TAX BILL

  1. This bill is a nakedly vile piece of legislation.  Just the idea of it never cracked 30% approval, and the thing was only actually written down late last night. As people learn that teachers won’t be able to deduct school supplies, that their taxes will gradually rise to pay for fourth and fifth vacation homes, approval will drop further. Something this vampiric is not just an indictment of the Republicans. It’s an indictment of our entire political system. It’s both immediately obvious and worth thinking about that a bill like this could never pass in a country with a sizable trade union movement. The whole process relied on the fact that a terrified, atomized population is no fertile ground for a protest movement. The evidence of our collective exhaustion was the election of Trump. This was the logical next step.
  2. The Democrats are completely unequipped to handle our new politics. If we are baby monkeys, the Republican Party is the bare wire surrogate mother. The Democrats are bare wire covered in cloth. There’s no real nourishment there, but for a while at least it beats staring into the void. As the bill neared passage last night, @TheDemocrats actually tweeted out a short video titled, “Remember when the GOP used to care about the deficit?” No, assholes, I don’t. I remember when they conned you all into thinking that so you would try to cut Social Security for them, but I don’t remember anyone apart from serious-faced Democratic presidents seeking bipartisan Medicare destruction ever caring about the deficit.
  3. The transnational corporate elite that governs American politics is no longer geographically or emotionally tied to America. However, for reasons that have more to do with convenience than principle, their corporate headquarters (and thus taxes) are in the United States. This problem, combined with our collective expectation of impending apocalypse and the millenarianism of the Donald Trump presidency, have birthed this bill, which is more or less the looting of America before the storm comes. You could probably call this a second or third or fourth order effect of the post-Bretton Woods easing on capital controls, or maybe I just think that because I’m in a political economy class.
  4. There are no good Republicans. Jeff Flake, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker, and everyone’s favorite slay queen bae Susan Collins are repellent scum whose disdain for you and every other American who hasn’t written them a $2,500 check is now slightly more apparent than it was yesterday.
  5. Given that the bill does away with Obamacare’s individual mandate to buy health insurance, what exactly is the legacy of the Obama presidency at this point? Is it a memory of decency that we can hold on to as the elevator drops? Or is it the evaporation of hope into cynicism that made Trump possible?
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SAUDI

This, along with the isolation of Qatar (band name) is indicative of the blank check Saudi (and specifically MBS) believes it has following Trump’s visit. The next couple years will likely see a series of Saudi wish list items being checked off while they still have Trump around.

FOREIGN AID

This article in Foreign Policy is upsetting. Not just from a professional perspective as a USAID contractor, but also as a human person who’s seen the good that USAID does. There are some disturbing contracts out there (funding groups supporting regime change in Syria comes to mind), and you can certainly question the massive waste that accompanies, say, any contract in Afghanistan, but right now I’m working with contracts that are cutting carbon emissions in Indonesia, building environmentally-friendly roads to distressed communities in Nepal, and fighting wildlife trafficking in East Africa. That’s good.

The thing is that the concrete proposals Trump claimed to champion, the ones that would actually help his constituencies. . . those are not going to happen. No self-respecting bought-and-paid-for corporate hack Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) is going to vote for a trillion dollar infrastructure package. They’re not going to support fair trade deals, taking a step back from a world leadership role, or even, in all likelihood, funding a wall-building project. For the record, I don’t believe Trump actually supports any of these things either. But his voters do. And if they can’t get them, there’s still the other, darker half of the Trump campaign. Trump’s implicit promise to his voters was not only that he would champion their interests, but also that he would destroy those of their enemies; that all the elitist pricks who had prospered while wages stagnated and mortality rates rose would finally start to feel a bit of pain. And elitist pricks love USAID.

It’s easier to tear down foreign aid than to build a wall. That’s why I’m scared. And it’s sad that those same Syrian regime change programs and Afghanistan money pit contracts are the only thing keeping Lindsay Graham from destroying USAID.

 

UBER

Uber is beginning self-driving car service to San Francisco today, after introducing it in Pittsburgh in September. Comically evil CEO Travis Kalanick has made no secret of the fact that he plans to phase out human drivers as quickly as possible.

Interestingly, Uber is still teaming up with fellow do-gooders Goldman Sachs to peddle brutally expensive 36-month leases to increasingly desperate drivers, meaning that in all likelihood by the end of their lease cycle contractors will be forced to compete with no-doubt cheaper robotic cars.

It’s fairly clear that Uber is a fraud, using artificially low prices, illegal business practices, and outright harassment to drive competitors out of the market while courting investors for more cash. To me it looks like they’re delaying an IPO until robot cars hit the road and save their bottom line from the burden of paying human beings, at which time their name recognition and ruthlessness will make them a transportation monopoly. Meanwhile, Uber is hard at work making sure regulations won’t be an issue: Kalanick was just named (oh! the irony) to Trump’s panel on job growth, and on the other side of the aisle, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe is a senior advisor.

desolation row

“Desolation Row” is stuck in a loop in my head. If anything describes the atomization and terror of late-empire Trump capitalism…

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row

Anyway, I did a little search to see if anybody had written about the song recently, and, by God, I found the worst thing ever written.

INEQUALITY

I didn’t hear the word “inequality” much in the campaign. Certainly not after Bernie Sanders departed. And, sure, Hillary had a policy–god knows she had a policy, complete with the lamest fucking quote imaginable–but liberal commentators would do well to remember that obscure web links don’t have much to do with campaigning and nothing to do with governance. Actually, the last time I remember Hillary Clinton talking about inequality was this incident, which was a cheap shot but just one more goddamn thing.

Anyway, inequality is a fucking nightmare in this country. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say that “X” trend in that first chart has a lot to do with Donald Trump.

BERNIE

Bernie could have won, and that fact is crucial to understanding how the Democratic Party can move forward from here. It’s not about spite or vengeance. We need candidates like Bernie and Keith Ellison and Elizabeth Warren who are dedicated to fighting for working people in this country, to standing up for minority groups and building a cross-racial coalition of working people. Bernie was far more electable than Hillary. And that’s why it’s important to push back against people who say he couldn’t win.

“But he’s a Jewish socialist,” you say. First of all, gross dude. Second of all, that doesn’t matter. The idea that he couldn’t have won because he’s Jewish is not backed up by data. Gallup polling states that only seven percent of Americans would not vote for a Jewish president, a percentage that has been steadily dropping since they’ve started asking the question. I would also note that an equal percentage of respondents would not vote for a black candidate and eight percent wouldn’t vote for a woman.

Socialist, though. Red-baiting and commie-bashing are old American pasttimes. And, you say, very excited, doesn’t that same Gallup poll also say that only 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist, versus 50% who would not? Indeed it does. However, that percentage is awfully close, it has been dropping, young people support socialism over capitalism by a large majority, and didn’t we just, by quite a large margin, twice elect a president– a black president– that the majority of the country considers a socialist?

The other problem with claiming that a generic Jewish socialist couldn’t have beaten Trump is that a real Jewish socialist, Bernie Sanders, is a very popular man. As a matter of fact, with a 59% approval rating, he’s the most popular politician in the country. But he’s not well known! Yes he is. Only 8.5% of voters say they don’t know who he is. And in a series of election matchups against Trump dating back to last August, he won by an average of eleven points. And where is he strongest? The rust belt, where he beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries and where Clinton lost the election to Trump. Not only is Bernie popular, but unlike other politicians, say, Hillary Clinton, the more people learn about him the more they like him. Just look at those trend lines.

But wait! you say. The man is untested. Hillary didn’t launch any really juicy attacks. Didn’t come close. A real oppo file could have ripped him to shreds. Well, fortunately for us, crack journalist Kurt Eichenwald got a chance to sink his teeth into the file (“almost 2-feet thick”!) the Republicans had built on Sanders. It’s worth quoting Eichenwald in full here:

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

First of all, these aren’t secrets. Every one of those lines of attack was put forward by the Clinton campaign. Second of all, none of it is close to what Trump had on Clinton. Sanders stole utilities? Was unemployed? Supports universal health care? Anyone who thinks those things would hurt a candidate should probably leave Washington for a while. And third, there were many lessons in the 2016 campaign, but one big one has got to be the limitations of attack ads. Haven’t we spent the past year drowning in an avalanche of attacks on Donald Trump? Every one of those attacks, each worse than anything on the Sanders list, from Trump University to pussy-grabbing, was deemed the final nail in the Trump coffin. But he won. Because voter preconceptions are tough to change. And voters trust Bernie Sanders, and they like his policies.

The corporatist wing of the Democratic Party has failed. So next time, let’s find someone like Bernie Sanders, who people trust, who fights for working people. Hell, it just might work.