Sunday, June 3, 2018
Impossible to put the usual amount of work into this weekly feature,
but filling out and posting something of a stub is at least a step back
toward normalcy, as well as something I can look back on for a timeline
to this miserable period in the nation's storied but increasingly sorry
history. The main problem is that I'm still waylaid by the crash of my
main working computer. I've restored local copies of my websites, but
the shift to a new computer, running newer software, has resulted in
massive breakage. I'm making slow but steady progress there, but this
website in particular is nowhere near stable enough for me to do my
usual update. So while I'm doing the usual work locally, the only files
I'm updating on the server are the blog posts.
A secondary problem is that my workspace has been disrupted, which
among other things leaves me facing a different (even more cluttered)
desk, using a different (and less comfortable) keyboard and mouse,
with less satisfactory lighting, and other minor nuisances. Among
other things, expect more typos: the keyboard touch is worse (although
this one is less prone to dropping 'c'), a subtle change in emacs
drops spaces where I expect to have to delete them (so I've caught
myself deleting first characters of words), and a spellcheck script
I wrote is gone and will have to be reinvented. Also note that where
I used to keep twenty-some news/opinion sites permanently open, I've
yet to re-establish the practice, nor have I looked up passwords to
the few sites I have such access to, so my survey this week will be
especially limited. I'm also running a browser without NoScript or
even an ad blocker, so we'll see how long I can stand that.
Got email from Facebook reminding me that today is Bill "Xcix"
Phillips' birthday. I usually don't bother with such notices, but
last year I did, only to find out that Bill had died a few months
earlier. So today's email reminds me that he's still dead, and
how dearly I miss him.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest political stories of the week, explained:
Puerto Rico got a credible estimate of Maria's death toll (approximately
4,600 excess deaths); Trump imposed tariffs on American allies; Roseanne
got canceled; Dinesh D'Souza got a pardon.
Other Yglesias posts:
Trump's legal memo to Robert Mueller is a recipe for tyranny.
Trump's wildly inappropriate (and possibly corrupt) jobs report tweet,
Walmart's too-good-to-be-true "$1 a day" college tuition plan, explained.
Raises the question of why not just raise wages? For a wonkier explanation,
Paul Krugman: Monopsony, Rigidity, and the Wage Puzzle.
Republicans are sowing the seeds of the next financial crisis.
Virginia's state Senate just voted to expand Medicare.
The shocking truth about the Hurricane Maria death toll is our Trump
nightmare made real:
The carnage in Puerto Rico is the most severe manifestation of Trump's
basic unfitness for the job he currently occupies, but it's far from
the only one. And the focus on his various antics has an unfortunate
tendency to detract from the basic reality that he doesn't put in the
time or the work to solve problems, when really that's the core of the
issue. If you put a telegenic demagogue in office, you will get some
choice moments of televised demagoguery. You won't get an adequate
response to a hurricane, and that means you will get a sky-high death
toll. The rest of us can only hope our luck holds up.
Yeah, but really, what is this "luck" Yglesias keeps talking about?
Branch Rickey famously said "luck is the residue of design." The design
applicable here is the Constitution and 230 years of law and precedent,
which have given the US President great but not dictatorial power.
Without this design, Trump would have done much more damage than he
actually has, but even with it he and his cronies are taking a toll,
the severity of which is only gradually becoming manifest.
The raging controversy over whether to call Trump's lies "lies,"
xplained: "It's not the word you use that matters -- it's whether
you extend him the benefit of the doubt."
Yet the troubling thing about media coverage of Trump isn't that the
press has failed to label lies as lies once they are proven to be lies.
It's that these kinds of statements continue to be taken at face value
when they are made, as if they were offered by a normal, reasonably
honest person. But Trump is not a reasonably honest person. He is
someone who flings around unconfirmed accusations and demonstrable
falsehoods with abandon -- and who does so, by his own admission,
for calculated strategic purposes.
Maureen Dowd: Obama -- Just Too Good for Us: Not my line or
take. One problem is that we (by which I mostly mean the liberal
punditocracy) spent so much effort into preŰmptively congratulating
ourselves on our foresight and good nature in electing Obama, we
never bothered to consider whether we shouldn't wait until he did
some things. (Case in point: the Nobel Peace Prize.) We did expect
him to do things (good things), didn't we? And when he didn't,
shouldn't we have been at least a little bit critical? Anyone can
be na´ve, but if after eight years you let the Clinton campaign
shame you for doubting anything about Obama, you've moved on to
foolishness and irrelevance. Dowd, quoting Obama adviser and new
author Ben Rhodes (The World as It Is):
The hunger for revolutionary change, the fear that some people were
being left behind in America and that no one in Washington cared,
was an animating force at the boisterous rallies for Donald Trump
and Bernie Sanders.
Yet Obama, who had surfed a boisterous wave into the Oval, ignored
the restiveness -- here and around the world. He threw his weight
behind the most status quo, elitist candidate.
"I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming,"
Rhodes writes about the "darkness" that enveloped him when he saw the
electoral map turn red. "Because when you distilled it, stripped out
the racism and misogyny, we'd run against Hillary eight years ago with
the same message Trump had used: She's part of a corrupt establishment
that can't be trusted to change."
Norman G Finkelstein: Strong as Death: "Truth is that the Israeli
army has no answer to non-violence resistance. . . . Therefore, the
army's reaction is to open fire, in order to induce the Palestinians
to start violent actions. With these the army knows how to deal."
Note that Finkelstein has two recent books:
Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza, and
Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming
to an End.
Thomas Frank: Forget Trump -- populism is the cure, not the disease.
A response to two recent books attacking "populism" as a right-wing
assault on democracy: Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy
and William A. Galston's Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to
Liberal Democracy. As a fellow Kansan, I've long sided with our
populist heritage, so I agree with Frank that anti-populism is rooted
in elitism, even when dressed up as an embrace of liberal democracy.
After all, isn't the point of democracy to bend government to the
will of the people?
Ed Pilkington: Trump's 'cruel' measures pushing US inequality to dangerous
level, UN warns: Just to be clear, the complaint isn't about the rich
getting even richer, but how Trump and his party are shredding what's left
(after Reagan and Clinton and Bush) of the "safety net," making the poor
more miserable and desperate.
Andrew Prokop: Why Trump hasn't tried to pardon his way out of the Mueller
probe -- yet.
Ganesh Sitaraman: Impeaching Trump: could a liberal fantasy become a
nightmare? Provocative title for a favorable book review of
Laurence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of
Impeachment. My view is that impeachment is a purely political
act, so unless/until you have the power to back it up there's no
point talking about it. On the other hand, if I had a vote, and
the question was put to a vote, sure, I'd vote guilty, even if the
actual charges didn't exactly align with my own position (cf. Bill
Clinton). By the way, I highly recommend Sitaraman's book, The
Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. I've since moved on
to start Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty, and have been
pleased to find the two books in general agreement.
David Smith: How Donald Trump is weaponising the courts for political
ends. Also by Smith:
Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but
a CEO. This hook would make more sense if it was widely understood
how CEOs have evolved over the last 30-40 years. Where once CEOs were
viewed as competent general managers of vast and complex enterprises,
as their rewards have expanded tenfold relative to average employees,
they've become increasingly imperious, egotistical, and desperate given
how much "skin in the game" they have (mostly short-term bonuses and
stock options). Their obsessions with busting unions and stripping
regulations are of a piece with their insatiable power grab. On the
other hand, Trump is actually worse than a modern CEO. He's an owner,
so he's never been constrained by a board or stockholders (let alone
Harry Litman uses a different metaphor in
President Trump Thinks He Is a King . . . and not one of your
boring constitutional monarchs, either; more like the kind who
could say, "L'Útat, c'est moi."
Li Zhou: Sen. Gillibrand said Bill Clinton should've resigned over
Clinton disagrees. Well, he certainly should have resigned for something,
but one thing about the Clintons is that they've always put their personal
fortunes above their party and especially above the people who support that