Sunday, December 3, 2017
I spent literally most of last week trying to cook for 60 at the
Wichita Peace Center Annual Dinner on Friday, and I've been sore and
tired ever since. Thought compiling this post might feel like a return
to normalcy, but nothing's normal any more.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut (as, indeed, they
did); We found our about more sexual harassers (especially Matt Lauer);
After Rexit (Rex Tillerson, rumored gone but hanging on); North Korea
launched a long-range ICBM (one that could theoretically hit anywhere
in the continental United States). Other Yglesias posts:
Republicans may regret this tax bill: This seems intuitively right.
The biggest political issue in America today is increasing inequality
and its various effects, including the binding of political power and
personal security to private wealth. Moreover, this is an issue with a
strict partisan divide: Republicans are doing everything they can to
concentrate wealth and power in the donor class, and Democrats are more
or less opposed to this and more or less in favor of a more equitable
society (at least like the ones of the New Deal/Great Society era, but
with less racism). To the extent people understand the tax bill, it is
wildly unpopular, so it's something Democrats can and will run on. It
also goes a long ways toward absolving the Democrats' own culpability
for increasing inequality: that the Republicans would, strictly through
a party-line vote, do something this brazen when inequality is already
so severe (and so unpopular) -- and Trump's deregulation program and
blatant surrender of the people's government to business interests --
should expose them for all to see. Yglesias cites
Josh Barro: The Republican tax plan creates big long-term opportunities
for Democrats. By the way, one thing Barro argues that I don't for
a moment believe is: "a corporate tax cut should tend to cause wages to
rise a little bit, because a lower corporate tax rate makes the US a
more attractive location to employ people."
We're all in Kansas now: A reference to Gov. Sam Brownback's notorious
tax cuts, the enormous fiscal damage they caused, the slower degradation
of infrastructure and services, and their near-zero boost to the economy
(possibly sub-zero compared to nationwide economic growth during the same
period). The only real difference between what Brownback passed and what
the Senate just passed is that the US government is able to float much
more debt, and thereby soften the degradation. By the way, Brownback,
anticipating confirmation as Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious
Liberty, recently gave a "farewell address," not to the public but to
the Wichita Pachyderm Club, where the only advice he could offer to his
Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax
The tax bill's original sin: The idea that the corporate tax rate
must be reduced from 35% all the way to 20%, a much steeper cut than
anyone was even agitating for a few years ago (e.g., the Business
Roundtable was proposing 25% as recently as 2015). One thing I don't
understand is why no one is pushing a progressive tax on business
profits: maybe 10% for the first $1M, 15% for $1-10M, 20% for $10-50M,
25% for $50-250M, 30% for $250M-$1B, 35% for $1-5B, 40% above $5B.
Probably those rates should be a bit higher, and various loopholes
should be filled -- I'd like to see the overall reform on corporate
tax rates produce more (not less) revenue. But something like this
would benefit most companies while only penalizing companies that
use their sheer size and/or monopoly positions to reap huge profits.
And slowing them down would be good for everyone.
Matt Lauer totally blew it on Trump's blatant lying about Iraq and
The rules of "how Congress works" have changed: Points out that
the Senate tax bill faced concerted opposition from many special
interest lobby groups ("the National Association of Realtors, the
National Association of Homebuilders, the AARP, police unions,
hospital associations and the AMA, and the higher education lobby"),
as well as polling poorly among the public, yet Republicans stuck
to their partisan ideology and passed it anyway. That's not how
interest group politics has generally worked in Washington. Yglesias
doesn't say this, but it more generally fits the model of class
warfare. He does note that the Democrats could have crafted a more
viable ACA had they not catered to special interest groups, in the
vain hope that selling out to lobbyists would rally Republican
support for a bipartisan bill.
Had Democrats gone down a different path and pushed a bill with a
strong public option with payment rates linked to Medicare, we would
have seen a very different health policy trajectory over the past
Premiums would have been lower, which would have meant federal
subsidy outlays would have been lower, which would have made it
affordable for Congress to make the subsidies more generous.
Enrollment in ACA exchanges would have been higher; there would
have been no issue with "bare counties"; and, because of lower
premiums, the "just pay the fine" option would have been less
attractive, leading to more stable risk pools.
A deficit trigger can't fix the GOP tax plan
Crisis at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also on this, see
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Consumer Victory Officially Makes a Joke of Financial
New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than
The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed
Bush economy: "An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need."
A lot of meat here, but one could dig deeper. Foreign money will drive
up asset prices, which will be a windfall for business owners, but once
they sell out those businesses will no longer be rooted in the owners'
communities. Foreign ownership of American companies has been a mixed
blessing: some have gone easier on depressing labor costs, but most
wind up operating as American companies do -- as, indeed, whatever
they can get away with here -- and they're ultimately as likely to
export or automate jobs away as any other capitalists. As Yglesias
notes, much of the influx will eventually be converted into bidding
up real estate prices (he calls this "housing boom 2.0" but I'm more
skeptical that the subprime boom is repeatable, and unless average
Americans start making more money -- inconceivable under Republican
rule -- we're all stuck in the subprime market). His other point is
that the expected influx will strengthen the dollar, hurting exports
and manufacturing jobs, so while the rich get richer, the workers
If the GOP tax plan is so good, why do they lie so much about it?
Partly, I suspect, it's just force of habit, but they really don't
have anything potentially popular to offer -- they're just scamming
for the donor class, and they'll make the suckers pay for it.
New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist:
With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed
a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders' primary goal is to
enrich the country's elite at the expense of everybody else, including
future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of
this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes
it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar
bill into law in the coming days.
The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal
deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and
middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare,
Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for
the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million
people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes
a big change to the Affordable Care Act.
Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax
cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs,
saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.
Other links on the tax bill:
Steven Greenhouse: America is in crisis. The Republican tax plan will
make that worse.
Ezra Klein: "The hypocrisy is astounding": this tax bill shows the GOP's
debt concerns were pure fraud: Didn't we already know that from the
Bush years (Cheney: "deficits don't matter")? Or for that matter from
the Reagan tax cuts, when US debt exploded faster than any time since
WWII? Wasn't it clear that when McConnell railed about the debt and
tried to cut spending programs that would help rebuild the economy
that his real motive was to "make Obama a one-term president"? Klein
isn't satisfied to call this hypocrisy; he chalks it up to nihilism,
The nihilism extends to process too. Republicans complained bitterly
during the Obama administration that Democrats weren't holding enough
hearings, that they weren't leaving sufficient time to read final bill
text, that they were passing important legislation on party-line votes,
that they were using the budget reconciliation process improperly. Now
they are passing sweeping tax reform through the budget reconciliation
process with no hearings, no effort at bipartisan compromise, and bill
text that was not made public until hours before the final vote. In a
darkly comic twist, changes were handwritten into the legislation in
the final hours:
Sarah Kliff: The tax bill is the start of Obamacare collapse: It
repeals the "individual mandate," which requires individuals to buy
some form of acceptably adequate health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The mandate helps to make risk pools more equitably representative of
the general population, but it also reduce the uninsured population,
some of which wind up being treated at the expense of everyone else.
Without the mandate, insurance policy rates will rise to cover the
increased risk of adverse selection, and hospital charges will rise
to cover emergency treatment of the uninsured (some 41 million people
by current estimates).
Robert S McElvaine: I'm a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight
out of 1929.
Ella Nilsen: "Lots of outrageous things in the bill aren't getting the kind
of attention they ought to"
Dylan Scott/Alvin Chang: The Republican tax bill will exacerbate income
inequality in America: Of course, you know this, but here are more
charts. Most striking, perhaps because least commonly understood, are
the figures for "pass-through income" -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI, or do
I mean Koch?) withheld his vote until the bill cut this even more. The
chart that shows how 69% of all "pass-through income" goes to the top
1% explains why. The main thing that's missing here is the effect of
ending the estate tax on the concentration of wealth into an aristocracy
of heirs. One can also note that the political right has largely been
funded not by entrepreneurs but by heirs -- Richard Mellon Scaife is
a prime example, although you can also count the Kochs and Trump.
Emily Stewart: GOP Senator says it's hard to fund $14 billion children's
health care program -- then advocates for $1 trillion tax cut: after
which it will be even harder, no doubt. Republicans can always think of
excuses for not doing what they don't want to do; even more so, they can
always come up with idiotic rationales to do what they always want to do,
which is mostly to make rich people even richer.
Matt Taibbi: New Tax Plan Contains Even More Bad News for Student
Gordon G Chang: Is Donald Trump Getting Ready to Attack North Korea?
One theory floated here is that the US could disable North Korea by
bombing the pipeline that delivers oil from China and/or their one oil
refinery. Or, better still, the US could intimidate China into shutting
down the pipeline. I don't see how North Korea's leadership does not
take the former as an opening salvo in a war, one that forces them to
retaliate. As for China, they probably understand that keeping their
oil lifeline open is necessary to keeping the peace. And there are real
limits to how much the US can push China around without hurting American
investments in China (or much worse). At some point Trump's people need
to decide whether North Korea having a deterrent against an American
attack that no one in the US military wants to launch is really such
a big problem. At present it mostly seems to be an affront to the egos
of those who still believe the neocon sole-superpower promise of world
domination. Sadly, most of the writers in this "War in Asia?" issue of
The National Interest seem to buy into such delusions.
Thomas B Edsall: The Self-Destruction of American Democracy: After
raising the question of whether Putin backed Trump out of pure malice
for the American people, and quoting Henry Aaron (Brookings senior
fellow, presumably not the Hall of Famer) that "Trump is a political
weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy -- for its norms,
for its morality, for sheer human decency," he has to admit that "we
Americans created this mess." Then he starts worrying about America's
declining influence and esteem in the world, offering a chart showing
only two (of 37) other countries with higher approval numbers for Trump
than for Obama: Israel (up to 56 from 49) and Russia (way up to 53 from
11). I think the biggest drop was in Sweden (93 to 10), followed by
Germany (86 to 11), Netherlands (92 to 17, South Korea (88 to 17),
and France (84 to 14). Britain and Canada dropped down to 23, from
79 and 83 respectively. Still, loss of approval hasn't yet done much
damage to the empire (although Egypt's decision to allow Russian air
bases is perhaps a harbinger). But this is more to the point:
Add to Trump's list of lies his race baiting, his attacks on a free
press, his charges of "fake news," his efforts to instigate new levels
of voter suppression, his undermining of the legitimacy of the electoral
process, his disregard for the independence of the judiciary, the hypocrisy
of his personal posture on sexual harassment, the patent lack of concern
for delivering results to voters who supported him, his contempt for and
manipulation of his own loyalists, his "failure of character" -- and you
have a lethal corruption of democratic leadership. . . .
At the moment, Trump's co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans,
have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays
in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage
on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt
to confront him.
Edsall's error is that he doesn't recognize that those Congressional
Republicans are every bit as contemptuous of democracy as Trump. Indeed,
he gives Trump too much credit, and Charles Koch and Paul Ryan not nearly
Jill Filipovic: The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election: I'm not so
sure about the headline, but is there something more than coincidence
going on here?
Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment
were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary
Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump in an official "commander-in-chief forum" for NBC. He notoriously
peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending
questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr.
Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark
Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse
on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing
over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a
tone similar to Mr. Lauer's with Mrs. Clinton -- talking down to her,
interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a
harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt,
while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush,
currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment
allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday
and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.
A pervasive theme of all of these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton was
that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations
suggest that perhaps the problem wasn't that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful
or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold
deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent
sex-object status. . . .
It's hard to look at these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see
glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in
a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the
women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of
it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue
to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best,
deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That's exactly how some
commentary and news coverage treated Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, it's possible that an individual's hostility to Hillary
has more to do with her being a Clinton than a woman. There's no doubt
that many in the media treated her unfairly. Still, I'm more struck by
how gingerly they treated dozens of more damning scandals, especially
Trump's own sexual abuse history. Filipovic also wrote:
Matt Lauer is gone. He's left heartbreak in his wake.
Susan Hennessey et al: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.
One recalls that from early on Flynn was offering testimony for immunity.
One thing the guilty plea suggests is he does indeed have something to
further Mueller's investigation as it closes in on Trump's inner circle.
Also note that while investigations into foreign interference in American
elections has always focused on Russia, the incident Flynn pleaded guilty
to involved lobbying Russia for Israel: see
Philip Weiss: Flynn's plea on Russia influence reveals . . . Israel's
Richard Silverstein: Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying About Trump Sabotage
of Security Council Resolution Against Israeli Settlements. Trump's
reaction, of course, was to turn up the crazy:
Dana Milbank: Get ready for Trump's fireworks:
I tried to ignore the Trump shenanigans this week, instead writing about
the drug industry executive Trump tapped to oversee drug pricing and about
the administration lawyer who orchestrated Trump's takeover of the CFPB
after serving as lawyer for a payday lender cited by the CFPB for abuses.
But such pieces generate only a fraction of the clicks of pieces I and
others write about Trump's pyrotechnics.
Those pyrotechnics are going to increase now that Mueller has turned
Flynn. Trump's distractions will be impossible to ignore. But we --
lawmakers, the media and the public -- need to keep our focus on the
real damage Trump is doing.
Shira A Scheindlin: Trump's new team of judges will radically change
Paul Woodward: Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case?
Steinle was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant, Garcia
Zarate, who was acquitted of murder charges last week. Zarate had
been deported five times, which "made him a very effective villain
for Trump's border security campaign messages." The shooting was
clearly an accident, and it's pretty unlikely the case would ever
have been prosecuted had Zarate been a card-carrying NRA member.
But Trump (aka "the xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval
Office") went ballistic over the verdict.