Monday, September 23, 2019

Legitimacy and Authority

Democracy is what we do to prevent political disagreement from turning into violent conflict. But the premise of Trumpist populism is that the legitimacy and authority of government is conditional on agreement with the political preferences of a shrinking minority of citizens — a group mainly composed of white, Christian conservatives.

- Will Wilkinson, "Why an Assault Weapon Ban Hits Such a Nerve with Many Conservatives"

This week's featured post is "He's not going to stop on his own".

This week everybody was talking about a new impeachable offense

Trump isn't allowing us to see any details, but it sure looks like he tried to strong-arm Ukraine's president into digging up dirt on Joe Biden. That's the subject of the featured post, which also raises the question: If the line Trump isn't allowed to cross isn't here, then where is it?

and responding to the attack on Saudi Arabia

Only in the Trump administration does the possibility of a new and bigger war in the Middle East get pushed off the front pages in a few days.

The nine days since the drone-and-missile attack on oil-production facilities in Saudi Arabia have been a lesson in why the United States needs a foreign policy and foreign-policy professionals who specialize in particular regions.

Let us assume for the moment that Iran was behind the attack. (The administration and the Saudi government say it was, but I don't see why I should trust either of them, given their past lies. The Saudi government has put forward ridiculous explanations of the Khashoggi murder, and Trump's lies number in the thousands. But I also don't see who else would have done this.) The US is then left with a wide choice of responses, from issuing a strongly worded statement to raining nuclear annihilation on the Iranians, and everything in between. Each possibility needs to be examined from a variety of viewpoints: Could the response be carried out successfully? What might Iran do then? What would the Saudis think? What would other countries counting on US protection think? How would our response affect the political situation inside Iran? What would the rest of the world think? and so on.

Who's going to do all that analysis? Trump? I doubt it.

The reason we're here now is that Trump's worldview has a flaw typical of people who glory in their own power: He imagines that when he acts, his adversaries will have no options other than to give him what he wants. (We've seen this in the trade war with China: He'll raise tariffs, and China will just have to give in.) And so with Iran: He walked away from Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and imposed harsh sanctions, imagining that the Iranians would have no recourse other than to give him a better deal than Obama got.

This is a different recourse.

Trump may well imagine that some kind of military counterattack on Iran will be similarly unanswerable. We'll bomb comparable oil facilities of theirs, or take out some part of their military infrastructure, or hit something else they value -- and they'll just have to take it. Like he tweeted shortly after taking office: "I will make our Military so big, powerful & strong that no one will mess with us." How's that working out?

One thing is predictable: Iran will not try to slug it out with us, hitting back at us in the same way that we hit them. If this gets into a tit-for-tat exchange, the Iranian moves will likely continue to widen the conflict into areas Trump has not considered.

US troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The deployment is said to be "defensive".

One argument is not going to fly with the American people: that we should defend Saudi Arabia because they're great customers who "pay cash". President Bush always denied that we invaded Iraq for the oil, rightly understanding that such a transactional view of war cheapens the lives of our soldiers. But Trump goes right there:

This is something that’s much different than other Presidents would mention, Jon. But the fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something. They’ll be very much involved, and that includes payment. And they understand that fully.

If war-for-oil is bad, how much worse is it to imagine that your son or sister or other loved one might be dodging bullets purely for money?

And then we have to ask: Whose money?

With Trump refusing to release his tax returns and obstructing any investigation of his finances, we have no idea how much Saudi money he has taken or is still taking. Vox mentions a few of the things we do know:

The manager of Trump’s hotel in New York credited a timely stay by members of the Saudi Crown Prince’s entourage (though not the prince himself) with lifting revenue there by 13 percent in one quarter last year. Lobbying disclosures showed that Saudi lobbyists spent $260,000 at Trump’s hotel in DC back in December 2016 during the transition. Separately, the Kingdom itself spent $190,273 at Trump’s hotel in early 2017.

But the truth is that nobody really has any idea how much money Trump gets from the Saudis or other Persian Gulf regimes. He owns a golf club in Dubai but its membership roster isn’t public information any more than the membership list at any of Trump’s other clubs is public knowledge.

The fact about the crown prince’s entourage’s visit to Trump’s hotel in New York happens to have leaked to the Washington Post, but we don’t know what kind of hotel stays haven’t leaked.

In fact, we know next to nothing at all about Trump’s financial relationships with anyone, other than that Trump refuses to do any kind of meaningful disclosure and shows no interest in avoiding either the appearance or the reality of impropriety.

In particular, we have no way of knowing whether those payments are ordinary market-rate fee-for-service transactions, or whether they are just cover for bribes.

We do know that Trump has been very solicitous of the Saudis, their horrific war in Yemen, and their murderous crown prince. He's issued five vetoes since taking office; four of them have something to do with Saudi Arabia.

and the Climate Strike

Protestors around the world demanded action on climate change Friday. Demonstrations estimated at over 100,000 people happened in a number of cities from New York to Berlin to Melbourne. Worldwide, as many as 4 million people may have participated.

and a back-to-school video

The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a group founded by parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, released a video that brings the school-shooting problem into focus. Without advocating for any particular political outcome -- neither a bill in Congress nor candidates who can stand up to the NRA -- the video uses back-to-school products to contrast the hopes parents have for the new school year with the terrifying situations their children may actually face.

and Elizabeth Warren's rise

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders started far ahead of her, but Warren has consistently chugged along. The RealClearPolitics polling average has her pulling ahead of Sanders nationally (19.8% to 16.6%), though still well behind Biden (30.2%). Two of the three most recent Iowa polls have her leading Biden as well.

You may not have noticed, but Mayor DeBlasio has pulled out of the presidential race. He didn't qualify for the third debate and wasn't likely to be in the fourth one either.

and Israel

It's still not clear who will lead the next government in Israel. Netanyahu's Likud party got out-voted; it has only 31 Knesset seats compared to Blue and White's 33. But it takes 61 votes to form a ruling coalition, so some intense politicking is going on. Netanyahu has looked dead before and come back, so it's too soon to count him out.

and you also might be interested in ...

Since the Clean Air Act of 1970, California has had the power to set stricter standards for auto emissions and fuel economy than the federal standards. Recently the state has tried to use that power to unite automakers behind standards closer to the Obama standards than the much lower standards the Trump administration has proposed.

Wednesday Trump tweeted that California's standard-setting power has been revoked. A legal battle is likely to ensue.

On the same day, he said that his EPA is going to cite San Francisco for its homelessness problem.

Trump said the issue was an environmental one because “tremendous pollution”, including syringes used by homeless addicts to inject drugs, was flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Bay Area cities.

This seems to be more about Trump's war with California than any concern with either the homeless or the environment. He provided no evidence to support the claims about syringes.

California does have a significant homelessness problem, caused by the combination of high rents and good weather. Living rough is a bit easier in Los Angeles than in Chicago.

Ben Carson is getting flack for his anti-trans comments. He claims to have heard complaints about "big hairy men" coming into women's shelters claiming to be women. This is a common religious-right trope -- that accepting transfolk enables men to get into bathrooms and other places where they can abuse women -- but it seems to be more fantasy than reality.

This is a phenomenon I've talked about before with regard to guns. Right-wing policy is often based on responding to dark fantasies rather than to real events.

The new wall design, he says, "can't be climbed." Trump knows this because he had "20 mountain climbers ... some of them champions" try to climb a prototype. Strangely, though, no one in the US mountain climbing community has ever heard of this test. Meanwhile, some Mexicans ran their own tests.

Abortions are down, from 16.9 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2011 to 13.5 in 2017. That's "the lowest rate recorded since abortion was legalized in 1973". The reason seems to be better contraception rather than increased restrictions on abortion.

If abortions were down because abortions are harder to get, you'd expect to see the difference mainly in the most restrictive states, and you'd also expect to see an increase in births. But the decline was across the board, and births went down as well as abortions.

The report is tentative about drawing conclusions about causes, but suggests that one possible explanation is an increase in "long-acting reversible contraceptive methods" like intrauterine devices and implants. One reason for that might be ObamaCare; such methods are more expensive, but are covered by ObamaCare policies.

The Pentagon has spent more than $184K at Trump's Turnberry Resort in Scotland since 2017.

Is it wrong to laugh at this? I mean, it's disturbing and alarming, but ... seriously?

When the Rev. Dan Reehil, a Catholic priest, ordered the removal of all Harry Potter books from the parish school’s library, the St. Edward community demanded an explanation. Father Reehil responded by email, noting that he had “consulted several exorcists, both in the United States and in Rome,” and had been assured that the “curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

Like many people who either have or know children, I've read big chunks of Harry Potter out loud. It seems like I would have noticed the evil spirits.

Obama ended junk health insurance, but Trump brought it back. An article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek tells the story of Marisia and David Diaz, who thought they were insured until David had a heart attack. They wound up owing a quarter of a million dollars for his treatment and surgery.

Come November, the rules on junk insurance will loosen even further, and boiler-room operations are gearing up to push more junk insurance on unsuspecting Americans.

and let's close with some global cooperation

Robbie Robertson leads musicians around the world in playing "The Weight".

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