Sunday, June 11, 2017
Started this on Saturday and finished before midnight on Sunday, so
quick work given all the crap I ran into. If I had to summarize it, I'd
start by pointing out that as demented as Trump seems personally, the
real damage is coming from his administration, his executive orders, and
the Republican Congress, and all of that is a very logical progression
from their rightward drift since the 1970s. To paint a picture, if you're
bothered by all the flies buzzing and maggots squirming, focus first on
the rotting carcasses that are feeding them. Secondly, America's forever
war in the Middle East seems to have entered an even more surreal level,
which again can be traced back to a bunch of unexamined assumptions
about friends and enemies and how we relate to them that ultimately
make no sense whatsoever. The simplest solution would be to withdraw
from the region (and possibly the rest of the world) completely, at
least until we get our shit together, which doesn't seem likely soon.
That's largely because we've come to tolerate a political and economic
system of all-against-all, where we feel no social solidarity, where
we tolerate all kinds of lying, cheating, and gaming -- anything that
lets fortunate people get ahead of and away from the rest of us. Last
week's UK election suggests an alternative, but while the votes there
were tantalizingly close, the resolution is still evasive -- probably
because not enough of us are clear enough on why we need help.
Meanwhile. this is what I gleaned from the week that was, starting
with a summary piece I could have fit several places below, but it
works as an intro here:
Matthew Yglesias: The week, explained: Comey, Corbyn, Qatar, and
more -- Obamacare repeal, debt ceiling. I don't doubt that the
section on Qatar is true, but still don't really understand it (nor,
clearly, does Trump: see
Zeshan Aleem: Trump just slammed US ally Qatar an hour after his
administration defended it; also
Juan Cole: Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House
Richard Silverstein: All's Not Well in Sunnistan; also
Vijay Prashad: ISIS Wins, as Trump Sucks Up to the Saudis, and Launches
Destructive Fight with Qatar; and perhaps most authoritatively,
Richard Falk: Interrogating the Qatar rift; more on Qatar below).
The UK held its "snap election" on Thursday, electing a new parliament
(House of Commons, anyway) and, effectively, prime minister. Conservative
(Tory) Party leader Theresa May called the election, hoping to increase
her party's slim majority -- a result that must have seemed certain given
polls at the time. But after a month or so of campaigning -- why can't we
compress American elections like that? -- the Tories lost their majority,
but will still be able to form a razor-thin majority by allying with the
DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing party which holds 10 seats
in Northern Ireland). The results: 318 Conservative (-12), 262 Labour
(+30), 35 SNP (Scottish National Party, -21), 12 Liberal Democrats (+4),
10 DUP (+2), 13 others (-2). The popular vote split was 42% Conservative,
40% Labour (up from 30% with Ed Miliband in 2015, 29% with Gordon Brown
in 2010, and 35% for Tony Blair's winning campaign in 2005 -- almost as
good as Blair's 40.7% in 2001).
As victory margins go, the Tories are no more impressive than Trump's
Republicans in 2016, but like Trump and the Republicans they've seized
power and can do all sorts of horrible things with it. Still, this is
widely viewed as a major, perhaps crippling setback for May and party.
And while it doesn't invalidate last year's Brexit referendum, it comes
at the time when the UK and EU are scheduled to begin negotiations on
exactly how the UK and EU will relate to each other during and after
Perhaps more importantly, the gains for Labour should (but probably
won't) end the charges that Jeremy Corbyn is too far left to win an
election. At the same time the business-friendly New Democrats (e.g.,
Clinton and Gore) took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the
similarly-minded Tony Blair refashioned New Labour into a neoliberal
powerhouse in the UK. Both movement proved successful, but over the
long haul did immense damage to the parties' rank-and-file, who were
trapped as opposition parties moved ever further to the right. After
New Labour finally crashed, Corbyn ran for party leader, won in a
stunning grassroots campaign, and faced down a mutiny by surviving
Labour MPs by again rallying the rank-and-file. The result is that
this time Labour actually stood for something, and the fact that
they improved their standing rebukes the Blair-Clinton strategy of
winning by surrendering. We, of course, hear the same complaints
about Bernie Sanders. It may well be that the majority is not yet
ready for "revolution," but voters (especially young ones) are
getting there, and many more are rejecting the NDP/NLP strategy
Some scattered UK election links:
Harriet Aberholm: Jeremy Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from chance
to be Prime Minister: "Winning seven Tory knife-edge seats could
have put Labour leader in Downing Street."
Anne Applebaum: Theresa May and the revenge of the Remainers:
Notes that while Corbyn was moving Labour to the left, May took
the Conservatives right-ward -- irritating moderates not just on
Brexit but also those "worried about the future of the National
End of Blair Era in UK: Corbyn's Left-Wing Policies win at Ballot
Harry Enten/Nate Silver: The UK Election Wasn't That Much of a Shock:
Much ado about poll gazing.
John Harris: Britain is more divided than ever. Now Labour has a chance
to unify it: Title gave me no idea what this piece would be about,
and I'm not sure the author figured it out either. Still, a bit:
The contest May herself wanted was a laughably flimsy affair, focused
on her supposedly strong leadership and her belief that a sufficient
share of the public was willing to blankly approve a vision of Brexit
that she was unable to articulate. Meanwhile, thanks to Corbyn's party
and its primary-coloured manifesto, a completely different conversation
was taking place, which began to define the agenda after May's U-turn
on social care -- about the condition of the country and the need for
a new social settlement. To all intents and purposes, Labour has just
won a historic moral victory, thanks to a faintly miraculous coalition
that included not just millions of remain voters but -- as proved by
a stream of Labour successes in the Midlands, Wales and the north --
people who once voted Ukip and backed leave.
Bemoaning a divided nation is a cliché, but it's also practical
politics for the right, since the only basis on which a majority can
merge would be for more equality and broader prosperity, which is to
say the agenda (when they're not selling out) of the left.
Mehdi Hasan: Jeremy Corbyn Is Leading the Left out of the Wilderness
and Toward Power
Toby Helm/Daniel Boffey: 'Drop hard Brexit plans,' leading Tory and
Labour MPs tell May
Zaid Jilani: Jeremy Corbyn's Critics Predicted He Would Destroy Labour.
They Were Radically Wrong.
Robert Mackey: After Election Setback, Theresa May Clings to Power in
UK Thanks to Ulster Extremists: Mostly a reminder of how right-wing
the DUP is.
Maria Margaronis: Labour's Near-Triumph Brings a New Morning to British
Politics: "Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offered an end to austerity,
a commitment to the public good, the faith that generosity is more
powerful than greed."
Emile Simpson: That Time Theresa May Forgot That Elections Come With
Opponents: She also forgot that, regardless of how much people
may be inclined to blame New Labour and/or the EU, Conservative rule
since 2010 hasn't really delivered anything of value to most British
voters -- a steady diet of austerity, cutbacks, wars, and terror,
with whatever dislocations "hard Brexit" portends. Trying to look
at this rationally, I'm surprised that they did as well as they did,
since I can't think of any credible reason for hardly anyone to stick
with them. So I liked this bit:
But of course, credit where credit is due. Jeremy Corbyn, who has been
much maligned over the last two years now looks like he will end up
outliving two Conservative prime ministers. His biggest strength, in
contrast to May, is his sincerity, which was even recognized during
the campaign by the likes of Nigel Farage. Unlike May, people trust
that he means what he says, even if they disagree with him.
Of course, Simpson goes on to complain that Corbyn's "biggest
weaknesses are his own hard-left political views," but tempers
that by noting that the Labour manifesto "was far closer to the
center than Corbyn's own views."
Steve W Thrasher: Bernie Sanders could have won. That's the Corbyn lesson
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: How Jeremy Corbyn Moved Past the Politics of
On Wednesday night, Corbyn gave the final speech of his campaign, in the
stunning Union Chapel, in Islington, his own constituency. Near the end,
he took out his reading glasses and gave a dramatic performance of a few
melodramatic lines from Shelley. "Rise, like lions after slumber / In
unvanquishable number! / Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in
sleep had fallen on you: / ye are many -- they are few!" Corbyn was
standing in front of a red background emblazoned with Labour's slogan:
"For the many, not the few." He said that he and his audience had stood
together in places like this for countless protest meetings over the
decades -- "protect this, defend that, support this person." "Tonight
is different," Corbyn said. "We're not defending. We're not defending.
We don't need to. We are asserting. Asserting our view that a society
that cares for all is better than a society that only cares for the
few." Monday morning, the Blackpool Gazette ran an advertisement from
the Conservatives that covered half its front page. The other half was
a news story: "Poverty-hit families are forced to rely on food bank
handouts." The election was being argued on Corbyn's terms. That isn't
the same as winning, but it is something.
Gary Younge: We were told Corbyn was 'unelectable.' Then came the
And the usual scattered links on this week's Trump scandals:
Dean Baker: Trump Versus Ryan: The Race to Eliminate the Federal
Government: Another piece on Trump's budget. It bears repeating
that the real reason conservatives seek to shrink government is
that they want people to forget that the government is there to
serve them, and that with integrity and a sense of public service
government can make their lives better. So anything they can do
to make government look bad works to their favor. And, of course,
they don't apply their pitch lines to the parts of government
they not only like but depend on to maintain their privilege. On
a related issue, see
William Rivers Pitt: We Are Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity
Lies. One of their favorite pitches is that we can't afford
to do things (yet somehow we manage to spend a trillion dollars
on a war machine that does little but blowback).
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney
General Jeff Sessions: Trump may have thought he was appointing a
loyalist who would make his legal problems go away, but all he got was
a racist/right-wing ideologist who recognizes there are still some limits
to how much he can undermine America's system of justice.
Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's Twitter attacks on Sadiq Khan reveal how
pitiful the president is
Mohamad Bazzi: The Trump Administration Could Provoke Yet Another
Mideast War: "Trump has emboldened a recklessly aggressive Saudi
government, which is now destroying Yemen, imposing a blockade on
Qatar -- and could even stumble into a war with Iran." Long piece
on how "the Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the
Muslim world" and how that view leads them into conflicts with Iran,
all secular Arab nationalists, and challengers (like the Muslim
Brotherhood) and pretenders (like ISIS). A little short on exactly
why the Saudis turned on Qatar, another rich autocracy which has
turned into a rival by becoming even more prone to intervention:
Aside from their anger toward Iran, the Sauds were also enraged by
Qatar's support for the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and especially
Egypt, where Qatar became a primary backer of the Muslim Brotherhood,
which in 2012 won the first free elections in Egypt's modern history.
(Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later backed an Egyptian
military coup, in July 2013, against the government of President
Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.) The Sauds were already irritated
at Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy and trying to
increase its influence after the regional turmoil unleashed by the
US invasion of Iraq. And, like other Arab monarchs and autocrats,
the Sauds disdained Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite network, which was
critical of the monarchies and supported the uprisings in 2011.
Shawn Boburg: Trump's lawyer in Russia probe has clients with Kremlin
Gilad Edelman: Trump's Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive,
and More Dysfunctional: "Slashing federal employees doesn't save
money. It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors
and more prone to colossal screw-ups."
Robert Greenwald: Trump Is Sending a Murderer to Do a Diplomat's Job:
"Trump just put Michael D'Andrea -- the man who invented so-called
'signature drone strikes' -- to head up intelligence operations in
Iran. Probably pure coincidence that almost immediately Tehran
was hit by an ISIS terror bomb attack (see
Juan Cole: ISIL Hits Tehran; Trump Blames Victim, Iran Hard-Liners
Blame Saudis -- who probably blame Qatar, a country they've
broken relations with while suggesting they have ties to Iranian
terrorists). Also, Richard Silverstein asks
Iran Terror Attack: Who Gains? And then there's this:
US Congressman suggests his country should back ISIS against Iran
following Tehran attacks: That's Dana Rorhbacher (R-CA).
Mark Karlin: Organizations Representing Corporations Pass Regressive
Legislation in the Shadows: Interview with Gordon Lafer, who
wrote The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking
America One State at a Time. One reason Republicans have spent
so heavily at taking over state legislatures is that they can use
that power base for cultivating corporate favors. For an excerpt
from Lafer's book, see
Corporate Lobbies Attack the Public Interest in State Capitols.
Anne Kim: Deconstructing the Administrative State: "Donald Trump
promises that his deregulatory agenda will lead to a boom in jobs.
The real effect will be the opposite."
Naomi Klein: The Worst of Donald Trump's Toxic Agenda Is Lying in Wait --
A Major US Crisis Will Unleash It: Long piece, adapted from Klein's
new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Shock Politics and Winning the
World We Need.
Paul Krugman: Wrecking the Ship of State: Also see Jacob Sugarman's
more pointed comments:
If You Think the United States Is a Disaster Now, Just Wait.
Mike Ludwig: Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact, Trump Is Building
a Wall Around Himself
Josh Marshall: Trump's Saudi Arms Deal Is Actually Fake: $110 billion
in arms sales -- think of all the jobs (well, actually not that many, and
not working on anything valuable in itself, like infrastructure). But:
The $110 price tag advertised by the Trump White House includes no
actual contracts, no actual sales. Instead it is made up of a bundle
of letters of intent, statements of interest and agreements to think
about it. In other words, rather than a contract, it's more like a
wishlist: an itemized list of things the Saudis might be interested
in if the price of oil ever recovers, if they start more wars and
things the US would like to sell the Saudis. . . .
As I said, it's remarkably like the Trump-branded phony job
announcements: earlier plans, themselves not committed to, rebranded
as new decisions, with the Saudis happy to go along with the charade
to curry favor with the President who loves whoever showers praise
Also, as the Bazzi piece above notes, "From 2009 to 2016, Obama
authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia,
far more than any previous administration. (Of that total, US and
Saudi officials inked formal deals worth about $58 billion, and
Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry from 2009 to
Ruth Marcus: Why Comey's testimony was utterly devastating to
Trump: This was the story Washington insiders obsessed about
all week. Everyone has an opinion, so I should probably just drop
into second-tier bullets and let you figure it out (if you care):
Peter Baker/David L Sanger: Trump-Comey Feud Eclipses a Warning on Russia:
'They Will Be Back' I've pooh-poohed the "Russia interferes with US
election" thing because it was initially pushed mostly by renascent cold
warriors (neocons nostalgic for an enemy they can overspend) and mainline
Democrats (looking for an excuse for their own failures). Also there's
the fact that no one interferes in foreign elections more than the United
States. Still, I was struck by Comey's matter-of-fact Russia indictment,
and recognize that Russia's engagement in foreign elections isn't helpful --
even if it's only one of many distortions and disinformation sources we have
to fend off. Sensible people would look for a solution which disentangles
other sources of distortion and disinformation as well.
EJ Dionne Jr: Trump doesn't understand how to be president. The Comey
story shows why.
David Frum: The Five Lines of Defense Against Comey -- and Why They
Failed: For example, all that nitpicking over Trump meekly saying
"I hope" even though Trump is the sort of person who habitually surrounds
himself with people eager to satisfy Trump's wishes. Frum wrote:
But Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times,
almost instantly produced an example of an obstruction of justice
conviction that rested precisely on "I hope" language -- and the
all-seeing eye of Twitter quickly found more. Anyone who has ever
seen a gangster movie has heard the joke, "Nice little dry cleaning
store, I hope nothing happens to it." The blunt fact is that after
Comey declined to drop the investigation or publicly clear the
president, Trump fired Comey. A hope enforced by dismissal is more
than a wish.
Frum also cites
Michael Isikoff: Four top law firms turned down requests to represent
Trump, one of them vividly explaining, "the guy won't pay and he
Fred Kaplan: What Trump Doesn't Know Will Hurt Us: "The GOP excuse
about Trump's ignorance will lead America to disaster."
Ryan Koronowski: Comey's testimony was a media disaster for Trump.
These headlines prove it.
Nancy LeTourneau: The President's Lawyer Fails Miserably in Defending
His Client: On Marc Kasowitz's rebuttal to the Comey testimony.
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias gets hung up proofreading:
Trump's personal lawyer just released a letter filled with typos.
Kathleen Parker: Boy Scout James Comey is no match for Donald Trump:
You can tell she's a right-winger because she thinks bad is good and
Heather Digby Parton: James Comey rivets the nation -- and tells intriguing
stories about Jeff Sessions
Adam Serwer: The Incompetence Defense: "Republican senators suggest
Trump is innocent because he didn't try very hard to obstruct justice,
or because he was bad at it."
Philip Rucker/David Nakamura: Trump accuses Comey of lying, says he'd
'100 percent' agree to testify in Russia probe: Trump denied it
all, then summed up: "No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker." As
Philip Bump further reports, Trump wants to turn around and go after
Comey for the leak. Bump further interviewed Stephen Kohn ("a partner
at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection") on the possibility
that the Justice Department's inspector general might prosecute Comey
for the leak. Kohn's response:
"Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding," he said. "First
of all, I don't believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction
over Comey any more, because he's no longer a federal employee." The
inspector general's job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of
the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump --
though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of
"But, second," he continued, "initiating an investigation because
you don't like somebody's testimony could be considered obstruction.
And in the whistleblower context, it's both evidence of retaliation
and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself."
Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also picked up on charging Comey as
a leaker. Given that the Trump administration has been in a paranoid
frenzy about leakers, that gives Trump's followers a talking point,
even if, as Bump details, there's no legal basis for the complaint.
The way politics plays today, that may be all Trump needs to deflect
Nicholas Schmidle: James Comey's Intellectual History: Background
profile on Comey, which shows he was well predisposed to screw over
Hillary Clinton but unlikely to emerge as Donald Trump's nemesis.
I suppose that makes him credible to our relentlessly rebalancing
centrists, but for now it highlights how outrageous Trump still is --
until Republicans manage to make him the new normal (as they did
with Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Gingrich, and Ryan).
Deborah Tannen: It's not just Trump's message that matters. There's also
Matthew Yglesias: The most important Comey takeaway is that congressional
Republicans don't care:
The question before Congress is whether or not it's appropriate for a
president to fire law enforcement officials in order to protect his
friends and associates from legal scrutiny. And the answer congressional
Republicans have given is that it's fine.
Almost since Trump was sworn in there have been flurries of pieces
on impeachment (post-Comey, see
John Nichols: Congress Has What It Needs to Impeach Trump), but
Yglesias is right here: as long as Trump is useful to Republicans in
Congress they will have no will to impeach him, no matter what he
does (even, to pick his favorite example, should he start shooting
pedestrians on New York's Fifth Avenue). Impeachment may reference
"high crimes and misdemeanors" but is purely political calculation.
Trump is safe on that count until the Republicans in Congress decide
he's a liability.
Jim Newell: Trumpcare Is on the March: "GOP Senators have quietly
retooled a Trumpcare bill that could pass." This was also noted by
Zoë Carpenter: Senate Republicans Hope You Won't Notice They're About
to Repeal Obamacare. Also, in case you need a refresher:
Alex Henderson: 9 of the most staggeringly awful statements Republicans
have made about health care just this year:
- Raul Labrador claims that no one dies from lack of health insurance
in the U.S.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz compares cost of health care to cost of iPhones
- Warren Davidson's message to the sick and dying: Get a better job
- Mo Brooks equates illness with immorality
- Mick Mulvaney vilifies diabetics as lazy and irresponsible
- Roger Marshall claims that America's poor "just don't want health
- President Trump praises Australian health care system, failing to
understand why it's superior
- Steve Scalise falsely claims that Trumpcare does not discriminate
against preexisting conditions
- Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan claim Canadians are coming to U.S. in droves
for health care, without a shred of evidence
Ben Norton: Emails Expose How Saudi Arabia and UAE Work the US Media
to Push for War
Jonathan O'Connell: Foreign payments to Trump's businesses are legally
permitted, argues Justice Department: Something else Trump "hoped"
the DOJ would see his way.
Daniel Politi: Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on US Troops, Kills Three
Service Members: I first heard this story from a TV report,
where VP Mike Pence was proclaiming the dead soldiers "heroes"
and no one mentioned that the shooter was a supposed ally. Now
we hear that the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator. However, note
another same day report:
US Air Raid Kills Several Afghan Border Police in Helmand.
"Several" seems to be 10, and they were "patrolling too close
to a Taliban base."
Nomi Prins: In Washington, Is the Glass(-Steagall) Half Empty or Half
Full? Republicans in Congress are hard at work tearing down the
paltry Dodd-Frank reforms that Congress put in place to make a repeat
of the 2008 financial meltdown less likely -- it was, quite literally,
the least they could do. The Wichita Eagle ran an op-ed today by our
idiot Congressman Ron Estes and it gives you an idea what the sales
pitch for the Finance CHOICE Act is going to be:
Repealing Obama's regulatory nightmare. Republicans seem to think
that all they have to do to discredit regulations is count them (or
compile them in a binder and drop it on one's foot). As Estes put it,
"The scale of regulations added is incredible. Dodd-Frank added almost
28,000 new rules, which is more than every other law passed under the
Obama administration combined." He may be right that some of those
regulations "hinder smaller local lenders" -- the Democrats' Wall
Street money came from the top, and while they weren't fully satisfied
(at least after they got bailed out), they did get consideration.
Beyond that Estes spools out lie after lie -- the baldest is his
promise that "consumers must be protected from fraud." (The first
bullet item on Indivisible's
What is the Financial CHOICE Act (HR 10)? says the act would:
"Destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and obliterate
consumer protections as we currently know them, including allowing
banks to gouge consumers with credit card fees." One reason Dodd-Frank
needed so many regulations was how many different ways banks could
think of to screw consumers.
Prins' article doesn't mention Financial CHOICE, but does mention
a couple of mostly-Democratic bills to restore the separation concept
of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Arguably that isn't enough, but one
can trace a direct line from the 1999 Glass-Steagall repeal (which
was triggered by Citibank's merger with Traveler's Insurance -- a
much smarter response would have been to prosecute Citibank's CEO
and Board) to the 2008 meltdown and bailouts. Also see
Paul Craig Roberts: Without a New Glass-Steagall America Will Fail.
Ned Resnikoff: Trump ends infrastructure week with some binder-themed
Chris Riotta: Donald Trump Is Sputtering with Rage Behind the Closed
Doors of the White House
Mica Rosenberg/Reade Levinson: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were
given reprieves from deportation by Obama
Bill Scheft: Who in the hell is Scott Pruitt?! Everything you were afraid
to ask about this suddenly important person
Derek Thompson: The Potemkin Policies of Donald Trump: Last week
was "Infrastructure Week," during which he unveiled a plan to privatize
air traffic control that the big airlines have been lobbying for quite
a few years, and something about reducing environmental impact studies
to no more than two pages, presumably by eliminating the study part.
Trump has also been heard complaining that all the Russia investigations
have gotten in the way of doing important work, like jobs, or terrorism,
or something like that.
The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure
plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no
White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump's term in a
unified Republican government, Trump's policy accomplishments have been
more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental
regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation
and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts
have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the
legally dubious immigration ban.
The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four
words long: There is no policy.
To be sure, this void has partially been filled up with Paul Ryan's
various plans -- wrecking health care, tax giveaways to the rich, undoing
regulation of big banks, etc. -- which is the point when people finally
realize just how much damage Trump and the Republicans are potentially
capable of. So much so that the one thing I'm not going to fault Trump
on is the stuff he's threatened but never tried to do. There's way too
much bad stuff that he's done to shame him for not doing more. It used
to be said that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. About
the best Trump can hope for is to destroy all the schedules so no one
can be sure whether they're on time or not.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are out of control. And they are only getting
Paul Woodward: Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad:
Reports that CNN fired Reza Aslan after a tweet about Trump, then
hired former Trump campaign strategist Corey Lewandowski. For the
record, here is Aslan's tweet:
This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a
stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.
Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of
vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media
civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a
What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?
There's no good answer to this. The fact is it's impossible to
convey the extent and intensity to which I'm personally disgusted
by Trump both in word and action, and I'm not alone. Sometimes I
erupt with vulgarity. Sometimes I try to be clever. Most of the
time I try to explain with some factual reference which should be
self-evident. But nothing seems to break through the shell his
supporters wear. Still, I can't blame anyone for trying. I can't
blame Kathy Griffin for her severed head joke. (Actually, I smiled
when I saw the picture, and that doesn't happen often these days.
Then my second thought was, "that's too good for him.") But I
don't like getting too personal about Trump, because regardless
of how crass he seems, the real problems with his politics are
much more widespread, and in many cases he's just following his
company around. So that's why I'd object to Aslan's tweet: it
narrows its target excessively. Still, I wouldn't fire him. He's
got a voice that's grounded in some reasonable principles --
more than you can say for "the tweeter-in-chief."
Stephen M Walt: Making the Middle East Worse, Trump-Style:
I've lodged a number of links on the Saudi-Qatari pissfest, the
ISIS-Iran terror, and the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict
elsewhere in this post, and apologize for not taking the time
to straighten them out. But this didn't fit clearly as a footnote
to any of those: it's more like the core problem, so I figured I
should list it separately. Walt continues to be plagued by his
conceit that the US has real interests in the Middle East and
elsewhere around the world other than supporting peace, justice,
and broad-based prosperity, so what he's looking for here is a
"balance of power" division, something Trump is truly clueless
I don't think Trump cares one way or the other about Israelis or
Palestinians (if he did, why would he assign the peace process to
his overworked, inexperienced, and borderline incompetent son-in-law?)
but jumping deeper into bed with Saudi Arabia and Egypt isn't going
to produce a breakthrough.
The folly of Trump's approach became clear on Monday, when (Sunni)
Saudi Arabia and five other Sunni states suddenly broke relations with
(Sunni) Qatar over a long-simmering set of policy disagreements. As
Robin Wright promptly tweeted, "So much for #Trump's Arab coalition.
It lasted less than two weeks." Trump's deep embrace of Riyadh didn't
cause the Saudi-Qatari rift -- though he typically tried to take credit
for it with some ill-advised tweets -- but this dispute exposed the
inherent fragility of the "Arab NATO" that Trump seems to have envisioned.
Moreover, taking sides in the Saudi-Qatari rift could easily jeopardize
U.S. access to the vital airbase there, a possibility Trump may not even
have known about when he grabbed his smartphone. And given that Trump's
State Department is sorely understaffed and the rest of his administration
is spending more time starting fires than putting them out, the United
States is in no position to try to mend the rift and bring its putative
One completely obvious point is that if the US actually wanted to
steer the region back toward some sort of multi-polar stability the
first thing to do would be to thaw relations with Iran, and to make
it clear to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel that we won't
tolerate any sabotage on their part. The US then needs to negotiate
a moderation of the efforts of all regional powers to project power
or simply meddle in other nations' business (and, and this is crucial,
to moderate its own efforts). Obviously, this is beyond the skill set
of Trump, Kushner, et al. -- they're stuck in kneejerk reaction mode,
as has been every American "tough guy" since (well before) 2001. But
this isn't impossible stuff. All it really takes is some modesty, and
a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Would Iran be receptive?
Well, consider this:
Last but not least, Trump's response to the recent terrorist attack
in Tehran was both insensitive and strategically misguided. Although
the State Department offered a genuine and sincere statement of regret,
the White House's own (belated) response offered only anodyne sympathies
and snarkily concluded: "We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism
risk falling victim to the evil they promote." A clearer case of "blaming
the victim" would be hard to find, and all the more so given Trump's
willingness to embrace regimes whose policies have fueled lots of
terrorism in the past.
Contrast this with how Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded
after 9/11: He offered his "condolences" and "deepest sorrow" for the
American people and called the attack a "disaster" and "the ugliest form
of terrorism ever seen." There was no hint of a lecture or snide
schadenfreude in Khatami's remarks, even though it was obvious that
the attacks were clearly a reaction (however cruel and unjustified)
to prior U.S. actions. It is hard to imagine any modern American
presidents responding as callously as Trump did.
Matthew Yglesias: The Bulshitter-in-Chief: "Donald Trump's
disregard for the truth is something more minister than ordinary
lying." Quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit"
for authority when making a distinction between bullshitting and
lying, then gives plenty of examples (most familiar/memorable).
One interesting bit here comes from
Tyler Cowen: Why Trump's Staff Is Lying:
By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two
- He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen's words, "if
you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to
do something outrageous or stupid."
- The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct
tribe. "By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can
undercut their independent standing, including their standing with
the public, with the media and with other members of the
Sounds to me like how cults are formed. Yglesias continues:
But the president doesn't want a well-planned communications strategy;
he wants people who'll leap in front of the cameras to blindly defend
whatever it is he says or does.
And because he's the president of the United States, plenty of people
are willing to oblige him. That starts with official communicators like
Spicer, Conway (who simultaneously tries to keep her credibility in the
straight world by telling Joe Scarborough she needs to shower after
defending Trump), and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But there are also the
informal surrogates. . . .
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes embarrassed himself
but pleased Trump with a goofy effort to back up Trump's wiretapping
claims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who certainly knows better,
sat next to Trump in an Economist interview and gave him totally
undeserved credit for intimidating the Chinese on currency manipulation.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed a small-time trade agreement with
China consisting largely of the implementation of already agreed-upon
measures as "more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China
relations on trade."
This kind of bullshit, like Trump's, couldn't possibly be intended to
actually convince any kind of open-minded individual. It's a performance
for an audience of one. A performance that echoes day and night across
cable news, AM talk radio, and the conservative internet.
Plus a few other things that caught my eye:
Patrick Cockburn: Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work:
After ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and London:
When Jeremy Corbyn correctly pointed out that the UK policy of regime
change in Iraq, Syria and Libya had destroyed state authority and
provided sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Isis, he was furiously accused
of seeking to downplay the culpability of the terrorists. . . .
There is a self-interested motive for British governments to portray
terrorism as essentially home-grown cancers within the Muslim community.
Western governments as a whole like to pretend that their policy
blunders, notably those of military intervention in the Middle East
since 2001, did not prepare the soil for al-Qaeda and Isis. This
enables them to keep good relations with authoritarian Sunni states
like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, which are notorious for aiding
Salafi-jihadi movements. Placing the blame for terrorism on something
vague and indefinable like "radicalisation" and "extremism" avoids
embarrassing finger-pointing at Saudi-financed Wahhabism which has
made 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims, a quarter of the world's population,
so much more receptive to al-Qaeda type movements today than it was
60 years ago.
Eric Foner: The Continental Revolution: Review of Noam Maggor:
Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's
First Gilded Age, about economic development following the US
Thomas Frank: From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts:
The author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew,
and Listen, Liberal tours Britain on the eve of the election. He
doesn't predict the election very well, but he does notice things, like
When I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America,
a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man
was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point
stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an
old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging
through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and
was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to
support his family.
The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging
through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has
seen many times. What is startling is that here's a guy in Yorkshire, a
place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this
story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply
couldn't believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind
of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer,
of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely
What most impressed me about the England I saw was the opposite: a
feeling I encountered, again and again, that whatever happens, people
are all in this together. Solidarity was one of the great themes after
the terrorist bombing in Manchester, as the city came together around
the victims in a truly impressive way, but it goes much further than
that. It is the sense you get that the country is somehow obliged to
help out the people of the deindustrialised zones and is failing in
its duty. It is an understanding that every miner or job-seeker or
person with dementia has a moral claim upon the rest of the English
nation and its government. It is an assumption that their countrymen
will come to their rescue if only they could hear their cries for help.
John Judis: What's Wrong With Our System of Global Trade and Finance:
Interview with economist Dani Rodrik, who has written several books on
globalization. The main thing I've learned from him is that when nations
open up trade (and/or capital and/or labor flows), sensible ones recognize
that there will be losers as well as winners and act to mitigate losses.
The US, of course, isn't one of the sensible ones. And while Trump seems
to recognize some of the losses, he doesn't have anything to offer that
actually helps fix those problems. Still, he offers that some sort of
real change needs to come:
I think the change comes because the mainstream panics, and they come
to feel that something has to be done. That's how capitalism has changed
throughout its history. If you want to be optimistic, the good news is
that capitalism has always reinvented itself. Look at the New Deal, look
at the rise of the welfare state. These were things that were done to
stave off panic or revolution or political upheaval. . . .
So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest
is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating
trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their
compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete
overhaul of the structure of power.
Christopher Lydon: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy: An
interview with Noam Chomsky.
Ed Pilkington: Puerto Rico votes again on statehood but US not ready
to put 51st star on the flag; also
Michelle Chen: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis.
Matthew Rozsa: Kris Kobach, "voter fraud" vigilante, is now running for
Kansas governor: He's been Kansas' Secretary of State since 2011,
a fairly minor position whose purview includes making sure elections
are run fairly, and to that end he's managed to get a "voter ID" bill
passed, purge thousands of voters from the registration rolls, and
prosecute perhaps a half dozen people for voting twice. Earlier he
was best known as author of several anti-immigration bills, and he's
continued to do freelance work writing far right-wing bills -- by
the way, virtually all of the ones that have been passed have since
been struck down as unconstitutional. He is, in short, a right-wing
political agitator disguised as a lawyer, and is a remarkably bad
one. He was the only Kansas politician to endorse Donald Trump, and
he wrangled a couple job interviews during the transition, but came
up empty. It's not clear whether Trump worried he might not be a
team player (i.e., someone who sacrifices his own ideas to Trump's
ego), or simply decided he was an asshole -- the binders he showed
up with suggest both. Kobach launched his gubernatorial campaign
with a ringing defense of Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which the state
legislature had just repealed (overriding Brownback's veto). Rosza
asks, "have the people of Kansas not suffered enough under Sam
Brownback?" Good question. Although he's by far the most famous
(or notorious) candidate, and he ran about 4 points above Brownback
in their 2014 reëlection campaigns, I think it's unlikely he will
win the Republican primary. For starters, his fanatical anti-immigrant
shtick doesn't play well in western Kansas where agribusiness demands
cheap labor and hardly anyone with other options wants to live. But
also, most business interests would rather have someone they can keep
on a tighter leash than a demagogue with national ambitions (a trait
Kobach shares with Brownback). Still, either way, I doubt the state's
suffering will end any time soon.
Reihan Salam: The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left: "How single-payer
went from a pipe dream to mainstream." The author isn't very happy about
this, complaining "that Medicare has in some ways made America's health
system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals
over those of patients." Still:
If faced with a choice between the AHCA and Medicare for all, Republicans
shouldn't be surprised if swing voters wind up going for the latter. The
AHCA is an inchoate mess that evinces no grander philosophy for caring
for the sick and vulnerable. Single-payer health care is, if nothing else,
a coherent concept that represents a set of beliefs about how health care
should work. If Republicans want the single-payer dream to go away, they're
going to have to come up with something better than the nothing they have
Sabrina Siddiqui: Anti-Muslim rallies across US denounced by civil
rights groups: On Saturday, a group called Act for America tried
to organize "anti-Sharia law" rallies in a number of American cities
("almost 30"; I've heard 28). They seem to have been lightly attended.
(My spies here in Wichita say 30 people showed up. There wasn't a
counter-demonstration here, although in many cases more people came
to counter -- needless to say, not to defend Sharia but to reject
ACT's main focus of fomenting Islamophobia.)
Ana Swanson/Max Ehrenfreund: Republicans are predicting the beginning
of the end of the tea party in Kansas: The overwhelmingly Republican
Kansas state legislature finally managed to override Gov. Sam Brownback's
veto of a bill that raised state income taxes and eliminated a loophole
that allowed most businessmen to escape taxation altogether. The new
tax rates are lower than the ones in effect before Brownback's signature
"tax reform" became law and blew a hole in the state budget, leading to
a series of successful lawsuits against the state over whether education
funding was sufficient to satisfy the state constitution. Republicans
have done a lot of batshit-insane stuff since Brownback took office in
2011, but the one that kept biting them back the worst was the Arthur
Laffer-blessed tax cut bill. One can argue that this represents a power
shift within the Republican Party in Kansas: in 2016 rabid right-wingers
(including Rep. Tim Huelskemp) actually lost to "moderate" challengers,
whereas earlier right-wingers had often won primaries against so-called
moderates. But as this article points out, right-wingers like Kris
Kobach and their sponsors like the Koch Brothers are pissed off and
vowing civil war. Meanwhile, the Ryan-Trump "tax reform" scam looks
a lot like Brownback's, with all that implies: e.g., see
Ben Castleman et al: The Kansas Experiment Is Bad News for Trump's
Mark Weisbrot, et al: Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Update After 23 Years:
Executive summary to a longer paper (link within):
Among the results, it finds that Mexico ranks 15th out of 20 Latin American
countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure
of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate in 2014 was higher than the
poverty rate of 1994; and real (inflation-adjusted) wages were almost the
same in 2014 as in 1994. It also notes that if NAFTA had been successful
in restoring Mexico's pre-1980 growth rate -- when developmentalist economic
policies were the norm -- Mexico today would be a high-income country, with
income per person comparable to Western European countries. If not for
Mexico's long-term economic failure, including the 23 years since NAFTA,
it is unlikely that immigration from Mexico would have become a major
political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would
seek to cross the border.
Lawrence Wittner: How Business "Partnerships" Flopped at the US's Largest
I've also collected a few links marking the 50th anniversary of
Israel's "Six-Day War" and the onset of the 50-years-and-counting
Ibtisam Barakat: The Persistence of Palestinian Memory: "Growing up
under occupation was like living in a war zone, where people were punished
for wanting dignity and freedom."
Omar Barghouti: For Palestinians, the 1967 War Remains an Enduring,
Neve Gordon: How Israel's Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life
to a Politics of Death: "Palestinian life has become increasingly
expendable in Israel's eyes." The piece starts:
During a Labor Party meeting that took place not long after the June
1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking,
"What are we going to do with a million Arabs?" Eshkol paused for a
moment and then responded, "I get it. You want the dowry, but you
don't like the bride!"
This anecdote shows that, from the very beginning, Israel made a
clear distinction between the land it had occupied -- the dowry --
and the Palestinians who inhabited it -- the bride. The distinction
between the people and their land swiftly became the overarching
logic informing Israel's colonial project. Ironically, perhaps,
that logic has only been slightly modified over the past 50 years,
even as the controlling practices Israel has deployed to entrench
its colonization have, by contrast, changed dramatically.
By the way, the bride/dowry metaphor is the organizing principle
for Avi Raz's important book on Israel's diplomatic machinations
following the 1967 war: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordaon,
and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War
(2012, Yale University Press). Based on recently declassified
documents, the book shows clearly how Israel's ruling circle
(especially Abba Eban) weaved back and forth between several
alternative post-war scenarios to make sure that none of them got
in the way of Israel keeping control of its newly conquered
Mehdi Hasan: A 50-Year Occupation: Israel's Six-Day War Started With
Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine
Guy Laron: The Historians' War Over the Six-Day War: Author of a
recent book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East
(2017, Yale University Press). Surveys a number of earlier books on
the war, including works by Randolph Churchill, Donald Neff, Michael
Oren, and Tom Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That
Transformed the Middle East -- the one of those four I've read,
but far from the only thing).
Hisham Melhem: The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of
1967: I'm reminded here of Maxime Rodinson's late-1960s book,
Israel & the Arabs, which was written at a time when
many Arab countries were palpably moving toward modern, secular,
socialist societies. The 1967 war didn't in itself kill that dream,
but it tarnished it, with Egypt, Syria, and Iraq soon calcifying
into stultifying militarist (and hereditary) dictatorships, sad
parodies of the monarchies Britain left in its wake. The US Cold
War embrace of salafist-jihadism (and the ill-fated Shah in Iran)
further clouded the picture, turning Islam into the last refuge
of the downtrodden.
Jonathan Ofir: The issue isn't 'occupation,' it's Zionism:
The status of Palestinian citizens within Israel has likewise not been
regulated into equal status, as one might expect from a democratic
country when it finally offers citizenship. This community is subject
to some 50 discriminatory laws, as well as -- and this deserves special
attention -- ethnic cleansing, as we have seen recently in the case of
Umm Al-Hiran [a Bedouin village razed in 2015].
We must therefore see Israel's 'occupation' as an all-encompassing
paradigm, reaching beyond isolated localities and beyond this or that
war or conquering campaign. Occupation is simply what we DO, in a very
Philip Weiss: How 1967 changed American Jews: Weiss gives many
other telling examples, but the one I most vividly recall was that
of M.S. Arnoni (1922-1985), who edited and largely wrote a very
pointed antiwar (or at least anti-Vietnam War) publication called
A Minority of One. I found this magazine early on as I found
my own antiwar views, but after the 1967 Six-Day War Arnoni shifted
gears and from that point on wrote almost exclusively about Israel
and its valiant struggle against the exterminationist Arab powers.
I recall that even before I bailed, Bertrand Russell resigned his
honorary seat on the editorial board. At the time I was generally
sympathetic to Israel -- I hadn't read much about it, but had read
a number of things on the Holocaust, including Simon Wiesenthal's
The Murderers Among Us. Still, this struck me as a bizarre
personal change, which only many years later started to fit into
the general pattern Weiss writes about. I do recall watching all
of the UN debates on the war, and being impressed both by Israeli
ambassador Abba Eban and by whoever the Saudi ambassador was. The
event which really made me rethink my sympathy to Israel was the
1982 Lebanon War, although I didn't read Robert Fisk's 1990 book
Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon until after 2001.
Since then I've read a lot on the subject -- most recently Ilan
Pappe's Ten Myths About Israel, a very useful short primer.
Still, the single best book is probably Richard Ben Cramer's How
Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004), because it makes clear
the subtle self-deceptions that success and power breed, how the
quest for safety morphed into an addiction to war. And that ties back
around to how Arnoni (and many other American Jews) got lost in
identity and paranoia and gave up what they once understood about
peace and justice.
Philip Weiss: 'The greatest sustained exercise in utterly arbitrary
authority world has ever seen' -- Chabon on occupation: On a
recent book edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon,
Kingdom of Olives and Ash.
Charlie Zimmerman: Dispatch from 'the most ****ed up place on Earth,'
Hedron's H2 quarter: And this is what the Occupation has come down
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