On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson
January 29, 2019

Bash Your Billionaire! It’s been one of those weeks when billionaires have been much in the news. Herewith, three varieties of the follies and delusions of the super-rich.

 

Billionaire Bilgewater. In Davos, the world’s priciest echo chamber, the billionaires assembled for the annual World Economic Forum turned their attention to economic inequality. “We’re living in a Gilded Age,” Scott Minerd, the chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, told The Washington Post’s Heather Long.

But what do Wall Street’s whizzes prescribe as a solution to the growing disappearance of the middle class? “Upskilling.” Workers can become more productive, in more remunerative jobs, if they learn how to code. “The lack of education in those areas in digital is absolutely shocking,” said Stephen Schwartzman, CEO of Blackstone, the private-equity behemoth that has presided over the destruction of many thousands of jobs.

Not surprisingly, the Post’s Long also discovered that very few Davosites supported raising taxes on the rich—even to fund any government efforts to “upskill” our workers.

 

Billionaire Bushwah. Michael Bloomberg has rightly condemned Howard Schultz’s pronouncements that he’ll probably run for president as an independent, noting, even more rightly, that the only effect such a campaign could conceivably have would be to split the anti-Trump vote and thereby possibly re-elect our deranged president. But Bloomberg is still gearing up for his own presidential run in 2020’s Democratic primaries. According to a New York Times account of a Bloomberg talk last week in Virginia, the former New York mayor “says he can unite Democrats” around policies of pro-business economics and highly selective social liberalism: He strongly supports gun controls, but has ridiculed legalizing marijuana and hasn’t repudiated the stop-and-frisk operations of the NYPD when he was mayor, which understandably outraged the targeted (black and brown) communities and civil libertarians. This can unite Democrats?

 

Billionaire Bullshit. Which brings us, of course, to Howard Schultz, who proposes to run on a platform fundamentally indistinguishable from Bloomberg’s, but in such a way that he could give Donald Trump four more years. By so doing, Schultz would ensure that he would be remembered with as much respect as is being accorded to the near-billionaire who died last Friday—Chainsaw Al Dunlap, who won his moniker for his habit of boosting short-term profits at the companies he ran by firing half their work forces, until he himself was ousted for cooking those companies’ books.

Schultz should read the Dunlap obits and other assessments of his career. They’re kind compared to those he’d get should he choose to run as an independent.

Meyerson
January 24, 2019

AOC’s Achievement: Making Americans’ Progressive Beliefs Politically Acceptable. Of all the reasons that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is driving the right crazy, one of the most important is this: She’s advancing presumably radical ideas (by the right’s standards, anyway) that actually have massive public support.

Green New Deal? Fuzzy though its meanings may be, it brings together regional development policies for the huge region of the country that private capital has long since abandoned, climate change policies in a nation where climate-change apprehension is at an all-time high, full employment and decent wage policies for a nation where even voters in Republican states are casting ballots for higher wages and better jobs. Before AOC, whose radar was a Green New Deal even on? Since she joined the protestors in Nancy Pelosi’s office, a far-flung majority of Americans now see it as a way to address all manner of problems.

Likewise with taxing the rich. When AOC made the case for a 70 percent tax rate on annual income over the $10 million threshold, CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded as if she’d just called for collective farms. Now that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that would compel the rich to pay an even fairer share of their bounty to support the common good, pundits are beginning to notice that the public has been supporting much higher taxes on the rich for a very long time. Since 2003, Gallup has annually asked the public whether they believe the level of taxes the rich pay is too high, too low or just right. The percentage saying “too low” has been in the 60-percent-to-70-percent range every year.

So it’s not hard to see why AOC is driving the right crazy. Forget the dancing, not to mention the racism and sexism that underpins many of the right’s complaints. It’s that she’s giving voice to progressive ideas that the public actually supports but that have long gone unvoiced by nearly everyone in power who has a megaphone they could use. She’s game-changingly brilliant at promoting progressive public policy. To the right, if I may steal from the Bard, such women are dangerous.

Kuttner
January 23, 2019

Wall Street Journal Follies. I could write an entire blog just on the intellectual dishonesty of The Wall Street Journal. Just when I think they can’t get sink any lower, they top their old record.

Over the weekend, their lead editorial was titled “Harvesting Democratic Votes.” 

The Journal is mightily aggrieved that California has actually made it easier for citizens to vote—things like same day registration, automatic registration, expanded use of provisional ballots and mail in ballots.  

The Journal is doubly offended that so many Californians apparently choose to vote for Democrats. Imagine that! And worse, the Democrats, in the federal voting reform bill HR 1 “are trying to do for the country what they’ve done for California.”

This from a publication that did not say boo about gross forms of voter suppression throughout the country that threw millions of qualified voters off the rolls. Indeed, for all of the Republican stated concern about supposed voter fraud, the prime case of ballot fraud in the 2018 midterms was in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, where Republican operatives used fake mail-in ballots to stuff ballot boxes for the GOP candidate. 

The fraud was so extreme that the state's bipartisan state board of elections refused to certify Mark Harris, who had ostensibly won by 905 votes. Yesterday, a federal judge refused Harris’s petition to have him declared the winner.

The Journal’s professed concern for democracy is situational, to put it politely. Fraud and suppression are excused when the beneficiaries are Republicans. Alarm is expressed when expanded democracy proves good for Democrats. 

I know I should not be shocked, shocked, that there is sophistry going on around here. But where Fox, Limbaugh, et al, are totally bogus, the rest of the Journal is a serious paper.

Meyerson
January 22, 2019

Trump’s Shutdown Strategy: Democrats Respond to Suffering. I Don’t. To whatever extent rational calculation plays a part in Donald Trump’s thinking on the shutdown, it would have to be premised on his belief that the Democrats will finally end it lest the toll of the human suffering it causes grow too great. Consider the numbers: The shutdown is not only causing major economic distress for the roughly 800,000 federal workers not being paid, and their families, and the good-deal-more-than-800,000 contract workers who are also not being paid, and their families, too. Add all those up and they have to come to perhaps five million, maybe more, Americans.

But as our Kalena Thomhave points out in her story on the nation’s roughly 40 million food-stamp recipients, who may not be getting their March payment (their still-funded February payment went out early), the human toll of the shutdown could radically worsen if Trump insists on keeping it going.

And the Trump thought process, such as it is, would have to go something like this:

At some point—particularly if those 40 million begin to go really hungry—won’t the Democrats be compelled to cave? Because they actually care if people go hungry, and I (Hizzoner President Trump) do not?

Of course, some of my fellow Republicans may wuss out on this. It will be up to my friends at Fox and on talk radio to demonize the food-stampers, but they’re up to the task. I may not have my Roy Cohn, but I sure got my Doctor Goebbels.

Despite such calculations—and it’s hard to see anything resembling calculations in the White House’s strategy other than a version of the above—the public is clearly blaming Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown, and they’re likely to blame Trump and the Republicans for mass hunger, too, should it come to that. Even the intransigent Mitch McConnell has lots of SNAP recipients among his voters, as do other Republican senators. Such an impasse would be the clearest test yet of whether anything can make them break from the sociopath in the Oval Office. 

Kuttner
January 18, 2019

A Break from Walls, Shutdowns, and Tweets. The poet Mary Oliver died at 83 yesterday. I hope you’ve encountered her work.

She is the great poet of being human, a lyrical poet who managed to touch a large audience with her simplicity and eloquent insight about making meaning from everyday wonder.

Here is part of one of her best, from her poem titled “When Death Comes.” 

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Whatever else you might say about Mary Oliver, she fully inhabited this world.

Poetry helps keep us sane, in this insane time. And now, back to the madness of Trump.

Meyerson
January 17, 2019

“All Right Then, We Are Two Nations.” That’s what John Dos Passos wrote in his great USA trilogy, recounting the divisions in the country at the time of the 1927 execution of Sacco and Vanzetti—another season when nativism was running high and Italians were viewed by many “older stock” Americans as an inherently dangerous population.

Plus ca change:  In a survey released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, Americans opposed expanding what we have in the way of a border wall by a 58 percent to 40 percent margin, but that 58 and that 40 couldn’t be more entrenched. Not surprisingly, given the centrality of nativism, racism and Trumpism to the modern GOP, “Republican support for the wall,” Pew reports, “is at a record high, while Democratic support has reached a new low.” Moreover, Pew continues:

Nearly nine-in-ten (88 percent) opponents of expanding the border wall say it would not be acceptable to pass a bill that includes President Trump’s request for wall funding, if that is the only way to end the shutdown. Among the smaller group of wall supporters, 72 percent say a bill to end the shutdown would be unacceptable if it does not include Trump’s funding request.

I take these numbers to fairly represent what has become an unbridgeable divide between our two nations. I take them as an indication that those who are seeking the “center” in American politics will fail to find one. Neither side has any significant political incentive to plant a flag in midfield; neither side believes in the other side’s facts, epistemology, or sense of right and wrong. For the sentient American majority, the only long-term solution is to mobilize and enlarge our ranks to overcome the anti-majoritarianism of both the Republicans and the Constitution, and thereby win the political power that would strip from Republicans their capacity to inflict their bigotry on their fellow Americans. 

Kuttner
January 16, 2019

Seth Moulton, What Were You Thinking? Like a fine wine, Nancy Pelosi just gets better with age. Disinviting Trump to give the State of the Union address in the people’s House, of which she is now speaker, is a stroke of genius. It must be driving Trump nuts, if that’s not redundant. 

Trump is simply not accustomed to strong women, much less strong women exercising power that he can’t control. How could any Democrat have thought it would be smart politics to topple Pelosi, other than for sheer opportunism?

Meanwhile, Trump's support among Republicans continues to crumble. The latest is that VP Mike Pence and First Nepotist Jared Kushner were frantically trying to hold back a stampede of Republican senators signing onto a letter requesting Trump to allow the government to reopen for three weeks while wall discussions continue. 

Those Republicans include Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. Alexander is a close ally of Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who has been uncharacteristically quiet as a turtle. Graham is usually a strong ally of Trump, except when he isn’t. 

One other piece of positive fallout: Ordinary Americans, watching and reading about the plight of unpaid workers at the TSA, the National Park Service, NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on and on, are starting to realize that these are dedicated Americans who actually do useful work. Imagine that.

What a pleasure to observe the astute Nancy Pelosi in action as speaker once again. We are lucky that the anti-Pelosi coup did not get to first base. 

Meyerson
January 15, 2019

The Emerging 2020 False Choice: “Just Beat Trump” or “Progressive Change?” According to a story in today’s New York Times, “the most consequential political question facing the Democratic Party is whether liberals will insist on imposing policy litmus tests on 2020 presidential hopefuls, or whether voters will rally behind the candidate most capable of defeating the president even if that Democrat is imperfect on some issues.”

This question, however, is rooted in the muck of dubious assumptions. The first such assumption is that the “imperfect” policy positions of more centrist candidates will have broader electoral appeal than more distinctly progressive policy positions. Relatedly, the second dubious assumption is that progressive policy positions (by which centrists generally mean progressive economic policy positions) will make it difficult for the eventual Democratic nominee to defeat Donald Trump.

Which progressive policy positions would those be? Breaking up the big banks? Raising taxes on the rich and corporations? A Green New Deal that involves major public investment and good job creation in the economically abandoned regions of the country (which include inner cities as well as small towns and rural America)? Rejecting corporate PACs? Instituting public financing of campaigns? Dividing corporate boards between representatives of workers and shareholders? Expanding Medicare and Medicaid as a phase in to single payer? Changing labor law to enable workers to form unions again? Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit? Mandating free public college and university educations?

My hunch—and I’ve got a passel of polls to back it up—is that such positions will help rather than hurt the Democratic nominee, in purple states no less than in the blue. And that shying from such positions will exact a toll that exceeds the benefits of centrist reticence. Americans—not just Democrats—are looking for leadership that will help them transform our nation from a plutocracy to a democracy. A nominee who doesn’t fit that bill—and there are a number of centrist hopefuls who don’t—would be less, not more, likely to defeat Trump in 2020.   

So—progressive change or just beat Trump? That’s the choice the centrists are saying we must confront. It’s a false one. 

Kuttner
January 14, 2019

More Hedge Fund Predators Buying Up Newspapers. You may have missed it, but an outfit called Digital First Media (DFM) is trying to buy the Gannett newspaper chain. Last year, I wrote a lengthy investigative piece on how private equity and hedge fund companies like DFM are destroying what’s left of America’s metropolitan dailies. You can read about it here

The basic model is to borrow money, buy a shaky newspaper (or in this case a whole shaky chain), charge the debt to the target company’s own balance sheet, and then cut costs (reporters and editors) to shreds. The distress of the newspaper industry has been widely blamed on the internet, but in fact predatory practices by outfits like DFM are a major contributing factor.

Last year, DFM bought the Boston Herald, and promptly cut the newsroom from 240 to 175. Now the target is to cut editorial employees to just 100. Meanwhile, DFM is shooting for profit margins at the Herald in the 17-percent range. 

It’s hard to shed too many tears for Gannett, no slouch when it comes to stripping newsrooms. Gannett’s flagship USA Today is damned thin already. It’s likely to be even worse if DFM manages to take it over.

Kuttner
January 11, 2019

Happy Birthday, Alex Hamilton! Facebook probably didn’t alert you—he didn’t have an account—but today is the birthday of Alexander Hamilton. He was born on January 11, 1757.

Why does this matter? Well, Hamilton might have a lot to say about our current situation. 

First, he was very much of an infrastructure guy. He wrote America’s first industrial policy, his famous "Report on Manufactures." He’d be a big proponent of a Green New Deal. He understood that building up the economy was primary, and globalism secondary.

Second, he was big on public banking. And third, he was a proponent of the virtue of public debt to finance stuff that the country needed. 

In short, our kind of affirmative economic nationalist. And, as an immigrant himself, he’d surely have opposed The Great Wall of Trump as the wrong sort of infrastructure. And of all the founding fathers, he was the most fervently opposed to slavery. Not at all Trumpian. Take that, Steve Bannon.

Our kind of guy. All together now:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a

Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten 

Spot in the Caribbean by providence, 

Impoverished, in squalor

Grow up to be the man of the dollar

And feel the need for a Green New Deal?

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