On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson
December 14, 2017

Of all the numbers in the Alabama exit polls that should petrify Republicans, a few fairly jump out. A good deal of attention has been paid, and rightly so, to the level of African American turnout, which, at between 28 and 29 percent of the overall electorate, actually exceeded black turnout in 2012, when President Obama was on the ballot. If a comparable level of turnout can be approximated next year in Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s chances of re-election would rise significantly. And if Latino turnout follows the upward trajectory of minority participation we’ve seen in Alabama and Virginia, that would bode well for Democratic Senate pickups in Arizona and Nevada (which would enable Democrats to retake the Senate), and—who knows?—maybe even Texas, where Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who should have a lock on the Irish-Latino vote, is challenging Ted Cruz.

But the exit poll numbers that pose the real long-term peril to the GOP are those of the young. Among voters under 45, Doug Jones cleaned Roy Moore’s clock, winning 61 percent of young Alabamians. Cross-tabs from the election exit poll show that Jones got the vote of 41 percent of whites under the age of 30, and 28 percent of the vote of whites 30 and over.

In Ernst Lubitsch’s wonderful 1939 comedy Ninotchka, Greta Garbo, playing a Soviet commissar delivering a short report on the latest purge trials, announces, “There will be fewer but better Russians!” The Trump-Bannon plan for the Republican Party seems to be to ensure there will be fewer and steadily more repulsive Republicans. The flight of millennials from Republican ranks has now extended to Alabama whites (who should be the party’s staunchest redoubt). A Monmouth national poll released Wednesday afternoon showed Trump’s approval rating among women down to a mere 24 percent, while his disapproval had soared to 68 percent—numbers at once completely understandable and utterly breathtaking. The GOP looks to be winnowing down to a party of old white men who don’t much like anybody else. 

Finally, a word on Alabama. At the end of World War II, when the Pentagon pondered where to put Werner Von Braun and his German rocketeers, it decided that if there was anyplace in these United States that wouldn’t be upset by a sudden influx of actual Nazi scientists, it would be Alabama. Seventy years later, the state is still backward and benighted, but as Doug Jones said in his victory speech, it cast a vote for decency on Tuesday. It may take a while, but let’s hope it’s the first of many. 

Kuttner
December 13, 2017

The election of Doug Jones portends several hopeful things. First, it shows that under the right circumstances, 30 percent of white Alabamians will vote for a Democrat, even a pro-choice Democrat; and that black anger can be turned into black voter mobilization. We may have a biracial progressive coalition yet.

Second, it deepens the schisms in the Trump-era Republican Party. The defeat of Roy Moore made a fool of Steve Bannon, and forced Trump into one of his bizarre dances with the truth: He was against Moore before he was for him. Most obviously, the win gives Democrats one more crucial Senate seat.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This victory was a one-off, and everything had to break right for Jones. It took a GOP candidate not only as fringe as Moore, but one who is also an accused child molester; combined with Alabama’s other Republican senator, Richard Shelby, denouncing Moore almost on election eve and refusing to support him; and Mitch McConnell signaling that he'd refuse to seat Moore. And with all of that, Jones won by just 1.5 points—barely more than the margin of theft.

Even so, coming in the wake of the Democrats’ stunning blue wave on Election Day, this win continues the momentum, and the narrative of Democrats on the march and Republicans in disarray. As Trump becomes increasingly unhinged by a resurgence of sexual complaints against himself, combined with Special Counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump’s own obstruction of justice, it’s not a great time to be a Republican.

Most importantly, in a state that is one of the worst offenders when it comes to voter suppression, with a long history of denying voting rights to blacks, democracy held. Given all the threats of the Trump era, that is the best news of all.

Meyerson
December 12, 2017

Sometimes, when you’ve been in a fight for a long time, you pick up allies so unlikely that your initial response is, “What the hell are they doing here?”

So it is, apparently, with the foes of fracking, who’ve long been lobbying state and local governments, and sometimes the feds as well, to put a stop to this practice, which has extended humankind’s use of the fossil fuels that threaten the planet. Propelled by scientific data and moral urgency, these advocates have prevailed in a few regions—most notably, the state of New York—but have yet to seriously curtail this atmospherically destructive process. The Permian Basin in Texas, reports The Wall Street Journal, is overrun with 18-wheelers bringing in a steady stream of fracking equipment.

Indeed, too much fracking equipment, in the opinion not just of climate-change activists but a whole new posse of let’s-cut-back-on-the-frack activists: Wall Street investors in fossil fuels. Turns out, according to the same Journal story that recounted the traffic jams of the 18-wheelers, that representatives of 12 investment capital firms recently met in Manhattan, concerned that the glut of oil on the world market, very much including all that fracking-produced fluid, had driven down prices to the point that it was reducing their profits. In particular, since fracking is an expensive process, the shareholders in the 30 companies that fracked the most really weren’t making the money that they believed they were entitled to.

Hence, they’d gathered to see if, by dint of exercising their leverage as major shareholders, they could persuade the frackers to drill less; to focus only on the most high-yield, low-expense shale fields; to stop flooding the market with all that damned oil. Their hope, the Journal reported, was that “if shareholders could prod most [frackers] into focusing on profitable drilling, it might also have the side benefit of achieving what the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the global oil cartel, couldn’t accomplish—getting share companies to help shrink oil supplies and boost profits.”

It’s too early to know whether these investors will succeed—and they’re certainly not to be mistaken for foes of fracking per se, much less for friends of the earth. However, to the scientific data and moral agency that fracking’s opponents have brought to the battle, these investment companies have added a powerful new element: greed. We’ll see if that will turn, or ebb, the tide.

Kuttner
December 11, 2017

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” —William Faulkner

The past is alive and well in Alabama—the past of Roy Moore, who was removed twice as state chief justice and stands an even chance of going to the U.S. Senate; the past of George Wallace; of Jim Crow; and of slavery. If Jack the Ripper himself were running in Alabama against a Democrat who supported reproductive choice and civil rights, it would be a close contest.

We’ve reached a point in America where guns, God, gays, and the rights of the fetus (but not of 14-year-old girls) trump all other values, emphasis on Trump.

Meanwhile, in the other ring of the circus, Republicans who know better are supporting disgraceful tax legislation and Donald Trump, the better to notch a win for their party and deliver goodies to corporate allies. There is still an outside chance that Senator Susan Collins of Maine may vote against the package. That would make the head count 50-50, and put the onus on just one more Republican, maybe John McCain or Jeff Flake, both of whom detest Trump, to decide to do the right thing and deny Trump a disgusting, gloating win.

It was just 13 years ago that a young, idealistic state senator from Illinois spoke eloquently about bridging red state America and blue state America into the United States of America. That dream has never been further from reach, as Trump brings out the worst in America’s past and present.

I keep thinking of another favorite quote, from the Italian radical Antonio Gramsci, who was jailed in the 1920s by Mussolini. Gramsci’s credo was “Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will.”

I prefer to translate that as pessimism of the mind and optimism of the heart. We have to be pessimists based on what we know, and optimists based on our continued struggle for a decent country.

Kuttner
December 8, 2017

As I wrote yesterday, Democrats made a huge mistake of both principle and tactics by throwing former Senator Al Franken under the bus. They hoped that ousting Franken would create a dramatic contrast with the Republicans’ indulgence of Roy Moore.
 
But Moore continues to deny that he did anything wrong. Who thinks the ouster of Franken will change one vote in the actual Alabama Senate race?
 
It would have been much fairer, as well as smarter politics, to allow the ethics investigation to play out, and insist that similar scrutiny be applied to both Moore and to the sexual predator-in-chief who sits in the Oval Office. As David Axelrod recently noted in a tweet, “Strange principle is emerging. If you admit misconduct, you resign. But if you deny it, however compelling or voluminous the testimony against you, you continue in office—or onto office—with impunity.”
 
The move to force Franken to resign is also hailed as an embrace of zero-tolerance. “I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping you are having the wrong conversation,” Gillibrand said Wednesday at a conference. “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable.”
 
This strikes me as dangerous nonsense. Just as there is a difference between armed robbery and shoplifting, there is a difference between rape and an unwanted pat on the butt. All are illegal or improper, but Roy Moore’s alleged child abuse and Franken’s bouts of misdemeanor misconduct are not in the same moral universe. Plus—whatever happened to due process?
 
This season marks the beginning of a long overdue reckoning of male sexual harassment and abuse of women. It doesn’t mark the end of shades of gray, or innocent until proven guilty. Right now, Republican stonewallers and sexual predators are having a good laugh at the Democrats’ expense. 

Meyerson
December 7, 2017

So much for federalism.

As the Republicans see it, the purpose of national government is to rein in states and localities that believe in and enforce a social contract. The GOP tax bills are still to be reconciled with each other, but both have been designed to force Democratic-controlled states to roll back their progressive taxes and, with that, their support for public schools and universities, environmental protections, public-sector unions—the works. By eliminating state and local tax deductions, they aim to compel blue states—California and New York most of all—to become more like such bastions of enlightenment as Mississippi and Alabama.

That’s not an incidental by-product of the GOP’s tax bills; that’s their intent. “It’s death to Democrats,” right-wing economist Stephen Moore told Bloomberg News. “They go after state and local taxes, which weakens public employee unions. They go after university endowments, and universities have become playpens of the left. And getting rid of the mandate is to eventually dismantle Obamacare.”

Justice Louis Brandeis famously termed states and cities “laboratories of democracy.” Lest anyone doubted it, Republicans have again made clear that they’re no fans of either democracy or laboratories, much less both.

Kuttner
December 6, 2017

Philanthropist and activist Tom Steyer took a fair amount of heat from the Democratic establishment for raising the impeachment flag. But he may well have it right.

Trump seems to be getting closer and closer to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as the waters rise around him. His statements are getting more and more reckless, suggesting panic.

Republicans need to be put on notice that Trump has already obstructed justice and may soon be even more flagrant about it. Even if he doesn’t fire Mueller, the special counsel’s finding will likely produce a prima facie case.

Trump’s defenders keep pointing out that a president cannot be indicted, only impeached. That’s exactly right. The 2018 midterms could well be run on the Republicans’ failure to impeach a president who richly earned impeachment. It’s not too soon to put them on notice.

Meyerson
December 5, 2017

In recent years, The New York Times has morphed into something more than our paper of record with occasional mistakes. In its advertisements, particularly in its print editions, it has become the Weekly Shopper of the Very Rich—and not just the New York Very Rich, but, keeping up with the lifestyles of Milllionaires Without Borders, the Global Very Rich. Who but a Russian oligarch could afford some of the properties advertised regularly in the paper’s Sunday Magazine?

A marginally less plutocratic ad that ran, full-page, in Sunday’s paper nonetheless drives home the same lesson that these property offerings and the recent $450 million purchase of DaVinci’s (or somebody’s) Salvator Mundi should have made screamingly clear: that the rich have too goddamn much money, and not quite knowing what to do with it all, are bidding up prices to absurd levels.

The Sunday ad announced a forthcoming (December 10) sale of New York Yankee memorabilia, to be conducted by Heritage Auctions, which terms itself “the world’s largest collectible auctioneer.” Among the items were a bat that Babe Ruth used and signed during the 1920 season (which Heritage estimated would go for “$600,000 plus”), the bat which Lou Gehrig wielded in 1939 in his “final two home run games” (which Heritage estimated would go for “$800,000 plus”), and a 1992 scouting report on Derek Jeter (whose value Heritage set at a mere $50,000 plus).

Now, Babe Ruth’s 1920 season was possibly the most remarkable, and disruptive, in the history of American sports. He hit 54 home runs that year, more than any other American League team hit—thereby propelling baseball from a low-scoring game of singles and stolen bases into the outta-the-park slugfest it soon became. Gehrig was a great player whose tear-jerking 1939 farewell to the game and its fans, as he began to succumb to ALS, was the stuff of heroism and grace.

But, as with the DaVinci (or the somebody), the value that the auctioneer has put on these bats says more about the huge pools of money in which the rich now splash around than it does about Ruth or Gehrig or their feats at the plate. As in the Gilded Age, such auctions have become nothing more than displays of conspicuous consumption—except that, since they’re now conducted by phone with unidentified (to the public) bidders, the consumption is conspicuous while the consumer remains self-protectively inconspicuous.

And about that Jeter scouting report: How soon until some stars’ contracts—the written documents—are put up for bid? And will the value of the auctioned contracts exceed the dollar amount that the contracts stipulated would be paid to those stars? As our plutocrats grow richer and richer (a process that the Republican Congress felt irresistibly impelled to accelerate), that day can’t be far off.

Kuttner
December 4, 2017

Can Democrats make big gains in the 2018 midterm by running against the Republican tax bill?

Maybe not—but they can take back Congress anyway.

Why is tax bill not easy pay dirt, despite its unpopularity?

First, it’s complicated as hell. Second, it may not take full effect until after the 2018 midterm election. Third, almost half of working-class Americans will actually get a net tax cut, even though the cut for the rich is much bigger. And fourth, the offsetting cuts in social benefits will take effect after a lag.

In running against the tax cut, it’s fine to point out how Republicans are the party of billionaires and bogus trickle-down economics. But Dems have to be careful not to sound like the boy who cried wolf, or too policy wonkish. Most voters won’t feel that much effect.

That said, the Republicans will still be monumentally unpopular next year. The Virginia and New Jersey state and local elections last month showed impressive evidence of a true grassroots blue upsurge. Swing voters are increasingly alienated from Trump, too.

By next year, Trump will be in even bigger trouble, courtesy of the special counsel, assuming he’s still in office. So we can expect a happy election night for Democrats next November.

Just don’t put too many eggs in that tax basket. And above all, have a clear, affirmative program.

Kuttner
December 1, 2017

Neo-fascism in the U.S., under Trump, has produced one kind of political deadlock, in which Congress is often stalemated, unwilling to address real problems, and occasionally the right simply steamrolls the opposition, as in the case of the emerging tax bill. In Europe, the rise of the far right produces a different sort of deadlock—governing coalitions that are too weak to govern, fueling even more support for neo-fascism.

The latest case is Germany, long Europe’s improbable rock of stability. The rise of the far right has narrowed the space for possible governing coalitions. This is all too reminiscent of the pre-Hitler period of the late 1920s, during which the growth of Nazis and Communists in parliament produced weak centrist, multi-party governments that failed to solve the deepening economic distress that invited Nazism.

In the aftermath of the fragmented result of Germany’s September elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to assemble an awkward four-party coalition—her own Christian Democrats (the CDU); its sister Bavarian affiliate, the CSU, which trends further right; plus the libertarian Free Democrats and the socially liberal Greens. This was a bridge too far, and talks collapsed.

In the wake of the collapse, there is only one possible government: a “grand coalition” made up of Merkel’s CDU plus the long-suffering Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD has been Merkel’s junior coalition partner for most of the period since 2005, and has seen its popular support steadily weaken, to a sickening postwar low of just 20.5 percent in the recent elections.

SPD leaders vowed it was time to go into opposition and rebuild. Now, however, it appears that another grand coalition is all that stands between Germany and chaos.

One benefit is that the SPD could extract tough terms: more public investment, reform of the labor laws that weakened trade unions, less of an austerity policy. The risk, however is that the SPD in government would make the neo-fascist AfD the official opposition party, and that the policy tweaks extracted by the SPD would not be enough to change Europe’s fundamental austerity trajectory, would blunt the SPD as an opposition, and would further energize the neo-fascist right.

The entire West needs nothing so much as a robust, progressive left, to counter the far right’s story of what is wrecking the lives of working people, and to offer something persuasively better.

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