Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Chuck Berry died. Jimmy Breslin died. My uncle, James Hull, died. It's been one of those weeks.

The big thing Trump did this week was to release a new budget proposal. Some reactions:

  • Who Wins and Loses in Trump's Proposed Budget; also The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.

  • A grim budget day for US science: analysis and reaction to Trump's plan: E.g., "NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2016."

  • Graham Bowley: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts? Public arts funding has been a political hot potato for many years now, so it's not surprising that conservative churls would take this opportunity to slash it, indeed to cut it out altogether. I could nitpick myself, but I also recall that during the 1930s the WPA financed all sorts of public art, some of which we're still fortunate enough to enjoy. One cannot even imagine government funding programs like that today, but if you give it a wee bit of thought, you might wonder why. Given today's technology, the ability to digitize sound and vision, to reproduce and disseminate those bits at zero marginal cost, there has never been a better time to make a big public investment in the arts. Sure, we need to come up with a funding scheme that isn't subject to arbitrary commissars, but the costs and risks are almost trivial. Especially compared to the Defense Department; after all, without art and entertainment, what is there left to defend?

  • David S Cohen: Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism

  • Jeff Daniels: Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's budget plan

  • Zaid Jilani: Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think Tank: Explores how "many of the White House proposal's ideas are identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year." Also quotes from a statement put out by Heritage praising the Trump budget, with one little demur: "it complained that Trump's call for an additional $54 billion in defense spending just isn't big enough."

  • Eric Levitz: White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is 'Compassionate': Quote comes from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who you'll read more about elsewhere. Levitz also wrote 6 Promises That President Trump's Budget Betrays.

  • Charles Pierce: This Is the Ending Conservatives Always Wanted:

    This budget is short-sighted, cruel to the point of being sadistic, stupid to the point of pure philistinism, and shot through with the absolute and fundamentalist religious conviction that the only true functions of government are the ones that involve guns, and that the only true purpose of government is to serve the rich. . . .

    A lot of this is going to make the members of Congress choke, so a lot of it may not pass. Its very existence is important, though, as a document that lays out quite clearly the vision of government shared almost everywhere in modern conservatism. This is a DeMint Budget, a Heritage Budget, a Gingrich Budget, a Reagan Budget, and a Tea Party Budget. It may be crude and lack a certain polish, but its priorities and goals are clear. There is no modern Republican Party without movement conservatism, and this budget is the most vivid statement yet of that philosophy.

    By the way, Piece also wrote: Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language.

  • Jordan Weissmann: Trump's Budget Director Has a Breathtakingly Cynical Excuse for Cutting Aid to the Poor

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's budget blueprint is a war on the future of the American economy: I caught a whiff here of Robert Reich's old scheme for education transforming American workers into highly paid "symbolic manipulators" -- sure, boring old manufacturing jobs get stripped due to "free trade" deals, but we'll all wind up richer than ever. That was bullshit then and is bullshit now, but that doesn't mean the opposite is even close to right: you don't need Friedman to realize that business today requires more technical skill than ever before, and the future more so. So why would anyone push a government budget that seriously undermines scientific research and education?

    But Trump's rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don't just push back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is evolving and changing over time. . . .

    One of the main things that was good about the "good old days" is that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products and cures. This happened while the government invested more -- not less -- on health, education, science, and regional development.

    Didn't Trump spend much of his campaign complaining about how we've neglected essential investments in infrastructure? Science, research and engineering are what infrastructure is built on, and education is fundamental to all that.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

  • ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 8th Week That Really Matters:

    • Released a very skinny budget.
    • Moved to loosen fracking rules.
    • Delayed chemical-safety regulations.
    • Fired 46 US Attorneys nationwide.
    • Made a formal apology to United Kingdom over wild spying claims.
    • Put military action against North Korea on the table.
  • Doug Bandow: Why Is Trump Abandoning the Foreign Policy that Brought Him Victory? Starts by pointing out that Trump was often critical of the neoconservatives who had plunged America into endless war, quoting him as saying, "unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct." Indeed, many single-issue neocons like the Kagans were quick to flock to Hillary Clinton, trusting her record for hawkishness. Still, although Trump has been able to torpedo much bruited nominations for the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, his administration has done a lot of sabre-rattling so far. But the author ("a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan") has a selective memory of Trump's campaign -- he also insisted he'd crush ISIS and increase military spending. Unlike anti-war conservatives (like Justin Raimondo) who fell for Trump's promise, I actually considered him more bellicose and more dangerous than Clinton (and I've repeatedly attacked her on just this issue). The reasons: the Republicans Trump would surround himself with would be more consistently hawkish (many Democrats have better things to do), and Trump himself is ignorant of and prejudiced about the world, and much given to macho posturing. A good example of this is the rapidly developing crisis with North Korea; e.g., see two recent Jason Ditz pieces: Tillerson: North Korea Diplomacy Has Failed, and Tillerson: Attacking North Korea Remains an Option; also Charles P Pierce: Don't Poke North Korea with a Stick Just to See What Will Happen.

  • Michelle Chen: Trump's Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America Sick

  • Julie Hirschfield Davis: Trump, Day After Merkel's Visit, Says Germany Pays NATO and US Too Little: Trump's been complaining for some time about NATO member not paying enough for their common defense, and he's sent Rex Tillerson out to shake down America's supposed allies, so this isn't exactly new. There's much Trump doesn't understand, but one thing is that a big part of the reason the US has so many subservient allies is that the US pays for the deference, not just in allowing the US to base troops on foreign soil but in ways like generous trade deals that help countries develop through exports. Take those perks away and won't people start wondering whether it's all worth it?

  • Allegra Kirkland: Huck: Trump Should Ignore Travel Ban Ruling, Like Jackson With Trail of Tears: Says a lot when you take inspiration from one of the most shameful facts in American history, but that's where many Republicans are at: until they manage to stock the courts with like-minded conservatives, they invite like-minded executives to run amuck over niceties like law and constitution. Not clear that Trump, a man who has put a lot of stock into using the courts for his own gains, is there yet, or that if he was he wouldn't be facing a widespread revolt from civil servants forced to choose between the legal system and his executive ego.

  • Ezra Klein: Does Donald Trump know what the GOP health bill does? Conclusion: "maybe not"; more to the point: "the AHCA does literally none of the things Trump says it does."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Checking in on Trump's 'Contract With the American Voter': This is becoming a staple piece on the left, dredging up Trump campaign promises and showing how few of them -- especially the relatively decent ones -- have been implemented, or even followed up on. This doesn't seem to phase Trump's actual supporters yet: they have, after all, almost by definition become jaded cynics about the political process, leaving them more inclined to see Trump's failures as subversion by unseen forces. On the other hand, LeTourneau's list includes a lot of "not introduced" Acts, which goes to show how the Republicans in Congress have proceeded their own agenda, regardless of how that fits in with Trump's own promises. Ryan, in particular, seems to view Trump as his stooge, aided by the fact that Trump is too lazy to work on his own agenda, and too hamstrung by the people he's allowed himself to be surrounded by. Still, I suspect the day is coming when we'll consider ourselves lucky anytime Trump breaks a campaign promise.

  • Josh Marshall: He Seems Nice: Irony still in plan: "he" is Greg Knox, described in a Pence tweet as "a small biz owner hurting under Obamacare." So here's some context: "It shows Knox to be what policy specialists refer to as a 'toxic right wing asshole.'"

  • Ian Millhiser: Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for the poor at his college keggers: "Meet the most insufferable frat boy in human history."

  • Tessa Stuart: Four Things We Learned About Trump's Tax Returns From Rachel Maddow: Explained much more succinctly than what you got from watching Maddow's program.

  • Amy B Wang: Why Trump's plan to slash UN funding could lead to global calamity

  • Paul Woodward: Donald Trump's deceitful and misleading statements have consequences: This keys off a long quote from John Cassidy: Donald Trup Finally Pays a Price for His False and Reckless Words, but I found Woodward's commentary more to the point:

    Donald Trump could accurately assert: "I didn't get where I am today by being honest."

    Like many people who believe in the supremacy of will power, he may believe that being faithful to ones own interests and objectives is all that matters.

    Trump is consistent in his unwillingness to bend to the will of others. His America First policy is merely an inflation of his Trump First practice.

    The idea that Trump might have the capacity to mend his ways -- to see that his dishonesty no longer works -- derives, perhaps, from a misreading of his pragmatism.

    Trump isn't bound to any ideology. At the same time, he exhibits no psychological flexibility whatsoever.

    Trump believes in his own innate capabilities with which, in his own imagining, he is so richly endowed he has no need to learn anything.

    This reminds me a bit of another president not bound to any ideology: Franklin Roosevelt. The difference, of course, was that Roosevelt did learn from his mistakes. He saw, for instance, that his more conservative impulses -- especially his fetish for balanced budgets -- were harmful, while his more generous, more liberal, impulses worked much better. The result was the most progressive administration in American history, but few voters imagined that at the start. They simply wanted to try something different, because the reign of Andrew Mellon and his three presidents had been so disastrous. The election of Trump was based on much the same reaction, but less decisive because disaster was much less universally recognized (let alone commonly understood) in 2016, and because quite a few people understood that Trump and/or the Republicans didn't offer any real solutions -- indeed, they were major problems.

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

  • Patrick Cockburn: Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should Stay Out. Should, but thus far Yemen is the war Trump has most dramatically inserted himself in.

  • Tom Engelhardt: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home: Actually, his third-tier title, after "Walled In" and "President Blowback." I'm not sure "blowback" is correct, because most of the damage done to America since Trump took office has been self-inflicted: the problem is less that others are attacking so much as we've internalized the scars of fifteen-years of the shocks of war:

    It's clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police, and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as part of a project to construct another kind of "great wall," a conceptual one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not welcome or wanted here. Don't come. Don't visit.

    All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted heartland of the country. In the process, he loosed a brand of hate (including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its intensity in our present moment.

    TomDispatch also published Michael Klare: Winning World War II in the Twenty-First Century, on Trump's nostalgia for the days when America actually won wars -- ignoring that times have changed as pre-WWII empires have been rolled back on every front, and that the US is no longer viewed as a country normally content to mind its own business, that only joins wars when attacked, and that doesn't plot to keep and plunder other nations. Indeed, the real problems the US military face today aren't the sort that can be fixed with a few more ships, planes, and troops.

  • Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built: Robert Mercer is a hedge fund exec, the plural evidently refers to daughter Rebekah, and the article goes into some depth on how they've sowed their millions to promote right-wing causes, especially through Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

    While other donors gave more to support Trump's presidential bid last year, the Mercers are now arguably the most influential financiers of the Trump era. Bannon, who went on to manage the final months of Trump's campaign before joining the White House, is the senior architect of the president's policy vision. He is joined in the West Wing by counselor Kellyanne Conway, a friend of Rebekah Mercer who led the family-funded super PAC that backed first Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 race.

    People who know them say the Mercers, who soured on traditional political operatives, appreciated Bannon's business savvy and share his belief that the conversation around politics must be changed for their ideas to prevail. For all of their power and privilege, both the family and their longtime adviser see themselves as outsiders, fighting the grip of elite institutions.

    One thing I was surprised by here was a $4 million donation to John Bolton Super PAC. I wasn't aware of such a thing, but it probably explains why such a useless and incompetent buffoon keeps managing to get his name in the news.

    Gold also wrote a comparable analysis of the Kochs (in 2014): Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections; also co-wrote one on the Clintons (in 2015): Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.

  • William Greider: Here's What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve: "We demand way too much from the central bank -- but that's because our elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy." The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates last week, in an effort to throttle back the economy lest it grow to the point where wages actually start to rise. That would normally be bad news for a sitting president, but not for the bankers who sit with this particular one.

    Greider also wrote: Trump Is Fighting a New Trade War -- and This One Is Intramural, about the "nasty White House battle [that] has broken out between right-wing nationalists and globalist financiers," asking the question: "Who owns this president -- the folks who voted for him, or the power hitters of big business and banking?" That's actually a novel question for a Republican president: with leaders like the Bushes, Republican voters were merely consenting to oligarchic rule, but didn't Trump promise something else? I'm not sure, but given how readily Clinton and Obama turned against their voters, I hardly expect Trump to show much spine.

  • Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Right-Wing Populism With 'Left-Wing Economics': Article spends too much time rebutting a red herring from Zack Beauchamp. My own suspicion is that the key to making an "Left-Wing Economics" argument work is to name enemies and show how those enemies take unfair advantage of working people, especially through their bought influence on government, how their lobbying perverts the course of justice. Not that we needed more examples, but the Trump administration is rife with them. (Trump sure had a field day painting the Clintons that way.)

  • Richard Silverstein: Knesset Votes to Ban Palestinian Parties, Destroy Israeli Democracy: In 1951 Palestinians still residing in Israel were granted citizenship (a right that was not extended after 1967 as Israel occupied and in some cases annexed additional Palestinian land), and since then Palestinian political parties have been represented in Israel's parliament (Knesset) -- to little effect, of course, as ruling coalitions have very rarely even considered including them, but it's always been a talking point, a big part of the Israel's claim to be a democracy.

    This paragraph is meant as an aside, but is noteworthy:

    Coincidentally, today a UN body issued a report finding that Israel had become an apartheid state. It further urged that the UN reactivate the methods, resolutions and commissions it used to ostracize South Africa, when it too faced international opprobrium for its racist policies. The new version of the Basic Law further strengthens such findings.

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