Sunday, November 17, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Once again, no time for introduction.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: Trump just issued multiple war crime pardons. Experts think it's a bad idea.

  • Andrew Bacevich: Trump isn't really trying to end America's wars.

  • David Bromwich: The medium is the mistake: Review of James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, and Matt Taibbi: Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another. I got a lot out of the former book, and think it gets raked unfairly here -- not that I won't give Bromwich a couple of his points (The Beverly Hillbillies, Playboy). I've seen some parts of Taibbi's book, but didn't read them closely, and don't have a clear picture of the whole. Taibbi's first book on campaigning, Spanking the Donkey, was very sharp, not just on the candidates but on the press covering them (that's where he wrote up his Wimblehack brackets). Since then he's developed his own idiosyncratic version of "fair and balanced" centrism, which sometimes wears my patience thin. By the way, Bromwich has a recent book I hadn't noticed, but should take a look at: American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us. I'm also intrigued by parts of his earlier Moral Imagination: Essays. Just to pick one almost random quote from the latter's preface:

    We ought to describe as "terrorist" any act of deliberate violence that compasses the deaths of innocent persons in order to achieve a political end. State terror, such as Britain practiced in Kenya, Russia in Chechnya and the U.S. in Iraq -- state terror, as exemplified by our own state among others -- differs morally in no way from the terror of the people we are in the habit of calling terrorists. Moral imagination affirms the kinship in evil of these two sorts of violence.

  • Laura Bult/Liz Scheltens: America's wilderness is for sale.

  • Jonathan Chait:

  • Isaac Chotiner: How a Trump administration proposal could worsen public health: "Now, the Trump administration has proposed a new measure that would limit the research that the Environmental Protection Agency can use when regulating public health." Interview with Douglas Dockery.

  • Jason Del Rey: The Seattle politician Amazon tried to oust has declared victory: Kshama Sawant.

  • Masha Gessen:

  • David Graeber: Against economics: Review of Robert Skidelsky: Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics. Skidelsky is best known as Keynes' biographer, and wrote what was for all intents and purposes Keynes' reply to the 2008 collapse (Keynes: The Return of the Master), but seems to venture further here -- which Graeber, an anarchist-anthropologist whose most famous book was called Debt, applauds. Lots of interesting points here, including a discussion of money which echoes some points Art Protin's tried to convince me of last week. Of course, the following nugget helped convince me they're on solid ground:

    Surely there's nothing wrong with creating simplified models. Arguably, this is how any science of human affairs has to proceed. But an empirical science then goes on to test those models against what people actually do, and adjust them accordingly. This is precisely what economists did not do. Instead, they discovered that, if one encased those models in mathematical formulae completely impenetrable to the noninitiate, it would be possible to create a universe in which those premises could never be refuted. . . .

    The problem, as Skidelsky emphasizes, is that if your initial assumptions are absurd, multiplying them a thousandfold will hardly make them less so. Or, as he puts it, rather less gently, "lunatic premises lead to mad conclusions." . . .

    Economic theory as it exists increasingly resembles a shed full of broken tools. This is not to say there are no useful insights here, but fundamentally the existing discipline is designed to solve another century's problems. The problem of how to determine the optimal distribution of work and resources to create high levels of economic growth is simply not the same problem we are now facing: i.e., how to deal with increasing technological productivity, decreasing real demand for labor, and the effective management of care work, without also destroying the Earth. This demands a different science.

  • Michael M Grynbaum: Blloomberg's teamcalls his crude remarks on women 'wrong'.

  • Jeet Heer: The foreign policy establishment is hijacking impeachment. Trump has done hundreds of things that I would be happy to impeach him for, but to be real, impeachment needs a broad consensus, and the FPE has expanded that from roughly half of the Democrats in the House to all of them. So that puts them first in line to level charges, even if they pick a few that I wouldn't prioritize.

  • Sean Illing:

    • The post-truth prophets: "Postmodernism predicted our post-truth hellscape. Everyone still hates it." Not his usual interview, although it's likely he's done interviews in this vein. I stopped paying attention to social theory around 1975, so I missed Lyotard's 1979 book where he coined the term postmodernism -- I did read precursors like Baudrillard, Foucault, and Lacan, but can't say as I ever got much out of them. The term meant nothing to me for a long time, before I came up with my own definition, using it to describe a world that had lost all sense of direction -- the one thing modernism promised -- and therefore let any damn thing go. I saw this most clearly in architecture, eventually in other arts, but it always remained something of a grab bag. What it might possibly mean for politics is especially hard to pin down, maybe because none of the rival claimants for a modernist politics ever got close to their intrinsic limits.

    • Did Trump just commit witness tampering? I asked 7 legal experts. "Probably not, but here's why it likely doesn't matter anyway."

    • Why we need a more forgiving legal system: Interview with Martha Minow, author of When Should Law Forgive?

  • Alex Isenstadt: Louisiana delivers Trump a black eye: "The president lost two of three gubernatorial elections in conservative Southern states, raising questions about his standing heading into 2020." Louisiana just re-elected Democrat John Bel Edwards to a second term as governor.

  • Molly Jong-Fast: Why Trump attacked Marie Yovanovitch: "He can't help but go after women, even when doing so hurts his cause."

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • Warren proposes two-step plan to implement Medicare for All. I see this as a fair and reasoned bow to the inevitable, not that I have any problem with Sanders sticking with his full-blown plan: how to get there matters, but not as much as knowing where you want to go. I could imagine even more steps along the way. M4A faces two major challenges: one is the money that is currently paid to private insurance companies over to the public program (most of that money is controlled by employers, who would like to keep it themselves); the other is getting the providers integrated into the M4A network, preferably on terms that allow M4A to better manage costs without reducing service. Warren's "head tax" is one way of dealing with the former (not an ideal solution, but should work as a bridge gap). Few people talk about the latter, probably because Medicare already has a large service network, but even there Advantage plans limit the network, and similar limits are common with private insurance plans. On the other hand, M4A would be more efficient (which is to say affordable) if providers dealt exclusively with it. I think this opens up three ideas that I've never seen really discussed. The first key is realizing that for well into the future private insurers will still be able to sell supplemental insurance plans. I'm on Medicare, but I still buy a "Medigap" private health insurance policy, which picks up virtually all of the deductibles and miscellaneous charges Medicare sticks you with. Sanders wants to eliminate all of those charges, but anything short of his plan will leave the insurance companies a viable market. Most practical implementations of M4A will leave a role for supplemental insurance. Doesn't this imply that M4A won't totally end the need for private insurance, but will simply shift it from primary to supplemental coverage? This opens up another way to incrementally shift to M4A: start by insuring everyone for certain conditions, and expand that list as you build up a general tax base to support it (part of the tax could be on private insurance premiums, which could be cost-neutral for the insurance companies). Some obvious candidates for the initial list: ER trauma, vaccinations, pre-natal care and deliveries. Another idea would be to start investing more funds into non-profit provider networks (which could be built around existing public providers, like the VA). Under M4A Medicaid wouldn't be needed as a second-class insurer, but could be repurposed to build affordable and accessible clinics, which would compete effectively with for-profit providers, and thereby help manage costs.

    • Bevin concedes after Republicans decline to help him steal the election.

    • Deval Patrick is officially running for President. Two-term governor of Massachusetts, a black politician who's open for business, so much so that after politics he went to work for Mitt Romney's vulture capital firm, Bain Capital. I recall that Thomas Frank, in Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Part of the People, looked past the Clintons to single Patrick out, along with Andrew Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel, as prominent Democrats always eager to sell out to business interests. Patrick's hat in the ring tells us that certain donors are spooked by Warren and Sanders, are convinced Biden will collapse, realize that none of the Senators (Booker, Harris, Klobuchar) have attracted enough interest, and doubt Buttigieg can expand beyond his niche. Those donors have been pushing several names recently, including Bloomberg (who has even more negatives), but Patrick is the first to nibble. The problem is that unless you're looking for financial favors, it's hard to see any reason for anyone to pick Patrick over anyone else in the middle of the Democratic Party road. Also on Patrick: Matt Taibbi: Deval Patrick's candidacy is another chapter in the Democrats' 2020 clown car disaster.

    • Nikki Haley's skillful and opportunistic MAGA balancing act: "Once again, Nikki Haley has figured out how to keep herself in the news as a potential Trump-Pence successor while declaring her Trumpist loyalties."

    • Is Buttigieg's presidential bid buoyed by male privilege? Amy Klobuchar seems to think so. I don't doubt that lots of people have lots of prejudices governing their preferences, but such a claim isn't going to change anything. Among moderate ("no we can't") candidates, maybe Buttigieg and Biden have advantages other than sex -- one's an old establishment figure, the other is a complete outsider not tainted by past failures. Besides, didn't Hillary break the "glass ceiling" for wimpy moderates (at least in the Democratic primaries)? You could just as well argue that Cory Booker hasn't taken off due to white privilege, but Obama didn't seem to have that problem.

  • German Lopez:

  • Alec MacGillis: The case against Boeing. Specifically, regarding the 737 MAX. One can make lots of other cases against Boeing, perhaps not all "proving that the company put profit over safety," but profit is never far from management's thinking.

  • Ian Millhiser: 3 ways the Supreme Court could decide DACA's fate.

  • Andrew Prokop:

  • Emily Raboteau: Lessons in survival: Review of two books: Elizabeth Rush: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, and Gilbert M Gaul: The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts.

    Both make the controversial case for managed retreat as our best defense, given the scale of the problem. This approach calls for withdrawing rather than rebuilding after disasters, and would include government buyout programs to finance the resettlement of homeowners from vulnerable areas.

  • Robert Reich: Warren doesn't just frighten billionaires -- she scares the whole establishment.

  • David Roberts: With impeachment, America's epistemic crisis as arrived: "Can the right-wing machine hold the base in an alternate reality long enough to get through the next election?"

    They [the right] are working with a few key tools and advantages. The first is a strong tendency, especially among low-information, relatively disengaged voters (and political reporters), to view consensus as a signal of legitimacy. It's an easy and appealing heuristic: If something is a good idea, it would have at least a few people from both sides supporting it. That's why "bipartisan" has been such a magic word in US politics this century, even as the reality of bipartisanship has faded.

    Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell was very canny in recognizing this tendency and working it it ruthlessly to his advantage. He realized before Obama ever set foot in office that if he could keep Republicans unified in opposition, refusing any cooperation on anything, he could make Obama appear "polarizing." His great insight, as ruthlessly effective as it was morally bankrupt, was that he could unilaterally deny Obama the ability to be a uniter, a leader, or a deal maker. Through nothing but sheer obstinance, he could make politics into an endless, frustrating, fruitless shitshow, diminishing both parties in voters' eyes.

    This is what Republicans need more than anything on impeachment: for the general public to see it as just another round of partisan squabbling, another illustration of how "Washington" is broken. They need to prevent any hint of bipartisan consensus from emerging.

    Roberts refers to several previous articles, worth collecting here, starting with his own:

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Dominic Rushe: Boo-hoo billionaires: why America's super-wealthy are afraid for 2020.

  • Dylan Scott: Trump's big veterans health care plan has hit a snag. The "big plan" is to privatize health care services for veterans who don't live close enough to heavily used VA facilities. Once again, the privateers have overestimated the competency of the private sector, and underestimated its rapacity.

  • Emily Stewart: "ok billionaire": Elizabeth Warren is leaning into her billionaire battle.

  • Matt Stieb:

  • Jim Tankersley/Peter Eavis/Ben Casselman: How FedEx cut its tax bill to $0: "The company, like much of corporate America, has not made good on its promised investment surge from President Trump's 2017 tax cuts."

  • Peter Wade: 'You're done': Conservative radio host fired mid-show for criticizing Trump.

  • Alex Ward: The one big policy change 2020 Democrats want to make for veterans, explained.

  • Matthew Yglesias: