Sunday, February 3, 2019
We watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9 last night. Here's
a review by
Owen Gleiberman, which hits most of the key points. Seems to me he
should have cut it into two separate movies: one on Trump (with more
coverage of what he did after taking office), the other on the Flint
water crisis (rather than just using his home town as his pet way of
contextualizing world events). The Flint story winds up turning Obama
into the goat (if not the villain, still Rick Snyder), which would
have been more effective without Trump all over the map.
The Trump parts are more interesting. Moore treats Trump's presidential
run as a publicity stunt -- as he's done before, but this time he went
through with it only because NBC fired him for racist comments, only to
find his fan's adoration in his early rallies. His decimation of his
Republican opponents, then of Hillary Clinton, is a piece of story that
Moore could open some eyes on, in large part because Moore doesn't flinch
when Trump's absurdity and cruelty come simultaneously into focus. Indeed,
his whole sequence of Trump and Ivanka is extremely creepy. However, after
the election, instead of delving into the profound corruption and malign
neglect that has been so evident, he settles for a long lament on the end
of democracy and the rise of fascism. He can be creepy there, too, as with
the Trump voiceover of stock Hitler/Third Reich newsreel footage, with
side glances at Putin and Duterte and commentary by Timothy Snyder. I
don't see that as necessarily unfair -- in fact, when I first noticed
the Nazi rallies I expected a segue to Fred Trump in the 1930s at Madison
Square Garden -- but it's far from the most important or enlightening
thing a filmmaker like Moore could come up with.
One story I don't delve into below is the flap over Virginia Governor
Ralph Northam, something involving racist photos in his college yearbook,
which has elicited howls of indignation and calls for his resignation from
many Democrats and leftists -- Elizabeth Warren and Barbara Ehrenreich are
two names that popped up in my twitter feed (full disclosure: I follow
Ehrenreich but not Warren or any other office-holders). I suppose if I
knew more details I might think differently, but my first reaction is that
I find these calls deeply troubling, both on practical grounds and because
they display an arrogant self-righteousness I find unbecoming. Sooner or
later, Democrats need to learn to forgive themselves -- especially those
who show some capacity to learn from their mistakes. I understand that
Northam is no great shakes as a Democrat, but I'd rather see him become
a better one (if that's possible).
On the other hand, I don't want to turn this into a diatribe against
"purism" -- if real leftists (like Ehrenreich) insist on holding folks
to higher standards, God bless them.
Some scattered links this week:
Bernie Sanders's new plan to supercharge the estate tax, explained:
I'm more partial to this idea than I am to
Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax proposal, because it's hard to value
assets until they're liquidated, and property taxes tend to force people
to liquidate assets at inopportune times. On the other hand, death seems
to be the perfect time to force liquidation. I also like the idea of
progressive brackets -- indeed, I'd like to see that applied to other
income taxes, such as capital gains and corporate earnings. When the
Democrats get around to reversing the Trump tax cut, they might keep --
or even slightly lower -- the reduced rate for small/less-profitable
companies while increasing the rate as profits increase. With capital
gains and other forms of unearned income -- which could include gifts
and estates -- I'd tax progressively based on lifetime earnings, so
people get a break early on to build up savings while limiting the
accumulation of the very rich. But within the current estate tax
framework, the only problem I see with Sanders' proposal is that the
top marginal rates should be higher. We also need to take a good look
at foundations, which for over a century now have been created mostly
to evade estate taxes. Some do some good, but many don't, and none
should be allowed to perpetuate themselves indefinitely.
That time Donald Trump proposed a 14.5 percent wealth tax.
Lindsey Graham floats a dangerously irresponsible escalation of the slat
New RNC poll spun as good news for Trump is actually full of terrible news
Justice Democrats, the group aiming to create many Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes,
Stacey Abrams's new essay on identity politics reveals why she's a
rising star: Linking to this only because I may have to write
something about the tangle of "identity politics" in America today.
I figure identity is at best a heuristic, an easy (perhaps too easy)
way of telling who's for or against your interests. Also, Abrams is
right that much of what we recognize as "identity politics" is due
to stereotyping and discrimination. However:
As a result, Abrams argues, minority groups face two choices: either
ignore their own oppression or engage in some form of so-called
identity politics. Asking minorities to eschew identity politics
is tantamount to asking them to ignore their own oppression. . . .
In Abrams's view, critics like Fukuyama are functionally telling
people like her to sit down and shut up.
Abrams also finds the alleged alternative, a class-focused
politics, unpersuasive. She points to the Democratic party's
nationwide victories in 2018 as evidence that candidates can run
on identity issues and win (although Abrams herself did not).
Alexia Fernández Campbell:
Job growth in January was phenomenal. Wage growth was pathetic.
Can Elizabeth Warren and Adam Smith, defying Trump, persuade Americans to
get serious about nuclear-arms control? This Smith is in the House
(D-VA), co-sponsor with Warren of a bill that thinks about the unthinkable,
and remoes the most obvious of those "options on the table," declaring:
"It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first."
It's both difficult and incredibly important to make the case for
The remarkably selective outrage on the right about Roger Stone's arrest.
For a different perspective on the arrest, see Rachel Marshall:
Roger Stone shows how much better it is to get arrested when you're rich.
Top 10 ways that the United States is the most corrupt country in the
David Enrich/Jesse Drucker/Ben Protess:
Trump sought a loan during the 2016 campaign. Deutsche Bank said no.
The Trump-Russia investigation and the mafia state.
William Hartung/Mandy Smithberger:
The Pentagon's revolving door spins faster: E.g., Boeing's Patrick
Shanahan, Trump's new acting secretary of defense.
Trump's brilliant strategy to dismember US dollar hegemony: Actually,
this ranges much further, and "brilliant" is ironic, as only his neocon
bumbling and short-sighted "America first" accelerate the collapse. The
administration's plot to take over Venezuela looms large. CounterPunch
has several more pieces related to Venezuela worth citing here (the fact
that the publisher touts its "fearless muckraking" allows a critical
clarity the mainstream lacks in such matters; I'll also include
Lack of intelligence: "Trump's latest attacks on his own intelligence
agencies are galling, even by his standards." Actually, I'd say this is
a case where both parties are guilty of the same thing: selecting "facts"
to fit their own political interests. Trump may do this less artfully,
not least because he rarely bothers to even collect "facts," but the
security heads have always pursued their own objectives.
Military intervention in Venezuela would be a catastrophe.
Attack of the fanatical centrists: E.g., Howard Schultz, Michael
Bloomberg, people whose wealth and ego makes them think they're the
center of the world, when in fact they are extreme fringe.
The Venezuela calumny: "If screaming about a failing petrostate is
all you have, you've lost the argument." Still, not so much about
Venezuela, other than to point out the ridiculousness of thinking
you can reject more egalitarian American reformists by identifying
them with Chavez and Maduro.
Elizabeth Warren does Teddy Roosevelt: "Taxing the superrich is
an idea whose time has come -- again."
Democrats need to make getting rid of the electoral college a top priority:
No, they don't. Sure, it's unfair, but so are lots of things -- like the
humongous deviation from "one person, one vote" that is the US Senate --
but it would take a constitutional amendment, and given that Republicans
are 4-0 in cases where the electoral college differed from the popular vote
(the two recent cases you remember, and two in the 19th century when voter
suppression allowed Democrats to run up big "popular" margins in the South),
and given that Republicans don't care much for democracy in the first place,
they're not going to cooperate. In fact, what it would probably take is a
constitutional convention, which would be more likely to make the situation
worse than better. The priority for Democrats should be winning elections
by such huge margins that structural iniquities don't matter. A good start
there would be to make sure that everyone can vote, and that everyone has
a party worth voting for. Nichols, by the way, writes about five articles
like this every week, and while his heart is usually in the right place,
most of them are as half-assed as this one.
Ann Coulter on believing Trump's wall promises: "OK, I'm a very stupid
Jerome Corsi's claims about Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Access Hollywood
tape, explained. For more on Corsi, see the
deeper dive into his history that Jane Coaston and Prokop wrote last
An expert on human blind spots gives advice on how to think: Interview
with psychologist David Dunning.
Another billionaire presidential candidate who doesn't get it: Howard
Schultz, although this much is true about all of them:
We need a government that understands the lives and struggles of ordinary
Americans and can craft policies to help them. Billionaires generally won't,
regardless of their intentions, because it's human nature to be generally
clueless about those with less privilege than you.
These governors are showing what happens when you campaign on climate
action and win: "There's a flurry of green political news at the
The plight of the political convert: On Derek Black and Max Boot,
who recently moved from right to left, and their antecedents.
Almost half of voters are dead set against voting for Trump.
Mitch McConnell, enemy of the vote.
The great Middle East head-fake: Sixty-eight Senators, including 22
Democrats, voted for a resolution opposing Trump's spastic gestures to
withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. But before you get too riled
up about the "bipartisan vote," note: "Every Senate Democrat who's even
rumored to be running for president voted nay."
The constitutional idea that Congress does the declaring of wars, while
presidents only command them, is designed to give voters extra input on
this most crucial of decisions, i.e. when we're going to risk American
lives (to say nothing of foreign ones).
But Congress has been abdicating that responsibility for a while now.
Two successive presidents made a joke of it, expanding limited authorization
to go after 9/11 terrorists into nearly two decades of open-ended Middle
East missions. We were bombing seven countries when Trump took office, and
probably 99 percent of voters couldn't have named them.
When Trump tried to withdraw troops from two countries, what happened?
Congress, snoring on this issue since at least 2001, threw a fit that the
president was acting unilaterally.
Howard Schultz: America's new banality supervillain: Review of the
ex-Starbucks honcho's book as he angles to become America's second
billionaire president, realizing (unlike Michael Bloomberg) that he
can't really pass as a Democrat and that Trump has him blocked on
Once you get past the somewhat interesting "avenging my loser Dad"
portions, the rest of the book is just collections of clichés lifted
variously from the campaign-lit and CEO-bio genres. Schultz's mind
is a giant T-shirt.
He goes to Gettysburg and learns "Experience . . . is the clay of
wisdom." Entrepreneurship is like "raising a child." (Forbes
alone has done that headline at least twice.)
"Magic," he writes, "is not reserved for selling pie and coffee.
It can extend to any endeavor -- like trying to create jobs."
368 pages of this!
The US is withdrawing from a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. An arms race
might be next. Well, isn't that the point? As far back as the 1950s,
Americans have believed they have an inherent advantage in arms races: deep
pockets. One might even argue that Reagan's "Space Wars" missile defense
initiative was the perfect arms race gambit: one so ridiculously expensive
the Russians couldn't even compete in. That seems to be the idea behind
the trillion dollar nuclear arms buildup proposed under Obama, and for
that matter in Trump's "Space Force." Still, behind these schemes is the
core neocon idea: that the US must maintain a posture of total military
dominance over any conceivable rival. That such a state is unachievable
is hidden behind a veil of sleazy, seductive rhetoric. More important is
that it is not desirable, either for us or the rest of the world. Whatever
flaws may exist in the now-discarded INF treaty should be resolved with
greater arms limitations, not an accelerated arms race.