Quick hits (part II)

1) I do agree that the “second tier” Democratic candidates really are the most electable.  Still waiting for my Booker surge :-).

2) William Barr is the absolute worst and an abomination as an Attorney General.  If there’s any justice, he’ll be in prison some day.

3) I hope Dahlia Lithwick is right that Trump’s playbook won’t work for Ukraine:

Maybe this time feels different because, well, they are exceptionally bad at this one. Or maybe it feels different because the bombshells are coming from whistleblowers and inspectors general who were silent until they couldn’t be. Or maybe it feels different because no matter how you spin it, the president appears to be losing his shit. But maybe it just feels different because this time Donald Trump looks weak and pathetic. It’s not like the other nonscandals, when he didn’t pay his taxes and told people he was smart, or when he treated women like garbage and told people he was sexy, or when he profited from the businesses from which he refused to divest himself and told people he was just too fantastic a businessman, or even when he destroyed the lives of immigrants and asylum-seekers and told people he was tough.

No, this time, even as he admits to the impeachable act and says it’s what smart people do, he mostly looks nuts. He looks like a desperate man chasing an imaginary enemy—not his political opponent but his opponent’s son—around the globe, firing ambassadors, plotting with Paul Manafort, shaking down the Australians and the Italians and begging the Chinese to get in on the action, all because he’s hell-bent on destroying a political opponent who isn’t even his opponent yet. He’s twisted and bent the State Department and the Justice Department and the Republican Senate into confederates in what’s emerged as the saddest little snipe hunt in the world. He’s ripping up the carpeting on constitutional democracy for, well, an imaginary  grudge.

The Ukraine scandal may stick to him, and not simply because the president cannot seem to outrun it, but because even if he finally catches up, begging Australia and China to help him steal another election doesn’t have the look of a winner. It’s small, and weak. This time, maybe, bragging about that doesn’t help.

4) Yglesias with a really great look at the throughline on Rudy:

The only signature Giuliani policy was opposing civilian oversight of the NYPD. But even there the point was less any specific policy content than a kind of culture war about the police. He liked to fight with people who complained about police brutality more than he liked to delve into the details of crime control policy.

When it was politically important for him to be pro-choice and pro-LGBT he was; then he seemed surprised that the religious right had a problem with those positions. Now that he’s on Team Trump he doesn’t care about them at all — nor does he seem to remember that he used be a strident critic of strict immigration enforcement. During his flirtation with being a foreign policy expert, Giuliani was a pretty hard-core neoconservative hawk, something he also gave up to join the Trump Train.

Rather than having policy views in common with Trump, the two men share a common lack of real interest in policy views. They have, instead, strong views about who should be in charge (men with guns and badges acting in alliance with sympathetic businessmen) and who should shut up (everyone who has a problem with that).

And for all their law-and-order posturing, they share a distinct record of total contempt for actual laws and legal procedures. The point of law-and-order politics isn’t that you don’t stage a riot or leak a sealed juvenile record or make sure your police commissioner isn’t corrupt — it’s to make sure the law-and-order people stay in charge.

While Giuliani’s mission to Ukraine may not have been ethical, in accordance with the law, or reflective of how American foreign policy is supposed to operate it was absolutely in pursuit of keeping the law-and-order people in charge of the government.

That, for Rudy, has always been good enough.

5) Jennifer Rubin on the Republican cowards:

There is but a handful of Republicans — Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Reps. Devin Nunes (Calif.), Mark Meadows (N.C.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) — who are so deluded or dishonest that they continue to misrepresent the facts behind the impeachment inquiry, shamelessly peddle conspiracy theories and defend the president’s illegal threatening of a whistleblower. However, by and large the rest are hiding, cowering in their home districts during the recess and weighing in, if at all, to raise some irrelevant and half-baked procedural complaint. (Democrats have already decided he is a traitor! Hearsay!)

No fact pattern or rational argument will persuade the Jordans and the Johnsons of the world to give up the cultist and embarrassing defense of the president. (Note to Democrats: Those rural white working-class voters who buy this same nonsense are never voting Democratic, so give up your fixation with “understanding” and winning them back.) Rather, I’d like to focus on the rest of the Republicans, the ones who know Trump is nuts but were in it for the tax cuts or to get reelected or because they were convinced they could have made things better. If that course of action were intellectually and morally sustainable, they would not be literally hiding from the press or pretending they had not read the most eye-popping news in recent memory.

And yet they are hiding and hoping — hoping for what? That this will all blow over? That Trump will find a time machine to go back to erase his confessions on the White House grounds? That no more witnesses and no more documents will ever turn up confirming again and again the president’s shakedown of a foreign country for dirt on his political opponent and his solicitation of the same from China? This is irrational thinking. Their cowardice is implicit confirmation that the president’s actual words and conduct, which are unalterable, are indefensible.

6) I really like Aarron Carroll’s take on the new findings on red meat, “An extensive study confirms that red meat might not be that bad for you. But it is bad for the planet, with chicken and pork less harmful than beef.”  Also, I had no idea that it’s really all about steak:

There has been a lot of hope that Beyond Meat’s pea protein or Impossible Burger’s soy could serve as beef burger substitutes, reducing the need for cows. That’s unlikely to happen, according to Sarah Taber, a crop scientist and food system specialist. Ground beef is not the problem; steak is.

“There’s no profit to be made in ground beef,” she said. “That all comes either from leftover parts once cattle have been slaughtered for more expensive cuts, or from dairy cattle that have outlived their usefulness. If everyone gave up hamburgers tomorrow, the same number of cows would still be raised and need to be fed.”

In other words, to improve the environment by reducing the number of cows slaughtered, we’d need to find a way to replace the many other cuts of beef Americans enjoy. No lab, and no company, is close to that.

7) Loved this “Hidden Brain” episode on how fear of death drives our behaviors.

In the book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, Solomon, along with psychologists Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski, illustrate how death anxiety influences people’s behavior in ways they would never suspect. The fear of death is so overwhelming, they say, that people go to great lengths to seek security; they embrace belief systems that give them a sense of meaning — religion, values, community.

Through decades of studies, Solomon and his colleagues have shown that people suppress their fear of mortality by supporting those who are similar to themselves. “If somebody does something that’s in accord with your belief system, then being reminded of death should make you like them more so,” Solomon says.

People don’t just respond by clinging to their in-group. They act in ways that make them feel better about themselves, whether that’s demonstrating their physical prowess or buying status goods. In short, Solomon says, “we shore up our self-esteem in response to existential anxieties.”

8) Peter Wehner with a really interesting take on what’s with Republicans supporting Trump:

All of this is tied to the psychology of accommodation. As a conservative-leaning clinical psychologist I know explained to me, when new experiences don’t fit into an existing schema — Mr. Trump becoming the leader of the party that insisted on the necessity of good character in the Oval Office when Bill Clinton was president, for example — cognitive accommodation occurs.

When the accommodation involves compromising one’s sense of integrity, the tensions are reduced when others join in the effort. This creates a powerful sense of cohesion, harmony and group think. The greater the compromise, the more fierce the justification for it — and the greater the need to denounce those who call them out for their compromise. “In response,” this person said to me, “an ‘us versus them’ mentality emerges, sometimes quite viciously.”

“What used to be a sense of belonging,” I was told, “devolves into primitive tribalism, absolute adherence to the leader over adherence to a code of ethics.”

Now tie this into our politics. Several years ago — whether it was in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape or the president’s disturbing comments after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — Republicans were willing to call out Mr. Trump. But that proved to be ephemeral.

Month after month, with one outrageous, norm-shattering comment or action giving way to another, Republicans who in the past could never have envisioned being Trump acolytes, have been ground down. Accommodation has kicked in, which is a psychological relief to many of them. For those who view Mr. Trump as a model politician who voices their grievances and fights with a viciousness they have long hoped for from Republicans, the accommodation is not just a relief but a source of delight.

As the psychologist I spoke to put it to me, many Republicans “are nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves pre-Trump. At this stage it’s less about defending Trump; they are defending their own defense of Trump.”

“At this point,” this person went on, “condemnation of Trump is condemnation of themselves. They’ve let too much go by to try and assert moral high ground now. Calling out another is one thing; calling out yourself is quite another.”

9) Good stuff from Krugman on Warren versus the plutocrats:

But why does Warren inspire a level of hatred and fear among the very wealthy that I don’t think we’ve seen directed at a presidential candidate since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? …

There is, I’d argue, an important clue in the “Obama rage” that swept Wall Street circa 2010. Objectively, the Obama administration was very good to the financial industry, even though that industry had just led us into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Major financial players were bailed out on lenient terms, and while bankers were subjected to a long-overdue increase in regulation, the new regulations have proved fairly easy for reputable firms to deal with.

Yet financial tycoons were furious with President Barack Obama because they felt disrespected. In truth, Obama’s rhetoric was very mild; all he ever did was suggest that some bankers had behaved badly, which no reasonable person could deny. But with great wealth comes great pettiness; Obama’s gentle rebukes provoked fury — and a huge swing in financial industry political contributions toward Republicans.

The point is that many of the superrich aren’t satisfied with living like kings, which they will continue to do no matter who wins next year’s election. They also expect to be treated like kings, lionized as job creators and heroes of prosperity, and consider any criticism an unforgivable act of lèse-majesté.

10) Paul Waldman, “The government is working overtime to keep Trump’s tax returns secret.”  Damn, it really seems like they just must be so damning.

11) Frank Bruni:

wrote last week that the prospect of Trump’s impeachment terrified me, and one of the main reasons I cited was what we’re seeing now: his histrionic response, which is untethered from any sense of honor, civic concern or real patriotism.

He’s not like most of his predecessors in the White House, who had some limits, at least a few scruples and the capacity to feel shame. Their self-pity wasn’t this unfathomably deep, their delusions of martyrdom this insanely grand. “There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,” he tweeted last week, and the violins have wailed only louder and weepier since.

While there were fellow narcissists among his forebears, was there a single nihilist like Trump? I doubt it, and so the current waters are in fact uncharted, because the ship of state has a sort of madman at its helm.

That he’s fighting back by impugning his critics’ motives, stonewalling investigators and carping about the media shouldn’t disturb anyone, not if we’re being grown-ups. Richard Nixon, confronted with his impeachment, thrashed and seethed. Clinton assembled a war room in an effort to outwit his adversaries. That’s the nature of politics. That’s the right of the accused.

But in the mere week since a formal impeachment inquiry was announced, Trump has already gone much farther than that and behaved in ways that explode precedent, offend decency and boggle the mind. We’re fools if we don’t brace for more and worse.

12)  Jamelle Bouie on the Trump and Andrew Johnson parallels, “Andrew Johnson’s Violent Language — and Trump’s: The House should consider the president’s incendiary rhetoric as a separate offense, worthy of its own article of impeachment, as it was in 1868.”

Over the weekend, in a rage over impeachment, President Trump accused Representative Adam Schiff of “treason,” promised “Big Consequences” for the whistle-blower who sounded the alarm about his phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and shared a warning — from a Baptist pastor in Dallas — that impeachment “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

We’re already on to the next news cycle, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what happened with those tweets. The president was using the power and influence of his office to intimidate a witness and threaten a member of Congress with prosecution (of a crime still punishable by death), before raising the specter of large-scale political violence should lawmakers hold him responsible for his actions. If he had said this anywhere besides Twitter — in the Rose Garden or at a campaign stop — we would see it as a clear and unacceptable abuse of presidential rhetoric, his authoritarian instincts at work.  [emphasis mine]

13) This Derek Thompson take on the news in the economy that neither party wants to talk about was really interesting.  And it’s good news!

So, let’s play a game of wish-casting.

  • Imagine a world where wage growth was truly stagnant only for workers in high-wage industries, such as medicine and consulting.
  • Imagine a labor market where earnings growth for low-wage workers, such as those who work in retail and restaurants, had doubled in the past five years.
  • Imagine an economy where wages for the poorest Americans were rising twice as fast as hourly earnings for high-wage earners.

It turns out that all three of those things are happening right now…

What’s happening here? Donald Trump hasn’t sprinkled MAGA pixie dust over the U.S. economy. In fact, his trade war has clearly diminished employment growth in industries, that are sensitive to foreign markets, such as manufacturing. Rather, a tight labor market and state-by-state minimum wage hikes have combined to push up wage growth for the poorest workers. The sluggishness of overall wage growth is concealing the fact that the labor market has done wonderful things for wages at the low end.

One reason you haven’t heard this economic narrative may be that it’s inconvenient for members of both political parties to talk about, especially at a time when economic analysis has, like everything else, become a proxy for political orientation. For Democrats, the idea that low-income workers could be benefiting from a 2019 economy feels dangerously close to giving the president credit for something. This isn’t just poor motivated reasoning; it also attributes way too much power to the American president, who exerts very little control over the domestic economy. Meanwhile, corporate-friendly outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages, have reported on this phenomenon. But they’ve used it as an opportunity to take a shot at “the slow-growth Obama years” rather than a way to argue for the extraordinary benefits of tight labor markets for the poor, much less for the virtues of minimum-wage laws.

Democrats don’t want to talk about low-income wage growth, because it feels too close to saying, “Good things can happen while Trump is president”; and Republicans don’t want to talk about the reason behind it, because it’s dangerously close to saying, “Our singular fixation with corporate-tax rates is foolish and Keynes was right.”

For the record, this is really encouraging news that Democrats are right not to be talking about.  The simple reality is that presidents get both way too much credit and way too much blame for the economy; and Trump certainly does not deserve credit for this.


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