On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson
January 31, 2019

Steve Schmidt: Bad Judgment or Bad Faith? Moderate Republican and campaign guru Steve Schmidt has spent the last couple of years on cable news, quite rightly decrying and disparaging Donald Trump and the Republican Party which has fallen in line behind him.

Now, however, he’s emerged in a more sinister guise, as a leading adviser to Starbuck’s Howard Schultz, whose projected independent presidential candidacy may well provide the only way that Trump can win re-election in 2020.

Schultz’s bid is premised on several whopping delusions: First, that there’s a silent majority of independents in the electorate who will outvote both Democrats and Republicans when presented with an independent option; second, that that silent majority will back a candidate who says, as Schultz has, that we need to scale back entitlements; and third, that the threat to American democracy that Trump presents with each passing day is no greater than whatever threat his Democratic successor would pose.

As to the first delusion, the share of independents in the electorate who don’t lean either to the Democrats or Republicans is at most 8 percent, and most of that group remains firmly anchored in the nonvoting portion of our electorate. To the second, there is overwhelming support in every poll for preserving and expanding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and increasing publicly funded access to health care, parental leave, and such. As to the third, no mainstream political scientist, once she’s checked the data, believes that the extremism of the Republicans, much less of Trump, has been matched by the Democrats, or that, for instance, the Democrats’ efforts to ensure voting rights is somehow comparable to Trump and the Republicans’ efforts to curtail them.

Steve Schmidt, who’s clearly a very bright guy, certainly isn’t taken in by Schultz’s three delusions, or any other that would lead one to conclude that an independent presidential candidacy could succeed. He has to know that it would only enable Trump—whom Schmidt has repeatedly and roundly condemned—to squeak through to an Electoral College or House-vote victory in 2020.

Then again, Schmidt may be best known for one epic failure of judgment—his 2008 recommendation to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whom Schmidt served as chief campaign strategist, to take an obscure governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.

The question, then, is whether Schmidt has entered one of his apparently periodic moments of inexplicably bad judgment, or whether he has merely succumbed to what must be the huge paychecks that Schultz has dangled before him. Inquiring minds want to know. 

Kuttner
January 30, 2019

Fox Con Job. Remember Foxconn? Then-governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin lured the Chinese company to create “up to” 13,000 jobs in his state, with tax subsidies paid by Wisconsin taxpayers that could to as high as $3 billion. Foxconn was going to build a $10 billion factory complex to produce liquid crystal displays and other tech equipment that it now makes in Asia. 

As the Prospect reported in an investigative piece last September, the taxpayer cost per new employee was estimated at $230,000, or five or six times the normal figure in such deals. 

Though the 13,000 jobs were an estimate, not a formal commitment, President Trump touted that number at a ground-breaking ceremony last year with Walker, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.

Well, that was then. 

It now turns out that Foxconn will hire a maximum of 1,000 Wisconsinites, and is not building a factory at all. The company now describes its Wisconsin facility as an R&D center, combined with the possibility of some low-skill final assembly jobs. 

There are several morals of this story. One, which we already knew, is never to trust Scott Walker or Donald Trump, either separately or together. Moral two is to keep your hand on your wallet whenever corporate execs hold you up for tax subsidies.

But the more important moral is that if the U.S. is to have a real industrial policy to reclaim U.S. manufacturing jobs, it is utter folly to rely on white knights on the form of Chinese companies. Making American manufacturing great again is not at the top of their national agenda. 

Better to spend the money directly, on industrial strategies that benefit companies that are committed to producing in the U.S. It remains to be seen how much of the tax breaks were already squandered and what might be recouped.

Meyerson
January 29, 2019

Bash Your Billionaire! It’s been one of those weeks when billionaires have been much in the news. Herewith, three varieties of the follies and delusions of the super-rich.

 

Billionaire Bilgewater. In Davos, the world’s priciest echo chamber, the billionaires assembled for the annual World Economic Forum turned their attention to economic inequality. “We’re living in a Gilded Age,” Scott Minerd, the chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, told The Washington Post’s Heather Long.

But what do Wall Street’s whizzes prescribe as a solution to the growing disappearance of the middle class? “Upskilling.” Workers can become more productive, in more remunerative jobs, if they learn how to code. “The lack of education in those areas in digital is absolutely shocking,” said Stephen Schwartzman, CEO of Blackstone, the private-equity behemoth that has presided over the destruction of many thousands of jobs.

Not surprisingly, the Post’s Long also discovered that very few Davosites supported raising taxes on the rich—even to fund any government efforts to “upskill” our workers.

 

Billionaire Bushwah. Michael Bloomberg has rightly condemned Howard Schultz’s pronouncements that he’ll probably run for president as an independent, noting, even more rightly, that the only effect such a campaign could conceivably have would be to split the anti-Trump vote and thereby possibly re-elect our deranged president. But Bloomberg is still gearing up for his own presidential run in 2020’s Democratic primaries. According to a New York Times account of a Bloomberg talk last week in Virginia, the former New York mayor “says he can unite Democrats” around policies of pro-business economics and highly selective social liberalism: He strongly supports gun controls, but has ridiculed legalizing marijuana and hasn’t repudiated the stop-and-frisk operations of the NYPD when he was mayor, which understandably outraged the targeted (black and brown) communities and civil libertarians. This can unite Democrats?

 

Billionaire Bullshit. Which brings us, of course, to Howard Schultz, who proposes to run on a platform fundamentally indistinguishable from Bloomberg’s, but in such a way that he could give Donald Trump four more years. By so doing, Schultz would ensure that he would be remembered with as much respect as is being accorded to the near-billionaire who died last Friday—Chainsaw Al Dunlap, who won his moniker for his habit of boosting short-term profits at the companies he ran by firing half their work forces, until he himself was ousted for cooking those companies’ books.

Schultz should read the Dunlap obits and other assessments of his career. They’re kind compared to those he’d get should he choose to run as an independent.

Meyerson
January 24, 2019

AOC’s Achievement: Making Americans’ Progressive Beliefs Politically Acceptable. Of all the reasons that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is driving the right crazy, one of the most important is this: She’s advancing presumably radical ideas (by the right’s standards, anyway) that actually have massive public support.

Green New Deal? Fuzzy though its meanings may be, it brings together regional development policies for the huge region of the country that private capital has long since abandoned, climate change policies in a nation where climate-change apprehension is at an all-time high, full employment and decent wage policies for a nation where even voters in Republican states are casting ballots for higher wages and better jobs. Before AOC, whose radar was a Green New Deal even on? Since she joined the protestors in Nancy Pelosi’s office, a far-flung majority of Americans now see it as a way to address all manner of problems.

Likewise with taxing the rich. When AOC made the case for a 70 percent tax rate on annual income over the $10 million threshold, CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded as if she’d just called for collective farms. Now that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that would compel the rich to pay an even fairer share of their bounty to support the common good, pundits are beginning to notice that the public has been supporting much higher taxes on the rich for a very long time. Since 2003, Gallup has annually asked the public whether they believe the level of taxes the rich pay is too high, too low or just right. The percentage saying “too low” has been in the 60-percent-to-70-percent range every year.

So it’s not hard to see why AOC is driving the right crazy. Forget the dancing, not to mention the racism and sexism that underpins many of the right’s complaints. It’s that she’s giving voice to progressive ideas that the public actually supports but that have long gone unvoiced by nearly everyone in power who has a megaphone they could use. She’s game-changingly brilliant at promoting progressive public policy. To the right, if I may steal from the Bard, such women are dangerous.

Kuttner
January 23, 2019

Wall Street Journal Follies. I could write an entire blog just on the intellectual dishonesty of The Wall Street Journal. Just when I think they can’t get sink any lower, they top their old record.

Over the weekend, their lead editorial was titled “Harvesting Democratic Votes.” 

The Journal is mightily aggrieved that California has actually made it easier for citizens to vote—things like same day registration, automatic registration, expanded use of provisional ballots and mail in ballots.  

The Journal is doubly offended that so many Californians apparently choose to vote for Democrats. Imagine that! And worse, the Democrats, in the federal voting reform bill HR 1 “are trying to do for the country what they’ve done for California.”

This from a publication that did not say boo about gross forms of voter suppression throughout the country that threw millions of qualified voters off the rolls. Indeed, for all of the Republican stated concern about supposed voter fraud, the prime case of ballot fraud in the 2018 midterms was in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, where Republican operatives used fake mail-in ballots to stuff ballot boxes for the GOP candidate. 

The fraud was so extreme that the state's bipartisan state board of elections refused to certify Mark Harris, who had ostensibly won by 905 votes. Yesterday, a federal judge refused Harris’s petition to have him declared the winner.

The Journal’s professed concern for democracy is situational, to put it politely. Fraud and suppression are excused when the beneficiaries are Republicans. Alarm is expressed when expanded democracy proves good for Democrats. 

I know I should not be shocked, shocked, that there is sophistry going on around here. But where Fox, Limbaugh, et al, are totally bogus, the rest of the Journal is a serious paper.

Meyerson
January 22, 2019

Trump’s Shutdown Strategy: Democrats Respond to Suffering. I Don’t. To whatever extent rational calculation plays a part in Donald Trump’s thinking on the shutdown, it would have to be premised on his belief that the Democrats will finally end it lest the toll of the human suffering it causes grow too great. Consider the numbers: The shutdown is not only causing major economic distress for the roughly 800,000 federal workers not being paid, and their families, and the good-deal-more-than-800,000 contract workers who are also not being paid, and their families, too. Add all those up and they have to come to perhaps five million, maybe more, Americans.

But as our Kalena Thomhave points out in her story on the nation’s roughly 40 million food-stamp recipients, who may not be getting their March payment (their still-funded February payment went out early), the human toll of the shutdown could radically worsen if Trump insists on keeping it going.

And the Trump thought process, such as it is, would have to go something like this:

At some point—particularly if those 40 million begin to go really hungry—won’t the Democrats be compelled to cave? Because they actually care if people go hungry, and I (Hizzoner President Trump) do not?

Of course, some of my fellow Republicans may wuss out on this. It will be up to my friends at Fox and on talk radio to demonize the food-stampers, but they’re up to the task. I may not have my Roy Cohn, but I sure got my Doctor Goebbels.

Despite such calculations—and it’s hard to see anything resembling calculations in the White House’s strategy other than a version of the above—the public is clearly blaming Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown, and they’re likely to blame Trump and the Republicans for mass hunger, too, should it come to that. Even the intransigent Mitch McConnell has lots of SNAP recipients among his voters, as do other Republican senators. Such an impasse would be the clearest test yet of whether anything can make them break from the sociopath in the Oval Office. 

Kuttner
January 18, 2019

A Break from Walls, Shutdowns, and Tweets. The poet Mary Oliver died at 83 yesterday. I hope you’ve encountered her work.

She is the great poet of being human, a lyrical poet who managed to touch a large audience with her simplicity and eloquent insight about making meaning from everyday wonder.

Here is part of one of her best, from her poem titled “When Death Comes.” 

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Whatever else you might say about Mary Oliver, she fully inhabited this world.

Poetry helps keep us sane, in this insane time. And now, back to the madness of Trump.

Meyerson
January 17, 2019

“All Right Then, We Are Two Nations.” That’s what John Dos Passos wrote in his great USA trilogy, recounting the divisions in the country at the time of the 1927 execution of Sacco and Vanzetti—another season when nativism was running high and Italians were viewed by many “older stock” Americans as an inherently dangerous population.

Plus ca change:  In a survey released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, Americans opposed expanding what we have in the way of a border wall by a 58 percent to 40 percent margin, but that 58 and that 40 couldn’t be more entrenched. Not surprisingly, given the centrality of nativism, racism and Trumpism to the modern GOP, “Republican support for the wall,” Pew reports, “is at a record high, while Democratic support has reached a new low.” Moreover, Pew continues:

Nearly nine-in-ten (88 percent) opponents of expanding the border wall say it would not be acceptable to pass a bill that includes President Trump’s request for wall funding, if that is the only way to end the shutdown. Among the smaller group of wall supporters, 72 percent say a bill to end the shutdown would be unacceptable if it does not include Trump’s funding request.

I take these numbers to fairly represent what has become an unbridgeable divide between our two nations. I take them as an indication that those who are seeking the “center” in American politics will fail to find one. Neither side has any significant political incentive to plant a flag in midfield; neither side believes in the other side’s facts, epistemology, or sense of right and wrong. For the sentient American majority, the only long-term solution is to mobilize and enlarge our ranks to overcome the anti-majoritarianism of both the Republicans and the Constitution, and thereby win the political power that would strip from Republicans their capacity to inflict their bigotry on their fellow Americans. 

Kuttner
January 16, 2019

Seth Moulton, What Were You Thinking? Like a fine wine, Nancy Pelosi just gets better with age. Disinviting Trump to give the State of the Union address in the people’s House, of which she is now speaker, is a stroke of genius. It must be driving Trump nuts, if that’s not redundant. 

Trump is simply not accustomed to strong women, much less strong women exercising power that he can’t control. How could any Democrat have thought it would be smart politics to topple Pelosi, other than for sheer opportunism?

Meanwhile, Trump's support among Republicans continues to crumble. The latest is that VP Mike Pence and First Nepotist Jared Kushner were frantically trying to hold back a stampede of Republican senators signing onto a letter requesting Trump to allow the government to reopen for three weeks while wall discussions continue. 

Those Republicans include Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. Alexander is a close ally of Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who has been uncharacteristically quiet as a turtle. Graham is usually a strong ally of Trump, except when he isn’t. 

One other piece of positive fallout: Ordinary Americans, watching and reading about the plight of unpaid workers at the TSA, the National Park Service, NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on and on, are starting to realize that these are dedicated Americans who actually do useful work. Imagine that.

What a pleasure to observe the astute Nancy Pelosi in action as speaker once again. We are lucky that the anti-Pelosi coup did not get to first base. 

Meyerson
January 15, 2019

The Emerging 2020 False Choice: “Just Beat Trump” or “Progressive Change?” According to a story in today’s New York Times, “the most consequential political question facing the Democratic Party is whether liberals will insist on imposing policy litmus tests on 2020 presidential hopefuls, or whether voters will rally behind the candidate most capable of defeating the president even if that Democrat is imperfect on some issues.”

This question, however, is rooted in the muck of dubious assumptions. The first such assumption is that the “imperfect” policy positions of more centrist candidates will have broader electoral appeal than more distinctly progressive policy positions. Relatedly, the second dubious assumption is that progressive policy positions (by which centrists generally mean progressive economic policy positions) will make it difficult for the eventual Democratic nominee to defeat Donald Trump.

Which progressive policy positions would those be? Breaking up the big banks? Raising taxes on the rich and corporations? A Green New Deal that involves major public investment and good job creation in the economically abandoned regions of the country (which include inner cities as well as small towns and rural America)? Rejecting corporate PACs? Instituting public financing of campaigns? Dividing corporate boards between representatives of workers and shareholders? Expanding Medicare and Medicaid as a phase in to single payer? Changing labor law to enable workers to form unions again? Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit? Mandating free public college and university educations?

My hunch—and I’ve got a passel of polls to back it up—is that such positions will help rather than hurt the Democratic nominee, in purple states no less than in the blue. And that shying from such positions will exact a toll that exceeds the benefits of centrist reticence. Americans—not just Democrats—are looking for leadership that will help them transform our nation from a plutocracy to a democracy. A nominee who doesn’t fit that bill—and there are a number of centrist hopefuls who don’t—would be less, not more, likely to defeat Trump in 2020.   

So—progressive change or just beat Trump? That’s the choice the centrists are saying we must confront. It’s a false one. 

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