Monday, October 9, 2017
Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted.
The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially
how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound
up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure
out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside
from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week
was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it,
followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed
secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up
another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and
Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories.
How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!
Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I
had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste,
especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.
Some scattered links this week:
Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.
Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth?
"My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing
to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's
taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political
heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the
heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's
probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse
than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's
diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie.
Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques.
So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with
real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with
sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work,
why can't they learn?
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership:
This in turn cites
David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth
that hardly anyone wants to admit:
Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized
world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the
civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides,
more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.
Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is
making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities,"
although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:
o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of
"common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not
be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun
violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while
millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments,
store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change
their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling
the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or
It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . .
Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading
the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are
endangering themselves and their loved ones.
Specifically on Las Vegas, note
I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has
had a change of heart on guns."
Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike
Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to
stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took
a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans,
who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the
pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks
he's making a winning point.
Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater
Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire
brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway
fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for
the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump
administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to
write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you
wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but
isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard
to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the
scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates
to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some
pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment,
not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention
Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits,
there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see
it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than
the Trickster ever managed.
David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more
than we thought.
Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive
Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump
To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well
from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation
of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate
negative impact on the typical person's life.
But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation
in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the
island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy
that could help his own political career survive.
One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration
as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico --
especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see
Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot
of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing
Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American
citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country.
Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad
The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country
yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed
companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but
it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license.
The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't
immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those
who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but
across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with
North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more
likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life,
but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't
notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually.
One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen
they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans
have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because
Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias
returns to this theme in
Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday
The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between
Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like
he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the
job of being president.
At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting
or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively
in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of
people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president
might have pulled off.
But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's
problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability
to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive
people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.
This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather
than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's
legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now
a part of the United States of America itself.
If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have
any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow
we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're
going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to
Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't
sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck
is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games,
but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad
luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and
his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse,
so it's not simply that they were unlucky.
Other pieces by Yglesias last week:
The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las
Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and
Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due
to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law,
[Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds
[of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government
for at least a year." Other pieces:
Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy:
to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve;
After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation;
Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular;
After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax