On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner
January 7, 2019

Needed for the Democrats—a Process of Elimination. With more than two dozen Democrats likely to declare for president, how on earth do they stage debates? We all remember what happened with the Republicans in 2016. With an immense field, there was no discussion of issues; it quickly turned even more nasty and personal than usual, paving the way for the most negative and outrageous candidate to win the nomination.

Uh-oh.  With a field this large and more than a 15 candidates onstage, anything could happen. Supposed charisma could crowd out content. Almost anyone could be declared the winner.

Maybe the Dems should emulate the World Cup or one of the major tennis tournaments, and use elimination rounds. For the Wall Street Democrats, Booker against Gillibrand. For the geezers, Biden against Sanders. For the progressives, Warren versus Brown (or maybe Sanders). For the dark horses, Landrieu against Castro.

Or we could decide this by coin toss. Or maybe by race or gender, God help us. Then the winners of the quarter-finals go to the semis, and then we get a one-on-one debate in the final.

Sound far fetched? Give me a better idea. Or just wait and watch the real thing—and weep.

Kuttner
December 21, 2018

Personal News and Prospect News. The very talented David Dayen, whose writing you probably know from our pages and other national publications, will be joining the Prospect in the spring as executive editor. 

In addition to adding immeasurably to our magazine, this will enable me to reach a long-sought personal goal of pulling back from management, to focus on writing, for the Prospect and other magazines and blogs. The rest of our leadership team will continue, joined by our wonderful new publisher, Ellen Meany, former creative director of the Madison weekly, Isthmus.

As we approach a new year and a new chapter in the ongoing struggle to reclaim our democracy and build a decent and just society, the Prospect will be breaking news and making news, and in very good hands.

Happy holidays to all.

Meyerson
December 20, 2018

Orbánomics and Our Brain-Dead Ambassador to Hungary. Having long since undermined any claims he might have had to rudimentary decency, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has now begun to undermine his own dangerously authoritarian regime.

The most overtly anti-Semitic leader of a European nation since Adolf Hitler, Orbán is now the target of daily demonstrations from an increasingly unified group of Hungary’s previously squabbling and fissiparous opposition. His take-over of the nation’s independent media, his closing of Budapest’s Central European University, his supplanting the nation’s independent judiciary, his anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish demagogy had already infuriated Hungarians of various political stripes—all but the rural, more elderly ultra-nationalists who constitute his party’s base of support.

In recent days, however, he may well have upset them, too, by pushing through a new law enabling employers to require their workers to put in up to 400 hours of overtime a year. The problem, apparently, is that Hungary is a small, relatively low-wage country—with 9.7 million residents, it accounts for just 2 percent of Europe’s population—to which manufacturers from Germany and elsewhere flock for cheap labor. And the nation is no longer able to do the work that has come, or would come, its way due to its small labor force.

And who’s responsible for that small labor force? By vetoing Angela Merkel’s proposal to distribute the immigrants to the EU among its member nations, by building a wall on Hungary’s borders to keep out virtually all immigrants, by compelling a number of the best educated and most productive Hungarians to move to other lands, Orbán has effectively ensured that the nation’s labor force will be too small to create a more vibrant economy. That’s why he came up with the forced overtime.

Confronted with the most fascistic regime in Europe since you-know-when, the Trump administration has stayed resolutely mute. Besides our president’s own tin-pot proclivities, it’s also the case the foremost target of Orbán’s anti-Semitic broadsides is George Soros, the Hungarian-born American financier who supports a range of liberal causes here and abroad—for which he’s repeatedly been the subject of Trump’s attacks as well. One of those causes Soros supported was the now-shuttered Central European University, which he founded.

The U.S. ambassador to Hungary—make that Trump’s man in Hungary—is David Cornstein, an octogenarian New Yorker and lifelong Republican. Representing the United States in the midst of the most anti-Semitic, anti-democratic Western regime we’ve seen since the 1940s, Trumpier-Than-Thou Cornstein—who is Jewish—has yet to find anything worthy of his condemnation or even concern. He’s called Orbán a “friend,” found nothing upsetting in Orban’s ordering the Central European University to close its doors, and said he’s seen no evidence of the nation’s movement towards authoritarianism. He’s made no comment on Orban’s appointment of the owner of a notoriously anti-Semitic magazine, who has condemned as too harsh the sentences handed out at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, to head the nation’s new Holocaust museum.

Debate continues as to whether Cornstein is the World’s Dumbest, or just the World’s Blindest, Jew. 

Kuttner
December 19, 2018

Corporate Free Speech and the Israel Lobby. As you may have read, the latest ploy by the Netanyahu government and its allies in the U.S. Senate is a provision that would apply criminal penalties against U.S. corporations that boycott companies that operate in the occupied West Bank. This is opposed by the liberal pro-Israel organization, J Street, and the ACLU. 

The measure, in the form of a Senate rider to the emergency bill to keep the government open, is one of those ideas that gives bipartisanship a bad name. Its lead cosponsors are Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.

The rider is especially sneaky in that it makes no distinction between the occupied West Bank, where the boycotts have broad support, and the attempt by some in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to impose boycotts on Israel itself, which liberals tend to reject for good reason.  

This measure is unwise—and maybe it’s also unconstitutional. Prior to the far-right hijacking of the Supreme Court, this argument would have been far-fetched. If Congress wants to regulate corporate behavior, fine. But the Roberts Court has been highly inventive in redefining corporations as citizens—for purposes of making campaign donations, undermining reproductive rights, discriminating against gays and lesbians—all in the name of corporate free speech.

So, hey, if our corporate brethren want to boycott some sweatshop in the occupied West Bank, that’s their right as citizens, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll get one decent, accidental byproduct of the wretched Roberts doctrine on corporate citizenship.

As my grandfather use to say, “Shouldn’t be a total loss.” 

Meyerson
December 18, 2018

Corporate America’s Only Priority: Rewarding the Rich. The stock market may be tanking, but investors—make that, major investors—are doing great nonetheless.

How, you may ask, is this possible? It’s because corporations have showered them with heretofore unimaginable dividends and share buybacks.

According to a front-page story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “companies in the S&P 500 have spent nearly $421 billion on dividends through November,” which is more than they spent on dividends in all of 2017. And this doesn’t take into account the amount of money corporations are devoting to share buybacks, which is more than twice the amount they’ve shoveled into dividends this year. Indeed, both dividends and share buybacks have already broken their all-time yearly record—and the Journal predicts that next year’s levels will surpass this year’s, notwithstanding the downward direction of the market.

In recent months, both wages and domestic capital investment have inched up, but at nowhere near the level of the increase in the return to shareholders. As the terrific new study by Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute makes clear, the single most important factor in the past-four-decades’ diversion of business income from workers to shareholders and executives is the success of business’s assault on worker power, and the concomitant success of business’s insistence that government favor the rich over everyone else.

The last time I looked, the theory behind the government’s decision to tax capital gains at a lower rate than income from work was that investors bolstered the economy by investing. Now that corporation’s main mission is to reward investors at the expense of all other conceivable ways to spend its revenues, however, the capital gains tax has become purely a way to reward investors for extracting money from corporations, for siphoning funds from what otherwise might be productive enterprise.

Kuttner
July 13, 2018

Trump Gave Theresa May What She Deserved. Poor Prime Minister May. She has not been able to get her Conservative Party to agree on a Brexit formula, members of the cabinet are deserting her left and right (mostly right), and now she gets sucker-punched by Donald Trump.

May, braving broad hostility to Trump throughout Britain, went out of her way to host a friendly visit for our lunatic president, assuming that Trump might reciprocate with a bit of gratitude. But Trump doesn’t know from quid pro quo gratitude, except maybe when it comes to Vladimir Putin.

So while May and Trump were concluding a cordial dinner (salmon, beef, clotted cream ice cream) at Blenheim Palace, the right-wing tabloid The Sun published a startling interview in which Trump virtually endorsed the crackpot demagogue Boris Johnson to replace May as prime minister.

Johnson is basically the British Trump. He resigned as foreign minister earlier this week, ostensibly to protest the terms of May’s proposed Brexit deal, but actually to plot a campaign to oust her in favor of himself.

Steve Bannon has been in Britain this week. He’s a big fan of Johnson, and is working much of Europe to try to get more Trump-like figures to oust establishment pols.

The Trump-Johnson caper bears the characteristic signature of a Bannon operation. Trump doesn’t quite have the deftness or knowledge of British politics to think it up himself.

Serves May right for giving a warm welcome to Trump. Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.

Meyerson
July 12, 2018

Germany a “Captive of Russia”? How About America a Captive of Texas? Germany, President Trump charged yesterday at the NATO summit, is “a captive of Russia.” He was referencing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which, when completed, will enable Germany to get much of its natural gas from Russia.

By any other criteria, Germany might be said to be less of a Russian captive than Trump himself, though what Russian bounty has flowed to Trump over the years remains the subject of investigation—and is not the subject of these jottings.

Because the phenomenon of energy dependency upon a politically backward state compromising a nation’s values is one Americans should know all too well. If Germany is a captive of Russia, then America is a captive of Texas.

The baleful influence of the oil industry on U.S. policy extends well beyond the climate-worsening policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party (and some of the Democratic Party) generally. Dating back to the Hunt family and beyond, the oil fortunes of Texas, Oklahoma, and the rest of the fossil-fuel belt have funded generations of reactionary campaigns against liberal and moderate candidates in races where energy policy didn’t figure at all.

For that matter, energy dependency has been the basis of U.S. support for the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia since 1945, even though the Islamic fundamentalism that the regime has supported and fostered has helped spawn the very terrorist organizations the U.S. has spent a fortune combating.

So Trump should be careful about alleging that energy dependency can compromise a nation’s values and safety. By that metric, it’s us—not the Germans—who are the club champions. 

Kuttner
July 11, 2018

If Putin Is Trump’s Chum, Why the Pressure to Spend More on NATO? OK, it’s not exactly news when Trump contradicts himself, but consider this doozie:

Trump is excoriating America’s NATO allies for failing to meet the agreed-upon target of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on the military. The U.S. spends close to 4 percent, and Trump has just urged NATO members to double their target to 4 percent, too.

But hold on. If memory serves, NATO was created to protect Western Europe against Soviet Russia.

The Kremlin is no longer Soviet, but its near-neighbors like the Baltic republics and Ukraine are all too aware that Russian territorial swagger has not disappeared. Donald Trump, however, seems to believe otherwise. If things go according to plan, he will go directly from the summit meetings bashing our NATO allies to a love-fest session with Putin.

So please explain: If Putin is a benign pussycat, why does NATO need to spend more money on the military—to contain a nation that Trump no longer considers a threat?

a) This is just an excuse to bash Europe.

b) Trump doesn’t know, and he is oblivious to contradictions.

c) Whacking NATO is another way to suck up to Putin.

d) Europe is spending plenty, even if Putin is a problem.

e) All of the above.

Meyerson
July 10, 2018

Questions for Kavanaugh. From what we’re now learning about Brett Kavanaugh, it’s clear he thinks indicting a sitting conservative president would be a disaster. Whether he feels that way about a sitting liberal pope—in this case, Francis—isn’t so clear. President Trump’s pick to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court has written a great deal about how our system needs to defer to presidential power, and it’s also apparent that he’s a charter member of the Antonin Scalia/Pope Benedict Society for the Preservation of Patriarchal Norms (the Older, the Better).

One newer norm that Kavanaugh looks poised to uphold is that of answering no substantive questions during his upcoming Senate confirmation hearings. A newly released study documents that Trump’s previous court pick, Neil Gorsuch, set the record for the highest percent of questions evaded during his hearings. Kavanaugh may well try to shatter Gorsuch’s record, but if the senators on the judiciary committee allow him to get away with that, they’ll not be doing their jobs.

The business of the Supreme Court is policymaking—that is, politics. It ratifies, modifies, or rejects the laws our elected officials enact, and in so doing, advances, confirms, or sets back the norms that we elect our legislators and chief executives to codify. As the replacement for the Court’s longtime swing vote, Kavanaugh, not just a jurist but a longtime Republican operative, would have it in his power to repeal reproductive rights, uphold Republican gerrymanders, rule for corporations over workers and the claims of the environment, strike down the Affordable Care Act, and protect the man who nominated him from investigation and prosecution. These are all momentous questions of public policy, and as senators are presumably in the business of creating public policy, they need to ask him where he comes down on these issues.

In particular, the two pro-choice Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, should announce—if they’re really serious about preserving women’s right to choose—that they won’t vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless he declares publicly that we won’t vote to repeal Roe v Wade. Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin should announce they won’t vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless he publicly declares he won’t vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The public policy questions involved here are too fundamental to give Kavanaugh a pass on.

This is not a course of action that senators have taken before, at least that I’m aware of. But it should be precisely this course that the many groups opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation demand of the senators who’ll cast the deciding votes. It should be the course that Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer demands of his colleagues, and that Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, sets as the norm when or before the hearings commence.

Americans elect their legislators and executives based on those candidates’ positions on fundamental questions of national direction. Now that the Supreme Court may be handed over to a new majority that could well reverse or retard fundamental national directions, the positions that Kavanaugh would take if confirmed are no less important than the positions of a candidate for president. The only way that he could be compelled to reveal those positions would be if Collins, Murkowski, Manchin, & Co. announced he wouldn’t get their vote if he evaded answering where he stood. Americans demand that standard of their candidates; our elected officials should demand no less of a nominee who could yank the nation back to a radically less egalitarian time if confirmed as the next justice of the Supreme Court. 

Kuttner
July 9, 2018

As Ohio Goes. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Ohio by more than 450,000 votes in 2016. Yet Ohio could well lead the blue wave in 2018.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a progressive who was once a key target of Republicans, is up by 13 to 17 points in his re-election campaign, depending on which poll you follow. Former Attorney General Richard Cordray, who also served as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is leading in the race for governor.

Several House seats could also flip. In their extreme gerrymandering of Ohio, Republicans got so greedy that they distributed likely Republican voters rather thinly—so that in a state where the popular vote for Congress hovers around 50–50, the result was 12 seats for Republicans and just four for Democrats. But in a wave election, where swing voters switch to Democrat, there aren’t enough Republican voters to go around, and several of these designer seats could fall to the Democrats.

Brown, as much as any progressive Democrat in public life, emphasizes pocketbook issues. He is also a down-the-line progressive on social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights—but he leads with the economics. That’s why socially conservative blue-collar voters cut Brown some slack on the avant-garde social stuff. They know he is on their side. The rest of the party could learn something from Brown.

So, for that matter, could political commentators, who keep blathering on about the dangers of Democrats moving “too far to the left.” But you need to distinguish economics from social issues. 

Progressive populism on economics is always a winning formula for Democrats. It is indeed possible to move too far left-fringe on social issues and scare off mainstream voters, but popular economics provides a lot of inoculation on issues like abortion rights, civil liberties, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights broadly defined.

Commentators need to get it through their heads that there is a difference between left on economic issues and left on social issues. And of course Wall Street on economics and left on social issues is the worst of all worlds. RIP Hillary ’16.

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