Sunday, June 16, 2019
Quite a bit below. After a very depressing/blasé week, I got an early
start on Friday, and started feeling better -- not for the nation or the
world, but pleased to be occupied with some straightforward, tangible work.
One thing I can enjoy some optimism about is the Democratic presidential
campaign. I expected it to be swallowed whole with the sort of vacant,
pious clichés that Obama and the Clintons have been campaigning on for
decades now, but what we're actually seeing is a lot of serious concern
for policy. The clear leader in that regard is Elizabeth Warren, and of
course Bernie Sanders has a complete matching set with if anything a
little more courage and conviction, but I've run across distinct and
refreshing ideas from another half-dozen candidates. I haven't noticed
Biden rising to that challenge yet. He remains the main beneficiary of
as fairly widespread faction that would be quite satisfied with their
lives if only the Republican threat would subside in favor of the quiet
competency Obama brought to government. Personally, I wouldn't mind
that either, but I recognize that has a lot to do with my age. Young
people inhabit a very different world, one with less opportunity and
much graver risks, so platitudes from America's liberal past don't do
them much good, or offer much hope. They face real and growing problems,
and not just from Republicans (although those are perhaps the hoariest).
Talking about policy actually offers them some prospect that faith
alone can never fill. And sooner or later, even Biden's going to have
to talk about policy, because that's where the campaign is heading.
This could hardly offer a starker contrast to the 2016 Republican
presidential primary, where there was virtually no difference regarding
policy -- just minor tweaks to each candidate's plan to steer more of
the nation's wealth to the already rich, along with a slight range of
hues on how hawkish one can be on the forever wars and how racist one
can be when dealing with immigrants and the underclass. The real price
of entry wasn't ideas or commitment. It was just the necessity to line
up one or more billionaire sponsors -- turf that credibly favored Trump
as his billionaire/candidate were one. The fact that Cruz and Kasich
folded when they still had primaries they could plausibly have won is
all the proof you need that the financiers pulled the strings, and as
soon as they understood that Trump would win the nomination, they
understood that he was as good for their purposes as anyone else, so
they got on board.
Democrats may have a harder time finding unity in 2020, because
their candidates are actually divided on issues that matter. On the
other hand, they are learning to discuss those issues rationally,
especially the candidates who are pushing the Overton Window left.
Even if they wind up nominating some kind of centrist, that person
is going to be more open to solutions from the left, and that's a
good thing because that's where the real solutions are. Franklin
Roosevelt wasn't any kind of leftist when he was elected in 1932,
and his famous 100 days were all over the map, but he was open to
trying things, and quickly found out that left solutions worked
better than conservative ones. We're not quite as mired in crisis
as America was in 1932, but it's pretty clear that catastrophe is
coming if Trump and the Republicans stay in power. The option for
2020 is whether to face our problems calmly and rationally with
deliberate policy choices or to continue to thrash reflexively
and chaotically. There's no need to imagine how bad the latter
may be, because Trump's illustrating it perfectly day by day.
Some scattered links this week:
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad:
Bellingcat and how open source journalism reinvented investigative
Private equity pillage: grocery stores and workers at risk. I first
noticed this as a
twitter thread, but the article goes into a lot more detail (while
including all the cartoons). The article focuses on food retailers, but
if you want a quick rule-of-thumb, whenever you read about a familiar
company filing for bankruptcy, you can be pretty sure there's a private
equity fund behind it that has already sucked the firm dry of assets
and piled up unsupportable debt. Private equity firms -- you may recall
that's how Mitt Romney got so rich, not that having a rich and famous
father didn't give him a leg up -- are a plague, especially on American
workers. Some policy wonks should come up with a program to put them out
of business. One idea here would be to allow bankrupted companies to be
reorganized as employee-owned, writing down their PE debt, with public
loans to recapitalize the company.
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman:
Trump campaign to purge pollsters after leak of dismal results.
Don't bother replacing Sarah Sanders -- there is no point.
I figured I should offer something to mark the passing of Trump's second
press secretary, but found very little that captures the true banality
she brought to such a thankless and hopeless job. Failing that, this will
have to do. Although I did also find: Luke O'Neil:
Tweets, lies and the Mueller report: Sarah Sanders' lowest moments.
On the other hand, Trump seems to think she has a future:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Governor of Arkansas? It's possible.
The Stephanopoulos interview is another fine mess for Trump.
Trump: witness to my crime can't testify, but trust me he's lying:
That would be former White House counsel Don McGahn, who Robert Mueller
interviewed at length.
'The Lehman Trilogy' and Wall Street's debt to slavery: How to get
rich in the 1840s, and how to get richer after that stopped working.
The princes who want to destroy any hope for Arab democracy: Trump's
best buds in "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are backing
military leaders who kill demonstrators.".
If Donald Trump is the symptom . . . then what's the disease?
Reflects on how Trump was elected based on a widespread fear of decline,
economic as well as military, only to accelerate that decline, taking
much of the planet with him. Some other recent TomDispatch posts:
Getting Chian wrong, yet again: Reviews a Council of Foreign Relations
report entitled "Trump's Foreign Policies are Better Than They Seem," so
yeah, they have lots of examples. Also see: Michael Klare:
Bolton wants to fight Iran, but the Pentagon has its eye on China.
Pentagon strategists have long liked to promote conflicts with Russia
and China, as they help fund their dreams of high-tech weapons systems
that never get tested, because wars with nuclear powers like China and
Russia are still unthinkable. Interesting that Klare's next book also
looks at highly speculative Pentagon funding: All Hell Breaking
Loose: Why the Pentagon Sees Climate Change as a Threat to American
National Security. Without such threats, and the misunderstandings
and myths they are based on, one might realize that such arms spending
is unnecessary and, even worse, dangerous.
Congress's high-stakes budget fight to avert an economic crisis, explained.
The world's most insane energy project moves ahead: the Carmichael
coal mine, in Australia, controlled by Adani Group (of India).
The Best People review: how Trump flooded the swamp: On Alexander
Nazaryan's new book, The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege
on Washington (out June 18), about "the scandals, the incompetence,
the assault on the federal government, the bungled attempts to impose
order on an administration lost in a chaos of its own making." Green
also reviewed Michael Wolff's recent dirt-dishing Siege: Trump
Siege review: Michael Wolff's Trump tale is Fire and Fury II -- fire
harder. Related: Robert Reich:
Welcome to Trump's corrupt state -- the Star Wars cantina of world
Better schools won't fix America: "Like many rich Americans, I used
to think educational investment could heal the country's ills -- but I
was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first."
Saudi Arabia may execute teenager for his protests -- including when he
Why I'm optimistic about the 'deal of the century': Not because he
thinks Jared Kushner's "peace plan" is viable let alone workable, but it
marks the definitive end of the "two state" albatross that Israel has so
easily slagged off. Rather: "The deal presents the biggest opportunity
to those who have the most to lose from it." I don't get this optimism
yet, although to the limited extent I understand the idea -- despite
the advance publicity, it hasn't been fully presented yet -- but I can
imagine some tuning that might be tolerable going forward. Hearst also
wrote [February 2019]:
Lords of the land: Why Israel's victory won't last. Meanwhile,
some other relevant links:
The UK has now committed to the most aggressive climate target in the
Thomas Kaplan/Jim Tankersley:
Elizabeth Warren has lots of plans. Together, they would remake the
economy. Related: Paul Krugman:
Liberal wonks, or at least Elizabeth Warren, have a plan for that; also
Can Elizabeth Warren win it all?; also: Ed Kilgore:
Elizabeth Warren's one-two punch for conquering Washington; also:
Trump campaign zeroes in on a new threat: Elizabeth Warren. Best
laugh line from the latter piece: "Warren's populist economic agenda,
[Tucker] Carlson said, 'sounds like Donald Trump at his best.'"
Trump can't stop lying about his unpopularity:
Donald J. Trump did not invent the art of political spinning. But he
has perhaps raised it to an infernally high standard of sheer mendacity
in his determination to attack any information suggesting he is anything
other than the most wildly successful and popular politician since Pericles.
That means, among other troubling things, that he is engaged in a perpetual
war against the scientific measurement of public opinion.
Is it actually illegal to accept "campaign dirt" from foreigners?
If it's "something of value" doing so would violate campaign finance
laws. On the other hand, I doubt the law could prevent foreigners from
simply publishing and promoting "dirt" -- which is presumably what a
campaign would do with such information. In fact, most campaigns would
probably prefer that it come from an independent source.
The race to be the next British prime minister, briefly explained:
Seven candidates survived the first round of voting, the most famous
(and possibly the farthest apart politically) Boris Johnson (leader
with 114 votes) and Rory Stewart (last at 19 -- he's written a couple
of books on Afghanistan and Iraq which show some understanding of and
sympathy for the people there). Later rounds will reduce the field to
two, to be decided by registered Conservative Party members -- no one
in power there is eager to risk a new election. No mention of this here,
but since the Tories are a minority in Parliament, it seems to me that
their current coalition partners could scuttle the pick. [PS: See
Michael Savage/Toby Helm:
Boris Johnson's no-deal Brexit plan 'will trigger early election'.]
Sharon LaFraniere/Charlie Savage/Katie Benner:
People are trying to figure out William Barr. He's busy stockpiling
The Fed just released a damning indictment of capitalism: Title
after the jump: "The one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since
1989. The bottom 50% have gotten poorer."
Dara Lind/Libby Nelson:
The fight over the 2020 census citizenship question, explained.
Trump tells Polish president: US media is corrupt: Actual quote:
"Much of the media unfortunately in this country is corrupt. I have to
tell you that, Mr. President." Trump could have turned this into a much
smarter quote by dropping "unfortunately" and adding: "that's why we
don't have to censor them." Of course, he wouldn't say that, because he
wants to censor them anyway. He feels so entitled he cannot recognize
that the media has been helped him out enormously. And he's such a
thin-skinned whiner he complains about them endlessly. Anything to
avoid a moment of reflection that might acknowledge that he's ever
done anything regrettable, let alone embarrassing.
The American right gets tired of democracy. I'd say the American right
has never liked democracy, and can point as far back as the early 1800s
when proposals to extend the vote to white male non-property holders were
met by worries that such people might use the vote to further their own
personal interests (to the detriment of their richer "betters"). But the
right is certainly getting more brazenly contemptuous of voting rights
and other aspects of democracy. This connects to a cluster of other links,
which purport to grapple with the question of what principles conservatism
has left after the right has pledged itself to politicians like Trump:
Against David French-ism.
Ross Douthat on the crisis of the conservative coalition: Interview
Josh Hawley could be the face of the post-Trump right.
The illiberal right throws a tantrum: sample quote:
I don't want to overstate the significance of this dispute between French
and Ahmari. They are yelling at each other in a walled garden; conservative
pundits in ideological magazines have little influence over a base whose
opinions are guided by the commercial incentives of Fox News and right-wing
talk radio, and the partisan imperatives of the Republican Party. If they
possessed such influence, Trump would not be president.
The question of whether the Republican Party would abandon liberal
democracy for sectarian ethno-nationalism was decided in the 2016 primary,
and all French and Ahmari are doing is arguing about it after the fact.
The commercial and social incentives for conservative writers to succumb
to Trumpism are vast. Some, like French, have had the integrity to stick
to their stated principles. Others, like Ahmari, have already fallen.
Today's skirmishes among conservatives resemble the irregulars in 1865
shooting at one another because they had not yet heard of Robert E. Lee's
surrender at Appomattox. And the support Ahmari has drawn suggests that
the conservative intelligentsia will offer less resistance to
authoritarianism than it did in 2015 and 2016.
House Democrats want to make accepting dirt on campaign opponents
from foreign governments a crime: "Democrats are rolling out a
new package of election security bills after Trump said he's open
to taking dirt on his 2020 opponents." That, or even the lesser
requirement to report foreign offers to the FBI, strikes me as a
bad idea: it practically begs foreign agents to set up and expose
Alabama's law forcing sex offenders to get chemically castrated,
Will climate change kill everyone -- or just lots and lots of people?
Oddly enough, I can think of adverse scenarios that are worse than the
ones discussed here -- war over diminishing habitat and resources is the
most obvious one -- but I can't imagine that no one would survive even
that, and I'm dead certain that the survivors will prove adaptable enough
to recover from any climate-induced dystopia. As for civilization ending,
the bigger threat is politically-directed stupidity (which seems to have
already claimed most of the Republican Party). As this explainer points
out, much of the dispute here really turns on the question of how much
threat we have to feel to act politically. Those who feel unheeded are
eager to turn out the hyperbole, but my impression is that so far that
has only had the perverse of undermining their credibility.
Trump's legally problematic claim that he'd accept "oppo research" from
foreign governments, explained.
Bosses pocket Trump tax windfall as workers see job promises vanish.
David E Sanger/Nicole Perlroth:
US escalates online attacks on Russia's power grid. Part of the
rationale here is to deter Russia from interfering in US elections,
but this reads more like a provocation along the lines of Nixon's
famous "madman theory" of threatening nuclear war. The assumption
seems to be that Russia will react rationally to such insanity, but
if they believe that, why not just sit down and negotiate some kind
of deal that would lessen the threat of cyberwarfare and present a
unified front against hacking by private parties and other countries.
Probably the same reason the US works to preserve its unique "first
strike" capability: to cower the rest of the world into submission
at the first demonstration of "shock and awe."
Is Pompeo angling to interfere in British politics? "In leaked
comments from a recent meeting with Jewish leaders, the US secretary
of state cites the need to 'push back' against a potential Corbyn
victory." Found a couple of useful links there:
Donald Trump and the art of the lie. He draws some examples from
Michael Wolff's Siege, others from the George Stephanopoulos
interview, but he could write the same article with fresh examples
any week of the year.
For Trump, lying is central to his disturbed psyche, and to his success.
The brazenness of it unbalances and stupefies sane and adjusted people,
thereby constantly giving him an edge and a little breathing space while
we try to absorb it, during which he proceeds to the next lie. And on it
goes. It's like swimming in choppy water. Just when you get to the surface
to breathe, another wave crashes into you. . . .
A tyrant's path to power is not a straight line, it's dynamic. Each
concession is instantly banked, past vices are turned into virtues, and
then the ante is upped once again. The threat rises exponentially with
time. If we can't see this in front of our own eyes, and impeach this
man now, even if he will not be convicted, we are flirting with the very
stability of our political system.
Sullivan also writes about Boris Johnson in the next section down
the page: "My Old Chum Boris." Sullivan knew Johnson from their school
days at Oxford together:
Boris was so posh it was funny. . . . He belonged, for example, to the
Bullingdon Club, an exclusive upper-class fraternity that specialized
in hosting expensive restaurant dinners for themselves, in white tie
and tails no less, with members eating and drinking till they were
stuffed and thoroughly shit-faced and then proceeded to puke on the
floors and vandalize the joint, smashing tables and chairs and china,
breaking windows and the like. Daddy would always pick up the price
for repairs. . . . Legend has it Johnson kept reinventing himself
politically and playing down his Toryism and poshness -- with the
help of then-student Frank Luntz, believe it or not -- and eventually
it worked and he won. I have to say I found him hugely entertaining,
and great company, but could never really take him seriously. He has
a first-class wit but a second-class mind and got a second-class
degree. If you want to measure the quality of his scholarship, check
out his deeply awful biography of Churchill, a thinly veiled attempt
to redescribe his own career as a Second Coming of Winston. . . .
But there is some sweet cosmic justice in Boris having to take
responsibility for the Brexit he backed. It may be a catastrophe,
but it will be his, and, for him at least, it sure will be fun.
Company part-owned by Jared Kushner got $90m from unknown offshore
investors since 2017. Also, Vicky Ward:
Jared Kushner may have an ethics problem -- to the tune of $90m.
Ivanka Trump cashed $4 million from her father's DC hotel in 2018:
"She and her husband, Jared Kushner, reported earning between $28.8 million
and $135.1 million in 2018.
How Trump turned liberal comedians conservative: Nice idea for a
piece, but doesn't deliver on its premise, nor approximate its title.
Weiss laments the eclipse of "wry satire," complaining that today "it's
all outrage and punching up -- and it's not always clear where the joke
is." I don't doubt that there has been a coarsening of humor since Trump
became president. Is any other reaction possible? I worry that many of
the jokes offer lazy simplifications (e.g., ragging on Trump for his
spelling and vocabulary lapses, like "covfefe"). I've also noted that
no one seems to be able to tell funny jokes about Democrats (exception
Hillary, but mostly in contrast to Trump). For instance, I can't recall
Seth Myers ever cracking a funny joke about Bernie Sanders. Also, I've
found myself with a pre-emptive groan every time Colbert does his "Doin'
It Donkey Style" routine. On the other hand, the real thing I've found
myself looking for from these comedians is solidarity. I rarely need
their help in understanding the news, but it's gratifying to know that
someone else shares my outrage.
UK signs order for WikiLeaks' Julian Assange to be extradicted to the US.
Why Trump remains open to receiving foreign aid during election
campaigns: Mostly links to other articles, but his summary is
As much as the media might be inclined to cast Trump's views on this
issue as an aberration, they are, on the contrary, completely in line
with what has become the GOP's overarching strategy for retaining power
as its capacity to win votes declines: through gerrymandering, stacking
courts, gutting campaign finance regulations, and now welcoming help
from foreign governments.
The Republicans' power-hunger corresponds directly with their
dwindling democratic opportunities.
A party that has realized it can't succeed by conforming with the
operating rules for a functioning democracy has concluded its self-ascribed
"right to govern" depends upon the systematic subversion of the principles
upon which this country was founded.
A tanker war in the Middle East -- again? Two oil tankers were
struck in the Straits of Hormuz between Iran and Oman. The Trump
administration and Trump's "allies" in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were
quick to blame Iran (with no proof but lots of innuendo), and Iran
immediately denied responsibility. One line in passing here sticks
with me: "Within hours, oil prices rose four per cent." A reminder
here of the "tanker war" in the late 1980s, although no mention of
the Iranian civilian airliner the US shot down then. More on Iran:
Meanwhile, no skepticism at the New York Times, where Bret Stephens
is already clamoring for war:
If Iran won't change its behavior, we should sink its navy.