The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Trump and the Republican Party have left us dangerously unprepared for this

By "this," I don't mean the Covid-19 outbreak itself, though by cutting CDC pandemic funding 80%, ending epidemic prevention aid to 37 of 47 countries, or by appointing perhaps the worst possible administration official to lead the response effort, he has almost certainly increased the risk of infection to every person in the world.

No, I mean that we're dangerously unprepared for the recession the virus outbreak appears to be encouraging.

Economists have had a hunch we'd eventually get the stock-market correction we got this week, because we had ample evidence that stock values were not in line with fundamentals. However, the S&P 500 losing 10% in one week, wiping out more than a year of gains, has been the fastest correction in history, according to Bloomberg News. And at this writing the indices are still falling.

But the Republican Party passed massive tax cuts two years running, which has resulted in Federal budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion. Now many people are about to find out why a massive deficit in a strong economy reduces our options when the economy slows down.

In a strong economy, people feel wealthy, so they spend more money. We all know that. But people also have a higher tolerance for taxes when they feel rich. In individual states in the US that have constitutional balanced-budget requirements, boom times allow them to save money. In the US writ large, which has no such restrictions, boom times allow us to make investments in infrastructure, education, social programs, and all manner of things we have as a country failed to invest in for years.

Not so coincidentally, the years in which we've failed to invest are the same as the years the Republican Party has preached lower taxes, cutting social benefits, and getting the government so small "you can drown it in the bathtub." The goal is to consolidate wealth in a small minority that can then exert disproportionate control over an ever-more-impoverished majority. As I've said for 30 years, the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule. And it's easier to rule peasants than burghers.

The last two years under Trump have made previous Republican wealth grabs look gentle. And they almost got away with it, too. They've kept the economy going just strongly enough, preventing the inevitable slowdown after 10 years of Obama-led growth, to make people feel good about the next election. If only they could have made it to November. Four more years of Trump would, they hoped and planned, allow them to lock in Republican policies for 40 more years.

Walking from the train this morning, I realized the Trump administration has acted like a cocaine addict regarding the economy. They forced lower taxes through Congress (or blocked raising them) since the last years of Obama, then came out of the bathroom with powder on their noses crowing about how low taxes have helped the economy.

At the first signs of a slowdown in 2018 and 2019, they did a couple more bumps to make it last longer, just a little longer. But the crash is upon us, and like a cokehead, it's going to be much worse because it's been too good too long.

So here we are. We've lost hundreds of billions in paper wealth this week, we've got the Spanish Flu exploding all over the world, people are scared, and the front-runners in both parties represent the extremes. A really good recession right now will go a long way to helping the kids understand, on a personal and visceral level, why we don't want extremists in power.

And because of our massive deficits, it will be hard to summon the political will to continue those deficits and start necessary spending efforts to keep people employed and the economy from screeching to a halt. The only arrows we have left in our quiver include printing more money or raising taxes in a recession, both of which will increase inflation, wipe out more paper wealth (but of debt holders, not of debtors, which is the point), and possibly make the retirements of Boomers more uncomfortable than their grandparents had it in the Depression. (Oh, and we Xers will get screwed regardless, but that's been the case our whole lives.)

You think we're smarter than Europe in the 1930s? We're about to really find out.

Friday afternoon reading backlog

I was going to lead off with a New Republic article about Michael Bloomberg, but they just put up a paywall yesterday and lost my subscription information. And their new "subscribe now" page doesn't work. But why would anyone need to test software before deploying it to production?

Anyway, that wasn't the only article that interested me today that I'll read later on:

Finally, it's going to be warmer than usual this weekend, so I'm going to add some Brews with my Choos.

Rot from the head

Both New Republic and the Post come to the same conclusion on the latest from both the Republican and Democratic sides. First, TNR looks at the president's "clemency binge:"

Those rewards send a powerful signal to Trump’s allies who are still caught up in the criminal justice system. There’s ample evidence that the president has dangled his clemency powers as a means to keep associates from testifying against him. Trump publicly floated the idea of pardoning Paul Manafort in 2018 while his former campaign chairman was under pressure to testify in the Russia investigation. One of Trump’s lawyers reportedly discussed a pardon for former national security adviser Michael Flynn with Flynn’s lawyers two years ago. The president even personally raised the possibility of pardoning Roger Stone, who is set to be sentenced for lying to Congress on Thursday, to his advisers in recent weeks. Tuesday’s pardons and commutations help normalize what is surely coming to his long-suffering loyalists after the 2020 election, if not sooner.

Trump himself will also personally benefit from the clemency spree. With the stroke of his pen, he all but negated thousands of man-hours spent by the Justice Department over the past three decades to convict defendants who stood accused of serious offenses: bribery and corruption, fraud and tax evasion, lying to investigators and deceiving the public, and more. Trump can’t reverse the financial and personal toll that those cases imposed on their targets. But he can delegitimize the federal government’s anti-corruption efforts and undermine the notion that it can hold the wealthiest and most powerful Americans accountable for their actions.

And Greg Sargent, on Elizabeth Warren ripping Michael Bloomberg a new one at last night's Democratic debate:

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren said, right at the outset. “No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk,” Warren continued, adding: “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”

That, of course, is an indictment not just of Bloomberg (who has his own history of demeaning women) but also of Trump: The president is a disgusting misogynist and a racist in his own right, and he’s engaged in nonstop corrupt self-dealing, facilitated by concealed tax returns — and a corrupted system.

Because both things are true: Trump and Bloomberg represent the system protecting its own. And that has to stop.

The best Attorney General we have

Bill Barr's beliefs about executive power have engendered a bit of pushback. Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer says Barr should resign:

[P]erhaps the most outrageous and alarming ideas that Barr advances come in his attacks on the judiciary, which occupy fully a third of his speech. In his mind, it seems, the courts are the principal culprit in constraining the extraordinarily broad powers that the president is constitutionally entitled to exercise. His discussion ignores a pillar of our legal system since almost the very beginning—Chief Justice John Marshall’s magisterial pronouncement in the early days of our republic that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Barr yearns for a day when the president can bully everyone else in government, and leave them no ability to seek relief in court.

The benefit of the doubt that many were ready to extend to Barr a year ago—as among the best of a bad lot of nominees who had previously served in high office without disgrace—has now run out. He has told us in great detail who he is, what he believes, and where he would like to take us. For whatever twisted reasons, he believes that the president should be above the law, and he has as his foil in pursuit of that goal a president who, uniquely in our history, actually aspires to that status. And Barr has acted repeatedly on those beliefs in ways that are more damaging at every turn. Presently he is moving forward with active misuse of the criminal sanction, as one more tool of the president’s personal interests.

Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.

And while Barr may represent the curdled cream of the kakistocracy now running the executive branch, Max Boot worries that no one cares enough:

I don’t see massive marches in the streets. I don’t see people flooding their members of Congress with calls and emails. I don’t see the outrage that is warranted — and necessary. I see passivity, resignation and acquiescence from a distracted electorate that has come to accept Trump’s aberrant behavior as the norm.

A recent Gallup poll found that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans — the supposed law-and-order party — is at a record-high 94 percent. His support in the country as a whole is only 43.4 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, but he is still well positioned to win reelection, because most people seem to care a lot more about the strength of the stock market than about the strength of our democracy. This is how democracies die — not in darkness but in full view of a public that couldn’t care less.

On the other hand, we have an election in 260 days. I think the public had enough long ago, and contra Boot, want to turf these guys out through the ballot. If Trump wins re-election, however, let's see about those boots in the street.

Working from home is still working

While I do get to sign off a bit earlier today, I might not read all of these articles until tomorrow:

Finally, despite today's near-record low temperatures in Chicago, we expect a 12°C increase from earlier this morning until tomorrow afternoon. Hey, if this is the only day all winter that even flirts with -18°C, I'm happy.

Two-tiered justice in the US

Veteran crime and justice reporter Rodney Balko outlines the pernicious effects of reducing Roger Stone's sentence while continuing to throw the book at ordinary people:

So we get righteous fury over the FBI’s mistakes in obtaining wiretaps for former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, even as Republicans vote to reauthorize the law that allowed those taps and reject proposed reforms. We get President Trump bashing the federal law enforcement apparatus even as he praises countries whose governments execute people accused of selling drugs. We get angry denunciations of the “jackboots” who arrested Roger Stone and raided Michael Cohen’s office and residence (though they were both treated far better than, say, your average suspected pot dealer), while Trump encourages police brutality against everyday suspects and Attorney General William P. Barr declares that people who criticize law enforcement for brutality against black people aren’t worthy of police protection. And now we have Stone, and Barr’s decision to rescind the seven-to-nine-year sentencing recommendation filed by the federal prosecutors working on the case.

There’s no better example of the Trump administration’s embrace of tiered justice than the one pointed out by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly. On the very day that Barr intervened to rescind the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for Stone, he also gave a speech to a conference of county sheriffs in which he attacked progressive, reform-minded district attorneys for their refusal to prosecute certain types of crimes. He argued that those decisions jeopardize investigations of more serious crimes that “depend heavily on obtaining information from members of the community.”

Barr was accusing progressive DAs of undermining criminal investigations by enabling witness intimidation. One of the crimes for which Stone was convicted: undermining a criminal investigation by threatening a witness.

Meanwhile, the president continues raging against the people who still have the power to thwart his whims, even as Congress passes a war-powers resolution that has no chance of curbing the president's adventures in Iran.

Shaking my head, for the next 265 days

Some headlines this morning:

Happy Wednesday!

Calm down, folks

Yes, the Democratic Party had a bad week. But those of us paying attention knew we would.

Now, I couldn't have predicted the unconscionable fuck-up (no other word for it) perpetrated on the national party by its Iowa subsidiary. In future, I hope Iowa's quirky, exclusionary method of selecting delegates either goes away entirely or gets moved so late in the year that no one cares anymore. Or simply that no one cares anymore, full stop. The idiots running the IDP deserve nothing better for at least two election cycles.

But despite this week's stumbles, I believe that our party will take both houses of Congress and the White House in November. The revulsion that people feel throughout the country at the President and the Republican trolls supporting him bodes well for a correction back to previous norms. And I think that at least three of the five "moderate" Republican trolls in the Senate who voted for acquittal will get turfed out of office. Plus, we are well on our way to winning even more state legislatures, which brings the possibility of undoing the damage that radical Republican trolls have done to the states in the last 10 years. (Not to mention, the census and reapportionment.)

Of course I could be wrong; no one knows the future. I'm just not losing sleep over it.

I'm not buying into the punditry's rending of garments. We still have to select about 99% of our delegates for the July convention; we know the President will loose what remaining shackles he had on his behavior, increasing the center's revulsion of him; and we also know that people have built up antibodies against the massive disinformation campaign that Republican trolls have run since 2015. We also have strong evidence that Monday's "lower-than-expected" turnout (actually about the same as 2016) and lack of a clear winner came not from voter indifference in general, but from voters being generally OK with all of the Democratic candidates.

That disinformation campaign will get much, much worse over the next seven months, of course. Our job is to sit tight, refute the bullshit that needs refuting, and pull a Reagan on the rest of the crap ("There you go again."). People know most of what the President and other Republican trolls say is utter nonsense. Let's not lose our minds over it.

In other words: you know the problem with mud-wrestling with a pig? You both get covered in shit, but the pig likes it. So let it be with those guys.

And let's not get all bent out of shape about one Rasmussen poll that shows the President's approval rating is 49% and "going up." It's not. The actual poll of polls shows a squiggle around 43% consistently since September. Since January 2017, Trump has had less approval from voters than any other president who got re-elected. Consistently.

We had a bad week. So what. We've got 39 more to go before November 3rd.

So, David Brooks: chill out. Monica Bauerlein: keep cool. EJ Dionne: rock on.

We have the facts, and we have the law. We don't need to pound the table—or worse, hide under it.

In other news...

The week keeps getting more fun:

For the next 9 months, I'm considering changing the official style of this blog to refer to "Republican trolls" whenever the party comes up. Because at this point, they're really the party of nihilistic trolls. And we have actual problems that need solving.

Three strikes against impeachment

Welp, the Senate has acquitted President Trump almost entirely along party lines, as everyone knew it would. Only Mitt Romney (R-UT) crossed the aisle to vote for conviction. Here's a roundup of the news in the last few hours:

About yesterday:

  • The Washington Post has an annotated SOTU.
  • Alexandra Petri clutched every pearl she owned, "and also the pearls of strangers, and some oysters that may contain pearls in the future" after Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ripped up her copy of the SOTU.
  • NBC called the address Trump's "victory lap." Oh no, NBC; he's got more lapping in him.

In other news:

And it's snowing.