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Better Schools Won’t Fix America

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A forceful and cogent article in the Atlantic by Nick Hanauer:

Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

Whenever i talk with my wealthy friends about the dangers of rising economic inequality, those who don’t stare down at their shoes invariably push back with something about the woeful state of our public schools. This belief is so entrenched among the philanthropic elite that of America’s 50 largest family foundations—a clique that manages $144 billion in tax-exempt charitable assets—40 declare education as a key issue. Only one mentions anything about the plight of working people, economic inequality, or wages. And because the richest Americans are so politically powerful, the consequences of their beliefs go far beyond philanthropy.

A major theme in the educationist narrative involves the “skills gap”—the notion that decades of wage stagnation are largely a consequence of workers not having the education and skills to fill new high-wage jobs. If we improve our public schools, the thinking goes, and we increase the percentage of students attaining higher levels of education, particularly in the STEM subjectsscience, technology, engineering, and math—the skills gap will shrink, wages will rise, and income inequality will fall.

The real story is more complicated, and more troubling. Yes, there is a mismatch between the skills of the present and the jobs of the future. In a fast-changing, technologically advanced economy, how could there not be? But this mismatch doesn’t begin to explain the widening inequality of the past 40 years.

In 1970, when the golden age of the American middle class was nearing its peak and inequality was at its nadir, only about half of Americans ages 25 and older had a high-school degree or the equivalent. Today, 90 percent do. Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans attaining a college degree has more than tripled since 1970. But while the American people have never been more highly educated, only the wealthiest have seen large gains in real wages. From 1979 to 2017, as the average real annual wages of the top 1 percent of Americans rose 156 percent (and the top .01 percent’s wages rose by a stunning 343 percent), the purchasing power of the average American’s paycheck did not increase.

Some educationists might argue that the recent gains in educational attainment simply haven’t been enough to keep up with the changing economy—but here, yet again, the truth appears more complicated. While 34 percent of Americans ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 26 percent of jobs currently require one. The job categories that are growing fastest, moreover, don’t generally require a college diploma, let alone a STEM degree. According to federal estimates, four of the five occupational categories projected to add the most jobs to the economy over the next five years are among the lowest-paying jobs: “food preparation and serving” ($19,130 in average annual earnings), “personal care and service” ($21,260), “sales and related” ($25,360), and “health-care support” ($26,440). And while the number of jobs that require a postsecondary education is expected to increase slightly faster than the number that don’t, the latter group is expected to dominate the job market for decades to come. In October 2018 there were 1 million more job openings than job seekers in the U.S. Even if all of these unfilled jobs were in STEM professions at the top of the pay scale, they would be little help to most of the 141 million American workers in the bottom nine income deciles.

It’s worth noting that workers with a college degree enjoy a significant wage premium over those without. (Among people over age 25, those with a bachelor’s degree had median annual earnings of $53,882 in 2017, compared with $32,320 for those with only a high-school education.) But even with that advantage, adjusted for inflation, average hourly wages for recent college graduates have barely budged since 2000, while the bottom 60 percent of college graduates earn less than that group did in 2000. A college diploma is no longer a guaranteed passport into the middle class.

Meanwhile, nearly all the benefits of economic growth have been captured by large corporations and their shareholders. After-tax corporate profits have doubled from about 5 percent of GDP in 1970 to about 10 percent, even as wages as a share of GDP have fallen by roughly 8 percent. And the wealthiest 1 percent’s share of pre-tax income has more than doubled, from 9 percent in 1973 to 21 percent today. Taken together, these two trends amount to a shift of more than $2 trillion a year from the middle class to corporations and the super-rich.

The state of the labor market provides further evidence that low-wage workers’ declining fortunes aren’t explained by supply and demand. With the unemployment rate near a 50-year floor, low-wage industries such as accommodations, food service, and retail are struggling to cope with a shortage of job applicants—leading The Wall Street Journal to lament that “low-skilled jobs are becoming increasingly difficult for employers to fill.” If wages were actually set the way our Econ 101 textbooks suggested, workers would be profiting from this dynamic. Yet outside the cities and states that have recently imposed a substantially higher local minimum wage, low-wage workers have seen their real incomes barely budge.

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US is broken, and powerful people are determined to keep it from being fixed. Mitch McConnell won’t even allow the US to take steps to protect the next election from Russian interference. And he is getting away with it.

Later in the article:

. . . However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

Today, after wealthy elites gobble up our outsize share of national income, the median American family is left with $76,000 a year. Had hourly compensation grown with productivity since 1973—as it did over the preceding quarter century, according to the Economic Policy Institute—that family would now be earning more than $105,000 a year. Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2019 at 8:15 pm

Kevin Drum points out some serious flaws in Elizabeth Warren’s Industrial Policy for Manufacturing

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Very interesting post. I am struck by the fact that Warren, presumably a progressive, is not making a strong push to protect and extend labor unions.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2019 at 8:12 pm

Campaign heats up with amazing offers!!

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2019 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election, GOP

Political reporting in the US has been very bad for a long time: A trip down memory lane

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Kevin Drum points out this post by Bob Somersby:

When “Trump before Trump” took us down: The role of The Crazy has been substantial in modern American discourse.

Crazy people advance crazy claims; millions of people believe them. American discourse bows beneath the weight of this widespread crackpot behavior.

In yesterday’s report, we tracked this phenomenon back to the pious Reverend Falwell and the endless crazy claims about all the people Bill and Hillary Clinton had murdered. The syndrome extends to more recent claims by radio crackpot Alex Jones, and by the disordered Donald J. Trump himself.

That doesn’t mean that this destructive syndrome only exists “on the right.” The mainstream press corps has been mired in this type of conduct too.

Future scholars are now calling such conduct “Trump before Trump.” They sometimes refer to this mental erosion within the press as “The Rise of Leadership Down.”

The Crazy flourished within the mainstream press during the era of Falwell. Consider a crazy statement which appeared in Marc Fisher’s weekly column in the Washington Post magazine.

The crazy statement to which we refer concerned a White House candidate’s clothes. The candidate in question was also the sitting vice president. He was the odds-on favorite to receive the Democratic nomination in Campaign 2000.

In late November 1999, Fisher wrote a highly peculiar essay about Candidate Gore. His crazy claim was lodged among a raft of other peculiar and unfortunate statements. Here’s how his essay ended:

FISHER (11/28/99): So when Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book jackets, we have two choices: We can say Gore’s a good man who’s been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.

A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, “Okay.”

To call him unreadable is to be charitable.

Just for the record—back in those days, we pseudo-liberals slept in the woods when people like Wolf were savaged in such identifiable ways. We let that kind of thing go.

That said, did Naomi Wolf “make her living by writing pop philosophy about sex?” It’s pretty much as you like it! For the record, two of the three books she’d written by that time had been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

One of the books, The Beauty Myth, had been chosen as one of the top hundred books of the century. But now, the disordered men and women of the upper-end mainstream press were spreading a web of noxious claims about Wolf, a campaign adviser to Gore.

These slanders included the noxious claim that Candidate Gore had “hired a woman to teach him how to be a man.” Candidate Gore was “today’s man-woman,” Chris Matthews loudly proclaimed on his crackpot TV show, Hardball.

These disordered figures were also convinced that Wolf had instructed Gore to wear “earth tones” on the campaign trail. This unfounded assertion helped lead to months of disordered claims about this targeted candidate’s clothes.

By Sunday, November 28, this ordered discussion had been underway for more than a month. This apparently forced Fisher to bump his roving band’s craziness up a notch.

Does Donald J. Trump make crazy claims? Yes he does, quite often. But on this day, Fisher was making crazy claims too. The craziest of his crazy claims may been this crazy statement:

Naomi Wolf had told Candidate Gore that “he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American.”

Truly, that was a crazy claim. As such, it was an example of the phenomenon known as Trump before Trump.

Had Naomi Wolf advised Gore about wardrobe? Like Fisher, we have no idea.

Candidates do take wardrobe advice, and Wolf was a campaign adviser. (With a crackpot press corps like the one we’re now describing, a targeted candidate must pay substantial attention to both wardrobe and hair.)

Wolf and Gore had both denied the claim that Wolf had offered wardrobe advice, but denizens of the upper-end press enjoyed the tale they were telling. In this case, Fisher seemed to be referring to a brown or perhaps olive suit Gore had worn to his first Democratic debate with Candidate Bradley, his only campaign opponent.

More than a month had passed since that time. But manifest crackpots of the press were still obsessed by the choice.

In fact, there was nothing outrageous about Gore’s suit, except in the mind of the crackpots. New Hampshire voters who watched that first Democratic debate had scored the event a draw. No one seemed troubled by Gore’s choice of clothes, and conservative icon Kate O’Beirne had praised the two candidates for the erudition each had displayed in discussing health care that night.

But alas! Inside the press room at Dartmouth College, three hundred journalists were hissing, booing and jeering every time Gore spoke. (On the record sources: Slate’s Jake Tapper, the Hotline’s Howard Mortman, Time’s Eric Pooley. We heard about this astounding conduct in a phone call from the site that very night.)

The children had been hissing and jeering every time Gore spoke! At the Washington Post, a Pulitzer winner decided to tell the world this:

MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—”I am not a well-dressed man.” It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation’s earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.

Mary McGrory, a veteran columnist and a Pulitzer winner, was writing live and direct from the realm of The Crazy.

She never mentioned the health care discussion whose erudition O’Beirne had praised. Instead, she chose to savage one candidate’s clothes in a pre-Trump manifestation.

McGrory was typing at the start of the war against Gore’s wardrobe. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2019 at 6:32 pm

Trump Is Governing by Grievance

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Peter Nicholas writes in the Atlantic:

It was a meeting about maritime shipping, but President Donald Trump had other things on his mind. As he spoke privately with Republican lawmakers in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Attorney General William Barr was all over TV testifying to a Senate committee about the Russia investigation. Trump had been watching the live coverage, he’d been briefed on Barr’s testimony—and sitting with his guests on Wednesday, he unburdened himself about the unfairness of it all, said a person familiar with the matter.

“He is worked up about it,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private meeting. “He’s not going to let it go. He’s not going to accept the advice to let it go. He’s not going to stop tweeting. He’s not going to change his approach.”

If Trump is to notch any meaningful legislative victories before the 2020 election—and he’s now promising a gargantuan infrastructure package—he’ll need to compartmentalize: to summon the mental discipline essential to passing history-making legislation. The chances of that happening look dim, however, because Trump can’t compartmentalize. Since his swearing-in, he’s proved unable to wall off the irritants and frustrations that cloud any president’s day and focus on a governing agenda. Indeed, the distractions seem to captivate him most; they’ve become his governing agenda.

Last month, former Vice President Joe Biden entered the presidential race. Normally, it would be up to 20-some Democratic rivals to beat him back and deprive him of the nomination. But Trump has leapt into the scrum. Before dawn on May 1, he delivered the first of 60 morning retweets of messages aimed at undercutting Biden’s support among union workers. He has also been insulting Biden’s energy level and appearance.

Now the president’s Biden fixation seems to be filtering down to the staff: Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, spoke with reporters in the White House driveway last week and, unbidden, mocked Biden for not doing more to boost the economy in his eight years as vice president. Trump gets distracted. He tweets. His staff reacts. That’s how whims harden into White House messaging. “The strategy in the White House, on all things, is to wait for the president to tweet and then try to deliver on the tweet,” says Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

In recent days, Trump has been preoccupied by random ephemera even as he’s embarked on a new infrastructure deal, announced last week after a meeting with Democratic lawmakers. He has been complaining about how his supporters are being treated by social-media companies. He’s called attention to the disputed result of this year’s Kentucky Derby, CNN ratings, his own poll numbers, and Nick Bosa, an NFL first-round draft pick who turns out to be a MAGA fan. What any of that has to do with bridges, airports, and highways isn’t immediately apparent.

But what most stands to derail a potential legislative breakthrough is his dyspepsia over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Democratic inquiries into his private business dealings and conduct in office. Trump won’t leave the Russia business alone. Nearly three weeks after the full 448-page report was released, and more than six weeks after Mueller finished it, Trump still talks about how he was wrongly targeted. On Sunday, he tweeted that two years of his presidency were “stollen” due to the inquiry into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. “He honestly believes that he did nothing wrong and he honestly believes that it was a witch hunt,” the person familiar with the Roosevelt Room meeting said. “You can debate whether it was or it wasn’t; I’m just telling you what he believes.”

At least in the near term, Trump’s Russia obsession poses the greatest risk to his potential infrastructure deal with Democrats. The two sides agreed to spend $2 trillion rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, a sum that’s equal to the nation’s needs, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. It would amount to the sort of landmark achievement that eluded Trump’s predecessors. “I would like to do something. It may not be typically Republican,” Trump said at the meeting, according to a Democratic source who was in the room. “I’ll lead on this.”

Both sides have incentive to deal. Trump would like to roll into the 2020 election with a legislative accomplishment apart from the 2017 tax-cut law, which few Americans believe gave them any financial help. Democrats, meanwhile, would relish a chance to bring home to their districts needed jobs and investment. Yet Trump almost immediately dampened hope that the tentative deal would hold. By the weekend, he was walking back the commitment: $2 trillion had slipped to $1 trillion to $2 trillion. And it doesn’t appear that Trump has laid any groundwork for an infrastructure package on an immense scale.

The numbers have left White House aides and GOP allies with sticker shock. Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told me: “I see no way to fund $2 trillion in infrastructure without raising taxes, and for most prudent political calculations, raising taxes is only a winner in progressive circles.”

“To me, that would be a ceiling that is unattainable,” said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, when asked about the $2 trillion figure.

Nor is it clear that Trump can set aside his differences with Democrats and work toward goals that are in their mutual interest. He is furious with Democratic lawmakers for digging into his record, targeting his tax returns, threatening him with impeachment, and summoning his top aides to testify. On Sunday, Trump upbraided Democrats for trying to get Mueller to appear before Congress, saying the special counsel should boycott the proceedings. “Are [Democrats] looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion?” Trump tweeted. And he has ordered administration officials to resist Democratic subpoenas, feeding a toxic, partisan atmosphere that precludes consensus-building.

Trump has long been captive to his ever-shifting moods. Top aides fall in and out of favor. Policy positions are embraced and quickly discarded when no longer expedient. What’s different now is the moment. Trump is running for reelection on a strong economy and sizzling financial markets. But economies sour and markets cool. An infrastructure deal, by contrast, would be a durable achievement. Unlike his travel ban, it couldn’t be overturned by executive order.

Yet it requires focus. One figure from history who faced similar circumstances was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2019 at 4:04 pm

The Trouble With Joe and Bernie

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Paul Krugman makes some good points in the NY Times:

It’s still very early, but Joe Biden has emerged as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders is in second place, although he appears to be fairly far behind, and one poll shows him in a statistical tie with Elizabeth Warren. So what should we think about the men currently leading the field?

Well, I have concerns. Not about electability, a topic about which nobody knows anything. Never mind what today’s general election polls say: What will polling look like after the inevitable Republican smear campaign? The answer to this question depends, in turn, on whether news organizations will cooperate with those smears as gleefully as they did in 2016.

No, my concerns are about what will happen if either man wins. Are they ready for the political trench warfare that would inevitably follow a Democratic victory?

The trouble with both Biden and Sanders is that each, in his own way, seems to believe that he has unique powers of persuasion that will let him defy the harsh reality of today’s tribal politics. And this lack of realism could set either of them up for failure.

Start with Biden, a convivial guy who has maintained good personal relations with Republicans. All indications are that he believes that these good personal relations will translate into an ability to make bipartisan deals on policy.

But we’ve already seen this movie, and it was a tragedy. Barack Obama took office with a message of unity and bipartisan outreach, and a sincere belief that he could get many Republicans to back his efforts to revive the economy, reform health care, and more. What he faced instead was total scorched-earth opposition.

And Obama’s belief that he could transcend partisanship nearly sank his presidency. Crucial months were wasted trying to devise health reform legislation that could attract Republican support; Obama’s signature achievement happened only because Nancy Pelosi’s heroic efforts dragged the Affordable Care Act across the finish line. He was willing to make a “grand bargain” with Republicans that would have undermined Medicare and Social Security, deeply damaging the Democratic brand; he was saved only by the G.O.P.’s total intransigence, its unwillingness to contribute a single penny’s worth of tax increases.

The big concern about a Biden presidency is that he would repeat all of Obama’s early mistakes, squandering any momentum from electoral victory in pursuit of a bipartisan dream that should have died long ago.

Sanders, by contrast, doesn’t do bipartisanship. He doesn’t even do unipartisanship, refusing to call himself a Democrat even as he seeks the party’s nomination. But what Sanders appears to believe is that he can convince voters not just to support progressive policies, but to support sweeping policy changes that would try to fix things most people don’t consider broken.

That, after all, is what his Medicare for All push, which would eliminate private insurance, amounts to. He is saying to the 180 million Americans who currently have private insurance, many of whom are satisfied with their coverage: “I’m going to take away the insurance you have and replace it with a government program. Also, you’re going to pay a lot more in taxes. But trust me, the program will be better than what you have now, and the new taxes will be less than you currently pay in premiums.”

Could those claims be true? Yes. Will voters believe them? Probably not. Polling shows that support for Medicare for All falls off drasticallywhen people are informed that it would eliminate private insurance and require higher taxes.

You might try to rationalize the Sanders position by saying that Medicare for All is an aspirational plan, and that in practice he would be willing to accept a more gradualist approach. But that’s not what his behavior suggests. On the contrary, Sanders has conspicuously refused to support measures that would enhance Obamacare, even as a temporary expedient.

For Sanders, then, it seems to be single-payer or bust. And what that would mean, with very high likelihood, is … bust.

We’re not talking about right versus left here. The Democratic Party has become much more solidly progressive than it used to be, and that will be reflected in the policies of any Democrat who makes it to the White House. The issue, instead, is whether he or she will be willing to face up to the harsh realities of today’s politics.

Democratic candidates in the next tier of the current race seem to get it. Warren’s proposals are very progressive, but they’re also incremental, and even her fairly radical ideas, like her proposed wealth tax, poll well. Anyone who watched Kamala Harris at Wednesday’s Barr hearing knows that she has no illusions about the state of partisanship.

Biden and Sanders, however, come across as romantics. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2019 at 10:11 am

Barr Has Protected Trump. His Next Step Is to Smear His Opponents.

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Over the last 24 hours, two events took place that will probably loom very large over the next 18 months. The first was an exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and Attorney General William Barr at a hearing yesterday. “Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?” asked Harris. Barr stammered, asked Harris to repeat the quite simple question, and then began parsing. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’” he told Harris. “I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation, but …” before trailing off ominously.

The second is a strange, somewhat convoluted but highly significant reportthat appeared last night in the New York Times. The story simultaneously reports on efforts by Trump loyalists to gin up dirt Joe Biden and Ukraine, while also conveying the dirt itself. Put aside the substance of the reporting for a moment; what matters is that this is a bright flashing signal of where Barr’s fearsome powers may be directed next.

Trump has always demanded an attorney general who will act as his personal sword and shield. In Trump’s highly transparent mind, the two roles are inextricably linked. He is almost incapable of proclaiming his own innocence without immediately segueing to the alleged guilt of his enemies. He must be cleared, and his rivals must be investigated.

The Mueller report’s section on Trump’s many attempts to get the Department of Justice off his back incidentally describes his repeated efforts to sic it on his rivals. The president’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions consisted in almost equal measure his recusal from the Russia probe and his failure to follow through on Trump’s promises to lock up his opponents.

Sessions did not refuse Trump’s demand altogether — he simply dissolved them into pro forma bureaucratic measures. In November 2017, he ordered up a review of the department’s handling of the Russia investigation and various accusations against Clinton. Sessions asked the U.S. Attorney in Utah, John Huber, to look into Trump’s allegations.

Apparently these activities were little more than spinning of wheels in an effort to placate Trump with the appearance of activity. But it’s hardly safe to assume that he can be put off in this fashion forever. Trump fired Sessions and replaced him with an attorney general who has given every appearance of satisfying Trump’s demands. Trump “has told those around him that, after being disappointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he has found an attorney general loyal to him,” reports the Associated Press, in one of the more chilling lines to appear in the news in some time.

One direction the loyal AG is obviously heading is yet another investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. At Barr’s hearing, Republican senators devoted most of their time to repeating wild allegations about the Russia investigation as deep state coup. The FBI has become in the right-wing mind “unelected progressive elites” nefariously seeking to reverse the 2016 election out of pure coastal elitist hatred for Trump and his voters. Barr has promised more counter-investigations of the FBI’s investigation of Trump. At both this hearing and the previous one, Barr — who has maintained a studious neutrality about Trump’s multiple demonstrated offenses — casually prejudged the outcome, telling Congress the FBI’s conduct disturbed him.

A second direction for Barr’s investigatory powers is now coming into view. As Hillary Clinton’s value as a foil has receded, Trump has taken aim at the candidate he sees as his most likely and formidable threat: Joe Biden. The new Times story describes both the connections between Biden and Ukraine, and Trumpworld’s efforts to criminalize them.

The evidence for the former is extant, but thin: Hunter Biden has legally but somewhat sleazily traded on his father’s name through various investment and consulting arrangements. One of those dealt with Ukraine, which involved his father during the Obama presidency, because Biden senior demanded the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who “had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite.” It happens that this corrupt prosecutor had targeted a client of Hunter Biden’s. That is a conflict of interest, though Joe Biden’s only “crime” was opposing a corrupt figure who his administration would and should have opposed anyway.

The far greater evidence of misconduct lies in the other half of the story. The Trump administration is pressuring Ukraine to advance the case specifically in order to smear Biden. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney of sorts, has discussed the case with both the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor and his successor. “He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year,” reports the Times. “The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.”

The context for this revelation is another story the Times broke last year, and oddly fails to mention in its latest report. That story revealed that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2019 at 8:09 am

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