Monday, February 17, 2020

Now they tell us

Premature anti-fascists, via The Typescript.

In fact downright pissed off, as I start to think about it, given that the heat was coming primarily from them, and has gone on for the whole three months since 15 November, when Warren finally explained, after tons of pressure to which the Sanders camp was never subjected, that her method for achieving Medicare For All was going to take some time to implement,
beginning with passing a bill at the start of her presidency that would create a new government health plan that would cover children and people with lower incomes for free, while allowing others to join the plan if they choose. It’s a particularly expansive version of a public option.
Only later, in her third year in the White House, does Warren say she would pursue Medicare-for-all legislation that would actually prohibit private health insurance, as would be required for the single-payer program that she says she, like Bernie Sanders, wants.
Which I loved, of course, as evidence that she really did have a plan for that, that she meant to achieve it, not just represent it, like a totem animal, as a branding element, the way the other guys did, with Sanders's preposterous assertion that all it would take to pass the bill would be staging rallies in Kentucky, and the total absence of ideas on how the nation would transition into the new system. Not only did Warren chart a timetable for getting to the single-payer ideal, she had staged it in such a way as to ensure that even if she failed at any given point, the nation would still be better off in terms of healthcare accessibility than it had been at the time of her inauguration.

But not everybody loved it. Like Krystal Ball, writing for The Hill:

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Horse race stuff

Caucus race, by John Tenniel. No allegorical interpretations of who Alice and the Dodo respectively represent, if you don't mind. Via Wikipedia.

Molly Jong-Fast at Washington Post has what looks initially like a hot take on the miseries of the current Democratic presidential nomination contest: that it's all Biden's fault for screwing up his assigned role.
After a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, it’s time to take a good, hard look at former vice president Joe Biden, the once-dominant, now-floundering Democratic “front-runner.” Not to get too technical about it, but I would like to postulate that the Democratic front-runner should be, you know, in front....
With all respect—she's a very sharp writer—I think she's misplacing the blame, if blame is due, in not asking who appointed Joe; who failed to give him that good hard look ten months or so ago, when he obtained that front-runner label though he'd been running unsuccessfully for president for OVER THIRTY YEARS and had a history of alienating the very voters he was going to have to depend on the most, from backing agitators against school busing to patronizing Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" (although this seemed to have greatly improved starting in late 2008).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Domestic Emoluments

GORGEOUS 3 BD 2 FULL BTH 2 HALF BTH COUNTRY FARM HOUSE W/HEATED AND COOLED 700 SQ FT OFFICE/STUDIO OVER 3 CAR GARAGE, IN-GRD HEATED POOL, 5 STALL BARN ON OVER 7 ACRES IN THE HEART OF BEDMINSTER. $6.,000.month as opposed to almost three times that if Secret Service is writing the check. Via Zillow

Something I'm not hearing, as in this otherwise perfectly good NBC story
On Wednesday night, when President Donald Trump addressed supporters from behind a Trump Hotels lectern in a room at his Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., one of his company's most faithful customers accompanied him.
The U.S. Secret Service.
The government agency charged with protecting the president has paid his businesses at least $471,000 to fulfill its congressional mandate, according to documents The Washington Post recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. That's money from U.S. taxpayers flowing to the Trump Organization, with a venerable 155-year-old law enforcement organization being used like one of Michael Cohen's Delaware shell companies and serving as a conduit for presidential profit. And that $471,000 figure? It's only through April 2018.
—is that it's another violation of the Constitution, just as serious as taking money from the Saudi Arabian government, when he gets money from our own government; a violation of Article II, section 1, clause 7, the Domestic Emoluments Clause,

Friday, February 14, 2020

Brooks Explains Education

Victor Sjöström, The Phantom Carriage (1920).

David Brooks all excited about his new proof that socialism doesn't work, because it doesn't account for the greatness of Scandinavia, contrary to popular opinion, and the unpopular reasons are wrong too ("This Is How Scandinavia Got Great"):
Progressives say it’s because they have generous welfare states. Some libertarians point out that these countries score high on nearly every measure of free market openness. Immigration restrictionists note that until recently they were ethnically homogeneous societies.
But Nordic nations were ethnically homogeneous in 1800, when they were dirt poor. Their economic growth took off just after 1870, way before their welfare states were established. What really launched the Nordic nations was generations of phenomenal educational policy.
See, the Nordic countries adopted the German concept of Bildung, a much larger and more holistic idea than the idea of "education", the "formation" of the whole person, not just training in the 1870s Scandinavian equivalent of STEM, but "the complete moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation of the person", which I think is not quite right—it's more the creation of the person: you don't want to take the preschooler and make her into somebody different, but to fully realize the flower latent within the bud. Also, of course, the Germans adopted it too, it's their concept, but they took some pretty alarming detours along the way which would complicate Brooks's argument in a way he'd prefer not to do.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Literary Corner: We Are Funding For New Hampshire

Funding For New Hampshire
by Donald J. Trump
We are funding
for New Hampshire
the New Hampshire Army
National Guard
Readiness Center,
just a few miles from here
in Pembroke
and in Concord.
Concord, I love Concord!
I love Concord, oh, Concord!
You know how famous Concord is?
Concord --
that's the same Concord
that we read about
all the time right?
No, as others have pointed out, if you read about Concord all the time it's probably a different Concord. On the other hand Trump may have been reading about the Concord, NH Army National Guard Readiness Center that afternoon, or more likely as he was speaking, from a sheet of talking points, because it got a grant of $6 million to upgrade their aviation facility in November's NDAA. Some bright spark on the staff who has read about the kinds of things normal politicians do thought Trump should try taking some credit for this exciting local development, maybe just in the hope of making him sound for a minute like a normal politician, but what he got instead was this splendid example of Trump realizing that he's just read something that makes no sense to him, and trying to work his way out of it, aspirationally like Monk building a spectacular edifice on what sounded like a mistake, but in reality more like a multiple car crash.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Big Structural Change in Small Packags


Ezra Klein ("Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and America's politics of epiphany") usefully points out something that may come as a bit of a downer: no Democratic presidential candidate is going to be able to carry through much of their program, and it's perfectly possible they won't be able to carry through any at all. Biden expecting "an epiphany among many of my Republican friends" is every bit as delusional as Sanders with his project of recruiting the masses to do it, the way Woodrow Wilson forced Republican senators to ratify the Versailles Treaty and join the League of Nations:
“You go to Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, which is a state where a lot of people are struggling, and you say to those people, ‘Okay, this is my proposal,’” Sanders replied. “We’re going to lower the age of Medicare from 65 to 55, and we’re expanding it to cover, as I mentioned, dental care and home health care and eyeglasses and hearing aids.
“What percentage of the people do you think in Kentucky would support that proposal? My guess is 70 percent, 80 percent of the people. And my job then as president is to rally those people and tell their senators to support it. I think we can do that.”

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Narratology: Dinner with Lev and Igor

It's always the dinner. Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la Décadence, 1847, Musée d'Orsay, via Wikipedia.

Don't stop me if you've heard this one, or if you think you've heard it. We've all heard it, in fact, or rather most of us have heard most of its elements and been more or less scandalized, but I believe we haven't really heard it as story: I know I hadn't until this morning, when WNYC's Ilya Marritz showed up on the radio to give some publicity to the latest episode of the Trump Inc. podcast, produced by the radio station and Pro Publica, and he didn't exactly tell the story in the way I mean, and neither does the podcast, I think, but I felt I was hearing it for the first time.

So there's this Trump-related superPAC, America First Action, that's been involved in some pretty dodgy things, like the case of Randy Perkins, the founder of a company called AshBritt, who made a donation of half a million dollars to the group the day after he received a supplemental contract award worth about the same amount ($460,000), for cleaning up wildfire damage, to a contract he had with the Defense Department. Which may have been completely unrelated to the donation (Perkins said, "I actually think this administration cares deeply about children and mental health issues"), but was illegal all the same—federal contractors aren't allowed to contribute to political campaign organizations, and when a watchdog organization found out about it the money had to be returned. Or the way it may have illegally taken donations adding up to almost $2 million from a foreign company (Canadian) laundered through its US subsidiary. Or the way the Trump campaign may have illegally coordinated with America First Action and its dark-money sibling America First Policies, with Trump personally soliciting donations for them.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

For the Record: Debate

Via The Log Cabin Sage, who retails a great story from the 1858 Senate campaign of how Douglas snidely noted that Lincoln had managed a grocery store in the course of his career, and showed himself to be "a very good bartender". Lincoln came back to it in his response: “What Mr. Douglas has said, gentlemen, is true enough. I did keep a grocery, and I did sell cotton, candles, and cigars, and sometimes whiskey; but I remember in those days, Mr. Douglas was one of my best customers. Many a time have I stood on one side of the counter and sold whiskey to Mr. Douglas on the other side; but the difference between us now is this: I have left my side of the counter, but Mr. Douglas still sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.”
Touché, gentlemen.

Candidate Yang made a couple of really annoying historical errors, when he suggested that folks in the ancient times when they used to debate socialism and capitalism never anticipated how economies would be transformed by automation
and claimed the support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his silly "universal basic income" program
Other than that, the candidates were on their best behavior, and I was impressed:

Friday, February 7, 2020


JFK reporting on fulfilled campaign promises in 1962. Via NPR.

David Brooks suggests in his concern-troll headline that Democrats are doing it wrong  ("Are Democrats Going to Give This Election Away?"), but the column seems to be all about how Emperor Trump is doing it right: "this was the most politically successful week of Trump's presidency."

One of the odder reasons is this one:
Fourth, Trump has cleverly reframed the election. I can see why Nancy Pelosi ripped up his State of the Union speech. It was the most effective speech of the Trump presidency.
In 2016, Trump ran a dark, fear-driven “American carnage” campaign. His 2016 convention speech was all about crime, violence and menace. The theme of this week’s speech was mostly upbeat “Morning in America.”

As Steve points out, all the memorable parts of the speech were about crime, violence, and menace, from immigrants penetrating inside our borders and terrorists outside and the need for constant vigilance and  retribution, and I'd add that the optimism supplied by that cheery alliteratonist Stephen Miller certainly wasn't very convincing—

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Third Dimension

White mochi with macha filling, via Uncut Recipes.

So Jordan was wondering over in the comments how David Brooks might have reacted to the Clinton impeachment 20 years ago, and I found something kind of—unsurprising might be the right word, from David Nyhan writing for the Boston Globe in January 1999, who watched a Brooks appearance on PBS looking back at the failure of the Senate trial, and, spoiler, no, he didn't talk about how Gingrich's House ought to have been working on infrastructure bills instead:
"This is a Great Lost Cause," he enthused of the Republican drive to snuff out the Clinton presidency. "We fought for truth, for justice," he said. That notion was novel to me. This whole thing has looked like a down-and-dirty political ambush from the word go, to me and to most Americans. I could never buy the William Bennett Moral Crusade; I always suspected that was a book-tour con.
But Brooks found what he gamely phrased "a kernel of romance" for Republicans in this yearlong dive into the cesspool of semen-stained dresses, cigars in the wrong places, sneaky tapes of a ditzy young intern by a repulsive Republican operative (can anyone defend the taxpayers still paying $90,000 a year to Linda Tripp for her no-show Pentagon job?), and the greasy pawing-over of tapes, transcripts, appointment logs, Secret Service records, and other detritus of the 60,000-page House impeachment probe.
Brooks looked ahead to the Republican National Convention of 2000 and through the mist of the future, saw Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, being summoned to the podium to accept the plaudits of a grateful party, with the crowd roaring for Hyde and his fellow impeachers: "They stood for principles against the polls."
It strikes me that there's more to this than simple hypocrisy, a simple double standard for Republicans vs. Democrats; or maybe I should say it's a motivated double standard.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

For the Record: I Haven't Forgotten You Brooks

Lon Chaney in Herbert Brenon's Laugh Clown Laugh, 1928.

Coverup Is Everywhere

National Archives photoshopped blurring of a protest sign, via Vos Iz Neias.

I didn't even notice whether Governor Whitmer had mentioned the criminality of the White House occupant in her response to the State of the Union address of Individual no. 1, whose writers didn't of course find time to mention it at all. It turns out that she did allude to the Senate trial and Chairman Schiff's hopeful slogan at the very end:
As we witness the impeachment process in Washington, there are some things each of us, no matter our party should demand. The truth matters, facts matter, and no one should be above the law. It’s not what those senators say tomorrow, it’s about what they do that matters. Remember, listen to what people say but watch what they do. It’s time for action.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Trump administration violation of the Presidential Records Act goes way beyond the Stalinoid doctoring by the National Archives of a picture of the Women's March and the president's personal habit of tearing his own papers to pieces and throwing them out—National Archives staffers who tried taping them back together were fired, historian Matthew Connelly tells us in an opinion piece for The Times:

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Right Here in River City

Listening to NPR on location in Des Moines this morning to report the main story of the day, which was that they didn't have the story they were prepared for, the results of the Iowa caucus, through no fault of their own, I should say: as you know by now, blame goes to the Iowa Democratic Party, which—frustrated in its desire to have all the attendees vote by smartphone, which they had thought would be very groovy, but would apparently have been a security nightmare—had decided that precinct captains and secretaries would transmit all the results to headquarters by smartphone, through a specially developed app which apparently worked fine if you took the training but not if you thought you could just download it like Uber and dive in. It seems there were so many of the latter that the hot line set up to handle problems was immediately overwhelmed, and a lot of precinct captains and secretaries gave up trying to get through and went home. Republicans and/or Russians are already pushing conspiracy theories (the Biden and Buttigieg campaigns, and the Nevada Democratic Party, have been clients of the firm that developed the app), but I'd bet on incompetence every time. (Steve M has more to say about that.)

A thing that will stick in my mind was David Greene's interview with the Des Moines waitress who had told him 12 years ago that a Hillary Clinton had brought a party to her restaurant and stiffed her (which, it strikes me now, may or may not have been true) and now says that after voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 she voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to do so again, because "I'm not a racist but."

Monday, February 3, 2020

Postcard From Parliament Square

Pouring beer on the flag of the European Union is a thing somebody did. Photo credit to PA/Independent.

Not a postcard from me, but from Tom Peck for The Independent, observing how "on Friday 31 January, between the hours of 9pm and 11pm, Westminster’s Parliament Square played host to a static, knuckle dragging carnival of the irredeemably stupid."
I’ve listened back now to the sound on my dictaphone that records Britain’s moment of liberation and it goes exactly like this: “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! FREEDOM!!!! YEAAAASSSS!!!! F****** FREEDOM!!!! WE F****** DID IT!!! F****** FREEDOM!!! F****** DO ONE!! F****** DO ONE!!!!”
It seems as worthy a catch phrase of the moment as anything else. F****** do one! Who exactly? Absolutely everyone. It doesn’t matter. Just f****** do one. Put that, as they say, on the side of the bus....
We have become the first country to throw off the yoke of an oppressor whom nobody else considers themselves oppressed by. We have won our freedom from our own imagined nightmares. We have liberated ourselves from the terrors of the monster under the bed that was never there. We are the children that never grew up.
Today, The Independent is informing its readers that
Donald Trump is facing fresh ridicule after tweeting his congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs after they won Super Bowl LIV by saying they represented “the Great State of Kansas... so very well” when the team is, in fact, based in Missouri.
One of the most disturbing things for me about this Revolt of the Stupid is the way it calls into question everybody's commitment to democracy. The rebels, of course, have no interest in democracy; they're interested in owning the libs, permanently, and would rather not be asked to think about anything else. They gladly surrender their political power to an authority, preferably one as stupid as they are, who's willing to tell them all the lies they can listen to. But we, too, in our disgust that such people as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are enabled to exercise that sort of democratically obtained power, are we really interested in democracy? Are we really not tempted to wish we could, at least, exclude the stupid from power? Are we really not secretly inclined to long for the rule of Plato's philosopher kings? Not, strictly speaking, undemocratic philosopher kings—I'd like underlings like me to be listened to—but more like a kind of weighting in the distribution of political power in which you get more if you know there are two Kansas Cities and only one has an NFL franchise, or grasp that the European Union isn't responsible for the presence in England of immigrants from the Caribbean and and South Asia.

I hope I'm not thinking that way. I hope I'm thinking the opposite way, that stupid people are in the minority and more effective democracy (bringing in the people who are smart enough to be too cynical to vote) would keep them out of power.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Thanks, Mitch

Image via123RF.

Impressed by this observation from Jonathan Chait:
McConnell’s desired process of muscling through a wildly unpopular vote to suppress all evidence, followed by a vote to acquit, would rob the outcome of much of the legitimacy Republicans crave. It is instead widely and accurately seen as a cover-up...
McConnell may have finally made the miscalculation we've been dreaming of, that will shock voters out of their feeling that nothing seriously wrong has been going on, as I keep saying with reference to the Watergate scandal, when public support for impeaching and removing Nixon shot up from around 48% to 57% in a couple of weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 24 July that Nixon had to hand over the original White House tapes to Congress (he'd given them edited transcripts in April and the polling had hovered just below a majority for the three months).

They didn't get the story of how the CREEP and the Mitchell Justice Department and the Casey CIA and mad Nixon and his lieutenants had worked to create a kind of secret government inside the government to punish Nixon's enemies and reward his friends—very many people, maybe most, continued to suppose the "third-rate burglary" of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel was the whole of the crime—but they could see there was a coverup. And, as they say, "It's not the crime, it's the coverup," meaning not that the coverup was worse than the crime but that the coverup was the perspicuous index of how bad the crime was, if you couldn't quite follow the latter.