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Walt Whitman: A Land of Contrasts

When David Brooks' Liberal straw men are in the shop being restuffed and restitched and he has momentary run out ways to lie about Both Sides being to blame for the depravity of his Republican Party, The New York Times pays him to a giant pile of American money to write Another Book Report About National Greatness.

One of my favorites of these lab reports is Walt Whitman’s essay “Democratic Vistas,” published in 1871...

Whitman had hoped...

Whitman feared...

...[Whitman] believed

Whitman wrote...

[Whitman] observed...

Whitman was not, however...

Whitman spent...

[Whitman] thought...

[Whitman] pointed out...
-- joins Mr. Brooks previous half-assed contractual-obligation dropping in this genre.  A list which includes but is not limited to...

So there you go.

Behold, a Tip Jar!


A good bet

A good bet

by digby

Rick Tyler, formerly of the Ted Cruz campaign, has a prediction:

“Here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to go out on a limb,” Tyler began. “The president has calculated now — and I think it’s true — is the reaction from the Republicans. He is going to fire Robert Mueller. And you know what’s going to happen? Nothing. That’s what’s going to happen. There will be no response from Republican leadership, from Congress.”

Tyler continued as the other guests looked on in amazement.

“He is now going about — the reason to fire [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe], the reason to deny him his retirement is he has to discredit him,” Tyler said. “And he has to systematically discredit everybody who’s involved in this Russia investigation. And he has now seen that he can do these things without any recourse. The Congress is not going to reign him in.”

The GOP strategist predicted Mueller’s firing would come “sooner rather than later, before he can get any further… on money laundering or other tangential issues.”

“Wow,” Ruhle said at the conclusion of the segment. “It is not even 9:30 on a Monday morning and Rick Tyler just knocked my socks off. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Get ready.

I don't know if this will happen. Some of this just suits Trump's desire for drama and chaos. And he might think that he's scaring Mueller into going easy. But if he's going to do it, he'll do it before November when the congress might very well change over and try to pass a law to stop him from firing Mueller. (I don't know how that would work unless the wave is so huge they could override Trump's veto ...)

But just in case he does flip the switch, here are some links you might want to bookmarks just in case:

Move On


Yet another Russia connection…

Yet another Russia connection...

by digby

Following up on the Cambridge Analytica story here's just a tiny little bit of further information regarding the top scientist behind the use of the app Cambridge Analytica Facebook app:

"But while he was helping turn Facebook profiles into a political tool he was also an associate professor at St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media. “Stress, health, and psychological wellbeing in social networks: cross-cultural investigation” was the title of one piece of research. Online posts showed Kogan lecturing in Russian. One talk was called: “New methods of communication as an effective political instrument”.

Cambridge University said academics are allowed to take on outside work but are expected to inform their head of institution, a rule Kogan had complied with. “We understand that Dr Kogan informed his head of department of discussions with St Petersburg University regarding a collaboration; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity,” a spokesman said.

Apart from that, Kogan appears to have largely kept the work private. Colleagues said they had not heard about the post in St Petersburg. “I am very surprised by that. No one knew,” one academic who asked not to be named told the Observer. Russia is not mentioned in a 10-page CV Kogan posted on a university website in 2015. The CV lists undergraduate prizes and grants of a few thousand dollars and links to dozens of media interviews."

It doesn't mean anything in itself. But keep in mind that the famous Russian Troll Farm was located in St. Petersburg. It's uhm ... interesting.


Data nerds and honey traps

Data nerds and honey traps

by digby

Oh look. Trump's vaunted data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, with board member Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner's personal hire Brad Parscale (recently hired as Trump's 2020 campaign) was allegedly involved in much more nefarious activity than just stealing tens of millions of Facebook profiles:

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.

In an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News, the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix said the British firm secretly campaigns in elections across the world. This includes operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors.

In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.

The admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Mr Nix told our reporter: “…we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”

Along with Mr Nix, the meetings also included Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global, and the company’s chief data officer, Dr Alex Tayler.

Mr Turnbull described how, having obtained damaging material on opponents, Cambridge Analytica can discreetly push it onto social media and the internet.

He said: “… we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’.”

Mr Nix also said: “…Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company… so often we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”

In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.

Despite film of executives saying they are doing this, they deny that they are doing it.

This was part two of the Channel IV documentary about Cambridge Analytica which, along with the news from the NY Times over the week-end and stories in the Guardian, are shaking up the Russia scandal. Part one of the Channel IV story featured the whistleblower telling the story of the theft of the Facebook users information.

Highly recommended:

Here is Part 1:

Here is Part 2:

They will be broadcasting their story about Cambridge Analytica and the United States election tomorrow.


Republicans are all-in with Trump

Republicans are all-in with Trump

by digby

That's what they're saying anyway:

His approval rating is perpetually underwater, and the pandemonium surrounding his presidency only grows the longer he’s in the job.

But Senate Republicans are nevertheless making a counterintuitive, all-in bet that President Donald Trump will save their 51-49 majority — and perhaps even help them pick up a few seats.

Even as fears grow within the GOP that Trump will cost Republicans the House, Senate Republicans say the president will play a starring role in the closely contested campaigns that will decide control of the chamber. Trump will be front and center in every state that helped elect the president, according to GOP senators and strategists, making the case that Democrats are hindering his agenda.

“If you look at a race in a state like Missouri or North Dakota — or any of these states — he’ll be very involved,” said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the GOP’s campaign arm, who speaks with Trump about political strategy regularly. “He’ll be actively campaigning for a Senate majority. Absolutely.”

Republicans will lean most heavily on Trump in five deeply conservative states where the president remains highly popular and where he crushed Hillary Clinton: West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Montana. But they say they will also deploy Trump in the next tier of swing states that Trump won more narrowly: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. And they expect him to help preserve GOP seats in Nevada, where he narrowly lost, and in Arizona.

In fact, despite his unpopularity on the national level, Republicans insist there isn’t a state on the Senate map where they are nervous about deploying Trump. Republicans reason that opposition to Trump is already baked into the Democratic electorate. They figure Democrats will be motivated to vote whether Trump shows up or not, so they might as well use him to fire up their base, too.

Republicans have “got to have some intensity in our base,” as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) put it.

Sure, why not? Ginning up the rabid Trump base is just what the doctor ordered.

Nothing matters. They can't even contemplate the idea that losing the Senate for two years might just be to their own advantage in the long run.


At least he isn’t a warmonger

At least he isn't a warmonger

by digby

I know, I know. Democrats are just as bad if not worse and nobody should ever point out the fact that Trump is a violent, bloodthirsty psychopath because George W. Bush and his cronies started that misbegotten war for no reason.

But still:

The numbers are shocking — or at least they should be.

2017 was the deadliest year for civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, with as many as 6,000 people killed in strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition, according to the watchdog group Airwars.

That is an increase of more than 200 percent over the previous year.

It is far more if you add in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and many others.

But the subject, considered a stain on President Barack Obama’s legacy even by many of his supporters, has almost dropped off the map.

Obsessed with the seemingly daily updates in the Stormy Daniels story or the impeachment potential of the Russia investigation, the American media is paying even less attention now to a topic it never focused on with much zeal.

“The media has unfortunately been so distracted by the chaos of the Trump administration and allegations of the president’s collusion with Russia that it’s neglected to look closely at the things he’s actually doing already,” said Daphne Eviatar, a director of Amnesty International USA.

That includes, she said, “hugely expanding the use of drone and airstrikes, including outside of war zones, and increasing civilian casualties in the process.”

Trump, of course, was a candidate who promised to “bomb the shit out of ’em [Islamic State],” and has since declared victory over the terrorist organization, while continuing to drop bombs.

It was always obvious that he would not restrain the military even a tiny bit when it came to killing foreigners. He hates foreigners, especially the ones who are not rich.


“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us”.

He once asked a briefer three times why we can't use nuclear weapons.

If anyone thinks that Trump hasn't told his military leaders to "bomb the shit out of 'em" as they think necessary, they are kidding themselves.

The good news is that he hasn't invaded anywhere. Yet.



Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed. ... One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in the fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.

- T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This week's featured posts are "The Conor Lamb Victory: lessons for Democrats" and "Who Are Those Guys?" which covers some of the new faces in major Trump administration positions: Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo, and Gina Haspel.

This week everybody was talking about a Democratic victory

Most of what I have to say is covered in the featured post. But there is one more thing:

Hoping to get some election insight that wasn't showing up yet on the networks, Tuesday afternoon I perused #pa18 on Twitter. I didn't find any secret exit polls or deep inside knowledge of what was happening, but I did notice something interesting. Republican tweets were full of warnings about a Democratic dirty trick: People at the polls would try to tell Republicans (specifically Republicans) that they couldn't vote because of the reorganization of Pennsylvania's congressional districts. The redistricting doesn't apply until November, the tweets said, so you should insist on voting and call this number to report whoever had tried to stop you.

None of the tweets I saw noted a particular precinct where this had happened or named a person it had happened to. As best I could tell, it was a pure fantasy.

I saw no comparable Democratic tweets, even though a Republican-dominated district would seem to offer far more opportunities for Republican dirty tricks. Pro-Lamb tweets had more of a cheerleading aspect: We can do this, we're going to make history, and so on. The closest thing I saw to the Republican tweets were the ones urging you to stay in line to vote, because they can't close the polls while you're still waiting.

You can draw your own conclusions, but here's mine: Republicanism these days is all about resentment, so the way you get out the Republican vote is to tell them that somebody is trying to cheat them. Never mind that the actual dirty tricks are overwhelmingly on their side: They're the ones demanding new forms of ID and organizing "ballot security" groups to harass legitimate voters. The present-day conservative movement has evolved away from all its old principled stances: small government, balanced budgets, free markets, and spreading democracy abroad. All that's left is feeling cheated and wanting to strike back at somebody.

and Trump's cabinet shake-up

I discuss this in "Who Are Those Guys?"

and the student protests against gun violence

The Wall Street Journal says that a million students participated in about 3000 protests Wednesday morning.

In D.C., thousands observed 17 minutes of silence as they sat with their backs to the White House. I love this photo of that moment: The girl is central and in focus, the White House small and a little blurry.

If you haven't already, you should listen to what the students have to say. Look at this video and this one. Or this clip from MSNBC's Last Word.


Do I believe this set of protests will break the power of the NRA and bring sensible gun laws to the United States? No, probably not. But I offer these kids the Lawrence of Arabia quote at the top of the page, to read and remember at those moments when it seems like nothing (or only a pitiful portion of what they imagined) has been accomplished, and they are tempted to ask themselves "What was that all about?" They have already worn away a chunk of the rock, and this is not the last time this particular sea will rise.

Conservatives will tell you that liberals make everything about race or gender. It turns out there's a reason for that: if you dig deeply enough, everything is about race or gender.

Scientific American reviews the research about the increasing number of guns in America: Since the start of the Obama administration, the number of guns manufactured in the U.S. has tripled and gun imports have doubled. But it's not that more and more people are buying guns -- around 42% of households own a gun, a number that's held steady for decades. It's that a small number of people are stockpiling more and more guns: 3% of the population now owns half of them.

So who are these people? White men, mostly. But not all white men.

According to a growing number of scientific studies, the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

What's interesting about these results is that they flip one of the common NRA scripts about mass killings: The problem isn't guns, it's moral decay. It's mental illness, it's boys without fathers, it's video games that dehumanize victims, it's a punishment for taking God out of the classroom, and so on. None of that pans out in the research. But the research Scientific American is citing finds a moral link that doesn't excuse guns as a cause, but goes through guns. Loss of meaning and purpose in life causes people to turn to guns. The Gun is the new God.

and the continuing effort to obstruct justice

The Republican effort to keep the public from knowing what happened in 2016 revved to a higher level this week. The House Intelligence Committee is ready to submit its Sgt.-Schultz-like report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Jeff Sessions sent a warning to all the FBI agents investigating the Trump administration by firing Andrew McCabe just 26 hours before his retirement, possibly screwing up his pension. Trump's lawyer called for the end of the Mueller investigation. And Trump himself tweeted attacks on McCabe and Mueller, as well as James Comey.

Undoubtedly, the House report will be approved on an party-line vote, as it has been a very partisan investigation from the beginning. The Democrats on the committee not only played no role in writing the report, they didn't even see it until Tuesday.

According to the one-page summary now available (the full report has to go through a declassification review before it can be released), the report will dispute the universal conclusion of the U.S. intelligence services of "Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump". Also

We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

No doubt that statement is literally true, because the committee's Republican majority didn't look for such evidence and didn't want to see it in the evidence they found.

For months it's been clear that the committee was not running a serious investigation. Repeatedly, White House and Trump campaign officials would go to the committee, answer the questions they wanted to answer, and give no valid grounds for refusing to answer all other questions. Since a majority vote was necessary to subpoena those who wouldn't testify voluntarily, or to cite for contempt witnesses who refused to answer valid questions, the committee mostly has assembled the information that Trump wanted it to have.

The committee used its power to harass and intimidate Trump critics, rather than to investigate their claims.  For example, it subpoenaed the bank records of the firm that funded the Steele dossier, but not records that would shed light on credible accusations that the Trump Organization engaged in money laundering for Russian oligarchs.

Again and again, it has staged elaborate sideshows to distract the public from the questions it should have been trying to answer. This report is yet another distraction. I agree with The Washington Post's editorial conclusion:

History will not judge kindly these legislators who abased themselves and their institution.

The justification for McCabe's firing is a report by the Justice Department Inspector General that still hasn't been released, so there's no way to know how solid it is. Maybe McCabe actually deserved to be fired, or maybe the Justice Department caved to political pressure to strike back at someone Trump blames for his legal troubles.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that McCabe inappropriately allowed two top officials to speak to reporters in 2016 about his decision to open a case into the Clinton Foundation. This incident was under investigation as part of a broader look into how the FBI and Justice Department handled themselves during the most recent presidential election.

According to reports about the watchdog’s conclusion, which is still under wraps, McCabe apparently misled investigators during an interview with the inspector general, a charge McCabe denies.

McCabe himself sees another rationale:

The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.

Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. ... This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.

As if to corroborate McCabe, Trump began tweeting against McCabe's firing, James Comey, and the Mueller investigation, supporting McCabe's contention that these are all connected in his mind.

but keep your eye on Russia

The poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, now a citizen of the United Kingdom is an important story to watch play out.

The key fact, to me, is that Russia is not even trying to get away with it. The chemical agent used in the attack was easily traceable back to Russia; they might as well have left a signed note. The point seems to be to make a statement, like certain mob killings, where it wasn't enough to get some guy out of the picture, he had to die in a hail of bullets that would leave no doubt who was behind it.

The UK has thrown out some Russian diplomats in retaliation, and Russia has thrown out some UK diplomats. If it ends there, Putin has won. Vox' Zeeshann Aleem notes that the UK has a much stronger weapon: It could freeze the London-based assets of Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin. But will it, given how much this Russian money means to London bankers and the UK economy in general? This follows the script of the old KGB kompromat: entangling a victim in schemes that make it hard for him to resist further schemes.

The US has signed onto a joint statement with France and Germany backing up the UK, but again, it's not clear how far we're willing to go. Putin may well come out of this feeling as if he won: The Western democracies made some noise, but in the end they did nothing  of consequence.

To no one's surprise, Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election.

and you also might be interested in ...

Far from "draining the swamp", Trump's new tariff policies are a bonanza for lobbyists.

“The dinner bell is ringing for the trade bar and associated lobbyists and consultants,” said Chip Roh, a former partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Lawyers and lobbyists are employed on both sides, arguing for and against exemptions, he said, adding, “It creates a fertile field.”

The erosion of local news coverage continues: The Denver Post is laying off another 30 journalists.

The newsroom would be below 70 positions: a startling drop from a time not much more than a decade ago when the Post and its rival, the Rocky Mountain News, together had more than 600 journalists. (The papers were in a joint operating agreement until the Rocky went out of business in 2009.)

Top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo comments on the impact of that loss: "It’s been a long time since we sat through every City Council meeting."

What we're seeing here is the growing "efficiency" of capitalism. Local newspapers used to be privately owned enterprises that, in the course of their normal function, provided cities with a public good: oversight. Public institutions knew that if they became too brazenly corrupt, someone would notice and make an issue of it. But it is inefficient to provide benefits that you don't get paid for. The more efficient a business becomes, the closer it comes to capturing all the benefits it generates. The public good? Who's paying for that?

and let's close with something with a public service announcement

What better way to teach responsible alcohol consumption than to watch someone go slightly over the line? Shannon Odell is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Cornell Medical College, and is also seriously cute and adorable -- which shouldn't matter, but does. She explains the physiological effects of alcohol on your brain and nervous system while drinking shots.


Poo-Flinging Shitgibbon Sick Of All The Poo-Flinging

"Sanctification"? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Good to know.

Trump holds his breath until he turns blue

Trump holds his breath until he turns blue

by digby

I wrote about the week-end tantrum for Salon this morning:

Attorney General Jeff Session fired former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the president couldn't have been more thrilled. In a characteristic display of puerile mendacity he tweeted out his glee for the world to see:

These tweets were so full of lies that they required a full fact check by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.  The short version? The investigation started before there was a Steele dossier when one of Trump's national security advisers got drunk and spilled to an Australian diplomat that the Russians told him they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. There's no reason to believe the FISA court did anything improper and there have been a boatload of indictments and guilty pleas of Trump associates. And that's not to mention that the Trump campaign and transition were bizarrely crawling with more Russians than the annual Red Square May Day parade and nobody can adequately explain it.

Michaels Isikoff and David Corn's new book "Russian Roulette" gives one possible explanation as to why Trump insists on telling those lies to explain the Russia investigation. Recall that on January 6th of 2017 the heads of the intelligence agencies gathered to tell Trump about the Russia investigation. After the meeting was over James Comey had the unpleasant task of meeting with the president-elect alone to tell him about the contents of the Steele dossier. After Comey left, Trump apparently exploded and told members of his staff that this meeting was an FBI shakedown to blackmail him. In other words, the Fox News fulminating over the Deep State being out to get him originated with Trump himself.

His paranoia runs so deep that anyone in government who isn't a loyalist cannot be trusted, especially Democratic career law enforcement employees who are all obviously in on the plot:

It is against the law for Mueller to ask the political affiliation of anyone he hires but such things are of interest to Trump who proved that last spring when he asked Andrew McCabe if he voted for him and told him "ask your wife what it feels like to be a loser."

If there was any question about where Trump is headed, his lawyer John Dowd (who belatedly claimed he was only speaking for himself) came out after the announcement of McCabe's firing and said:

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier."

Let's just say that if Dowd was speaking for himself he seemed to be channeling the thought process and phraseology of his client with perfect precision channeling his client. This was meant as an offer Rosenstein couldn't refuse.

As agitated and manic as Trump's tweets were this week-end, it seemed clear that he was testing the waters.  The New York Times' Maggie Haberman explained,

She wrote a fuller analysis for the paper explaining that Trump is actually brimming with self-confidence now because he sees that there have been no dire consequences for his actions despite warnings to the contrary so he sees himself getting stronger and taking control. And from the quotes from Republicans in her story, his allies in the congress and elsewhere are impressed with his new take-charge attitude.

Congressman Peter King for instance, says he thinks the president is more relaxed now but he's also been  "frustrated by the fact that he feels like a lot of what he didn’t succeed at, or what hasn’t worked, is that he wasn’t allowed to be Trump." So he's decided to be Trump.

In this instance, what Trump has realized is that if he humiliates a member of his cabinet, tweets that someone should be fired and makes it clear that he wants someone gone, at some point he will simply wear down institutional resistance. Recall that he humiliated Comey by making sure the FBI director only found out he'd been fired by seeing it on TV. Just last week, Rex Tillerson was totally demeaned as he was shown the door, with John Kelly even telling the press he informed Tillerson he was fired while the latter was on the toilet. By taunting McCabe about his scheduled retirement, and then waiting until just a day before that to fire him, Trump demonstrated to everyone else in the bureau that they'd better not cross him.

We don't know whether there will be any fallout from the McCabe firing by congressional Republicans but if there is and it goes the way every other Trump assault on presidential norms has gone, it won't last. Still there were a few more antagonistic comments than usual.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said if Trump fires Mueller "that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." He also called for public hearings to explain the firing and allow McCabe to defend himself. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said the Mueller probe should be allowed to continue and responded to Graham's request for public hearings on the McCabe firing positively. Those two seem to be working in concert toward ends that are not entirely clear, what with their attacks on Christopher Steele and calls for a second Special Prosecutor, but perhaps this is on the up and up.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the position that McCabe should have been allowed to retire, echoing the analysis in this article at Lawfare which points out that while nobody can say whether the charges against McCabe are reasonable until the report is released, this process appeared overly punitive and vindictive.
Surprisingly, the scourge of Benghazi, Trey Gowdy, had the most stinging criticism saying to Trump what millions of Americans are thinking every day:

If the allegation is collusion with the Russians, and there is no evidence of that, and you are innocent of that, act like it...if you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.
House speaker Paul Ryan put out a tepid statement stating that Mueller and his team Mr. Mueller and his team "should be able to do their job" but there was no word from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  That's about it from Republicans. It was hardly a stampede of outraged elected officials rushing to do their duty.

Trump is on a roll and he's not likely to care in any case. The congressional Republicans have already shown their hand. Unless they're willing to impeach him he knows he can do what he wants. And so he is.


The racial dimension of student debt, by @Gaius_Publius

The racial dimension of student debt

by Gaius Publius

Student debt is increasingly burdening everyone, but that burden disproportionately weighs on black households.
—Marshall Steinbaum (source)

As an interim addendum to our short series, "Killing a Predator — Cancelling Student Debt" — Part 1 here, Part 2 here — consider the observation above by Marshall Steinbaum, one of the co-authors (with Stephanie Kelton, Scott Fulwiler, and Catherine Ruetschlin) of the Levy Institute paper on student debt cancellation we've been looking at. It comes from a more general piece Steinbaum wrote for the Roosevelt Institute discussing his Levy Institute paper. I'd like to focus here on just that observation.

Compare the two charts above. They show median wealth of households headed by black individuals (top chart) and white individuals (bottom chart) between the ages of 25 and 40 in successive waves of the triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, with and without student debt. (Credit to Matt Bruenig for preparing these data from the SCF.)

Before we look at more of what Steinbaum wrote, please note three things about the charts above.

First, consider the differing degrees to which student debt subtracts from the wealth of young black households and white households. The takeaway from that should be: No, canceling student debt would not mainly benefit the rich. It actually disproportionately benefits black households when measured as a percentage of household wealth.

Second, look at the vertical scales of the two graphs, their Y-axes. The numbers are not the same.  The top charted point (peak of yellow line) for young white households is $80,000. The top charted point (peak of yellow line) for young black households is slightly more than $18,000. That's a peak-to-peak wealth differential of greater than 4:1.

Worse, the actual wealth of these black households in 2016 is less than $4,000 (blue line, top chart), compared to more than $40,000 for white households in the same year (blue line, bottom chart). In other words, the 2016 wealth differential is more than 10:1.

Canceling all student debt would bring that differential down to "just" 5:1 — still shameful for a society like ours, but it shows what a great boon student debt cancellation would be for young black households.

Finally, note that from 2013 to 2016, white wealth for these households has recovered somewhat from the Wall Street–caused "great recession" while black wealth has recovered not at all

Now Steinbaum:

One thing that immediately becomes clear upon investigation of the student debt crisis is the extent to which it is a creature of this country’s legacy of racial discrimination, segregation, and economic disadvantage patterned by race. My prior research with Kavya Vaghul found that zip codes with higher population percentages of racial minorities had far higher delinquency rates, and that the correlation of delinquency with race was actually most extreme in middle-class neighborhoods. What this tells us is that student debt is intimately bound up with the route to financial stability for racial minorities.

In that work, we ascribe this pattern of disadvantage to four causes: segregation within higher education, which relegates minority students to the worst-performing institutions, discrimination in both credit and labor markets, and the underlying racial wealth gap that means black and Hispanic students have a much smaller cushion of family wealth to fall back on, both to finance higher education in the first place and also should any difficulty with debt repayment arise. The implication is that while higher education is commonly believed to be the route to economic and social mobility, especially by policy-makers, the racialized pattern of the student debt crisis demonstrates how structural barriers to opportunity stand in the way of individual efforts. Insisting that student debt is not a problem amounts to denying this reality.

Looking at the time series of median wealth for households headed by black and white people between the ages of 25 and 40 (what we refer to as “white households” and “black households”) in successive waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) [see charts above] reveals these racialized patterns. ... By this measure, the racial wealth gap (the ratio of the median wealth of white households in that age range to the median wealth of black households in that age range) is approximately 12:1 in 2016, whereas in the absence of student debt, that ratio is 5:1.

Moreover, while overall net household wealth levels for the non-rich increased between the 2013 and 2016 waves of the SCF for the first time since the Great Recession did violence to middle-class wealth, rising student debt weighed in the other direction—especially for black households. The time trend from these charts is clear: Student debt is increasingly burdening everyone, but that burden disproportionately weighs on black households.

Steinbaum refers to another study to explain why this is the case (emphasis mine):
A 2016 paper by Judith Scott-Clayton and Jing Li offers clues, since it tracks the debt loads of black and white graduates with four-year undergraduate degrees. They find that immediately upon graduating, black graduates have about $7,400 more in student debt than their white counterparts. Four years after graduating, that gap increases to $25,000. The crucial difference is simply that white graduates are likely to find a job and start paying down their debt, more-or-less as the system is designed, but black graduates are not—they carry higher balances, go to graduate school (especially at for-profit institutions) and thus accumulate more debt, and subsequently earn no better than whites with undergraduate degrees.

What this suggests is that any given educational credential is less valuable to blacks in a discriminatory labor market (probably because they attended less well-regarded institutions with weaker networks of post-graduate opportunity, and also because even assuming they did attend the same institutions as their white counterparts, outcomes for black graduates in the labor market are mediated by racial discrimination). ... The assumption that debt-financed educational credentialization represents constructive wealth-building and social mobility thus reflects a failure to comprehend the landscape of race-based economic exclusion.

The interaction of student debt with "race-based economic exclusion" provides a powerful argument for student debt cancellation all on its own. Something to keep in mind as this idea enters public discourse.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)



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