Today’s Atrocities

Trump Maladministration

While we’re waiting on primary returns —

Julia Ainsley of NBC News reports,

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.

The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.

Stephen Miller is an evil little Nazi toad. He’s also only a third generation Jewish American evil little Nazi toad. WTF?

At the Daily Beast, Sam Stein writes that 43% of Republicans Want to Give Trump the Power to Shut Down Media. Because freedom, I’m sure. Watch them show up at the Shut Down Media rallies wearing their Minuteman costumes.

Forbes has a staff-written expose of Wilbur Ross that you must read.

Here in Missouri, people are going to the polls to vote on Prop A, a right-to-work referendum. A “no” vote is a vote against right-to-work. The unions have run some effective (seems to me) television ads, and about every other lawn has a “Note NO on Prop A” sign out in front. Word is there is high turnout in the state, although there are thunderstorm hereabouts. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Prop A goes down in flames. Even if it does, the whackadoodle state legislature has vowed to pass right-to-work anyway. But that would give state Democrats a damn good issue to run on, seems to me.

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What the Sign Says

big picture stuff

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Frank Rich column, but this is a pretty good  one — “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.”

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

Unlike 9/11, which prompted an orgy of recriminations and investigations, the Great Recession never yielded a reckoning that might have helped restore that faith. The Wall Street bandits escaped punishment, as did most of the banking houses where they thrived. Everyone else was stuck with the bill. Millennials, crippled by debt and bereft of Horatio Alger paths out of it, mock the traditional American tenet that each generation will be better off than the one before. At the other end of the actuarial spectrum, boomers have little confidence that they can scrape together the wherewithal needed to negotiate old age. The American workers in the middle have seen their wages remain stagnant as necessities like health care become unaffordable.

It wasn’t just the financial crisis, and a lot of people had seen through the sham a long time before 2008. It’s also the case that a lot of people still haven’t seen it, but I’ll come back to that.

Trump’s genius has been to exploit and weaponize the discontent that has been brewing over decades of globalization and technological upheaval. He did so in part by discarding the bedrock axiom of post–World War II American politics that anyone running for president must sparkle with the FDR-patented, chin-jutting optimism that helped propel John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to the White House. Trump ran instead on the idea that America was, as his lingo would have it, a shithole country in desperate need of being made great again. “Sadly, the American Dream is dead,” he declared, glowering, on that fateful day in 2015 when he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy. He saw a market in merchandising pessimism as patriotism and cornered it. His diagnosis that the system was “rigged” was not wrong, but his ruse of “fixing” it has been to enrich himself, his family, and his coterie of grifters with the full collaboration of his party’s cynical and avaricious Establishment.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s message was that everything was basically just fine and only needed a little tweaking, which didn’t exactly resonate with voters in 2016. But I’ll come back to that, too.

At the New York Times, Michael Tomasky has some advice for people alarmed at all the talk from the young folks about socialism.

You want fewer socialists? Easy. Stop creating them. …  As I noted recently in The Daily Beast, the kind of capitalism that has been practiced in this country over the last few decades has made socialism look far more appealing, especially to young people. Ask yourself: If you’re 28 like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congressional candidate who describes herself as a democratic socialist, what have you seen during your sentient life?

Tomasky listed several things, such as growing inequality and the 2008 meltdown, profit hoarding and job losses. As we move toward a “gig economy” the kind of secure permanent job with benefits that used to be the foundation of a middle-class life has become more and more elusive for the young folks. Between insecure employment and student loans, a lot of people just feel exploited.

I could go on like this for 20 paragraphs. Many more, in fact. But you get the idea. Back in the days when our economy just grew and grew, we had a government and a capitalist class that invested in our people and their future — in the Interstate highways, the community colleges, the scientific research, the generous federal grants for transportation and regional development.

And, funny thing, during all this time, socialism didn’t have much appeal.

But those days are gone, and people who are young adults today don’t remember them. What they see is that the system isn’t working for them and ultimately isn’t sustainable for anybody.

And although this is a widespread problem, inequality is worse in the U.S. than in Europe.

Things aren’t necessarily working out for older folks, either.

For a rapidly growing share of older Americans, traditional ideas about life in retirement are being upended by a dismal reality: bankruptcy.

The signs of potential trouble — vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses, inadequate savings — have been building for years. Now, new research sheds light on the scope of the problem: The rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991, the study found, and the same group accounts for a far greater share of all filers.

Driving the surge, the study suggests, is a three-decade shift of financial risk from government and employers to individuals, who are bearing an ever-greater responsibility for their own financial well-being as the social safety net shrinks.

The transfer has come in the form of, among other things, longer waits for full Social Security benefits, the replacement of employer-provided pensions with 401(k) savings plans and more out-of-pocket spending on health care. Declining incomes, whether in retirement or leading up to it, compound the challenge.

Every bleeping idea the Powers That Be ever come up with ends up being great for the rich and bad for everybody else. Ever notice that?

Oh, my goodness, this just in:

Senator Marco Rubio unveiled a family leave plan Thursday that would require new parents to pay for time spent with their infant children by borrowing from their Social Security retirement benefits early.

The Economic Security for New Parents Act would allow parents to use their retirement benefits for up to 12 weeks, and would be paid back by delaying retirement for three to six months per child. In two-parent households, benefits are transferable among spouses.

What kind of asshole even thinks of something like that?

Back to Frank Rich:

It was during the Great Recession that it also became clear how oblivious — or complicit — both major parties’ Establishments were when it came to heists by those at the top. To take just one example of this culture at work: In 2011, with much fanfare, President Obama convened a new jobs council, which, in a bipartisan gesture, he put in the charge of a prominent Republican CEO, Jeffrey Immelt of GE. No one in the Obama White House seemed to know or care, as the New York Times would soon report, that GE had laid off a fifth of its American workers since 2002 and, in 2010, had paid almost no federal taxes on $14.2 billion of profit. Immelt remained in place at the jobs council nonetheless. Unlike such frauds as Enron and its current copycat, Theranos, or the robber-baron enterprises of the more distant past, GE was one of the most widely admired American corporations, if not the most widely admired, for decades. Founded by Thomas Edison, it was one of the original dozen components of the Dow Jones industrial average at its inception in 1896. In the 1950s and early ’60s, GE’s image and Reagan’s were burnished in tandem when the future president hosted General Electric Theater on CBS. In the 1980s and ’90s, Immelt’s immediate predecessor, Jack Welch, was lionized as America’s wisest economic guru. Today, GE’s shareholders have been financially shafted along with its workers, and in June it was booted off the Dow. The record Immelt left behind as Obama’s job czar, it should be noted, is no more impressive than that as GE’s CEO: He accomplished nothing, at one point going for a full year without convening the council at all. But there has been no accountability for his failures in either the private or public spheres, let alone reparations.

We have created a new entrenched aristocracy, a class of people who are too big to fail. And while I still like Barack Obama, and consider him to be a decent and intelligent man, a lot about his administration just plain fell short of its potential. And this is a good example.

I wrote a post in August 2016 about the fact that the Democrats were maddeningly oblivious to the national mood. That post linked to an Andrew O’Hehir column that said Democrats were whistling past the graveyard if they thought that Clinton’s presumed election would set the world back to normal. O’Hehir said,

But what kind of “normal” are you so happy about? The paralysis and dysfunction of the entire last decade? To pretend that such an outcome — the candidate who is widely disliked and mistrusted defeating the candidate who is widely feared and despised — does anything at all to address the structural and ideological crisis that is eating away at both parties and the bipartisan system represents an epic level of denial.

“Epic level of denial” pretty much describes Democratic Party centrists and the leadership that insisted Hillary Clinton had to be the nominee. And there’s a lot of denial out there still. O’Hehir wrote recently,

Essentially, Democrats of the Bill Clinton era cut a deal with finance capital and the national-security state: On one hand, an economic policy based on free trade, deregulation and open markets, interlocked with an expansionist, interventionist foreign policy, both ceded to the control of technocratic experts. On the other, a widening agenda of civil rights protection and modest social reform programs at home, coupled with continued funding of the welfare state, albeit in reduced and partially privatized form.

As I wrote last week, that combination seemed to work well for a while, or at least it helped elect two Democratic presidents to two terms apiece. It also hollowed out the party from within and led to a devastating series of defeats in midterm elections and state legislatures, leaving Democrats in their worst nationwide position since Herbert Hoover’s administration, despite the undeniable fact that their policy positions are far more popular than those of the Republicans. With the sudden shift in the political wind of 2016, the true nature of the grand bargain suddenly seemed unmentionable.

But Nancy Pelosi is out there even now soliciting donations with calls to “protect President Obama’s legacy,” and even those of us who are fond of Barack Obama don’t want to just go back to his legacy. We’ve got to do a lot better. See also another recent O’Hehir column, Democratic moderates fear the “socialist left” will wreck the party: They want to keep that gig.

The crazy thing is that I strongly suspect that white working-class voters might not be as averse to the progressive agenda as the centrists assume. Sitting here in Trump Country and watching campaign ads — the Missouri primaries are tomorrow — I see a lot of negative ads that basically make Democrats out to be something like cockroaches with especially loose morals. But that tends to work because the bleeping Democrats don’t seem to stand for anything. They’re like a blank slate waiting to be written on.

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The Midterms Will Be a Referendum on Trump

Trump Maladministration

At least, that’s what Trump seems to want — he wants the midterms to be all about him. I suspect Democrats agree. Republicans, maybe not so much.

President Donald Trump‘s strategy of becoming aggressively involved in the midterm elections is prompting concern among some Republicans who worry he’s complicating the political calculus for GOP candidates trying to outrun his popularity.

Those Republicans worry their statewide candidates may rise or fall based on Trump’s standing, muddling their path to maintain control of Congress.

But Trump has no plans to step out of the spotlight. …

The president is casting himself as the star of the midterms, eagerly inserting himself into hotly contested primaries, headlining rallies in pivotal swing states and increasing his fundraising efforts for Republicans. Last week, Trump agreed to donate a portion of his reelection fund to 100 GOP candidates running in competitive House and Senate races.

He’s expected to be even more aggressive in the fall. White House officials say he’s reserving time on his schedule for midterm travel and fundraising likely to surpass that of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

“This is now about Donald Trump,” said Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican chairman. “It’s a high-risk, high-stakes proposition.”

There’s a special election for a U.S. congressional seat in Ohio on Tuesday that may give us another clue how the midterms will go. It’s in a district that’s been reliably Republican for a long time, and even more so since it was gerrymandered into a mostly white exurban district in 2010. Trump won the district in 2016 by 11 points. But Monmouth says the special election is a toss-up between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor.

Trump just held one of his signature unhinged rallies in a high school auditorium  — with no air conditioning; someone on the staff will be in trouble —  about 17 miles north of Columbus. It appears this was arranged on Trump’s initiative, not Balderson’s.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said Sunday that an Ohio House candidate did not invite President Trump to appear at his campaign rally on Saturday.

The governor and former GOP presidential candidate, who has been critical of Trump, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” that GOP hopeful Troy Balderson told him that he didn’t have anything to do with inviting Trump.

“I asked him the other day ‘Why are you bringing Trump in,’ he said ‘well, I don’t have anything to do with it,’ ” Kasich said, referring to Balderson, who is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Danny O’Connor in a district Trump won by double digits.

“I think Donald Trump decides where he wants to go, and I think they think they’re firing up the base,” Kasich added.

It’s also possible that Trump’s appearance in Ohio fired up the other base.

Ahead of the Saturday evening rally, some party strategists worried that it would do more harm than good for Balderson, who has campaigned as a mainstream figure. Their concerns were illustrated by a Monmouth University survey released earlier this week showing Trump’s approval at just 46 percent in Ohio’s 12th District, which stretches from the traditionally moderate Columbus suburbs to more conservative rural areas.

Indeed, at many points at Saturday, Trump seemed more focused on revisiting his greatest hits than on Tuesday’s special election. He slashed the media (“MSNBC is so corrupt, is so disgusting”), went after political rivals (recently ousted South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, he joked, “likes flamingo [sic] dancers from Argentina”), and ripped the Russia investigation.

Well, we’ll see on Tuesday how it turns out.

Some other factors that could impact the midterms:

Brent Budowsky, writing for The Hill, predicts that there will be an “obstruction of justice bombshell” before the midterms. “… odds are very high that Mueller will offer a declarative public statement before the midterm elections, and very likely before Labor Day, that the president is guilty of obstruction of justice,” says Budowsky.

The gender gap is huge and possibly historic, according to the nerds at fivethirtyeight.

See Jennie Neufeld at Vox: Republicans have begun to sever ties with the Koch brothers. It isn’t just Trump and Steve Bannon; the RNC itself is souring on the Kochs. “Republicans have won more elections at every governmental level than they have since the 1920s partly due to the Kochs’ immense support,” Neufeld writes. “The Kochs were going to donate $400 million to various GOP campaigns in the midterm elections; it’s unclear if this feud will change those plans.”

For your reading pleasure, see David Atkins, Does Trump Even Understand What He Did Wrong?

Even the briefest observation of Donald Trump is adequate to confirm that he is not a man of profound intellect. He certainly possesses his share of social intelligence, a knack for salesmanship and an obsessive drive to dominate and humiliate others stemming from a yawning maw of overlapping insecurities. But in terms of how we traditionally measure intelligence in the modern developed world–the acquisition of knowledge over time and the ability to process, digest and act cogently in response to complex information–Trump probably doesn’t even reach the 50th percentile of Americans. And that is being generous.

This basic fact is difficult to keep in mind when assessing his decisions because we have never had a president like this. Society tends to dramatically overestimate the talent and intelligence of those fortunate enough to be rich and powerful, but rarely are they as objectively ignorant and lacking in basic competency as Trump. Far too often we look for a schema or strategy behind Trump’s actions, only to discover that his decisions were precipitated by the dumbest of reasons: because he saw a Fox News segment that made him angry, or because he heard that Barack Obama had originated a policy, because some extraneous person mentioned some falsehood to him that he was credulous enough to believe, or because he was openly bribed. This principle has become known as “Trump’s Razor“: when seeking to understand the president’s behavior, look for the stupidest possible reason.

Atkins argues that “it’s entirely possible that at a moral level and, crucially, at a legal one, he simply isn’t smart enough to grasp the enormity of the crimes he and his associates seem to have committed.” If so, we can count on Trump continuing to make one blunder after another to “defend” himself.

Update: See also emptywheel on why Trump’s conspiracy trial is going to be awesome.

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Fashion in the Age of Trump

Trump Maladministration

Has a single garment ever gotten so much press commentary than Paul Manafort’s ostrich skin jacket? (Update: Yeah, okay, Monica’s blue dress.)

The jacket is infamous for costing $15,000 and still being ugly. I’m having a hard time visualizing Manafort wearing it, although I guess all the photos I’ve seen of him show him wearing a suit that looks like just about every other suit any man wears.

People have pointed out that the $15,000 pales in comparison to a $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana jacket worn by Melania awhile back.

To me, that looks like what might happen if the Etsy website got stomach flu. Yes, everybody says it’s a $51,000 jacket. No, I don’t know what kind of markup over cost is involved, but I suspect a lot. It has also been noted that Melania very rarely uses jacket sleeves. I assume the thing in her hand is a clutch of some sort and not some alien being expelled by the jacket.

Back to the ostrich jacket. Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan wrote,

Where to begin in the dumbfounding tale of Paul Manafort and his fashion habit? The gluttony. The indulgence. The preening bad taste.

The pathetic pretentiousness of it all.

His is the story of a man’s inexorable slide into a nauseating spectacle of insatiable consumption — a parable, or perhaps, a farce that included salivating merchants flying across the country to cater to his appetites. There are so many enticing, beguiling entry points in this story of unbridled decadence: the use of wire transfers from foreign bank accounts to pay his clothing bills, the capacity to spend more than $929,000 on suits in a five-year period, a perplexing fixation on plaid sport jackets.  But ultimately, the one thing that most folks will remember from the first week of Manafort’s trial on bank and tax fraud charges is his $15,000 ostrich-leather bomber jacket.

Well, why not? The Manafort saga has a distinctively freak show quality to it. How does a man stash $30 million in offshore bank accounts and still go broke?

Mueller has alleged a years-long scheme of astonishing scope: that Manafort first laundered $30 million from a web of undeclared offshore accounts into the US without paying taxes on it, and then (after the Ukrainian money stopped coming in) defrauded several US banks to get more than $20 million in loans. Manafort has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

The man owns a lot of real estate, including a condo in Trump tower, another condo in Manhattan’s SoHo district, a brownstone in Brooklyn, an estate in the Hamptons, an unremarkable single-family home in Arlington, Virginia, and a home in Palm Beach, Florida. I understand that if he’s convicted, all those homes will be forfeited.

The man is 69 years old. He could have announced his retirement, sold some of that real estate to cover debt and still live more than comfortably for the rest of his life. Instead, he talked himself into the Trump campaign as a way back into the lobbying game. That’s how he got his start, years ago; he turned a mid-level position in the Reagan campaign into a big-ticket lobbying career.

The trial that began this past week was all about the money he earned working for Viktor Yanukovych, one-time president of the Ukraine, and several Russian oligarchs.

The first set of charges, which Mueller calls “the tax scheme,” relate to Manafort’s flush years, when the Ukrainian money was pouring in to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Mueller says Manafort set up a complex web of offshore shell companies and then spent $30 million of that offshore cash in the US between 2008 and 2014.

About $12 million of that cash was allegedly spent on “personal items” for Manafort and his family, spread across more than 200 different transactions. This included about $5.4 million to a home improvement company in the Hamptons, $1.3 million tied to an antique rug store in Virginia, $849,000 or so to a men’s clothing store in New York, $819,000 on landscaping, and payments related to several Range Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz.

Then another $6.4 million was allegedly wired from offshore for three real estate payments: $1.5 million for a condo in New York City, $3 million for a brownstone in Brooklyn, and $1.9 million for a house in Virginia. On top of that, Manafort allegedly sent another $13 million as “loans” to US companies he controlled — but the government calls these loans “shams” designed to fraudulently reduce his taxable income.

There are allegations that he was wiring money from a bank in Cypress for “home improvements” that he didn’t actually buy. Money laundering?

The New York Times reports that Manafort wasted no time trying to monetize the Trump campaign gig, for which he was not paid:

In April 2016, just days after becoming a Trump campaign strategist, he tried to use his positive news media coverage as leverage in a debt dispute with a Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska.

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Mr. Manafort wrote in an email to a business partner.

“Absolutely,” the partner, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, responded. “Every article.”

“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asked. The emails were reported by The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

Later, Mr. Manafort suggested providing campaign briefings to Mr. Deripaska. No evidence has emerged that such briefings occurred.

In short, no sensible person would have let Manafort anywhere near a presidential campaign. Apparently Trump was the one who hired him.

As Mr. Manafort ascended to one of the premier jobs in American politics, prosecutors now say, his career was privately in shambles. In early 2016, his accountant testified, he worked to mortgage some of his seven or eight homes. Prosecutors said he had become accustomed to a lavish lifestyle and was preoccupied with clinging to it.

Back to Robin Givhan and the ostrich jacket:

Prosecutors argued that the luxurious nature of Manafort’s purchases was important because it offered the jury insight into it their case. That Manafort “had an expensive lifestyle that required lots of money to maintain is important proof as to why he would commit the bank frauds,” prosecutors wrote. Manafort had grown accustomed to Bijan, ostrich and python and when his income declined “he resorted to bank fraud as a means to maintain his lifestyle.”

Perhaps. But prosecutors missed a more significant argument. The fashion industry has long recognized and exploited the fact that its customers are not just buying accoutrements to a lifestyle. They are buying the building blocks to a public identity.

And when those blocks elevate a man to the tippy-top of the pyramid, he might do just about anything to prevent a perilous fall.

Apparently, the yawning emptiness that is Paul Manafort required a lot of accoutrements to maintain an identity.

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Q-razy

Trump Maladministration

To me, the most bizarre belief of the QAnon hoax is that the military chose Trump to be president. This is from a fascinating interview with a real-life QAnon believer in the Washington Post.

The Clintons, he said, “subverted” Barack Obama, whose presidency, according to QAnon, caused mounting dissatisfaction in the military, where Burton has been led to believe the seed of “Q” was planted.

“Apparently military brass in the Pentagon got sick and tired of it, and they found a candidate that they could discuss everything with,” Burton said. “And apparently they went to Trump and asked Trump to run.”

I asked him why these renegades chose Trump. “They probably thought he would win,” he said.

Or, maybe it’s this part:

The Russia investigation is a sham. It’s actually a cover story for special counsel Robert Mueller and Donald Trump working together to expose thousands of pedophiles hidden in plain sight — including Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama), who will soon be under arrest. (Or perhaps already have been and are on their way to Guantanamo Bay.)

Another theory is that the Clintons and Obamas are under a weird house arrest, even though they travel a lot, and must wear ankle bracelets. Also, too:

The GOP lost the Alabama special election for Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat on purpose — a plan devised years ago to reveal the use of fraudulent voting machines and, ultimately, take down none other than George Soros. Or the Rothschilds. Or the Illuminati.

Conspiracy theories about George Soros are a whole genre in themselves, of course. A few months ago I started seeing references to the Rothschilds in social media posts and thought I was hallucinating. But no, we don’t have enough curren craziness but must resurrect 19th century conspiracy theories. And who knows how old the hoaxes about the Illuminati have been in circulation.

But talk about crazy —

And there’s no White House chaos at all; in fact, despite legal scandals and special counsel investigations and bile-laden tweets, everything, absolutely everything, is going just as Donald Trump intended it. …

… [QAnon] has one overarching — and, if you’re a Trump supporter, hopeful — message: Donald Trump is in complete control. Of everything.

Which begs the question — if he has all this control, why evey play games? Why not just use executive power to smite his deep state enemies?

It doesn’t seem to matter that Q’s prophecies don’t come  true.

In a posting on November 1, 2017, Q said that on November 3 and 4, John Podesta, chair of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, would be arrested, military control would take hold, and “public riots would be organized in serious numbers to prevent the arrest and capture of more senior public officials.”

And who is Q? Maybe Trump himself. Or, maybe John F. Kennedy, Jr., faked his own death in order to establish himself as Q. Yeah, that makes sense.

Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1964:

The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Now we’ve evolved to a new level in which the government is still evil (except for the military part), but Trump is some kind of messiah figure come to save it. I have noticed that in the theorists’ addled brains Trump is not part of “the government.” If anyone tries to reason with any of them, they often retort something along the lines of “Oh, you believe THE GOVERNMENT story, huh?” If you point out to them that Trump is part of THE GOVERNMENT, and in fact is in charge of it, that visibly disorients them.

The Hofstadter article reminds us that the extreme right has believed since the end of World War II that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by evil people trying to undermine America, and so in some ways the “deep state” isn’t anything new.  It used to be Communists, of course. I’m not sure all the conspiracists agree who the deep state serves. Many put Them — whether liberals, radical jihadists, homosexuals, whatever — all in the same camp, as illogical as that may be.

Is it worse now than it used to be? The crazies used to believe that Dwight Eisenhower was working for the Communists. But now we have social media, which tends to act as a feedback loop that drivess people further and further into the fever swamp.

Hofstadter:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millennialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

Let’s just say that this all bears watching. If something happens that forces them to face reality — Bob Mueller exposes Trump as a traitor, say — they could get very dangerous.

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Trump Panic

Trump Maladministration

Yesterday’s tweet in which Trump demanded (even though he did say “should”) that Robert Mueller be fired has cranked the Russian collusion drama up to another level. Do read:

Josh Marshall, I Don’t Buy This Explanation

Paul Waldman, Trump’s impotence on the Mueller investigation is driving him batty

Margaret Hartman, Team Trump’s Explanations for Mueller Tirade Make Less and Less Sense

 

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The Trump Vs. Koch Smackdown

Trump Maladministration

Trump may change his tune very quickly, but as of today he’s at war with the Koch Brothers.


We may learn some day that Stephen Miller is the true author of all of Trump’s tweets. Otherwise, Trump certainly is a really stupid judge of which fights to pick. As Charles Pierce said, the Koch brothers “can buy and sell him back two generations.” If Trump makes Republican candidates for office choose between him and the Kochs, I believe most would choose the Kochs. They owe the Kochs a lot more favors.

However, the Kochs are sitting on a lot of their money in this election cycle. Jane Coaston writes for Vox:

The tweets come a day after representatives of the Koch network — founders of the Cato Institute, one of the main funders behind the Tea Party movement and a major force in GOP politics over the past decade — announced that the group will not support North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in his incredibly tight race against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. …

… the Koch network — which, despite a contentious relationship with Trump, had previously voiced support for the president’s tax bill and other planned legislation — is pushing away from not just Trump but the GOP, with founder Charles Koch telling reporters at that weekend event that his groups had made “mistakes” and that he has “regrets” about the one-party focus the network has had in past elections.

Specifically, while Koch-connected groups have worked closely with the White House on issues like criminal justice reform, the Koch network is unhappy with the GOP’s handling of two specific policy areas: trade and immigration, issues on which the Kochs’ libertarian leanings cause them to break with the administration. …

… Koch network groups had planned in January to spend as much as $400 million on the 2018 midterms — including $20 million on selling the GOP tax cuts to voters.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the Kochs put much more money into state-level candidates and legislative initiatives than they do presidential politics. If you control most of the states, who needs the feds?

Steve Bannon, who controls absolutely nothing, issued a laughable warning:

“You take Koch money, it’s going to be toxic. We are going to let people know that if you take Koch money there’s a punishment,” Bannon, former chief White House strategist and Trump campaign chief executive, told CNBC in an exclusive interview. “If you take money from people who are against the president and are looking to put a knife in the back of the president, you are going to pay.”

So are they going to get money from Trump or Bannon instead? Fat chance.

This particular tiff, by itself, may go nowhere. But I suspect that someday, when historians are investigating the smoldering ruins of Trumpism, pissing off the Kochs will be identified as an accelerant.

See also Philip Bump,   Trump’s two-track strategy: The rich get richer, and the poor get distracted. Also Greg Sargent, In a new tweetstorm, Trump gives his voters the middle finger.

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Mnuchin Wants Another Tax Cut!

Trump Maladministration

This just in, from the New York Times:

The Trump administration is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy, a legally tenuous maneuver that would cut capital gains taxation and fulfill a long-held ambition of many investors and conservatives.

What the bleep? The executive branch can’t change tax law, can it?

Steven Mnuchin,

Let us not forget that Mnuchin is a parasite who made a bundle foreclosing on people during the 2008 meltdown.

the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

Even I can figure out that if you’ve got rising inflation and low capital gains rates, you could erase a whole lot of  profit for tax purposes.

“If it can’t get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mr. Mnuchin said, emphasizing that he had not concluded whether the Treasury Department had the authority to act alone. “We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth.”

Would this provide economic stimulus?

 Independent analyses suggest that more than 97 percent of the benefits of indexing capital gains for inflation would go to the top 10 percent of income earners in America. Nearly two-thirds of the benefits would go to the super wealthy — the top 0.1 percent of American income earners.

Nope, probably not.

Making the change by fiat would be a bold use of executive power — one that President George Bush’s administration considered and rejected in 1992, after concluding that the Treasury Department did not have the power to make the change on its own. Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the National Economic Council, has long advocated it.

Larry Kudlow is the moron who declared a month ago that the U.S. deficit was going down. Grover Norquist also thinks this is a great idea.

“This would be in terms of its economic impact over the next several years, and long term, similar in size as the last tax cut,” Mr. Norquist said, suggesting that making the change would raise revenue for the government by creating new economic efficiencies and faster growth. “I think it’s going to happen and it’s going to be huge.”

He and others said last year’s tax cut would also pay for itself, but despite strong economic growth, corporate tax receipts have plunged and the deficit has soared.

Sober people with calculators weigh in:

According to the budget model used by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, indexing capital gains to inflation would reduce government revenues by $102 billion over a decade, with 86 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent. A July report from the Congressional Research Service said that the additional debt incurred by indexing capital gains to inflation would most likely offset any stimulus that the smaller tax burden provided to the economy.

“It is unlikely, however, that a significant, or any, effect on economic growth would occur from a stand-alone indexing proposal,” the report said.

Of course it won’t. But, you know, I really want Mnuchin to push for this so that it gets in the news and everybody hears that the Trump Administration is pushing for another giveaway to the rich. Because tax cuts for the rich are unpopular with voters. This is from June 2018:

This month, an NBC/WSJ poll of registered voters in swing congressional House districts found that a candidate’s support for the tax law passed in December might cost them in this November’s election.

Forty-two percent of voters were less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the tax law compared to 36 percent who said that they were more likely. That difference might seem small but in a highly competitive House race, it’s huge.

I also want The Creature to keep threatening to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t fund his fool wall. And then I want to see lots and lots of ads juxtapoxing Trump’s threats with videos of him swearing Mexico will pay for the wall. Even the Democrats ought to be able to use this nonsense to club the entire Republican party to death.

See also Paul Krugman, Trump’s Supreme Betrayal.

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Trump Lies Like a Rug

Trump Maladministration

What Trump (or some designated flunky) tweeted this morning:

What A.G. Sulzberger says what happened:

My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.

I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.

I told him that although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people.” I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.

I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.

Throughout the conversation I emphasized that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world. I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.

Sad!

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Stuff to Read

Trump Maladministration

Here are two opinion pieces to read together; they are saying about the same thing.

One, and IMO the better of the two, is Andrew O’Hehir, Democratic moderates fear the “socialist left” will wreck the party: They want to keep that gig.

Just a taste:

Hubert Humphrey, the leading Democratic moderate of Hillary Clinton’s youth, would find little to object to in Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, beyond the labeling on the package. (Once the Happy Warrior figured out what ICE and super PACs were, and what they had done to America, he’d go out and ring doorbells in her district.) Then again, Humphrey had no fear of open and often heated ideological conflict, which was a staple of Democratic discourse for decades and is exactly what the “democratic socialist” insurrection has reintroduced since 2016.

Those who shut down such internal conflict and purged the activist left from the Democratic Party, on the premise that it was the only possible way to win elections in a “centrist,” anti-ideological nation, have never faced the consequences of their historic blunder. They have lost repeatedly and on a grand scale, insisting every time that they really should have won — or in some other, better world, did win — and that whatever went wrong was somebody else’s fault. They are the ones who appear committed to an inflexible, dogmatic ideology that is out of step with political reality. They are surprised and outraged to learn that if they want to continue their losing streak, they will have to fight for it.

Two, Thomas Frank, Can liberals please work out how to win back the working class?

For all their cunning, Republicans are a known quantity. Their motives are simple: they will do anything, say anything, profess faith in anything to get tax cuts, deregulation and a little help keeping workers in line. Nothing else is sacred to them. Rules, norms, traditions, deficits, the Bible, the constitution, whatever. They don’t care, and in this they have proven utterly predictable.

The Democrats, however, remain a mystery. We watch them hesitate at crucial moments, betray the movements that support them, and even try to suppress the leaders and ideas that generate any kind of populist electricity. Not only do they seem uninterested in doing their duty toward the middle class, but sometimes we suspect they don’t even want to win.

Do read them both. Frank is perhaps a degree more “shrill” than I am, but I am not going to say he’s wrong.

Just this morning I saw a paid ad on social media with Nancy Pelosi asking for donations to help the Democrats “protect Obama’s legacy.” I wanted to throw rocks at her.  Not that I wouldn’t give a lot to just put everything back to where it was before Trump took office, but I always saw “Obama’s legacy” — which was mostly Obamacare — as just provisional, just a foot in the door that might be built into something better. But the establishment Dems want to sell it as the whole pie and not just a taste.

For your daily dose of Why Trump is a Pile of Crap, do read ‘Deleted’ families: What went wrong with Trump’s family-separation effort.

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