On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson
November 23, 2017

“Hey, turkey!”

How did “turkey” become a derogatory term? The turkey, after all, is not the most ungainly of God’s creatures, not if you contemplate anteaters or right-wing talk show hosts. 

The answer, as is the case for many such American slang usages, lies buried in those library stacks that host a collection of the back issues of Variety, the self-proclaimed bible of showbiz. Here’s the plot:

In the 1920s, Broadway was booming. It cost a great deal less to mount a show in those days, and there were far more theaters on or near the Great White Way than there are today. In 1928, the peak year before the Crash, nearly 300 shows opened on Broadway.

And a lot of them closed very quickly. However, the one way that producers could ensure their shows would last at least five or six weeks—long enough to make their money back and maybe a little more—was to open their shows around Thanksgiving. Then as now, the show-going public would swell during the holiday season, as tourists and locals viewed the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s as the show-going time of the year.

Not surprisingly, this meant that Variety’s theater critics, who had to shlep to and review every last one of those shows, were subjected to an inordinate number of real lulus. When a producer had sunk his or someone’s money into what he realized was a stinker of a play or musical, the only way he could emerge financially unscathed was to open that show around Thanksgiving. 

Soon, Variety’s critics coined a name for such shows: turkeys. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kuttner
November 22, 2017

Better a child molester than a Democrat. So says our president. Furthermore, Trump declares, “He totally denies it.” Well, that should settle it. Just like Putin. Just like Trump himself, when it comes to sexually assaulting women, or any other convenient lie he cares to tell.

There is a poetic justice in the way Trump has recklessly inserted himself into the Alabama Senate election and the issue of Roy Moore’s abuses. For starters, it once again divides the Republican Party, most of whose senior figures from Mitch McConnell to Jeff Sessions have said that they believe Moore’s accusers.

Second, it usefully reminds the public that Trump is a pathological liar who identifies with and defends other strategic liars. And third, of course, it brings back into the spotlight Trump’s own history of sexual abuse.

The revolution against at-will abuse of women by powerful men has only begun. And something is deeply wrong with this overdue reckoning when the abuser-in-chief sits, unmolested, so to speak, in the Oval Office.

It would be true poetic justice if Trump finally initiated a national focus on his own sexual abuses, beginning his final downfall, by identifying with a serial child molester and liar. That would signal a true shift in sexual power, a true feminist revolution. 

Meyerson
November 21, 2017

Right-wingers occasionally ask people on the left if there are any immigrants who’ve done such terrible things that they should be deported. To which I think we lefties are obliged to reply: Of course there are. I can think of one immigrant who has devoted himself with a single-minded fury to eroding democratic processes, stoking white anxiety and rage at racial “others,” and promoting fake news lest Americans catch on to the imbalances of economic power and the growth of plutocracy. (Well, double-minded: This immigrant also intended to make a great deal of money by doing this. And did.)

I speak, of course, of Rupert Murdoch.

To those who wonder how three-quarters of Republicans still tell pollsters that they think Donald Trump is doing a swell job, how millions of Americans still want to lock Hillary up, how they tremble in fear and rage at the New Black Panther Party and think that Christmas will soon be scrapped—wonder no more. That’s the world as presented night and day on Fox News, that endless cascade of fact-free news. There are, to be sure, countless talk-radio hosts who offer similar funhouse-mirror visions of the world to their listeners, but not since the late Dr. Goebbels has one man with such a malignant worldview beamed his message to so many people as has Australia’s very own Rupert.

It’s not as if the government has no experience in trying to deport troublesome Aussies. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the feds spent considerable time and energy trying to send Harry Bridges, the founder and longtime head of the West Coast Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, back to his native Australia, even though by the mid-1940s, he was an American citizen (as Murdoch is now). Bridges’s alleged sin was that in matters of foreign policy, he hewed tight to the Communist line, which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled wasn’t a deportable offense. Greatly to his credit, Bridges also built a model union, which remains the one great example in American labor relations of how a union can embrace radical technological change while ensuring that the workers reap the rewards from the higher levels of productivity.

Murdoch can claim no such distinction. His claim to fame, rather, is engendering so much fear in his viewers, so much white rage, that American democracy must now fight for its very life. Preserving the republic, as Lincoln realized, sometimes requires extraordinary measures. Let’s start by shipping Murdoch back where he came from.

Kuttner
November 20, 2017

The Republicans plan to spend about $1.5 trillion over ten years to finance their tax cuts, mostly for corporations and the rich. How else might we use $1.5 trillion?

Here are three ways: First, provide debt forgiveness for most college loans after ten years of repayment, and less for people who are working in a variety of public and human service jobs. That builds a coalition of tens of millions of adults and their aging parents who co-signed loans, some of whom are having their Social Security checks garnished.

Second, make all public higher education free going forward so that we never again trash the life prospects of a whole generation.

Third, let’s get serious about a real public infrastructure program, aimed at a green transition. This would also provide a lot of good, made-in-America jobs, a lot more efficiently than waiting for corporate tax cuts to trickle down.

Which use of that money do you think most Americans would support? If Democrats hope to oust Trump and the Republican Congress, they need to be for a few big, clear ideas that would provide vivid and tangible help. Otherwise, it’s all boring detail and gobbledygook. 

Kuttner
November 17, 2017

With Al Franken added to the list of gropers and Bill Clinton’s sins being revisited, this overdue reckoning for millennia of male sexual predation rings hollow as long as the Groper in Chief reigns undisturbed. Imagine: one case after another being subjected to intense public scrutiny and shaming, while Donald Trump careens on, unmolested so to speak, despite 16 documented cases of sexual harassment, coercion or even rape.

This is the beginning of a revolution. But Trump’s impunity mocks it.

In 1998, I was the only liberal columnist to call for Bill Clinton’s resignation. I believed then—and now—that Democrats were making a colossal moral and tactical error by defending Clinton. Had he resigned, Al Gore would have likely won easily in 2000. More men would have thought twice about harassing or assaulting women.

If this revolution is to be real, justice cries out, not just for Weinstein, Cosby, Moore, et al, but for Donald Trump to be held accountable.

As for Franken, we will soon see if this sleazy episode was a one-off or a pattern. If it was a pattern, he needs to go. Two of the best feminist writers—Joan Walsh and Michelle Goldberg—make the case for allowing him to stay, or demanding that he go. 

The case of Franken is a close question. Trump’s sordid and serial history is not.

Meyerson
November 16, 2017

It’s Judgment Day in the House, which is scheduled to vote today on its version of the Republican tax reform, while the Senate vote may be upon us soon as well. If nothing else, the squalid deliberations leading up to the vote have shown the historic link of the GOP to corporate America is all but indissoluble, notwithstanding all the populist rhetoric coming from Republican ranks, and all the social-issue moderation oozing from the boardrooms of the Fortune 500.

To curry continual corporate favor, the GOP bills make the corporate tax cut permanent, while putting a ten-year expiration date on its tax cuts for individuals. They also allow corporations to retain their deductions for the state and local taxes they pay, while eliminating such deductions on mere humans.

So much for “corporations are people.” They’re better than people, the Republicans insist, and a damned sight more worthy.

The House vote will throw a spotlight on California’s 14 Republican members, most of whom have expressed no reluctance to support a bill that not only eliminates the state and local deductions that roughly a third of their constituents take, but also clearly singles out California for GOP perdition by refusing to allow deductions for earthquake or fire damage, while allowing them for damage from hurricanes and floods. To date, only one of the 14—the most electorally endangered, Darrell Issa—has said he’ll oppose the bill. It’s no surprise that all 14 voted for earlier efforts to repeal the ACA, despite the fact that it would have cost millions of Californians their insurance, or that all 14 oppose California’s new sanctuary state law, though many thousands of undocumented immigrants live, work, go to school, and pay taxes in their districts. Now, however, the California members are poised to inflict major tax increases on their middle- and upper-middle-class constituents, many of whom have been known to vote Republican. These members’ faith—in their legislative leaders, in empirically refuted pseudo-economic dogma, in corporate campaign contributions, and just maybe in corporate sinecures when their voters toss them out of office—remains unbroken and whole.

Kuttner
November 15, 2017

The unmistakable wave of revulsion against Donald Trump includes a heartening upsurge in authentic grassroots groups, with names like Flippable, Run for Something, and a dozen more. It suggests that our Constitution will survive even Trump, and it represents a healing of American democracy.

But the wave is imperiled by an undertow of other groups that are mostly astroturf, with names like Americans for Prosperity and the other front organizations of the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, and other far-right billionaires. Two of the legacies of this undertow are systematic voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Without gerrymandering, Democrats would already have about 20 more House seats, and hundreds more in state legislatures. Without gerrymandering, Democrats would have won control of the Virginia House of Delegates instead of being one or two seats short of a majority, pending recounts. The undertow gives Republicans a structural head start of about five points depending on the state.

Democrats may well beat that in 2018 and 2020. They could even take the presidency and win a working majority in both houses. But then comes the much harder task of undoing the structural tilt. That will be the work of a generation. And unless it succeeds, democracy will not fully return.

Meyerson
November 14, 2017

Today, the Prospect’s daily email inaugurates a new feature: our “On TAP” blog posts by two of our editors. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we’ll be including in our daily emails a new blog post, under the heading “Kuttner on TAP,” by Prospect Co-founder and Co-editor Bob Kuttner. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and the occasional Friday as well, we’ll include a new blog post, under the heading “Meyerson on TAP,” by Prospect Executive Editor Harold Meyerson (me).

To begin, then: This week the House is expected to vote on its own version of the Republicans’ tax reform bill, while the GOP-controlled Senate Finance Committee continues its deliberations in the hope that it can find new and exciting ways to make our tax code even more pro-plutocratic. Once these bills reach the floor of their respective houses, there’s no chance in hell Democrats will be allowed to offer amendments, but so long as the Senate bill lingers in committee, Democrats will still be able to introduce amendments, albeit with no chance of seeing them pass.

To date, congressional Democrats have focused more on opposing the Republican proposals than advancing their own. There’s some logic to that, as the Republicans’ brainstorms stay in the bills and, hence, in the news for some time—at least until the Republicans come up with something even more regressive—while the Democrats’ proposals come and go in a flash. Nonetheless, by failing to make a serious case for a fairer tax code, the Democrats have largely blown an opportunity to put their stamp on an issue where their priorities are more in tune than the GOP’s with those of the electorate.

The main Republican selling point for the central element of their proposal—a major reduction of the tax on corporations—is that by increasing the level of untaxed profits, corporations will choose to invest more, hire more, and pay their workers more. That there is not a shred of empirical evidence substantiating this claim—that, for instance, profits have soared since the recovery began in 2009 while wages have barely budged—is no deterrent to a party whose rise to power has been fueled by fake news. Moreover, as demonstrated by every poll in the past half-decade that’s asked about such matters, a decisive majority of Americans understands that the rich are getting richer while the wages of most Americans are heaving and puffing to keep up with the cost of living.

This presents Democrats with an opportunity both to align themselves with public sentiment and outline a plausible vision for a more broadly shared prosperity. Why not introduce an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee that would hugely reduce the tax on corporations that divided the seats on their boards equally between representatives of their shareholders and representatives of their workers? The only real way to dethrone the doctrine of “maximizing shareholder value”—which virtually all our corporations have taken to mean “at the expense of investment and worker compensation”—is to diminish the near complete control that major shareholders wield over corporate managers. Giving workers an equal say over the conduct of corporations is one way to begin that process. A version of this arrangement is required by law in Germany, and it’s no accident that Germany has done a far better job than we have in maintaining a large and vibrant middle class.

So, how about reducing to, say, 5 percent the tax on corporations that go this route and raising to a nominal 40 percent the tax on corporations that don’t? Up to now, Democrats have largely kept their critiques of our pervasive economic inequality out of their discussions of corporate tax reform. That’s a strategy that has yielded them precisely nothing. With the window on their ability to present and publicize amendments to the tax reform bill still open for a few more days, there’s time yet for one big anti-plutocratic push.