A W A K E N

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Green caucuses, to see or not to see, and robot rage

Jonathan Chait on how Republicans read Pelosi’s statement about impeachment.
New York Magazine

This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she opposes impeachment. You might think this would cause Trump’s defenders to rethink their belief that the Russia investigation is a ploy to justify impeachment. You’d be wrong. Instead they have decided the news proves just the opposite: Democrats must know Trump is innocent of wrongdoing on Russia.

“If Pelosi and Schiff really believed their outlandish rhetoric on Russian collusion, they would be moving to impeach the president,” argues the Federalist’s David Marcus.

Sometime I want to be as devious as Republicans believe Democrats to be all the time. I don’t know when … but sometime.

This has become the new standard analysis on the right, and swift reversal of the party line has been picked up by the right-wing press with all the subtlety of a Stalin-era policy announcement in the Daily Worker: “There is an even more important takeaway, which is that Pelosi no longer believes in the Russia story, if she ever did. There is simply no way she would subject herself to this level of rebellion from the liberal wing of her caucus and deliver this much disappointment to the Democratic Party base if she thought there was any chance that the special counsel report would substantiate the assumptions they have all held so closely for so long.” (Mike Huckabee.) “How could anyone conclude impeachment isn’t ‘worth it’ if you have all the evidence Schiff has claimed?” (Scott Jennings.) “If those charges are true, they should lead to impeachment.” (Charles Lipson.)

Please, Republican pundits, keep shouting that part about “if those charges are true, they should lead to impeachment.” Because those charges … are still under investigation.

Paul Krugman is out to defend the robots.
New York Times

The other day I found myself, as I often do, at a conference discussing lagging wages and soaring inequality. There was a lot of interesting discussion. But one thing that struck me was how many of the participants just assumed that robots are a big part of the problem — that machines are taking away the good jobs, or even jobs in general. For the most part this wasn’t even presented as a hypothesis, just as part of what everyone knows.

And this assumption has real implications for policy discussion. For example, a lot of the agitation for a universal basic income comes from the belief that jobs will become ever scarcer as the robot apocalypse overtakes the economy.

So it seems like a good idea to point out that in this case what everyone knows isn’t true. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and maybe the robots really will come for all our jobs one of these days. But automation just isn’t a big part of the story of what happened to American workers over the past 40 years.

Let me put this as gently as I can: Paul Krugman is wrong. No wait. That’s not quite it. Paul Krugman is @#%*ing wrong. That’s … at least a little closer.

And yeah, I know. One of us has a Nobel Prize in economics … and I don’t quite spot it lying around my office. But there is another factor. The factor were for ten years my job title was director of automation. What did I do during that time? Replaced people with robots. I replaced people who monitored conditions with sensors. I replaced people who mapped stockpiles and boundaries with drones. I mounted systems in trucks and bulldozers and shovels so that equipment could be driven to its limit and jobs could be done with fewer trucks and bulldozers and shovels. And fewer people.

How many of those people got “better jobs doing something less physically demanding?” That would be zero. You don’t automate these jobs so that you can pay people more to do something else. You automate these jobs so you can pay people nothing to go away. Otherwise, damn it, you would not automate these jobs in the first place.

And sure, I get it. I get it when Krugman, and plenty of others say that’s not the robot’s fault. It’s the fault of a system that rewards companies for automating people into non-vital components. It absolutely is. But pretending that the technological aspect of this is non-existent is the labor equivalent of “guns don’t kill people … yada yada yada.” 

Lookit. Krugman is about to hit exactly the role that I had.

These days, when people talk about the robot apocalypse, they don’t usually think of things like strip mining and mountaintop removal. Yet these technologies utterly transformed coal mining: Coal production almost doubled between 1950 and 2000 (it only began falling a few years ago), yet the number of coal miners fell from 470,000 to fewer than 80,000.

Right! Right! And that was because, not a falling demand, not a political change, but technological advances. And then Krugman conveniently waves away the industry he just admitted was all but wiped out by the problem he says doesn’t exist by pretending it was an exception and not just … oh, let’s say the canary in the coal mine. I did my time playing a villain straight out of Despicable Me 4—I mean, come on. Heading up automation for the world’s largest coal company? I deserve minions. I know how this crap works. And your job (where “you” is anyone, including me) is not safe from automation.

This is a sucky argument, Krugman. And pretending that it’s not an issue because not every industry is as easy to automate as large scale surface mining, is downright foolish. /End Rant.

Art Cullen looks at caucus issues in Iowa.
The Storm Lake Times

Most news outlets buried the lede, as we say in the business, on last weekend’s Iowa Poll published by The Des Moines Register. Headlines across the nation declared that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders lead the pack with nearly 30% each. Elizabeth Warren is a far sight back and so is Beto O’Rourke. That is not so much news to us.

The big story should have been that health care and climate change are the two biggest issues in the minds of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers.

That climate change is solidly in the scope of Iowa voters, despite trailing in many national polls is enough to make me welcome Iowa as first up to bat (That’s me as in me, not me as in any official statement for anyone except … just me). Frankly if I was polling issues, I put the imminent destruction of civilization with a side order of ecological devastation at the top of the chart and treat everything else as a nice to have. 

Similar numbers of Democrats support a Green New Deal to battle climate change and enhance the Iowa economy through renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. This was not an issue for Democrats in 2016 or 2018 when congressional candidates were door-knocking. JD Scholten talked about climate change and agriculture in his campaign against Rep. Steve King, but he was the only candidate who emphasized it. That is a remarkable change in a short amount of time. One 70-year-old man from Altoona said he has become more concerned about climate change with new reports out over the past six months. One of them might have been the White House Climate Assessment for 2018, which included dire predictions for Iowa corn yields if we don’t start to adapt now. Also, Iowans have seen first-hand the economic benefits that renewable energy bring, and are eager to develop more.

Let’s count again all the questions about climate change from the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There. We’re done. Please, in every situation, force your candidates and your media to address this issue. Constantly.

Renée Graham on America’s real “affirmative action” program
Boston Globe

Regardless of our qualifications, a person of color’s presence in white spaces is assumed to be the result of a quota system. This fosters the stubborn belief that we don’t belong in these institutions or companies, and have stolen a coveted spot from someone more deserving — which usually means a white person.

This is what’s so infuriating about charges, announced last Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Boston, that wealthy parents scammed their children into top-tier colleges and universities. Even with every available advantage — access to the best private schools, top tutors, college prep classes, coaches that could have made their spawn into the talented athletes their parents falsely touted — they still allegedly lied, cheated, and bribed their kids into institutions where they would not have otherwise been.

I was the first person in my family to go to college. My mom was valedictorian of her high school class and miles smarter than me, and she never attended college at all—just like millions of other women in the 1950s. Really, the road for me was silk compared to that faced by both women and people of color both then and now.

Of course, this proves what so many of us so-called “quota” kids have always known: there’s no greater system of affirmative action in America than the one designed to benefit the wealthy and well-connected, especially if they’re white. They make the rules, then break them to rig the game in their favor to an even more egregious degree.

And unless it all comes undone — which is maddeningly rare — a rich kid’s success is always chalked up to his or her hard work and personal sacrifices.

The most maddening thing about the whole scandal to me was how useless it all was. Parents with so much money that their children never really had to worry about need, spent ludicrous amounts to shove their kids into colleges were their attendance didn’t matter at all. And to do it they displaced students who had not just earned it, but would genuinely benefit from attending those schools.

Michael Tomasky on how bad Trump’s budget is for Trump.
Daily Beast

Donald Trump has done a lot of dumb things as president, like thinking he could saunter into a summit with a nuclear-armed enemy and change world history without so much as reading one paragraph to prepare. And he’s done a lot of ghastly things, like obstruct justice, break the law by paying off past conquests, defile the office, etc.

But all those things are uniquely Trumpian. This week marks the first time he’s done something just conventionally politically stupid. OK, probably not the first time, but the most notable time. This budget his administration put out is a howler. And I think that by the time we get into the heat of the 2020 election, it’s going to prove to be the biggest own-goal Trump has committed in the course of his entire term.

It’s not unusual for pundits to declare a budget “dead on arrival” when it lands in Congress, but there may never have been a budget as dead as the one Trump just produced. The smell of cadaverine (that’s a real thing, so is putrescine) is clinging to every step on the capitol just from the passage of Trump’s paperwork.

It’s unbelievable. It makes Simon Legree look like Santa Claus. Every caricature you’d want to make of a Republican budget, it opens itself up to. It’s horrible to the environment. It’s heartless to poor people. It wants to give people on food stamps box lunches again (remember that debacle, from the first budget?).

But more than that—it goes back on his big yuuuge promises from 2016. I’ll never cut Social Security or Medicare, he said then. Never! “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican,” he said while campaigning. “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

Does it really matter if Trump’s vileness is from ignorance or malice? Not so long as Republicans go along with it.

Will Bunch on the wolves crying ‘socialism’
Philadelphia Inquirer

President Trump actually almost got something right the other day. Americans should be worried about a return of “McCarthyism,” the kind of list-waving, name-calling, career-destroying mass hysteria that was pioneered in the 1950s by then-Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, over his invented claims that the U.S. government was overrun with “card-carrying Communists.” But needless to say, the 45th president is looking for his “witch hunt” in all the wrong places.

No, the place where I’m getting the “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” crazed vibe of the old House Un-American Affairs Committee is not from the Bob Mueller probe but by watching our elite (and elitist) Beltway pundits on cable TV or in the editorial pages, determined to rid the 2020 presidential campaign of any scourge of alleged “socialism” that might ruin the utopia that is modern American capitalism.

The idea that the press “caught” Hickenlooper in some kind of gaff because he gave something more than a one word answer to a question about capitalism is the kind of ridiculous standard that shows campaign season is really here.

It all came to a head recently when one of the 347 announced Democratic presidential candidates — a guy named John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado — turned up for an interview on the Electronic Daily Diary of the American Dream, MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Hickenlooper is beyond a long shot for the White House, but the 10-minute slot on national TV was a great chance to ask him where he stands, or why he was such a fossil-fuel zealot that he once drank fracking fluid.

But America got none of this. Instead, there was a kind of Spanish Inquisition to ruthlessly pressure Hickenlooper (who got in start in life as a brew-pub owner, with beer striking most people as something very good about capitalism) to look into the camera and declare, “I am a capitalist.”

Personally, I would not make that statement. I live in a capitalist system, yes, but if we really believe there’s nothing better than a system in which 90+ percent of people spend the bulk of their waking hours working to meet their basic needs for decade after decade, all through their lives … that’s genuinely sad.

Nancy LeTourneau on divorcing the immigration debate from nativism.
Washington Monthly

… for at least three years now, Donald Trump and his enablers have been fanning the flames of fear with lies and propaganda. People who are afraid of demographic and cultural changes listen to Trump or watch Tucker Carlson (or Lou Hobbs or Laura Ingraham) and have those fears affirmed and heightened. In other words, it’s a negative feedback loop that is constantly reinforced.

Adam Serwer provides us with some history about how these fears have been manipulated in the past. He specifically goes into some detail about how “race science” was used to fan the flames of fear about “white genocide” at the beginning of the 20th century.

LeTourneau’s column this morning is broken up by a series of citations and comments that make it very difficult to excerpt. However, it’s a good article and all I can do is urge you to simply go read the rest.

Virginia Heffernan wonders who is being protected by not showing the shooter’s footage.
Los Angeles Times

Soon after the gunman’s footage was live-streamed on Facebook on Thursday evening, clips tore through the internet, as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook all tried in vain to contain them — and police issued warnings against sharing the video. Images from it also showed up on traditional media outlets, before they thought better of it.

But should we really be “protected” from footage that documents white supremacist terrorism as vividly as anything can?

It’s a good question. As it happens, I have watched much of the video and it is disturbing, and not just for the obvious reason. As an example, on reach the first mosque, the shooter sits for a bit, clearly listening to a song. Then he announces “Let’s get this party started!” Climbs out, goes in, and begins by shooting people in the back. When the slaughter is over, he returns to the car, listens to another tune, and drives on. It’s a level of inhumanity that “mass murder” does not adequately reflect.

Should it be seen? I don’t know. 

At other times in history, such documentation — whether by a professional or bystander — has been considered necessary and urgent, and to look at it without flinching has been thought a duty of citizenship.

Consider the newsreels of concentration camps at the end of World War II, which left no doubt that the Nazi project had been genocide.

Later, Nick Ut’s widely disseminated 1972 war photos of 9-year-old Kim Phuc (“Napalm Girl”) running from her destroyed village in Vietnam — naked, burned, desperate — displeased President Nixon, who tried to claim they were “fixed.” They weren’t, and the photos helped pierce public denial and build opposition to the Vietnam War.

The biggest difference here is that the crime is being photographed by the criminal. I think we’d have different thoughts about images of concentration camps as snapped by Nazis, or picture of that poor child seen through a bomb sight. Heffernan argues that showing the videos might also help to deflate right-wing attempts to paint the entire attack as a “false flag” or something carried out by a “leftist.” But considering the right wing’s ability to ignore all white nationalist violence, while believing in “pizzagate” and “Q” it’s not clear who would be convinced.

Also, I fear that some of them might like this film. Too much.

Dana Milbank on the rising tide in the Trump swamp.
Washington Post

As the world was grounding 737 Max airliners this week, following the second crash involving the new jet in five months, the Trump administration, serving as a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing, declared “no basis to order grounding.” This from an administration and president that claim climate change is a hoax, radiation and pesticides are healthy, and that “raking” prevents forest fires.

When President Trump finally buckled to pressure and grounded the 737 Max on Wednesday, he said he “maybe didn’t have to” but thought it important “psychologically.” And why shouldn’t everybody trust the judgment of a guy who didn’t know the difference between HIV and HPV, proposed that exercise is bad for you and claimed that vaccines cause autism? Trump says he has a “natural instinct for science” because an uncle taught at MIT.

But Trump’s late uncle didn’t tell him to protect Boeing. That was Boeing’s chief executive, a frequent visitor to Trump properties, phoning Trump with a plea not to ground both the 737 Max 8 and Max 9.

The handling of the 737 Max issue was worse than seemed possible. Even an idiot would have made the decision to ground the planes early one. Maybe Trump should see if he can find someone who reaches that level.

Leonard Pitts on the college admission scandal.
Miami Herald

If you think you’re angry now, wait till you read the court documents.

Not that the summaries of a college cheating scandal so massive it briefly bumped Donald Trump from the “Breaking News” chyrons were not enough to make a nun cuss. Indeed, the story offered a perfect storm of outrage: the wealthy, well-known and well-connected gaming the system, lying, fixing tests and paying bribes to get their kids into prestigious colleges. It didn’t hurt that two of those arrested were famous actors: Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” fame and Lori Loughlin, who played “Aunt Becky” in that masterwork of saccharine banality, “Full House.”

This is the one story this week for which Trump is grateful. And after all, his father got him into school the old-fashioned way. With a straight up massive bribe that got his name on a hall.

But there is something about the tawdry details found in the affidavit by FBI agent Laura Smith that is truly infuriating. In its 204 pages, you get William “Rick” Singer, the scam’s mastermind, coaching his clients on lies they can tell to get a different ACT or SAT test site or some accommodation the testing services reserve for kids with learning disabilities. You get him soothing parents whose kids have entered school as purported athletic standouts and now worry that those kids will be asked to actually do something athletic. You get him scheming with parents who want their kids to think they did well on tests, when actually, one of Singer’s confederates secretly substituted his correct answers for their wrong ones.

The idea that the parents deceived their children into thinking they did better than they really did, and were going to schools where they had earned a position, is without a doubt both the saddest, and the sickest, part of the whole thing. They didn’t just commit a crime that stiffed opportunities for other kids, they made their own children into unwitting accomplices in that crime.

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