Saturday, January 12, 2019
As actual voting is just around the corner, I've started to stray from
my no-campaign pledge. Part of this is that my wife has gotten much more
involved, and is regularly reporting social media posts that rile her up.
She's strong for Bernie, and I've yet to find any reason to argue with her.
Several pieces below argue that only X can beat Trump. For the record, I
don't believe that is true. I think any of the "big four" can win -- not
that there won't be momentary scares along the way. Trump has some obvious
assets that he didn't have in 2016: complete support of the Republican
political machine, which has been remarkably effective at getting slim
majorities to vote against their interests and sanity; so much money
he'll be tempted to steal most of it; and even more intense love from
his base. On the other hand, he has a track record this time, and he's
never registered an instant where his approval rating has topped 44%.
Plus I have this suspicion that one strong force that drives elections
is fear of embarrassment. Thanks to the Hillary Clinton's unique path
to the nomination, that worked for Trump in 2016, but no one on the
Democratic side of the aisle is remotely as embarrassing as Trump --
well, Michael Bloomberg, maybe. He's the only "major" candidate I can
see Trump beating. Indeed, if he somehow manages to buy the Democratic
nomination, I could see myself voting for a third party candidate.
I'm not saying he would be worse than Trump, but a Democratic Party
under him would never be able to right the wrongs of the last 40+
One indication of the current political atmosphere is that Trump's
"wag the dog" attack on Iran didn't budge public opinion in the least
(except, perhaps, in favor of Bernie among the Democrats). Trump walked
back his war-with-Iran threat, no doubt realizing that the US military
had no desire to invade and occupy Iran, and possibly seeing that the
random slaughter of scattered air attacks would merely expose him
further as a careless monster. Still, he did nothing to resolve the
conflict, and won't as long as his Saudi and Israeli foreign policy
directors insist on hostile relations. He sorely needs a consigliere,
like James Baker was to Bush Sr., someone who could follow up on his
tantrums and turn them into deals (that could have been made well
before). All he really needs to do to open up Iran and North Korea
is to let the sanctions go first, to establish some good will, and
let those countries be sucked into normalcy with mutually beneficial
trade. Most other foreign policy conflicts could be solved without
much more effort. And he has one advantage that no Democrat will:
he won't have a psycho like Donald Trump constantly attacking him
from the right, arguing that every concession he makes is a sign of
weakness. The only deal he's delivered so far (USMCA) is a fair test
case. It sailed through without serious objection because the only
person deranged enough to derail it kept his mouth shut.
More links on Iran, war, and foreign policy:
Trump's "Mission Accomplished" moment?
Tucker Carlson is not your new best friend: "The Fox News host's
antiwar stance doesn't erase all that other ugliness."
Will this billionaire-funded think tank get its war with Iran?
"The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' militaristic influence
on US policy toward Iran is working. Suleiman's assassination is evidence
The Iraq War hawks are back: "Some of the biggest backers of the Iraq
War sure have a lot of opinions on Iran."
The West is still buying into nonsense about Iran's regional influence.
Sean Collins/Jen Kirby:
A Ukrainian plane crashed in Iran: What we know: "Iran has admitted
to accidentally shooting down the plane."
'History has proven her right': Barbara Lee's anti-war push succeeds on
Karen J Greenberg:
Killing Qassim Suleimani was illegal. And predictable. As this
piece notes, America's history of assassinating foreign leaders goes
back at least to 1960, with Patrice Lumumba ("success") and Fidel
Castro ("failed"), but had been prohibited in 1976, and only returned
to favor with GW Bush's Global War on Terror. I'd add that what really
turned it into fashion was envy of Israel's "targeted killings," which
really picked up in the 1980s.
Shane Harris/Josh Dawsey/Dan Lamothe/Missy Ryan:
'Launch, launch, launch': Inside the Trump administration as the
Iranian missiles began to fall. Key point here is that Iran
tipped off Iraq well before the missile strike, and Iraq passed
the information on to the US, so as to minimize casualties. Zero
casualties made it easier for Trump to stand down after the strike,
which was evidently just for show. As I recall, Trump did the same
thing, tipping Russia on a big US strike against a Syrian air base:
another big show that did little effective damage.
John Hudson/Missy Ryan/Josh Dawsey:
On the day US forces killed Soleimani, they targeted a senior Iranian
official in Yemen. They missed, but they did hit someone. For more,
see: Alex Emmons:
US strike on Iranian commander in Yemen the night of Suleimani's
assassination killed the wrong man.
The case against killing Qassem Soleimani: Interview with Dina
Esfandiary. Vox paired this with
The case for killing Qassem Soleimani, where Alex Ward interviewed
Bilal Saab. Both are so-called experts (Saab a former Trump flunky),
sharing a lot of DC groupthink about Iran (and the US -- the "against"
case regards Iran as every bit as evil and duplicitous as "for" does).
No one dares venture that a reason to argue against the killing is that
it's bad (both practically and, dare we say?, morally) for any country
to go around killing people in other countries.
Samya Kullab/Qassam Abdul-Zahra:
US dismisses Iraq request to work on a troop withdrawal plan.
Michael McFaul/Abbas Milani:
The minimal value of Trump's 'maximum pressure' on Iran. I wrote
some about sanctions under Nichols below, but left out one point:
even when sanctions have devastating impact on the target nation's
people, they are rarely effective at deposing political leaders or
toppling their governments. The obvious example is that the only
communist countries to hold fast after 1989-92 were the ones the
US subjected to the most vindictive pressure: North Korea, Vietnam,
Cuba, and China.
Bush's Iraq hawks had Trump's back this week.
Trump's Twitter threats against Iran cultural sites borrow from the ISIS
playbook: Could also have mentioned the Taliban's destruction of
ancient Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.
Sanctions are economic warfare. There's an unnecessary word in that
title: Sanctions are warfare, meant to impoverish an "enemy," to cripple
their economy, ultimately to impose widespread suffering on all of the
people in the target country. The most extreme sanctions are literally
designed to starve the "enemy" into submission. Americans (like Trump)
like them, not just because they are effective in imposing pain, but
because they are asymmetrical. The economies of the US and its "allies"
(some should be called "co-conspirators"; others are more like hostages)
are so large that they can easily absorb the pain of not dealing with
the target country, while the target is prevented from engaging in
normal trade with much or most of the world. This size difference
means that no proportionate response in kind is possible. That's why
long-term victims of US sanctions like North Korea and Iran wind up
seeking other countermeasures, such as developing nuclear weapons --
as we've seen, the only measure that seems to get American attention.
Trump didn't back down from starting a war with Iran last week. He
actually escalated on ongoing war -- one that won't end until the US
suspends its sanctions against Iran, and permits Iran to normalize
its relations with the rest of the world.
Trump's conflict with Iran exposed the real difference between Biden
and Sanders. Good chance this has something to do with Sanders'
recent poll advances. First thing Laura told me after the Soleimani
assassination was "Trump just elected Bernie president."
Nathan J Robinson:
How to avoid swallowing war propaganda. Robinson also has a recent
book out, Why You Should Be a Socialist, as well as an earlier
one, Trump: Anatomy of a Monster (2017). Here's an
interview by Teddy Ostrow. The interview piece offers links to
highly critical pieces he wrote about Pete Buttigieg
About Pete) and Joe Biden
Chum). He turned me off a while back with a piece I don't recall
well enough to look up now -- possibly something snippy about Bernie
Sanders, but his latest thoughts on the campaign are worth reading:
Everyone is getting on the Bernie train. For example:
We need a candidate who fully understands the stakes. They need to know
the source of what has gone wrong and have a radical alternative. . . .
They can't capitulate before the fight starts. They need
to have a moral seriousness that shows they take the pain of others
seriously. They need to fill people's souls, to assuage their fears,
to challenge them to be their best selves, and to present a vision of
the beautiful world that could be if humanity got its act together,
versus the horrendous world that will be if we allow the deadly logic of
nuclear weapons and climate change to continue unfolding. This moment
demands something, a kind of power, we have never before mustered, a
resolve we have never before felt, a breadth and depth of vision we
have never before dared to pursue.
I cut a line from that paragraph: the one that starts "they can't
be some tepid compromiser." He's talking about Elizabeth Warren, and
I've been deluged today from her supporters taking umbrage that one
of Sanders' staffers suggested that she is the "second best" candidate,
so I figured we could do without the side-swipe. But I will note that
Robinson has a long paragraph on Warren that is pretty devastating:
look for the one that starts, "Personally I have long believed that
Elizabeth Warren would be a disaster against Donald Trump." Some of
his points don't bother me much, but "She is evasive where Bernie is
frank" does cut to the quick.
Iran plane crash likely caused by violations of international law -- by
both Tehran and Trump.
Donald Trump is the war crimes president. In his dreams, maybe.
He certainly lacks the elementary sense of right and wrong to steer
clear of war crimes, but neither does he have the track record of
GW Bush, let alone a Richard Nixon, and he still ranks well behind
others, notably Harry Truman (still the only person in history to
order the use of nuclear weapons on cities). On the other hand,
those presidents used larger wars to camouflage their crimes, and
probably didn't feel much kinship with the soldiers who carried
their directives out, let alone those who exceeded their orders.
Trump, on the other hand, has probably caught up with his reviled
predecessor Obama, who himself set records for "targeted killings."
Moreover, Trump's pardon of "Navy SEAL Commander Eddie Gallagher,
a rogue soldier who routinely shot civilians in Iraq for the hell
of it, and finally stabbed to death a barely conscious captive
young ISIS fighter who was the lone survivor of a missile hit on
an enemy house," shows a personal bloodlust beyond any president
I can recall.
The administration's deceptions about the Soleimani strike are a big
The House sent a major message about checking the president's war powers
on Iran. Now why don't they follow it up with another impeachment
article? By the way, this time it appears that Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo
are also equally culpable, so why not name them too?
Some scattered links this week:
The Trump administration is still struggling to get its story straight
on why it killed Soleimani. Some curious phrasing, from Defense
Secretary Mark Esper: "What the President said with regard to the four
embassies is what I believe as well."
Nancy Pelosi explains what Democrats gaind by holding onto the articles
Trump encourages new anti-government protests in Iran.
The Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to not rule on Obamacare
until after the 2020 election.
Another earthquake hits Puerto Rico, with aftershocks expected: A
6.4 on Tuesday, then a 5.9 on Saturday, with many aftershocks (45 and
counting of at least 3.0).
Trump has created a loophole to allow pipelines to avoid environmental
review. Refers to the Lisa Friedman article, below. When I first
read reports about this rule change, it was phrased vaguely in terms
of generic infrastructure projects, like bridges and roads, and meant
to cut through costly bureaucracy on projects where the environmental
impact was obviously limited. Pipelines are another story. They leak,
and the environmental impact of leaks is enormous. And at this point,
it's probably impossible to argue that a new pipeline won't increase
global warming, so eliminating that consideration is a life-and-death
matter to pipeline developers.
As Australia fires kill animals and destroy property, costs of climate
change become clear: "For those spuriously claiming climate ambition
comes at a cost, let Australia's black summer serve as a potent reminder
that inaction does, too."
Trump cited GOP Senate impeachment pressure as reason to kill Soleimani:
"You're not supposed to use foreign policy that way." Not that such
scruples stopped Bill Clinton when he was impeached.
Maybe nominating Michael Bloomberg for president isn't a crazy idea:
Chait's reasoning is that "only [Bloomberg] can outspend Trump five to
one." That's putting a lot of faith in the power of money to buy elections,
especially through lavish spending on TV. How's that working out? See:
Bloomberg and Steyer $200m spend on TV ads: "Steyer's spending in
South Carolina is beginning to slowly move the polls: he is now placed
fifth with 5% of projected Democratic voters." However, he's stuck at
1.5% nationally. Bloomberg is supposedly doing better nationwide --
I've seen polls as high as 7% -- but he's not even in the race for
Iowa or New Hampshire, nor has he qualified for a single debate, so
all he has going is his TV ad buy, and even there his selling point
is "Trump = bad," not Bloomberg offers unique hope for the real
problems the country faces. (Also see:
Michael Bloomberg outspent the entire Democratic field in TV ads last
week.) Sure, it might be nice if the Democrats could draw on
Bloomberg's deep pockets, but Bloomberg himself is by far the
most reactionary, elitist, offensive candidate in the running (a list
which, by the way, still includes John Delaney). [PS: Also see:
Michael Bloomberg is open to spending $1 billion to defeat Trump,
"even if the nominee was someone he had sharp differences with, like
Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren."]
Iraq War at 154: Who voted for it, who didn't, and where are they
Donald Trump's worst deal: The shady story of Trump Tower Baku.
Miriam Elder/Ruby Cramer:
Donald Trump is starting to fixate on Bernie Sanders.
The global war on error: "No, that's not a typo." And yes, error
is winning, handily.
What an Elizabeth Warren presidency would look like. This is paired
with Daniel Denvir:
What a Bernie Sanders presidency would look like. Both are pretty
good, although I'd give Sanders the edge for a foreign policy which
is based on principles of justice for all, and a political strategy
which promises to venture out to states beyond the "blue wall." I
don't think Warren is opposed to either point, but her instincts for
landing on the right side are less sure. The other thing about Warren
is that her appeal hasn't spread beyond college-educated professionals.
That should change if she's nominated, much like Buttigieg will wind
up with strong support from blacks if he makes it to November, but
Bernie has so far done a better job of broadening his base. In
These Times and didn't bother attempting to assay other Democratic
Party candidates. I doubt anyone really has a clue what a Buttigieg
presidency might look like. On the other hand, we can picture a Biden
one all too well.
John F Harris:
'He is our OJ': "Readers explain why they're standing with Trump during
impeachment." Author also wrote:
Impeachment and the crack up of the conservative mind.
As Australia burns, its leaders are clinging to coal.
Boeing employees mocked FAA and 'clowns' who designed 737 Max. As
one internal email put it, "this airplane is designed by clowns, who
are in turn supervised by monkeys." Reminds me of a friend who worked
for Boeing, telling me of a company meeting where a manager bragged,
"this isn't your father's Boeing any more." For the record, my father
retired from Boeing as soon as he could draw his pension, and refused
to ever fly in a Boeing airplane.
What will another decade of climate crisis bring?
Trump's art of the steal: "How Donald Trump rode to power by parroting
other people's fringe ideas, got himself impeached for it -- and might
Study links Medicaid expansion to 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose
A new study finds increasing the minimum wage reduces suicides.
Mark Mazzetti/Ronen Bergman/David D Kirkpatrick:
Saudis close to Crown Prince discussed killing other enemies a year
before Khashoggi's death.
Tabula rasa: Volume one. Part of his "old-person project" -- writing
about what he never got around to writing about. I'm a big McPhee fan,
but this isn't especially promising.
The Trump administration's subtle, devious plan to dismantle abortion
rights: "The Supreme Court could quash the right to an abortion
entirely through procedural shenanigans."
The Trump administration has finalized an agreement to deport asylum
seekers back to Honduras.
Trump tried to get E Jean Carroll's lawsuit dismissed. It didn't work.
The future of America's context with China: "Washington is in an
intensifying standoff with Beijing. Which one will fundamentally shape
the twenty-first century?" Reminiscent of the 19th Century's "Great
Game" between Britain and Russia -- a contest which said much about
the self-absorption of so-called great powers, not least their inability
to consider that the rest of the world might have other plans.
The most popular crook in America: Larry Hogan, the "very popular"
Republican governor of Maryland. For more, see Eric Cortellessa:
Who does Maryland's governor really work for? Pareene writes:
I've argued that, in many respects, the presidency of Donald Trump
is more "normal" than some people would like to admit. That is, it's a
logical end point of where conservatism has been moving, rather than an
inexplicable break from a system that was working as intended. But even
so, in his personal behavior and incendiary rhetoric, Trump is aberrant --
and, it should always be noted, he is deeply unpopular. The country, by
and large, doesn't want what Trump has wrought. His election was both
overdetermined and something of a bizarre fluke, which would, arguably,
not have happened had it not been for geography and our illogical modern
interpretation of archaic founding documents.
Hogan, on the other hand, is exactly the "normal" to which politicians
like Joe Biden promise to return us when they try to speak into existence
a Republican Party that they can "work with."
How political fact-checkers distort the truth: "Glenn Kessler and
his ilk aren't sticking to the facts. They are promoting a moderate
How to dump Trump: Rick Wilson on Running Against the Devil.
Wilson is "a top Republican strategist with 30 years' experience," and
that's the title of his new book, a sequel to his 2018 book Everything
Trump Touches Dies.
Charles P Pierce: He writes more than a dozen short
posts a week,
many interesting, although for me it gets tiresome to delve
through all of them when I usually have some other source for the
same story (usually covered in more depth). Still, some titles
that caught my eye this week:
Pelosi: House will send impeachment articles to the Senate next week.
What will happen to the Trump toadies? "Look to Nixon's defenders,
and the Vichy collaborators, for clues." Steve M. has his doubts:
Frank Rich's delusions of cosmic justice.
The equality conundrum. Much nitpicking, not sure he comes up with
Kansas has reached a deal to expand Medicaid, covering 150,000 people.
Not a "done deal," as there are still Republicans who will fight it.
Amy Davidson Sorkin:
In Ohio, Trump lists the sacrifices he makes for the nation.
Installing air filters in classrooms has surprisingly large educational
Elizabeth Warren's new plan to reform bankruptcy law, explained
Bernie Sanders can unify Democrats and beat Trump in 2020. Surprised
to see this, given that Yglesias last tried his "electability" argument
to push Amy Klobuchar, and more generally given his designation as the
2019 "neoliberal shill of the year." This is supposed to be the "first
in a Vox series making the best case for each of the top Democratic
contenders," but I haven't noticed any of the others yet. Meanwhile,
there's Katelyn Burns:
Sanders tops latest Iowa poll, but the 2020 Democratic primary is still
a four way race.
The US-Saudi alliance is deeply unpopular with the American people.
The strong economy is an opportunity for progressives. Claims that
"voters are happy with the economy," citing a
CNN poll where 76 percent of voters rate economic conditions as
either "very good" or "somewhat good." Includes a chart that shows
that "pick-up in wage growth has come from low-wage industries" --
something I've seen others cite, but what I haven't seen is a chart
that distinguishes between low-wage workers who got raises due to
minimum wage increases compared with purely economic effects on the
labor market. There's no reason to attribute the former to Trump or
the Republicans -- just the opposite. And while raises for low wage
workers help, the poor are still poor, and prices -- Yglesias cites
child care as a major concern -- eat up a good chunk of income. But
even if Yglesias is right that most people are no longer worried
about the economy, he's also right that Democrats have other issues
to run on:
But one nice thing about a strong labor market is that it creates
political space to finally pay attention to the myriad social problems
that can't be solved by a "good economy" alone -- things like child
care, health care, college costs, and environmental protection -- that
during, the Obama years, tended to be crowded out by a jobs-first
Good times, in other words, could be the perfect opportunity to
finally tackle the many long-lingering problems for which progressives
actually have solutions and about which conservatives would rather not
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