Sunday, January 19, 2020
Last week's 6-candidate mini-debate reminded us that the Iowa Caucuses
are fast approaching: February 3. It will be the first opportunity any
Americans have to vote for candidates, the remnants of a field that has
been reduced by half mostly through the whims of donors and the media.
Unfortunately, the Americans voting will be Iowans. I was reminded of
this by John Kerry, campaigning these days for Joe Biden. Kerry scored
a surprise win in Iowa in 2004, kicking off an ill-fated campaign that
resulted in a second term for GW Bush and Dick Cheney. As I recall, a
lot of weight then was put on the idea of "electability," with many of
Kerry's supporters figuring that Kerry's military record would sway
voters against Bush. They miscalculated then, yet they're still in
position to choose our fates.
I've been rather sanguine about the Democratic nominating process
so far, but closing in on the start of actual voting, everyone is
starting to get on my nerves. Even Sanders, who has by far the best
analyses and positions, and the most steadfast character, but who
I fear the media will never respect much less accept, and who will
be hounded repeatedly with mistruths and misunderstandings. (The
articles below that explicitly call out CNN will give you pretty
glaring examples of what I mean.) Even Warren seems to have decided
that the way to gain (or save) votes from Sanders is by resorting
to half-truths and innuendo. I discuss one example below, but the
whole pre-debate dust-up reflects very poorly on her, not least
because it was done in ways that leave scars over trivial issues.
Meanwhile Biden seems to be getting a free pass as he's blundering
I haven't been bothered much by the so-called moderates' plans,
because no matter who wins it's effectively the right-most half of
the party in Congress that will be passing laws and setting policy.
But it does bother me that they've spent so much time trashing
Medicare for All. In don't have a problem advocating half-measures
to ameliorate the present system here and there, and figure that
as a practical matter that's how reform will have to happen, but
even the most reticent Democrat should realize that single-payer
would be a better solution, and is a necessary goal. They really
should acknowledge that, even if they doubt its practicality. But
instead they're attacking it on grounds of costs and/or choice,
which is simply ignorant.
I'm also rather sick of the "electability" issue, not least
because I'm convinced that no one really understands the matter,
because it's unprovable (except too late), and because it invites
strong opinions based on nothing more than gut instincts. Still,
I write about it several places below. Clearly, I have my own
opinions on the matter, but can offer no more proof for them
than you can for yours. I only wish to add here that one more
thing I believe is that the election will turn not on whether
the Democrats nominate one candidate or another but on whether
Americans are so sick and tired of Trump they'll vote for any
Democrat to spare themselves. And in that case, why not pick
the better Democrat?
Some scattered links this week:
Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates.
Who do record ocean temperatures matter?
Bernie Sanders's lonely 2017 battle to stop Iran sanctions and save the
Trump's evil is contagious: "The president has shown us exactly what
happens when good people do nothing."
Lisa Friedman/Claire O'Neill:
Who controls Trump's environmental policy?: "Among 20 of the most
powerful people in government environment jobs, most have ties to the
fossil fuel industry or have fought against the regulations they are
now supposed to enforce." Names, faces, resumes. E.g., David Dunlap,
Deputy head of science policy at EPA, former chemicals expert for
Koch Industries, earlier VP of the Chlorine Institute (representing
producers and distributors); currently oversees EPA's pollution and
toxic chemical research.
Dan Froomkin:, in a series called Press Watch:
The willful ambiguity of Putin's latest power grab.
Why do Trump supporters support Trump? Book review of Michael Lind:
The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite.
A fairly critical one, as the reviewer thinks Lind is a bit gullible
when he attributes economic fears to Trump voters.
Yes, the UK media's coverage of Meghan Markle really is racist. We
just finished streaming this season of The Crown, which reaffirmed
our understanding that the British monarchy is a preposterous institution
inhabited by ridiculous people. The series reached the 25-year mark in
Elizabeth II's reign, finding her lamenting the steady decline of the
nation and the decay of its imperial pretensions, to which we could only
add that the next 25 (actually 40 now) years would be even worse for
British pretensions of grandeur. Few things interest me less than the
bickerings of the Windsors, or surprise me less than that the few who
still cling to monarchist fantasies would resort to racism when pushed
into a corner. Indeed, back in the 1990s when I worked for a while in
England, I was repeatedly struck by the casual racism of white Brits
(even those quick to frown on American racism).
Phyllis Bennis on Dem debate: Support for combat troop withdrawal is
not enough to stop endless wars. Bennis noted:
You know, I think one of the things that was important to see last
night was that all of the Democratic candidates, including the right
wing of the group, as well as the progressives, as well as Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were vying with each other essentially
to see who could be more critical of the Iraq War. They all have said
that at various points, but last night it was very overt that this
was a critical point of unity for these candidates. Now, whether that
says much about the prospects for the Democratic Party is not so
clear, but I thought that was an important advance, that there's a
recognition of where the entire base of half this country is, which
is strongly against wars.
The center blows itself up: Care and spite in the 'Brexit election'.
"Flood the zone with shit": How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy:
"The impeachment trial probably won't change any minds. Here's why." Not
his usual interview piece (although he cites interviews along the way).
Makes many important points; for example:
As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon's
lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the
narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and
into the mainstream media. That's exactly what happened with the
now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning
of her campaign -- a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the
supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that's what
mainstream media news organizations do.
In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not
necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely
plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption
around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story
the way it always has, helped create that cloud.
You see this dynamic at work daily on cable news. Trump White House
adviser Kellyanne Conway lies. She lies a lot. Yet CNN and MSNBC have
shown zero hesitation in giving her a platform to lie because they see
their job as giving government officials -- even ones who lie -- a
Even if CNN or MSNBC debunk Conway's lies, the damage will be done.
Fox and right-wing media will amplify her and other falsehoods; armies
on social media, bot and real, will, too (@realDonaldTrump will no doubt
chime in). The mainstream press will be a step behind in debunking --
and even the act of debunking will serve to amplify the lies.
Australia's weird weather is getting even weirder.
Joe Biden is still the frontrunner but he doesn't have to be.
"Biden is surviving on the myth that he's the most electable Democrat.
The Democratic debates' biggest (electoral) losers, by the numbers.
Elizabeth Warren usually makes well-reasoned arguments to advance
carefully thought-out plans, but I found her debate point on the
superior electability of women (or maybe just Amy Klobuchar and
herself) to be remarkably specious and disingenuous. She said:
I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at
people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look
at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.
The only people on this stage who have won every single election
that they've been in are the women, Amy and me.
She went on to add that she was "the only person on this stage
who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30
years." The time limit was especially critical there, as Bernie
Sanders defeated an incumbent Republican to win his House seat
in November 1990 -- 30 years ago, if you do some rounding up.
The time limit also excluded Joe Biden from comparison, as his
first Senate win (defeating Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs),
was in 1972, 48 years ago. One could also point out that Warren's
win over "Republican incumbent" Scott Brown in 2012 wasn't really
an upset: Brown had freakishly won a low turnout special election
in 2010 in a heavily Democratic state -- the only one that had
rejected Reagan in 1984, one that hadn't elected a Republican to
the Senate since Edward Brooke (1967-79) -- which made him easy
pickings in 2012.
PolitiFact ruled that Warren's quoted statement was true, but
the only way they got to 10 was by counting three "ran and lost
for president" elections -- two for Biden (1988 and 2008), one
for Sanders (2016). Sanders had 6 of the other 7 losses, all from
early in his career, the House race in 1988 (against Peter Smith,
who he beat in 1990). The other loss was Pete Buttigieg's first
race, in 2010 for Indiana state treasurer, against a Republican
incumbent in a solidly Republican state. One could say lots of
things about this data set, but Warren's interpretation is very
peculiar and self-serving -- so much so I was reminded of the
classic sociology text, How to Lie With Statistics.
If you know anything about statistics, it's that sample size
and boundary conditions are critical. Comparing two women against
four men (one who's never run before, the other much younger so
he's only managed three races, two of them for mayor) isn't much
of a sample. The 30-years limit reduces it even more, excluding
a period when Biden and Sanders were undefeated. That's a lot of
tinkering just to make a point which is beside the point anyway.
When I go back to Warren's quote, the first thing that strikes me
is that the premise is unproven ("the best way to talk about who
can win is by looking at people's winning record") and frankly
suspect. I can think of dozens of counterexamples even within
narrowly constrained contexts, but that just distracts from the
larger problem: that running for president is vastly different
from running for Senator or Mayor. (Biden's experience running
for VP may count for something here, but not much.) Moreover,
running against Trump poses unique challenges, just because he's
so very different (as a campaigner, at least) from the Republicans
these candidates have faced and (more often than not) beat in the
past. In fact, the only data point we have viz. Trump is the 2016
presidential election, which showed that Hillary Clinton could not
beat him (at least in 2016 -- and please spare me the popular vote
numbers). Indeed, based on history, we cannot know what it takes
to beat Donald Trump, but if you wish to pursue that inquiry, all
you can really do is construct some metric of how similar each of
the candidates is to Clinton. Even there, the most obvious points
are likely to be misleading: Clinton is a woman, and had a long
career as a Washington insider cozy to business interests (like,
well, I hardly need to attach names here). On the other hand,
Trump today isn't the same as Trump in 2016. Still, there is
some data on this question, not perfect, but better than the
mental gymnastics Warren is offering: X-vs-Trump polls, which
pretty consistently show Biden and/or Sanders as the strongest
head-to-head anti-Trump candidates. Maybe they could falter
under the intense heat of a Trump assault. Maybe some other
candidate, once they become better known, could do as well.
But at least that polling is based on real, relevant data --
a far cry from Warren's ridiculous debate argument.
: Brown got 51.9% of 2,229,039 votes in 2010; in 2012, with
Obama at the head of the ticket, Warren got 53.7% of 3,154,394
votes, so turnout in the special election was only 70.6% of what
it was in the regular election. Aside from the turnout difference,
Obama/Biden carried Massachusetts in 2012 with 60.7%, leading
Warren by 7 points -- one could say she coasted in on their
coattails. Warren did raise her margin in 2018, to 60.4%, a bit
better than Clinton's 60.0% in 2016.
No Senator is less popular in their own state than Susan Collins:
Yeah, but when she loses in 2020, she'll never have to go there again.
She can hang her shingle out as a lobbyist and start collecting the
delayed gratuities she is owed for selling out her constituents and
what few morals she ever seemed to profess.
New evidence shows a Nunes aide in close conversation with Parnas.
Trump signed a "phase one" trade deal with China. Here's what's in it --
and what's not.
The case for Elizabeth Warren: Second in Vox's slow release of
"best-case" arguments for presidential candidates, following
Matthew Yglesias on Bernie Sanders.
Joe Biden's agreeable, terrific, very good, not at all bad week.
But, by all appearances, the fact that Biden is no longer capable of
speaking in proper English sentences will be no impediment to his
political success -- in the Democratic primary, anyway.
Bernie isn't trying to start a class war. The rich are trying to finish
Trump tax cuts gave $18 billion bonus to big banks in 2019.
Bernie Sanders' foreign policy is too evidence-based for the Beltway's
The fundamental cause of all this rabid irrationality is simple: America's
foreign-policy consensus is forged by domestic political pressures, not
the dictates of reason. Saudi Arabia's oil reserves may no longer be
indispensable to the U.S. economy, but its patronage remains indispensable
to many a D.C. foreign-policy professional. Israel may no longer be a
fledgling nation-state in need of subsidization, but it still commands
the reflexive sympathy of a significant segment of the U.S. electorate.
Terrorism may not actually be a top-tier threat to Americans' public
safety, but terrorist attacks generate more media coverage than fatal
car accidents or deaths from air pollution, and thus, are a greater
political liability than other sources of mass death. And the Pentagon
may have spent much of the past two decades destabilizing the Middle
East and green-lighting spectacularly exorbitant and ill-conceived
weapons systems, but the military remains one of America's only trusted
institutions, and its contracts supply a broad cross section of capital
with easy profits, and a broad cross section of American workers with
5 takeaways from the Democratic debate in Iowa:"
- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's friendship has seen better days.
- In hindsight, Joe Biden probably shouldn't have voted for the Iraq War.
- Tom Steyer wants you to know that he will put his children's future above
"marginal improvements for working people." [This, by the way, is an
unfair and misleading dig at Steyer for opposing USMCA. Given that
Steyer is famous as a billionaire, you might think "his children's
future" has something to with the estate tax, but (like Sanders) he
is rejecting USMCA for its failure to make any positive step toward
limiting climate change.]
- Amy Klobuchar made one-half of a very good point. [But only as part
of "an argument against tuition-free public college."]
- Iowans' fetishization of politeness (and/or, the Democratic field's
political cowardice) is a huge gift to Biden.
Jim Naureckas/Julie Hollar:
The big loser in the Iowa debate? CNN's reputation.
Heather Digby Parton:
Lev Parnas spins wild tales of Trumpian corruption -- and we know most
of them are true.
Trump targets Michelle Obama's signature school nutrition guidelines on
Lev Parnas's dramatic new claims about Trump and Ukraine, explained.
One-term presidents: Will Donald Trump end up on this ignominious
list? Various things I'd qibble with, starting with "the list
starts out well" -- I'd agree that John Adams and John Quincy Adams
were great Americans with mostly distinguished service careers, but
the former's Alien and Sedition Acts were one of the most serious
assaults ever on democracy, and his lame duck period was such a
disgrace that Trump will be hard-pressed to top -- and his decision
to omit one-termers who didn't run for a second, like the lamentable
John Buchanan. But this dovetails nicely with one of my pet theories:
that American history can be divided into eras, each starting with
a major two-term president (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt,
and, sad to say, Reagan) and each ending with a one-term disaster
(Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter, Trump?). I can't go into detail
here, but will note that each of these eras ended in profound
partisan divides, based on real (or imagined) crises in faith in
hitherto prevailing orthodoxies. That's certainly the case today.
The Reagan-to-Trump era is anomalous in its drive to ever greater
levels of inequality, corruption, and injustice, which have found
their apotheosis in Trump.
Trump is a remorseless advocate of crimes against humanity.
Key architect of 2003 Iraq War is now a key architect of Trump Iran
policy: Remember David Wurmser? He was a major author of the 1996
neocon bible A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm
(which advocated "pre-emptive strikes against Iran and Syria"), author
of the 1999 book Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam
Hussein, worked for VP Dick Cheney, helped "stovepipe" intelligence
in the build-up to the Iraq War. After Bush, he cooled his heels in the
employ of right-wing think tanks, then landed a Trump administration
job thanks to John Bolton.
The Netherlands has universal health insurance -- and it's all private:
Sure, you can make that work. Their system is much like Obamacare, with
an individual mandate and "a strongly regulated market," so "more than 99
percent" are covered, insurance companies have few options to rip off
their customers. Also "almost every hospital is a nonprofit," and subject
to government-imposed cost constraints. None of this proves that the Dutch
system is better than other systems with single-payer insurance, but that
it would be an improvement over America's insane system. TR Reid wrote an
eye-opening book on health care systems around the world, showing there
are lots of workable systems with various wrinkles: The Healing of
America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care
(2009). I don't recall much from Netherlands there, but he did especially
focus on Taiwan and Switzerland, because they were relative late-adopters,
and their systems were implemented by right-of-center governments. The
Swiss system basically kept everything private, but imposed strict profit
limits. Until then, Switzerland had the second highest health care costs
in the world (after the US, which it had tracked closely). Afterwards,
Swiss costs held flat -- still the second most expensive, but trailing
the US by a growing gap. So, sure, the Swiss came up with a better system
than they had (or we have now), but one that's still much more expensive,
with slightly worse results, than countries like France and Japan, which
seem to have found a better balance between cost and care. [PS: For
another data point, see Melissa Healy:
US health system costs four times more to run than Canada's single-payer
William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of our Time. You know, the eminent
Nazi jurist and political theoretician.
Trump just hired Jeffrey Epstein's lawyers: Alan Dershowitz and
Kenneth Starr -- I'm not even sure Epstein was the low point of either
legal career (even if we don't count Trump yet). Many more articles
point this out. One that seems to actually be onto something is:
Laura Ingraham praises Trump for putting together a legal team
straight from "one of our legal panels".
Is there a way to acknowledge America's progress? He makes a fairly
substantial list of things that do mark progress (certainly compared to
when I was growing up), yet, as he's very aware, there's Trump, his cabal
of Republicans, and the moneyed forces that feed and feast on his and
their corruption. If those who oppose such trends tend to overstate the
peril of the moment, it's because we see future peril so very clearly.
Still, I reckon those who can't (or won't) see anything troublesome at
all will find the hyperbole disconcerting, and I don't know what to do
about that, beyond trying to remain calm and reasoned. This piece is
followed by "But can they beat Trump?": where Sullivan tries to weigh
the Democratic field purely on electability consideration. He's most
withering on Warren, and most sympathetic to Biden, but gives Sanders
the edge in the end. His list of positives is worth reading:
I have to say he's grown on me as a potential Trump-beater. He seems
more in command of facts than Biden, more commanding in general than
Buttigieg or Klobuchar, and far warmer than Elizabeth Warren. He's a
broken clock, but the message he has already stuck with for decades
might be finding its moment. There's something clarifying about having
someone with a consistent perspective on inequality take on a president
who has only exacerbated it. He could expose, in a gruff Brooklyn accent,
the phony populism, and naked elitism of Trump. He could appeal to the
working-class voters the Democrats have lost. He could sincerely point
out how Trump has given massive sums of public money to the banks,
leaving crumbs for the middle class. And people might believe him.
On the other hand, he argues that "the oppo research the GOP throws
at him could be brutal," and gives examples that impress me very little.
Most of them are sheer red-baiting, and I have to wonder how effective
that ploy still is. Sure, many liberals of my generation and earlier
find this very scary, but well after the Cold War such charges have
lost much of their tangible fear -- even those liberals who still hate
Russia must realize that the problem there now is oligarchs like Trump,
not Bolshevik revolutionaries. Sure, Trump attacking Bernie is going
to be nasty and brutish, but I expect it will be less effective than
Trump attacking Biden as a crooked throwback to the Washington swamp
of the Clintons and Obama -- charges that Bernie is uniquely safe from.
There's also a third piece here, "Of royalty, choice, and duty," about
Chance Swaim/Jonathan Shorman:
Kansas energy company abandons plans for $2.2 billion coal power plant.
This is a pretty big victory for envrionment-conscious Kansans, but
the irony is that it comes at a point when virtually all political
obstacles against been overcome. In the end, the company decided
that coal-fired electricity is simply a bad investment. Kansans
have followed this story for more than a decade, at least since
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius halted development on the plant expansion.
After she left to join Obama's cabinet, her successor reversed
course, and Gov. Sam Brownback was a big booster, but Obama's EPA
became an obstacle. Under Trump, all the political stars have
aligned to promote coal, but the economics have shifted so much
that coal use is declining all across the nation. Despite frantic
efforts by the Kochs and Trump, wind power has become a major
source of electricity in Kansas (fossil fuels account for less
than half of Kansas electricity -- nuclear also helps out there).
And thanks to Obama's support for fracking, natural gas has also
become cheaper relative to coal. So it looks like we've lucked
out, and been spared from the worst effects of having so corrupt
a political system in Topeka and Washington. For that matter,
Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has lucked out too, being saved
from such a bad investment.
CNN's debate performance was villainous and shameful: "The 24-hour
network combines a naked political hit with a cynical ploy for ratings."
11 US troops were injured in Iran's attack. It shows how close we came
Trump wanted to repeal an anti-corruption law so US businesses could bribe
foreigners. Based on a new book by Washington Post reporters Philip
Rucker and Carol Leonnig: A Very Stable Genius: Donald J Trump's
Testing of America. For more, see: Ashley Parker:
New book portrays Trump as erratic, 'at times dangerously uninformed'.
Also, by the authors, Carol D Leonnig/Philip Rucker:
'You're a bunch of dopes and babies': Inside Trump's stunning tirade
against generals. For another book review, see Dwight Garner:
A meticulous account of Trump's tenure reads like a comic horror
story. Also see the comment by Steve M:
In which I normalize Trump, up to a point, which quotes from the
above, and adds:
Well, actually, it is normal. Trump is a Republican. Both conservatives
and the mainstream media agree that a Republican can't insult the troops,
by definition. Only Democrats (and people to the left of the Democrats)
can insult the troops.
This is part of a larger problem that's plagued us over the past
forty years. The world of politics has been incapable of reacting with
sufficient outrage to Iran-contra, George W. Bush's post-9/11 toadying
to the Saudis and Iraq War debacle, and Trump's Putin bootlicking
because, performatively, Reagan, W, and Trump were all military-lovers
and flag-wavers. The conventional wisdom is that right-wingers are
correct: The telltale sign of disloyalty to America is insufficient
jingoism. If you're a Republican, you're never a menace to America,
even if you're actively doing it harm.
21 Saudi military trainees in the US are being sent home for anti-US
media and child porn. Evidently the two traits weren't mutually
exclusive, as the subsets numbered 17 and 15. Real reason was the
Saudi trainee who went on a shooting spree
at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Said trainee was
killed, so isn't one of the 21.
Trump has apparently wanted to kill Soleimani for quite a while -- since
as far back as 2017.
Let them fight!: "A great nation deserves a raucous and argumentative
primary, not a fake demonstration of unity." Choice line here: "If Warren
saw this as a way to innocuously smarm her way to the top . . ."
Joe Biden skates by again. Notes that none of the other candidates
are really attacking Biden, who remains the front-runner:
This pattern of behavior raises, to me, a real worry about a potential
Biden presidency. Not that his talk of a post-election Republican Party
"epiphany" is unrealistic -- every candidate in the field is offering
unrealistic plans for change -- but that he has a taste for signing on
to bad bargains. There's potential for a critique of Biden that isn't
just about nitpicking the past or arguing about how ambitious Democrats
should be in their legislative proposals, but about whether Biden would
adequately hold the line when going toe-to-toe with congressional
Jet crash in Iran has eerie historical parallel: You mean in 1988,
when the US "accidentally" shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290
people? Doesn't excuse this time, nor does this time excuse that time.
Both were unintended consequences of deliberate decisions to engage in
supposedly limited hostilities. They reflect the fact that the people
who made those decisions are unable to foresee where their acts will
take them and/or simply do not care. And while it's difficult to weigh
relative culpability, the fact that the US alone sent its forces half-way
around the world to screw up must count for something. For more examples,
see Ron DePasquale:
Civilian planes shot down: A grim history.