Sunday, November 25, 2018
Seems like it's been a slow news week, probably because the holiday
both cut into the political world's capacity for misdeeds and my (and
others') attention span. I'm also preoccupied with music poll matters.
Still, figured I should at least briefly go through the motions, if
only to keep the record reasonably intact.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: House Democrats don't need a leader, they need someone
to represent them on TV: I see two basic knocks on Pelosi as Speaker:
one is the sense of failure with the 2010 and subsequent losses; another
is that in many parts of the country Republicans have been able to use
her (so-called radical agenda) to scare voters. (This was painfully clear
in my own district, which voted solidly Republican, despite an exceptional
Democratic candidate.) As far as I can tell, Pelosi is moderate-left by
national standards, but her district in San Francisco could easily support
someone further left. I suspect that most Democrats would prefer for her
to step aside and let someone else (younger and more charismatic) take
over, but as it is the only challengers are coming from the right -- not
because the caucus wants to move right but because some winners in close
districts pledged to vote against her. Yglesias finds a third knock against
her: that she's not very effective on TV either representing her party or
parrying against Trump. He suggests designating someone else to take the
publicity role, limiting her to in-house strategizing (which she's arguably
good at). I'm reminded here that in Britain they have an interesting system
where the opposition party designates a "shadow cabinet" -- one member for
each cabinet position, so there's always a recognized point person for
whatever issues crop up. A big advantage there is that it would open up
more prominent roles for more people. Might even be . . . more democratic.
Other Yglesias pieces:
There's nothing "America First" about Trump's Saudi policy: Worth
including not just the links but the linked-to titles in this quote:
President Donald Trump must be giving thanks this morning for press
coverage of his extraordinarily inappropriate statement on the murder
of dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Zack Beauchamp: Trump's Khashoggi statement is a green light for
Trump has secretive sources of income and murky financial ties to
America deserves to know how much money Trump is getting from the Saudi
government], and keeps touting entirely bogus statistics about the
jobs impact of arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Trump says selling weapons to Saudi Arabia will create a lot of jobs.
That's not true.]. Nevertheless, much of the coverage of his statement
simply takes at face value his assertions that his handling of this issue
is driven by American interests -- rather than by his own self-interest or
the interests of his donors in the defense contracting industry.
Yglesias argues that "America has a strong interest in curtailing
murder." I agree that America should have such an interest, but can't
think of many examples of pre-Trump US governments doing anything like
that. The US continued to support Pinochet when his agents gunned down
a Chilean dissenter in the streets of Washington -- probably the most
similar incident, but far from unique. The US has long and lavishly
supported Israel's targeted assassination programs -- the model for
America's even more extensive "drone warfare" program. More generally,
the US supported "death squads" in Latin America and elsewhere, as
well as providing intelligence, training, and weapons to "security
forces" -- Indonesia's slaughter of 500,000 "communists" is one of
the more striking examples. Then there are arms sales in support of
aggressive wars, such as the one Saudi Arabia is waging in Yemen.
Or you can point to the US refusal to support the International
Criminal Court. You can argue that Trump is even worse than past
US presidents in this regard -- both for his tasteless embrace of
flagrant killers like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and
for his slavish devotion to "allies" like Saudi Arabia and Israel --
but he's mostly just following past practices (even if he seems to
be enjoying them too much).
The more interesting question is why has the murder of Khashoggi
different? I don't have time to trot my theories out there, but even
if anti-Islam bigotry is part of the equation, the basic realization
that governments shouldn't go around killing their dissidents is one
more people should embrace more consistently.
The time Nancy Pelosi saved Social Security: Credits Pelosi with
blocking the privatization scheme GW Bush claimed as his mandate after
winning the 2004 election. I never thought the scheme had a chance,
because I knew they could never afford to bridge the gap between
pay-as-you-go and funded schemes (even a far-from-adequately funded
one). But sure, give Pelosi credit for her blanket rejection of all
Republican schemes. A big problem that Democrats had all through the
Reagan-Bush-Bush years has been their callow willingness to accept
(and legitimize) conservative talking points, so it's good to point
to examples where they didn't, and saved themselves. Also on Pelosi:
Ella Nilsen: Why House progressives have Nancy Pelosi's back.
The 2016 election really was dominated by a controversy over emails.
Does a good job of summing up the view that media and ultimately voter
perception of the 2016 election was decisively dominated by the "email
scandal" -- the Gallup Daily Tracking word cloud shows this graphically,
but there are many other telling details. Why is a question that remains
unanswered. Is it really just as simple as the endless repetition -- by
the partisan right-wing media, echoed by mainstream media that covered
propaganda as news -- or was there such underlying dislike and distrust
of Clinton that let such a trivial mistake (at worst) signify some kind
of deeply disturbing character flaw? And if so, why didn't Trump's own
obvious character flaws disqualify him? One thing well established by
polling is that both candidates were viewed negatively by most people,
yet when forced to choose, a decisive number of Americans opted to rid
themselves of Clinton to tip the election to the equally (or more, but
not more deeply) disliked Trump.
The Beto O'Rourke 2020 buzz, explained: "hey, losing a high-profile
Senate race was good enough for Abraham Lincoln.".
Arthur C Brooks: How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart: Head of
American Enterprise Institute, pushing a Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) book,
Them: Why We Hate Each Other, blaming America's numerous woes
on cultural factors. I think that may have some superficial validity,
but only after taking a hard look at inequality, powerlessness, and
Matthew Choi: Trump hits back at Chief Justice Roberts, escalating an
extraordinary exchange: Roberts is no hero for a judicial system
and sense of justice that transcends party and respects all people, but
he reminds us that many conservatives (and, by the way, most liberals)
at least go through the motions of wanting to be seen in that light.
Trump clearly sees no point in looking beyond political tags -- in
part, no doubt, because his grasp of actual issues is so shallow, but
but mostly because he's convinced that naked, blatant partisanship
gives him an out from any charges of malfeasance (just blame "fake
news" and your fans will rally behind you). Trump took the same tack in
attacking Admiral Bill McRaven after McRaven had the temerity to
note that Trump's ravings about the "fake news" media constitute a
threat to American democracy. Trump's first thought was that he could
dismiss McRaven by calling him a "Hillary supporter." Clearly, he
relishes another presidential campaign against Clinton -- probably
figuring she's the only Democrat he can still whip.
Aaron Gell: The Unbearable Rightness of Seth Abramson: On a
blogger who has deeply investigated the whole Trump-Russia thing,
publishing the book: Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed
William D Hartung: America's Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost $5.9 Trillion:
"Not to mention 240,000 civilian deaths and 21 million displaced. And
yet a congressional commission is urging yet more money for a bloated
Murtaza Hussain: It's Time for America to Reckon With the Staggering
Death Toll of the Post-9/11 Wars, which puts the death toll twice
as high ("at least 480,000 people").
Rebecca Jennings: The death of small businesses in big cities, explained:
Interview with Jeremiah Moss.
Jen Kirby: Theresa May and the EU have a Brexit deal. What's next?
Andrew Kragie: Trump's New Kavanaugh for the US Court of Appeals:
Meet Neomi Rao.
Mark Landler: In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis
Despite Khashoggi Killing. Also:
Karoun Demirjian: More Republicans challenge Trump on defense of Saudi
Dara Lind: Trump's reportedly cutting a deal to force asylum seekers to
wait in Mexico.
Bill McKibben: How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet. Also:
Robinson Meyer: A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday; and
David Sirota: Big Oil v the planet is the fight of our lives. Democrats
must choose a side.
Anna North: How Trump helped inspire a wave of strict new abortion
Daniel Politi: US Agents Fire Tear Gas at Migrants Approaching the Border
Robert Reich: Break up Facebook (and while we're at it, Google, Apple
and Amazon): The sheer size of these four companies, each built to
dominate major niches on the internet, certainly suggests some sort of
antitrust remedy. (I'm less concerned here with physical products --
still most of what Apple produces, but tightly interwoven with their
network products, even more so for Google, Amazon, and we might as well
include Microsoft in this list.) On the other hand, given how important
network effects are to each of these businesses, they're more than a
little like natural monopolies, which occur in markets that are never
able to support healthy competition. The difference is that utilities
and such are most efficient with common infrastructure shared by all
customers, the winning vendor for services like Facebook (and Amazon)
is inevitably the first one with the widest network. The problem with
such monopolies is less the usual problem of restricting competition
than abuse of power. Moreover, where product monopolies tend to abuse
power by extorting high prices and/or delivering poor service, services
like Facebook and Google make their profits by exploiting their user
base (by capturing and reselling private information). It may not have
been obvious before Facebook that there was a public interest in social
media, and indeed one might never have developed had customers directly
had to bear the full development costs, but by now it's pretty clear
that: a) people want social media; b) that the market will be captured
by a single vendor; and c) that the profit motive will lead that vendor
to take advantage of and harm users. There is an obvious solution to
problems like this, and it isn't antitrust (not that there aren't cases
here for antitrust and/or other forms of regulation). The solution is
to build publicly funded non-profit utilities to provide web services
that are not subject to profit-seeking exploitation.
Dylan Scott: Bernie Sanders's new plan to bring down drug prices, briefly
explained: Better than nothing, I suppose, but this still assumes the
necessity of patents to incentivize profit-seeking companies to develop
new drugs. The main thing it does is to provide some limits on how much
drug companies can extort from customers and their insurers, and even
then depends on generics based on patent licensing to introduce a bit of
competition. A more immediately effective scheme would allow importation
of drugs from a much wider range of countries, ideally including ones
not beholden to US patent laws. (A compromise might be to allow a fixed
import tax to be claimed by the patent holder.) Better still would be to
eliminate patents altogether, and do research and development through
publicly-funded "open source" institutions around the world.
Dylan Scott: The Mississippi Senate runoff, Dems' last chance for one
more 2018 upset, explained: "Mike Espy could become the first
black senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction." We, and for
that matter, the long-suffering people of Mississippi, should be
so lucky. Cindy Hyde-Smith tweet: "Did you know extremists like Cory
Booker are campaigning for Mike Espy here in MS?" Isn't Booker the
guy with all the big bank money behind him? Who's the real extremist
Somini Sengupta: The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard?
Emily Stewart: Ivanka Trump's personal email excuse shows she only wants
to seem competent some of the time: "She violated the rule by using
a personal email but wants you to believe she didn't know better."
Kaitlyn Tiffany: Wouldn't it be better if self-checkout just died?
A personal pet peeve. I, for one, pretty much never use the systems,
for lots of reasons, which start with I don't like machines lecturing
me. But then I guess I've never been good with authority figures, let