Sunday, December 3, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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 successor is pray.

    • Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax bill

    • 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 Libya

    • 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 few years.

      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 Reform.

    • New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than advertised

    • 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 get stiffed.

    • 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:

  • 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 enough.

  • 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 influence!; also 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 American society:

  • 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.