07 February 2017

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors

Michael Kinnucan in Current Affairs, "Why Republicans Are Impressive:

This asymmetry is what's so impressive about the modern Republican Party. It's not just that they've won, but that winning has put them in a position to enact an extraordinarily ambitious and radical agenda, one which will in the course of a few months destroy pillars of American government that have stood for fifty years or more. If Democrats are ever to be in a position to pass their own agenda (or merely to undo the damage that's about to be done), they need to play close attention not only to how the Republicans won in 2016 - a question over which much ink has been spilled - but to how the Republicans transformed themselves over a much longer timeline into a party that could transform the country when it won.

The lesson is this: in modern American politics, having an ideologically coherent and disciplined party is an advantage, not a liability. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom: during the 2016 primary, many Democrats, especially those who supported Clinton, worried about the 'purism' of the party's younger and more progressive wing: would it force the party to confront a choice between nominating ideologically progressive candidates who would be unelectable and facing mass defections to its left? After all, it was widely understood that candidates needed to 'pivot to the center' to win general elections. Clinton's claim to be a 'progressive who gets things done' was founded on this assumption: the notion was that Sanders' policies, even if you found them desirable, were unlikely to get done because it was too extreme, while Clinton's was closer to the center and therefore more achievable. Yet in 2017 the most extreme political party in decades seems poised to get more things done than any party since the Johnson administration. What's wrong with the conventional view?

The notion that it's easier to pass moderate policies than extreme ones takes its plausibility from the notion of the average or centrist voter. You can read about this voter in polling on policy issues. If your policy is fairly close to the views of the centrist voter, he's likely to vote for you and you're likely to win elections; the farther you get from this average view, the more difficulty you'll have. An extreme candidate will turn off centrist voters for the simple reason that they disagree with him. (It is through this logic that Mother Jones' Kevin Drum mistakenly concluded that Bernie Sanders would have lost against Donald Trump.)

The trouble with this theory is that in modern US politics it is by definition impossible for a major party to embrace policies which are 'extreme' in the sense of 'far from the consensus views of the average voter.' The average voter's policy views, to the extent that these exist at all outside this context other than as artifacts of polling, are largely determined not by any particular factual information about the issues or ideological commitments concerning the role of government but by the policy positions of the major parties. If one of these parties embraces a particular position on any given issue, the 40% of American voters who consistently support that party will come to adopt that position wholesale, while most of the rest will come to believe (and be encouraged by the media's carefully even-handed reporting to believe) that this position is at least reasonable and defensible if not correct. There are very few views so extreme and so indefensible that they can't garner mass support if repeated frequently enough by a major US party - just think of 'global warming is a hoax.'

Or think of the Democratic Party's position on what it calls "free trade", even though it isn't, and even though half the country is in a depression and in despair as a result of these odious policies.

Bernie Sanders' policies were not "extreme" by the standards of most American voters, but the discourse allows them to be called "extreme" because the Democratic Party leadership keeps saying they are extreme, despite the fact that many of these "extreme" policies have the agreement of 70%, 80%, and even 90% of Americans.

* * * * *

David Dayen in The American Prospect, "Dismantling Dodd-Frank -- And More: Candidate Trump promised to take on Wall Street. As deregulator-in-chief, he will be Wall Street's best friend. History teaches us that financial regulations die from a thousand cuts rather than a signifying event. As Cornell University law professor Saule Omarova puts it, 'Financial reform is like a big onion. The more layers you peel off, the harder you cry.' For example, by the time the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law removed the Glass-Steagall firewall between commercial and investment banks in 1999, that separation was already effectively wiped out - by administrative waivers granted by regulators. The 1994 Riegle-Neal Act that formally allowed banks to open branches across state lines came after a decade of states altering rules to undermine local control of finance. Deregulation of mortgage rules that led to the housing bubble rolled out over a 20-year period, spanning Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. And even then, it took the George W. Bush administration's laissez-faire supervision to really supercharge predatory lending. So while Donald Trump, populist rhetoric notwithstanding, promised on the campaign trail and on his transition website to 'dismantle' Dodd-Frank financial reform, he probably won't do it in one shot. He won't even have to do it through Congress. Here's the likely blueprint."

Samantha Bee talks to Lee Gelernt about stopping the Muslim ban.

"Nationwide General Strike Gains Traction, Scheduled For February 17." I do think we need one, but I'm not sure who these people are or whether the timing isn't awfully premature.

President Bannon nominates Neil Gorsuch, who in high school founded a club called Fascism Forever, to the Supreme Court.
* "About That Kissinger Quote Neil Gorsuch Likes..." What does it mean when someone "whose primary credential is his supposed textual fidelity to the Constitution" loves a quote that says, "The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer"?

"As Iran Dumps Dollar, Congress Quietly Slips in Bill for 'Use of Force Against Iran': On March 21, The Islamic Republic of Iran will cease using the U.S. dollar in all of its financial reporting. The decision to stop using the dollar as a reference has been in the works for some time but was expedited after the Trump administration decided to include Iran as one of the seven countries banned from entering the United States. [...] In fact, the United States is already preparing for potential conflict with Iran, the US has introduced H.J.Res.10 - Authorization of Use of Force Against Iran Resolution. This resolution was quietly introduced last month with absolutely no media attention in spite of the fact that it 'authorizes the President to use the U.S. Armed forces as necessary in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.' "

"San Francisco police cut ties with controversial FBI terrorism task force: The San Francisco Police Department is suspending cooperation with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs, that have been accused by civil liberties activists of specifically targeting Arabs and Muslims, and violating their First Amendment rights."

The "centrists" always told us we were crazy and paranoid to think the anti-abortion people were after more than abortion. That's why now they are able to be right out in the open about it. "Anti-choice advocate admits to Joy Reid her ultimate goal is to make birth control illegal."

The Bannon White House doesn't want to hear from you, so they are diverting callers. Some techies who worked for Bernie Sanders have found a way to help you contact Trump anyway.

"Obamacare's Unlikely Defenders: The prospect of losing coverage and jobs has jolted a marginalized workforce into political organizing."

Yves Smith, "The Obama Administration Bails Out Private Equity Landlords at the Expense of the Middle Class: Government Guarantees for Rental Securitization [...] So in its waning hours, the Obama Administration gave a completely unjustified bailout to private equity landlords, that Fannie Mae is guaranteeing the income of all but the bottom tranches of Blackstone's latest rental securitization. Let us stress that there is absolutely no policy justification for this. The mission of the government sponsored agencies is to promote home ownership, not to give real estate speculators a 'get out of losses or underwhelming returns for free' card. Even worse, rather than forcing the private equity industry to take some well-deserved lumps for miscalculation, it will encourage them to continue to compete with lower-income prospective homeowners for purchasing properties. That means it will be even more difficult for young people to buy homes. Lambert has pointed out repeatedly in his stats wrap in Water Cooler that real estate markets are suffering from a shortage of homes. Having private equity continue to be on the prowl for lower priced properties that they know they can unload from an economic perspective means that the pauperization of the middle class is now official policy. Even though this guarantee clearly had to have been worked out during the Obama Administration, Blackstone did not make it public until it updated its filing with the SEC this week. It looks an awful lot like the timing was designed to make sure that the disclosure came after the new Trump team was in charge, meaning Obama would be unlikely to face the criticism he deserves, and the Trump Administration would be certain to let the deal stand."

"Donald Trump didn't come up with the list of Muslim countries he wants to ban. Obama did." This is actually a bit of spin, since it was not for the same thing. But: they're not countries that were associated with the 9/11 attackers, they're all countries we've bombed.
* Greenwald, "Trump's Muslim Ban Is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Uniquely Shameful."

"Army Corps of Engineers Directed To Clear Way For Dakota Access Pipeline: Jan 31 (Reuters) - Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, U.S. Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota said in a statement on Tuesday."

"The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion: Conservatives are more likely to support issues like immigration and Obamacare if the message is 'morally reframed' to suit their values."

"The Left Needs to Be a Movement, Not a Bunch of Lobbyists: Democrats have been on a losing streak almost from the moment President Obama was inaugurated and began his program of appeasement and compromise. They lost control of Congress in 2010, and lost the White House last November, because they were not offering American voters a real progressive alternative. For decades now, the party and its elected officials in Washington have been DINOs (Democrats in Name Only). Corporatists as much as their Republican opponents, they have been posing as something different by playing to their base with things like support for gay marriage, support for the unenforceable and purely aspirational Paris Climate Agreement, and support for...um, well, it's actually a pretty short list when you think about what Democrats have been for lately that really rates as progressive. Recall that when President Obama came into office, with a solid Democratic majority in both houses of congress, he had won with a campaign in which he had vowed to restore open constitutional government, to make it easier for unions to organize, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to kickstart the recession-mired economy with a burst of major deficit spending. He did none of that, and the Democratic Congress did none of it for him either. Obama and the Democrats paid for their lack of decisive progressive action by losing Congress two years later and it's been downhill ever since. Now they've lost the White House too. Unless that party wakes up and realizes that it needs a wholesale makeover, in the form of a return to its progressively assertive New Deal roots, it will lose the Congressional elections in 2018, and it will lose the presidential race in 2020, along with even more state governorships and statehouses (currently 32 of the 50 states are wholly in Republican hands)."

"Hamlet in the Age of Trump: Should Officials Resign When the Government Goes Crazy? This unusual question is presenting itself with urgent regularity as President Trump tries to overturn a wide array of sensible policies in his drive to implement a far-right agenda, including a chaotic travel ban aimed at Muslim immigrants. Yet it's a familiar question to a particular species of government official: those who have resigned to protest deplorable initiatives they disagreed with. The last time it happened on a significant scale was in the early 1990s, and George Kenney was at the epicenter. [...] What should a frustrated civil servant do? In recent weeks, The Intercept interviewed Kenney and the other officials who quit over Bosnia, and to a surprising degree, they generally agreed that dissenting officials should stay in their jobs as long as possible in the Trump administration, working inside the always-powerful machinery of bureaucracy to keep destructive policies from being implemented."

"Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warns, 'It all looks as if the world is preparing for war' [...] 'No problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race,' he continued. 'Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority.' Earlier this month, hundreds of U.S. tanks, trucks and troops rolled into eastern Europe as part of a NATO buildup - a move that Russia has rebuked as aggressive Western buildup. Meanwhile, President Trump has reportedly said he wouldn't mind having an arms race and has openly called for America to strengthen its nuclear weapons capacities. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said modernizing Russia's strategic nuclear forces is a priority."

"Seymour Hersh Blasts Media for Uncritically Promoting Russian Hacking Story: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts. Hersh denounced news organizations as 'crazy town' for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public." It's been pretty disgusting watching Democratic partisans use half-baked talking points and fabrications to try to discredit some of our most reliable reporters of the last 17 years, like Scahill and Greenwald and, yes, sometimes even Hersh. "'It's high camp stuff,' Hersh told The Intercept. 'What does an assessment mean? It's not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force - they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they'd give it to you. An assessment is just that. It's a belief. And they've done it many times.'"

Chelsea Manning in the Guardian, "Compromise does not work with our political opponents. When will we learn?"

Apparently, the Bannon White House is right about one thing. Turns out the popular president wasn't that popular. Of the last 12 presidents, it's no surprise to see that Kennedy had the highest popularity at the time he "left office" (70.1%), seeing as how he was assassinated and all. But even Johnson (55.1), Clinton (55.1), G.H.W. Bush (60.9%), W (49.4%) and Reagan (52.8%) were more popular than Obama when they left office. Only Ford, Carter, and Truman scored lower. Eisenhower's approval rating was 65% when he left office.

"How Democrats are getting played" - Or so it would seem. So far they are following the same playbook they used to let Scott Walker defeat them. Mass demonstrations are all very nice, but if they don't lead to people going out into the communities and finding a way to talk to strangers about the things they have in common and getting them onside, they end up being worthless.

Michael Hitzik, "Politicians aiming to cut Social Security and Medicare use weasel words to hide their plans. Let's call them on it. [...] We've been particularly wary of plans described as 'fixes' to Social Security and Medicare. As we've observed, these are invariably 'fixes' in the same sense that one 'fixes' a cat. But several other such weasel words surfaced in coverage of the confirmation hearing for Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), President Trump's budget director-designate. NPR reported that Mulvaney 'wants to overhaul' Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. CNN said that he 'wants to overhaul' the programs and believes they 'need revamping to survive' - a journalistic twofer! [...] Let's not allow these euphemisms to obscure Mulvaney's true opinions about these programs. He proposes to raise Social Security's normal retirement age to 70 (it now tops out at 67 for those born in 1960 or later), and to means-test Medicare. These are benefit cuts any way you define them. Mulvaney also has described Social Security as a 'Ponzi scheme,' a term he tried to evade during his Jan. 24 confirmation hearing. He said he was just trying to explain Social Security's cash flow, which 'takes money from people now in order to give money to people now.' That's not a Ponzi scheme. Moreover, that's not a full and accurate description of Social Security's cash flow, which collects money from people now and banks some of it to provide benefits for people in the future. (Do we really want a budget director whose understanding of one of America's most important fiscal programs is so vacuous?)"

Did I mention that MaxSpeak is back? (And while I would never say that demonstrations are useless - they're not - I do want to see people do more than just demonstrate. I'm happy to say that whatever made people numb-out over the last 17 years seems to be evaporating, but you still need to talk to people who don't already agree with you if you want to get something done.)

Alice Speri, "The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement: Bureau policies have been crafted to take into account the active presence of domestic extremists in U.S. police departments."

RIP: "Barbara Hale, 'Perry Mason' Actress, Dies at 94" (I liked the picture in this one, but there is a more detailed obit in the Telegraph, and still more with even more pictures in WaPo.) I always did like Della, a rare portrayal of a woman who was smart, competent, and efficient at something beside housekeeping and making dinner. And, of course, I liked it that there was a show on that reminded us every week that the accused is not simply "innocent until proved guilty", but sometimes even actually innocent.
* "Sir John Hurt, legendary British actor who starred in Alien, Harry Potter and Midnight Express, dies aged 77," of pancreatic cancer.
* Dan Spiegle, revered comic artist for almost everyone, at 96. Bleeding Cool has some more art in its write-up.

Dave Langford has posted Tom Shippey's eulogy for Pete Weston at Ansible.

"Should Progressives Let Corporate Democrats Lead and Be the Face Of the Resistance? [...] One of the side effects (or the main effect if you're cynically minded) of the constant and appropriate indictment of Donald Trump's policies is the rapid "disappearing" of those Democratic party actions that set the table for all Trump plans to do. This has two serious consequences. First, it puts neo-liberal, pro-corporate, pro-austerity Democrats first in line if Trump falls from grace and loses the consent of the governed. Which means competing progressive candidates would be mainly out of luck, and if Democrats won, we would likely get back a "fiscally responsible" Democrat who may want, for example, to "trim" Social Security, as Obama tried several times to do, instead of slash it, as Paul Ryan wants to do. [...] Putting austerity-loving Democrats first in line, though, wouldn't make them any more popular than they were the last time, when they lost a presidential squeaker that should have been blowout. And it puts them no closer to control of the House or Senate than they are right now, given their propensity to put up lackluster corporate candidates and kick real progressives to the electoral curb. In other words, putting corporate Democrats first in line to replace Trump is no solution at all from a "real progressive" standpoint - unless, of course, one is fully on board with a promise of incrementalism in a time that still demands rapid change."

Pretty sure the Churchill quote in "How to be a democracy under Trump" is spurious, but it's worth reading anyway.

"Democracy is Not a Team Sport [...] When we are aligned with a particular team, we tend to excuse and rationalize that team's bad behavior, because that team becomes attached to our own ego. We project our beliefs and feelings onto that team and its representative leader. Thus, any attack on the team becomes a personal affront, regardless of the fact that the team seldom cares about us. Consequently, Democrats rarely balked at Bill Clinton's roll-back of welfare, repeal of Glass-Steagall, enactment of an excessively harsh crime bill, passing of NAFTA, and deregulation of the Telecommunications industry. In addition, many Democrats justified or ignored Obama's increase in foreign wars, bail out of Wall Street, expansion of offshore oil drilling, extension of Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy, and promotion of free trade agreements that empower and enrich corporations. There is no direct Republican corollary to the actions of the Democrats because Republicans do not implement policies that would be otherwise considered Democratic. However, what occurs with Republicans is that when confronted with such policies from Clinton and Obama - policies that are inherently Republican in nature - the Republicans reject rather than support them because they originate from the wrong team."

Smart tweet storm by Matt Stoller on how to shape activism.
* Matt Stoller in The Washington Post, "Democrats can't win until they recognize how bad Obama's financial policies were: Two key elements characterized the kind of domestic political economy the administration pursued: The first was the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent bank bailouts. The resulting policy framework of Tim Geithner's Treasury Department was, in effect, a wholesale attack on the American home (the main store of middle-class wealth) in favor of concentrated financial power. The second was the administration's pro-monopoly policies, which crushed the rural areas that in 2016 lost voter turnout and swung to Donald Trump."

Larry E, "Excuses for failures of Democrats continue to come [...] So here's the kicker, the bottom line of what the Clinton campaign and the whole damn self-serving liberal political establishment got wrong: All that talk about the fears and frustrations, all that talk about economic stress, about the loss of things you had counted on, about the loss of hope that your children will have a better life, all that talk doesn't just apply to white people!"

"Game Over for Democrats? [...] Obama created Trump, the man didn't simply appear from the ether. Had Obama acted in good faith and kept his promises to shake up the status quo, end the foreign wars, restore civil liberties, hold Wall Street accountable or relieve the economic insecurity that working families across the country now feel, Hillary Clinton would have been a shoe-in on November 8th. As it happens, Obama made no effort to achieve any of these goals, which is why Hillary was defeated in the biggest political upset of the last century."

Freddie says, "the thing is that we're losing terribly: The thing about the left, whatever that is, is that we tells jokes. That's what we do. And this is what the people who tell jokes can't do: anything else. They can tweet, and they can joke, and they can mock, and they can fav each other's stuff, and they can make their memes and get in their sick burns. But what they can't do is win. All that pride, all that showy pride, that LOLing, that meme-making, that joking, that peacocking, that self-aggrandizing, swaggering style that's ubiquitous in left online circles... it's tied to nothing. No power. No movement. No plan. That's not fatalism. It's barely pessimism. It's a description of the world that, they know themselves, is simply and indisputably true."

Well, maybe using humor to promote a message can have value, as with "The Smothers Brothers: Laughing at Hard Truths." But that was a different president, and a different time. (And they still got kicked off the air for it.)

"It Will be Called Americanism: the US Writers Who Imagined a Fascist Future: From Sinclair Lewis and Philip Roth to Donald Trump's favourite film, Citizen Kane, US culture has long told stories about homegrown authoritarianism. What can we learn from them?"

The precinct captain's guide to political victory. You might need this.

"Signs Democrats Are Rejecting The Gutter Politics Of David Brock & Peter Daou" - I'm not sure I would class Peter with Brock, but I have to admit he has been pretty awful since the beginning of the primaries, and he's still doing it. (Ironically, I noted that in his tweets, he actually took a rare break from trashing voters and pushing the Russian Traitor meme to ask why Senate Democrats weren't standing up to Trump. It was an act of will not to respond.)

"How Author Timothy Tyson Found the Woman at the Center of the Emmett Till Case: With a renewed cultural interest in the 1955 murder that catalyzed the 20th century civil rights movement, an interview with the author of a new book who tracked down the long-hidden woman at its center."

Jimmy Carter in The Onion, "You People Made Me Give Up My Peanut Farm Before I Got To Be President."

"The Best Mary Tyler Moore Episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show" - You can find some of these, or at least the significant scenes, on YouTube if you don't get Hulu. I found the whole of "Oh How We Met on The Night That We Danced", so far.

"Man Photographs Caiman Wearing a Crown of Butterflies in the Amazon"

Kubrick's brainstorms for the title of Dr. Strangelove

OMG, there's an ap for that? Lickster (Looking carefully, I wouldn't say their aim is true, though.)

Nicely done: Blade Runner fan film (11 minutes)