November 14, 2019

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Two New Staffers Destroy Trump's 'Hearsay' Defense (Jonathan Chait, 11/14/19, New York)

It was less than a week ago when Republicans were telegraphing an audacious new defense of President Trump's Ukraine extortion scheme. The whole caper, they were prepared to argue, had actually been masterminded by Gordon Sondland. The hotelier and foreign-policy novice, handed a plush ambassadorship to the European Union as a reward for a donation, had somehow gone out of his lane and taken over Ukraine policy from a cadre of experienced professionals -- all without Trump's knowledge or permission.

Sondland "made a presumption," Ohio representative Jim Jordan told the media. "There is no direct linkage to the president of the United States," added North Carolina representative Mark Meadows.

The sole advantage behind this fantastical explanation was Trump's well-established, mob-like aversion to note-taking. The president would literally scream at anybody who took notes in his presence, leaving him plausible deniability when his subordinates carried out his frequently unethical or illegal orders.

Yesterday, however, William Taylor testified that a member of his staff heard Sondland, in Kiev on a cell phone, speaking with President Trump, and that Trump asked about Ukraine opening "investigations." After the call, Sondland told the staffer, David Holmes, that Trump's highest priority in Ukraine was securing an investigation of the Bidens. Today, the Associated Press reports a second staffer, Suriya Jayanti, also heard the call.

...Mr. Taylor just made the rubble bounce.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Trade War Cost Republicans In 2018 Midterms, Especially in Rural Swing Counties (ERIC BOEHM, 11.14.2019, reason)

Rick Telesz is a farmer from northwestern Pennsylvania who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after supporting Barack Obama four years earlier. But Telesz says Trump won't get his vote again in 2020--unless the trade war comes to an end.

"My breaking point with the current president came when I realized his trade war had caused 20 percent losses for the 750-acre family farm I help run in western Pennsylvania," Telesz wrote in an op-ed that USA Today published last week. Telesz' farm produces soybeans, corn, and dairy products, all of which have been negatively affected by the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China in response to President Donald Trump's widespread tariffs targeting Chinese-made goods.

And while a real backlash against Trump's trade policies might not happen until 2020, new research shows that the Republican Party has already paid a smaller electoral price for Trump's trade war. During the 2018 midterm elections--and particularly in rural "swing" counties that could be key to Trump's re-election hopes--researchers from Dartmouth College and the Peterson Institute for International Economics found "a modest but robust negative relationship between local employment exposure to the 2018 trade war and support for Republican House candidates."

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


GOP Rep. Steve King suggests George Soros' son is the whistleblower, which makes no sense (Kathryn Krawczyk, 11/14/19, The Week)

Not only does Soros have no job in the federal government nor any intelligence experience, but King fails to realize it would be very odd if Trump let one of his staunchest political enemies work for him in the White House. 

When has Trumpbot Jew-bashing ever needed a connection to fact?

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Why Bernie Sanders and AOC are targeting public housing in the first Green New Deal bill (Ella Nilsen and Umair Irfan,  Nov 14, 2019, Vox)

Dubbed the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, the proposal aims to transform the entire stock of public housing in the US, 1.2 million units, into energy-efficient homes powered by onsite renewable energy. Authors say the bill would create about 240,000 jobs per year and reduce greenhouse emissions equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road. [...]

By starting with housing, the legislators appear to be trying to make inroads with a broad political base and avoid some of the more contentious aspects of the Green New Deal, like the transition away from fossil fuels. That issue in particular has divided labor unions because it would lead to the end of mining and drilling jobs.

The Green New Deal has risen in popularity since the resolution was introduced in February; an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll this summer showed 60 percent of registered voters supported it, including 86 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents (Republicans were decidedly less in favor).

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


After Prop 187 Came The Fall Of California's Once-Mighty GOP, And The Rise Of Latino Political Power (LIBBY DENKMANN, NOVEMBER 11, 2019, LAist)

Many of the newly naturalized immigrants had benefited from the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed by Congress in 1986 and signed by President Reagan. It provided a path to legal status to close to 2.7 million people. But scholars have shown the naturalization bump was tied to the community's reaction to Prop 187.

Latinos now hold close to a quarter of partisan elected offices in California, up from just 11 percent when Prop 187 passed.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said another trend started in the mid-90s: Republican power in California, once the stomping grounds of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, began to wane.

"Proposition 187 changed everything," Padilla said. "The electorate is very different today than what it was back in 1994."

In 1996, Democrats picked up a handful of seats in the California Assembly -- and control of both state houses hasn't slipped from the party's grip since. Dems now hold a super majority in the state Assembly and Senate, allowing them to pass tax increases or override vetoes without GOP support.

In campaigns across the state, "Democrats weren't running against their Republican opponents, they were running against Pete Wilson," Padilla said. "Prop 187 became a strong, symbolic representation of the difference between the two political parties."

Today, not a single statewide office is held by a member of the GOP, and more voters are registered "No Party Preference" than Republican in California.

In the wake of Prop 187, California voters still enacted policies seen by many as anti-immigrant -- like the approval of Proposition 209 in 1996, which banned affirmative action in government employment or public education. Two years later, Proposition 227 eliminated most bilingual education programs in the state.

These further drove a wedge between many California Latinos and the GOP that, as Padilla sees it, formed during Prop 187 -- despite the old political wisdom that socially conservative Latinos are persuadable for Republican candidates.

"I've heard it so many times over the years," Padilla said. "For all the emphasis on family values or entrepreneurship or anything else, it's really hard for a Latino to accept that, if what you hear much more loudly is, 'we don't want you here.' That's what you hear from the Republican party."

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Flareup bequeaths new 'alliance,' as Hamas, Israel keep from fighting each other (Avi Issacharoff , 11/14/19, Times of Israel)

The events from Tuesday to Thursday were primarily marked by two unique, even potentially historic, characteristics:

1. For the first time, the State of Israel and its security forces distinguished clearly between Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. [...]

This week, however, for the first time since Hamas seized control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in 2007, Israel took the opposite line. It distinguished clearly between Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

As the rockets rained down on Israel, the IDF attacked only Islamic Jihad targets and Islamic Jihad personnel. [...]

2.) Hamas refused to enter the fighting. [...]

This time, it would appear that the rulers of the Strip were only too happy about Israel's elimination of serial troublemaker Abu al-Ata. They refrained from any armed response, and even their anti-Israel declarations sounded unusually mild.

It almost seemed at some points as though they regarded the Abu al-Ata incident as part of a fight between clans in which it had no part: Abu al-Ata had been eliminated; now his "family," Islamic Jihad, was avenging his death. Not Hamas.

There are several reasons for Hamas's uncharacteristic behavior. The group recognizes that it has a real opportunity at the moment, not only to stabilize the situation in Gaza without the permanent threat posed by Abu al-Ata but also to head into Palestinian general elections, facing off against the Palestinian Authority, and win.

It may well be that some of Hamas's rivals, including Islamic Jihad and Fatah, will mock the organization and accuse it of having turned into a kind of Palestinian Authority, afraid of confrontation with Israel. But from Hamas's point of view, the benefits of its decision not to join in this round of fighting far outweigh the drawbacks.

Hamas's sole interest has always been governing a nation of Palestine.  W made a great mistake in not embracing the last election result and helping prop up the secular PLO.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Let's Hear It for the Deep State (ROBERT KUTTNER, NOVEMBER 13, 2019, American Prospect)

Just look at the witness list for the impeachment hearings: one foreign service officer after another--not a profession noted for attracting left-wingers, but for the most part honorable and principled people.

And when Trump tried to take over agencies of government with police powers, to use as his own private spying and operations forces, he ran into the same obstacles at the IRS, the CIA, and FBI, not to mention civilian agencies of government such as NOAA or the Centers for Disease Control.

This is an old story. Nixon set up the extralegal plumbers operation because he could not gain political control of the FBI and the CIA. And when Lyndon Johnson was furious because The New York Times kept reporting the truth about the fiasco in Vietnam, years later reporters Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam disclosed that their sources had been foreign service officers and CIA operatives who kept trying to warn the chain of command, to no avail, of the disaster in the making.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Trump Exposed: A Brutal Day for the President (JOHN F. HARRIS, 11/13/2019, Politico)

Perhaps it was George Kent's bow tie, which looked like it was paying homage to Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, but a dramatic day of testimony on Capitol Hill sent the mind back to one of the more compelling vignettes to emerge from that earlier scandal.

Richard Nixon was relaxing, in his own fashion, with West Wing hatchet man Charles Colson and imagining the joyful day when he would have payback against the diverse enemies arrayed against him. "One day we'll get them--we'll get them on the ground where we want them," Nixon rhapsodized. "And we'll stick our heels in, step on them hard and twist, right Chuck?"

An impeachment inquiry is a constitutional exercise, a vindication of checks and balances, a living expression of rule of law. Yes, yes, sure--all of that. But the start of public hearings Wednesday was a reminder of what impeachment really is in the modern presidency: A brutal exercise in psychological exposure.

There was breaking news from the hearings, but it was mostly a matter of detail. There was a new anecdote from diplomat William Taylor about Trump allegedly haranguing a subordinate to keep up the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. This was a validation of the existing narrative rather than a fundamental twist of plot.

In a more profound way, the day was a portrait--a vivid one, in an especially grave setting--of Trump being Trump: obsessive, hectoring, contemptuous of process and propriety, as bluntly transactional about military aid to a besieged ally as he would be about a midtown real estate deal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Deval Patrick's ties to Bain Capital could complicate his 2020 run (Dan Primack, 11/14/19, Axios)

He joined the firm in 2015 to launch and lead a platform focused on "social impact investing." That group, called Bain Double Impact, is in the midst of raising its second fund. Prospective investors tell Axios' Dan Primack that Patrick had assured them he wouldn't run for president in 2020, although left the door open for the 2024 race.

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How Hollywood Subtly Reinforces Wage Slavery (PAUL BRIAN, 11/12/19, The American Conservative)

Wage slavery, or the concept of being completely dependent on the person or company paying your subsistence wage is a reality for many individuals in modern developed nations. The cost of living and inflation rises as wages stay stagnant and families shop for food at the dollar store. Corners must be continually cut to stay afloat as the middle class becomes the lower-middle-class. 

Charlie Chaplin's 1936 film Modern Times tells the story of a frazzled and exploited wage slave. As a worker on an assembly line, Chaplin's character of the Tramp undergoes all sorts of misadventures satirizing capitalistic excess, including endless demands to speed up, having a nervous breakdown, getting stuck inside a machine, rescuing a fugitive orphan who stole a loaf of bread, and eventually pulling another boss out of a machine. It ends with the Tramp leaving with his love interest Ellen for a potentially brighter future. There is a hope of escape, of human connection. 

The 1979 film Norma Rae also tells the story of unionizing workers with a message of hope despite hardship. While not skimping on the indignities suffered by wage slaves, these films present solidarity, human connection and the mission for betterment as a realistic goal and a necessary conviction. 

Although finding hope and meaning through clinging to family ties and solidarity is echoed in some contemporary films like Debra Granik's dark and compelling Winter's Bone, the modern media landscape about the working class and downtrodden tends to depict an uphill battle that's already been lost. Joel Schumacher's 1993 film Falling Down is about a white collar working stiff who loses it and the cops who try their best to stop his trail of destruction. 

The protagonist Bill Foster boils over in frustration at his broken family and the lack of integrity and solidarity he perceives in general society, going on a rampage across Los Angeles. The police officer trying to take Foster down--Sergeant Prendergast--serves as a character foil: he is a working class man whose life has also been a let-down in many ways but who has accepted his lot with equanimity. 

Foster, who is disgusted by the consumerism and emptiness of the society around him, ironically claims that he is "just standing up for my rights as a consumer" after beating an Asian corner store clerk for having high prices early in the film. Foster is filled with racial resentment at the indifferent, multicultural landscape around him that seems to have no place or need for him other than wanting him to spend his money. He balks at now being the bad guy. "How'd that happen? I did everything they told me to," Foster complains, adding that "they lied to me." Prendergast scolds Foster like a child for not accepting the harsh reality that we are all replaceable cogs in the machine: "hey, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today."

Similarly, David Fincher's Fight Club also presents an oppressed wage slave storyline with a doomed ending. The schizoid protagonist Tyler Durden exhorts a crowd of his angry followers to rise up against their tepid lives "pumping gas, waiting tables" and being "slaves with white collars." Durden, the alter ego of the unnamed protagonist, starts their relationship by targeting the narrator for his consumerism and empty life. He urges them to burn down their apartments full of IKEA furniture, but the counter-solution of violent upheaval and rejection of social norms is inherently rejected by the film's conclusion. Indeed, the formation of Project Mayhem and its anti-corporate violence is backed away from by the narrator as he comes to grips with Durden's instability and cruelty. As director David Fincher explained, the film is intentionally ambiguous in presenting no solution to the problems afflicting consumerist society, and Durden represents an inability to accept "the compromises of real life as modern man knows it. Which is: you're not really necessary to a lot of what's going on. It's built, it just needs to run now." 

The tale of John Locke, one of the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 in J.J. Abram's hit television show Lost, is also one deeply rooted in the experience of wage slavery. Before falling victim to the crash, which mysteriously reverses his paralysis, Locke is confined to a wheelchair and a dead-end desk job at a box factory. At his job, Locke is bullied by his younger boss and mocked for his acts of escapism, which include playing war strategy games with another colleague and secretly LARPing as a colonel during office hours. When Locke decides to go on an Australian Outback walkabout he is promptly denied the ability to go on his booked tour due to his paralysis. His yearning for an escape from the reality of wage slavery and a reconnection with nature is strongly transmitted to the viewer. Indeed, the only time Locke is truly happy in the show is when he's stranded on the island, and able to carry out the natural, self-sufficient survival lifestyle of early man. Locke's signature catchphrase "don't tell me what I can't do," also conveys the stress and angst of a man who is not where he wants to be in life and is determined to reassert his own willpower and vitality. Lost provides an "out" from wage slavery only in the form of fantasy and escape. 

While the funny side of wage slavery has also been explored on programs like the Office that satirize the vacuity of white collar wage slavery, this is also generally presented with a tinge of sadness. Despite giving a subtle nod of appreciation to the kind of community and both bizarre friendships or even romance that can develop in a work environment, the Office more or less finds laughs in a group of people who have given up on finding meaning or betterment in their jobs. The Dilbert cartoon also takes a humorous tilt at white collar wage slavery, with a character whose resigned apathy at the tedium and stupidities of daily corporate life gets laughs instead of tears.

The powerlessness of the wage slave is disguised in a comfortable blanket of screensavers and padded office chairs, or presented behind soft denunciations of retail big box chains and corporate silliness. It would feel silly to shake your fist at a row of computer screens or half-stocked store shelves, after all. Whereas the first half of the 20th Century was eager to straightforwardly show individuals trapped in an industrial machine longing to escape, and cinema up until the 1980s presented the plight of a physically downtrodden middle and lower class seeking workers' rights, contemporary film struggles with a different beast: that of mental over-exertion, deep anomie and existential office and retail nightmares. 

The robots are our liberators, not our oppressors.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Plurality in battleground states support Trump's impeachment: poll (JONATHAN EASLEY, 11/13/19, The Hill)

Priorities USA surveyed 2,500 voters in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- four states that went for Trump in 2016 -- and found that 49 percent support impeachment and removal, compared to 45 percent who oppose it. 

The worst margins for Trump are in Florida, where 51 percent of respondents support impeachment and 45 oppose it. In Michigan, 50 percent support impeachment and removal compared to 45 percent who are opposed.

The margins are closer in Wisconsin, at 48 percent-45 percent in support of impeachment and removal, and in Pennsylvania, where voters are split 47 percent-47 percent.

The data finds that voters increasingly view "corruption" as a reason to replace Trump: fifty-three percent of respondents cited "corruption" as a reason Trump should not get a second term, matching health care as the top problem spot for the president.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Happened to California Republicans? (Victor Davis Hanson, 11/13/19, Daily Signal)

From 1967 to 2019, Republicans controlled the California governorship for 31 of 52 years. So why is there currently not a single statewide Republican officeholder? California also has a Democratic governor and Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. Only seven of California's 53 congressional seats are held by Republicans.

In 1994, then-Gov. Pete Wilson backed Proposition 187, which denied state social services to undocumented immigrants. 

Mr. Hanson and his clan want to do for the GOP Nationally what they did to it in CA.