It All Went Wrong in the 1970s


Do follow up my last post on the true meaning of “centrism” by reading Michael Tomasky’s “The Real Legacy of the 1970s” at the New York Times.  He argues that it was in the 1970s that the nation shifted from its old consensus on Keynesian economics to the “supply side” nonsense that never worked but which we can’t seem to get rid of.

… walk down a street and ask 20 people a few questions about economic policy — I bet most will say that taxes must be kept low, even on rich people, and that we should let the market, not the government, decide on investments. Point to the hospital up the street and tell them that it wouldn’t even be there without the millions in federal dollars of various kinds it takes in every year, and they’ll mumble and shrug.

The 1970s also saw the beginnings of the Democratic Party’s lurch to the right, as the establishment sought to distance itself from both the New Left and from Lyndon Johnson’s mixed legacy of the Great Society and the Vietnam War. The heads-up-their-ass Democratic Party leadership that has been misdirecting the party for the past 20 to 30 years started their careers in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in the rise of neoliberalism in the early 1980s. And,of course, the Republican Party has gotten nuttier and nuttier since Reagan.

Then follow that up by reading this post by Steve M, which concludes,

I think the rich assume they’re bulletproof now. They think they’ll maintain their ability to hoard all the nice stuff even if the rest of America (or the world) burns. And I wish I believed they were wrong about that. I support progressive politicians, but I suspect it may be impossible now to make significant improvements to ordinary Americans’ lives through conventional politcal means. I fear the rich won’t allow us to do that unless we threaten to destroy their world.

Then move on to Sean Illing, Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism. In brief, capitalism as we know it doesn’t appear to be sustainable, yet it’s questionable whether meaningful reform is possible in our current political climate. We’ve lost the Vital Center, people. 

Share Button

The Vital Center Is on the Left Now

It’s been a while since I read Arthur M. Schlesinger’s book The Vital Center, first published in 1949, for some undergraduate poli sci course. I dimly remember that one of his arguments is that American liberty depends on maintaining political equilibrium between the extremes of left and right. And that premise is hard-wired conventional wisdom today.

But what did Schlesinger identify as the “center”? I’d like to quote extensively from his foreword:

I was born in 1917. I heard Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address as a boy at school, fifteen years old. Since that March day in 1933, one has been able to feel that liberal ideas had access to power in the United States, that liberal purposes, in general, were dominating our national policy. For one’s own generation, then, American liberalism has had a positive and confident ring. It has stood for responsibility and for achievement, not for frustration and sentimentalism; it has been the instrument of social change, not of private neurosis. During most of my political consciousness this has been a New Deal country. I expect that it will continue to be a New Deal country.

The experience of growing up under the New Deal meant too that Communism shone for few of one’s generation with the same unearthly radiance that it apparently shone for other young men a decade earlier. It was partly the fact that we did not need so desperately to believe in the Soviet utopia. Franklin Roosevelt was showing that democracy was capable of taking care of its own; the New Deal was filling the vacuum of faith which we had inherited from the cynicism and complacency of the twenties, and from the breadlines of the early thirties. Partly too the Soviet Union itself was no longer the bright dream of the twenties–the land of hope encircled by capitalist aggressors and traduced by newspapermen sending lies out of Riga. What we saw in the Russia of the thirties was a land where industrialization was underwritten by mass starvation, where delusions of political infallibility led to the brutal extermination of dissent, and where the execution of heroes of the revolution testified to some deep inner contradiction in the system. This conclusion was not, for most of us, a process of disillusionment for which we had to pay the psychological price of a new extremism. We were simply the children of a new atmosphere: history had spared us any emotional involvement in the Soviet mirage.

The degeneration of the Soviet Union taught us a useful lesson, however. It broke the bubble of the false optimism of the nineteenth century. Official liberalism had long been almost inextricably identified with a picture of man as perfectible, as endowed with sufficient wisdom and selflessness to endure power and to use it infallibly for the general good. The Soviet experience, on top of the rise of fascism, reminded my generation rather forcibly that man was, indeed, imperfect, and that the corruptions of power could unleash great evil in the world. We discovered a new dimension of experience – the dimension of anxiety, guilt and corruption. (Or it may well be, as Reinhold Niebuhr has brilliantly suggested, that we were simply rediscovering ancient truths which we should never have forgotten.)

Mid-twentieth-century liberalism, I believe, has thus been fundamentally reshaped by the hope of the New Deal, by the exposure of the Soviet Union, and by the deepening of our knowledge of man. The consequence of this historical re-education has been an unconditional rejection of totalitarianism and a reassertion of the ultimate integrity of the individual. This awakening constitutes the unique experience and fundamental faith of contemporary liberalism.

So the Vital Center Schlesinger spoke of was, bascially, New Deal liberalism. New Deal liberalism in 1949 was the perspective that it was a vital role of government to regulate the economy to promote broad economic fairness and protections from economic downturns and other misfortunes that were not people’s fault. In particular, workers, farmers, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations required protections from deprivation. In the 1050s 1960s this idea expanded into the belief that it is the proper role of the federal government to protect U.S. citizens from all forms of discrimination, including discrimination enacted into law by state and local governments.

This faith has been and will continue to be under attack from the far right and the far left. In this book I have deliberately given more space to the problem of protecting the liberal faith from Communism than from reaction, not because reaction is the lesser threat, but because it is the enemy we know, whose features are clearly delineated for us, against whom our efforts have always been oriented. It is perhaps our very absorption in this age-old foe which has made us fatally slow to recognize the danger on what we carelessly thought was our left–forgetting in our enthusiasm that the totalitarian left and the totalitarian right meet at last on the murky grounds of tyranny and terror. I am persuaded that the restoration of business to political power in this country would have the calamitous results that have generally accompanied business control of the government; that this time we might be delivered through the incompetence of the right into the hands of the totalitarians of the left. But I am persuaded too that liberals have values in common with most members of the business community–in particular, a belief in free society–which they do not have in common with the totalitarians.

The Calvin Coolidge Republican party  of the 1920s was very much about cutting taxes on business, reducing government spending, and unregulating markets. In 1949 most people blamed Coolidge and his veep Hoover for the Great Depression and gave Franklin Roosevelt credit for turning the nation around, and as hard as Republican propagandists have worked to persuade people otherwise, I think that’s basically the truth.

Harding-Coolidge-Hoover conservatism was in large part a reaction to Teddy Roosevelt-style progressivism, which in turn was a remedy for William McKinley’s laissez faire capitalism and the Age of the Robber Barons.  So in the U.S. we do swing back and forth between government by and for Big Business and government by and for the people. Schlesinger’s mistake was in believing that Americans had finally learned their lesson and wouldn’t be putting business leaders in charge of policy again. Hah.

So where is the center? What are the extremes?

The problem with labels is that labels change meaning over time. Today’s Republican party is no more the Party of Lincoln than I’m Brad Pitt, for example. In 1949 Schlesinger railed against people he called “doughface Progressives” who were, I infer, Marxists. I found a fascinating article by historian Beverly Gage about how the word progressive went out of fashion, and use, in the 1920s; Franklin Roosevelt made liberal the new acceptable word for a foreward-looking reformer. Gage wrote,

When Washington reformers became ‘‘liberals,’’ ‘‘progressives’’ in turn became more radical. In the parlance of the 1930s, to be a ‘‘progressive’’ was suddenly to be a ‘‘fellow traveler,’’ someone who never joined the Communist Party but who felt that the Communists might have a point.

Roosevelt’s former vice president Henry Wallace emerged as the standard-bearer for this new brand of progressivism, running for president in 1948 as the candidate of a revived Progressive Party, this time on a platform of labor rights and friendly overtures to the Soviet Union. As it turned out, the association with communism proved to be a disaster — both for Wallace’s candidacy and for the word ‘‘progressive’’ itself. Wallace won just 2.4 percent of the vote. The following year, the liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. excoriated Wallace’s ‘‘doughface progressivism’’ as a deluded and overly optimistic politics unsuited for Cold War realities. Progressivism, Schlesinger argued, had become ‘‘if not an accomplice of totalitarianism, at least an accessory before the fact.’’

That left the New Left struggling to label the difference between a Cold War liberal and whatever it was they were. But after Reagan was elected, the word liberal was turned on its head to mean something unrecognizable from what it meant to Franklin Roosevelt or even in the 1960s. So the heirs of New Deal liberalism today have backed off of “liberal” and call themselves “progressives.” And some people who identify as liberal are pretty far right of the New Deal.

See also: Liberal, Neoliberal and Progressive: What Words Mean and The “Neos”: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism.

That still leaves us the question of where the Vital Center is now. Wherever it is, it ain’t in the center, if you define “center” as a middle ground within the current political spectrum. If we define the political spectrum as synonymous with the Overton Window  — “the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse” or “the range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion,” then that middle ground is way to the right of where it was in Schlesinger’s day.

The result? William Greider wrote in 2011:

We have reached a pivotal moment in government and politics, and it feels like the last, groaning spasms of New Deal liberalism. When the party of activist government, faced with an epic crisis, will not use government’s extensive powers to reverse the economic disorders and heal deepening social deterioration, then it must be the end of the line for the governing ideology inherited from Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson.

Political events of the past two years have delivered a more profound and devastating message: American democracy has been conclusively conquered by American capitalism. Government has been disabled or captured by the formidable powers of private enterprise and concentrated wealth. Self-governing rights that representative democracy conferred on citizens are now usurped by the overbearing demands of corporate and financial interests. Collectively, the corporate sector has its arms around both political parties, the financing of political careers, the production of the policy agendas and propaganda of influential think tanks, and control of most major media.

What the capitalist system wants is more—more wealth, more freedom to do whatever it wishes. This has always been its instinct, unless government intervened to stop it. The objective now is to destroy any remaining forms of government interference, except of course for business subsidies and protections. Many elected representatives are implicitly enlisted in the cause.

There is no question that the Democratic Party establishment became aligned with corporate power, and their primary political strategy through the 1990s and 2000s was not to offer an alternative but to propose carve-out benefits for workers within pro-corporate policies.

So, in the sense that Schlesinger used the word center, both parties moved to the right of it.

Paul Krugman wrote last week, “Radical leftists are virtually nonexistent in American politics; can you think of any prominent figure who wants us to move to the left of, say, Denmark?” The current American Left is pretty much where the Vital Center was in 1949. There are a few Marxists on the fringes, but you don’t see them getting involved in party politics or even volunteering for Bernie Sanders.

So who are these people we call “centrists”? Back to Paul Krugman —

First, there’s the obsession with public debt. This obsession might have made some sense back in 2010, when some feared a Greek-style crisis, although even then I could have told you that such fears were misplaced. In fact, I did.

In any case, however, eight years have passed since Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years unless their calls for spending cuts were heeded, yet U.S. borrowing costs remain at historical lows. These low borrowing costs mean that fears of snowballing debt are groundless; mainstream economists now tell us that “the risks associated with high debt levels are small relative to the harm cutting deficits would do.”…

You might notice that centrist solutions for rising public debt never include raising taxes on high income and great wealth. Rather, they just want to cut spending.

… In general, centrists are furiously opposed to any proposal that would ease the lives of ordinary Americans. Universal health coverage, says Schultz, would be “free health care for all, which the country cannot afford.”

And he’s not alone in saying things like that. A few days ago Michael Bloomberg declared that extending Medicare to everyone, as Kamala Harris suggests, would “bankrupt us for a very long time.” …

… The real issue with “Medicare for all” isn’t costs — the taxes needed to pay for it would almost surely be less than what Americans now pay in insurance premiums. The problem instead would be political: It would be tricky persuading people to trade private insurance for a public program. That’s a real concern for Medicare-for-all advocates, but it’s not at all what either Schultz or Bloomberg is saying.

Finally, the hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s left and right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.

Thus, throughout the Obama years, centrists called for political leaders who would address their debt concerns with an approach that combined spending cuts with revenue increases, offer a market-based health care plan and invest in infrastructure, somehow never managing to acknowledge that there was one major figure proposing exactly that — President Barack Obama.

And now, with Democrats taking a turn that is more progressive but hardly radical, centrist rhetoric has become downright hysterical.

In short, what gets called “centrism” these days is barely indistinguishable from Coolidge-era conservatism. what gets called “centrism” these days is barely indistinguishable from Coolidge-era conservatism. “Centrism” is a code word for the status quo opinions of the very wealthy and their elite media lapdogs. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Vital Center Schlesinger wrote about.

Let’s call our current centrism Faux Centrism, since it has nothing to do with a middle ground between extremes.

This tells us a lot about why Democrats kept losing elections by running “centrist” candidates. Faux Centrism simply doesn’t reflect the needs and concerns of most Amricans. Faux Centrism is indistinguishable from moderate conservatism. They may be more liberal than most conservatives on, say, LGBTQ rights, but they are opposed to policies that would make the lives of most people any better. Faux Centrists are the same species as neoliberals, whose commitment to civil liberty for the individual ignores social reality. They’ll tell you they champion your right to live your life as you wish while they favor policies that will devastate your community and ship  your job to China.

Faux Centrists do not inhabit a middle ground between extremes. Faux Centrism is just another right-leaning ideology.

Share Button

Saddle Up! The Dem Nomination Race Begins!

I’m actually feeling pretty good about the Dems’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020. And I’m feeling reasonably confident that we’ll get a decent POTUS who will lead in a progressive direction as a result. I have no idea who that POTUS is likely to be, but that’s okay.

The Washington Post has created a list it calls “power rankings” (scroll down) of declared and likely candidates for the Dem nomination. The ranking itself means nothing now and will change dynamically once debates and voting begin. But I think anyone in the top 9 has a respectable shot at the nomination, and some below that could move up once people get a look at them. (Conspicuously absent from the list entirely: Tulsi Gabbard. She’ll drop out in a few weeks.)

I am feeling good about the list because, at long last, the “centrists” who are such a drag on the party are not feeling the love.

The rising Democratic enthusiasm for big government liberalism is forcing a trio of leading 2020 contenders to rethink jumping in, several sources tell Axios.

What’s happening: Michael Bloomberg and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, each of whom were virtual locks to run, are having serious second thoughts after watching Democrats embrace “Medicare for All,” big tax increases and the Green New Deal. Joe Bidenwho still wants to run, is being advised to delay any plans to see how this lurch to the left plays out. If Biden runs, look for Bloomberg and McAuliffe to bow out, the sources tell us.

IMO the beloved theory that Democrats must put aside what they really want in a candidate and instead settle for someone “safe” and “centrist” to win elections had its last hurrah in 2016. It failed. Not all potential candidates got the memo, but it seems to me the electorate has been unleashed. No more “settling.”

That said, Joe Biden — a nostalgia candidate — is sitting at Number Two after Kamala Harris. I like Joe Biden as a person, and it wouldn’t absolutely kill me if he got the nomination, but I hope he doesn’t. Alex Shepherd notes that Biden is one of the most popular politicians in the country now, but that popularity is partly the result of his being on the sidelines of politics.

Biden’s public image has been bolstered by his distance from public life. Even as vice president, he largely kept his hands clean of everyday politics in Washington. If Obama was seen as the brain of the administration, Biden was its heart and soul: an emotional man of the people, simultaneously macho and unafraid to cry in public, who famously pressured Obama (albeit accidentally) into supporting gay marriage. That perception has only grown in his retirement, as Trump’s rise has fueled a nostalgia for more decent times in American politics.

But if Biden runs, his past will be raked over—and his political record looks increasingly checkered in today’s light.

Anita Hill? Bankruptcy bill? Iraq War? Clinton-era crime bill? Nostalgia only goes so far. “A Biden candidacy, like Clinton’s, would serve as a reminder of the many flaws of a party establishment that an increasing number of Democrats would like to overthrow (or at least overhaul),” Alex Shepherd writes. See also Frank Bruni, “I Like Joe Biden. I Urge Him Not to Run.”

Of the remainder on the list, there’s not one who isn’t a mixed bag in one way or another. That’s because they are all human beings with public records. Nobody gets involved in the messiness of politics and stays completely pure. I doubt even Jesus could do it.  Yet there are those looking for purity. I’m seeing the various tribes of the Left pigeonhole the candidates based on their worst attributes.

Cory Booker, for example, is now the Big Pharma candidate based on one vote, and he’s being dismissed as a corporate stooge. But he also co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” bill, supports the Green New Deal, and he has some bold ideas on criminal justice reform and affordable housing. And I love his “baby bonds” idea. But, yeah, Booker has close ties to Wall Street and to some Israel lobbies that are worrisome.

Kamala Harris is Number One on the list. I suspect she will do very well. Her record as a prosecutor is going to hurt her with people who want criminal justice reform. But, damn, is she fun to watch in a Senate hearing. One on one against Trump, she’d make him look like such a pansy.

Dear Bernie Sanders probably will  make another run at it, but his age will be an issue, and the Clinton Bitter Enders who still irrationally blame him for her loss in 2016 will try to block him any way they can. I don’t think he will do as well against a big field as he did in 2016, against just Clinton.

I’ve liked Sherrod Brown for a long time. I can’t say I’ve heard any negatives about him, but he’s not being talked about as much on social media as are other candidates.

Beto O’Rourke needs to run for the Cornyn Senate seat in 2020, IMO. His voting record in the House is very much a mixed bag; he often voted with Republicans, I understand. I suspect he’s not the progressive savior people make him out to be, and I suspect he’s less electable than many believe. He’s more good looks and charm than substance.

I’ve liked Elizabeth Warren since I first heard her speak. IMO the “Pocahontas” smears are ridiculous, but they may be effective to keep voters away from her.

I hear good things about Amy Klobuchar, but some of those good things are coming from people like George Will, which makes me suspicious. I need to see more of her to form an opinion.

Kirstin Gillibrand is too often remembered as the woman who ran Al Franken out of the Senate. And even though she was my senator for several years, I still don’t have a strong sense of who she is.

That’s the top nine. For all the minuses I think any one of the top nine — well, not sure about O’Rourke — would do a decent job as POTUS. I would have no problem at all voting for any of them in a general election. Of course, I’d vote for road kill rather than Trump.

Michael Bloomberg is at Number Ten; he doesn’t have a prayer at the nomination. At least, I hope he doesn’t. He’s all wrong for the mood of the voters. His record as mayor doesn’t stand up well under scrutiny; he supported “stop and frisk,” for example. There’s nothing wrong with being a rich guy, but he’s a rich guy who has no apparent connection to working people at all.

There are other people further down the list who are respectable candidates who could move up into the top ten with a good debate performance. Who is likely to survive to the last few primaries is anybody’s guess, and I am not guessing.

Will the 2020 Dem nomination fight get as nasty as it did in 2008 and 2016? I think it will not, for the simple reason that Hillary Clinton won’t be in it. She is absolutely brilliant at setting people at each other’s throats. The #NobodyButBernie crowd will stir up acrimony on social media if they think Bernie isn’t getting a fair shake, but that’s about all they can do. Let’s hope Bernie gets a fair shake, though. I think his chances of being the nominee are slim, but his perspective needs to be represented in the debates and in forming the party platform.

I appreciate that, so far, the Dems are running on issues. They’re talking about health care, taxes, criminal justice. They’re putting out big policy ideas that are not just little incremental tweaks to the status quo. This, of course, provides Republicans with ammunition. But Paul Waldman writes,

First, a Democrat proposes a new policy idea — such as Medicare-for-all or tax increases on the wealthy. Then Republicans say, “My god, are you insane? If we do this we’ll become Venezuela!” Then some polls are taken and it turns out that the crazy socialist idea is, in fact, extremely popular among the American public.

For instance, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed a wealth tax on fortunes of more than $50 million, conservatives were aghast, crying that this was horrifying socialism. But the progressive group Data For Progress just polled the idea and found out that people supported it by a rather dramatic margin of 61 percent to 21 percent.

Likewise, a 70 percent marginal tax rate on income of more than $10 million, which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has proposed, garnered the support of 59 percent of respondents in one poll, which isn’t too surprising given that taxing the rich more is consistently one of the most popular ideas in American politics. And for years, polls have shown majorities of the public favorably disposed to Medicare-for-all.

You could quibble with one or another of those results, or argue that they’ll change if you alter the wording. But the point is that, on their face, these supposedly wacky socialist ideas Democrats are proposing are things Americans think are perfectly worthwhile.

The Republican Party is invested in two big ideas: Cutting taxes on the wealthy and investigating Hillary Clinton. Both are getting old. If Democrats start winning elections by making bold, progressive policy proposals, maybe the George McGovern curse will finally be lifted.

What are your impressions of the Dem candidates so far?

Share Button

Taking Back the Map

2016 Presidential Election Results by County

Since the 2016 election the Left has argued with itself about whether the obstinate ignorance of Trump voters is rooted in racism or in economic anxiety. I’ve been saying all along that it’s both, and that while there’s not much one can do about the racism, the party needs to address the economic anxiety. I’ve found some new ammunition for my position.

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times that there is a very strong correlation between districts flipping from Democratic to Republican and districts experiencing economic erosion, and vice versa. Parts of the country doing well economically are safe for Democrats. Parts of the country where incomes are stagnant and jobs are scarcer than they used to be get redder and redder.

Candidates on the right do best during hard times and in recent elections, they have gained the most politically in regions experiencing the sharpest downturn. Electorally speaking, in other words, Republicans profit from economic stagnation and decline.

Let’s return to John Austin of the Michigan Economic Center. In an email he describes this unusual situation succinctly: “A rising economic tide tends to sink the Trump tugboat,” adding

“Certainly more people and communities that are feeling abandoned, not part of a vibrant economy means more fertile ground for the resentment politics and ‘blaming others’ for people’s woes (like immigrants and people of color) that fuel Trump’s supporters.”

In June 2017, Austin demonstrated the importance of struggling white communities to the Republican Party. His study of the 2016 presidential results in the Midwest showed how strong turnout among voters in regions facing economic deterioration can help Republicans.

In other countries there are similar correlations between people who have suffered under austerity policies and a resurgence of right-wing populism. In other words, if you want people to not become klansmen and nazis, think about how the economy is working for working-class folks.

The arguments denying that economic anxiety have anything to do with the reddening of America usually are based on the fact that in 2016 Trump voters had a higher median income than Clinton voters. But Clinton got 91 percent of the African American vote and 66 percent of the Latino vote. She also got a higher percentage of women, including 98 percent of black women. White men enjoy a  higher median income even if they live in poor precincts. It’s also the case that the people who voted in those poor districts represented the upper incomes in their districts. This is why places that backed Trump skewed poor; voters who backed Trump skewed wealthier.

See Robert Reich, Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more. That’s why there’s so much red on the map.

The current issue of Washington Monthly is dedicated to taking back the map. This is something Democrats must do, whether they like it or not, if they are ever to dominate national politics and policy once again. (Although you would be surprised at how many Dems I’ve run into who think it’s perfectly fine that the party has been shut out of large sections of the country.) I especially want to recommend Paul Glastris, Check Your Coastal Urban Privilege.

I’d like to extend McIntosh’s concept to another form of unearned advantage: the economic opportunities enjoyed by residents of a handful of the nation’s largest and wealthiest coastal metropolitan areas. Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., and their suburbs, have raced ahead of most of the rest of the country in recent decades. But the well-educated liberals who most benefit from all this economic growth—the same people who are most likely to be woke to privilege in other contexts—don’t seem to recognize that a substantial portion of the gains are unearned, ill-gotten, and coming at someone else’s expense. 

Put simply, these big liberal metro areas aren’t thriving simply because they’re liberal, or educated, or “innovative”; they’re doing so in large part thanks to federal policies that allow them to suck up more than their fair share of the nation’s wealth. Since 1980, the gap between the per capita income in the wealthiest 10 percent of metro areas and the poorest 10 percent has grown by 21 percent. The contrast with rural America is even starker. As recently as twenty years ago, sparsely populated counties were doing fine; in fact, during the first four years of the 1990s boom, their rates of business start-ups and employment growth exceeded those of the big cities. But their economies collapsed during the 2008 recession and have not recovered, even as the largest metro areas have flourished. 

…This magazine has long made the argument–advanced in this issue in twin cover stories by Daniel Block and Claire Kelloway–that the migration of wealth and opportunity to a handful of coastal metro areas is not primarily the consequence of inevitable market forces, but of policy choices made in Washington. Beginning in the 1970s, and with accelerating force in the 1980s, elected officials dismantled a set of rules that for decades had allowed all parts of the country to compete on a level playing field. These included safeguards for local banks and retailers, regulations that kept the costs of air travel relatively uniform throughout the country, and strict enforcement of federal antitrust laws. 

And, of course, under Trump this trend has continued, and the economies of rural and former rust belt areas that voted for Trump have gotten worse. Although I am loathe to attribute any effect of Trump to any sort of intention, one does wonder (as Edsall speculates) if Republicans are trying to kill the economy deliberately to maintain their own power.

See Nancy LeTourneau, Coal Country Is Dying. All Trump Has Are Lies. and What Happens When a Metropolitan Area Shares the Wealth.

This is a complex issue that Democrats cannot ignore.

Share Button

The Moron in Chief vs. National Security

I’ve worked for some really incompetent managers. What happens when the manager is a total moron is that the staff charged with getting work done learns to work around said manager, keeping him out of the loop at all costs.

Yesterday the administration’s top intelligence officials – Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and others — testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee. What came from that testimony bore no resemblance whatsoever to anything the so-called Commander in Chief thinks. It’s obvious this crew is not bothering with the boss. They also aren’t interested in the wall.

President Donald Trump has previously declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, touted the defeat of ISIS, doubted the effects of climate change and railed against the Iran nuclear deal as “defective at its core.”

But the most senior intelligence officials in the Trump administration suggested Tuesday that many of the President’s sweeping assertions related to national security are inconsistent with their own assessments.

When pressed by Senate lawmakers during a hearing about the most urgent global threats facing the US, Trump’s intelligence chiefs, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA director Gina Haspel, appeared to contradict several claims made by the President to justify core tenets of his foreign policy.

Alex Ward writes at Vox:

President Donald Trump says ISIS is defeated in Syria. He’s said North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat” and that Kim Jong Un is committed to giving up his country’s nuclear weapons. He’s repeatedly bought Russia’s claim that it didn’t interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He regularly mocks the idea that climate change is a threat and has called it a hoax. And he said staying in the Iran nuclear deal would lead to that country acquiring nuclear weapons in “just a short time.”

But according to Trump’s own senior intelligence officials, none of that is true. Zero. Zilch.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other top intelligence officials presented their annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. That document “reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community” — including the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, and many other federal agencies — about the biggest threats currently facing the United States.

And the picture this latest report paints makes one thing stunningly clear: Trump’s major foreign policy positions are not based in reality.

ISIS is not defeated; North Korea is not about to give up nuclear weapons; Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and is poised to interfere with the next one; climate change is a major threat, and not just to security; Iran is not currently engaged in weapons-making activities.

Today Trump had a tweet-fit criticizing the intel crew because their testimony conflicted with his fantasy life, which these days appears to be based on a film called Sicario: Day of the Soldado.  The moron who got played by Kim Jong Un for the world to see says the intel guys are “naive.”  If we have a real national security crisis while The Creature is in office we’re doomed.

Also, Wisconsin is screwed. Paul Waldmann:

Last summer, Wisconsin’s then-governor, Scott Walker, announced a deal for Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to open a factory in his state, and like so many such deals, it came with gigantic tax incentives. Although it was extremely controversial, Walker insisted that the 13,000 jobs Foxconn was promising would be worth the billions of taxpayer dollars he offered the company.

President Trump took credit for it. As The Post reported at the time, White House officials were “ebullient” about the deal and even stressed that Trump himself negotiated it with the company’s chairman.

The consummate dealmaker made a deal, and now the benefits would rain down on the good people of Wisconsin, right?

Guess again.

A major jobs deal President Trump has touted with former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker now looks uncertain: Foxconn, a supplier for Apple and other technology firms, says it’s scrapping plans to build a giant new factory in Wisconsin, opting to hire American engineers and researchers instead of a promised fleet of blue-collar workers.

“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory,” Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chief executive Terry Gou, told Reuters. “You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”

The Taiwanese technology juggernaut initially pledged in 2017 to construct a $10 billion liquid-crystal display panel plant and create up to 13,000 jobs in the state’s southeastern corner over the next 15 years. The positions would pay an average annual wage of $53,000, the firm said — a solid salary in the manufacturing realm.

In exchange, Wisconsin agreed to give Foxconn at least $3 billion in state tax credits and breaks, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency that helped negotiate the package. The deal was much criticized at the time after it emerged that Wisconsin would not make money for 25 years. …

… Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office in November to investigate the Foxconn deal and other enormous state subsidy packages, said Wisconsin has already poured cash into new roads, campus construction and paying families who lived on the tentative factory site to move. He declined to name a figure.

Such a deal.

Share Button

Health Care and Taxes: To Boldly Go Where Dems Haven’t Gone Before, or at Least for a Long Time

Yesterday on a “town hall” on CNN, Kamala Harris floated the idea of getting rid of the private health insurance industry and going with a national single payer plan. Harris has been a strong proponent of Medicare for All for some time. Promptly, all of right-wing media went into a frenzy of pearl-clutching. But there’s been relatively less said about this in the rest of the media.

Martin Longman — a smart guy — doesn’t think Harris’s position is politically tenable.

In theory, I am very enthusiastically in favor of eliminating the private for-profit health insurance industry entirely. Yet, I know that this would cause a political firestorm unlike anything we’ve seen since George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. In fact, it would likely be an order of magnitude more controversial than that fiasco. To make matters worse, it’s a promise that could not be kept. To even contemplate the passage of such a bill, the Democrats would need a supermajority in the Senate, and that’s not in the offing anytime soon. In truth, the Democrats would probably need eighty or ninety senators to feel comfortable about getting 60 of them to vote the health insurance industry out of existence. In addition to the staggering number of negative constituent phone calls the senators would receive, many of them would be representing states that have thousands of health insurance jobs that would be on the line.

The question, then, is why would a presidential candidate run on a platform that included the elimination of private heath insurance? It might help them win the Democratic nomination, but thereafter it would weigh on them like an albatross. As a general election candidate, they would be savaged using rhetoric similar to what caused the Tea Party revolt and the midterm wipeouts of 2010 and 2014. Only this time, the rhetoric would largely be accurate and backed up by the media. If they nevertheless won the election, which is certainly possible, they would have to abandon their promise or they’d wind up taking a huge beating much like Trump did in his effort to repeal Obamacare.

I’m not sure what to think, other than it wouldn’t bother me personally to flush the entire health insurance industry, starting with the CEOs. Longman probably is right when he says it couldn’t pass, however, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s a risky position.

On the other hand, we’ll never get nice things if we don’t ask for them.  We desperately need an intelligent and fact-based national conversation on where our health-care dollars are really going and why health care in this country is so much more expensive — without  being any better — than in other countries. The health insurance industry is, in fact, soaking up a lot of those dollars without adding any value to the system. If someone running on the position of going single-payer were elected president, it might at the very least change the parameters of the health care conversation that the powers that be allow us to have.

I wouldn’t mind copying the French health care system, which has a strong and highly rated national health care system paid by publicly financed health insurance in which enrollment is compulsory. There is also private insurance that functions something like Medigap insurance. I understand private insurance in France is mostly not-for-profit and offered through memberships in associations or through employment.

There is also much pearl clutching going on about taxes. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income over $10 million. The marginal tax on great wealth has been that high and higher before in the U.S., and the economy thrived at the time, but of course the Right thinks this is a radical new idea. But Paul Krugman endorsed AOC’s proposal. Eric Levitz wrote,

French economist Thomas Piketty has demonstrated that high tax rates reduce pre-tax inequality – ostensibly, by discouraging rent-seeking among top executives, whose compensation is often determined less by productivity than a combination of social mores and their own audacity: CEOs are less likely to extract an extra $5 million from their companies (instead of allowing their firms to invest that sum in other purposes) if they know that Uncle Sam will collect 70 percent of their bonus. Thus, there is now some reason to believe that confiscatory top rates can reduce wage inequality, while producing some gains in economic efficiency.

All of which is to say: In 1980, taxing incomes above $216,000 (or $658,213 in today’s dollars) at 70 percent was considered a moderate, mainstream idea, even though wage inequality was much less severe, and supply-side economics had yet to be discredited.

On the other hand, Steven Rattner pooh-poohs this idea.

For starters, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seems to be ignoring the burden of state and local taxes, particularly for residents of places like her hometown. For us New Yorkers, the top rate for those levies is 12.7 percent. And thanks to the 2017 Republican tax cut, it is no longer deductible, bringing her proposed top rate to 82.7 percent.

Okay, then, make those state taxes deductible again. Problem solved. Next?

There are other, better ways to raise revenue — in particular, by increasing the tax rate on capital gains and dividends and closing loopholes.

I’ve heard arguments for taxing capital gains at the same rate as income. Rattner has a pain-free proposal:

But the 2017 tax cut legislation reduced the tax rate on corporate profits to 21 percent, from 35 percent. So if taxes on capital gains and dividends were raised by those 14 percentage points, we capitalists would be no worse off — and American companies would still be more competitive globally, the theory behind reducing the corporate tax rate.

In other words, let’s not expect the super rich to sacrifice or anything, especially since cutting corporate taxes doesn’t do a damn bit of good as far as workers are concerned.  And it runs up the deficit. Steven Rattner is a weenie.

And the loophole thing is old and tired. Everybody talks about closing tax loopholes, and then there’s a new tax reform bill passed that’s supposed to close them, but somehow new loopholes pop up in their place and in no time there’s more talk about closing loopholes. By all means close loopholes, but stop claiming that loophole closing is a magic bean.

Liz Warren has proposed a wealth tax.

Under Warren’s proposal, households with over $50 million in assets would pay a 2 percent tax on their net worth every year. The rate would rise to 3 percent on assets over $1 billion. Warren’s plan would affect just 75,000 households total.

I certainly have no objections. But the article linked points out that many nations that used to have a wealth tax have dropped them, mostly because the wealthy quickly find ways to hide assets or move them offshore.

Still, talking about all this is good. That’s the first step in making them real.

Share Button

Kushner Insecurity

While Nancy Pelosi was owning Donald Trump and Roger Stone was getting arrested, this also was reported:

Jared Kushner’s application for a top-secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him — but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner’s was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top-secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said.

In other words, at least a few dozen people have been working for the Trump Administration and given security clearances who are actually security risks. Okay.

After Kline overruled the White House security specialists and recommended Kushner for a top-secret clearance, Kushner’s file then went to the CIA for a ruling on SCI. [“sensitive compartmented information,” the nation’s most sensitive secrets]

After reviewing the file, CIA officers who make clearance decisions balked, two of the people familiar with the matter said. One called over to the White House security division, wondering how Kushner got even a top-secret clearance, the sources said. Top-secret information is defined as material that would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security if disclosed to adversaries.

The sources say the CIA has not granted Kushner clearance to review SCI material. That would mean Kushner lacks access to key intelligence unless President Donald Trump decides to override the rules, which is the president’s’ prerogative. The Washington Post reported in July 2018 that Kushner was not given an “SCI” clearance. CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said, “The CIA does not comment on individual security clearances.”

What do you want to bet Trump blabs everything to Kushner anyway?

Martin Longman points out that Kushner is being investigated by German banking regulators for suspicious activity in his Deutsche Bank accounts. And Tina Nguyen writes at Vanity Fair,

Given his various entanglements, the C.I.A.’s alarm makes sense. As The Washington Postreported last year, the president’s son-in-law is viewed by several foreign countries—the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, China, and Israel among them—as a potentially manipulable asset, given his fraught business dealings and his notable lack of political experience. Along with his communications with Russia during the transition, which caught Mueller’s attention, Kushner helped establish a back channel with the U.A.E. while supporting a blockade against Qatar, and has maintained a close personal friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly bragged last spring that he had Kushner “in his pocket” after Kushner allegedly turned over a list of Saudi dissidents being monitored by the U.S. (Kushner’s team has called this allegation “obviously false and ridiculous”; shortly after the gruesome death of Jamal Khashoggi, Kushner apparently became a reliable defender of the crown prince within the White House.)

Presumably, some or all of these dealings factored into career officials’ recommendation that Kushner be denied a security clearance. “They would not do that lightly for someone of Kushner’s stature and position,” Jacobson wrote. “The fact that the C.I.A. then denied his S.C.I. application is equally damning,” he added. “And the fact that they were so disturbed by the granting of his [top secret] clearance that they called over to the WH? Hooboy.”

There are reports Trump is losing faith with his son in law over the government shutdown fiasco. Yet I suspect Kushner will remain in the White House until the FBI hauls him away.

Share Button

View From the Cave

We’ve had a request for the dancing banana …

Interesting stuff in this analysis of the Cave by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Seung Min Kim at the Washington Post:

For weeks, Trump has sought an exit ramp from the shutdown that would still secure wall funding, and for weeks his advisers failed to identify a viable one.

Trump repeatedly predicted to advisers that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would cave and surmised that she had a problem with the more liberal members of her caucus. But she held firm, and her members stayed united.

“Why are they always so loyal?” Trump asked in one staff meeting, complaining that Democrats so often stick together while Republicans sometimes break apart, according to attendees.

After decades of “Democrats in Disarray” headlines, and Republicans being rock solid while the Dems crumble, that one made me laugh. But it also tells me that Trump has no grasp whatsoever of what’s going on all around him. The left wing of the Democratic Party will happily follow Nancy Pelosi as long as she’s leading them where they want to go. I’m seeing a lot of comments about how Pelosi is vindicated, but I also think she got a message.

Trump and his advisers misunderstood the will of Democrats to oppose wall funding. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, emerged as the most powerful White House adviser during the shutdown and told colleagues that Trump’s plan for $5.7 billion in wall funding would get Democratic votes in the Senate on Thursday, astonishing Capitol Hill leaders and other White House aides.

And this tells me Kushner is a moron. The Republican bill did get one Democratic vote, from Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But that’s it. Perhaps Kushner failed to notice that three Dem senators who might have voted with Republicans in the past – Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill — aren’t there any more.

Kushner, who Trump jokingly says is to the “left,” pitched a broader immigration deal and had faith that he could negotiate a grand bargain in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with his discussions. He pitched a big deal to Latino groups this week and also with members of the Koch network, the people said.

This was news to me, so I looked it up. Apparently on Thursday Kushner met with some Latino activist groups and proposed permanent protections from deportation and a path to citizenship for Dreamers and some others. But this is the sort of agreement people have tried to work out with Trump several times in the past, and every time, at the last minute, Trump listened to his hard liners and scuttled the deal. Nobody is lining up to kick Lucy’s football any more. Back to WaPo:

All the while, Trump vowed he would never capitulate to Democrats. At the Wednesday meeting, “he said there would be no caving,” Krikorian said. “Everybody who spoke up applauded him for not caving, but warned him that any further movement toward the Democrats’ direction would be a problem.”

Trump himself set up the dynamic that wouldn’t allow the Democrats to compromise without being slammed by their own base. Their only viable position now is “no.”

Administration officials began immediately on this next phase; Mulvaney and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met privately with a handful of Republican senators at Camp David on Friday evening to start discussing what a border security agreement might look like, according to multiple people familiar with the gathering.

Ultimately, aides said, Trump was willing to table debate over wall funding because he is convinced he can win support from some Democratic lawmakers over the next three weeks.

Yeah, good luck with that, Spanky.

Aaron Blake at WaPo speculates that Senate Republicans might move to take another shutdown out of Trump’s hands, which is certainly within their power and, seems to me, would be better for them in the long run. If Trump tries another shutdown in three weeks, there is absolutely no reason to believe anything would turn out differently from the first one.

Greg Sargent:

It is difficult to imagine congressional Republicans, who just lived through this disaster, having any appetite for a second round. As a senior Republican told Politico’s John Bresnahan: “I hope the president remembers this when the Freedom Caucus types tell him what to do next time.”

The polls have all confirmed that a majority of Americans blamed Trump and Republicans for the shutdown. A second shutdown over the same issue — dragging the country once again into the same mess we’ve already been through — would look even more unhinged.

So Democrats will be heading into these conference negotiations with real leverage. One clue as to how they might proceed can be found in a slew of border-security measures they were in the process of drawing up, which they were going to release, but then did not have to once Trump gave in.

According to people familiar with the Democratic plans, they were preparing to roll out a package that included added drug-scanning technology at ports of entry and other infrastructure upgrades at those ports; and more than $500 million for beefed-up medical care for asylum-seeking families and children, as well as more family-friendly processing facilities. In other bills, Democrats have also passed expenditures of around $500 million for more immigration judges, and around $500 million in economic aid to Central American countries.

That all sounds good, and a rational Congress wouldn’t have any problem passing an impressive-sounding border security package with no wall. But we’ll have to wait to see what Republicans really will do. How afraid are they of Trump and his base? I’m afraid we’re still depending on Mitch McConnell to do the right thing, and we know how that’s turned out in the past.

Share Button

Losers Gonna Lose

So much going on. By now you’ve heard the FBI has arrested Roger Stone with indictments for obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. It’s also being widely reported this morning that an “unnamed Trump campaign official” who plays a significant role in the indictments is Steve Bannon.  At the very least, the indictments tell us there was lots of communication going on between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. Martin Longman sums it up:

The Trump campaign conspired, colluded, and coordinated with WikiLeaks to disseminate stolen, private communications of U.S. citizens and the Democratic Party in order to seek an advantage in a political campaign. We no longer need to have any debate about that question.

What we don’t know is how much Trump himself was involved with any of this or to what degree the Trump campaign understood that Russia was involved in the hacking.

The latest news is that Stone is refusing to plead guilty. He’s bullshitted his way through a so-called career; maybe he thinks he can bullshit his way through the courts.

Several hours ago Trump folded on the State of the Union speech and acknowledged that he wouldn’t be giving it in the House chamber until Nancy Pelosi says he can give it, and that will be after the government shutdown ends. I don’t see that he had a choice that didn’t make him look even more pathetic.

Is our POTUS learning? His “border wall” bill failed to pass in the Senate yesterday. A Dem “no border wall” bill also failed, but six Republicans crossed lines and voted for both bills, while only one Dem (Manchin) voted for the Republican bill. This means the Dem bill came closer to the 60 vote “end cloture” threshold. What will Trump’s next move be, if any? Politico reported yesterday,

White House officials aren’t sure of their next move.

But they do know one thing: they’re losing, and they want to cut a deal.

The president is weighing the idea of a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed Thursday afternoon, reviving a prospect the president has previously ruled out. Trump acknowledged the proposal in an afternoon meeting with lawmakers, saying that Democrats would have to offer “some sort of pro-rated down payment” on the Mexican border wall he is demanding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly shot down Graham’s idea, however, telling reporters late Thursday “that is not a reasonable agreement.”

Especially after yesterday’s Senate votes, seems to me the Dems don’t have to offer anything.

It’s possible the Senate is moving in the direction of a clean CR to open government like the one it passed in December. Or, it’s possible that by some time next week the Senate will pass a bill to open the government that doesn’t specifically include border wall funding but which might include some additional border security money the president can play with.

Meanwhile, Trump and his people continue to demonstrate they have no idea how ordinary people live. It’s the “let them eat cake” administration.  Trump’s poll numbers continue to erode. And his losing, on every front I can think of.

Update: Trump caved faster than I expected him to. Congressional leaders, Trump reach tentative deal to temporarily reopen government without wall funds, according to Hill officials.

Share Button

SOTU Standoff at Capitol Hill

Well, well. A few hours ago, Trump sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi informing her that he would be giving the State of the Union address in the House. Nancy Pelosi wrote back:

“I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened,” Pelosi wrote to Trump. “Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.” …

… The House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution for a joint session of Congress to hear the president.

It’s not clear whether Trump understands he can’t just show up in the House and give a speech whenever he wants. Paul Waldman writes,

One imagines a dramatic scene as Trump arrives at the House and is told that the speaker is not granting him permission to deliver his address. What happens then? Will he push past everyone (though presumably only Republicans will have shown up), climb up on the dais and start talking? Among other things, Pelosi controls the microphones and the TV cameras, so there wouldn’t be much point.

I don’t see that he holds any cards in this game. He can always give the speech somewhere else and send a transcript to Congress to fulfill his constitutional obligation — indeed, he doesn’t have to give a speech at all — but he would be doing so with the whole nation understanding that a woman wouldn’t let him have the venue he wanted. What will he do?

Polls are saying, loudly and clearly, that the shutdown is unpopular and that the public blames Trump for it.  Things are getting interesting.

Share Button