Sunday, July 9, 2017

Week Links

Not much to show this week. One problem is that I'm still cramped in terms of what I can search out. Another is that I wasted most of Sunday on a plumbing task instead of putting the time in here. And I must admit that said plumbing task -- installing a new kitchen faucet -- left me embarrassed and exhausted: I figured it might take an hour, but it chewed up more like six (pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong -- from the shutoff valves not working to the supply hoses not being long enough to the drain plumbing not fitting back together again properly) and it involved physical contortions that I'm going to be feeling for at least a week. Moreover, I'm not even sure I like the fancy "touchless" feature, so it's beginning to look like a bad shopping decision -- which may be even more embarrassing.

Normally I feel good upon completing a house project (and, indeed, everything seems to be working properly here, except my shoulders and hips). So maybe more general depression is taking its toll. No doubt many of the links below contributed, although there is an evident shift from stories about the horrors Trump and the Republicans are scheming to thoughts about how best to resist them, and how to build an effective, comprehensible alternate vision.

  • Candice Bernd: How the Koch-Backed Effort to Privatize the Veterans Health Administration Jeopardizes Everyone's Health Care Future

  • Brian Beutler: Bernie Sanders and the Progressive Left's Selfless Defense of Obamacare:

    It is easy enough to divide liberals between those who think Obamacare was an unlovely half-measure that nevertheless improved on the pre-Obamacare status quo and those who think it was a remarkable achievement on its own (though there is considerable overlap between these two factions). It is nearly impossible to find liberals or leftists of any influence who would sit out the fight over Trumpcare, or join the fight to repeal Obamacare, in order to make things worse in the short term (more than 20 million Americans would lose health insurance) for the better in the long run (single payer). In other words, the left isn't making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    The same cannot be said of conservatives, who define themselves largely by the things they oppose. It is not a coincidence that Republicans failed to develop and build support for an Obamacare alternative over all the years they railed against it. . . . Once again, the left is prioritizing the public interest over expediting its defining ideological priorities, and once again the right is doing just the opposite.

    As the Ryan and McConnell bills have shown, Republicans cannot define a replacement for Obamacare without (a) pointing out many of the concrete achievements of the ACA, and (b) showing people how much they have to lose by repeal/replace.

  • Jamelle Bouie: The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump's Warsaw speech; also on the same speech: Walter Shapiro: Donald Trump's warning about 'western civilisation' evokes holy war.

  • Elizabeth Douglass: Towns sell their public water systems -- and come to regret it.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Aiding and Abetting the Tweeter-in-Chief. TomDispatch also published Danny Sjursen: Fighting the War You Know (Even if It Won't Work), about Trump's "support" for his generals in Afghanistan.

  • Henry Farrell: Trump's plan to work with Putin on cybersecurity makes no sense. Here's why.

  • Henry Grabar: St Louis Gave Workers a Wage Hike. Missouri Republicans Are Taking It Away:

    Republican-run states forcing Democrat-run cities to not raise the minimum wage is a story we've seen before, of course. Alabama thwarted Birmingham's efforts in February of last year; Ohio stopped Cleveland in December. More than a dozen other states have passed pre-emptive pre-emptions, abolishing municipal wage laws before any cities or counties consider them. GOP politicians usually say minimum wage ordinances won't actually help workers, but they also defend the pre-emptions in principle, because they preserve a "uniform regulatory environment."

  • Dilip Hiro: Trump and Saudi Arabia Against the World.

  • Christopher Ketcham: The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth:

    The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn't appear to bother us. We hear the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion, in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street, in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct.

    One reason American politicians of both parties stress growth so much is that it's the magic elixir that turns pro-business policies into something we can pretend is good for everyone (you know, "trickle down" and all that). Without growth, the only way anyone can improve their lot is at the expense of someone else. But haven't we already been running this experiment for the last forty years, since growth rates in the former "first world" dropped in the 1970s, triggering a feeding frenzy among the rich as they sought to hold their profits up at the expense of workers and customers?

  • Mike Konczal: What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach Democrats: Quotes Kevin Phillips describing the Democrats as "history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party." Lots of folks expected the stock market to do better under Hillary Clinton, but it's actually boomed under Trump, fattening up with the promise of deregulation boosting profits and tax cuts keeping them safe from the government. Turns out that being "second-most" doesn't get you much support from the capitalists even if historically you've run much stronger growth, and defining yourself as a "responsible steward" of the economy doesn't satisfy anyone.

    This approach hit two serious walls in 2016. The first was that people weren't happy with the economy. Nearly three-fourths of people said the country was on the wrong track, with similar numbers describing the economy as rigged. Median household incomes in 2016 had finally inched back to 2007 levels. This lead to a year of awkward juxtapositions, with "America is Already Great" headlines running next to reports on how much life expectancy is falling for white workers. Democrats attacked Trump as a poor steward, someone too unstable and chaotic to run the economy as it was. But that message doesn't motivate voters when they believe the economy isn't working for them.

  • Shawn Richman: How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power: Book review of the essay collection, Against Labor: How US Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism.

  • Joseph Stiglitz: Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good for America; also: Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state.

  • Matt Taibbi: North Korea Isn't the Only Rogue Nuclear State.

  • Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st Century:

    Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West -- not necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in a way that helps consolidate the insiders' position. The result is a situation in which the political establishment's once unassailable authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born. The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the product of this gap.

    For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets, in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.

    One example . . . was building a system of world trade and credit that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as "riskless."

    I don't really understand how Varoufakis' notion of a new New Deal works. Rather, it looks to me like the outsiders he notes, from Trump to Macron, offer no alternative whatsoever to neoliberal orthodoxy. Meanwhile, when a real challenger, like Varoufakis' party in Greece, does manage to win an election they still get beat down.

  • George Yancy/Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union: An interview with Chomsky, part of "The Stone" series.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: Trump went to the G20; North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically reach Alaska; CNN and Trump continued their feud; Ted Cruz floated an idea to resurrect Obamacare repeal; the top federal ethics official resigned. Also: Bernie Sanders is the Democrats' real 2020 frontrunner.

One thing I meant to touch on was the term "neoliberalism": my wife got worked up over something Josh Marshall said about that, but as far as I can tell it was only a tweet. I did find this piece from [2016-04-27]: Corey Robin: When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton. One thing I learned here was that Charles Peters re-invented the term in the 1970s to describe a faction of pro-business, anti-union, anti-communist, but socially liberal Democrats, which would parallel the evolution of neo-conservatism (pretty much the same cocktail with more emphasis on projecting American military might, and fewer scruples about the company they kept). I had read Peters' Washington Monthly in its infancy and had always admired Peters, so I was a bit taken aback (although I will note that Peters' preference for employee ownership of business over unions is one I share, just not one I espouse in anti-union terms). My own acquaintance with the term "neoliberal" dates from the 1990s, when I associated it with what was then called "the Washington consensus" -- the chief dogma of the IMF and World Bank. As such, it appeared to be defined in terms of US foreign policy: it was basically the carrot as opposed to the neocon stick, although neoconservatives would often adopt it whenever they wanted to present a prettier face (and actually in the IMF's austerity conditions, the veiled threat was often quite palpable).

Until recently, about the only place I ran across "neoliberal" was from left-oriented British critics. I don't have time to try to unpack this here, but outside of the US it's common to regard conservatives as relics and guardians of aristocratic privilege, liberals as individualists who advanced through bourgeois revolts, and the left as more-or-less democratic socialists who tend to favor limiting individual freedom when it conflicts with public good. What distinguishes neoliberals from liberals is that their focus has shifted from the rights of individuals to the demands of capital.

In the US, we've tended to merge our ideas of individual rights and public good, a point reinforced by a history where virtually everything we cherish (as opposed to various things like slavery and ethnic cleansing that fill us with shame) comes from this liberal-left synthesis. On the other hand, there is a small but well-heeled and politically influential faction among Democrats that repeatedly sacrifices the public good for the desires of capital, and "neoliberal" would seem to distinguish them both from people-oriented liberals and from the public-minded left. Certainly not a very elegant term, but until we come up with something better it serves that purpose. Not clear to me whether "neoliberal" as I'm using it here dates back to Charles Peters, but certainly Bill Clinton is an example, as is Andrew Cuomo, and indeed the idea is tempting to any Democrat who depends on high-ticket fundraisers.