Thursday, August 3, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no one."

  • Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.

  • Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed narcissism: not that you expected anything else.

  • Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired: Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

    Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC. McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey, Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.

    Also see Josh Marshall on The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.

  • Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.

  • Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering, and When Did They Know It?

  • Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered to it from Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try" bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and drug companies commit fraud.

  • Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.

  • Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea: "Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated, unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea. If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal, but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus vivendi with North Korea.

  • Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people are worried; also Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext, on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before (if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump (also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk sticks to Trump.

  • Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats, albeit also multi-millionaires.

  • Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.

  • Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union crusade in decades:

    Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in 42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France, Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions, decent healthcare and a secure retirement.

    Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage in a destructive race to the bottom.

    Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than $9.5m in total compensation.

    Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations' decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than 7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits, the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that around.

    I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.

    I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also: John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from drifting far to the right.

  • Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House: "The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump White House."

    Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not. But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter of time.

  • Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service members targeted by Pentagon.

  • Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a Trump "senior adviser."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement, explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists. However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just because competition is good. You should also consider how industry consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.

    Yglesias also wrote Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:

    Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background appealing.

    Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures that went bankrupt.

    But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels & Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.

    TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought $100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005," according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2 million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.

    From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out $25 million to settle fraud claims.

    Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's "make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.

Let me also note this trip down memory lane: Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis. I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington U.