Don’t forget what we already know

Really like this Greg Sargent take on the Mueller report:

Savvy reporters are telling us the attorney general’s report to Congress on Mueller’s findings will disclose disappointingly little.

So let’s reconnect ourselves with two very fundamental realities that this whole affair has already brought to light:

  1. It has already been established that Trump himself committed very serious and extensive misconduct, and possibly crimes as well, and it has already been confirmed that multiple top Trump associates committed extensive wrongdoing and numerous crimes. Trump repeatedly lied to the American people about this misconduct.
  2. It has already been established that a foreign power engaged in a wide-ranging effort to corrupt our democracy for the purpose of electing Trump president, and that Trump and his associates eagerly benefited from and actively tried to participate in this scheme. Trump lied to the American people about this, too. And he engaged in extensive efforts to prevent a full accounting of all of it from taking place…

Extensive wrongdoing has already been established

All this will be another reminder, from Trump’s former personal lawyer, of just how much wrongdoing — and possible criminality — has already been established.

“Cohen’s testimony will cause a national audience that may be accustomed to Trump’s behavior to confront the wide range of lies he has told to cover up misconduct,” Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under President Barack Obama, tells me, including “his denial he had anything to do with hush-money payments, that he had any business dealings with Russia during the campaign, that he has nothing to hide in his business or tax history.”…

As Brian Beutler observes, all of these things go to the core of “our understanding of how Trump came to power” and just how infused that was with criminality and deception, an understanding that is enormously important to arrive at but is “still developing.”

Yes, a limited disclosure of Mueller’s findings will be a setback. It will deny us information we need to better understand the full scope and range of misconduct on both the collusion and obstruction fronts. Democrats should and will try to rectify this.

But whatever is to be in that regard, we already know a great deal about what happened here. No amount of fake claims of vindication from a cramped Mueller disclosure can make all of that disappear.

The socialist menace

A couple really good columns on this a couple weeks ago.

First, Jamelle Bouie:

Next came the president’s address to Congress. And this week at a rally in El Paso, Tex., Trump went after the “radical left,” blasting a caricature of progressive climate policies. “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of ‘Let’s hop a train to California,’” he said, bizarrely adding that under the Green New Deal resolution introduced by liberal Democrats, “You’re not allowed to own cows anymore.”

The clear expectation is that many or most Americans will recoil at any hint of “socialism,” either on principle or because of its association with Venezuela, which the administration has tried to elevate as a major adversary. That might have been true in Trump’s cultural and political touchstone, the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s hard-line anti-Communism defined American foreign and domestic policy. But in 2019, the Cold War is long over. The Soviet Union is a memory. And there is no comparable global ideological struggle over economic systems that might give weight to Trump’s rhetoric. There’s not much fear to monger. Instead, the president’s decision to make “socialism” his opponent might have the opposite effect, potentially bolstering the movement and its ideals…

Making the ground even less fertile for the “socialist” charge is the fact of the 2008 recession, which produced worsening views of capitalism, especially among young Americans, who showed growing receptivity to views such as “basic health insurance is a right for all people” and “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.” In truth, these ideas fit well into the modern history of capitalist governance. But the politics of the past 10 years have given them a left-wing tinge…

Specifically, in their vehement opposition to the Obama administration, conservatives narrowed “socialism” down to virtually any attempt to intervene in the economy on behalf of the broad public. The effort to save the American car industry? Socialist. Regulated markets to purchase health insurance? Socialist. Market-based measures for reducing carbon emissions? Also socialist. [emphases mine]

This aggressive labeling coincided with a rise in favorable attitudestoward socialism among Democrats…

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At this moment, the proposed policies of the Democratic Party — from modest initiatives to incentivize savings to expansive programs for guaranteed employment — aren’t socialism. Even if they were, Americans are less afraid of the label than one might think: 37 percent say they have a positive image of socialism, a two-point increase from 2016…

If anything can put socialism in a more positive light, it is Trump raging against it. Which means conservatives and Republicans may want to think a little harder before they embrace a campaign strategy that relies on him for messaging. If “socialism” is like every other idea Trump has attacked and disdained, then the Republican Party should prepare for even more Americans embracing the term — and the ideas that come with it.

And EJ Dionne:

“We socialists are trying to save capitalism, and the damned capitalists won’t let us.”

Political scientist Mason B. Williams cited this cheeky but accurate comment by New Deal lawyer Jerome Frank to make a point easily lost in the new war on socialism that President Trump has launched: Socialism goes back a long way in the United States, and it has taken doses of it to keep the market system alive.

Going back to the late 19th century, Americans and Europeans, socialists and liberal reformers, worked together to humanize the system’s workings and to find creative ways to solve problems capitalism alone couldn’t…

But there would be no social reform, ever, if those seeking change were too timid to go big and allowed cries of “socialism” to intimidate them…

But attacking socialism isn’t the cakewalk it used to be. During the Cold War, it was easy to frighten Americans with the s-word because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics offered a powerful example of the oppression that state control of all of the means of production could unleash.

The Soviet Union, however, has been dead for nearly three decades. China is communist on paper but a wildly unequal crony capitalist dictatorship in practice. Young Americans especially are far more likely to associate “socialism” with generous social insurance states than with jackboots and gulags. Sweden, Norway and Denmark are anything but frightening places

Nonetheless, Jerome Frank was right: Those slurred as socialists really do have a good track record of making capitalism work better and more justly. The s-word is not now, and, in its democratic forms, never should have been, an obscenity.

Short version: if “socialism” is the government undertaking programs to take off the sharpest edges of capitalism and ensure basic standards of equality and human welfare in the most prosperous society on the planet, sounds pretty damn good.

Climate change costs and benefits

Meant to do a post on this a few weeks ago, but climate change and how we deal with it is not going anywhere, so…

Anyway, really interesting piece from Carolyn Kormann in the New Yorker that asks us to re-think how we look at climate change mitigation policies in terms of costs and benefits:

A modest carbon tax of the sort Nordhaus proposed decades ago—one that was then palatable to conservatives—will therefore no longer bring us anywhere near the Paris Agreement targets. But it’s one of many weapons in the arsenal that policymakers need to employ. “The real challenge is finding ways to reduce emissions and maintain economic growth on the timeline demanded by the nature of climate change,” Kenneth Gillingham, an associate professor of economics at Yale University, told me. But, as much as the costs of climate mitigation will undoubtedly increase, the question is whether the benefits of mitigation exceed those costs. “It’s a straw man—and terrible economics—to just point out the costs while ignoring the benefits,” Burke said. He and two co-authors published a paper in Nature last May that shows that the economic benefits of mitigation are going to be much larger than previously believed. Cooler temperatures would help maintain and grow productivity, and reducing carbon emissions means reducing air pollution—specifically particulate matter, or soot—which brings immediate health benefits. They found that keeping global warming to one and a half degrees Celsius (which is nearly impossible at this point), as opposed to two degrees Celsius, would potentially save more than twenty trillion dollars around the world by the end of the century, and significantly reduce global inequality. Beyond two degrees, they wrote, “we find considerably greater reductions in global economic output.” [emphases mine] If nations met their commitments under the Paris Agreement, the world would still see the average global temperature rise by two and a half to three degrees Celsius, which, according to Burke’s paper, would result in a fifteen-to-twenty-five-per-cent reduction in per capita output by 2100. “To just complain about the costs of this transition and ignore the benefits, as is common in the discussion from this Administration,” Burke said, “is some pretty poor cost-benefit analysis from an Administration that prides itself on economic savvy.”

Of course, there’s lots of uncertainty in all this and this is just one set of estimates.  That said, I do think it makes a fundamental point to be emphasized whenever skeptics argue that it is just too expensive to really do anything about climate change and that is that is almost surely far more expensive to do nothing and cost/benefit-wise we’ll likely come out way ahead by trying to tackle this problem.

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