Sunday, September 2, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Had a lazy, bewildering week, where I didn't get any work done on the server/websites, so I wound up with nothing better to do on Sunday than gather up another Weekend Roundup.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Julia Azari: Is Trump's Legitimacy at Risk? I generally don't care to get into these polling things, but while I've been feeling more pessimistic the last couple weeks about the public's ability to see through Trump's relentless torrent of scandal and outrage, it turns out that his approve/disapprove ratings have actually taken a sudden plunge: down to 40.3% approve, 54.5% disapprove. Similarly, the generic Congress split now favors the Democrats 48.8% to 39.4%. I don't have any real explanation for this. Maybe the attempts to use McCain's death to shame Trump are paying off? Maybe, with the first convictions of Manafort and Cohen's guilty plea, the Russia probe is finally drawing blood. I've long felt that there's a fair slice of the electorate that simply wishes public embarrassments to go away. In fact, I think most of those voters turned on Hillary Clinton, not so much because they thought she was guilty of anything as because they knew that if she was elected president, we'd wind up enduring years of feverishly hyped pseudo-scandal charges. It could also be how poorly Trump and his flacks are handling all the charges: they are acting pretty guilty of something, especially in their appeals to shut the investigation down. It's also possible that their inability to make progress with North Korea is costing them.

    For a quick reminder of what stinks in the Trump administration, see: Matthew Yglesias: Here's House Republicans' list of all the Trump scandals they're covering up.

  • Natasha Bertrand: Trump's Top Targets in the Russia Probe Are Experts in Organized Crime. Also by Bertrand: New York Prosecutors May Pose a Bigger Threat to Trump Than Mueller. Also notable: David A Graham: Why Trump Can't Understand the Cases Against Manafort and Cohen: "The president is used to operating in a business milieu where white-color crime is common and seldom prosecuted aggressively."

  • Jason Ditz: US Strategy in Syria: 'Create Quagmires Until We Get What We Want': Quotes a Trump official as saying, "right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want." This reminds me of something I've occasionally wondered about over the years: Could the US have negotiated an end to the Vietnam War where power was ceded over to the DRV but with amnesty so that no one who had sided with the US during the war would be jailed or discriminated against once power changes hands? Such an agreement could include an exile option, such that if the DRV really wanted to get rid of someone, or if someone really couldn't abide living on in the DRV, that person could go elsewhere. One might also have hoped to negotiate further rights guarantees, but amnesty with the exile option covers the worst-case scenarios without making much of an imposition on DRV sovereignty. As far as I know, the US never even broached this possibility. And it's possible the DRV wouldn't have agreed, or would have reneged after US forces left, but still it would have shown that the US felt some responsibility to the people it recruited to fight what ultimately proved to be a very selfish and egotistical war.

    One can ask the same thing about Syria, or Afghanistan for that matter. At this point, it looks like Assad will prevail, at least in reoccupying the last major holdout region, in Idlib. After that, it's not clear: Syria has been wrecked, millions have been driven into refugee camps and/or abroad, the economy has cratered, a lot of people have offended the regime, and the regime has long tended to harshly punish any sign of dissidence. Meanwhile, some level of guerrilla activity is likely to continue, especially if the foreign powers that have repeatedly funneled arms and fighters into Syria don't put a stop to it. This would, in short, seem to be a situation that sorely needs a negotiated end. And taking the restoration of the Assad regime as a given, the only other real consideration is the welfare of the Syrian people. Yet, here we have Trump's flack saying we don't want to soften the landing in any way: we want to keep forcing Syria and Russia into untenable situations ("quagmires") because we have blind faith that eventually Assad will collapse and we'll get out way. One obvious rejoinder here is that Libya's regime did collapse, and the US got nothing worthwhile out of the resulting chaos. Nor has Yemen panned out in our favor.

    Needless to say, if Kissinger and Nixon weren't smart enough to figure this out for Vietnam, I don't hold much hope Bolton and Trump. Of course, with Nixon and Kissinger, the problem wasn't brains -- they simply never cared about Vietnamese people, certainly way less than they cared for their cherished Cold War myths. Not that either can detest human welfare more than Bolton and Trump. For more on Idlib, see: Louisa Loveluck: A final Syrian showdown looms. Millions of lives are at risk. Here are the stakes. Also: Simon Tisdall: Russia softens up west for bloodbath it is planning in Syria's Idlib province.

  • Larry Elliott: Greece's bailout is finally at an end -- but has been a failure: Most obviously for Greece, which continues to be mired in a deep recession, but austerity has slowed recovery all across the Eurozone. E.g., see: Marina Prentoulis: Greece may still be Europe's sick patient, but the EU is at death's door.

  • James K Galbraith: Why do American CEOs get paid so much? In 1965, which is now remembered as some sort of golden age for the middle class, CEO pay averaged 20 times what median workers made -- a disparity which hardly qualifies as equality. Today the ratio is 312 to 1. Much of that comes in the form of stock, which nominally tracks future expected profit. With such incentives, CEOs focus on short-term gains, often by taking on risk, short-changing r&d, and squeezing employees.

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: A Summer of Megafires and Trump's Non-Rules on Climate Change: A Los Angeles Times headline: "Trump Tweets While California Burns." Trump's tweets included blaming the fires on "bad environmental laws," while he was busy trying to get rid of Clean Air Act rules that would limit pollution from coal-fired power plants.

    But perhaps what's most scary about this scorching summer is how little concerned Americans seem to be. . . . As a country, we remain committed to denial and delay, even as the world, in an ever more literal sense, goes up in flames.

  • Paul Krugman: For Whom the Economy Grows: As you probably know, the government works constantly to track GDP growth, which is why, for instance, we can officially identify, date and measure recessions. Chuck Schumer has introduced a bill to take the next step and figure out who pockets that growth. For instance, one oft-noted statistic was that during the first few years of recovery from the 2008-09 recession, no less than 97% of the economy's gains went to the top 1% of income recipients. Looking at that statistic, it's no wonder why most Americans scarcely noticed that there was any recovery at all. The same dynamic probably applies today. We hear, for instance, Trump bragging about how strong the economy is, but unless you own a lot of stock and have a high income, you probably haven't noticed any personal change.

  • Laura McGann: Obama's McCain eulogy would be banal under any other president: I thought it significant that Obama sent a written message to be read at Aretha Franklin's funeral, but showed up in person for McCain's. He's ever the politician, even though he never looked as happy on the job as he did watching Aretha perform a few years back. One might argue that he was a mere fan to Aretha, where the four years he and McCain overlapped in the Senate gave them a personal connection, perhaps even one that tempered their twelve years in political opposition. There's nothing wrong with treating political foes civilly, and it's often possible to respect people you disagree with (sometimes even profoundly). One might even claim that in death at last McCain brought forth some sort of centrist political miracle, bringing the opponents who defeated him in two presidential campaigns (GW Bush was the other one) and assorted other bigwigs of both political parties and the media empires that promote and lord over them. On the other hand, those paying tribute included Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman, Henry Kissinger, Lindsay Graham, Warren Beatty, Jay Leno, Michael Bloomberg, "and a plethora of current and former senators and cabinet secretaries from both parties." In other words, people who have much more in their common perch atop America's far-flung imperial war machine than they do with the overwhelming majority of Americans. So, of course Obama's remarks were banal. As much as anyone, he's fluent in the coded language these elites use to speak to one another, as well as the platitudes they lay on the public. All this would be completely unremarkable but for the one guy in American politics who broke the code and trashed the platitudes, and still somehow got elected to the office McCain could never win: President Donald Trump. The point of McGann's piece is that Obama's mundane address should be taken as a subtle critique of Trump, but to what point? There are many problems with Donald Trump, but his being impolitic isn't a very important one. I get the feeling that many Democrats think that by cozying up to the dead McCain they're scoring points against the nemesis Trump. They're not -- at least not with anyone they need to convince to resist Trump. Moreover, they're doing it on McCain's turf, on his terms, which is to say they're lining up with the most persistent war hawks of the last 50-60 years. (You do know who Kissinger is, don't you?) When Obama praises how much McCain loves his country, he's talking about a guy who never shied away from a possible war, who never regretted a war he supported, who never learned a single lesson about the costs of war. Back in Vietnam, the saying went: "in order to save the village, we had to destroy it." Since returning from Vietnam, McCain's adopted that irony as the pinnacle of patriotism. Of course, as a conservative Republican, he's found other ways to save villages by destroying them.

    If you're not sick of reading about McCain by now, here are some more links:

    • Susan B Glasser: John McCain's Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet: She doesn't give us numbers to back up the "biggest" claim, but no church could hold the 500,000 to 1,000,000 people at the January 2017 Women's March on Washington right after the Trump inauguration. Maybe by "biggest" she's thinking quality over quantity? Her subhed: "Two ex-Presidents and one eloquent daughter teamed up to rebuke the pointedly uninvited Donald Trump." (The ex-presidents you know about, and more on the daughter below.) I understand that many people find Trump so repulsive that they will rejoice at any sign of rejecting him, but with McCain you don't get much -- is the disinvite of Trump anything more than a personal spat between two notoriously thin-skinned politicians? -- plus you're cuddling up to a lot of unsavory baggage. Nor has McCain really differed from Trump on much. FiveThirtyEight has a tool for tracking how often Senators vote with Trump, and McCain scores 83.0% and, factoring in Trump's margin in his state, that places him just above Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst. To paraphrase Trump himself, I prefer resistance heroes who don't get captured by the enemy. PS: More names of those on hand -- remember, this was invitation-only: John Boehner, David Petraeus, Leon Panetta, Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Paul Ryan, John Bolton, John Kelly, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Hillary Clinton. OK, to not muddy the effect, I left out Elizabeth Warren -- aside from the obvious disconnects, I'm pretty sure she's the only one to come from a working-class family. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have attended. Just that no one should mistake this crowd for one of her rallies. PPS: OK, here's the "gag me" line:

      Heads nodded. Democratic heads and Republican ones alike. For a moment, at least, they still lived in the America where Obama and Bush and Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney could all sit in the same pew, in the same church, and sing the same words to the patriotic hymns that made them all teary-eyed at the same time. When the two Presidents were done speaking, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" blared out. This time, once again, the battle is within America. The country's leadership, the flawed, all too human men and women who have run the place, successfully or not, for the past few decades, were all in the same room, at least for a few hours on a Saturday morning.

    • Andrew Prokop: Meghan McCain's eulogy: "The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again": Leave it to the daughter (and conservative media icon) to co-opt Hillary Clinton's slogan, as plain a case of "Emperor's New Clothes" rhetoric as has ever been foisted on the American public, but of course this is just the crowd to lap it up. The following paragraph is even stirring, at least until your final "what the fuck"?

      The America of John McCain is the America of Abraham Lincoln: fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and suffering greatly to see it through. The America of John McCain is the America of the boys who rushed the colors in every war across three centuries, knowing that in them is the life of the republic. And particularly those by their daring, as Ronald Reagan said, gave up their chance at being husbands and fathers and grandfathers and gave up their chance to be revered old men. The America of John McCain is, yes, the America of Vietnam, fighting the fight even in the most forlorn cause, even in the most grim circumstances, even in the most distant and hostile corner of the world, standing even defeat for the life and liberty of other people in other lands.

    • Matthew Yglesias: The fight over renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after John McCain, explained: I thought this was a terrible idea. Then I remembered who Richard Russell was, so I wouldn't mind tearing down his name. Still, one could do a lot better than McCain. At the head of the list, I'd put the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution that authorized LBJ to escalate the Vietnam War: Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse. I'd pick Morse: he served longer, straddled both parties (initially elected as a progressive Republican before becoming a Democrat), and he held (or for all I know may still hold) the record for the longest filibuster speech -- a very Senator-y thing to do.

    • Laura McGann: John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the rise of reality TV politics: Yeah, not his brightest hour picking Palin to be his running mate, hailing that as "a team of mavericks." But being McCain, he's never had to apologize for anything, but he always has an excuse for everything: "After being diagnosed with cancer, McCain still defended Palin's performance but said he regretted not picking [Joe] Lieberman as his running mate."

    • Matt Taibbi: Why Did John McCain Continue to Support War? More on Vietnam, but also Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria -- hey, what about the one that got away, Georgia? McCain's constant lust for war, as well as his blindness to the consequences of those wars, has been a constant in our political lives since he first campaigned for the House. Indeed, he was probably recruited for just that purpose. But Taibbi is right that McCain didn't cause the wars he promoted. Rather, America has a problem (dating back to WWII) in thinking that military force is the answer to all our problems in the world. It is that mindset that keeps the warmakers in business. And that's why we should feel shame and horror when people we look to for peace honor someone like McCain.

    • Rebecca Solnit: John McCain was complex. His legacy warrants critical discussion: I can't really agree, although she makes valid points on Jefferson and Lincoln, and indeed most people are complex. Still, McCain's always struck me as a shallow opportunist. I even think his militarism was just a role he was born into, and plays just because it's easy and expected.

    • Doreen St. Félix: Aretha Franklin's Funeral Fashion Showed Us How to Mourn.

  • Richard Silverstein: Trump to Defund UNWRA to Eliminate Palestinian Refugee Status, Right of Return: This is supposed to be the stick after Jared Kushner's "deal of the century went splat. The idea seems to be that without UN recognition and US aid five million Palestinians will give up their refugee status and stop pestering Israel about their so-called Right of Return. The effect is that Palestinian leaders will stop kowtowing to insincere and unprincipled American advice, rightly seeing the US as a puppet of Israel, extraneous to any possible peace process. Good chance US support in Europe will further diminish, although there could be lots of reasons for that.

  • Emily Stewart: A grand jury will investigate whether Kris Kobach intentionally botched voter registration in 2016: Normally, intent is harder to prove than actually doing something, but in Kobach's case, intent is pretty much his campaign platform. Kobach won the Republican nomination for governor of Kansas after an extremely close race, and the poll mentioned here has Kobach leading Democrat Laura Kelly 39-38, with "independent" Greg Orman at 9. Much debate in these parts about who Orman will spoil the election for.

  • Emily Stewart: Trump's supposedly spending Labor Day weekend "studying" federal worker pay after freezing it. Not that lip service has ever been worth much, but over the last decade Republicans have lost any sort of decency regarding organized labor or for that matter all working Americans. Cancelling a schedule 2.1% that has already been eaten up by inflation is petty and vindictive, especially after his $1.5 trillion tax cut for businesses and the super-wealthy. Also see: Paul Krugman: Giving Government Workers the Shaft. Also: Robert L Borosage: Donald Trump Has Betrayed American Workers -- Again and Again.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Cuomo-Nixon Debate Was a Preview of Democrat-DSA Battles to Come: "Democrat Sith Lord Gov. Andrew Cuomo slimed his way past the corporate money issue and attacked Cynthia Nixon's celebrity."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's continued indolent response to Hurricane Maria is our worst fears about him come true:

    Speaking to reporters briefly at the White House, Donald Trump repeated the most consequential of the many lies of his presidency -- that the federal government did a "fantastic job" in its response to last year's Hurricane Maria catastrophe that killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.

    That's a line that Trump has maintained ever since he made a belated visit to the island after two straight weekends golfing, followed by the observation that "it's been incredible the results that we've had with respect to loss of life."

    In fact, the results they had with respect to the loss of life were awful. Awful in terms of the sheer number of dead, but also awful in terms of the reluctance from the very beginning to deliver an accurate death count. That the disaster turned out to be deadlier even than Hurricane Katrina is shocking, and the fact that it took the government until this week to finally acknowledge that fact is an entirely separate shock.

    More on Trump's incompetence, including his instinct to turn "everything into a culture war." For more on Puerto Rico itself, see: Alexia Fernández Campbell: Puerto Rico is asking for statehood. Congress should listen.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The big idea that could make democratic socialism a reality: I haven't had time to digest this, but it's called the American Solidarity Fund, which would invest government funds and pay out returns to all Americans.

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