On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner

As you sow, so shall you reap. The manifesto posted online in advance of the El Paso Walmart slaughter leaves little doubt that the killer, who lifted language from Trump tweets, was energized by the climate of white supremacist and anti-immigrant hatred stoked by the rantings of the Hater-in-Chief. As were so many other haters.

Trump was way off his game in his effort to say something comforting or remotely plausible about the latest shootings. In his initial a pair of tweets, he tried to connect the shootings to “desperately needed immigration reform,” and once again sought to scapegoat the media, contending that coverage has “contributed greatly to the anger and rage.” And in his scripted speech to the nation this morning, he kept invoking God, calling for “great” legislation, and declaring that we must assure that the murdered “shall not have died in vain.”

While there are plenty of haters out there, they are far from a majority of the electorate. Trump’s responsibility for the wave of mayhem and his response to mass murder offends many Americans otherwise tempted to vote for him. 

There is far too much defeatism on the Democratic side about the likelihood of Trump’s re-election. Most Americans are disgusted by the wave of grotesque hatred that Trump has engendered. The economy is beginning to turn against Trump as well.

This week also saw the beginning of a Republican backlash against climate change denial as well as more House Republicans deciding to call it quits. 

From Charlottesville to Parkland to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Dayton, there are too many innocent souls who did not volunteer to be martyrs to Trump. There is only one way for them not to have died in vain. It is to rid this nation of the pestilence that is Donald Trump.

 

Meyerson

Today’s pop quiz: In the election of 1860, how many popular votes did Abraham Lincoln receive in the Southern states?

Answer: None. The Southern states refused to allow Lincoln’s name, or that of any Republican, to appear on their ballots.

I was reminded of good old Dixie’s commitment to democracy earlier this week, when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that required presidential candidates to release their tax returns as a condition of getting their name placed on the state’s November 2020 ballot. The new law is clearly intended either to force Donald Trump to comply, or to forego having his name put before Golden State voters.

I fear, though, that California Democrats have made an elemental and deeply stupid mistake—forgetting that law of motion stipulating that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. The California statute may just prompt Republican-controlled states to require every presidential nominee to, say, support the ongoing criminalization of undocumented border crossings, or call for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, to get their name on the states’ ballots. If the Democratic nominee’s name were not put before voters in Alabama, it wouldn’t really matter, since Alabama is bound to go for Trump. Then again, California is just as bound to go for the Democrat, no matter who it be.

But what about Republican-controlled swing states like Georgia and Florida—or, for that matter, Arizona and Texas? Should the courts rule that states have the legal right to engage in ballot-bouncing, the Democratic nominee may be bounced to far greater, and more disastrous effect, than Trump. I’m not predicting courts will rule that way, but why take a chance that just might ensure Trump’s re-election and the ensuing end of civilization as we know it. 

Kuttner

Please excuse this rant. Today’s offender is, once again, the best of the mainstream media, The New York Times. Two items, actually.

Exhibit A: Front page, Sunday piece on Kamala Harris. Print Headline: “Pragmatism, not Ideology, Defines Harris.”  

OK, for starters, this is a completely false framing. There is no such thing as a politician without an ideology, though there are plenty of politicians who try to duck or fudge where they stand. 

The Harris piece takes up more than a page in the Times. Near the bottom, writer Alexander Burns, finally notes that “Harris has proposed no major policies to constrain extreme wealth and corporate power”

Bulletin to the Times: That’s not called pragmatism. It’s called corporate Democrat. Which happens to be an ideology.

It gets worse. In Monday’s Times, another front-page lulu of false framing. This one, by Reid J. Epstein and Lisa Lerer, begins with the promising print headline: “A Clash of Democratic Priorities: Change Presidents or Change the Paradigm.”  

The piece includes this hum-dinger of a sentence right in what journalists call the “nut-graf,” the paragraph that signals the reader what the piece is about. I quote: “Is beating Trump enough? Or should Democrats, much like the man they hope to defeat, shake the political system like a snow globe and worry later about how things settle?”

Say what? There is so much wrong with that framing that you could build an entire journalism course around it. 

For starters, Democrats who want to alter the system are not proposing to shake it “like a snow globe.” They are proposing fundamental changes in the rules of the political economy that keep screwing regular people and leading to frustrations that elect people like Trump.

Nor do they propose to “worry later about how things settle.” On the contrary, changing the system’s rules to create specific, concrete and durable change is the whole point. But this idiotic piece would have the reader believe they are shaking things up for the sake of shaking things up, dropping bombs for the sake of dropping bombs.

Nor of course are Democrats like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in any respect whatsoever “much like the man they hope to defeat.”

Jesus wept! Does the Times have editors? Are they as clueless as some of their political writers?  

Where do these people get their political educations? And this is the best of the mainstream papers. No wonder our political discourse is so screwed up that Donald Trump can pose as a populist.

[Commercial: Go, Prospect!]

Meyerson

The Trump hath tweeted, and proclaimed that he wants to subject Guatemalan imports to tariffs, and to subject the remittances that Guatemalan immigrants in the United States send back to their families in Guatemala to a tax. 

What, you may ask, has the little Central American nation done to deserve such treatment? Simple: Its Supreme Court has struck down the nation’s president’s agreeing to Trump’s insistence that the it must stop all Honduran and El Salvadoran refugees passing through Guatemala en route to the United States and compel them either to stay in Guatemala or to return from whence they came.

In other words, Trump is giving Guatemala a choice between death by shooting or death by hanging. The small and impoverished nation clearly has no capacity to house, employ, and provide services to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Nor can it weather the imposition of tariffs on its exports to the U.S., which comprise 40 percent of all its exports. And it would fairly reel from a tax on remittances, which amount to 13 percent of the nation’s GDP. 

But if the Guatemalan high court doesn’t think the president there has the authority to accede to Trump’s demands, what would American courts say about Trump’s authority to punish Guatemala because he’s mightily pissed at it. POTUS can surely slap tariffs on a nation without congressional approval, but I have no idea whether he can slap a tax on individuals sending a portion of their wages across borders to their families. 

If the courts were to uphold such a tax, however, it could open the door for taxing what amounts to a real drain on U.S. resources—as the remittances to Guatemala decidedly do not. I’m referring to the more than trillions of dollars that U.S. corporations send abroad, to nations with lower tax rates and/or cheaper labor, and the billions that many super-wealthy Americans have secreted in such nations as well. While remittances to Guatemala have no effect whatever on the U.S. economy, and immigration from Central America has minimal effect on this nation of more than 320 million souls, the expatriation of investment, profit, and income that our corporations and mega-rich have engaged in has devastated much of our industry, reduced our tax base and concomitant public investment, and contributed greatly to the wage stagnation that has beset us for the past 40 years.  

Slapping a tax on Guatemalan remittances is pure Trumpian nationalism—that is, racist, symbolic posturing. Putting a progressive tax on dollars sent abroad rather than invested here at home, by contrast, is genuine economic patriotism. Which is why it will never be the subject of a favorable Trump tweet. 

Dayen

In 2019, it's still the case in America that if you deposit a check or have funds wired into your bank account, it can take up to five days for you to access your money. This puts the United States behind such advanced economies as India, Poland, and Kenya, the latter of which has had real-time payments through mobile phones for some time. In fact the Federal Reserve does offer real-time payments, but only to commercial bank accounts, not individual ones. 

This hampers poor and vulnerable families operating without a safety net who need access to their money as soon as they get it, leading to billions in overdraft fees. It has also given space to big banks and tech companies to enter this space, potentially charging customers for something that the government is eminently capable of providing. The Clearing House, a coalition of 24 major banks, has developed its own (for-profit) real-time payment system. Fintech firms like Venmo have also jumped into the void, along with Facebook, whose Libra digital currency is touting real-time payment services.

As Representative Ayanna Pressley expressed to Fed Chair Jerome Powell last month, the central bank's foot-dragging on real-time payments has created this frenzy. The Fed has spent years studying real-time payments but mostly deferred to the private sector. After that hearing, rumors that the Fed would announce a real-time payment system set the big banks' hair on fire, even though the Clearing House system is not yet operational.

Now some progressive politicians are getting involved. Today, Pressley, along with Chuy Garcia in the House and Elizabeth Warren and Chris Van Hollen in the Senate, announced the Payments Modernization Act, a short bill that would require the Fed to create a real-time payment system. This sounds like a small matter but would be a life-saver for low-income families who need their money immediately. The Fed's delay in implementation is ridiculous, which has allowed large corporations to potentially profit off what should be a public good. Congress weighing in will put pressure on the Fed to finally act in the public interest. The technology is there; Pressley and her colleagues are finally supplying the will. 

 

Meyerson

This month, CNBC came out with its annual list of America’s Top States for Business, a ranking on which states don’t move up or down very much from one year to the next. Which is why attention must be paid, as Americans for Tax Fairness has pointed out, to one massive exception to this rule. On this year’s list, Kansas placed 19th—which is a full 16 places higher than it placed last year.

How to account for this Bob Beamon–esque leap? Simple: Kansas has finally rid itself of the ruinous trickle-down tax policies of its former governor, Republican Sam Brownback.

In 2012, with the backing of the state’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature, Kansas completely eliminated income taxes for more than 100,000 businesses and greatly reduced taxes on the wealthy. Invoking classic supply-side nonsense, Brownback predicted the cuts would more than pay for themselves. Instead, they devastated the state’s economy. Revenues fell so precipitously that school years and school days had to be considerably shortened, public construction projects ground to a halt, and Medicaid benefits were greatly reduced. In consequence, the state’s economy ceased producing jobs and Kansas fell behind its Plains States neighbors by virtually every economic index.

By 2016, Kansas voters—including Republicans who objected to seeing their children’s educations shortchanged—revolted. As the Prospect’s Justin Miller reported at the time, Republican primary voters, joined by Democrats, ousted legislators who refused to repeal the tax cuts, and in 2017, the new legislature overrode Brownback’s veto of a bill repealing the cuts. In 2018, voters elected Democrat Laura Kelly as their new governor, and today, with adequate funding restored, Kansas has resumed its support for education, infrastructure, and the basics of civilization. Hence, the state’s leap upward on CNBC’s list.

The “logic” that underpinned the Kansas cuts was invoked again by President Trump and his Republican stooges as they made the case for the Great Federal Tax Giveaway to Corporations and the Rich Act of 2017–18. In consequence, share buybacks have soared to new heights while wages and infrastructure investment have barely risen, when they’ve risen at all. The federal government, of course, can run deficits, while states are constitutionally prohibited from doing so—which is why the Trumpistas have chiefly engaged in targeted rather than across-the-board cutbacks in federal spending. (The targets, of course, have been the poor and minorities.)

Brownback was politically run out of town on a rail—resigning early in 2018 to become the Trump administration’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. (Unlike Tsarist Russia, our government lacks a position like Procurator of the Holy Synod, a sort of directorship of pogroms, though Stephen Miller at times seems to have become that position’s functional equivalent.) Is it too much to hope that American voters relegate Trump to history’s dustbin as their Kansas compatriots did to Brownback?

Kuttner

The New Yorker’s indefatigable Jane Mayer has written the definitive piece on the Franken affair. In it, she conclusively establishes that Franken’s main accuser, Leeann Tweeden, of the 2006 USO tour incident, was acting as a right-wing operative, a birther no less. Tweeden, Mayer documents, had participated in identical Franken skits involving fended off kisses several times before and had registered no objection.

The photo of Franken with his hands hovering over the breasts of a sleeping Tweeden was a sight gag. The joke was that everyone on the USO tour was wearing flak jackets. Again, Tweeden never objected until it was part of a well-orchestrated right-wing takedown of Franken.

Was Franken guilty of anything? He was guilty of horsing around, and Mayer tracks down three women who felt their space was violated. That’s it. She also gets seven Democratic senators who voted to request Franken’s resignation to express deep regret on the record.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who has been a serial abuser, rapist, and mocker of women, continues to be president. Joe Biden, whose loose hands were far more of a problem than Franken’s, continues to run for president. 

The reliably opportunistic Kirsten Gillibrand, who started the Franken lynch mob and who insisted there are no shades of gray when it comes to sexual harassment, is running a joke of a presidential campaign stuck in first gear. At least there is a shred of justice there.

Since this episode, Franken has not just been a disgraced ex-senator. He has been treated as radioactive, as if anyone who allows him to write or perform will be branded soft on sexual abuse. 

Mayer, author of the definitive book on the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill disgrace, has impeccable credentials on sexual harassment. Maybe Mayer’s piece will revive a conversation that will allow a good and public minded man to reclaim some semblance of his career.

Guyer

Bolton, Trump, and American MEMRI. The Middle East Media Research Institute, better known as MEMRI, calls itself a hate-speech watchdog, translating Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, and Urdu sound bites into English and posting them for mass consumption. Mideast watchers know it as a hawkish, fear-mongering nonprofit that cherry-picks the most extreme voices from Arabic talk shows while ignoring just about everything else. Yet news agencies and government bodies regularly cite MEMRI’s sensationalist clippings.

MEMRI has never once published a translation that put Arabs or Muslims in a positive light. And as a result, many might believe that these embellished posts are indicative of every single program or article in the Middle East’s media ecosystem. (They’re not.) 

It’s not surprising then that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton has been a longtime MEMRI board member. What is shocking is that, even while serving at the White House, Bolton maintains his seat on MEMRI’s board of advisors. Indeed, MEMRI proudly amended his identification on the group’s list of board members to reflect Bolton’s elevation to national security adviser. 

It appears, however, that Bolton forgot to add his MEMRI gig to his executive branch personnel disclosure, which details all “positions held outside of government” [pdf]. He does list his other board memberships, including the far-right Gatestone Institute, in the filing.

As MEMRI’s ostensible raison d'être is to highlight racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, one wonders whether the organization ought to train its sights on the Pennsylvania Avenue public building where Bolton now works. In our current political moment, where the American president spouts racism on a daily basis, it would be easy to imagine. Indeed, an Arabic monitor of the U.S. media modeled on MEMRI might have a field day translating the hate speech of Sean Hannity or Ben Shapiro or Sebastian Gorka, who have hosted Trump officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on their broadcasts. It might highlight the raucous white nationalists who attended President Trump’s social media summit last week in the Rose Garden. And it could easily highlight the racist swill routinely produced by Trump himself.

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway’s nativist comment to a Jewish reporter yesterday (“What’s your ethnicity?”), clearly reflects the normalization of bigotry in today’s Trumpified Republican Party. If John Bolton cared about democracy, pluralism, and tolerance, as he claims to, he’d need to go no farther than his workplace to amass a collection of hate speech suitable for a MEMRI that focused on the United States. 

Dayen

Facebook's Faltering on Libra. I previewed the week's hearings for Big Tech today on the website, and I wondered whether Silicon Valley would have any allies on Capitol Hill left. It turns out they have a few, but not nearly enough. 

David Marcus, a vice president of Facebook, testified at the Senate Banking Committee today about Libra, the proposed digital currency. And it became clear from the opening moments, when Sherrod Brown in his opening statement compared Facebook to a toddler playing with matches and committing arson, that Marcus was in over his head.

It took Marcus four asks from Brown on whether he would accept his own compensation in Libra before saying he would. Mike Crapo, the Republican committee chair and not exactly a knee-jerk anti-business zealot, pointed out a contradiction in Marcus' testimony: He stressed that Facebook must be allowed to create this currency or "some other country" (read: China) will, but Facebook set up the association for Libra in Switzerland, home of famously lax banking laws.

Republican Martha McSally bluntly said "I just don't trust you guys." Democrat Brian Schatz wondered why Facebook was starting on currency when it hasn't fixed all the other problems with its regular operations, perhaps out of "Silicon Valley grandiosity" and "boredom." Republican Pat Toomey, one of the more supportive senators, wondered how Libra could be called a nonprofit when the reserves would generate substantial revenue that would be distributed as dividends to initial investors. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, perhaps the most pro-bank senator on that side of the aisle, laid out how Libra would be a paradise for scam artists. When the folksy John Kennedy cited the "flagrant displays of bullshit" on Facebook, the referee should have stepped in.

It was a bloodbath. Marcus was woefully unequipped to explain how Libra would comply with regulators, how it would prevent bank runs, or really anything beyond a surface level. After the hearing, Crapo said that Libra should be a catalyst for a comprehensive data privacy bill. The strong likelihood is that the currency never rolls out and the proposal spurs additional regulation on Facebook. Slick work, Zuck.

Kuttner

Legal, Safe, Rare—and Bad Advice. The Times just published another piece urging Democrats to temper their support for reproductive rights. This piece, “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion,” by one Michael Wear, a political consultant on religious issues, is a classic of cherry-picked poll numbers and disingenuous reasoning. Read it with care.

In fact, as Pew’s polling shows, support for keeping abortion legal has actually increased slightly in recent years.

As I explained in a post last month in response to another misleading Times piece, Americans are ambivalent about having abortions but a healthy majority supports a woman’s right to choose whether to have one.  

The longtime phrase—legal, safe, and rare—still describes how most voters feel about abortion and the right set of public policies. As I wrote in that post:

Americans have been personally ambivalent about whether and why to have an abortion ever since Roe v. Wade. Nobody is eager to have an abortion.

At the same time, majorities of Americans have long believed that the decision of whether to have an abortion, however reluctantly, belongs to the woman. Most Americans are not ambivalent about the policy.

Is this all that complicated? The only thing that has changed is that anti-abortion groups, looking to far-right courts, have come up with one subterfuge after another to make abortion almost impossible to obtain, and have thus muddied the waters.

Republicans have succeeded in making abortion less legal, less safe, in the hope of abolishing it altogether. They’ve also been successful at persuading some strategists and commentators that progressives and Democrats should try to meet anti-abortion activists halfway on the premise that this is where public opinion is.

That would be a huge mistake. It would be giving in to salami tactics, and the anti-abortion right will only keep moving the goalposts.

Most voters are squeamish about late-term abortion. But the idea that we need to ban late-term abortions, on the premise that some women use them as a form of belated birth control, is a total canard. Late-term abortions are invariably performed because the fetus is horribly deformed or the woman’s health is at risk. 

But fake imagery spread by the right and Trump’s claim of a baby “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth” animates efforts like Wear’s op-ed to persuade progressives to meet conservatives halfway. 

Wear, who served as Obama’s emissary to religious groups, wrote this: 

If a Democratic presidential nominee held and communicated views that reflected the median Democratic voter, that nominee would support and defend Roe v. Wade, but express moral reservations about abortion itself; offer openness to additional restrictions on abortion, including a ban on late-term abortions with limited exceptions; and call for a set of policies with the purpose of reducing the abortion rate in America, such as paid family leave, workplace protections for parents and pregnant women, increased access to birth control, and a strengthened social safety net.

It’s a huge mistake for progressives to “express moral reservations about abortions,” which only plays into the hands of the religious right. Wear is evidently a foe of abortion, though he is cagey about coming right out and saying it. That makes him an unreliable strategic adviser to Democrats.

Almost inadvertently, Wear is right about one thing. Democrats, when asked should not just flatly declare they are pro-choice. They should take the occasion to explain “legal, safe, and rare,” and what it takes to make abortions rare consistent with a woman’s right to choose, as well the opposition of much of the anti-abortion lobby to birth control. And they should explain the Republicans’ insidious tactics of chipping away at Roe v. Wade as well as the class consequences (rich women will still get abortions.) 

Beware of zealots pushing their own views posing as friendly strategic advisers.

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