extreme) than Rubio and Kasich, and a guy
who appeals to the basest instincts of the party base (much like
Trump minus the flim flam). The second is that Rubio should cut
a deal where he withdraws, throws his support to Cruz, and joins
the ticket as Cruz's vice president. It's amusing to think that
Rubio thinks he has supporters so loyal that now they would
follow him into Cruz's arms when it was Cruz (and Trump) that drove
them to Rubio in the first place. He's a politician with no intrinsic
appeal, and it's good that's becoming obvious to everyone.
If you want to read more, there's
Gary Legum: The Marco Rubio post-mortem: How a supposedly ready-made
GOP nominee crashed and burned.
Bill Curry: It should be over for Hillary: Party elites and MSNBC can't
proper her up after Bernie's Michigan miracle: Few people remember
this but when Eugene McCarthy ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1968,
McCarthy actually lost to Johnson in New Hampshire. Nonetheless, that
he came as close as he did rattled Johnson so severely that he dropped
out of the race almost immediately. He could see that McCarthy would
keep gaining traction, and while he could almost certainly have still
won at the convention -- Hubert Humphrey in fact did without running
in a single Democratic primary -- he didn't want to go out like that.
I think of this not only because it was one of my formative political
experiences but because Hillary Clinton started this campaign in every
bit as dominant a perch as Johnson had in 1968. Her nomination was so
pre-ordained that virtually no mainstream Democrat even considered a
run against her. (Martin O'Malley ran a very half-hearted campaign,
having positioned himself as Hillary's backup plan. Sanders and Lincoln
Chafee weren't even Democrats, and Jim Webb wasn't much of one.) So
why does Clinton, unlike Johnson, truck on after repeated primaries --
both in 2008 where she kept her losing campaign going all the way to
the convention, and so far in 2016 -- reveal her to be a flawed and
vulnerable candidate? Could just be hunger, but could also be a sense
of entitlement. One thing it certainly involves is a willingness to
win ugly, especially if that's the only way she can do it. Curry points
out some of the obvious problems. A couple paragraphs, the first from
a section headed "The old politics is over," the second from the end:
I often talk to Democrats who don't know Obama chose not to raise the
minimum wage as president even though he had the votes for it; that he
was willing to cut Medicare and Social Security and chose not to
prosecute Wall Street crimes or pursue ethics reforms in government.
They don't know he dropped the public option or the aid he promised
homeowners victimized by mortgage lenders. They don't know and don't
want to know. Their affection for Bill and Barack -- and their fear
of Republicans -- run too deep. [ . . . ]
In the end, thinking only tactically makes you a bad tactician.
When revolution's in the air polls, money and ads mean far less.
Reporters who know nothing else can't conceive how voters choosing
among a democratic socialist, a pay-to-play politician and a fascist
might pick door number one. They bought Hillary's myth of inevitability,
but as Lawrence of Arabia told Prince Ali in the desert, nothing is
written. If Democratic voters really use their heads, they'll see
through the tactical arguments just like the voters of Michigan did --
and then walk into voting booths all over America and vote their hearts.
Then there will be change.
The first paragraph reminds me of disappointment: that voting for
Obama in 2008 was a vote for change, but in fact what we got was a
president and administration that was dedicated to preserving the
liberal-conservative tradition in America, to not rocking the boat
and not changing anything -- in short, the sort of business-as-usual
administration we expected from Clinton. Looking back, it's easy to
see that we could have done much worse, but we also could have done
better. Now we're being offered the same-old, same-old we rejected
in 2008, and we're being told first that it's inevitable -- that one
is proving flimsy -- and that Clinton is the only one able to stave
off the barbarian hordes. I saw David Corn on TV last night arguing
that Hillary's been "tested by fire" over thirty years, while Sanders
has never had to face the sort of assaults the Republicans will surely
bring against him if he's the nominee. Still, it's not as if Hillary
hasn't been burnt a few times along the way, and he overlooks that
Sanders has actually held elective office for thirty-some years,
whereas Hillary only served one unfinished Senate term, one that
was gift-wrapped for her in a safe state. Maybe Sanders is tougher
than the pundits think. Maybe he just has less unsavory laundry to
Curry also wrote
Hillary's inevitability lie: Why the media and party elites are
rushing to nominate the weakest candidate.
Andy Schmookler: Who Is the Better Bet to Beat Trump, Hillary or
Bernie?: Doesn't offer a clear cut argument for Sanders, but
the argument for Hillary isn't very clear cut either. (Curry, by
the way, subtitled the piece above "She's the one Dem even Trump
Charles Pierce: Why Bernie Won Michigan: One reason was that Clinton
tried to claim Sanders' vote against the TARP fund bank bailout bill was
a vote against the later auto industry bailout that Obama worked out
using TARP funds:
But, as I talked to more and more people around Flint, I got the sense
that the resonance of the exchange was not what HRC and her campaign
thought it would be. The UAW members I talked to clearly considered
HRC's use of the auto bailout against Sanders to be at best a half-truth,
and a cynical attempt to win their support, and they were offended by
what they saw as a glib attempt to turn the state's economic devastation
into a campaign weapon. These were people who watched the auto industry
flee this city and this state, and they knew full well how close the
country's remaining auto industry came to falling apart completely in
2008 and 2009. They knew this issue because they'd lived it, and they
saw through what the HRC campaign was trying to do with the issue.
Pierce also has a piece about Clinton trying to red bait Sanders
over old comments he made about Cuba and Nicaragua:
Bernie Sanders Said Something We Weren't Ready to Hear Last Night:
The pundits are right that Sanders' statements back in the 1980s are
fertile ground for conservative ratfcking -- look how easy it was for
HRC to turn them around on him -- and likely would be used to make a
meal out of him in a general election. The biggest problem that Sanders
has here, though, is that he told a truth that we're still not prepared
to hear. That Elliott Abrams has not been fitted with a leper's bell
yet is proof enough of that.
Still, I can't help but think that Obama has painted himself red,
white and blue in patriotic homilies, fervently striving to steer any
attention away from the fact that as a black American he might have
had a somewhat more nuanced view of this country's legacy in the world.
Note that I'm not saying he does, but no matter what he's said or done
it hasn't cut any mustard with the rabid right, who have spent the last
eight years frantically trying to deny that he's even a real American.
So what crime is Sanders committing here by admitting the truth, and
offering lessons from history as a guide for future policy? Merely
that he will be attacked for not parroting common myths. But isn't
the fact that he hasn't been pilloried yet for embracing Socialism
at least a suggestion that the sanctities of the high priests are
slipping? What ultimately undermines Obama and Clinton here is the
widespread (and I'm pretty sure unfounded) belief that they are not
sincere. But by not falling for the homilies, Sanders is showing that
he is sincere, honest, truthful, and trustworthy -- and when he doesn't
get hurt by doing so, that starts to free us from the dead weight of
retrograde ideas. I have to admit, I myself always cringe when I hear
Sanders' line about "a political revolution." I consider myself well to
his left, and I would never use the r-word, partly to be circumspect but
mostly because I don't consider it a real or even particularly desirable
possibility. But then a funny thing happens every time I hear the line:
applause. And I have to admit, I'm not the sort of political purist who
makes a fuss against something worthwhile that seems to be working.
Sarah Leonard: Which Women Support Hillary (and Which Women Can't
Afford To): I saw this piece a while back (posted Feb. 17), and
the title resonated through the Kansas caucuses and into Michigan.
Could go on much longer, but let's close with a Matt Taibbi tweet:
Struggling to find the comp for that Trump victory speech. Ron Jeremy
If anyone out there is too culturally illiterate to get the point,
Ron Jeremy is a pudgy porn actor with modest skills as a comic, perhaps
best known for waging swordfights with his erect penis. Stalin was head
of the Soviet Union from 1929-1953, during which time he had nearly all
of his political opponents killed off, some after elaborate show trials,
at least one by an icepick-wielding assassin. He was famed for giving
marathon speeches, frequently interrupted by long stretches of applause.
It's been observed that the reason the applause lasted so long was that
no one wanted to be seen as the first person to stop clapping. Sorry
if you flash on both images next time you hear Trump speak, but I know
Sunday, March 6. 2016
Kansas held both Democratic and Republican Party caucuses yesterday.
Both had record turnouts, in many cases forcing voters to wait in line
for hours. Still the caucus format is so inconvenient that at most 10%
of the number of people who will vote in November showed up. I suppose
you could argue that that means only the hard core fanatics showed up.
You could go further and point out that both caucuses were won by the
party's extremists -- Cruz and Sanders -- with both trouncing national
favorites (Trump and Clinton) by more than 20 points. Still, while a
primary might have narrowed the outcomes, I seriously doubt if it would
have overturned either winner.
The Republican caucus was a big show here in Wichita, with most (or
maybe all) registered Republicans required to head downtown to the
Century II Auditorium, where the voting took place after speeches in
favor of the candidates. Cruz and Trump represented themselves in
person. Marco Rubio was AWOL, his slot filled in by local Congressman
(and Bill Kristol favorite) Mike Pompeo. Trump was singled out for a
counter-demonstration, and had some hecklers removed from the caucus.
When the votes were counted, the results were: Cruz 48.2%, Trump 23.3%,
Rubio 16.7%, Kasich 10.7%, out of about 72,000 votes (Romney got 689,000
votes in 2012).
The Democratic caucuses were organized by State Senate district. We
attended the 25th, at the SEIU union hall on west Douglas. The 25th
district covers the near west side of Wichita, between the Arkansas
River and the flood control ditch from 25th North to Pawnee (23rd
South), plus Riverside (the area between the Little Arkansas River
and the big one -- this is where we live) and a chunk of south Wichita
from the river east to Hillside, bounded by Kellogg (downtown) on the
north and Pawnee on the south (this is the area I grew up in). The
district is represented by creepy Republican Michael O'Donnell --
a "preacher's kid" who long lived rent-free thanks to his father's
church, and who is best known for authoring a bill passed last year
which placed many restrictions on what welfare recipients could do
with their money (including a restriction that they couldn't draw
more than $25 at a time from an ATM), but who was most recently in
the news for providing beer to a party of underaged "campaign
The district is mostly working class, overwhelmingly white --
Wichita is still pretty segregated, and the Republicans who drew up
the Senate district map worked hard to put every black person they
could find into the 29th district -- the result is that Sedgwick
County has only one Democrat in the state senate, compared to 7-9
Republicans (some suburban and rural slivers overlap into other
counties). The district was formerly represented by Jean Schodorf,
a liberal Republican who was ousted by O'Donnell in the 2012 GOP
primary purge. He will be opposed this year by Lynn Rogers, a
popular school board member who recently switched parties, so
I think he has a good chance to flip the district (until they
redraw it -- Republicans control the state senate 32-8).
We managed to park about three blocks from the caucus site,
and spent a little more than an hour in line to get into the
building. By that time, they had decided to run a primary instead
of a caucus as they couldn't fit a tenth of the people who turned
out into the hall. We saw a couple dozen people we knew (including
a couple carrying Hillary signs), and many hundreds we didn't (a
great many with Bernie signs or stickers). When we got in, I was
chagrined to find that my name wasn't on the voter roll, so I had
to register. (Being Democrats, they didn't require ID or proof of
citizenship, so I'm not sure how my registration will set with
the Voter Suppression Bureau -- or whatever they call it these
days. I've been registered here since 1999, but changed from
independent to Democrat for the 2008 caucus, so it's possible
that the party change didn't stick).
The final vote total was 67.7% Sanders, 32.3% Clinton, with
41,000 votes cast (Obama got almost 440,000 in 2012). I've looked
around for more local election results, but haven't found much yet.
I do know that the 4th Congressional District, which includes Wichita
and mostly rural counties southeast to Montgomery (Independence and
Coffeyville), broke 70-30% for Sanders -- the highest of any Kansas
Congressional District. There's a good chance my caucus went 75-80%
for Sanders. It's likely blacks in Kansas broke for Hillary: I saw
few, but those who did have signs supported Hillary. Sanders got
81.4% in Lawrence (where Cruz only got 37% and Rubio beat Trump
20-18%), but (as I recall) the 3rd District was the closest, so
Hillary must have done better in Wyandotte (largely black) and/or
Johnson (KC suburban) counties.
The 4th was also Cruz's top congressional district. He slumped a
bit in the 3rd (suburban Kansas City, Lawrence) and, a bigger surprise,
in the 1st, represented by his most prominent booster in the state,
Tim Huelskamp. Good chance Huelskamp's endorsement actually cost Cruz
votes: Huelskamp is much hated in the most Republican district in the
state, mostly by farmers who don't appreciate his efforts to wipe out
the government gravy train. Not a good day for other prominent endorsers
either: Gov. Brownback, Sen. Roberts, and Rep. Pompeo all threw their
political weight behind Rubio, who came in a distant third, performing
well below his statewide average in Pompeo's district. The top Trump
supporters -- Kris Kobach (ALEC) and Phil Ruffin (Wichita's other
billionaire, like Trump a casino mogul) -- had no discernible effect.
One might also add Clinton-backer Jill Docking, possibly the best known
Democrat in the state -- she lost a couple statewide races, but bears
the name of two former governors and a state office building in Topeka.
Here are some figures by Congressional District: Cruz got 58% in
the 4th, 49% in the 1st, 46% in the 2nd, and 42% in the 3rd. Rubio
led Trump in the 3rd 22-20%, but with Pompeo's help trailed in the
4th 13-22%. Kasich got 15% in the 3rd, only 6% in the 4th. Sanders
did best in the 2nd District (Topeka) with 72%, followed by 70% in
the 4th, 69% in the 1st, and 62% in the 3rd.]
Sanders also won in Nebraska (57.1-42.9%), while Clinton mopped
up in Louisiana (71.1-23.2%). Evidently Clinton finished the day
with a slight increase in her delegate edge. Maine votes today, and
should go to Sanders. [PS: That indeed
happened, Sanders leading 64.2-35.6%.]
Michigan and Mississippi vote on Tuesday --
Michigan should be an indicator of whether the Sanders campaign is
looking up or down. Recent polls there favor Clinton (60-36%, 57-40%,
55-44%; 538's weighted average is 57.1-37.2%), but Michigan Democrats
have been known to think out of the box -- George Wallace and Jesse
Jackson are former winners -- and the last-minute focus there will
be intense. (Trump is a heavy favorite on the Republican side, leading
Cruz 37.0-21.4% with Kasich above Rubio 20.7-18.4%.)
Trump won primaries yesterday in Kentucky (35.3-31.6% over Cruz,
with Rubio at 16.4% and Kasich 14.4%) and Louisiana (41.4-37.8% over
Cruz, with Rubio way out at 11.2% and Kasich half that), while Cruz
solidly beat Trump in Maine (45.9-32.6%, Kasich over Rubio 12.2-8.0%).
The latter was a surprise to me: Cruz had done very poorly in New
England thus far, and Maine is about the last place in the nation
where moderate Republicans have any traction. May be worth noting
that turnout in Maine was extremely low (18382 votes vs. 292276 for
Romney in 2012, so 6.3% -- about half the ratio in Kansas).
For more on this round, see 538's
How the States Voted on Semi-Super Saturday. They are very impressed
by Cruz, at least as unimpressed by Rubio, and quick to dismiss Sanders.
You also get things like:
The Republican race is quite challenging to model demographically, and
also isn't all that well-explained by ideology. So I expect that
personality really might have something to do with it. Is it a
coincidence that some of Trump's worst performances so far are in
"nice" states like Minnesota and Kansas, and that his best is in
neurotic, loud Massachusetts?
My first reaction to the first line was that there's no division
in the Republican party either demographically or ideologically,
but then the third line made me think of one: Catholics, especially
those who got worked up over race and left the Democratic Party for
Reagan. Massachusetts, which Reagan won in 1984, was ground zero
for them, but Kansas and Minnesota have far fewer Catholics and a
lot less urban/suburban race panic. They are also states where the
Republican Party has never made much effort to pander to racism --
I suppose you could say that was "nice" of them, but they didn't
really have the need in Kansas, nor the opportunity in Minnesota.
Of course, we don't really need to define this group as Catholic:
the more generic term is racist, and Trump does very well in those
One thing that 538 does point out is that Carson's votes seem to
be going to Cruz, not Trump. I think he's right there, especially
in Kansas, where Carson is very highly regarded and would probably
have pulled 10% were he still in the race. They also note that while
Trump led Louisiana in early ballots, Cruz may have gotten more votes
on primary day than Trump.
Some scattered links this week:
Jeffrey Toobin: Looking Back: The New Yorker's legal expert,
author of two books on the Supreme Court -- The Nine: Inside the Secret
World of the Supreme Court (2007), and The Oath: The Obama White
House and the Supreme Court (2012) -- considers the legacy of the
late Antonin Scalia and gets to the point quick:
Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the
Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States
a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately,
he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his
critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and
stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that
President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the
Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated
and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief
Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant
and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need
for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Earl Warren
saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast,
looked backward. [ . . . ]
Scalia described himself as an advocate of judicial restraint, who
believed that the courts should defer to the democratically elected
branches of government. In reality, he lunged at opportunities to
overrule the work of Presidents and of legislators, especially Democrats.
Scalia helped gut the Voting Rights Act, overturn McCain-Feingold and
other campaign-finance rules, and, in his last official act, block
President Obama's climate-change regulations. Scalia's reputation, like
the Supreme Court's, is also stained by his role in the majority in Bush
v. Gore. His oft-repeated advice to critics of the decision was "Get
Toobin has a follow-up piece,
The Company Scalia Kept, including an overdose of the wit and wisdom
of Scalia's hunting buddy, C. Allen Foster ("when the last duck comes
flying over with a sign around his neck 'I am the last duck,' I will shoot
it"). Also post-mortem is
Jedediah Purdy: Scalia's Contradictory Originalism, which treats
Scalia's signature rationale with more respect than I can muster. I've
felt "originalism" was nothing more than Scalia's way of echoing Pope
Urban's "Deus vult" -- a cheap way of selling anything that enters his
wretched mind (although effective only if you think Scalia, like the
pope, is infallible).
Nate Silver: Republican Voters Kind of Hate All Their Choices:
My first thought was, not as much as I hate them, but then I remembered
that we're talking about Republicans, who seem to have a boundless
capacity for hating other people -- so why not themselves? One chart
here shows that in in the 2012 primary season, Republicans were more
likely to have at least a "satisfied" view of Romney (63%) than of
Santorum (55%) or Gingrich (52%). The current leader is Rubio (53%),
followed by Cruz (51%) and Trump (49%). Another chart puts Trump's
49% well below that of all but one previous nominee or major candidate
since 2004: Ron Paul in 2012 was lower; Cruz, Gingrich, and Rubio were
the next lowest, behind Huckabee (2008), Santorum (2012), and Edwards
(57% in 2004). Another chart shows that the 2008 race between Obama
and Clinton was less divisive: Clinton led 71-69 -- the main difference
was that while Clinton never dropped below 58 (in Mississippi), Obama
had lower scores in a few states that turned hard against him in the
general election: West Virginia (43), Kentucky (43), Arkansas (47),
Oklahoma (49), and Tennessee (51). Clinton's figure this year is even
higher at 78, while Sanders is well behind at 62 -- still high enough
to suggest he would do a better job of uniting the party than any of
the current batch of Republicans.
No More Mister Nice Blog has a piece which looks beyond Rubio's bare
margin in acceptability, arguing there's not much to it:
Cruz is the other Trump, and Rubio continues to be friendzoned.
The argument is basically that Trump and Cruz, as militant outsiders,
are more acceptable to each other's bases than an obvious corporate
tool like Rubio would be to either's. The result is that if a brokered
convention hands the nomination to Rubio, a big chunk of Cruz and/or
Trump supporters would go home or break loose or otherwise wreck the
Stephem M Walt: It's Time to Abandon the Pursuit for Great Leaders:
From Napoleon to Donald Trump, the track record of investing great power
in a charismatic individual has been lousy (in Walt's words, "always a
mistake"). The Germans had a word for this, Führerprinzip, which has
since become as discredited as it deserves to be. That's one example
Walt doesn't bother with, for the problem is not just the higher you
fly the harder you fall (surely no one can argue about Napoleon in any
other terms), but that Great Leaders may not even be possible any more
(and that may be for the better). Walt surveys the recent wreckage:
I suspect the appeal of the Great Leader also reflects the present
shortcomings of existing democratic institutions in Europe and North
America, the transparent hypocrisy of most career politicians, and the
colorlessness of many current office-holders. If you strip away the
well-scripted pageantry that tries to make presidents and prime
ministers seem all-powerful and all knowing, today's democratic
leaders are not a very inspiring bunch. I mean, seriously: whatever
their political skills may be, can one really admire an
undisciplined skirt-chaser like Bill Clinton, an insensitive,
privileged bumbler like George W. Bush, or an unprincipled opportunist
like Tony Blair? Does listening to David Cameron or François Hollande
fill you with confidence and patriotic zeal? I still retain a certain
regard for Barack Obama, who is both thoughtful and devoid of obvious
character defects, but nobody is talking about him being a "transformational"
president anymore. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's lackluster performance
on the campaign trail and the clown show that is the Republican primary
season is just reinforcing the American public's sense that none of
these people are sincere, serious, genuinely interested in the public's
welfare, or deserving or admiration or respect. Instead, they're mostly
out for themselves, and they would say and do almost anything if they
thought it would get them elected. And if that is in fact the case (and
many people clearly believe it is), then a buffoon like Trump or a grumpy
outsider like Bernie Sanders are going to look appealing by comparison.
Leaving aside the irrelevant sidepoint of whether Sanders is grumpy,
the obvious follow-up points are that lacking any policy goals that in
any way bear up under scrutiny, the Republican primaries have turned
into a forum on leadership posturing, may the greatest of the great
prevail (although it's not clear to me how this hasn't ruled Rubio out
yet). Meanwhile Clinton has developed (or should I say was given?) the
counter, that it is not the president but America that is great, a
blessing she will surely shepherd and sustain. From where I stand,
all this adds up to is a culture of narcissism -- the last thing in
the world we should look to our political leaders to fix.
Still, I'm haunted by Trump's "make America great again" -- the
nagging question being, when was America ever really great? Indeed,
what could that possibly mean? Sure, empires from Rome to Brittania
to Nazi Germany have exulted in their brutal power while lavishing
their elites with the spoils of war, but hardly any of their gains
trickled down to the masses, and every last one sowed the seeds of
its own destruction. What's so great about that? For that matter,
what's so good? The difference is not just rhetoric: back when
Lyndon Johnson was president, he had an argument with Bill Moyers
over what to call his programs to lift the poor out of poverty and
broaden the middle class. Moyers wanted to call this vision the
Good Society, but Johnson insisted on cranking up the superlatives,
giving us the Great Society. Problem is, while it's easy to think
of lots of things that would make most lives better, no one could
really envision what it would take to make them great. By overselling
his programs, burdening them with grand gestures and empty rhetoric,
he undermined them. (Same for his War on Poverty, which he actually
did a much better job of executing than his Vietnam War, but which
could never be won as definitively as Americans had come to expect
Perhaps Sanders seems grumpy because he's stuck thinking about real
problems and viable solutions instead of engaging in the great national
ego stroke of our collective and/or individual greatness?
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Partial draft on Libya-Syria, couldn't work my way out of this in time:
Martin Longman: Clinton and Libya: Libya and Syria both erupted in
Arab Spring demonstrations in early 2011. Both nations were ruled by
governments which the US had long regarded as antagonistic (not always
so, but that was certainly the default prejudice). Both were headed by
strongmen, who ruled through a combination of brute force and tribal
favoritism, and they responded to popular demonstrations with brutal
repressive force. In both cases the clashes rapidly became militarized
with some factions within the established military breaking away. In
both cases the opposition was joined by jihadi-oriented islamists,
whose anti-American stance muddied initial anti-regime biases in the
US. While both conflicts had much in common, a few differences led
the US to react differently to them. Actually, there were a range of
reactions and proposals within the US government, with Obama deciding
to go with the interventionists in Libya and against them (at least
initially) in Syria. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the
time, and generally sided with the hawks. She largely got her way in
Libya: the US intervened and in fairly short order Gaddafi's offensive
was halted and unwound, Gaddafi was killed, and his government was
dismantled. It turned out that overthrowing Gaddafi left a vacuum
that soon evolved into a civil war that continues today, so it's no
longer easy to view Libya as any kind of success for US policy.
Meanwhile, the initial revolts in Syria degenerated into prolonged
and indecisive civil war. Obama resisted the interventionists at
first, who continued to coo into his ear that if only we could step
in we could put an end to the bloodshed (you know, doing so would be
a humanitarian act). The US approved small scale programs to aid and
abet anti-government rebels, but such programs were ineffective and
only served to extend the war. The US got more active when a former
anti-American group in Iraq mutated into ISIS, setting up an "Islamic
State" that spanned northwestern Iraq and parts of eastern Syria. The
American reaction at that point became kneejerk, so the haphazard
opposition to Assad was supplemented by a more direct war against
Assad's chief adversaries. The US has often been misguided in its
foreign alliances, but it's hard to think of a previous case where
it's acted with such unthinking callousness. Aside from her initial
impulse to intervene in Syria, Clinton has at least been on the
Sunday, February 28. 2016
Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in South Carolina by a good deal
more than I expected (73.5% to 26.0%). This has finally given the media
carte blanche to harp on the viability of Sanders' campaign as opposed
to his issues and the relative merits (and weaknesses) of the candidates.
I expect that will be the rap from now to convention time, so it may be
true that the fun part of the campaign is over. In theory, Super Tuesday
could mark a turnaround, but that doesn't seem very likely. Nate Silver
has a piece where he estimates the share Sanders would take in each state
if he split the Democratic vote 50-50 with Clinton (see
Bernie Sanders Doesn't Need Momentum -- He Needs to Win These States).
The table compares Silver's estimates with actual results through Nevada
and polling (where available) later on. Where figures are available,
Clinton is consistently beating her estimates -- even in New Hampshire,
where Sanders +22 win fell short of his +32 projection. Silver figures
Sanders needs to win six (of eleven) Super Tuesday states: Vermont (a
cinch), Minnesota-Colorado-Massachusetts (maybe but not much polling,
and Mass. is very close), and Oklahoma-Tennessee (which seem pretty
hopeless, although the Okla. polling isn't so bad -- Clinton +2).
Later in next week, he also lists Sanders as Kansas +18, but polls
here favor Clinton. There are some fishy things about the model --
I'd be surprised if Sanders ran the table in the Rocky Mountain and
Upper Midwest states like Obama did, and I suspect Clinton has more
support in the "white belt" from Oklahoma up through West Virginia
than Silver's model suggests (Silver has West Virginia +17 for
Sanders, but Bill Clinton won the state, and Obama lost it bad).
Still, it's been fun, and regardless of what happens on Tuesday,
we'll probably go to the caucus on Mar. 5 and get counted for Sanders.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is increasingly viewed as the Republican
winner. 538 has estimates on the following upcoming Republican primaries
(some with very little polling data, and many states are still missing).
Trump is projected to win all but Texas (Cruz), although his leads in
Florida (Rubio) and Ohio (Kasich) aren't unassailable. I've tabled up
the raw poll averages below (* indicates only a single poll was used).
|03-22||Arizona *||35.0%||23.0%||14.0%|| ||7.0%|
They don't seem to have any Kansas polling. As I understand it, Trump
is leading among Kansas Republicans, although Rubio has racked up most of
the big endorsements (Brownback, Roberts, Pompeo, Dole). Tim Huelskamp has
endorsed Cruz. Lynn Jenkins was the first Rep. to endorse Carly Fiorina,
so I guess she's due for a do-over. Last two Republican caucuses went to
the holy roller -- this year that's split between Carson, Cruz, and Trump
(not an evangelical, but he tends to hate the same people evangelicals do,
and that seems to be what counts with them).
Trump, by the way, has very few
endorsements: two sitting governors (Christie and LaPage), one senator
(Sessions), two reps; but he has done well among European fascists (Marine
Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, Geert Wilders) and with some comparably shady
Americans (David Duke, Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Jerry
More about Trump in this week's links, below. Didn't even get around
to last week's mass shooting incident in Hesston, KS:
Martin Longman: How Will Trump Unite the Party? Remember Ronald
Reagan? He used to go around the country saying that the "11th
commandment" was "never speak ill of a fellow Republican." The GOP
was a much larger tent in those days, encompassing Mark Hatfield
and John Chaffee as well as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms (and my
own so-far-to-the-right-he's-left favorite, Iowa Rep. H.R. Gross --
younger folks can substitute Ron Paul, but you'll miss something).
Reagan was himself pretty far gone on the right, but he never called
anyone a RINO, much less any of the following, courtesy of Donald
When it comes time to unite the party, he'll have to contend with
having insulted all his opponents:
- Kasich: "total dud"
- Rubio: "a lightweight choker"
- Carson: "Pyramids built for grain storage -- don't people get it?"
- Cruz: "the worst liar, crazy or very dishonest"
- Fiorina: "if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes
straight, you develop a massive headache"
- Graham: "dumb mouthpiece"
- Walker: "not smart"
- Pataki: "terrible governor of NY, one of the worst"
- Jindal: "such a waste."
- Paul: "reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning
- Perry: "should be forced to take an IQ test"
And those are just the Twitter insults. Don't forget some of his other
antics, like saying no one would vote for Fiorina's face and that Ben
Carson is a pathological sociopath.
Trump is going to have some problems with Fox News, too. Here's a
sample of what he's said about their personnel:
- Brit Hume: "know nothing"
- Megyn Kelly: "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that
would not be politically correct"
- Carl Cameron: "consistently fumbles & misrepresents poll results"
- Charles Krauthammer: "should be fired"
- Bill Kristol: "a sad case," "always wrong"
- Frank Luntz: "a low-class snob"
- George Will: "boring and totally biased," "should be thrown off Fox
What about other organs of the right?
Trump said "very few people read" the "dying" National Review,
and their editor in chief, Rich Lowry, is "clueless," "incompetent," and
"should not be allowed on TV."
The Club for Growth is "crooked" and filled with "total frauds."
Brent Bozell of the right-wing Media Research Center is "begging for
money like a dog."
Charles Koch is "looking for a new puppet."
Most of these strike me as pretty accurate, perceptive even. Kristol,
in particular, is wrong so often he makes stopped clocks seem brilliant.
His judgments on Luntz, Will, Lowry, and Koch also get to the point, but
he could stand to expand on Krauthammer. Still, one might note that no
Republican candidate can claim Reagan's commandment as his (or her) own:
they may admire the Gipper for lots of petty and vindictive shit, but not
for the flexibility which made him seem much less the ogre than his record
indicates. Even GW Bush was careful to sugar coat his conservatism, but
to fight Obama the right-wing had to make sure that the ranks would hold,
so they started a purge and everything turned nasty. Trump has taken that
nastiness to a new level, but he didn't start it. He just took advantage
of the seething hatefulness of the Republican masses -- ground tilled and
sown by the right-wing propaganda mills. His only innovation was to turn
that bile toward the Republicans' own puppet- and pundit-class -- the
same people who had conned those masses into thinking that conservative
economic orthodoxy was somehow in their interest (despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary.
Somewhat related: see
Nancy LeTourneau: Unprecedented for a laundry list of things that
Republicans have done to oppose Obama that no opposition party in US
history has previously done.
Longman also has an interesting post,
The Conservative Movement Collapsed Before Trump. As you know,
since Obama became president the Republicans haven't offered any
alternative policies, because a policy might provide a starting
point for compromise. They've focused on obstructing everything
that Obama has wanted to do, with the sole exception of a couple
issues where Obama broke with the Democratic base (e.g., TPP):
they're OK because they both undercut Obama within his own party
and undercut the Democratic Party in the nation at large. Twenty
years ago the Republicans had a largely unearned reputation as
"the party of ideas" -- that was mostly due to the well-funded
right-wing think tanks. Since then, well, most of the ideas
turned out to be duds, and once Obama and the Tea Party arrived
thinking went out the window, replaced by narrow-minded fervor.
Hence every Republican candidate this year tried to run on
leadership character, and mostly what they tried to lead the
party in was being an asshole. Ergo:
What the Republicans failed to do is to adjust to losing in 2008 and
2012 and come up with a new kind of conservatism that could win where
McCain and Romney had lost.
And that left a giant opening for someone like Trump to walk right
through and begin denouncing everyone on the right as dopes and idiots
and ineffectual morons.
One of the reasons that the Republican Establishment has no answer
for Trump is that their alternatives (basically, now down to Marco
Rubio at this point) have never had an answer for how they could make
the modern brand of conservatism a winner on the presidential level.
If you are definitely not electable, then you can't convince people
to vote against Trump because he's unelectable.
Curiously enough, neocon godfather Robert Kagan is saying pretty much
the same thing:
Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein monster. Now he's strong enough to
destroy the party. Kagan's so alarmed by Trump he's already
endorsed Hillary Clinton as the best hope for Washington's war
mongers. Personally, I find this as disturbing as David Duke's embrace
of Trump. And I'm reminded that when
Antiwar.com was doing a fundraiser
a few weeks back, they included Clinton along with Trump, Cruz, and
Rubio under the headline "are you scared yet?"
DR Tucker: The Sum of All Fears: This is the most over-the-top
paranoid rant I've heard to date regarding Donald Trump. It's worth
quoting, partly for entertainment value, partly to show how sensible
fears can sometimes run amok:
I'm scared for my friends' children. They will be of an impressionable
age over the next four years. When they see President Donald Trump on
the TV screen, what warped values will penetrate their minds? What
flawed lessons will they carry with them for the rest of their lives?
Will I have to tell my friends not to let their kids watch President
Trump, for the same reason one doesn't let children watch movies with
explicit sex, violence and profanity?
What kind of world will those kids inherit? A Trump victory would
be far more devastating for our climate than the Keystone XL pipeline
would have been. I guarantee that within 24 hours of a Trump victory,
China, India and other major polluters will abandon the Paris climate
agreement, reasoning that by electing an unrepentant climate-change
denier, America cannot possibly be trusted to hold up its end of the
deal. Without that deal, you can say goodbye to a livable future --
and say hello to more fires, more floods, more disease, more death.
[ . . . ]
Think about what's at stake. This country is only so resilient.
In 1992, America could have survived four more years of Poppy Bush.
In 1996, America could have survived four years of President Bob
Dole. In 2008, America could have survived four years of President
John McCain. In 2012, America could have even survived four years
of President Mitt Romney.
Does anyone think this country could survive four days, much
less four years, of President Donald Trump?
I certainly agree that there are some pretty unsavory aspects to
a prospective Trump presidency, but I wouldn't put our prospects
under four years of Trump any lower than McCain or Romney. The one
most inordinate power US presidents have is their ability to start
wars, and McCain would easily have been (even without the legacy
of GW Bush) en the most trigger-happy US president since Jackson.
You should never forget that McCain was eager to push the US into
war with Russia over Abkhazia. Romney has less history to review,
but he ran for president in 2012 as an unreconstructed neocon --
an ideology also embraced by Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich. (I briefly
turned on a recent GOP debate only to find Kasich answer another
question by demanding that the US send arms to the Ukraine. That
was, for me at least, the scariest single moment of the campaign
I've witnessed thus far.) It's not unlikely that Trump, who has
on purpose remained vague about most of his policy intentions,
will turn out to be as bad as any of the above, but Tucker isn't
reacting to Trump's agenda so much as to the aesthetics of his
whole campaign. My own take is that Trump is significantly the
least objectionable of the remaining Republican candidates. Also,
my intuition is that once elected, Trump will (more readily than
most) adjust to the confines of business-as-normal. (He will, for
instance, have a much easier time learning to go with the flow in
DC than a president Bernie Sanders would.)
I also want to note that during his business career, Trump has
actually built a few things. That's a pretty stark contrast to
Romney, whose business career mostly consists of buying up companies
and raping and pillaging them. I'm not saying that Trump has done
mankind many favors, but he's not a pure predator like Romney.
I'm not saying that Trump won't go bonkers over immigration:
that is, after all, his signature issue. And sure, he'll do lots
of other horrible things. Tucker tried enumerating some of those
in another post,
Mad World: Part I, although he does get carried away with the
I doubt your pro-Trump friends or family members will acknowledge that
the Republican frontrunner's mendacious mutterings about minorities are
what really attracts them to the former pro wrestling personality, so
it will be up to you to bring that issue up. Ask them if they are bothered
by the bigots in Boston who pledged allegiance to Trump after beating up
a homeless Latino man. Ask them if they are troubled by the violent assault
on an African-American man at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Ask
them to put themselves in the shoes of Muslim Republicans who are horrified
by Trump's religious intolerance. [ . . . ]
As I write this, I think of my own fears about a Trump presidency, fears
that quite literally keep me awake some nights. I'm troubled by the
thought of young and impressionable men and women thinking that Trump's
behavior is something that should be emulated. I fear that a President
who makes jokes about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle will escalate the
level of misogynist microaggression American women have to put up with
on a daily basis. I'm scared that President Trump's Supreme Court nominees
will make Antonin Scalia look like William Brennan. I worry that during
a Trump administration, we will see the worst racial violence since the
pre-civil rights era, with story after story of innocent Mexicans and
Muslims being lynched in the night.
From this you'd think that Trump is planning on relaunching the Brown
Shirts and Hitler Youth. No doubt there are elements of fascism in Trump
and his followers, but Trump spent much of his life working in a medium
where you snarl and gruff a lot but always pull your punches. No doubt
some of his admirers are more prone to violence, but we have that now.
Groups like Black Lives Matter aren't going away if Trump wins. They're
going to become more vigilant than ever.
Finally, it's hard to let the hyperbole about Scalia and Brennan
pass by without comment. I'm not much of an optimist, but I can't
imagine a supreme court justice worse than Scalia. Ok, if you credit
his brains there's Alito, or take away his wit and you get Thomas --
where do they get these guys? Well, they get them from central casting
at the right-wing think tanks, and they keep them in line by keeping
them on the conservative gravy train (otherwise justices have been
known to take the constitution too seriously -- Brennan being something
of the gold standard there). Ok, maybe Trump can find someone a shade
more corrupt and venal and flat-out evil than Scalia, but if anything
he's less likely to rubber stamp the next movement crony in line.
Still, here's something real to worry about:
Trump: We'll Prune Back 1st Amendment. Trump wants to make it easier
for rich people to sue the media for "libel." While this could cut both
ways, in America civil suits favor those with deep pockets, as those
without can hardly afford to defend themselves, while the rich can sue
to harass even if their cases have no merit.
More Trump links:
Conor Lynch: Charles Koch's deceptive Sanders ploy: How the right-wing
oligarch cloaks his dangerous agenda: Koch wrote an op-ed which
appeared in the Washington Post, the Wichita Eagle, and presumably
elsewhere, where he suggested that he shares at least one common cause
with Bernie Sanders: ending "corporate welfare." The op-ed still fell
far short of an endorsement: evidently ending "corporate welfare" is
actually less important to Koch than preventing government from providing
a wide range of services, including more affordable education and health
care, to the middle class, let alone taxing the rich to pay for it all.
The Kochs like to claim their opposition to "government picking winners
and losers" is based on sound economic principles, but the case examples
that they most care about are subsidies that make "green energy" more
cost-competitive with the fossil fuels the Kochs are so invested in.
On the other hand, what makes fossil fuels attractive economically is
that a large portion of the real costs of their use, especially air
and water pollution -- what economists call "externalities" -- is never
factored into the market price of coal and oil products. A simple way
to correct for these market distortions would be a carbon tax, which
is something else the Kochs are dead set against.
Growing up in Wichita, I've occasionally wondered whether it would
be possible to tempt the Kochs to support, even if only through their
professed libertarian lens, some progressive issues. (Disclosure: in
the 1970s I worked in a Wichita typesetting shop where one of my jobs
was to retype several books by Murray Rothbard, which the Kochs were
reprinting as part of their missionary work. So I do have some insight
into the philosophy they espouse as opposed to the corruption they
actually practice.) In particular, anyone concerned about the size
and reach of the federal government should be very critical about the
military-industrial complex and the dozens of federal spy agencies.
They should also be extremely concerned about "the war on drugs" and
similar excuses for building up a police state. The Kochs have spent
hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their narrow political views,
yet have never -- at least to the best of my knowledge -- contributed
a dime to the
Peace & Social Justice Center
of South Central Kansas, which is very active on those very issues.
Rather, they've spent a ton of money buying a congressional seat for
Mike Pompeo, who has turned into one of the worst neocons in Congress.
And they have thus far failed to kill off subsidies for windmills in
Kansas -- turns out too many (Republican) farmers depend on "corporate
Sean Illing: Delusional David Brooks: His blind spot for Republican
nihilism has become pathological: Could have filed this under Trump
as this is yet another explanation how the Republican Party has succumbed
to its intellectual and moral rot, but I figured it's worth quoting at
The Republican Party no longer aspires to governance. The Tea Party, an
offspring of Republican politics, is a nihilistic political movement.
Everyone one they've sent to Congress they sent for one reason: negation.
Under the guise of some nebulous goal to "take the country back," they've
done nothing but undermine Obama and destroy the possibility of compromise.
And this delirium has spread throughout the party. Recall that Republican
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said explicitly that the GOP's "top
political priority over the next two years should be to deny President
Obama a second term."
Only one party insists America is in perpetual decline. Only one party
puts the culture wars at the center of its agenda. Only one party cultivates
anti-intellectualism in its ranks. Only one party sold its soul to religious
fanatics. Only one party refuses to accept the legitimacy of a
democratically elected president.
It was Republicans who abandoned conservatism as a serious governing
philosophy. It was Republicans who repeatedly defied custom with radical
non-filibuster filibusters. It was Republicans who used the nation's
credit rating to blackmail the opposing party. It was Republicans who
threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding.
And yet Brooks says our problem isn't "exclusive to the right"?
Well, Brooks would say that, wouldn't he? He knows that his bread is
buttered on the right. He understands that being a "conservative" pundit
is more of a career decision than a philosophical option. Once you agree
to carry water for the reactionary rich, you have to expect to get wet
now and then. It's not like he doesn't make a tidy living abandoning
any pretense of principles. As a bought man he'll always make excuses
for his proprietors, even when he can't understand them himself.
Bernie Sanders may be an outsider, but only in an ideological sense.
The man has served in public office for more than three decades. Trump
is a political arsonist with no ideas, no experience, no plan -- and
he's the most popular candidate in the party. With a grenade in one
hand and a half-articulated list of platitudes in the other, he's
brought the Republican Party to its knees. And that's because he's a
perfect distillation of the Republican zeitgeist. The establishment
doesn't approve, but Trump didn't emerge from a whirlwind -- he's an
unintended consequence of their cynicism.
Brooks is right: There is a metastasizing cancer in our body politic,
of which Trump is a symptom. But the disease flows from the compromises
of the Republican Party, a party increasingly of ideological troglodytes
with no interest in policy or compromise.
The Republican fringe has become the Republican mainstream, and the
country is the worse for it. Brooks is wise to lament that, but he
discredits himself by pretending this is a bipartisan problem with
bipartisan roots. This is a Republican problem -- and he knows it.
Martha Rosenberg: The FDA now officially belongs to Big Pharma:
I complained above about how Republican obstructionism against Obama
is only briefly lifted on occasions when Obama does something that
actively harms the Democratic Party base. The Senate's confirmation
of Obama appointee Robert Califf to head the FDA is a good case in
point. The vote for Califf was 89-4, with three Democrats (Markey,
Manchin, and Blumenthal) and one Republican (Ayotte) opposed.
(Sanders didn't vote, but spoke against Califf.) Nor is this the
first Obama favor to Big Pharma, as the ACA was written to their
Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke
University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies
including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck,
Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on
the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute.
Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a
high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical
website, discloses that Califf "served as a director, officer,
partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech."
Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors
until leaving for the FDA.
In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation,
Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead,
AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four
medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis
C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material?
Richard Silverstein: Another Mossad Assassination, This Time in
There are only a few things the Mossad is "good" at. And killing is the
primary one. They don't do much that's constructive. They don't make the
world better or safer for Israel. They don't bring peace. They don't
persuade people to compromise.
They kill. They cheat. They steal. They're good at all those things.
But how do those things do anything to help Israel in the long-term?
Yeah, they take out an enemy. But only to see a stronger, more
formidable enemy replace the one they murdered. Often, as in tonight's
case, they get revenge on someone who last posed any danger to any
Israeli decades ago. So what benefit is it to Israel to murder an
unarmed man (story in Telegraph and Ynet) who left militancy long
ago and was eking out a life as a shop owner in a foreign country
to which he'd fled so long ago?
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Celebrating Allen Ginsberg 50 years after 'Wichita Vortex Sutra':
I was surprised to see this long feature piece in the Wichita Eagle.
After I dropped out of high school in 1967 I read a lot of poetry, and
Ginsberg was very important to me. I assembled a poetry notebook for
my younger brother when he was in ninth grade -- I had had a similar
assignment and by then I felt embarrassed at my own pathetic notebook --
and picked out over a hundred poems, typing up over 300 pages. I don't
recall whether I included "Wichita Vortex Sutra" -- if so it would have
been the longest thing in the notebook -- but I am pretty sure that the
first poem was Ginsberg's "Howl." By then I had a large poster of a
bushy-bearded Ginsberg, which I attached to the ceiling over the stairs
to my room with wallpaper paste. (My mother hated it. Unable to tear it
down she painted over it as soon as I left home.) My brother got kicked
out of school for that notebook -- the vice principal, who had been my
ninth grade science teacher (the one that turned me from a future in
science to never taking another science class) was especially livid.
We were both sent off to see a shrink, who found the whole episode
rather amusing. What I find amusing is that it only took fifty years
for upright Wichita citizens to honor the greatest piece of literature
ever situated in our fine burg.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in
the American City: Book review. Many stories. For example:
The landlord who evicts Lamar, Larraine and so many others is rich enough
to vacation in the Caribbean while her tenants shiver in Milwaukee. The
owner of the trailer park takes in over $400,000 a year. These incomes
are made possible by the extreme poverty of the tenants, who are afraid
to complain and lack any form of legal representation. Desmond mentions
payday loans and for-profit colleges as additional exploiters of the poor --
a list to which could be added credit card companies, loan sharks, pay-to-own
furniture purveyors and many others who have found a way to spin gold out of
human sweat and tears. Poverty in America has become a lucrative business,
with appalling results: "No moral code or ethical principle," he writes,
"no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what
we have allowed our country to become."
Tom Engelhardt: The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended
Consequences: I agree that Edwin Starr answered the key question
with his 1970 hit song. Still, Engelhardt's litany of the sheer waste
that is devoured by America's war machine took me aback. On the other
hand, when he asks "has war outlived its usefulness?" I start to
wonder whether he's really going far enough.
Alfred McCoy: Washington's Twenty-First-Century Opium Wars:
Author wrote a book about the CIA's role in the heroin trade in
and around the Vietnam War, but that was so 20th-century. Since
2001 the world's heroin trade has moved to another American war
front: Afghanistan. The CIA's interest in heroin in war zones
seems to have been how handy the business was for producing cash
and corruption, but that works both ways as the Taliban has turned
itself into one of the world's leading drug cartels -- its own
potent source of cash and corruption.
Bill McKibben: It's Not Just What Exxon Did, It's What It's Doing:
We now know that Exxon had internal documents as early as 1982 that
acknowledged that global warming is a real (and possibly irreversible)
threat and is caused by burning fossil fuels. Exxon buried the report,
and hasn't become any more conscientious since.
Sunday, February 7. 2016
I threw this together rather quickly, but here are some links of
interest this week:
Thomas Frank: It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed
change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street:
As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one
of the era's greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished
rallying points of the president's supporters is the idea of the
Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of
Congress and it's easy to make the case for the weakness of the White
House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that
presidents are merely "buoys on the tides of history," not "mighty
frigates parting the waters," he scarcely made a ripple.
But the pundit fixation on Obama's powerlessness goes back many
years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among
a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators -- people who are well
pleased with the president's record and who are determined to slap
down liberals who find fault in Obama's leadership. The purveyors
of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the
dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e.,
themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied
to Obama's talk of hope and change back in 2008.
Frank brings up many examples, especially the Obama administration's
response to the financial collapse and recession of 2008:
It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial
crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this,
at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama's bailout policies, who
like to think of themselves as having resisted the public's mindless
baying for banker blood. Acting aggressively might also have deflated
the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented
the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.
But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to "foam the
runways" and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks.
Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed
to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn't fire. The
AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for.
The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents
who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral
programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The
executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing
outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed.
The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long,
sordid list of apparent frauds.
Frank concludes that "the financial crisis worked out the way it
did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out
that way." After all the "hopey-changey" campaign blather in 2008,
it came as a shock to discover how hard Obama would work to conserve
a banking industry which had frankly gone berserk: not only could
Obama not imagine America without its predatory bankers, he couldn't
imagine changing ownership of those banks, or even dislodging Jamie
Dimon from Chase. It's not clear that anyone in the Republican party
is that conservative. Rather, they are like those proverbial bulls
in the china shop, blindly breaking stuff just to show off their
Paul Krugman Reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth by
Robert J. Gordon: Gordon's big book (762 pp.) argues that growth
is largely driven by the introduction of new technologies, but that
not all technologies have the same growth potential. In particular,
a set of technological breakthroughs from the late 19th century up
through the 1930s drove high rates of growth up to about 1970, but
more recent innovations have had much less effect, so the prospects
for future growth are much dimmer. This is pretty much the thesis of
James K. Galbraith's 2014 book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis
and the Future of Growth, who I suspect is clearer about why this
is the effect, while spending a lot less time on the case histories.
For Galbraith, the key is that the earlier innovations tended to move
work from the household to factories while cheaper transportation and
energy made those factories much more cost-effective. On the other hand,
recent innovations in computing and automation increase efficiency at
the expense of jobs, and increasingly some of those labor savings are
taken as leisure. One reason this matters is that our political system
was built around an assumption that growth makes up for inequality --
that conflict over the distribution of wealth is moot as long as there
is ample growth for all. But this isn't something that we're just
discovering now: growth rates in the US started to dip around 1970,
and the result over the next decade was the growth of a conservative
political movement that aimed to maintain profit rates even as growth
slumped. I actually think that shift was triggered by more tangible
factors -- peak oil, moving from a trade surplus to deficit, the many
costs of the Vietnam War (including inflation) -- but the technology
shift helps explain why no amount of supply-side stimulus ever did
any good: every subsequent growth spurt has turned out to be a bubble
accompanied by more/less fraud. Krugman suggests some of this, but
the more explicit (and challenging) suggestions are in Galbraith's
So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future
is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most
Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will
be reinforced by a set of "headwinds": rising inequality, a plateau
in education levels, an aging population and more.
It's a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably
its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress.
And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of
another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.
A couple more things worth noting here. One is that the exceptionally
high growth rates of recent years in China, India, and similar countries
is tied to them belatedly adopting the technologies that fueled high
growth in Europe and America nearly a century ago. Nothing surprising
here, although one would hope they'd be smarter about it. The other is
that while newer technologies produce less economic growth, they still
quite often have quality of life benefits. So while wages and other
economic metrics have stagnated, many people don't really feel the
pinch. (And where they do, I suspect is largely due to the oppressive
weight of debt.)
Paul Krugman: Electability: Alright, so
Vox asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in
a general election, and they said: no, no way. In particular:
Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election.
But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders
as out of step with the average American's political views, according to
the academics interviewed for this story.
There isn't a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an
election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s
of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate
fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.
Who's Krugman to argue with such august personages:
I have some views of my own, of course, but I'm not a political scientist,
man -- I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously.
After all, man, they're scientists! They must be right, even
though Krugman has occasionally -- well, more like 3-4 times a week --
been moved to note that the professional practitioners of his own branch
of the social sciences, economics, often have their heads wedged. But,
I guess, political science must be much more objective than
economics, more predictive and all that, less likely to be biased by
the political biases of its researchers and analysts. Sure, makes
a lot of sense. After all, I know a lot of people who went into political
science, and who among them did so because they were interested in
politics? Uh, every one of them. I myself majored in sociology, and
spent most of my time there dissecting the myriad ways biases corrupt
research. I could have done the same thing in economics or political
science, but the nonsense in those social sciences was just too easy
to debunk. But it's been ages since I've been so reminded how shoddy
political science is as I was by the Vox article.
As for Krugman's value-added, there really isn't any. He doesn't
even explain why electability is such a concern. He just proclaims,
"The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you,"
after taunting us: "That's what Naderites said about Al Gore; how'd
that work out?" So, like, it's my fault Gore couldn't make a
convincing argument why Bush would be a much more terrible president
than himself? Sure, in retrospect that's true. In retrospect, it's
also clear that enough hints were available at the time to make that
argument -- and it's not only Gore's fault that he failed to do so,
you can also blame a press that was totally smitten with Bush's good
ol' boy shtick.
I don't doubt the importance of the election, at least in terms
of how much damage a Republican victory might inflict. But I don't
buy the idea that we all live on a simple left-right ideological
continuum, let alone that we all make rational choices based on who
is closest to one's individual perch. Gore's problem, for instance,
wasn't that he wasn't close enough to the median voter. It was more
like he didn't convince enough of his base that he would fight for
them, that his election would be better off for them than Bush's.
No doubt Clinton is closer to that median voter, but will she fight
for you? Or will she cut a deal with whatever donor woos her most?
My first close encounter with Hillary was listening to a radio
interview with her while her ill-fated health care plan was still
in play. She was asked how she would feel if it was rejected, and
she said "sad." Right then I realized this was a person who didn't
care enough even to get upset. Sanders wouldn't take that kind of
rejection lying down. But the Clintons simply forgot about health
care for the rest of his terms, and went on to doing "pragmatic"
things the Republicans would let them pass: NAFTA, welfare "reform,"
the repeal of Carter-Glass.
Robert Freeman: The new social contract: This is what's roiling the
electorate & fueling the success of anti-establishment candidates
Trump, Cruz and Sanders: Actually, less about those candidates --
that's just bait -- than the dissolution of the notion that rich and
poor are bound together through a "social contract":
But shared prosperity is no longer the operative social contract.
Ronald Reagan began dismantling it in 1981 when he transferred vast
amounts of national income and wealth to the already rich. He called
it "supply side economics."
Supposedly, the rich would plow their even greater riches back
into the economy, which would magically return that wealth -- and more --
to everyone else. George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics." It
seemed too good to be true. It was. Consider the facts.
Since the late 1970s, labor productivity in the U.S. has risen
259 percent. If the fruits of that productivity had been distributed
according to the post-World War II shared prosperity social contract
the average person's income would be more than double what it is today.
The actual change?
Median income adjusted for inflation is lower today than it was in
1974. A staggering 40 percent of all Americans now make less than the
1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. Median middle-class wealth
is plummeting. It is now 36 percent below what it was in 2000.
Where did all the money go? It went exactly where Reagan intended.
Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners pulled
in 12 percent of the nation's income. Today they get twice that, 25
percent. And it's accelerating. Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of
all new income went to the top 1 percent.
This is the exact opposite of shared prosperity. It is imposed penury
That is the new deal. Or more precisely, the new New Deal, the
new social contract.
Freeman is right that this is the rot and ferment that breeds support
for "anti-establishment" candidates. Trump and Sanders have different
answers to the problem: Trump flames foreigners, and that seems to appeal
to certain voters; Sanders blames the rich, and that appeals to others.
I'm less sure why Freeman lumps Cruz here. Sure, he's "anti-establishment"
in the sense that he too has a scapegoat: the government. But he has the
very opposite of a solution.
I should also quote Freeman on Clinton and Sanders, since this runs
against the "common sense" of Krugman's "political scientists":
It is unlikely Hillary will pull many Republicans away from whomever
the Republicans nominate. She is both an object of visceral hatred to
most Republicans and the establishment candidate in a year of
Sanders, on the other hand, pulls well from disaffected Republicans.
He has little of Hillary's baggage and polls much better against either
Trump or Cruz than does Hillary. He is anti-establishment in a year of
ervid anti-establishmentism, a fiery mouthpiece for the intense
cross-partisan anger roiling the electorate.
If Sanders can survive the primaries he has a much greater chance of
beating any Republican challenger than does Hillary. Whether he can
implement his vision of a retrofitted social contract is another matter.
Links on the presidential campaign trail:
Josh Marshall: Making Sense of the Last NH Debate: And relishing
how "Chris Christie simply eviscerated Rubio." I doubt if this means
the end of the Rubio bubble, which exists because major players --
I suspect "the establishment" gives them more credit than they deserve --
need to front a candidate who is pliant enough to do their bidding,
and the others they've entertained have proven more obviously flawed
(especially Jeb Bush). For post-debate damage control, see
Amanda Terkel: Marco Rubio Says He'll Keep Using the Same Obama Attack
Line Over and Over Despite Being Mocked.
Cody Cain: Donald Trump's Iran idiocy: The interview that should have
ended his candidacy once and for all: as the article notes, Trump
couldn't even negotiate the sacking of Megyn Kelly at the Fox debate.
The idea that with nothing more than ignorance and bluster he could
have negotiated a better deal with Iran -- one that would have allowed
the US to keep $150 billion in Iranian assets impounded after the
revolution -- is pretty farcical.
This was highly revealing of Trump's character. He exhibits a tendency
toward paranoia, he immediately concludes that others are conspiring
against him without a shred of evidence, and he perceives himself as
being victimized. These are traits that are not exactly well suited
for a leader of a nation.
In another encounter, a lady from the audience expressed concern
that Trump had not provided enough specificity about his policies.
Trump's answer was that he prefers not to provide detailed policies
because he desires to remain unpredictable.
Seriously? A presidential candidate running on a platform of
Gary Legum: The special hell of a Ted Cruz rally: What it's like to spend
an evening with the GOP's oiliest operator.
Conor Lynch: These guys are killing conservatism: How Trump & Cruz
are accelerating the intellectual debasement of the right: Not that
the big-name conservative thought leaders aren't hoping for a more pliant
and innocuous standard bearer (like Marco Rubio), but Cruz and Trump get
the headlines. Actually, he write another article about how those same
are debasing the right -- George Will and David Brooks are good examples,
yet somehow they're still considered the "reasonable" guys.
Rebecca Gordon: American Presidential Candidates Are Now Openly Promising
to Commit War Crimes: specifically focuses on Republicans Cruz, Carson,
Bush, and Trump (the piece was published on Jan. 7; I'm sure that had it
appeared last week the author would have mentioned Rubio, who seems to
have emerged as the neocon favorite in the race). I'll also note that
Gordon focuses on torture -- she wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical
Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States -- which seems to be more
of a Republican psychosexual obsession. Had she taken a broader view,
she might have said something about Clinton, whose "no fly zones" also
advocate war crimes.
Daniel Denvir: Dems, stop lying to yourself about Hillary: Sure, she "gets s*** done" -- atrocious s***, that is: Pretty much reiterates a point
I thought I made above.
Paul Campos: Hillary Clinton's self-satisfied privilege: Her Goldman Sachs
problem helps explain the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald
Trump: Among other things, reveals that "together the Clintons have
a yet worth in excess of $100 million" -- a curious figure given that
one or the other has either been on the public payroll or been preparing
to run for office virtually all of their adult lives (at least the last
30 years). Just brilliant I guess -- why else would a savvy (and more than
a little underhanded) business like Goldman Sachs be willing to pay you
$650,000 for a single speech?
Martin Longman: The Tide Has Turned Against Clinton: Argues that
her establishment connections and "no, we can't" campaign is losing
[W]hen they got to policy, she had the distinct disadvantage of having
to argue that we can't have a health care system as good as Canada's
and we can't afford to give people free tuition to college like we give
them free tuition to K-12 education, and that we can't raise the minimum
wage as much as her opponent would like. [ . . . ]
The problem is that she is thereby pushed into being a naysayer who
can't speak to the aspirations of the base. Her incrementalism is probably
well-suited to actually occupying the White House in a time of Republican
dominance in Congress and in the states. But it's a wet blanket on the
What seems to be happening here is that Sanders is disrupting the
time-tested Clinton-Obama campaign strategy, which is to promise great
things when running for the first term, then sandbag them and yield
Congress to a Republican backlash, which in turn gives them an excuse
for never delivering anything, and turns their re-election campaign
into a defensive struggle against the barbarians. Longman also cites
Quinnipiac poll which shows that Sanders has closed the gap, now
trailing Clinton among Democrats 42% to 44% (previously 53%-36% in
Clinton's favor). CNN also reports that "general election match-ups
between the top Republian and Democratic candidates suggest Sanders
and Rubio would be their party's most competitive standard-bearers,"
with Sanders defeating Trump by 10 points but only tied with Rubio
Richard Silverstein: Interview: Bernie's Commie Mohel Speaks:
A sneak preview of the anti-Sanders smear to come, modelled, no
surprise, on the anti-Obama smear of eight years past.
Nomi Prins: The Big Money and What It Means in Election 2016:
includes particulars for most candidates, especially the billionaires
behind Cruz and Rubio, plus a long section on Clinton -- her electability
argument depends as much on her fundraising prowess as on her centrism;
however, there's a catch:
As of October 16, 2015, she had pocketed $97.87 million from individual
and PAC contributions. And she sure knows how to spend it, too. Nearly
half of that sum, or $49.8 million -- more than triple the amount of
any other candidate -- has already gone to campaign expenses.
She doesn't talk much about the Kochs, who a year ago were torn
between Scott Walker and Rand Paul as their favorite candidates.
For more on them, see:
Robert Faturechi: How dark money stays dark: The Koch brothers, Sheldon
Adelson and the right's biggest, most destructive racket going. Also,
Chris Gelardi: Capitalist puritans: The Koch brothers are pushing pure
economic liberty as the only road to true prosperity -- to the detriment
of all but the rich -- actually, I'm not sure that even the rich
(even the Kochs) would prosper under true Kochian freedom. I expect it
would in rather short order lead to the sort of dystopia you see in the
Oscar-nominated Mad Max: Fury Road.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Out of Bounds, Off-Limits, or Just Plain Ignored:
Sub: "Six national security questions Hillary, Donald, Ted, Marco, et al.,
don't want to answer and won't even be asked." Only one has to do with
the "war on terror" -- still the biggest game in town. Not sure that
Bacevich has much of a handle on his question six: "Debt."
Tom Engelhardt: "The Finest Fighting Force in the History of World":
Take Afghanistan, for instance. Engelhardt cites Anand Gopal's No
Good Men Among the Living, America, the Taliban, and the War Through
Afghan Eyes, which argues that the Taliban disbanded and dissolved
after their first taste of American firepower, but the US couldn't
leave well enough alone:
Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who
arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on
terror forever and a day. So, as Gopal reports, they essentially
refused to let the Taliban surrender. They hounded that movement's
leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their
guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, "go back to work."
It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone's
head. Among those in power in Washington and those running the military,
who didn't believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store?
With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could
it not? And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept
right on targeting the "terrorists" whenever their Afghan warlord allies
pointed them out -- and if many of them turned out to be local enemies
of those same rising warlords, who cared?
It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing
significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating
its own future enemies. In the process, the Americans managed to revive
the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is
at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country.
[ . . . ]
It's probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment
or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq,
Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on
the battlefield. But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield
either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything. Nowhere, in fact,
did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run. Whatever
was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive
drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create
more enemies and more problems.
Engelhardt concludes that "Washington should bluntly declare not
victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home. Maybe if we
stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most
indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest
fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world
might be better off and modestly more peaceful."
Ann Jones: Social Democracy for Dummies: After having written
books on American failure in Afghanistan and on how maimed US
veterans have fared on their return, Jones moved to Norway, to
see what life is like in an affluent country free from war. Not
Thomas Piketty: A New Deal for Europe: The author of possibly
the most important book yet in growing inequality, Capital in
the Twenty-First Century, offers a few modest proposals for
reforms in the Eurozone. Also see Piketty's earlier review of
Anthony B Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?:
A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society.
Philip Weiss: Dov Yermiya, who said, 'I renounce my belief in Zionism
which has failed,' dies at 101. Yermiya fought in Israel's "War for
Independence" in 1948, and only issued his renunciation in 2009, in a
letter quoted here. You might also take a look at
Steven Erlanger: Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism? -- which starts
with a bloody admission:
ZIONISM was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish
people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty
there have always carried within them the displacement of those already
living on the land.
The Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon defined Zionism in 1975
as "the national liberation movement of a people exiled from its historic
homeland and dispersed among the nations of the world." Some years later,
and more crudely, perhaps, another general and politician, Rehavam Ze'evi,
a tough right-winger, said, "Zionism is in essence the Zionism of transfer,"
adding, "If transfer is immoral, then all of Zionism is immoral."
Admissions like this were rarely broadcast to the public during the
early days of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion spoke of Israel becoming "a
state just like any other." So the recent tendency to speak in such terms
may sound like a confession but is rarely accompanied by reflection much
less shame: rather, they are bragging, and preparing the grounds for
another round of "ethnic cleansing."
Monday, January 25. 2016
Some scattered links this week. The longest involves some recent
attacks on Bernie Sanders from normally left-leaning individuals who
have reconciled themselves to a Hillary Clinton nomination. I hadn't
given this contest much thought previously, and still don't feel all
that partisan today. I have in fact been critical of both candidates,
especially on foreign policy where I believe both are dangerously
fond of American (and even more so Israeli) military might -- not
identically so, as Clinton has been more consistently hawkish (cf.
her recent attacks on Sanders for thinking that normalizing relations
with Iran might be a good idea).
I suppose you can count me as one of those reconciled to an eventual
Clinton nomination. I was very much against her in 2008, not only for
the usual policy reasons but because I didn't like the smell of dynasty
(something eight years of Bush II did nothing to dispell). That's still
an issue, but has been mitigated somewhat by her growing experience and
stature, as well as the passage of time. The fact that Obama turned out
to be almost identical to what I feared from Clinton in 2008 has added
to the fatigue factor. I am, after all, an old guy, cynical after so
many disappointments, and skeptical of what any one person can really
accomplish as president. On the other hand, being reconciled to Clinton
is a far cry from having any will to support her. I don't really have
the will to support Sanders either, but at least I find his popularity
refreshing -- something I want no part in dampening. So when he is
attacked unfairly, which is how I would characterize Krugman and Geier
(two writers I generally admire) below, I feel that's worth pointing
out. Much as I expect to protest against many policies of whoever wins
Still, it's worth bearing in mind that fundamentally I regard Sanders
as decent, honest, and earnest -- more so than any significant presidential
candidate since George McGovern. (Nothing still says more about the decay
and decline of America during my lifetime than Nixon's margin over McGovern.)
Clinton, on the other hand, is every bit as corrupt and opportunistic as
her husband (albeit probably somewhat less vain). The Republicans, on the
other hand, are all far off the deep end. What distinguishes Clinton from
them isn't any edge she has in intellect or character -- it's merely that
she hangs with somewhat more decent and sensible people, and knows she has
to broaden her appeal more across class and racial and other lines, which
means she has to behave more decenty and sensibly herself.
Amy Davidson: The Contempt That Poisoned Flint's Water: Flint,
Michigan was in bad shape way back in 1989 when Michael Moore filmed
his documentary on his dilapidated home town, Roger and Me,
but not even Moore followed up to see how bad it could get. Thanks
to austerity measures, many of Flint's children have been poisoned
Until April, 2014, Flint had been part of Detroit's water system, which
had Lake Huron as its source. It was scheduled to be connected to a new
pipeline in 2016 or 2017, which would save money; Flint is in such
desperate financial straits that it was under the oversight of an
Emergency Manager. When that manager felt he couldn't negotiate a
low enough price for Detroit water in the interim, the city was left
with the option of drinking from the river that ran by it, and past its
active and derelict factories, and had been last regularly used decades
before. The city would treat the water itself. All the city had to do
was pass a few tests; as long as it did, it didn't matter if the residents
were, in effect, drinking dirt. But then, almost immediately, the water
began to fail the tests. In August, 2014, and again that September, the
water was found to have unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform
bacteria, and specifically E. coli. Certain neighborhoods were instructed
to boil their water, while the city added chlorine to the supply to
disinfect it. It took a lot of chlorine -- and that may be where Flint's
troubles really began. [ . . . ] By October, 2014,
General Motors had announced that it would no longer use the water,
because it was corroding its equipment. It was also -- and this should
have been entirely predictable -- eating into the lead pipes that
delivered the water to people's homes, causing them to crumble into
the water. Flint is old, and its water system took decades to
build. It took only months of cheap, corrosive water to mangle and
perhaps permanently destroy it.
A lot of things make Flint a bellweather for America -- a depressed
city in a depressed state in a depressed region, leading to bankruptcy
and a suspension of democratic accountability. But for a big picture,
you might look at the American Society of Civil Engineers'
2013 Report Card on Drinking Water. DR Tucker's
post has numerous links on this story, especially to Rachel Maddow.
Paul Krugman: Weakened at Bernie's: Starting with a lame, ungrammatical
pun isn't a good sign. While admitting that "Hillary Clinton is no paragon
of political virtue," Krugman takes a couple of cheap shots at Bernie
Sanders: first on his single-payer health plan, second on his desire to
restore Glass-Steagall and break up the "too big to fail" banks. In both
cases he argues that Sanders' plans aren't detailed enough, that they
hand-wave some important details and muff others. More substantively, he
argues that Sanders fails to appreciate the shadow banking problem. And
as often as not, the linch pin in his argument is that political realities
don't make Sanders' preferred solutions practical. For
details he cites
Mike Konczal on banking and
Ezra Klein on health care. Between us wonks, those pieces have some
merit. But the cheap shot is the way Krugman turns his technical critique
into a way of diminishing Sanders' integrity, honesty, and competence:
But here's the thing: we now have a clear view of Sanders' positions on
two crucial issues, financial reform and health care. And in both cases
his positioning is disturbing -- not just because it's politically
unrealistic to imagine that we can get the kind of radical overhaul
he's proposing, but also because he takes his own version of cheap
shots. Not at people -- he really is a fundamentally decent guy --
but by going for easy slogans and punting when the going gets tough.
I won't say that Krugman et al. are simply shilling for Clinton,
even though the timing -- a week before the first contest -- is a
bit suspicious. But the effect of this sniping is to paint Sanders
as some sort of fantasist, implying Clinton -- whose thinking on
these issues is utterly conventional, not to mention compromised
to the hilt by industry profits -- is the pragmatic choice. But in
another post --
How to Make Donald Trump President -- Krugman reveals his fear
that if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, the consequences
could be dire. That's always a risk in America, but it would be a
shame if we let fear of Trump (or really of any Republican likely
to be nominated) stifle much needed debate on real problems and
sensible solutions. There will be plenty of time to worry about
the demise of civilization after the nominating conventions. (By
the way, part of Krugman's nightmare scenario is based on Michael
Bloomberg running as a third party -- a threat he's made if Trump
and (or?) Sanders are nominated. No More Mister Nice Blog analyzes
a possible Bloomberg run
A second front of attack on Sanders bothers me more:
Kathleen Geier: Bernie's Greatest Weakness, who writes:
On Tuesday, his offhand remarks describing Planned Parenthood and the
LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as "part of
the establishment" created a firestorm, particularly on social-justice
Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, his tone-deaf comments on reparations
stoked even more outrage. Sanders's left-wing critics have seized on
both statements as evidence of his alleged weakness on civil rights,
women's rights, and LGBTQ issues.
Although some of their attacks on Sanders have been unfair, his
critics, regrettably, have a point. For all his political virtues,
Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism
to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such
race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems,
he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base
and sparking a popular mass movement. [ . . . ]
Sanders's Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly
on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and
desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about
economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and
sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders
who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality,
and who clearly understand that, while race and gender inequality are deeply
rooted in economics, they also have separate dimensions that cannot be
addressed by economic remedies alone.
And here I was, thinking that the great work Sanders was doing was
to restore inequality to the center of political debate. Granted, he's
talking in terms of inequality instead of class, but there isn't much
difference between the two, and adopting the more inclusive terminology
isn't a bad move. When I was growing up there was a tendency in the new
left to think of liberation as something you deliver to other people --
the image was pampered suburbanites struggling for oppressed minorities
here (and the depressed majority in the third world). The immediate
effect was to put all sorts of fringe groups on tiny pedestals, policed
by a cult of "political correctness," just as that mindset dovetailed
with the right's campaign against unions and workers and pretty much
everyone who wasn't filthy rich. The result is that the affluent visions
of the 1960s have decayed into a world where a substantial majority
have become distressed and depressed -- and the cause there is almost
Especially disappointing (to me, at least) is that the piece was
written by Geier, who until recently had focused her writings pretty
much exclusively on inequality.
More explicitly pro-Clinton than anti-Sanders is
Katha Pollitt: The Hillary Clinton Double Standard (the article's
magazine title is less nasty: "Yes, Hillary's a Democrat"): She says
some nice things about Sanders, then cavalierly dismisses him:
But Bernie Sanders isn't going to win the nomination . . .
can we at least be honest about that? And if he did, he wouldn't win the
general election. And if, by some miracle, he did, he'd still get creamed
by the same political and economic forces that hemmed in President Obama.
I worry a bit about the final point myself, but then I remember that
for all the insanity and abuse heaped upon Obama he's still president,
and that entails quite a lot. The bigger problem is his inability to
implement much of a legislative legacy, but that assumes he wanted to.
Sanders may run into more trouble for wanting to do more, but he also
might do more because he tries to do more, or because after a decade
or two of debauchery and decay more needs to be done. As for the first
two arguments, that's mostly conventional thinking: all Sanders needs
to do to win the Democratic nomination is to convince most Democrats
that he's more committed to their aspirations than Clinton is, which
given her slavish devotion to the banking and health care industries
plus her penchant for perpetuating and extending overseas wars may be
easier done than said. And winning the general election is a proposition
that this year's crop of Republican blowhards practically seals: anyone
with a proper fear of radical upheaval will have no choice but whoever
the Democrats nominate -- even if they prefer a dedicated defender of
the status quo like Clinton or Obama, they'll find plenty of ways to
rein in Sanders.
The rest of Pollitt's article is an argument with Doug Henwood, who
wrote a long essay in Harper's titled
Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty and has expanded it to
My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. I haven't seen
the book, but the article strikes me as actually pretty mild -- aside
from giving Dick Morris unwarranted opportunity to fantasize. The main
problem I see is that the Clintons have built a political machine that
serves their personal ambitions while the Democratic Party atrophies.
Obama was similarly neglectful of the party base, so both presidents
spent most of their terms with Republican-dominated Congresses as the
excuse for not delivering any gains for their voters, while they were
free to cozy up to business supporters. Given her track record and
connections, it's inconceivable that Hillary will break that pattern.
Nor is she likely to undermine the neocon orthodoxies of US foreign
policy. So why lift a finger for her until the conventions, when she's
likely to wind up the last ditch defense against the Republicans?
Yet The Nation is running articles like
Suzanna Danuta Walters: Why This Socialist Feminist Is for Hillary --
the subtitle concludes with a myopic "but it can't hurt." Again, she
embraces Clinton by assuming the inevitability of conventional wisdom:
And visibility matters: It's substantively different to have a woman
president advocating for gender equality as opposed to having a man
do so, just as it is to have a black president advocating for racial
justice -- because gender and racial difference live in and through our
marked bodies. This is why, for example, the struggles for affirmative
action and diversity remain so pertinent to all aspects of social,
political, and educational life. It's unlikely that Bernie's redistributive
economic policies, admirable as they are, would ever make their way through
Congress. How is a leftist agenda that remains little more than a vision
better for women than actually having a woman (who has, don't forget, an
agenda that shares much in common with this vision) -- after all these
years -- in the Oval Office?
A lot of wishful thinking and special pleading there, from the notion
that the wife of a former president will be a feminist icon to the claim
that claim that Clinton "shares much in common" with Sanders' vision.
I'm old enough to recall a bunch of cases, especially in the South,
where term-limited male governors ran their spouses as surrogates --
the Wallaces of Alabama for one -- not to see the Clintons furthering
that tradition. I'm not saying that Hillary will be a transparent front
for an extra Bill Clinton term, but I'll be surprised if there's any
Robert Kuttner: Thinking Harder about Political Correctness:
But what exactly is political correctness? The term was first used by
lefties to make fun of themselves. I've been hearing it used ironically
since the 1970s. As in: "This may not be politically correct, but may
I buy you a drink?"
This use of "politically correct" initially reflected the New Left
and the feminist movement of that era mocking the efforts by the
Communist Party to insist on rigid conventions of speech, along the
lines of George Orwell's Thought Police in his novel 1984.
Then the right got hold of the phrase and used it to claim that
left-wingers were the new conformists, enforcing speech codes and
embracing extreme identity politics. Allan Bloom's 1987 book, The
Closing of the American Mind, attacked liberal college professors
for imposing "politically correct" ways of thinking on impressionable
undergraduates. The term then became a staple of rightwing rhetoric
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination:
I found this too late to work into the attacks-on-Sanders section
above, even as a footnote to Geier's piece. Coates at least doesn't
argue that we should dump Sanders because Clinton is inevitable.
Rather, he argues that Sanders is fair game to attack because he
purports himself as someone who supports the same ends as Coates --
an end to racism and equality regardless of race -- but disagrees
with Coates' preferred means (reparations). To make his point,
Coates flips the roles of class and race inequality, arguing that
you can't make real progress on the former unless you first tackle
race. If that were true -- and I think it partly is -- it would
behoove us to find ways to target race-specific economic inequality
above and beyond the universal. (And note that this is different
from the more common notion of attempting to redress past iniquity,
something which in a zero-sum context would create as many present
losers as there had been past losers.) On the other hand, a point
I think has been clearly proven is that attempting to end racism
at the same time political forces are driving economic inequality
to unprecedented heights does not work -- and not just because
creating a black 1% that parallels the white 1% helps so few, but
it also if anything deepens the grip of inequality on our thinking,
inevitably adding to the iniquities that already exist.
Gilad Edelman: How to Corral the Donor Class: Book review of Richard
L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and
the Distortion of American Elections. E.g.:
The corruption theories, Hasen explains, tend to boil down to inequality
anyway. Lessig's argument -- that money causes politicians to rely too
much on wealthy funders -- is just another way of saying that rich people
have more influence than the rest of us. Teachout's theory of corruption
as putting private interests ahead of public interests sounds appealing,
but how do we know the $74 million spent by the environmentalist Tom
Steyer to support Democratic candidates in 2014, for example, wasn't in
the public interest? We have to assume that public interest is, by
definition, determined only through equal democratic participation.
Hasen thinks that assumption is right; it just has nothing to do with
corruption. "[G]iven that we have fundamental disagreements over the
meaning of the public interest," he writes, "the best we can do is to
define the public interest procedurally, by ensuring that every voter
has a roughly equal chance to influence policies and elections." In
other words, what makes money different is that there's no correlation
between how rich someone is and how closely his views align with what
the public wants. The problem with Senator Smith, who wants Soros's
money, isn't that he's "corrupt." It's that letting one rich benefactor
sidestep the deliberative democratic process and determine a policy
choice that affects everyone seems fundamentally unfair.
Bill McKibben: The Real Zombie Apocalypse: Thought I'd flag this
now that 2015 looms as the hottest year in recorded history globally
(although only the second-hottest in the US, a tiny victory for all
David Remnick: Seeds of Peace: Profile of MK Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian
leader of the Balad Party.