Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of jambalaya) and doing some tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).

Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised. One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated, while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will become.

Scattered links:

  • Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the bubble he gets his information from.

  • Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion, and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The real alternative is free software, which has been very successful even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement even when the latter developed innovations completely independently. Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents -- they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential competition (including from free software).

  • Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country." In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54% in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in 2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to show how little they understood the modern world and how everything worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses: the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.

  • Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill: Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces: House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War; Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's going exactly as planned.

    As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years -- a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created "the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity" commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an administration already overflowing with them.

  • Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.

  • Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal

  • Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:

    During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan: "The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and supported Trump. . . .

    Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist" politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him, hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been entirely confirmed.

  • Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was disastrous.

  • Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels darker than the one I knew

  • Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand to make most of the money in the deal.

  • Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't adequately insure the people who buy them.

  • Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:

    In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of politics: a new right to replace an old one.

    Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .

    The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of drastic change that conservatives opposed.

    Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different, but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the "alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.

  • Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate" Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:

    Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher than the national average.

    Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary designation: Alaska. . . .

    Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it worked.

  • Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically, Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to revenue neutrality."

  • Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again: Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.

  • Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:

    The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.

    The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his losses making post-presidential speeches.

  • Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in greater depth: The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost coverage; I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral tax reform.

  • Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from Trump's," which argues:

    Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors hovering around the White House, which is identical to President Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel guests filling his personal coffers.

    Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to have a hard time separating herself and her administration from the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia. As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do -- even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million Americans their health insurance, while making health care more expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans are working on more of those.

    The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit: a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House) would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.

    Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.