Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, April 22, 2017

We Are Ruled By Morons

Apparently we are headed towards at least a 50-50 shot at a government shut down.  Given that Republicans control both ends to Pennsylvania Avenue, this is a remarkable achievement in Derp.  How the hell do you fail the basic task of governance?  Oh. Because we are ruled by morons.

On some levels, the continued dysfunction of Trumpistan has to take a toll on the Republican party's favorablity rating.  On the other hand, there are quite a few people who would vote for Satan himself, if he had an "R" next to his name.

It's been a nice run, America.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Grey Lady

Scott Lemieux is collecting reviews of the execrable first blush, tell all gossip rag about 2016.  Here he looks at the NY Times and then he looks at the Washington Post.

The undeniable truth is that many political scribes are closer to my professional education than they should be.  I have an MFA, the acquisition of which led me to a greater understanding of how stories work, even what is a story and what isn't.  Political reporters of a certain class tend to favor their narratives.  This was most clear in their treatment of Clinton.  They had a story about her and it was easy to push every slight and slander into that narrative.  The Comey Letter worked so well, because it gibed so well with the narrative the political press had been pushing about Hillary Clinton for 25 years.  The essential accuracy of that narrative was besides the point.

As Nate Silver noted, the press is doing some soul searching about how the covered Trump, but not how they covered Clinton.  Trump defied convention.  That was the narrative, and it had the benefit during the campaign of being true.  Now, however, Trump has become a GOP caricature, but I wouldn't count on the political press to point this out.  The fact that his populism has been increasingly demonstrated to be hollow and rhetorical won't penetrate the narrative.  I would imagine Hillary-haters on the Left will be especially loath to relinquish the idea that Trump's appeal is based on racial and social grievance rather than economic populism of the Sanders variety.

The press will be considering at length how they covered Trump 2016 and will miss Trump 2017: Ayn Rand Edition.  Meanwhile, their utter failures in covering Clinton will go unexamined.  That's not catastrophic, because Clinton won't run again.  But the broader disease of "both sides do it" is killing the ability of the press to tell the truth.

Here's the truth as near as I can see it:

- Hillary Clinton was a cautious technocrat who was the victim of a quarter century smear campaign by the Right Wing Wurlitzer.
- The Press treated the accusations with more respect than they deserved, under the Clinton Rules.
- Trump was GREAT for networks like CNN that cover politics like sports.
- Aggrieved white people voted their emotions and hatred, because they got conned by a con man who convinced them he cared about them, when he manifestly doesn't give two shits about anyone but himself.
- The press covered the controversy rather than looked at how these two people would govern.
- We are not going to be governed by a shitgibbon for 3 years and 9 months.

Print THAT, New York Times.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This Is Good

CNN is breaking our politics.

Ossoff Runoff

Democrats came unbearably close to winning the special election in GA-06 to replace current HHS Secretary Tom Price.  This is Newt Gingrich's old seat and a bastion of suburban Southern Republicanism.  Jon Ossoff took 48% of the vote, but that will necessitate a run-off in June with Karen Handel.

The odds are long that Ossoff can hold off a united Republican field in June, as the dynamics of a jungle primary with a large number of Republicans running favored Ossoff in this round only.  However, there are two questions.  First, CAN the GOP unify around an insider candidate like Handel?  Much of the Trump GOP is motivated by a revulsion with GOP insider politics.  That's why the GOP field was so fractured.  How many populist votes can Ossoff siphon off?  Probably not many.  But how many populist GOP voters stay home in June?  That's critical.

Second, is the news for the GOP expected to get any appreciably better between now and June?

GA-06 was always a long shot.  Democrats probably have a better shot at the Montana At-Large seat.  But it does show a partisan shift towards Democrats that could be critical in November 2018.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not So Good

President Erdogan of Turkey is basically constructing a dictatorship in his country.  This, needless to say, is intensely troubling for American policy in the region.  That hasn't stopped Cheetoh Benito from praising Erdogan's power grab, because he admires the power, one grifter to another.

In many ways, Turkey's retreat from democracy into personal rule is yet another casualty of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  The American invasion was designed to "drain the swamp" of Middle Eastern politics.  (Funny how the swamp drainers always seem to bring more snakes with them.)  By disturbing the status quo - the theory went - you could attract jihadists to Iraq where you could kill them and create a new paradigm of democratic rule in a region.  The Bold Thinkers among neoconservative foreign policy "experts" felt that "creative destruction" would end the sort of political environment that spawned Al Qaeda and 9/11.

Yeah, so 15 years later, Iraq is a mess.  That mess spilled over into Syria, along with the millions of Iraqi refugees that flooded into that country.  The Syrian Civil War - exactly the sort of creative disruption the neocons wanted - has led to the rise of ISIS and the worst humanitarian disaster since Pol Pot, maybe World War II.  All of this chaos on Turkey's southern border fed Erdogan's appeal as a strong man who can bring order to Turkish politics and security to the Turkish state.

First, this is worth considering as a warning about the current Tangerine Nightmare in the Oval Office.  He has promised to be a disruptive force in Washington and the world.  America is an unusually large bull in the global china shop, and if we start running around thrashing norms and causing "creative destruction" we will see more of the sort of dynamics that we are seeing in Turkey.  Let's take Korea for instance.  If we get a war on the Korean peninsula, we will see massive casualties in South Korea (currently emerging from the roiling turmoil of an impeachment process) and the possibility that even with an Allied victory the country could lapse into dictatorship as it struggles to integrate the impoverished, dysfunctional North.  Similarly, if Japan suffers from North Korean missile strikes, they could move to an even less democratic form of government and re-militarize, including nuclear weapons.  That, in fact, could happen even short of a war.

Democracy is not inevitable, and chaos is a real accelerant towards dictatorial rule.  As Trump runs around creating uncertainty and instability, he undermines the global institutions put in place at the end of World War II - mostly by the United States - that seek to create the global stability that allows democracy to thrive.

When you see these (young) chaos agents like this fool in the United States, what you are seeing is a generation far removed from the horrors of global disorder.  Even the ever present threat of nuclear warfare that I grew up with has been subdued.  All those clamoring for a revolution have no freaking idea what they will unleash.  They should look to Iraq and Syria to see what happens when you overturn the existing institutions of the state in a capricious manner.  You get chaos, then you get a dictatorship.

In the specific case of Turkey, Trump's coziness with a new authoritarian is hardly surprising.  We know authoritarianism is perhaps his only constant orientation.  However, Turkey's move away from democratic norms could push it further from NATO (any hope of the EU died years ago).  From an American point of view, Turkey has been an increasingly unreliable ally in the war on ISIS.  At what point does Turkish intransigence and rejection of European norms open the door to the West supporting Kurdish independence?

An independent Kurdistan is more or less a reality in northern Iraq, and the Kurds are really our only ally in the region, aside from Israel (who are hardly steadfast in their support of America's interests).  A deft foreign policy team could leverage Erdogan's power grab into the creation of a democratic Kurdish state with reciprocal defense agreements with the US.  Of course, we don't have a deft foreign policy team, and the creation of Kurdistan would be another act of creative destruction.

From 1989-2016, the world was governed more or less by global integration and a steady move towards more democracy.  In 2003, the US rashly unleashed instability in the Middle East, and that has led to all sorts of unpleasant outcomes, from the Ahmadinjad presidency in Iran, to the Syrian Civil War to the rise of ISIS and now the collapse of democracy in Turkey.  The US is also now led by an ignorant buffoon who distrusts the global institutions most able to sustain order.

We are so very, very screwed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Race And Trump

Really interesting data being released today about the 2016 election.  Basically, racists were more likely to vote for Obama than Hillary Clinton, because Democratic racists weren't being "activated" by guys like Romney and McCain.  Trump appealed directly to their sense of racism - which mostly revolved around their idea that white people can't catch a break because of all the "reverse racism."

Trump also did really well among low income voters.  My guess is that there is an overlap between those low income voters and voters who feel that special programs for black people are keeping them poor.

Their racism is less directed at black people and more directed at their sense of racial grievance that black people are somehow benefiting from government in ways they aren't.  The fact that black people are NOT benefiting from these mysterious government programs is simply not registering.

The Madman Gambit

Nixon famously had Kissinger present to the Soviets and Chinese that he was dangerously unbalanced and could be provoked into war at any moment.

Trump seems to be upping the ante on this gambit.  The problem is, North Korea is a poor target of the Madman Gambit.  What, exactly, would we gain from striking North Korea?

Anyway, right now the only thing stopping a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is the calm and measured leadership of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Enjoy your spring day...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Journalism Or Performance Art?

What are we to make of this?

I really don't like conspiracy theories.  But this one is SOOOOO fun!

Actually, keep an eye on Boris Epshteyn.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Cleek's Law

Cleek's Law states: Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily. This seems like snark, but it's really consistently applicable.

Take a look at this tweeted poll result.  Comparing 2013 to 2017, Democrat's support for air strikes in Syria goes from 38 to 37%.  In other words, about 37-38% of Democrats are what we might label "liberal interventionists."

Republican support for those strikes was 22% in 2013.  After Trump made some rubble bounce, support for air strikes soared to 86%.

If Republican support for policy can basically be determined by whether that policy has a "D" or an "R" next to its name, then there really is NO Republican policy.  Not to the Republican voting populace.  This might explain why the first 100 days of the Trump administration has been an unmitigated disaster.  Sure, the White House is a bundle of dysfunction, but the House is, too.

All the GOP knows how to do is oppose.  That leaves them vulnerable to wild variations in policy and no set plan.

Remind me again why Donald Trump is some crazy outlier to GOP politics?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nice Lede

Ryan Cooper begins with, "It's tough to grapple with the apparent fact that the president of the United States is a dolt."

It gets better from there.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mobbed Up

Josh Marshall makes a great point about the Trump/Russia story.  What we are already discovering about Trump's Russian mafia ties is a huge story in and of itself.  The more we seek to find some Robert Ludlum novel at the heart of the story, the less we realize what we are staring in the face.  The President of the United States has extensive ties to the underworld.

What's even more worrying is that we may never find that Ludlum novel, which would seem to exonerate Trump.  But he's not innocent.  We just need to figure out exactly what he's guilty of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Bad Week For National Socialism

First, can we all take a moment to consider the entertainment offered by Sean Spicer on a daily basis?  And can we hope against hope that Melissa McCarthy is free this Saturday night?

Spicer's tone deaf comments proved he was not good at his job.  His immediate impulse to double down and dig himself deeper into his rhetorical hole proves that he is truly incompetent and yet also representative of the Trump White House.  NEVER SURRENDER.  Except today, he's having to apologize.

Meanwhile, tea leaf readers in DC are counting the hours until Steve Bannon gets the ax.  Bannon's influence was primarily in shaping the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and White House.  My guess is that he was behind the language in Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III's speech that was too extreme even for AG Sessions.  Bannon is the poet of Trump's dystopian hellscape.  He is not, nor has he ever been, a policy thinker or a competent political manager.  He's a bomb thrower.

Trump, or perhaps Co-President Jared Kushner, has had enough of the bomb throwing.  It would be tough to see who has Bannon's back right now, beyond Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.  Purging the White House of those three would give Spicer some breathing room, too.

In my dream world, they fire Bannon, who immediately turns on Trump with the venom that only he can.  Bannon knows, perhaps, where some of the bodies are buried with regards to Russia.  Plus, Bannon has always said his desire was to create an ethno-nationalist party within the heart of the GOP.  If he get booted from the GOP, I certainly hope he creates his American Party to draw his voters away from the GOP.  Last night's special election in Kansas suggests that the current dysfunction in Trumpistan has about a 20 point effect on the margins of victory.  Ten points is a landslide; twenty is a fundamental realignment.  Siphon off 5-10% of Republican voters into the American Party, and Democrats will romp.

Hey, a guy can hope.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Populists

I'm reading Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform because I'm a great big nerd.  Plus, Fargo doesn't start for a couple of weeks and Game of Thrones isn't on until freaking July.  So, Hofstadter, it is.

I'm wrapping up his examination of the Populists, and he half makes a point that is clearer today than when he wrote back in the 1960s.

The Populists were radical visionaries, with an agenda that largely defined the later Progressive Era.  However, Hofstadter has always argued that the Populists were not true revolutionaries, but rather harassed small businessmen.  I think they WERE perhaps revolutionaries, but as mechanization and urbanization both increased their markets, they moved from being a Jeffersonian agrarian force for democratic accountability to basically a version of the Southern Lords of the Plantation.  They went from harried subsistence farmers on their 300 acres to agribusiness men on 2000 acres.  The less fortunate farmers were pushed off the land into cities or tenancy.

For a long time and even to this very day, the stranglehold that demographic distribution gives to rural voters has basically empowered a retrograde force in American politics.  For a moment, there was the Kansas rebellion that Thomas Franks writes about, but that was only a moment.

The sticks have always been the sticks - not much interested in social progress, thank you very much.  They care about their economic interests, as everyone does, and for a few years that meant embracing some fairly forward looking ideas.  But as "they got theirs" under Wilson and FDR, the farmers sank back into their natural conservatism.

And then Pennsyltucky gave us Trump.


Special Elections Blues

There are a few special elections coming up in Kansas and Georgia especially, though we have one for our state assembly seat.  Both the Kansas and Georgia seats are WAY closer than they should be, given that they are Republican Safe districts.  I mean...Kansas?  The GOP has been forced to mobilize money and assets to shore up what should be easy victories.

Special or off-year elections are usually referenda on the party in power, and this obviously suggests that Trump will be a YUGE drag on the Republican ticket in 2018.  On the other hand, I worry that if Democrats come close in both these elections, but don't win any of them, it could be demoralizing for a party whose natural reflex seems to be to become demoralized.

Obviously, I hope they win both and scare the crap out of the GOP, but I'm worried more air will be let out of the sails of the resistance when the overwhelmingly partisan nature of these districts manifests itself.