Sunday, March 12, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Donald Trump likes to talk about how he "inherited a mess": here's one measure of that, a chart of private-sector payroll employment over Obama's eight years:

Note first that the guy who really did inherit a mess was Obama, following eight years of Republican misrule under GW Bush. Also, that by ignoring cuts to public sector employment due to austerity measures mostly (but not exclusively) pushed by Republicans, this overstates the overall jobs gains a bit. Still, Trump's going to be hard-pressed to sustain Obama's rate, given hat he's working with the same "wrecking crew" that sunk Bush. Of course, you may not know all this, because Obama spent very little time bitching about the hole Republicans dug for him: he felt it important to recovery to project confidence, so he consistently understated the recession early on. In doing so, he did himself (and the country) a disservice, as he undercut the political case for more emphatic reforms.

Dean Baker reviews the latest jobs figures: Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery in February. On the other hand, no false modesty from Trump: Trump keeps claiming he's created US jobs since Election Day. As the title continues: "Not so." Also: Spicer: Trump Says Formerly 'Phony' Jobs Numbers Are Now 'Very Real' For more, see Matthew Yglesias: Sean Spicer's appalling answer about economic data shows how far we've lowered the bar for Trump. Spicer's quip: "They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Bernard Avishai: It's Not Too Early for the Next Democratic Ticket: Dude, it's way too fucking early. In fact, the subject should be zipped until way after the 2018 elections, and I wish we could put it off until well into 2020: partly because it'll do nothing but distract the press from the real issues, but mostly because the next candidate should represent the party, not usurp the party to stroke her or his ego (which is what being the designated leader would do).

  • Dean Baker: Drugs Are Cheap: Why Do We Let Governments Make Them Expensive? It's worth remembering that private health insurance was quick to add pharmaceutical coverage to their plans because drug therapies were often cheaper than medical interventions. Medicare was slow to follow suit, and by the time they did drugs weren't so cheap any more. The price rise was partly the effect of more money being available through insurance, and partly the increasing callousness of the profit motive, but to cash in the key has been government-granted patent monopolies, which give companies the right to push patients (and insurers) to their limits -- a "right" they've lately been exploiting so universally it's become a major driver of health care cost. There is an easy fix to this, and a little public investment would more than make up for any reductions companies might make to r&d.

    Baker also wrote a major piece on the track record of his fellow economists: The Wrongest Profession.

  • Thomas Frank: The Revolution Will Not Be Curated: There must be a better word for what he's getting at, but the people he's talking about are those who sort and select things (originally art) to be presented to larger groups of people (originally exhibitions). To call these people filters suggests they're more passive than they in fact are. Another word that comes to mind is experts, but that suggests they know more than most seem to, and that they work by some relatively objective criteria which we should respect -- in fact, many people who call themselves experts are distinguished mostly by their partisan support for special interests. Obviously, much can go wrong with all this curating, but it's impossible to be broadly informed without tapping into intermediaries who pay much more attention to specialists. Virtually all of the links in this post came to my attention through curators I've found worthwhile, and if you're reading this you're doing the same. Indeed, that makes me a curator, as I suppose I am in other domains, such as recorded jazz. Still not sure what Frank's title means, unless it's that in order to break out of today's debilitating conventional wisdom you have to be aware of how all this curating limits your options, and seek out info beyond the commonplace. But as a practical matter, that just means that you need to find better curators (and, I would add, hold them to account).

  • Henry Grabar: Corporate Incentives Cost US $45 Billion in 2015, Don't Really Work: Photo features Boeing, who recently extorted $8.7 billion from Washington state for not (for now) moving jobs elsewhere.

  • Aamna Mohdin: The Dutch far right's election donors are almost exclusively American: So rich Americans are trying to buy another election, something they have a lot of practice doing at home, and as a little reporting would easily reveal, abroad. For more on right-wing Dutch candidate Geert Wilders: Michael Birnbaum: The peroxide-blonde crusader who could soon top Dutch elections. Especially interesting is Wilders' experience of working on an Israeli kibbutz ("a trip he described as transformative in shaping his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views"). Another American publicly supporting Wilders is Rep. Steve King (R-IA): Iowa congressman lauds far-right Dutch politician, warning over 'demographics'. Curious how chummy the International Fraternal Order of Fascists is at the moment, because one lesson history teaches us is that nationalists ultimately find themselves at war with one another, or falling obediently into the orbit of stronger nationalists (as Quisling, Petain, and others prostrated their nations to Hitler's Germany). Do the Dutch really want to elect Wilders (or the French Le Pen) to be even more under Trump's (or Putin's) thumb? [PS: Also on Wilders' funding: Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate.]

  • Rich Montgomery/Andian Cummings: Arcs of two lives intersect in tragedy at Austins bar in Olathe: Profiles of the Trump-inspired shooter (Adam W. Purinton: "51, had long since seen his career as an air traffic controller come to an end, gaining a reputation as an unhappy drinker as he drifted from one low-level job to another") and victim (Srinivas Kuchibbotla, 32, an engineer who had immigrated from Hyderabad, India; he "had the American dream in his grasp: great job, happy marriage, new house and plans for children"). Of course, Trump's spokespeople were quick to disavow the shooting, but aside from its ending (which they'd prefer to leave ambiguous) the whole Trump campaign was based on exploiting the frustrations of folks like Purinton and rallying their furor against people like Kuchibbotla. And it certainly is the case that American businesses prefer hiring brilliant and optimistic foreign-born professionals to trying to train undereducated and aging malcontents like Purinton. We live in a society where even such paltry welfare efforts as we make are more meant to belittle beneficiaries than to build them up, so it's easy to see how Trump's supporters can think the system favors immigrants over natives. And Democrats, having taken every side of the issue (including for the Clintons a leading roll in "ending welfare as we know it"), have had no coherent message, allowing Trump to exploit this simmering wrath -- and to stir it up, as we see here.

  • Vijay Prashad: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal

  • Paul Rosenberg: Stronger than Tea: The anti-Trump resistance is much bigger than the Tea Party -- and it has to be.

  • Danielle Ryan: WikiLeaks CIA dump makes the Russian hacking story even murkier -- if that's possible: I haven't followed the latest WikiLeaks dump of confidential CIA documents enough to form an opinion on whether it's a good or bad or mixed thing, and frankly don't much care. Clearly, we already knew that the CIA was out of control, which we should have expected simply due to the cloak of secrecy under which it works. Still, this article makes some interesting points:

    The Vault 7 leaks are not exactly a smoking gun for those who maintain Russia's innocence where the DNC hacks and leaks are concerned -- but they're not insignificant either. If anything, the new leaks should make people think a little harder before putting their complete trust in the CIA's public conclusions about the acts (or alleged acts) of enemy states. . . .

    The fact that the CIA -- an organization of professionals trained in the most sophisticated methods of deception -- is front and center promoting the idea that Assange is a Russian agent, should be enough for anyone to take that idea with a pinch of salt.

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