Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup

One-hundred days after Trump became President of the United States, about the best you can say is that he could have done even worse than he did. People make fun of him for only appointing a few dozen of the thousand-plus presidential appointees, but he's hit most of the top positions, including one Supreme Court justice, and he's picked some of the worst nominees imaginable -- in fact, a few way beyond anything rational fears imagined. But one of his worst picks, former General Michael Flynn as National Security Director, has already imploded, and another notorious one, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, looks like he's been consigned to the dog house.

Despite having Republican congressional majorities, Trump has yet to pass any major legislation -- although he's proposed some, and/or bought into Paul Ryan's even more demented schemes. So thus far the main thing Trump has done has been to sign executive orders -- dozens of the things, nearly all aimed at undoing executive orders Obama had started signing once he realized he wasn't going to get any help from the Republican-controlled Congress. While Trump's orders are truly disturbing, that's not so much what they do -- even the ones that aren't promptly blocked by the courts -- as what they reveal about the administration's mentality (or lack thereof).

Trump has also had a relatively free hand when it comes to foreign policy -- especially the prerogatives that Congress has granted the president to bomb other countries. His first acts were to escalate American involvement in Yemen, although he's followed that up with attacks against America's usual targets in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, and Libya. But while nothing good ever comes from America flexing its military muscles in the Middle East, a more dangerous scenario is unfolding with North Korea, with both sides threatening pre-emptive attacks in response to the other's alleged provocations. By insisting on an ever-more-constricting regime of sanctions, the US has cornered and wounded North Korea, while North Korea has developed both offensive and defensive weapons to such a point that an American attack would be very costly (especially for our ostensible allies in South Korea).

There are many reasons to worry about Trump's ability to handle this crisis. There's little evidence that he understands the risks, or even the history. On the other hand, he's spent eight years lambasting Obama for being indecisive and weak, so he's come into office wanting to look decisive and strong. Moreover, when he ordered an ineffective cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base he was broadly applauded -- a dangerous precedent for someone so fickle. Maybe he has people who will restrain him from ordering a similar attack on Korea, but he often resembles the "mad man" Nixon only feigned at. Nor does Kim Jong Un inspire much confidence as a well-grounded, rational leader (although see Andrei Lankov: Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman).

First, some 100-day reviews:

Some more scattered links this week in Trump world:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Amanda Erickson: Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a 'national security threat'

  • Thomas Frank: The Democrats' Davos ideology won't win back the midwest: Like Frank, I have a soft spot for the midwest -- its farms still productive even as the small towns and factories have decayed and been depopulated. Still, the Democrats' problem isn't regional. It's about class, something the Democrats regard as taboo. Nore are they attracted to "Davos ideology" -- just Davos money, or any money flexible enough to support a party which seeks to be all things to all people while never really satisfying anyone. If they ever want to come back, they have to settle on some vision they can campaign on and deliver -- something that, if not revolution a la Bernie, at least makes spreads the wealth Davos promises much more broadly and equitably. Meanwhile, they're vulnerable to critiques like this one: Cornel West: The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment; and Trevor Timm: Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party.

  • Edward Helmore: Whole Foods Is Tanking -- High-Priced Luxury Foods Don't Jibe With Our Times: I don't see much evidence that the analysis is valid. In times of increasing inequality, there's certainly a niche market selling high-priced food to the wealthy, and there's plenty of evidence of that. Last couple times I was in New York I saw relatively new high-end food stores everywhere. And we've had several, including a Whole Foods, open here in the last couple years. Fresh Market closed, but less for lack of customers than some corporate decision to reduce their distribution area. Whole Foods hangs on -- my impression is with fewer customers, but having gone there several times and walked out empty-handed I rarely bother. Sure, their prices are a big part of the problem, but I hardly ever find anything there I want, much less that I can't find cheaper elsewhere. I really lamented the loss of Fresh Market, but I could care less if these guys go under.

  • Amy Renee Leiker: More than 400 guns stolen from autos in Wichita since 2015: A rather shocking number, I thought, when I read this in our local paper -- especially given how cheap and easy it is to legally buy a gun in this town. Seems to be a nationwide trend: Brian Freskos: Guns Are Stolen in America Up to Once Every Minute. Owners Who Leave Their Weapons in Cars Make It Easy for Thieves.

  • Conor Lynch: Obama's whopping Wall Street payday: Not a freat look for the Democratic Party brand: After raising $60 million in book advances, Obama "agreed to give a speech in September for the Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. His fee will be $400,000." Stephen Colbert's comment: "Hillary wasn't able to continue Obama's legacy -- but at least Obama was able to continue hers." Their interchangeability may have once seemed like a political plus but is starting to look like a curse. The more buckraking Obama does, the more tarnished he will look to those of us who can't fathom their rarefied world, and the easier it will be for Republicans to tar them. As Lynch writes:

    As the Trump administration's recently unveiled tax plan reminds us, the Republican Party is and always will be committed to serving corporations and the billionaire class. Yet this hasn't stopped Republicans from effectively portraying their Democratic opponents as a bunch of snobby, out-of-touch elites over the past 30 years or so. According to a recent Washington Post survey, this rhetoric has paid off: Only 28 percent of respondents believed that the Democratic Party is "in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States."

  • David Marcus: Marxism With Soul: Review of a new collection of essays (Modernism in the Street: A Life and Times in Essays) by the late Marshall Berman.

  • Jonathan Martin: At a 'Unity' Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything But: An old friend of mine linked to this and tweeted: "Anyone surprised that Bernie-O don't care about a woman's right to choose, when it comes right down to it? Not me!" I'd be surprised if there was any basis for this charge, but that would require several leaps of imagination beyond even what the article claims. The back story is that Sanders and Keith Ellison campaigned for Democrat Heath Mello running for mayor of Omaha, and were attacked by the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America because in Nebraska's state legislature some years ago Mello had voted for several anti-abortion bills. For more background on Mello, see DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus? The upshot is that Mello had moved away from his early anti-abortion stance, much like Hillary Clinton's VP pick, Tim Kaine, had done. Even if he hadn't, it's not like I've never supported a Democrat I didn't see eye-to-eye with. It wouldn't bother me if NARAL, as a single-issue lobby, endorsed a Republican candidate with a much better track record on abortion, but those are few and far between out here, and as I understand it local pro-choice people are fine with Mello -- so who's NARAL trying to impress? I suspect that's the anti-populist faction of the national party, which could hardly care less about losing in Nebraska but regards Sanders as a threat. (Remember that the DCCC didn't lift a finger to help a pro-Sanders Democrat run for Congress here in Kansas, even though he had an impeccable pro-choice record which featured heavily in Republican hate ads.) And it's yet another leap of imagination to imply that the reason Sanders supports Mello has anything to do with his lack of interest in abortion rights.

  • DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus?: I've seen several complaints from Hillary Democrats about Bernie Sanders supporting Heath Mello's campaign for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska. The charge is that Mello is anti-choice

  • Steve Phillips: Democrats Can Retake the House in 2018 Without Converting a Single Trump Voter: The trick is mobilizing their base, while Trump voters get bored or lazy or disenchanted: "there are 23 Republican incumbents in congressional districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in November. There are another five seats where Clinton came within 2 percent of winning." Phillips is author of Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, so one of those guys who thinks Democrats can ride a demographic backlash against Republican racism without actually having to come up with populist positions. That strikes me as unlikely until they establish some credibility, which was something the Clinton-Kaine ticket had little of in 2016. Along these lines, see the John Judis interview with Ruy Teixeira, an early proponent of The Emerging Democratic Majority, Why the Left Will (Eventually) Triumph. He attributes Trump's win to "the declining group, the white non-college voters," who suddenly lunged away from the Democrats in 2016. Asked why:

    They do not have any faith that the Democrats share their values and are going to deliver a better life for them and their kids, and I think Hillary Clinton was a very efficient bearer of that meme. Whether she wanted to or not, the message she sent to these voters is that you are really not that important and I don't take your problems seriously, and frankly I don't have much to offer you. And that's despite the fact that her economic program and policies would have actually been very good for these people. There was a study of campaign advertising in 2016 that showed Hillary outspent Trump significantly and that almost none of her advertising was about what she would actually do. Almost all of it was about how he was a bad dude.

    Voters were fed up with stagnation and with the Democrats and they turned to someone who thought could blow up the system. The way the Democrats and the left could mitigate that problem is to show these voters that they take their problems seriously and have their interests in mind, and could improve their lives.

  • Matthew Rosza: Sam Brownback pushed for concealed carry in Kansas -- now the governor wants to spend $24 million to ban concealed weapons from hospitals: The 2013 law was written to make it prohibitively expensive for any institution to exclude guns from its premises. Turns out that includes psychiatric hospitals, and turns out Brownback finally decided that wasn't such a great idea. Of course, it doesn't help that Brownback's Laffer-inspired tax scheme has forced across-the-board spending cuts while leaving Kansas in a huge fiscal hole.

  • Joe Sexton/Rachel Glickhouse: We're Investigating Hate Across the US. There's No Shortage of Work. Also: Ryan Katz: Hate Crime Law Results in Few Convictions and Lots of Disappointment.

  • Clive Thompson: Gerrymandering Has a Solution After All. It's Called Math

Started this Saturday afternoon (the intro), and the hits just kept on coming.

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