Friday Reads: Living under a Mean Spirit

Good Afternoon!

We live in a country where Mean Spiritedness is now rewarded, held up, elected, and on display.  We’ve all known coarse, crude, uncouth people. Never have so many of them held public office. They are full of pride about what they consider their Christianity, their whiteness. their lack of manners, and their obvious failure to learn anything about the world, culture, and science around them.

One of our major parties is now not only one of greed but of meanness and stupidity. Kremlin Caligula represents that ethos in spades. I’ve always voted independently no matter which party had its name on my voter registration. I cannot imagine ever voting for another Republican in my lifetime because any cog in that wheel is a cog in a wheel that rolls over our humanity.

I’ve chosen to decorate my post today with Hopi Kachina Clowns or Koshare . The Koshare depict unacceptable behavior and teach values in the lore of Pueblo culture.  We could use a few good Koshare wandering around the halls of Congress and the grounds of the White House.

A rich white man who body slammed a Jewish Journalist for asking him a question is now head to the House of Representatives and was placed there by the mean spirits of Montana. He won a mostly narrow victory given the unbearable redness of Montana, but it was a victory nonetheless. This is horrifying. The usual suspects in the right wing press and in congress are blaming the victim and presenting the bully as some kind of hero.  I am appalled. The following words are from from Brian Beutler writing for The Republic.

Republican Greg Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist in a special election Thursday for Montana’s lone congressional seat, a six-point victory that should horrify you because he won with the full support of the GOP after body-slamming and punching an American reporter—and many of our political institutions, especially the media, are too paralyzed to impose a meaningful consequence on him or his enablers.

Gianforte, a true coward, didn’t admit any wrongdoing until his victory speech, at which point the risks of playacting decency pertained to his criminal case—the police have charged him with assault—rather than the election. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte said. “That’s the Montana way.” I suspect some Montanans would object to the notion that you only apologize once it’s politically safe to do so.

For it was already beyond dispute on Wednesday night, thanks to audio of the attackand a witness account from a Fox News reporter, that Gianforte had attacked the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs. That’s when the process of public accountability began. In a healthier political culture, the condemnation would have been nearly unanimous, and the context of the incident would not have been a matter of controversy. What we witnessed instead was a political media—confronted with a one-sided assault on its most basic freedom—rendered by its own constructs largely incapable of identifying the threat with any precision.

Before he became president of the United States, Donald Trump toured the country encouraging violence against protesters and whipping up animosity toward the press. Earlier this month, Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, sicced police on a reporter who was trying to ask him a question in the West Virginia state capitol on account of the fact that he didn’t recognize the reporter as an attendee of a press conference, then praised the police for their diligence. Last week, the FCC’s security detail manhandled a tech reporter at the National Press Club.

Republicans know in theory how to get their hackles up over political violence directed at reporters, because in January 2010, when an aide to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley pushed a conservative reporter (then helped him up, and apologized for his behavior) Republicans tried to end his career in public service.

Their tacit acceptance of a culture of antagonism and violence directed at the press suggests at least that the party’s values have changed.

The win wasn’t as imposing as it could’ve been.  This is the one bit of goodness.  It also may have been mostly locked in by early and mail in voting.  However, the state of Montana is sending a man who just was charged with assault and the assault was on a reporter doing his job. This is not how it’s supposed to work in a democracy.  This is from Matt Yglesias writing for Vox.

Greg Gianforte’s 7 percentage point win in the Montana special election keeps a seat in Republican hands but fundamentally represents bad news for the GOP. The basic issue, as David Wasserman breaks down for the Cook Political Report, is that for prognostication purposes you don’t only want to know who wins or loses a special election — you want to know the margin.

 Montana is considerably redder than the average congressional district. According to Wasserman’s calculations, in an election where Democrats got 50 percent of the two-party vote nationwide, you’d expect them to get just 39 percent in Montana. Quist scored 44 percent, and with the Libertarian pulling in 6 percent, his share of the two-party vote is more like 46.

Things aren’t as simple as saying that Rob Quist outperformed the 39 percent benchmark and therefore Democrats are on track to win — geography means Republicans can hold their majority with less than 50 percent of the vote. But the GOP underperformed badly in Montana, after a similar underperformance in the special election for Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District.

There are 120 Republican-held House seats that are more GOP-friendly than Montana’s at-large district. If Republicans are winning in places like Montana by just 7 percentage points, then they are in extreme peril of losing their House majority in November 2018.

Republican leaders have taken their party on a risky course, and they ought to strongly consider turning the ship around.

b1342f80e689b237b2b1077e22c72da3The Guardian–home of the assaulted Reporter Ben Jacobs–calls the new Congressman a ‘fresh liability’ for the equally mean spirited Paul Ryan.  I can’t imagine them doing anything given what kids of crooks they’ve got wandering the White House. They only care about delivering tax cuts and ending everything but the military.

As it is, the party will now have to decide whether to embrace, accommodate or ostracise a man who made himself the personification of Trump’s media-baiting, violence-inciting campaign rhetoric. The legal saga will put a dark cloud over him and his movements on Capitol Hill are likely to receive outsized and negative coverage. In short, he is a liability adding to Ryan’s already considerable burden.

“This is going to be another of those moral tests for the Republican party,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative author and commentator. “It should be an easy one for them to say there is no place for violence against reporters.”

In normal politics, Skyes added, the incident would have been universally condemned. But, since the ascent of Trump, the compass has moved. “It’s hard to overstate the cynicism we’ve seen from Republicans in Washington who will stop at nothing when votes are involved. How far down the road are Republicanswilling to go?”

On Thursday, Ryan said that what occurred was “wrong and should not happen”and Gianforte should apologise. But he stopped short of calling for Gianforte to quit the race. The questions will keep coming, however, when Gianforte takes his seat in the House.

Meanwhile, Kremlin Caligula displayed bad form when pushing his way to the front of the NATO summit. He shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro to get to the head of the pack like a grade school bully.

Video of the incident spread on social networks in multiple languages.

“It seems Donald Trump did not want that anyone overshadows his presence at the summit,” said the Montenegro newspaper Vijesti.

Other Balkan websites ran headlines such as “America First” and “Where do you think you are going?”

Markovic himself, however, shrugged off the slight.

“It didn’t really register. I just saw reactions about it on social networks. It is simply a harmless situation,” he told reporters after the summit.

Instead of being insulted, he took the opportunity to thank Trump for supporting Montenegro’s membership in NATO. The small former Yugoslav republic is slated to become NATO’s 29th member next month.

His speech elicited laughs, eyerolls, and mumbles.  WAPO labels Trump’s behavior a national embarrassment.  The uncouth idiot from Queens has done us no favors with our friends while spilling beyond top secret information to international Thugs and Bullies.

After Trump called NATO obsolete (then proceeded to walk that back), Europe was looking for public support of Article 5, which affirms that NATO members will come to the mutual defense of any member that is under attack. But alas, Trump could not even bring himself to utter explicitly that the U.S. supports Article 5 in his remarks at Brussels, which every single U.S. president has done since Harry Truman in 1949. If NATO allies were nervous about the United States’ commitment to Europe’s security before, they must be fuming now. The NATO summit comes as reports surface that British police are withholding intelligence from the United States after leaks to U.S. media about the Manchester bombing investigation, and weeks after Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russiansabout operations against the Islamic State. For all of Trump’s fire and fury about the United States getting the raw end of the deal from NATO, from an optics standpoint, it is the United States that is looking like the irresponsible partner.

Perhaps in Trump’s eyes, the Saudis threw a much better shindig — spending $68 million to host Trump. Well, really, it was a $110 billion dollar fete, considering the price tag for the historic weapons deal that the United States signed with Saudi Arabia. Trump appeared to be much more friendly and relaxed among Saudi Arabian and other Gulf leaders than with our European allies. Obviously, Trump was bedazzled by the kingdom’s hospitality, but none of the Saudi opulence and money can whitewash Saudi Arabia’s terrible record of fueling Wahhabi terrorism, carrying out record numbers of public beheadings, contributing to famine in Yemen, and withholding many basic rights for Saudi women and girls. Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in British history,  Trump is visibly more comfortable praising autocrats and extremist governments who help to fuel violence and conflict. That should be a slap in the face to our liberal allies in Europe.

The US Ambassador to the UN under George W Bush–as were many former ambassadors–were horrified by the speech and behavior.

President Donald Trump‘s first trip to a NATO summit Thursday did not sit well with former ambassadors to the alliance.

“I do think Trump’s visit to NATO was the least effective of any American president since 1949,” Nicholas Burns, who served as ambassador to the 28-member defense alliance under President George W. Bush, tweeted Friday. NATO came into existence in 1949.

In Brussels, Trump admonished members of the alliance for not paying their “fair share” for defense. The president failed to publicly endorse “Article 5,” the NATO mutual assistance clause that he was widely expected to back publicly for the first time.

Donald Rumsfeld thought the entire speech was just terrific which speaks volumes to any one with extensive knowledge of his history and your basic war criminal.  Former Speaker John Boehner called him a “disaster”. But it was today’s  Hillary Clinton who gave good shade to President Swiss Cheese for Brains in ways that only she could do.  She gave her Alma Mater Wellesley’s commencement Address.  You may watch the full address below.

She was talking to the graduates about their future. But she was focused just as much on her own past, and the hardest, fullest case against Trump she’s made since last November.

“In the years to come, there will be trolls galore, online and in person,” she said, urging the graduates not to let themselves get beaten down. “They may even call you ‘a nasty woman.'”

Back when she was getting her diploma in 1969, Clinton said, “we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice,” pausing to soak up the cheers and applause from a crowd who knew exactly what she was talking about, and approved.

Just in case anyone missed the point, she leaned in a little further, reminding students and attendees of the private women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts that Richard Nixon had gone down “after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.”

“But here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time, and once again we began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans,” Clinton said.

Clinton has been struggling non-stop over the last six months with her loss, but she’s also been struggling with her public role. People close to her, many of whom share her insistence that a race she ran well was stolen out from under her by Russian involvement and by a surprise October letter from that same now-fired FBI director, are frustrated that she hasn’t been more in demand for a central role in the Trump resistance.

 

My most favorite headline today comes from The Dallas News:  ‘Trump’s budget shows his top priority is refusing to deal with reality’ written by Kevin Williamson.

President Donald Trump has produced a very silly budget proposal. Thankfully, presidential budget proposals have all the effect of a mouse passing gas in a hurricane — Congress, not the president, actually appropriates funds and writes the tax code.Presidential budget proposals are not received as actual fiscal blueprints but as statements of priorities, and so we must conclude that Trump’s top priority is refusing to deal with reality.

Here’s the situation: About 80 percent of federal spending is consumed by five things: 1. National defense; 2. Social Security; 3. Medicare; 4. Medicaid and other related health-care benefits; 5. Interest on the debt. Trump wants to increase spending on defense by about 10 percent while shielding Social Security and Medicare from cuts. Short of a default, he doesn’t have any choice but to pay the interest on the debt. So that leaves things pretty tight.

On top of that, he wants to pass what he boasts is one of the largest tax cuts in history. And balance the budget. Naturally, the White House budget monkeys are messing with the numbers a little bit. It’s the return of the Naïve Supply-Sider.

Williamson does a great job explaining what us economists have found out and think about that. This is good because I get very tired of having to give and write that explanation many times a year.  Let me also tell you that this guy writes for The National Review so Republicans don’t have to get their prunes from me or any other person that generally votes democratic.

The problem with this simplistic analysis is that it credits 100 percent of economic growth to tax cuts, when in fact economic growth is the result of many factors. The U.S. economy has experienced periods of strong growth with much higher tax rates, as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. The meaningful comparison is not between what tax revenue was before the tax cuts and what it was after the tax cuts, but between what it was after the tax cuts and what it would have been without the cuts. Which, unfortunately, is a counterfactual.

Economists who have looked at the issue have found evidence of growth effects and sometimes evidence of very strong growth effects. What they have not found is evidence of growth effects amounting to 100 percent of forgone revenue, i.e. the holy grail of “self-financing tax cuts.” The Trump budget proposal includes tax cuts that not only are self-financing but doubly self-financing. These tax cuts would, if we are to take him at his word (and that is impossible to do) not only pay for themselves but generate enough new revenue to balance the budget 10 years down the road.

You can bet that free lunch will turn out to be expensive.

Koshare_kachina_19th_centMy big problem is the use of that word ‘free lunch’.  The folks that really need food won’t get it.  The ‘free lunch’ will go to the rest of the Caligulas resident in our country.  So, there’s the greed and the stupidity and the mean rolled up in one huge gesture.  Meanwhile, the FBI is now very out front that it’s going after Jared Kushner.  I’ll give this last bit to Charles Pierce of Esquire infamy.

In their infinite wisdom, enough of the American people got together and decided to put a manifestly unqualified and manifestly unfit New York real estate sub-tycoon in charge of the executive branch of the national government. He has proceeded to do business there in the same shadowy fashion in which he’s done business everywhere else. He’s kept everything within the family, even if the family members are no more qualified to do the work than he is. Either he never knew that you can’t run a democratic republic that way, or he didn’t care. Either everything is a surprise to this crowd, or they think that the institutions of government are just another great, fertile field of grift to be plundered.

In any case, at the end of the day, it’s all going to be about money. Jared Kushner is just the most recent clue in a completely bogus treasure map.

So, follow the money and send in the clowns. The oldies are still the goodies.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?