Sunday Evening Open Thread: Could Be Worse…

Lest we fall into the media trap of thinking it’s only us Democrats who must contend with nutballs, narcissists, and fanatical deadenders. Lyin’ Paul Ryan attempts to protect his own 2020 chances while not getting into the short-fingered vulgarian’s cross-hairs…

“When people go to the polls in November, they are not just picking a person … they’re also picking a path,” said Ryan, who spoke repeatedly of unity with the front-runner — while refusing to bet on a Trump victory this fall.

“I think this is a ‘we,’ not just one person,” he added. “I very much believe in a type and style of politics that may not be in vogue today but, I still think, nevertheless, is the right kind of politics.”

It was that core belief, he says, more than any rank political calculation, that led Ryan to say he was “just not ready” to back Trump in a shocker of a CNN interview on May 6. Standing in front of an idyllic waterfall, Ryan said he wanted to see “a standard-bearer that bears our standards” and called on Trump to rein in his worst impulses if he wanted Ryan’s support…

“You should ask him those questions,” said Ryan. “I’m not the person to be giving you the breakdown of Donald Trump. That’s not my job and responsibility.”…

Shorter Ryan: Hey, if Trump wins, I’ll be his biggest cheerleader. And if Trump loses, I’m young enough to wait out a Hillary Clinton presidency…
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Apart from more healthful exercise rolling our eyes, what’s on the agenda for the evening?



Peter Thiel Makes The Case For Confiscatory Taxation On Billionaires

This broke over at Forbes and is bouncing around the ‘nets today:

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook FB +0.49%, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer.

Whatever you think of Gawker, Hulk Hogan, or Thiel himself, this is yet one more way in which extreme income inequality destroys civic life. It’s actually worse than many, given the clandestine way it deepens the corruption of the system that could (in theory) provide a check on the damage that purchased legislative and executive branches can do.

Lazarus_in_Heaven_and_the_Rich_Man_in_Hell_LACMA_M.88.91.91

Here’s a take on the poison here revealed from Caterina Fake:

Champerty, as third-party litigation funding used to be called (and should probably be called again!) was formerly a crime, but the commercial litigation finance industry has been growing in recent years.

Fake notes that much of such litigation is actually a form of speculation, in which rich folks gamble on the possibility of significant payout.  One can imagine the “free market” argument that such funding levels the playing field, allows those who’ve suffered real harm to recoup, and thus makes the legal system a more efficient and effective dispute-settling and behavior-changing engine. But Thiel’s pursuit of Gawker illuminates what this leads to in the real world:

Generally, people avoid frivolous lawsuits because it often exposes them to as much scrutiny as those they sue, so what is significant about this case is that by funding Hogan behind the scenes, Thiel could get his revenge, escape exposure, and influence the outcome of the case.

For the very rich, this is a win however it goes, and damn the collateral damage.

Hogan’s lawyers made decisions against Hogan’s best interests, withdrawing a claim that would have required Gawker’s insurance company to pay damages rather than the company itself–a move that made Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s founder and CEO, suspect that a Silicon Valley millionaire was behind the suit.

I leave it to the actual lawyers to weigh in on the ethics (and consequences, if any) for such a litigation approach. For myself, I’ll note that what you have here is an insanely rich guy gaming the legal system to destroy a media outfit that pissed him off.

And with that, one more thought:  Franklin Roosevelt created the social welfare state in the US as an alternative to revolution.  Today’s plutocrats might want to think about that.  In plainer terms: to remain democracies, modern democractic states need to tax polity-buying wealth out of individual hands; income taxes and a levy on inheritances.  A 90% rate that kicks in well below an estate value of a billion bucks seems a good place to start.

A blogger can dream…

Image: Cornelius Bos, Lazarus in Heaven and the Rich Man in Hell, 1547.



Is Trump Lying About His Bankroll Size, Too?

Well, the reactions to this analysis should be interesting. The Wall Street Journal goes there — “As Trump moves to raise big sums, an estimate of his 2016 income shows it short of the big money needed for general election run”:

… When his campaign began last summer, a financial disclosure Mr. Trump filed said he had between about $78 million and $232 million in cash and relatively liquid assets such as stocks and bonds.

That would go fast if Mr. Trump spent an amount close to the $721 million President Barack Obama spent in 2012 up to Election Day, or the $449 million Mitt Romney spent in the same stretch.

This would leave hundreds of millions to be made up. And Mr. Trump’s businesses don’t produce that much in a year, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. His 2016 pretax income, according to the analysis, is likely to be around $160 million.

The Journal analysis is based on 170 items of “employment assets and income,” such as real estate, golf courses, management companies and licensing deals, listed in the financial disclosure form Mr. Trump filed last July. The Journal estimated how much pretax income each item should yield this year, relying on public documents and interviews with dozens of former and current Trump Organization executives and people who are familiar with his businesses.

In the absence of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which he has declined to release, the analysis helps answer a question many wonder about: just how much the candidate earns…

The cash issue looms now because the political season is growing more expensive. The Trump campaign spent about 50% more in March than in February, facing higher expenses for field workers, telemarketing and voter-data operations.

Mr. Trump noted that once the general election campaign begins, the Republican National Committee will be spending heavily on his behalf. The RNC spent $386 million during the 2012 presidential campaign. A clutch of other entities such as political-action committees spent $419 million to back Mr. Romney.

This year, officials at some big Republican PACs are saying they are going to turn their funds toward keeping the Senate and House in the Republican hands, meaning their support for Mr. Trump could be diminished.

On the other hand, legal changes since 2012 make it possible for political parties to raise larger individual donations, via joint fundraising committees with their presidential candidates. Such a joint fundraising committee is what Mr. Trump said in early May that he planned to set up with the Republican Party…

And aren’t the Permanent Repub Party bigwigs with their hands on the purse strings — not to mention the ones required to fill that purse — going to enjoy giving the short-fingered vulgarian their money to waste on futilely challenging Hillary Clinton?

The whole article (I found it by Googling its title) is replete with the sort of details that will fascinate wonks, but it reinforces what non-Trump-partisan observers have been saying since Deadbeat Donald first rode that gilded escalator to announce his run: While $160 million (more or less) would be a more-than-satisfactory income to you or me or most normal human beings, it’s nowhere near enough to qualify Trump for “Really Rich Person” status. Assuming he started this shitshow in the first place to enhance his brand/salve his Obama-wounded feelings/bigly assert his yoooge hand size, the media response to this it will not be fun for him. Watching his noisy rage should provide some tasty schadenfreude for the rest of us, though!



The Fevered Phantasies of A Redemptive Third Party

You get a party, and you get a party — everybody gets a party of their own! One should never dismiss any possible development in the multi-ring circus of American politics, especially in this particular cycle. And surely every American is entitled to his or her very own political Theory of Everything, whereby the sufficient application of correct thought to the perfect handcrafted artisan unicorn candidate will CHANGE THE CONVERSATION such that everyone lives happily ever after. But the latest media proposals by the usual batch of Media Village Idiots, reliably wrong ‘pundits’, and ambitious careerists gunning for earned media don’t even rise to the dignity of a couple of tinfoil-hatted cranks taking up floor time at local meetings and wall space on public buildings (or Facebook) to promote the Independent Union of Patriotic National Americans for Responsible Freedom…

There’s at least three strains of Third-Party Virus been rampant in the media since Trump clinched the Republican nomination. First, the evergreen Both Sides argument, where adult professionals revert to their Risk-and-fantasy-sports-playing adolescence. Jon Chait at NYMag explains to them that, “No, a Conservative Third-Party Candidate Can’t Steal the Electoral College“:

[T]he plan would run like this: A right-wing third-party candidate would split the Electoral College, so no candidate reaches the 270-vote threshold. In that case, the House of Representatives would decide the winner, with each state’s delegation (regardless of population) casting two votes. Since Republicans control most state delegations, they would pick the winner, who would presumably be their right-winger, rather than Trump or (obviously) Hillary Clinton.

What gives the scenario the veneer of plausibility is that the last part of the plan is completely true. If the Electoral College deadlocked, then the House would really decide, and it really would give the presidency to the right-winger. The actual problem with the scenario is that the first part, where the independent somehow prevents anybody from gaining 270 electoral votes, is completely nuts.

Right now Clinton has the inside track to a majority of the Electoral College. Polls are a little dodgy at this early stage of the race, but most forecasters assume Clinton would win something like the states President Obama won in 2012, and perhaps some more if Trump fails to consolidate his party. That assumption isn’t terribly important. What’s important is that adding a right-wing splinter candidate would not reduce Clinton’s share of the Electoral College at all. It would increase it. Every state gives its electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes. If Clinton wins 51 percent of the vote in Florida, she gets all 29 electoral votes from Florida. Crucially, states do not require a candidate to have a majority in order to win the state. And a right-wing independent candidate will draw overwhelmingly from Trump’s support. So an independent would not take any states away from Clinton. Instead, that candidate would make it possible for Clinton to win a bunch of states without a majority. States where Clinton might otherwise fall a bit short of Trump would become blue states…

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This Week’s Primary: “Indiana Is Weird”

Times like this, I really miss Doghouse Riley. Imagine what he would’ve done with the newest ways the state GOP is embarrassing itself — as Jim Newell describes it, “Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Thinks Donald Trump is Perfect! (He Also Endorses Ted Cruz.)”

And here’s Craig Fehrman explaining at FiveThirtyEight “why Abe Lincoln’s dad would be a Trump voter”:

… I’ve lived in Indiana my whole life, outside of a few years passed on the East Coast in grad school, and I have to say: All the attention has been nice. It’s nice to be noticed, however fleetingly, for something other than hosting sporting events and being a part of Abraham Lincoln’s formative years.

The Lincoln who’s most relevant in the upcoming primary, though, is Abe’s father, Thomas. For more than a decade, Thomas and his family lived in Indiana, and as I’ve watched the politicians and pundits try to figure Indiana out I’ve thought a lot about Thomas. Indiana, which is 86 percent white, may seem demographically similar to nearby states like Ohio (83 percent white) and Wisconsin (88 percent white). But, in truth, Indiana is a much stranger place than it’s given credit for, with a history and heritage that divide it from other Midwestern states. The Hoosier State was settled from the south and isolated from cultural change, and you can still see the effects of that today. In fact, that’s why it’s actually pretty hard to predict how Indiana will vote in its primary. That’s why, if you really want to understand Indiana, you need to go back to the time of Thomas Lincoln.
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Long (Hate) Read: “The Selling of Obama”

This showed up online well in advance of last night’s WHCD, as part of Politico‘s “Media Issue,” as a story about how the President failed to uphold the Media Village Idiots’ prescriptions:

President Barack Obama insists he does not obsess about “the narrative,” the everyday media play-by-play of political Washington. He urges his team to tune out “the noise,” “the echo chamber,” the Beltway obsession with who’s up and who’s down. But in the fall of 2014, he got sick of the narrative of gloom hovering over his White House. Unemployment was dropping and troops were coming home, yet only one in four Americans thought the nation was on the right track—and Democrats worried about the midterm elections were sprinting away from him. He wanted to break through the noise… [I]in a speech at Northwestern University, he tried to reshape his narrative. If the presidential bully pulpit couldn’t drown out the echo chamber, he figured nothing could.

The facts were that America had put more people back to work than the rest of the world’s advanced economies combined. High school graduation rates were at an all-time high, while oil imports, the deficit, and the uninsured rate had plunged. The professor-turned-president was even more insistent than usual that he was merely relying on “logic and reason and facts and data,” challenging his critics to do the same. “Those are the facts. It’s not conjecture. It’s not opinion. It’s not partisan rhetoric. I laid out facts.”

The Northwestern speech did reshape the narrative, but not in the way Obama intended. The only line that made news came near the end of his 54-minute address, an observation that while he wouldn’t be on the ballot in the fall midterms, “these policies are on the ballot—every single one of them.” When Obama boarded Air Force One after his speech, his speechwriter, Cody Keenan, told him the Internet had already flagged that line as an idiotic political gaffe… Obama’s words couldn’t change the narrative of his unpopularity; they just gave Republicans a new opening to exploit it. They quickly became a staple of campaign ads and stump speeches tying Democrats ball-and-chain to their leader. “Republicans couldn’t have written a better script,” declared The Fix, the Washington Post’s column for political junkies. Even Axelrod called it “a mistake” on Meet the Press. The substance of the speech was ignored, and Keenan still blames himself for letting one off-message phrase eclipse a story of revival, a prelude to the second Republican midterm landslide of the Obama era. “I’m still pissed off about that,” Keenan told me. “Everything he said was true and important, and that one line got turned against him.”

Obama was hailed as a new Great Communicator during his yes-we-can 2008 campaign, but he’s often had a real failure to communicate in office. The narrative began spinning out of his control in the turbulent opening days of his presidency, and he’s never totally recaptured it. His tenure has often felt like an endless series of media frenzies over messaging snafus—from the fizzled “Recovery Summer” to “you didn’t build that” to the Benghazi furor, which is mostly a furor about talking points…
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Open Thread: Snowden and the Unasked Questions

There’s a sub-branch of linguistics where the experts search for the words that don’t exist in a particular language — sometimes because certain subjects are considered too dangerous to speak of directly. From the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, “New study: Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying had a scary effect on free speech”:

.[I]t’s difficult to judge the effect of government-spying programs. How do you collect all the utterances that people stopped themselves from saying? How do you count all the conversations that weren’t had?

A new study provides some insight into the repercussions of the Snowden revelations, arguing that they happened so swiftly and were so high-profile that they triggered a measurable shift in the way people used the Internet.

Jonathon Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after the NSA’s spying became big news in 2013. Penney found a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned “al-Qaeda,” “car bomb” or “Taliban.”

“You want to have informed citizens,” Penney said. “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

Even though the NSA was supposed to target only foreigners, the immense scale of its operations caused many to worry that innocent Americans were getting caught in the dragnet. A Pew survey in 2015 showed that about 40 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the government was spying on their online activities.

The same survey showed that about 87 percent of American adults were aware of the Snowden news stories. Of those people, about a third said they had changed their Internet or phone habits as a result. For instance, 13 percent said they “avoided using certain terms” online; and 14 percent said they were having more conversations face to face instead of over the phone. The sudden, new knowledge about the surveillance programs had increased their concerns about their privacy.

Penney’s research, which is forthcoming in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, echoes the results of a similar study conducted last year on Google Search data. Alex Marthews, a privacy activist, and Catherine Tucker, a professor at MIT’s business school, found that Google activity for certain keywords fell after the Snowden stories were splashed on every front page. Both in the United States and in other countries, people became reluctant to search for terrorism-related words such as “dirty bomb” or “pandemic.”…

The Wikipedia data suggest that the Snowden revelations had a noticeable impact on people’s Wikipedia behaviors, says Penney. “I expected to find an immediate drop-off in June, and then people would slowly realize that nobody is going to jail for viewing Wikipedia articles, and the traffic would go back up,” he said. “I was surprised to see what looks to be a longer-term impact from the revelations.”…

Of course people will find a way around the Forbidden Terms — people always do, whether it’s Siberian nomads referring to Grandfather (Bear) or devout Jews not speaking the name of their god — but wasn’t there a time when “Watch what you say, watch what you do” was righteously mocked as un-American?