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The Pence Gambit

[ 93 ] February 18, 2017 |

By Henry Fuseli – The Yorck Project.

Some thoughts on Mike Pence; note from the start that this is far from a “Mike Pence and the GOP must save us from Donald Trump” kind of post…

There are currently 290 serving Republicans in the US Congress, and probably 270 would prefer President Pence to President Trump. This is not to overstate GOP opposition to Trump, or to suggest that Republican legislators will serve as a meaningful impediment to his agenda, or to imply that they won’t be happy to use the Trump presidency to accomplish their policy ends. It simply means that we are in the genuinely unusual position of having a majority Congress in which the strong majority of members would prefer the Vice President over the President.

Obviously, this makes impeachment more likely, which is different than saying it makes impeachment likely.

Of all the avenues by which we can imagine Trump getting impeached, I think that the Russia investigations hold the greatest danger. There may yet be some very interesting stuff; notwithstanding the new admiration for Putin in the rank and file, Russian electoral interference remains generally unpopular; Trump’s position on Russia is not widely held within the GOP legislative cohort.

Depending on your perspective, Mike Pence either took one for the team when he agreed to serve as Trump’s running mate, or made a high-odds gamble on success of the campaign. Thus, he’s essentially playing with house money. In the first weeks of the administration, Mike Pence has taken strong, visible steps to distance himself from the Russia Problem. He has repeatedly made speeches about Russia that hew much closer to the traditional GOP line on Moscow than to Trump’s accommodationist approach. He was apparently critical to the execution of Mike Flynn, and in the best possible way; he demonstrated that he had been cut out of the distribution circle and decision-making process regarding Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Right now, Pence is a hefty insurance policy on a mobbed-up, fire-prone restaurant. The GOP appreciates the dangers associated with burning the restaurant down, and will avoid doing so unless pressed. But the insurance policy is very nice indeed, and if push comes to shove, nobody will have to shove all that hard to get a sufficient number of GOP legislators to think about impeachment. The content of the shove would involve collapsing Presidential approval ratings, poor performance in special elections, and anything particular explosive coming out of the various Russia investigations. Because of the role that Congress plays in the investigative process, the former two make the latter more likely.

Impeaching Trump is only possible if the GOP is in trouble, and by itself will not save the Republicans, although it may help. Presidential approval ratings went from 24 to 71 in a day when Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon.  Polarization, and the fact that Pence is more identified with Trump than Ford was with Nixon, will make such improvement impossible, but there would still likely be some increase. Such a move might do significant damage to the party, in so far as it would alienate Trump’s hardcore supporters (and unless he goes to prison*, Trump will presumably be vocal and angry about his dismissal).

The incentives for Pence at this point are clear.  He needs to stay as far away as he can from Trump on Russia.  This means continuing to hold to the traditional GOP line, but also making sure that the flow of information is under strict control.  I do not doubt that Pence’s staffers have already been instructed to be extremely careful about the kind of information on Russia that crosses the VP’s desk. If Pence can plausibly depict himself as out of the loop, it makes it very hard to implicate him in the scandal (see also George H.W. Bush and Iran-Contra).  Note that this also means that anyone in the administration fighting against the Trump-Bannon line on Russia will not be able to count on Pence as a reliable ally, as it’s likely that Pence will simply distance himself, rather than engage.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s good or bad if the GOP decides to impeach Trump in favor of Pence. At this point, I’m genuinely more frightened of the damage that Trump could cause than the damage I’m sure Pence would cause, and so I’d “welcome” the ascension of the latter. But a Pence administration is likely to restore a degree of popularity to the GOP (at least in the short term), and it’s almost certain that Pence will be more effective in formulating an agenda and in working with Congress than Trump.  Rock and a hard place, hell or high water, Trump or Pence…

*Do not ever take seriously a story that uses, as its main source, the tweets of John Schindler.

 

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Revenge-Shopping with Trumpkins

[ 46 ] February 18, 2017 |

Your daily reminder that Trump supporters are the weirdest people on the planet.

Saturday Links

[ 20 ] February 18, 2017 |

Battleship Roma.jpeg

RN Roma


Some links for your Saturday afternoon…

In other news, the National Interest is publishing some updated and revised versions of entries from The Battleship Book.  Thus far…

Trump’s Appeal to the Working Class

[ 417 ] February 18, 2017 |

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I would hope that the horrors of Trump would have moved workers against this anti-worker fascist president who attempts to name utterly horrible humans as Secretary of Labor. But with the Democratic Party having no answer on industrial jobs, if anything, even more union members are finding him appealing.

Mr. Trump summoned the heads of the building and construction trade unions, most of which supported Mrs. Clinton, to discuss infrastructure spending three days after his inauguration. “It was a substantial meeting about good middle-class jobs,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, adding that Mr. Trump was the first president to invite him to the Oval Office.

Some of Mr. Trump’s other early moves, like his presidential memorandums giving the go-ahead to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his announcement that he would quickly seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, were clearly conceived with a similar objective.

They appear to have had the desired effect. Dennis Williams, head of the United Auto Workers union, which endorsed Mrs. Clinton, has professed eagerness to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss how they might undo Nafta and protect American jobs.

“He’s the first president that has addressed this issue, and I’m going to give him kudos for that,” Mr. Williams said at a round-table discussion with reporters in Detroit on Thursday.

Other unions may also have reason to do business with the White House. Consider the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which also endorsed Mrs. Clinton. Some portion of the union, namely its freight railroad workers, is heavily dependent on coal, and union officials say members in that sector voted heavily for Mr. Trump because he refused to foreclose on its role in the national economy.

If you need work or you see a recent past where you had more economic security than you have now (which is probably not a myth), it’s pretty easy to see why you might not pay attention to any of the facts that Trump is your enemy and embrace the idea of building a border wall, of building infrastructure in projects corrupt and ineffectual, of wanting to see pipelines built.

There’s no way around it–this is a response to the utter failure of Democrats to have a real jobs program for working people. As I have said for a very long time, people want WORK. They want jobs. Americans wrap dignity up in work. The lack of work is embarrassing. This isn’t new. The Great Depression and 25 percent unemployment didn’t lead the U.S. working class toward revolutionary ideology. It led them to leave their families and live in shame. Democrats became the party of the working class because they promised and delivered on jobs and then on working class security through the FHA, the GI Bill, and other core legislation of the postwar period that turned the white working class into the middle class, while offering the black working class at least more than the Republicans did.

The Democrats however embraced capital mobility and the growth of financial capitalism with a gusto nearly that of Republicans. Beginning under Carter and then Clinton and Obama, they never had a good answer for the working class. Job retraining for lower-paying jobs, reeducation assistance, and telling people to move to Texas are not answers. Economic destabilization makes both racialized nationalism and lies about job creation increasingly appealing to the white working class. Until we have answers about how there are going to be good jobs for people in the places where they live, we are really going to struggle holding on to the union members still voting for Democrats, especially the white ones, many of whom live in states that Democrats narrowly lost in 2016.

Maher & Yiannopoulos – two garbage scows passing in the night

[ 113 ] February 18, 2017 |
Here comes the garbage barge, by Jonah Winter

Here comes the garbage barge, by Jonah Winter

Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance on Real Time went the way one would expect.

Despite a brief flare-up of controversy that preceded it, a conversation between Milo Yiannopoulos, the incendiary right-wing author and lecturer, and Bill Maher, the comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time,” on that program Friday night was a largely docile, chummy affair. There was little conflict or cross-examination, as both men chided the political left for avoiding or drowning out Mr. Yiannopoulos’s views rather than engaging with them.

People do engage Yiannopoulos. It’s just that being told to shut the fuck up and hop on the 9:15 shuttle to hell isn’t what he wants to hear. Neo-cons want to live in the world where The Enemy are pre-demonized people of color in exotic places like Baltimore, who can be described as rioters whenever they protest in groups larger than one, and cry-baby liberals who whine a bit but don’t really do anything. Thanks in large part to tRump’s win, neo-cons and their fellow travelers being ushered into a world where people are so pissed and frightened they’re kind of scary. Unfair! as their new leader would Tweet.

Bill Maher, hyper-privileged prick that he is, sees this as a moment to yawn Ycantcha take a joke, libs? for probably the 253 zillionth time in his over-long career.

Describing himself as “a virtuous troll,” Mr. Yiannopolous said, “I hurt people for a reason.”

And that reason is he’s a mendacious piece of shit. Maher, who various people keep insisting is a wit who Challenges the B.S. of Bothsides, can’t bestir himself to ask his guest to elaborate on his reasons for hurting people.

He said people “want to police humor” because “they can’t control it.”

“Because the one thing that authoritarians hate is the sound of laughter,” Mr. Yiannopolous said.

Mr. Maher added, “And also, because when people laugh, they know it’s true.”

Which would mean that when people don’t laugh, they know it’s not true. But perhaps I’m overthinking the unoriginal noises coming the Maher2000 ClicheBot.

Speaking to his audience, Mr. Maher said, “Stop taking the bait, liberals,” and asked how they could be afraid of someone he described as “little, British, impish” and a slur for gay people. The two men shook hands, and Mr. Maher moved on to his panel discussion.

I wonder how much HBO pays for Maher to wrestle with poorly constructed straw men?

But in an online-only segment that ran after the HBO broadcast, Mr. Yiannopoulos said that transgender people were “vastly disproportionately involved in sex crime,” drawing jeers, boos and a shout of “liar” from Mr. Maher’s audience.

I wouldn’t be surprised if transgender people are vastly disproportionately the victims of all sorts of violent crimes. But that’s due in part to scamps and imps and whippersnappers like Yiannopolous who spew transphobic sewage all over the place. And of course, because cruds who have been dismissive of transgender rights in the past are happy to give him a platform to do so.

Can the Freedom [sic] Caucus Save the Affordable Care Act?

[ 25 ] February 18, 2017 |

housespeakercrisis

I applaud their efforts to make the extremely bad the enemy of the utterly unspeakable:

Some conservative House Republicans are objecting to a major part of the Obamacare replacement outline presented to them by party leaders, underscoring the party’s continuing inability to agree on an alternative health plan.

The proposal would allow Americans who lack insurance to buy coverage with refundable tax credits they can receive before the end of a tax year. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said he and other leaders presented the idea during Thursday’s private conference of the House GOP.

Some conservatives say they oppose the idea because it could amount to a new government subsidy by allowing people to receive a larger credit than they pay in taxes. They prefer a mechanism that would preclude people from getting any more money than they paid in taxes.

“I don’t like the refundable tax credit,” says Representative Ted Yoho of Florida. “I don’t want people getting money back.”

“This is Obamacare light,” Yoho said, adding that he told Brady about his views.

Hopefully this resistance to Paul Ryan’s socialist tendencies will prevent the House from passing anything.  Extremism in defense of the liberty to die if you aren’t affluent enough to cover your medical expenses with what you pay in federal taxes is no vice!

 

Another Union Loss in the South

[ 58 ] February 18, 2017 |

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The International Association of Machinists had hopes to organize Boeing’s plant in South Carolina, which exists precisely because Boeing executives wanted to bust the unions in their Seattle plants. It did not end well.

Organizers with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to persuade a majority of about 3,000 union-eligible Boeing workers in the state to vote for the union amid enormous pressure from management.

Boeing said 74 percent of the more than 2,800 workers voting rejected the union.

Many analysts say that Boeing decided to put its second Dreamliner aircraft assembly line in the state to reduce the leverage of the machinists’ union, which represents Boeing’s work force in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and has used work stoppages to exact concessions from the company in the past. South Carolina is one of the least unionized states in the country.

Hoyt N. Wheeler, an emeritus professor of business at the University of South Carolina who taught labor relations and employment law, said in an interview before the vote that a victory would be “highly significant” because “one of Boeing’s motivations for coming to South Carolina was to escape the union.”

The election took on added significance because of the emphasis President Trump has placed on domestic manufacturing, and on Boeing in particular. The president has called out the company over the cost of the new Air Force One program it is developing, and he recently sought to pit Boeing against Lockheed Martin to hold down the cost of the F-35 fighter jet.

74 percent. Holy moly. That’s not even close. I’m surprised the IAM even went to a vote with that low level of support. There is some speculation that it’s because they fear Trump NLRB appointees. And they had already canceled one vote. So I guess they had to go through with it.

Organizers who work in the South hate to hear this, but the reality is that the South is basically impossible to organize on a large scale. It has always been thus. The failures of the textile strike of 1934, Operation Dixie in 1946, the UAW campaigns of the 1990s, the Volkswagen vote in 2014. Again and again, large-scale organizing has failed in the South. This has been one of the core defining issues of the American labor movement. Southern white workers resist unions. Employers started moving down there quite explicitly because of not only the lack of a union tradition, but traditions of white solidarity that would divide workforces and long traditions of paternalism. From the moment unions started to organize in the South, they were portrayed as scary outsiders, first often as Jews and communists, then as black institutions that would destroy the South.

There simply is no good answer for this. Until the American labor movement can organize the South, it can’t become a force again. But given that it has never been able to organize the South, there’s not any real hope that they will succeed. It’s a heck of a problem. And the problem is most accurately portrayed, as it has always been, that the white working class chooses racial solidarity over class solidarity over and over again.

12) Obama

[ 233 ] February 18, 2017 |

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CSPAN’s latest survey of presidential rankings is out. Obama comes in at #12, one spot above James Monroe. Given that I can’t think of anything particularly notable Monroe did except the Monroe Doctrine which was really all John Quincy Adams, I find this slightly confusing. The top of the list:

1) Lincoln
2) Washington
3) FDR
4) TR
5) Eisenhower (really?)
6) Truman
7) Jefferson (talk about the rest of one’s career being used as the criteria instead of his actual presidency. The Embargo alone should drop him 15 places)
8) Kennedy
9) Reagan (kill me)
10) LBJ
11) Wilson
12) Obama

Bottom 5 from worst to least worst are Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Pierce, Harding, and Tyler. I think it’s safe to say that future rankings will have a new name in this bottom 5.

And Grant at 22 is just about right. It’s amazing how much the left overcorrected from the ridiculous Dunningite “Grant is a horrible tyrant” to “Grant is one of our greatest presidents based upon my selection of facts that ignore all the other facts.” 22 is perfect for a deeply flawed man and weak president who actually did something about southern destruction of black rights during his first term, although far, far, far less in the second after he basically allowed white terrorists to kill dozens of African-Americans and offered an extremely tepid response.

Anyway, this should keep you arguing for the day.

The RNC’s Mean-to-me Media Accountability $urvey

[ 25 ] February 18, 2017 |

The RNC/tRump Mainstream Media Accountability Survey is a fine example of pollpaganda: A survey full of propaganda, the results of which can then be used to reinforce the party line.

Here is a sample of the 25 questions. A few read like someone’s best attempt to interpret the noises falling out of Herr Trumpengruber’s face.

Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?

Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?

Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?

Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?

Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?

Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?

Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?

The Washington Post ran a piece with suggested answers, but it’s suitable for children.

Spoiler alert I: Holding the mainstream media accountable will involve eliminating Obamacare, Medicare and Social Security and leaving Paul Ryan alone with the corpses of the victims of his policies Because Reasons.

Not a spoiler alert because this is the RNC: People who complete the survey (or just fill in their name, email address and ZIP code) are then asked to GIVE.

Not a spoiler alert II: Mean liberals ruining things will require more donations.

I hope Republican voters wanted four years of an impatient little hand thrust under their noses because that’s what they’re going to get. If Twitler views campaign donations as his money – and I can think of no reason to assume he does not – I expect some amusing tantrums when he feels the suckers are holding out on him.

The National Security Council as Canary in the White House

[ 56 ] February 18, 2017 |

NSC

If you’re on Twitter, you should be following Colin Kahl’s feed. Not only was Colin the Deputy National Security Advisor under Obama—and therefore knows stuff—but he was also involved in the transition process, which gives him insights into the workings of this rather opaque and unusual White House.

This morning—as I learned from Cheryl Rofer— he tweeted about Russia, the National Security Council (NSC), and Bannon’s “Strategic Initiatives Group.

As Colin points out, none of this is likely. None of it makes much sense. Russia can’t do much to help counterbalance China. Putin’s unlikely to make concessions of the kind that would make any of this remotely worthwhile. What he doesn’t mention is that it is far from obvious whether Moscow can credibly commit to uphold any grand bargain. It would take enormous skill and planning to proceed in a way that doesn’t set the United States up for massive failure.

Yet here we are, with Trump defaulting back to his campaign rhetoric on Russia and standing by while Putin probes American resolve by buzzing our naval vessels and making a push in Ukraine. .

Colin goes on to lay out two possible reasons for the Trump Administration’s continued folly.

On the one hand, the preferences of the American ethno-nationalist right—particularly its opposition to the European Union and liberal order—align with Russia’s. We might call this the “elective affinity” story. It’s been my default understanding of why elements within the Trump Administration seem determined to undermine US power and influence.

On the other hand, this all amounts to  a “quid pro quo” for Russian assistance in the election. Such a scenario also raises questions of kompromat and other, more complicated, explanations. Regardless of how far down the rabbit hole one prefers to go, it seems increasingly likely that we’re looking at, if nothing else, tacit collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

Of course, neither is exclusive. Some kind of elective affinity—or, at least, shared interests—helps makes sense of why Moscow sought to influence the election in the first place.

Setting aside the “why” for a moment, the possibility of a parallel decision-making structure—let alone one headed by Bannon—making policy should worry everyone. It creates serious concerns about accountability. And it suggests that other national-security principals on the NSC—such as Secretary of Defense Mattis—may prove unable to counterbalance Bannon, Miller, and other ideologues.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that—at least for now—there’s little hope that any “adults” are going to come in and really limit the damage. I still have difficult wrapping my head around the extent of the calamity we now face. The last time someone used American foreign policy as a demonstration of dubious ideological beliefs, the United States invaded Iraq. Hundreds of thousands died. The fallout continues to rock the Middle East. Yet, somehow, the infrastructure of American security survived. Now we have a cabal of white nationalist bloggers intent on correcting that state of affairs.

There is, of course, another possible outcome. Faced with mounting political pressure at home, the Trump Administration swings to a hardline stance on Moscow. Even if it doesn’t overcompensate in dangerous ways—which I think not unlikely—I can imagine of all kinds of reasons why such radically inconsistent signals would prove destabilizing.

McCain can give all the speeches he wants to. The President enjoys enormous discretion on foreign policy and national security, and it requires a very committed legislative branch to put a dent in that discretion. So here we are.

The Legitimately Elected President of the United States is an Authoritarian

[ 95 ] February 17, 2017 |
Photo-le-molay-littry-4-1944

American Troops in Liberated France

I’ve been warning about the risks of confirmation bias when it comes to the strength of American political norms and institutions. That is, I worry about the American tendency to read our history neither as a series of significant shifts in the nature of those norms and institutions, nor as a long series of near failures. This was a major component of a post that I wrote in November that garnered—from my perspective—a surprising amount of attention. I alluded to another variation of this theme recently: the assumption that just because ‘things work out okay’—or even that because they are likely to work out okay—there’s no crisis.

I mention all of this in light of the Trump tweet that Rob posted earlier.  Here it is again:

And here’s my reaction, also in the form of a tweet:

This tweet is actually the start of a rant. You are free to read it, but here I want to expand on a few issues found there.

One of the basic challenges in dealing with Donald Trump is that he’s a confidence artist. This makes it rather difficult to pin down his actual beliefs. It’s why many voters simply refused to accept that he really intended to do many of the things that he said he would. It also makes it easy to dismiss critics as overly alarmist. After all, perhaps he just comes across as an authoritarian because he’s a thin-skinned narcissist. He’s not really an authoritarian in the political sense.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter. Sure, the risks are different. The sources of Trump’s demagoguery will affect how this national nightmare plays out. But the President of the United States has been talking like an authoritarian for quite some time. Whether he calls tough media the “enemy of the American People” because he’s unhinged, so wounded that he’s lashing out as his critics, building his brand, or a dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian—well, we wind up in the same place.

Right now, Trump is an authoritarian operating in a democratic system. American institutions and norms are facing yet another stress test. Some overestimate their strength. Some underestimate it. Some have it right. But we won’t know who is actually correct until the crisis plays itself out. This means complacency is not an option. It also means that political action to protect our institutions must do just that: we cannot destroy them to save them.

Jonathan Rauch makes this point well in The Atlantic:

The 45th president, Donald Trump, might pose the gravest threat to the constitutional order since the 37th. Of course, he might not. Perhaps we’ll get Grown-up Trump, an unorthodox and controversial president who, whatever one may think of his policies and personality, proves to be responsible and effective as a chief executive. But we might get Infantile Trump, an undisciplined narcissist who throws tantrums and governs haphazardly. Or perhaps, worse yet, we’ll get Strongman Trump, who turns out to have been telegraphing his real intentions when, during the campaign, he spread innuendo and misinformation, winked at political violence, and proposed multiple violations of the Constitution and basic decency. Quite probably we’ll get some combination of all three (and possibly others).

If we get Strongman Trump or Infantile Trump, how would we protect our democratic institutions and norms? “Don’t be complacent,” warns Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who was the founding director of the Nixon presidential library. “Don’t assume the system is so strong that a bad president will be sent packing. We have someone now saying things that imply unconstitutional impulses. If he acts on those impulses, we’re going to be in the political struggle of our lifetimes.” Meeting that challenge, I think, hinges on whether civil society can mobilize to contain and channel Trump.

I worry that Grown-up Trump is a pundit’s hedge. A fantasy. More likely, if Trump “succeeds”—leads the GOP to conservatopia, wins himself a second term and the adulation he so craves, and lines his family’s pockets at the same time—it will be in spite of himself. And there’s no more “if” on the other possibilities. Calling the press the “enemy of the American People” is not idle chatter: it’s a political act. And it’s an authoritarian one.

Refugees Flee the United States for Canada REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Refugees Flee the United States for Canada

 

Top image by Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caption This and This and This

[ 72 ] February 17, 2017 |

Today in incomprehensibly bad right-wing cartooning…

One comedian quipped:

But, this is so hilariously bad–why should he have all the fun? Can you top his caption?

Meanwhile, I’m not sure this calls for captioning so much as mind-erasure because I sure wish I could forget how deeply offensive it is.

 

In GOOD cartooning news, here’s a twitter account that takes Trump’s actual quotes and puts them in the mouth of President Supervillian. The results are pretty awesome.

Happy Friday, everybody.

UPDATE: OMG, THIS GUY.

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