Thursday, July 27, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Accumulated all this in half a week, and no doubt missed lots along the way. Will catch up a bit on Sunday, but I don't see much free time between now and then, and the supply seems to be fucking endless. My fellow Americans: you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Scattered links:

  • Dean Baker: Obamacare Isn't Just Dying, Trump and Republicans Are Trying to Kill It: Title could be phrased better. Although there is much room for improvement, Obamacare is only failing where political sabotage has kept it from being fully implemented (especially Medicaid expansion). Trump's predictions of failure depend mostly on his own administration's acts.

  • Dean Baker/Arjun Jayadev/Joseph Stiglitz: Innovation, Intellectual Property, and Development: A Better Set of Approaches for the 21st Century: CEPR publication.

  • Nina Burleigh: Alex Jones and Other Conservatives Call for Civil War Against Liberals.

  • Chris Cillizza: The 29 most cringe-worthy lines from Donald Trump's hyper-political speech to the Boy Scouts.

  • Esme Cribb: Scaramucci Vows to 'Kill All the F*cking Leakers' in Profanity-Laced Rant: And to think I was feeling uncomfortable watching Colbert doing his Italian mobster voices to paraphrase the new White House Communications Director, but once again satire gets gobsmacked by reality. Targets of the profanities include Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus as well as unnamed little people. For more, see Ryan Lizza: Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Preibus, and Steve Bannon. Also: Amy Davidson Sorkin: When Anthony Scaramucci Fell in Love With Donald Trump:

    Perhaps Scaramucci admires Trump's knowledge of bankruptcy, perhaps especially moral bankruptcy, not as a degraded state but one in which some unprofitable principles can be written off and new, more marketable ones acquired. . . .

    Radical honesty doesn't seem like an option. Neither does actually useful information on the workings of the executive branch, or of Congress. When he was asked, on Friday, why he believed that the President would get "a win" on health care, he said, "The President has really good karma, O.K.? And the world turns back to him. He's genuinely a wonderful human being, and I think, as the members of Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're going to let him lead them to the right things for the American people. So, I think we're going to get the health care done."

  • Lucia Graves: John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on healthcare. He failed. I don't particularly begrudge the bipartisan standing ovation McCain received on returning to the Senate following surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. It is, after all, a famously collegial institution, and nothing counters ideological prejudices like personal contact. However, his purpose in returning was to advance a partisan scheme to deprive millions of Americans of affordable and effective health insurance while treating the richest Americans with a sizable tax break. And while McCain said that he was opposed to the act he voted to advance, he proved his bad faith both then and in a later vote (see Tara Golshan: McCain said he wouldn't vote for the Senate health care bill. 6 hours later, he did. The fact is that McCain is one of the great con artists in American political history, something the media have fallen for repeatedly. If you need a refresher, see Alex Pareene's post from February 17: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once -- since then the odds of him dying vs. doing something useful have gone up, but even then the odds of the latter were vanishingly slim. The only "useful thing" I can recall him doing was to derail Boeing's original tanker lease scam, but Boeing eventually managed to get their tankers bought -- after at least one Boeing executive went to jail. McCain's career low point was probably his sabre-rattling against Russia over South Ossetia in 2008 (while he was running for president), but the fact is that he's long been the most dangerous hawk in the Senate. As for everything else, he's just an ordinary right-wing Republican hack. David Foster Wallace missed an opportunity when he reprinted his McCain essay as a separate book instead of folding it into his previous collection, Interviews With Hideous Men.

    Also, from Charles P Pierce: The Price of John McCain's Republican Loyalty:

    It was an ugly day in the United States Senate on Tuesday, as ugly a day as has been seen in that chamber since the death of Strom Thurmond, who used to make a day ugly simply by showing up. The Senate took up the Motion To Proceed on whatever the hell hash Mitch McConnell wants to make out of the American healthcare system. . . . But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president who mocked McCain's undeniable military heroism.

    As the last line indicates, and the rest of the article elaborates, Pierce is one of many who previously succumbed to an exaggerated opinion of McCain's forthrightness or integrity or heroism -- there is plenty of reason to deny all three. Still, Pierce may be right about where this thing ends. It is, as ever, a case where an ounce of prevention (or at least forethought) could have prevented a whole world of hurt:

    The Republicans have the votes now. Dean Heller and Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito have lined up with their party once, and the likelihood is their respective prices will be met again because this is not a policy issue any more, it is pure politics now, a promise made by an extremist majority to its unthinking base. That's what the end of this ugly day looked like, a day on which the final bloody death of Barack Obama's legacy was placed on the fast track by people who know better, and on which Susan Collins of Maine was more of a maverick than John McCain ever was. It was an ugly day in the U.S. Senate, and there was nothing but ruin everywhere you looked.

    Also: Mehdi Hasan: Despite What the Press Says, "Maverick" McCain Has a Long and Distinguished Record of Horribleness. By the way, here's John McCain's Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump vote card. To be fair, he has wavered a bit since getting diagnosed with brain cancer.

  • Ryan Grim: Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like Utilities: That actually makes a fair amount of sense, although I could come up with a better scheme based on non-profit public entities which would provide the same services without imposing ads on users. My favorite quote from the article:

    In 2011, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, complained that Google had waited too long to hire an armada of lobbyists. . . . They have since caught up: In the first few months of the Trump administration, tech firms set new lobbying spending records in Washington.

    The latter probably became necessary because so many of them bet heavily on Hillary -- no need for lobbyists when you've already got the politicians in your pocket.

  • Cameron Joseph: Dem's New Slogan Is Lame, but GOP Is Giving Them a Populist Opening: Slogan is "A Better Deal," introduced by Chuck Shumer in (where else?) a New York Times Op-Ed, followed up by a press event involving Shumer and Nancy Pelosi. Unclear from this piece how the whole thing came about, but it starts to suggest some thinking along the lines of Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract" -- a hint of serious ambitions from a crew that more often seems bent on self-sabotage. I don't mind the slogan, but the actual platform could use some sharpening (see Corey Robin below), and it wouldn't hurt to come up with some more credible leadership than Shumer and Pelosi. (From a NYT letter: "Can it be a better deal, with the same familiar dealers?")

    One comment on this is Lee Drutman: The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party. He points out that it was relatively easy to find an agenda that Shumer, Pelosi, and left-favorite Elizabeth Warren could agree on, but that rank-and-file Democrats are much more divided -- he says:

    Among the Democratic rank-and-file, the more consequential divide is between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those who want entirely new leadership. It's a divide that Democratic Party leaders ignore at their peril.

    He goes on to babble nonsense about "political institutions" and the "pragmatism" of the Democratic Party establishment, but the real crux of the issue is that the Clintons and Obama, Shumer and Pelosi, cannot be trusted to deliver on their campaign promises, and indeed don't seem to be bothered by their repeated failures. On the other hand, they're quite effective at delivering favors to the interests that finance them.

  • Jamiles Lartey: 'I am livid': Donald Trump criticized for odd, disjointed speech to Boy Scouts.

  • Charlie May: Judge: Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump's voter fraud commission, has been "misleading the Court": Much notice has been paid recently to how Trump's treated Jeff Sessions, the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump. Less so about Trump's other early endorsers -- with Sessions they'd pass for the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie -- none given positions in the new administration. But among lesser figures, take Kris Kobach, KS Secretary of State and the only elected Republican to endorse Trump before state caucuses here. Kobach famously showed up on Trump's doorstep with a binder of his brilliant ideas for running the country, but all he got was co-chair with Mike Pence on Trump's Election Integrity Commission, designed to play up Kobach's most scurrilous projects. That got him sued, in a case that he's repeatedly bumbled. And while he's also intent on running for governor of Kansas in 2018, Trump's appointment of Sam Brownback as pope of the State Department means Kobach will be running against an incumbent, Jeff Colyer. As the late Molly Ivins like to say, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas" -- except with Trump it's worse, more like rats and bubonic plague (the fleas are just intermediary).

    By the way, the first clue about Trump was the nepotism. I should dig up Robert Townsend's quote on nepotism, but it's something like: if you practice nepotism, no first-rate people will ever work for you, because they'll know you're prejudiced against them, and you'll be stuck with your fucking worthless relatives.

    Also see, from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Sherrilyn Ifill: President Trump's Election Integrity Commission is illegal and unconstitutional -- that's why we filed a lawsuit.

  • Alex Pareene: It's Not Mitch McConnell's Fault That Your Ideas Are Bad and Hated: Written before McConnell engineered his vote to open Senate discussion of his secret Trumpcare bill, so his impulse to pardon McConnell may have been premature.

    Perhaps it is related to the mental block that causes them to regularly forget that the only reason a Republican is currently president is because he constantly and loudly promised not to be a conservative on issues like social insurance. Instead of confronting the implications of that victory, conservatives instead have responded like Trump's own budget director, who regularly brags that he is tricking the president into exchanging his (popular) non-conservative ideas for (unpopular) conservative ones.

    This is why it's absurd to blame Mitch McConnell. The role of the Senate is to be the place where popular things go to die -- in the popular (albeit fictional) account of our Founders' intentions, it acts as the "cooling saucer," where a good thing everyone likes (hot tea) becomes something you dump down the drain (old, room temperature tea). The rules of the Senate were perfected over many decades to turn it into a place where the will of the people is easily frustrated. It is extraordinarily difficult to get large, popular bills through the Senate. Imagine, then, how hard it must be to pass incredibly unpopular bills.

    Well, maybe not so hard, because Pareene seriously underestimates the contempt that Republican politicians have for voters they've found so easy to manipulate, and the fear they have of movement conservatives itching to primary them.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump's cynical jobs program: Dump your house, move somewhere else and work for less: "Maybe Trump supporters are glimpsing the truth: He has no plan to bring back high-paying jobs, and never did."

    The bottom line is that Trump doesn't care about American workers. His issue is with foreign competition for American companies, which isn't exactly the same thing. He said in a Republican primary debate, "We are a country that is being beaten on every front. Taxes too high, wages too high, we're not going to be able to compete against the world." His supporters had to pretend they didn't hear that: Their wages were too high.

  • Charles P Pierce: Sam Brownback Is Your New Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom: Remember The Peter Principle? It was a bestselling business book back in the 1970s that argued that people rise in organizations until they meet their level of incompetence, then they stay there. Brownback's appointment is evidence of an opposite corollary which rarely occurs in real life, but the only safety net Republicans believe in is one for their own failures, so the Trump administration sorted through all of their positions until they found the highest one where Brownback's incompetence will probably prove inconsequential. On the other hand, I suspect they've underestimated the Kansas governor, former senator, and almost instantly failed presidential aspirant. I mean, until now it's unlikely you've ever even heard that the US has an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom (the result of a 1998 law), so his acceptance has already made the US (and, let's face it, Trump) look more ridiculous. Brownback's chief qualification for this post is the fervor with which he's attempted to impose his own conservative Catholic religious beliefs on everyone else. But the cause of "religious freedom" has most often been invoked to defend bigotry and discrimination -- an interpretation that Brownback will be thrilled to adopt.

  • Corey Robin: A Party That Wants to Die but Can't Pull the Plug: "The Democratic Party is offering tax giveaways for corporations. So much for learning from its mistakes." Probably unfair to write the Democrats off for this one gaffe, but worth pointing out that it is wrong in multiple ways: it subordinates workers to business instead of giving them skills (as education would) they can use to get better jobs wherever suits them best; it sends the wrong message to business -- namely that politicians are eager to bribe them to do things they should be doing anyway; and it doesn't give workers the leverage they need to convert their training into better paying jobs (as, e.g., helping them join unions would). One problem that Democrats like Chuck Shumer have is that they're so used to sucking up to business they don't have any other ideas.

  • Marshall Steinbaum: Congressional Democrats Get Serious About Antitrust: Which would be a marked change from the Clinton and Obama administrations -- and, I agree, a necessary one:

    Antitrust must be a core component of any agenda that would address the slow economic growth, rising inequality, and wage stagnation that are our most pressing economic problems. At the root of all of these is the consolidation of corporate power. Corporate profits now account for over 15% of the economy's gross value-added, up from 5% in the early 1980s.

  • Hiroko Tabuchi: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists: Just in the last couple years it's started looking like renewable electrical sources will get the upper hand over coal and gas (and for that matter nuclear), primarily due to dramatic cost reductions in solar panels. However, utility companies don't like distributed solar, coal and gas companies don't like competition, nor do domestic producers of solar panels (the cheapest are made in Asia). A government concerned about climate change would lean against those pressures, but Trump is likely to respond favorably to such lobbying. Those who laughed when Trump promised to bring coal jobs back might reconsider.

  • Matt Taibbi: Newly Released Documents Show Government Misled Public on Fannie/Freddie Takeover.

  • Trevor Timm: If Trump wants to fire Jeff Sessions, let him -- it would be a gift to America. One of the week's more popular stories has been Trump's tweet attacks on his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation instead of doing the right thing and protecting the president and his family. Trump's too self-absorbed to care, but after Sessions lied about his own Russia meetings, recusal was literally the least he could do. Still, Timm is right: although there'd be little change in replacing most of Trump's appointees with anyone else likely to get Trump's approval, Sessions is one appointee with his own well-defined agenda, and he's working hard to leave a huge gash through all of our previous expectations of what justice in America means. Also see: Jon Swaine: Why did Donald Trump turn on attorney general Jeff Sessions?.

  • Shaun Walker: Putin: Russia will retaliate if 'insolent' US lawmakers pass sanctions bill: Of course, American politicians think there's no risk in voting against Russia (not to mention Iran and North Korea), and maybe that's true as far as their own election prospects go. But they're making the world a more dangerous place.

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