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Reflections on the Current Crisis

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In the wee hours of the night, I tweeted out my despair at the current crisis of the Republic. My immediate impetus was a terrific series of tweets by Jasmin Mujanović.

Here, I want to consolidate a few thoughts about some of the deep problems that have gotten us into this state of affairs: the occupation of the Oval Office by Donald Trump, an authoritarian kleptocrat. These are non-exhaustive, but I think not always adequately appreciated.

The first is what Julia Azari calls “weak parties and strong partisanship.”

Strong partisanship with weak parties makes for a couple of fairly serious problems for a democracy. The destabilization of institutions, for one. It’s hard for institutions — elected ones like Congress, the presidency, or state governments — to have legitimacy when partisan motives are constantly suspect. This is also true for other kinds of institutions, like courts and, as we’ve seen most recently, law enforcement agencies like the FBI. Citizens view much of what these institutions do through a partisan lens.

Suspicion of institutions doesn’t just undermine courts or Congress — it also undermines party politics as a whole. Party politics is really important for democracy; most political scientists still share E.E. Schattschneider’s observation that democracy is “unthinkable” without parties to do the work of campaigning, to organize stable coalitions, and to help citizens make sense of political choices.

For now, the problem is far more acute for the Republicans than the Democrats. Whatever one thinks of the ideology of the modern GOP, it generally served its most important institutional function at the presidential level: it prevented the nomination of charlatans and nut jobs. With hindsight, we can see its ability to do so begin to atrophy after the 2008 election when we look at the nomination of, for example, Christine O’Donnell in for Delaware Senate. But, at the time, this looked more like the flukes that regularly occur at the state level.

The 2012 presidential nominating process, however, now appears something of a canary in the coal mine. We saw a succession of “bubble candidates,” including Bachman and Cain, who were manifestly unsuited for the Presidency. But Romney prevailed, giving the impression that the party could still effectively screen out the lunatics. Romney’s loss in the general—particularly given unwarranted expectations, fanned by conservative media, that Obama was a weak candidate—almost certainly twisted the knife into the ability of GOP institutional mechanisms to manage its base. Once again, The Onion proved prescient.

As Azari discusses, the weakening of political parties is a long-term phenomenon, with a number of structural causes. But I do not think we should underestimate the role of the Bush Administration in setting in motion the conditions that led us to Trump. Given the current ascendency of the GOP at the national and state level, it is sometimes hard to remember how much the Bush Administration—through the Iraq War, Katrina, and its handling of economic policy—destroyed the Republican brand. By Obama November of 2008, 26% of Americans identified as Republicans. Even including leaners—the more important number—the GOP was in terrible shape.

At this point, GOP congressional leaders made a pivotal decision for how to rebuild.

During a lengthy discussion, the senior GOP members worked out a plan to repeatedly block Obama over the coming four years to try to ensure he would not be re-elected.

Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were former House Speaker and future – and failed – presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organised the dinner and sent out the invitations. [….]

The dinner table was set in a square at Luntz’s request so everyone could see one another and talk freely. The session lasted four hours and by the end the sombre mood had lifted: they had conceived a plan. They would take back the House in November 2010, which they did, and use it as a spear to mortally wound Obama in 2011 and take back the Senate and White House in 2012, Draper writes.

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”

The complete embrace of tactics honed by Gingrich, first in the 1994 elections, and then during the Clinton presidency, required synergizing the messaging of the Republican party with the more extreme impulses of right-wing media. It received a major assist from the rise of the Tea Party, which reconstituted much of the core Republican coalition under a new label—but in the form of a movement outside of, and already antagonistic to, GOP institutions.

This story is familiar to LGM readers, so I won’t dwell too much more on it. The key point is that the Republican party mounted a scorched-earth campaign geared toward delegitimating not only Obama and the Democrats, but the entire system of governance. In doing so, it stretched and broke many of the procedural norms that undergird American formal institutions. Nonetheless, we should still reflect on how extraordinarily dangerous, and irresponsible, this decision was given the state of the country and of the world. We were in the midst of the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, fighting failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and engaged in a worldwide counter-terrorism campaign. The overhang of these problems still persist today.

Second, I also think we sometimes neglect the broader effects of the Iraq War. As Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry open their new article in Survival, “The 2003 Iraq War was one of the great disasters in the history of American foreign policy.” Sold under false pretenses, badly designed and implemented, and rolled into a Republican wedge strategy built around weaponizing 9/11 for partisan gain, the Iraq War was an unmitigated disaster in blood and treasure. The United States has spent, by some estimates, $2 trillion to, in effect, destabilize the Middle East, as well as to undermine American military power in real and perceived terms. It aided and abetted the militarization of local police departments.

The Iraq War also dealt an enormous blow to American political institutions. It damaged prominent Democrats. If Clinton had not voted for the Iraq War, she would have been elected president in 2008. I’ve already mentioned its effects on the GOP. It’s no accident that Trump points to the Iraq War when attempting to discredit the intelligence community, or that most Republican voters are indifferent to the nearly uniform condemnation of Trump by the Republican foreign-policy establishment.

Thomas Oatley argues that the decision by the Bush Administration to finance the Iraq War through borrowing, rather than raising taxes, lies at the heart of the Great Recession. At the least, it likely structured global financial flows in a way that made the world economy particularly vulnerable to the effects of the subprime crisis. It, along with the direct effects of Bush’s tax cuts, saddled the United States with enormous debt heading into the Great Recession.

This brings me to the third point: American political economy. Starting under Reagan, the United States has run pro-cyclical budget deficits. In the process, its accumulated a huge amount of debt. This has not only hamstrung progressive policies—the “starve the beast” strategy—but its had widespread effects on American political economy. Servicing this debt depends on low interest rates, low interest rates encourage private-sector borrowing and help fuel the growth of the financial sector.* That’s not a problem, per se, in the presence of robust regulation of the financial sector. But, that’s been sorely lacking. Dodd-Frank was a step in the right direction, but even its gains look precarious. This contributes to boom-and-bust cycles, and it is part of an overall story about the financialization of the American economy and the rise of the credit economy.

The combination of low taxes, lax financial regulation, and the erosion of government policies aimed at combatting inequality through transfers, has been a toxic stew. The rise in college tuition paid for by accumulating student debt provides an examples of one of the relevant dynamics. Cuts to support for higher education drive up tuition. The policy instrument used to address the rising costs? Encourage the financial sector to provide loans.The shift to financing through personal debt allows colleges and universities to raise tuition. Rinse and repeat.

More generally, people making middling incomes—and higher—compensate for wage stagnation by taking out easily available debt. This reduces labor mobility and bargaining power, because the ‘cost’ of missing a loan payment can be catastrophic—people making otherwise decent wages can no longer afford to go for periods without a paycheck. Those who don’t make enough to qualify for relatively cheap credit are forced into usurious ‘payday loan’ schemes.

All of this is part of an enormous shift of risk onto ordinary Americans. Instead of defined-pension plans, we have taxpayer subsidized individual retirement schemes. These inject money into the financial sector, while the reduction of the number of large institutional investors managing pension programs reduces effective oversight. Lax regulation has itself turned the financial sector into a monster, devising new instruments to, in effect, extract rents. None of this is necessary for the sector to perform its core productive economic functions of underwriting investment. It not only helps drive boom-and-bust cycles, but also drags down overall economic growth. Risk for large financial institutions are socialized—hence “too big to fail”—but the stew of economic policy makes individuals particularly vulnerable.

All of this creates a vicious pattern. As the economic clout of the financial industry grows, so does its political clout. The analogy here is with the entrenchment of trade liberalization. This can produce a political cycle where those pro-liberalization sectors become do better, become wealthier, and hence more powerful. The reverse happens in industries that benefit from protectionism. That does not mean that the cycle can’t be broken, but it affects the playing field.

My hardly original contention is not just that Bernie is right in his general diagnoses—we need robust social democratic policies. It is also that economic anxiety, loss of faith in governance as something that serves ordinary people, and other conditions that render democracies vulnerable to soft-authoritarianism, are quite possibly rooted in the configuration of low taxes and financialization that Obama only managed to dent. Trade is something of a scapegoat, because with a different political economy we could capture more of the surpluses generated by open trade and reinvest them.

What does this all mean? It means that the crisis of American institutions is grave indeed. It’s been here for some time, and it came to an immediate head with the election of a demagogue. Trump is weaponizing partisanship—and the underlying loss of faith in democratic institutions—in the service of his narrow interests: status, wealth, and, it seems increasingly clear, avoiding criminal and civil culpability for his business practices. I say “weaponizing” because the right-wing feedback loop ensures that each norm he breaks and each line his crosses is instantly rendered legitimate to 30-40% of the American electorate. It becomes evidence that he’s a fighter, that he doesn’t pull his punches, that the establishment is out to get him. The GOP, whose interest in voter disenfranchisement as a partisan power play dates way back, is, as Damon Linker notes, at risk of going full authoritarian.

I don’t know how this ends. The structural conditions—which extend far beyond political economy—are deeply embedded. While it should be clear that my policy sympathies, at least on economics, broadly align with the democratic left, it seems like we’re doomed to repeat the time-honored pathology of ripping the anti-Trump coalition apart over policy disagreements. Meanwhile, the Democratic position bears some eery resemblances to the GOP after 2008. The Republicans are dominant. While the primaries were in no way “rigged” in the way that the far left and RT assert, the party did take steps to ‘clear the field’ for Clinton. As a result of these, and other missteps, the party is at risk of becoming similarly unmoored from its base.

It’s also not clear where even a Democratic sweep leads. How do we rebuild norms? If we leave Republican violations ‘unpunished,’ those norms are gone. But if we retaliate, we risk making the crisis worse. The treatment of Garland provides a nice illustration. With the Court profoundly politicized, the only norm we had was that the President got to appoint—and the Senate consider—nominees in the event of a vacancy. McConnell ripped that up. The only way recourse would be to pack the Court. But that’s extremely risky—not only in terms of the politics, but in terms of the downstream institutional implications for judicial independence.

Thus, we have multiple pathways forward, none of them look good. For example:

  • Tump stays on, doing enormous damage. In the worst-case scenario, he combines the powers of the Presidency with his soft-authoritarian dispositions to destroy opponents in civil society and the anchors of professionalism in the civil service. This enables him to secure a second term, and in doing so completely transforms the GOP.
  • Congressional Republicans finally move to impeach him. This could itself provoke a devastating political crisis as Trump deploys every tool in this arsenal to protect himself. Democrats may relish a Republican civil war, but we could be looking at civil violence and domestic terrorism not seen in some time. If the GOP base stays with Trump, the remnants of the democratically-minded GOP could be swept away. And recall that Trump isn’t going to go quietly into the night even if removed from office.
  • Trump’s incompetence and institutional restraints work well enough that Democrats retake the Congress. If they move to impeach, it could be the first scenario but with the GOP rallying around Trump. Game that one out yourselves.
  • Democrats recapture the legislative and executive branches by 2020. That opens up the problem I raised earlier. How do we put things back together again? Can we?

I fear we need a new institutional compact, as we saw after the Civil War or after the Great Depression. How do we get such a compact in today’s political conditions?

All of this assumes that the Democrats don’t themselves succumb. One advantage we have: the partisan politics of opposing Trump position the party on the small-d democratic side when it comes to the struggle over the institutions of the Republic. And what if another collapse hits? Our institutions are already failing in the wake of the Great Recession.

In the short term, though, Trumpism must be defeated. It must be discredited. But on its own terms. This is a fight, first and foremost, to preserve the core of democratic institutions, not to destroy them.

[Shout outs to Paul Musgrave and Andreas Kern for discussions on these issues; image from the Fallout Wiki, intended as metaphor]

*As Yestobesure points out in comments, this reads an awful lot like a causal claim. I do not mean to imply that deficits lower rates, but was thinking about the degree that the political economy of debt and credit depends on low rates. This was a long post, composed with too great rapidity, and I’m sure there are other places where it doesn’t really hold together. However, there’s an interesting dynamic here associated with the US floating lots of debt and the willingness of overseas governments and investors to purchase it.


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The Seventeenth Amendment

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The conservative dream of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment will not go away. The idea that the people could have the direct election of senators seems utterly uncontroversial to 99.9 percent of Americans. But not to the people who want to strip tens of millions of health care, among many other things. For them, their ability to control state legislatures would guarantee a permanent Republican majority and truly install the New Gilded Age.

Say “hello” to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the corporate-funded project to impose a top-down right-wing agenda on the states. ALEC is considering whether to adopt a new piece of “model legislation” that proposes to do away with an elected Senate.

The idea of reversing 104 years of representative democracy and returning to the bad old days when senators were chosen via backroom deals between wealthy campaign donors, corporate lobbyists, and crooked legislators, is not new. The John Birch Society peddled the proposal decades ago. But with the rise of the “Tea Party” movement, the notion moved into the conservative mainstream.

Then–Texas Governor Rick Perry argued in 2012 that the direct election of senators “took the states out of the process.” Several Republican senators apparently agree, with Utah Senator Mike Lee referring to the 17th Amendment as “a mistake” and Arizona Senator Jeff Flake saying, “I think it’s better as it reinforces the notion of federalism to have senators appointed by state legislatures.” What was once a fringe fantasy is being taken ever more seriously by conservative strategists.

Last year, ALEC published an article by a so-called “subject matter expert” arguing that the popular election of senators is “disenfranchising the States.” The article made an old-school states’ rights argument for taking the power to choose senators away from the people and giving it to the politicians who sit in state legislatures.

ALEC has yet to formally embrace the theory, but last month it circulated a “draft resolution recommending constitutional amendment restoring election of u.s. senators to the legislatures of the sovereign states.” That resolution is among the items expected to be considered at this week’s annual meeting of the influential group.

It’s unlikely this would happen, simply because of the difficulty of getting a constitutional amendment ratified. ALEC controls a lot of states, but it doesn’t control 38 states to the extent of repealing one of the nation’s core political reforms. If this happens, so many democratic norms have been rolled back that we are barely recognizable. On the other hand, it is 2017 so all manners of horrors are on the table. And to be clear, the idea of a plutocrat paying cash to state legislators for a Senate seat is the ALEC ideal, not a problem.


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If You Make an Authoritarian President, He Will Behave Like an Authoritarian

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This is what happens when a country decides to make its president an arrogant, nepotistic authoritarian with contempt for the rule of law: He shreds every last vestige of functional democratic systems if anyone tries to hold him or his family accountable for their corruption.

Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman, and Tom Hamburger at the Washington Post: Trump Team Seeks to Control, Block Mueller's Russia Investigation.
Some of [Donald] Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members. and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves.

One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller's investigation.
The President of the United States has "simply expressed a curiosity" about whether he can pardon himself and his children, whom he inappropriately elevated to key roles in his campaign and/or administration, because they have definitely broken laws and thus may need to be pardoned if the Special Counsel, who was appointed because that president's Attorney General is also a corrupt liar, finds out about their lawbreaking in the course of his investigation, which just expanded to include said president's personal business dealings.

You know. Normal stuff.
Other advisers said the president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller's probe could reach into his and his family's finances.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.
There are a number of reasons Trump is "disturbed" at the thought of his tax returns being scrutinized, from the possibility of embarrassment if they reveal Trump is nowhere as wealthy as he has claimed, which is pathetic but relatively harmless, to the possibility of being exposed as having had business dealings with Russia (or individual Russians), despite having repeatedly claimed he does not, which could be a bigger problem, given the raison d'être of Mueller's probe.

There's some reason, after all, that Trump defiantly refused to disclose his tax returns, in breach of common practice, during the presidential election. He has stubbornly resisted financial transparency, and Mueller's scrutiny is certain to reveal precisely why.

So naturally Trump's legal team is going on the offense, trying to discredit Mueller as being compromised by conflicts of interest and accusing him of violating the limited scope of his investigation.
"The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel's office and any changes in the scope of the investigation," [one of Trump's attorneys, Jay] Sekulow said. "The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there's drifting, we're going to object."

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump's business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.

"They're talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago," Sekulow said. "In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation."
Except it's not outside the scope of a legitimate investigation — because that Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, purchased the estate from Trump for two-and-a-half times what Trump paid for it two years earlier, which looks exactly like what happens in real estate money laundering schemes.

That doesn't mean it was a money laundering transaction, but it looks enough like it could be that it warrants investigation, especially given that Mueller is investigating collusion and thus must examine any potential evidence of quid pro quo.

Recall what Trump just said on the investigation to the New York Times: "By the way, I would say, I don't — I don't — I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don't make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don't have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don't. They said I made money from Russia. I don't. It's not my thing. I don't, I don't do that. Over the years, I've looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk]."

Being that Trump is known to be a profligate liar, who tells "big lies, needless lies, above all else unrelenting lies," it's just as likely and maybe more so that those words were actually another confession, masquerading as another denial.

Mueller has every reason to investigate Trump, his family, and his associates, in excruciating detail. And the fact that he does is precisely why Trump is "curious" about the means he has to stop him.
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O.J. Simpson: “I’ve Spent a Conflict-Free Life”

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Those were just a few of the words that came out of the mouth of Orenthal James Simpson at his parole hearing yesterday, after which, as you know by now, the parole board decided he should be released. It almost certainly made that decision because, frankly, nine years is a pretty long time to serve for that Las Vegas nonsense of which he was convicted.

Of course, it would be a ridiculously short time to serve for committing a double murder, had he done anything like that, which officially and as a matter of law he did not. And that technically being the case, the parole board could not take those non-crimes into account when deciding on his request for parole. It voted unanimously to release him, which could happen as early as October 1.

One who thought Simpson had whacked two people could be forgiven for thinking so. Although he was acquitted of the alleged homicides, a different jury found him liable in the civil case brought by the families of his alleged victims. Indeed, Simpson himself set forth a pretty convincing theory of how it might have happened, if he had done it, in a book entitled “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.” (That was one of the rare events for which I have felt the need to say “I’m not making that up,” and I will say it again now.) “I have never seen so much blood in my life,” Simpson wrote in that book, speaking hypothetically, of course.

It is there, somewhere

The book was later published, but only after the Goldman family won the rights to it, and they published it under the just slightly different title, “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer,” the “if” being virtually invisible.

But again, officially, technically, and as a matter of law, he did not do it. And that was certainly the position he took during his parole hearing, at least implicitly. For example, the phrase “I’ve spent a conflict-free life” is not something a person could honestly say if he had, in fact, taken a knife and killed two people with it. That person conceivably might think to himself, “well, they didn’t have a chance to fight back, so is that really a ‘conflict’?” And that wouldn’t be totally unreasonable, because (according to the OED) “conflict” means “an encounter with arms; a fight, battle … esp. a prolonged struggle,” which implies that both sides participated. But—again, assuming he had done it—this couldn’t be consistent with the actual facts, because not even a once-great athlete could kill two people at once with a knife. No, I think we have to assume that O.J.’s position remains that he did not do those crimes at all.

Although the full quote is worth raising at least one eyebrow at:

I’ve always thought I’d been pretty good with people and I basically have spent a conflict-free life. You know? I’m not a guy that ever got in a fight on the street and with the public and everybody….

Hm. Those are unusual qualifiers for somebody who’s never been in a conflict at all. Not “on the street and with the public and everybody,” but … what? It almost seems to suggest he got in least one fight under other circumstances at some point. But he didn’t finish his sentence, so I guess we’ll never know.

Also arguably inconsistent with the no-conflicts view is O.J.’s statement that among the courses he’s taken in prison is a two-part course called “Alternative to Violence.” “I think it’s the most important course anybody in this prison can take,” he told the board, “because it teaches you how to deal with conflict through conversation.” I don’t know about that—if you’ve made it to the age of 70 with no conflicts to speak of, why would that be important? I haven’t seen the syllabus, though, so maybe it’s more about defusing conflicts started by others, as opposed to not murdering people yourself.

Other comments O.J. made during the hearing are more consistent with the view that his life has been “basically” conflict-free, like “I would never, ever pull a weapon, ever pull a weapon on anybody,” and “I’m a pretty straight shooter,” which is maybe not the most carefully chosen phrase, but you get his meaning.

The comment, “I’ve spent nine years making no excuses about anything,” however, is only consistent with his not telling the truth.

What’s next for O.J. Simpson? Well, “[h]e is a deeply delusional and self-obsessed narcissist, and, you know, good luck to America once he’s out,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. So, politics! He’ll most likely be a Florida resident in 2018, which makes that an even easier call.

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The Republican War on the Poor: Environmental Injustice Edition

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While we are rightfully focusing on the health care front, the GOP war on the poor has many facets. One of them is ensuring a maximum exposure to toxicity by rolling back regulations set up over the last half-century to protect the poor. These were never implemented to the level they should have been, and the poor are routinely exposed at rates far higher than wealthier people. But at least they have some protections. Or had anyway.

The new administration has mounted a swift and concerted attack on the federal capacity and duty to research, monitor, and regulate harmful pollutants that disproportionately affect women, children, low-income communities, and communities of color. Two examples demonstrate the potential consequences: overturning the ban on chlorpyrifos, and a variety of actions that reduce collection of and public access to the data on which environmental justice claims depend.

Chlorpyrifos is a commonly used pesticide. EPA scientists found a link between neurological disorders, memory decline and learning disabilities in children exposed to chlorpyrifos through diet, and recommended in 2015 that the pesticide be banned from agricultural use because of the risks it posed to children’s developing brains.

Over 73% of farmworkers in the U.S. work with vegetables, fruits and nuts, and other specialty crops on which chlorpyrifos is often used. These agricultural workers are predominantly immigrants from Mexico and Central America, living under the poverty line and in close proximity to the fields they tend. A series of studies in the 1990s and 2000s found that concentrations of chlorpyrifos were elevated in agricultural workers’ homes more than ¼ mile from farmland, and chlorpyrifos residues were detected on work boots and hands of many agricultural worker families but not on nearby non-agricultural families.

In March 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt publicly rejected the scientific findings from his agency’s own scientists and overturned the chlorpyrifos ban, demonstrating the Trump administration’s disregard for the wellbeing of immigrant and minority populations. Farmworker families could be impacted for generations through exposure to these and other harmful pesticides.

Here’s the second:

Workers, especially those laboring in facilities that refine, store or manufacture with toxic chemicals, bear inequitable risk. The Trump administration has sought to curb requirements and publicity about workplace risks, injuries and deaths. For example, President Trump signed off on a congressional repeal of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which required applicants for governmental contracts to disclose violations of labor laws, including those protecting safety and health. Without the data provided by this rule, federal funds can now support companies with the worst worker rights and protection records. President Trump also approved the congressional repeal of a rule formalizing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) long-standing practice of requiring businesses to keep a minimum of five years of records on occupational injuries and accidents. While five years of record-keeping had illuminated persistent patterns of danger and pointed to more effective solutions, now only six months of records are required. This change makes it nearly impossible for OSHA to effectively identify ongoing workplace conditions that are unsafe or even life-threatening.

This is one of many issues where Trump is just signing whatever Republicans are putting on his desk or has named people who will further their agenda. There is nothing unique to the Trump administration here. Instead, this is total Republican attempt to repeal any and all workplace safety rules to take us back to the freedom to die of the Gilded Age. The repeal of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule has been approved by the House, although it was an Obama executive order.

The longer Republicans are in power, the more the poor will die.


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On Trump's Latest Interview with the NYT

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So, Donald Trump did another interview with the New York Times, extended excerpts from which [Content Note: video may autoplay at link] have been published for all of us to read and build core strength by repeatedly recoiling in horror.

The major pull item from the interview has been [CN: video may autoplay] Trump complaining about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation: "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else."

Yikes. Walter Schaub, who recently resigned as Director of the Office of Government Ethics, said bluntly: "That's an absolutely outrageous statement for the president to have made." Yup. And it was hardly the only outrageous statement he made regarding the Russia investigation: Trump "also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey's dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election," warning "investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia."

All of which constitutes just a small percentage of the alarming content of the far-ranging interview, during which he also referred once again to his "enemies" in the press and described his granddaughter (who just happened to stroll in during the interview to say "I love you, Grandpa" in Chinese) as having "good, smart genes."

Following are just a few other quotes which piqued my interest for various reasons (and, yes, all of these are real):

On healthcare.

"So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you're 21 years old, you start working and you're paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you're 70, you get a nice plan. Here's something where you walk up and say, 'I want my insurance.' It's a very tough deal, but it is something that we're doing a good job of."

"I want to either get it done or not get it done. If we don't get it done, we are going to watch Obamacare go down the tubes, and we'll blame the Democrats."

"This health care is a tough deal. I said it from the beginning. No. 1, you know, a lot of the papers were saying — actually, these guys couldn't believe it, how much I know about it. I know a lot about health care. [garbled]"

On his travels abroad.

"I have had the best reviews on foreign land. So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president."

"[French President Emmanuel Macron]'s a great guy. Smart. Strong. Loves holding my hand. People don't realize he loves holding my hand. And that's good, as far as that goes. I mean, really. He's a very good person. And a tough guy, but look, he has to be. I think he is going to be a terrific president of France. But he does love holding my hand."

"It was a two-hour parade. They had so many different zones. Maybe 100,000 different uniforms, different divisions, different bands. Then we had the retired, the older, the ones who were badly injured. The whole thing, it was an incredible thing."

"We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, 'cause they heard we were having dinner."


"Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: 'No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.' [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn't go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled] Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army. But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they've won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It's pretty amazing. So, we're having a good time. The economy is doing great."

On the economy.

"I've given the farmers back their farms. I've given the builders back their land to build houses and to build other things."

"Dodd-Frank is going to be, you know, modified, and again, I want rules and regulations. But you don't want to choke, right? People can't get loans to buy a pizza parlor."

On his undisclosed meeting with Putin at the G20.

"We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr.] had in that meeting. As I've said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, 'By the way, we have information on your opponent,' I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], 'Who wouldn't have taken a meeting like that?'"

On foreign policy.

"Crimea was gone during the Obama administration, and he gave, he allowed it to get away. You know, he can talk tough all he wants, in the meantime he talked tough to North Korea. And he didn't actually. He didn't talk tough to North Korea. You know, we have a big problem with North Korea. Big. Big, big. You look at all of the things, you look at the line in the sand. The red line in the sand in Syria. He didn't do the shot. I did the shot."

On Jeff Sessions' recusal.

"Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else. ...So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I can't, you know, I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair, and that's a mild word, to the president."

"Yeah, what Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, 'Why didn't you tell me this before?' I would have — then I said, 'Who's your deputy?' So his deputy he hardly knew, and that's Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he's from Baltimore."

On Bob Mueller's investigation.

"By the way, I would say, I don't — I don't — I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don't make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don't have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don't. They said I made money from Russia. I don't. It's not my thing. I don't, I don't do that. Over the years, I've looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk]."

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