Sunday, March 11, 2018
Didn't mean to write much this weekend. Just figured I'd go through
the motions, starting with the usual Yglesias links, to have something
for future reference, and to check how the update mechanism works on
the transplanted website. Guess I got a little carried away.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week: Trump
slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum; Gary Cohn says he's quitting:
the top White House economic adviser, formerly of Goldman Sachs; Trump
will (maybe) do a summit with Kim Jong Un; Red-state teachers are getting
angry: in West Virginia, most obviously, with Oklahoma and Arizona in
the wings. Other Yglesias pieces:
Globalists, explained: Evidently, some people view "globalist" as
an anti-semitic term. Today's example: Trump describing the departing
Gary Cohn as a "globalist." An older term is "cosmopolitan," although
I've found the German more interesting: "weltbürgerlich" -- citizen of
the world. Such allusions seem to be endemic with the alt-right, even
more so with Trump, but I'm not sure that it's useful at all to dwell
on them. Nearly everything that Trump and his ilk say that can be read
as anti-semitic is also wrong for other reasons, and people miss that
when they get hung up on anti-semitic stereotypes. One word that doesn't
appear here is "neoliberal," which is actually a better description of
Cohn -- including Cohn's differences from the Trumpian nationalists --
but doesn't seem to be part of their vocabulary.
The real danger to the US economy in Trump's trade policy: "It's not
the tariffs; it's what happens next.".
The DCCC should chill out and do less to try to pick Democrats' nominees:
"There's very little evidence that "electable" moderates do better."
Trump's trade demand to China is pathetically small: "The US-China trade
deficit rose $28 billion last year. Trump is asking for a $1 billion cut."
Actually, that understates the plan, as The actual trade deficit is $375.2
billion -- "a drop in the bucket." Moreover, the plan is just an ask: "Trump
is asking the Chinese to find a way to cut it by less than 0.27 percent but
acting like he's a tough guy."
Cory Booker's new Workers Dividend Act, explained: "A Bloomberg analysis
shows that of America's $54 billion corporate tax windfall, so far $21.1
billion has been kicked to shareholders in the form of 'buybacks,' almost
twice as much as has gone to employees in higher compensation and far more
than has been spent on capital investments or research and development."
Booker's bill seeks to rebalance that by giving people who work for companies
that do stock buybacks a piece of the profit. That's nice for them, but
doesn't help anyone else. It is, at best, a tiny step toward equality,
piggybacked on a larger step in the opposite direction.
The 17 Democrats selling out on bank regulation is worse than it looks.
I don't see a list or a vote total, so I'm not sure just who he's blaming,
but the bill in question is the Republicans' gift to the industry that sunk
the economy in 2008, a more/less significant rollback of the relatively
feeble reform package known as Dodd-Frank. For more on the bill, see:
Emily Stewart: The bank deregulation bill in the Senate, explained;
Ross Barkan: The rich and the right want to dynamite Dodd-Frank -- and
Democrats are helping them do it:
It's worth considering when bipartisanship can still exist in this deeply
polarizing moment. It cannot live where there is a growing national
consensus, as over the severity of climate change or the scourge of
It cannot live in any kind of economic matter that benefits the
working class or the poor, even after Donald Trump managed to shred
rightwing economic orthodoxies on his way to the presidency -- never
mind that he's governing like a Koch brothers pawn.
Democrats and Republicans can only come together to feather the
nests of the rich and powerful. Weakening Dodd-Frank confirms the
worst suspicions of any cynical voter -- that the political class
really is colluding to screw them over.
Trump's tariffs are a scary look at what happens when he actually tries to
govern: Good point, but I certainly wouldn't go this far:
The Trump era has, so far, gone better than anyone had any right to expect.
It's true that as problems arise -- flu, drug overdoses, Hurricane Maria,
school shootings -- Trump invariably fails to rise to the occasion. And,
from time to time, he for no good reason opts to pour salt in America's
racial wounds. His immigration policies are making us poorer and meaner,
while his health care and tax policies make our economy more unequal.
But on a day-to-day basis, life goes on.
Despite the frightening concentration of incompetence in the West Wing,
many critical posts -- most of all at the Departments of Defense and
Treasury and the Federal Reserve -- appear to be in the hands of basically
capable people. Trump's habit of relentlessly deferring to GOP congressional
leadership on policy issues is disappointing if you were a true believer in
Trumpism, but sort of vaguely reassuring if you found the idea of installing
a narcissistic rage-holic in the Oval Office alarming.
I'd submit that there's a lot more on the negative side of the ledger,
and little if anything on the positive. I'll also stipulate that most folks
won't understand the negative side until it comes crashing down on them
like a ton of bricks, but the number of people who this has happened to
already is non-trivial (especially immigrants of various degrees, and most
people in Puerto Rico). Policies by their very nature have slow triggers,
but that doesn't mean that today's decisions won't catch up with us sooner
or later. And while it's true that some of Trump's administrators don't
seem to be competent enough to destroy departments they loathe -- Rich
Perry, Ben Carson, Betsy De Vos -- others are more than capable -- Ryan
Zinke at Interior, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
That Mattis and Mnuchin lack the same streak of nihilism has more to do
with the usefulness of their departments to rich donors than relative
James K Galbraith: Trump's steel tariffs are mere political theater:
Points out something I haven't seen noted elsewhere: similar tariffs
have been implemented twice before, first under Reagan and again by
GW Bush. Neither had any real effect, least of all on rebuilding the
American steel industry. Nor did they generate much controversy, as
they were mere "political theater" by politicians who were otherwise
reliable neoliberals. If Trump's generating more controversy, that's
probably because he's ideologically less trustworthy -- not that he
actually understands or believes in anything.
Jeff Goodell: Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration: "Extreme
weather due to climate change displaced more than a million people
from their homes last year. It could soon reshape the nation." Key
takeaway here: it's already happening, and it's measurable.
Jane Mayer: Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier.
Long piece, dovetails with and expands upon what I know about the
various Russia scandals.
Heather Digby Parton: Running for the White House Exits: Who Would
Want to Work for President Trump Anyway?
Matt Shuman: At Political Rally, Trump Repeats Call to Give Drug Dealers
the Death Penalty: Disturbing on many levels, partly because his ego
seems to require the periodic stoking, partly because he clearly figures
that what would appeal most to his base is public blood-letting. Curious,
too, that he actually cites China as his authority on how effective the
death penalty is at stopping drug traffic. (Of course, he could just as
well have cited the Philippines' Duterte, who like trump believes "act
first, due process later.")
Matt Taibbi: Trump Is a Dangerous Idiot. So Why Are We Pushing Him Toward
War? Provides many examples of people with serious foreign policy
credentials (i.e., a track record of having been wrong many times in the
past) doing just that: two that especially stick in my crawl are David
Ignatius and Kenneth Pollack ("of the American Enterprise Institute").
Meanwhile, in the States, the only thing about Donald Trump that any sane
person ever had to be grateful for was that he entered the White House
claiming to be isolationist and war-averse. That soon proved to be a lie
like almost everything else about his campaign, but Jesus, do we have to
help this clown down the road toward General Trump fantasies?
We have the dumbest, least competent White House in history. Whatever
else anyone in America has as a goal for Trump's remaining time in office,
the single most important priority must to be keeping this guy away from
the nuclear button. Almost anything else would be survivable.
Which is why it makes no sense to be taunting Trump and basically
calling him a wuss for negotiating with Kim Jong Un or being insufficiently
aggressive in Syria.
To get a glimpse of what passes for thinking in Pollack's brain,
take a look at his
Learning From Israel's Political Assassination Program, a review
of Ronen Bergman's huge (753 pp.) book, Rise and Kill First: The
Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Israel has
undertaken such "targeted killings" throughout its history, but the
rate (and indifference to "collateral damage") increased dramatically
after 2001. The US has followed suit:
There have been many who have objected, claiming that the killings
inspire more attacks on the United States, complicate our diplomacy
and undermine our moral authority in the world. Yet the targeted
killings drone on with no end in sight. Just counting the campaigns
in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Bush administration conducted
at least 47 targeted killings by drones, while under the Obama
administration that number rose to 542.
America's difficult relationship with targeted killing and the
dilemmas we may face in the future are beautifully illuminated by
the longer story of Israel's experiences with assassination in its
own endless war against terrorism. Israel has always been just a
bit farther down this slippery slope than the United States. If
we're willing, we can learn where the bumps are along the way by
watching the Israelis careening ahead of us.
Pollack admits that "targeted killings" are a mere tactic in the
larger effort to suppress terrorism, and that there's no reason to
think they're particularly effective. He goes on to blather a lot
about COIN theory, without recognizing that Israel has never been
in the least interested in "winning hearts and minds." Israel's
sole goal, at least since Independence and arguably a good deal
earlier, has been to establish an ethnocracy and maintain it by
overwhelming force. They understand that they cannot convince
Palestinians to agree to a debased and subservient status, but
they persist in believing that they can maintain their two-tier
society by imposing domination and terror.
Pollack does fault Israel for being unwilling to accept the
"land-for-peace" option to actually resolve the conflict, but
he fails to understand why. For "land-for-peace" to work, two
things have to happen: the reason Israel might be willing to
give up land is to rid itself of Palestinians, thus ensuring a
stronger Jewish majority; having secured demographic dominance,
Israel could then afford to offer its remaining Palestinians
equal rights, ending the conflict. It is this latter point,
equality, that Israelis cannot abide. They would rather endure
perpetual conflict than to give up their superiority.
I doubt Bergman's book reveals much "secret history." Israel
has been bragging about their assassination program for many
years, and now that the US is wrapped up in its own murderous
program, they must feel little public relations risk. On the
other hand, the US does at least go through the motions of
presenting itself as "a beacon of freedom and justice" -- a
stance which is instantly discredited by its murder program
(not that many people outside America still believed it).
For a better review of Rise and Kill First, see:
"Rise and Kill First" Explores the Corrupting Effects of Israel's
Taibbi also wrote
The New Blacklist: "Russiagate may have been aimed at Trump to start,
but it's become a way of targeting all dissent." He notes the existence
of an outfit named Hamilton 68, which tracks everything that seems to be
approved by Russia's propagandists (especially through their bots), on
the theory that whatever Russia promotes should be opposed. "In fact,
unless you're a Hillary Clinton Democrat, you've probably been portrayed
as having somehow been in on it, at one time or another."
Peter Van Buren: What critics of North Korea summit get wrong: Well,
first he disposes of the idea that simply meeting confers legitimacy on
North Korea. He also makes a plausible case for starting the diplomatic
process with a photo-op of the leaders in general agreement. He doesn't
delve into the fact that the shakier of the leaders is Trump, both due
to his massive ignorance and his relatively weak grasp on America's
military and security establishments -- the clearest evidence there
is how cheerfully he concedes policy direction to the generals (e.g.,
Alex Ward: The past 24 hours in Trump scandals, explained: Seems less
like a headline than a feature column that could be rewritten each day.
This particular one came out on Thursday, March 8, and covers Trump being
sued by porn star Stormy Daniels, and Erik Prince lying about meeting
Russians in the Seychelles to discuss setting up a back channel between
Trump and Putin, and Trump attempting to influence people Mueller has
interviewed in the Russia probe. Tomorrow, and next week, and next month,
you'll get a slightly different list of scandals, but as long as the media
limits them to things Trump actually knows and does, they'll most likely
stay at this trivial level. The real scandals go much deeper, but unless
Trump tweets about them, how will White House reporters know?