Monday, April 16, 2018

Exit Ryan


The response to one-time wunderkind Paul Ryan's "retirement" announcement has been surprisingly underwhelming.   Credit for the massive corporate tax cut largely has accrued to the Orange Imbecile, despite years of efforts by Ryan to enrich the most affluent at the expense of everybody else.  He has been praised in some quarters for having the "courage" to publicly endorse screwing the poor by annihilating food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security, but Obamacare limps on despite his best efforts.

Ryan made his decision to leave for all the obvious reasons.  His position as Speaker was imperiled by the widely anticipated "blue wave," and there was no guarantee that even his seat in the House was safe.  It was a lot easier being Speaker under Obama, when all he had to do was lead a chorus of Republicans chanting "no."  Most important, though, he must despise having to defer to the whims of a buffoon like Tr*mp.

Quite possibly, he does want to spend more time with his teenage children, who are just the right age to start reading Ayn Rand novels.  He'll also have opportunities to start making some serious money on the lecture circuit and as the leader of some Koch-funded superPAC.  I don't expect him to become a lobbyist, but doors certainly will be open.

What Ryan seems to enjoy most of all is playing the role of "smartest person in the room," so we can expect to see his teddy bear ears flapping regularly on cable news.  In the meanwhile, he remains Speaker; and it will be interesting to see if his lame-duck status frees him up to be just a little bit more critical of the Administration.  Personally, I don't believe his "courage" is up to the task.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Wrinkle in Trade?


While the news media and the markets are captivated by Our President's current game of chicken with China, the US has advanced a very unorthodox idea at the NAFTA renegotiationand it's a surprisingly good idea.

To avoid US tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico, manufacturers there would be obliged to pay their assembly line workers $15 an hour.  That is twice the US federal minimum wage, and considerably more than starting salaries at non-union assembly lines in the southern United States. The $15 figure is just an opening gambit, of course: nobody really wants to see underpaid Alabamians sneaking across the border for better-paying jobs in Mexico.  Nevertheless, demanding better pay for foreign workers could be a more intelligent approach to both balance-of-trade and unauthorized immigration concerns.

Labor standards have been a part of trade negotiations for many decades, but usually receive short shrift when agreements are finalized, and seldom are enforced.  Negotiated by and for multinational corporations, they rarely go beyond banning slave or convict labor — not an especially high bar.  (The TPP would have included somewhat higher standards, had it been ratified, but that ship has sailed.)

Globalization has lifted tens of millions out of abject poverty in the developing world — at least in countries like China, where not all the newly generated wealth was co-opted by plutocrats.  If the Tr*mp administration advances a new paradigm that benefits the working poor around the world, it will be ironic — but also very welcome.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Paranoids with Real Enemies



Immigrants
Nobody believes the Tr*mp administration wants the citizenship checkbox on the 2020 census form so that Jeff Sessions or any Republican successor will be better able to enforce the Voting Rights Act — but they had to say something.  Democrats say immigrant families, including legal residents who may have undocumented relatives, will be undercounted because of "fear" that they may be targeted by ICE.  That "fear" usually is portrayed as unjustified because it is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal data; but the bureau did give the FBI and the military the census data they needed to accomplish the Japanese internment.  Does Tr*mp respect the law any more than Roosevelt did?

Facebook users
The "experts" who commented on Cambridge Analytics' use of Facebook data on behalf of the Tr*mp campaign seemed to concur that the company's campaign could not have been effective.  In other words, they were saying that Facebook's business model is ineffective.  Targeting people based on measures of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism may not have changed any votes, but if the goal was to motivate and mobilize the "basket of deplorables," Republicans probably got their money's worth.  What does Facebook know about you?

Veterans
Our President described Dr. Ronny Jackson as "straight out of central casting," and looking good behind a lectern will be the next VA Secretary's primary role.  His lack of bureaucratic and political experience will free up Republican political appointees to privatize veterans' health care: the Koch brothers, after all, see the VA health system as a shameful example of socialized medicine.  Of course, socialized medicine is exactly what the VA provides; and, even underfunded, it delivers better and more efficient care than for-profit models.

Friday, March 23, 2018

John Bolton?


John Bolton was described by a Bush administration State Department official as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."  Also a frequent Fox commentator, you might think he'd be the ideal Tr*mp appointee.  I'm not so sure.

Bolton is one of the people who brought us the war in Iraq, and has called for "preemptive" wars against North Korea and Iran.  Understandably, a lot of people are terrified by the prospect of a rabidly belligerent warmonger becoming National Security Advisor to a loose-cannon President.

Having Mike Pompeo at State only makes matters worse, but there still is cause for hope.  First, both Mattis and Dunford are likely to find Bolton intolerable; more important, though, is the fact that Bolton is a grandstander.  He is sufficiently full of himself to extemporize to the press, and just outrageous enough to distract attention from Our President.  Unless he suddenly can tap a previously undiscovered reservoir of self-effacement, he will grab the spotlight from the Narcissist in Chief once too often.  His reputed talent for flattery can save him for a while, but Tr*mp's propensity to nurture resentments should lessen Bolton's influence and eventually seal his fate.

Hopefully, that will happen before it's too late.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Pelosi Problem


Conor Lamb's recent victory in Pennsylvania's 18th CD has added to talk about replacing Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader in the House, but the talk is nothing new.  While some on the left see Pelosi as too "establishment," likely to impede an aggressive progressive agenda if Democrats regain control of the House, the main objection to Pelosi's leadership is more practical: she is seen as a drag on the party's electoral prospects because Republicans have falsely branded her as wildly radical; an "enemy of traditional American values."

Using thirty-second spots like this one, Pelosi has been demonized.  The thrust of the campaign is that she is a "San Francisco liberal" — and while young people may think of San Francisco as the home of tech billionaires, much of America still associates San Francisco with hippies, the Haight, and free love.  More important, though, is that Pelosi is a Person With A Vagina — a tough, aggressive PWAV of the variety that makes more conservative voters very uncomfortable.  A male member of Congress willing to "take orders" from such a woman, it is understood, must be less than a man.

Tough and aggressive, Pelosi is a very effective leader: if getting a bill though Congress were the criterion, Obamacare more properly would be called Pelosicare.  Republicans fear Pelosi (in much the same way the Russians feared Hillary Clinton.)  If the Democrats regain control of Congress, and Pelosi becomes Speaker again, she will be no less effective than she was in the past.

There are many good reasons to end the Washington gerontocracy, but the leading candidates to replace Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Joseph Crowley, are just as old.  If Democrats replace Pelosi, they will be knuckling under to the Republican defamation campaign— not acting out of any sense of "principle."  She was ready to retire had Hillary Clinton become President, and she will be no less willing if the Democrats can regain the White House in 2020.  In the meanwhile, she is a better leader than anybody likely to replace her.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rex, ex


Rex Tillerson has been a terrible Secretary of State.  Mike Pompeo will be worse.  Tillerson's life as a global capitalist necessarily made him a globalist; Pompeo is a Christian conservative who entered government with the Tea Party.  Totally comfortable with Tr*mp's "America First" ideology, he would be on-board for Holy Wars in Iran, Korea, or anyplace abortion is too readily available. Corporate America, barring defense contractors, cannot be pleased by his appointment.

Pompeo likes power too much to continue Tillerson's dismantling of the State Department, so many currently vacant positions will be filled — inevitably with like-minded ideologues.  America's European allies will not be pleased; Putin, on the other hand, should be knocking back shots of vodka and dancing the kazatsky about now.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Extortion by Tariff


Remember the Bush steel tariffs of 2002?  (Don't all raise your hands at once!)  They were abandoned after eighteen months, having done more harm than good.

Unlike Tr*mp, Bush genuinely wanted to help the American steel industry.  Tr*mp, along with the usual political pandering, is trying to use traditional Tr*mpian "negotiating" tactics to strong-arm concessions on other fronts from American allies.  Of course, those allies will be familiar with Tr*mp's history of paying his bills — so the tactics are likely to fail.

The administration is not even trying to disguise its attempt to gain advantage in the ongoing NAFTA talks; more threatening, though, are the concessions Tr*mp may hope to extract from major steel exporter South Korea.  President Moon Jae-in has been demonstrating far more independence than his right-wing predecessors; and you can be sure the White House is displeased.  Maintaining the threat of war with North Korea is far more important to America's military contractors than an increase in the price of steel: after all, their increased costs will be paid by the US government and its taxpayers.

Moon's domestic support is based largely on the prospect of rapprochement with the North: hopefully, Moon will hang tough.  North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, its hard-won protection against external aggression.  Having provided evidence of his offensive capacity, Kim Jong-un will be willing to stop testing bombs and missiles for a time.  The world's best hope is that the Kim-Tr*mp summit will lead to years of talks — years with no immanent threat of war.

Nobody seems to be talking about the country likely to be hurt most by the new tariffs: Brazil, a major exporter of steel to the US.  Even if there is something the US wants to extort from Brazil, Brazil's government is too tied up in corruption scandals to negotiate effectively.  Of course, a bit of corruption won't stop the Chinese from stepping in to fill any gaps the tariffs leave in the Brazilian economy.

The Tr*mp tariffs may last a little longer than the Bush tariffs, but not long enough to justify opening new steel plants; or even to reopen the older, inefficient plants that still can be made operational.  The steel companies will be content just to raise prices.  Some businesses that use steel, though, may decide it's time to offshore production.