Sunday, November 5, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary party."

    • The Republican tax plan, in one chart:

      Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:

      • $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
      • $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
      • $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
    • Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage deduction.

    • Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."

    • Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."

    • Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers. Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":

      Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power, the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review. . . .

      Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time, corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the depths of the Great Recession.

    • Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up: Several things here, including:

      George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused to do it.

      Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust, Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides. Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at his golf courses. People with interests before the government can -- and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .

      There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening in America that people are getting away with. . . .

      Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals avoid.

      By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault.

      Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty, and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just like Manafort.

    • Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the rich.

    • Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

    • The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires Mueller? "Probably nothing."

  • Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread) a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly: "flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into "the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.

    Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions -- above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version of our world. . . .

    After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in 16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse, if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself as the greatest ever.

    That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger, where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:

    And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations; and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa. The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."

    Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S. military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last 16 years might have imagined they would.

    All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse, not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.

    Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while this was happening, he was distracted by A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.

  • Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world elite's hidden wealth. Also: Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with links to tax havens.

  • William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent report: Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before publication of Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall attempts to mount a counterattack in Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries." Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies -- especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?

  • Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting: what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is also dead following a brief chase." Also: Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead -- as it happened.

  • Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it, moving on to greener pastures.

  • Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also, Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook Investments.

  • Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance. Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.

  • Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got. Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:

    Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a "traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts: "The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military."

    Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged for "getting captured."

  • Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves: Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization Drive. Also by Wildman: Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.