On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson

Today’s Washington Post features a fascinating and revelatory story by James McAuley that illuminates the growing relationship between the Hasidic sect Chabad and the operationally anti-Semitic regime of Hungary’s Victor Orban. (“Operationally” because it’s not apparent that Orban is personally anti-Semitic, but abundantly apparent that he has resurrected a host of anti-Semitic tropes—most particularly, in his ongoing attacks on George Soros—in order to consolidate his support among the largely rural Hungarians who make up his electoral base.) A passing reference in the article also points to Chabad’s hitherto unheralded support for shareholder capitalism—file under “Who knew?”

At issue is Orban’s desire to construct a Hungarian Holocaust museum that largely omits Hungary’s long history of anti-Semitism in recounting the murder of roughly 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944, when the Nazis took more direct control of the nation from their wartime ally, Hungary’s anti-Semitic ruler Miklos Horthy, whose reputation Orban has sought to rehabilitate. After first entrusting the museum project to Maria Schmidt, who resolutely downplayed Hungarian anti-Semitism, Orban was compelled to let her go. Now, he’s restarted the project under Chabad Rabbi Slomo Koves, a staunch Orban supporter who repeatedly has turned a blind eye to Orban’s anti-Semitic electoral appeals. Koves points out that Orban has aggressively supported the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hungary’s largely secular Jewish population has long accused Orban of cozying up to Chabad as a way of mitigating his ongoing invocation of anti-Semitic themes.

Part of Orban’s cozying up was his selection of Chabad to take over a small, failing Budapest college, which Chabad then renamed Milton Friedman University. How the father of shareholder capitalism became a Hasidic icon is a good question—probably, Chabad was groping to find a Hungarian-descended Jew with beliefs in accord with Eastern Europe’s New Right. Or could it be that Chabad believed some biblical passage actually disparages workers and the environment, and pronounces the share buyback to be a devotional rite?

Kuttner

My dream is that some senior member of the Trump administration makes a public declaration that Donald Trump is clinically insane. Everybody knows this, but his appointees keep behaving as if the mad king has clothes.

The Republican primary challenge to Trump by former Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh softens the ground. Walsh, in a surprisingly candid op-ed piece, said this:

Fiscal matters are only part of it. At the most basic level, Mr. Trump is unfit for office. His lies are so numerous—from his absurd claim that tariffs are “paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us,” to his prevarication about his crowd sizes, he can’t be trusted.

Beyond his sheer demagoguery, it is Trump’s lunacy that is most hazardous to our country. He lives in a fantasy world. He seems to be getting crazier by the week.

Suppose a competent and principled conservative, say chief trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer, asked to appear before a congressional committee, and testified firsthand to Trump’s mental instability. Suppose he was joined by a senior national security official.

This conspiracy of silence needs to be broken. Whether Trump is removed from office via impeachment or the 25th Amendment is a tactical detail. January 2021 is too long to wait.

As Joe Walsh said yesterday on ABC News, saying that the 25th Amendment needed to be looked at:

We’ve never had a situation like this, you can’t believe a word he says. Again, I don’t care about your politics, that should concern you. He’s nuts, he’s erratic, he’s cruel, he stokes bigotry, incompetent…. The only thing he cares about is Trump.

This revelation is hardly a well-kept secret. Maybe Walsh will inspire other ashamed Republicans, and set off a stampede.

Dayen

Jay Inslee entered the presidential race for the right reasons, and he made a profound difference by moving the Democratic field to recognize the extent of the climate crisis and the need for bold solutions. He should be applauded for his effort.

The bigger thing to say about his exit, along with the other winnowing we’ve seen this week, is that debates have become this all-consuming element of presidential primary politics in our reality-show age, in a way that wasn’t true just a few years ago. There was more than one reason why Inslee, Hicklenlooper, and Seth Moulton bowed out this week—all of them faced practical and literal deadlines to run for other offices—but realistically speaking, they knew that missing the next set of debates was the effective end of their campaigns, so they took off. The entire campaign this summer has been framed around who will make the debates, what will happen in the debates, and what did happen in the debates.

Maybe that would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that the debates have been abjectly terrible. Created by game show hosts with no understanding of substance, they’ve been consumed with trying to get candidates to fight with one another instead of what they might be able to accomplish in office. They’re produced as wrestling matches instead of key channels for distributing information to voters, there are way too many people on stage, and the top candidates are separated. Voters are receiving the opposite of information.

This happened really quickly. The 2008 primary debates were not the driving force behind the dynamics of the race, which changed on things like Obama’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa or John McCain’s comeback in South Carolina. In 2012, Mitt Romney pretty much never shined in debates and managed to win. But 2012 did provide the clown car spectacle that reached its apotheosis on the GOP side in 2016. Bernie, blessed with several one-on-one showdowns with Hillary Clinton, probably hung in there against the odds because of his debate performances. Today, debates have become the front door for presidential politics.

Some of this is a function of the historically large field. But I’m not sure there should even be debates until late fall, before the first primaries. Otherwise longer shots have no chance to succeed. Performance in a game show should not dictate the choices available for voters for chief executive.

 

LINKS TO MY STORIES

The Federal Trade Commission won’t get tough on Big Tech, because its staff views tech lobbyists as trusted partners.

Elizabeth Warren knows how to work the political system, by identifying ways to make progress on the inside, and then focusing relentlessly on achieving them.

Warren and Sanders returned donations from individuals tied to hedge funds with investments in Puerto Rican debt.

 

ALSO AT THE PROSPECT

Fantastic Alex Sammon piece about the two major dialysis companies spending $100 million to lobby on one state legislative bill that would cut into their profits.

Gabrielle Gurley on the looming Joe Kennedy/Ed Markey primary battle in Massachusetts.

Two from Marcia Brown on the failed attempt to get the DNC to host a climate debate.

Derrick Jackson on how the Trump administration is changing the nation’s dietary guidelines.

 

APPEARANCES

I was on America’s Work Force Radio talking about a number of stories. Listen here.

 

SHARING THE WEALTH

The Business Roundtable’s statement that companies have obligations to more than shareholders is funny, considering that two months earlier they sent a comment to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking for a rule change to preserve “long-term shareholder value.” (Common Dreams)

Top judicial advocacy group wants an end to Democratic judge nominees from corporate law firms. (The Atlantic)

Banks get a huge win as the Volcker rule is effectively dead. (Politico)

Always read Steve Randy Waldmann, this one on “predatory precarity.” (Interfluidity)

Facebook’s “clear history” tool doesn’t clear history. (WaPo)

Trump proposes blatantly illegal indefinite migrant detention rule. (Axios)

Jason Linkins savages the coming Mark Halperin book. (New Republic)

Commodity Futures Trading Commission makes a deal with Kraft to hide information about a settlement, then releases the information anyway, triggering a lawsuit from Kraft. *headdesk* (Financial Times)

Planned Parenthood going it alone without federal funds. (LA Times)

First manufacturing sector contraction in a decade. (CNBC)

How Amazon and Silicon Valley seduced the Pentagon. (Pro Publica)

When Dean Baker begins to sound the alarm on the economy, listen. (Beat the Press)

Sustainably fracked.” (Wall Street Journal)

Area idiot cabinet member Rick Perry falls for Internet hoax. (Splinter)

Meyerson

The current kerfuffle over Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming picture, The Irishman, raises a lot of questions about the future of movies. As described in today’s New York Times, it pits Scorsese and theater owners against the film’s producer and funder, Netflix, over the question of how the picture is to be distributed: widely on screen, or, as is the case with most elite Netflix productions, in a smaller number of theaters so it can be streamed more widely online.

I have nothing against streaming all manner of things online, but I don’t think that’s any way to treat—or the best way to experience—a real motion picture. Like all artistic media, movies have evolved and involved a distinct form of presentation—on a big screen, in the dark, as a way of creating a more immersive effect. Hitchcock isn’t really Hitchcock minus the sensual immersion that heightens the suspense; Ford isn’t really Ford minus the sensual immersion that heightens the mythic dimensions; and Scorsese isn’t really Scorsese minus the sensual immersion that heightens his characters’ brio and anxiety.

To be sure, the big studios have long since ceased funding anything as complex as Hitchcock, Ford, and Scorsese; the pressures of financialized capitalism have reduced them to turning out the 43rd remake of Batman. Today, it’s television and outfits like Netflix that put up the cash for non–comic book entertainment. But no matter how good or occasionally brilliant such products are, they’re displayed on media that can’t deliver the visual and experiential intensity of a great movie.

Hence the stakes in the fight over The Irishman. May the big screen win.

 

THE CURRENT FIGHT over The Irishman calls to mind the 2007–2008 writers’ strike against the motion picture and television studios—and the joke I unknowingly wrote for the 2008 Oscars.

In late 2007, the Writers Guild struck the studios, chiefly over the issues of whether they’d receive residuals when the films and shows they’d written were—and this was a new development then—streamed. For many years, their contracts had stipulated that when their pictures and shows were screened after their initial releases or rerun on TV, they were paid. At the time, streaming was the Next Big Thing, and the writers wanted similar contractual assurance that they’d be compensated when their work was streamed.

During the strike, I wrote one of my Washington Post columns about the strike, taking, as is my wont, the writers’ side, and explaining that at issue was whether writers would be paid when their work was streamed on computer screens or cellphones. I added, parenthetically, that something—the majesty of a stunningly beautiful picture—might get lost in that translation: “Lawrence of Arabia, I fear, would lose something if viewed on my cell, even if my mother didn’t call during the attack on Aqaba.” The Writers Guild reposted my column on its strike website, subjecting countless writers to my punditry.

The strike actually threatened to postpone Hollywood’s annual celebration of itself, the Oscars, but the studios and the Guild came to terms a few days before the show had been scheduled to go on, and on the show did go, hosted that year by Jon Stewart. I was at home, dutifully watching the show, as all longtime Angelenos or former longtime Angelenos are required to do, when Jon Stewart, returning from a commercial break, strode onstage, took a cellphone out of his pocket, looked at it, and said, “Naah—doesn’t do justice to Lawrence of Arabia.”

I doubt it’ll do justice to The Irishman, either.

Kuttner

Last Sunday, America’s paper of record devoted its entire Sunday magazine to its “1619 Project,” named for the year when slaves were first brought to the American colonies.

In introducing the book-length collection of essays and literary works, The New York Times editors wrote that Americans are mistaken to view 1776 as their founding. Rather, “the country’s very origin” is the system of chattel slavery.

Americans of goodwill are now prepared to come to a deeper reckoning with America’s original sin, the crime of slavery and all its continuing reverberations.

The utterly mainstream Times is sounding as necessarily radical on race as, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Decent America is finally taking the first steps toward a long overdue truth and reconciliation project.

But at the same time, the racist elements of America are more virulently racist than ever, stoked by the most explicitly racist president of the United States since slavery was abolished. America is more divided on race than at any time since the Civil War.

As our former writing fellow and now New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes in one of the essays, there is a direct line between the racist Senator John C. Calhoun, who proposed the doctrine of nullification to prevent federal authority from tampering with slavery, to the modern Republican Party which insists in the name of states’ rights that the white South must be protected from federal civil rights enforcement.

And all this operates in the shadow of our first African American president, who wanted nothing so much as to be a unifier. Race has long poisoned the best of America. We will at last come to a reckoning, or racism will destroy this republic.

Meyerson

Yesterday’s restatement of corporate purpose from the Business Roundtable is a clear acknowledgment that America’s economic pooh-bahs have realized they’re about as popular as a strain of bacteria. There is much to be said about this about-face, in which the Roundtable said that the purpose of American corporations is no longer to maximize shareholder value at the expense of all other corporate stakeholders, but rather to treat those stakeholders—including employees, consumers, and communities, as well as shareholders—as equals. I’ll say more at greater length later this week.

For now, though, here’s a suggestion to the business page editors of American newspapers: Now that shareholder value isn’t the be-all and end-all of corporate purpose, you need to supplement your business coverage with indices of more than a corporation’s share prices. How about posting the median wage of its employees, and the ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay alongside the daily share value? How about posting (it’s OK to use abbreviations) whether a particular corporation offers defined benefit pensions (DBFs) or 401(k)s, paid sick days (PSDs—you get the point), paid family leave, and paid vacation time—for starters. How about listing the number of U.S. employees and whether a company is unionized or not?

Obviously, media outlets devoted to Milton Friedman’s nostrums, which have done more to destroy the American middle class over the past 40 years than any other body of thought, will have no interest in listing more than the share price. But the general welfare of the vast majority of the American people depends primarily on wages and benefits, not share values. How about conforming your economic coverage to ’muricans’ actual needs?

Kuttner

Justice Democrats, the grassroots group that recruited AOC to successfully challenge Representative Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District, has taken heat for breaking the unwritten rule that Democrats are not supposed to take down their own incumbents. So far, the group has endorsed six new challengers for 2020, generally progressives taking on centrists.

But what happens when a progressive challenger takes on a progressive incumbent, and that challenger’s name is Joe Kennedy, grandson of Bobby? Kennedy is likely to launch a primary challenge against Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. An exploratory committee has mysteriously materialized, along with a July telephone poll asking voters if they would be inclined to back Kennedy over Markey.

Markey, 73, has been a reliable progressive vote but not one of the Senate’s leaders. Kennedy, at 38, who has represented Barney Frank’s old district since 2013, has also been a strong progressive but less than a superstar.

Markey surprised many observers when he became the lead Senate sponsor of AOC’s version of a Green New Deal. That was taken as an attempt to bulletproof himself against attacks from the left.

But a Kennedy challenge to Markey would be less about left-right than about continuing the Kennedy dynasty. Kennedy needs to move fast, since Markey already has two other challengers. If someone else takes the Markey seat, Kennedy’s next chance to move to the Senate depends on Elizabeth Warren getting elected president. Insiders say that Kennedy’s hope is to bluff Markey into retiring.

I’m no fan of dynasties, but neither am I fan of the sacredness of incumbents. These Kennedys—they are very ambitious, they start out callow, and they tend to grow in office. We will probably find out if Joe follows the pattern.

Kuttner

In all of the calculations about whether there is sufficient evidence to impeach, and what effect impeachment would have on the 2020 election, the most obvious reason keeps being ignored. Trump is plainly unfit to govern.

He makes impulsive decisions, makes stuff up, alienates allies, refuses to vet prospective nominees, doesn’t read briefing materials, reverses policies on a dime, brings on a needless recession, and so on. As his Republican allies know all too well, he is out of his mind.

Trump incautiously contends that Joe Biden is “not playing with a full deck.” Trump doesn’t have a picture card in his hand.

If we needed one more bit of evidence, we now have … Greenland.

The ice-man cometh.

If someone at The Onion had made the Greenland story up, the editors would have rejected it as too far-fetched. But Trump’s aides have now confirmed that he has been badgering them for weeks to find out how he can buy Greenland.

Imagine his thought processes. With global warming, there are all these minerals ready to be exploited. Or maybe it can be a source of the ice that the rest of the world is losing. Today, Greenland; tomorrow Antartica.

The fact that Greenland is not for sale doesn’t seem to deter him. In Trumpworld, everyone is for sale. It’s just a matter of price.

When he finally goes, in the spirit of Napoleon’s exile to Elba, Greenland would be a great place to put Trump on ice. But can’t we please do this sooner rather than later?

Meyerson

Ken Cuccinelli, President Trump’s new man at the Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency, has now famously opined that a proper understanding of Emma Lazarus’s poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty—the one that begins, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” should be revised to include the caveat, “so long as they’re not likely to receive any public services targeted to the poor.”

Historically, of course, most immigrants to the United States have been poor: Certainly, the Irish fleeing the potato famine (who received plenty of public services from big-city machines like Tammany Hall); the Central European refugees forced to flee after the failed revolutions of 1848; the Chinese who built our transcontinental railroad; the Italians, Jews and Slavs who came here in the late 19th and early 20th century; the Mexicans who’ve come in recent decades; and the Central Americans arriving today. Every one of those groups has been reviled by the nativists of their era, who actually enacted bans against the Chinese, Italians, Jews and Slavs at various times over the past 140 years, as Trump and his ilk are doing today against the Central Americans.

Among the poorest ever to come to our shores was the Baline family, who arrived dead broke and stayed that way for a number of years. Their little boy, Izzy, who changed his name to Irving Berlin in his late teens, not only wrote such iconic anthems as “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” and “God Bless America,” but also, for his 1949 musical “Miss Liberty,” set Emma Lazarus’s poem to his music.

Berlin’s three daughters are still alive, and his company still holds the rights to most of his songs. I can’t imagine his daughters or grandchildren or great-grandchildren view Trump’s new immigration policy—turning back the poor—with anything other than horror. So herewith, a suggestion for them:

Why don’t they request (I don’t think they can legally demand) that every performance of “God Bless America” include, as a new verse between the initial and repeated singing of the chorus, the Lazarus-Berlin song as an intervening verse? In other words, if Trump and the Republicans, or ball clubs during the seventh-inning stretch, want a performance of “God Bless America,” they should have to explicitly include as part of that performance Berlin’s paean to our exceptionalism: that we are distinctively the land that welcomes immigrants, even poor, huddled masses. That, after all, was a decisive reason why Berlin believed God blessed America.

Berlin daughters, Berlin company: What say?

Kuttner

America’s ace in the hole is Donald Trump’s impulsive incompetence. 

In 2017, history handed Trump an economy on the mend, with interest rates at historic lows, no inflation in sight, low unemployment, and a booming stock market. With automation and low-wage competition making products ever more plentiful and cheaper, economists forecasted sunshine. As unemployment kept declining, some people even got modest wage hikes.

But then Trump presided over a massive tax cut for the rich, which did nothing for the real economy while increasing deficits by close to $2 trillion. Next, he escalated trade conflicts with China—not in service of a clear plan but to show how tough he was. Just to pour oil on the flames, so to speak, he brought America to the brink of war with Iran. 

None of this had any strategic coherence. Belatedly, these chickens are coming home to roost. 

The stock market was pumped up by corporate stock buybacks financed by Trump’s tax cuts. Silicon Valley’s inflated stock prices are the result of monopoly abuses that even the Trump Federal Trade Commission is resisting. Trump’s trade bluster with China has added to the risks of global economic slowdown. And the prevailing mix of speculation and austerity has just taken down Argentina’s economy, with traders worldwide worrying about contagion.

The Dow is down over 700 points today alone, and about 2,000 points off its recent peak. As financial markets sink back down to earth with the real economy following, all of these blunders will hurt Trump’s chances for re-election. 

Character, as the Greeks liked to say, is fate. Let’s hope there is not too much collateral economic suffering, and that Trump’s complementary foreign policy debacles don’t blow us all to hell before the voters throw him out.

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