Talk me down…

trumpster fire

Trump’s not going to blow this thing, is he? The campaign manager’s arrest. The massive abortion gaffe and walk-back. The foolishness about nuclear proliferation. It’s been a bad week.

I’m afraid he’s going to flame out before clinching the nomination, paving the way for the GOP to nominate someone who can impersonate a sane person more convincingly.

Trump’s got this thing, right? Right?!?!?!?

Today’s Smart Read…

…comes from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times

He answers his question “Why Trump Now?” by looking at the material reasons for working-class white disaffection, not just with the post-civil-rights Democratic Party, but with the cabal to whom that group turned in increasing numbers from 1968 forward.  He writes:

The share of the gross national product going to labor as opposed to the share going to capital fell from 68.8 percent in 1970 to 60.7 percent by 2013, according to Loukas Karabarbounis, an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Even more devastating, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped by 36 percent, from 19.3 million in 1979 to 12.3 million in 2015, while the population increased by 43 percent, from 225 million to 321 million.

The postwar boom, when measured by the purchasing power of the average paycheck, continued into the early 1970s and then abruptly stopped (see the accompanying chart).

In other words, the economic basis for voter anger has been building over forty years. Starting in 2000, two related developments added to worsening conditions for the middle and working classes…


Read the whole thing.

If you’re too busy the TL:DR of those two developments are the interrelated facts that from the year 2ooo, upward mobility reversed itself, with more people falling into the middle class and poverty and fewer making it up the ladder — and the impact of China and its increasing integration into a world-wide free-trade regimen.  Edsall’s reporting on the China development — with its accompanying misreading by free-trade elites — is particularly sharp.

Add to that, as Edsall does, the TARP bailout after the elite-engineered collapse of 2007-8 and the Citizens United decision and you have specific and plausible reasons for Republican working class voters (and everyone else, of course) to see their chosen political leaders as shills and swindlers:

By opening the door to the creation of SuperPACs and giving Wall Street and other major financial sectors new ways to buy political outcomes, the courts gave the impression, to say the least, that they favored establishment interests over those of the less well off.

Edsall’s conclusion?

The tragedy of the 2016 campaign is that Trump has mobilized a constituency with legitimate grievances on a fool’s errand.

The crux for this year is exactly that:  Lots of Americans have been screwed — systematically, with comprehensive effect — for decades.  The material losses they – we — have suffered are real.  The responses Trump offers, such as they are, may be hopelessly at odds with any actual redress of those wrongs.  But any campaign (are you listening, Hillary?) that ignores the fact that two generations of Americans now have seen the basic expectations of life reversed is going to have hard time winning, just by pointing out that Trump’s bloviating won’t help either.

Image: David Vinckbooms, Distribution of Loaves to the Poor, first half of the 17th century.

Open Thread: Another GOP Debate Experiment That Didn’t Pan Out — Or Did It?

This was published before last night’s debate. It’s a given that Roger Ailes can’t live forever (neither can Murdoch, but on the other hand, his mom lived to 103, and Rupe’s feeling frisky enough to announce he’s getting married again). Gabriel Sherman, dedicated Rupert-nologist, at NYMag:

According to four high-placed Fox sources, Murdoch is upping his presence at Fox while Ailes has become less visible to anchors and producers, signaling a shift that marks a new chapter in the network’s history. The most visible change is that since June Murdoch has been attending Ailes’s daily executive meeting held on the second floor of Fox headquarters. The secretive afternoon gathering in Ailes’s conference room is attended by about a half-dozen of the network’s most senior lieutenants. It’s where some of the most sensitive decisions about running the channel are discussed.

Murdoch has so far been a quiet observer, but his presence at the table is striking to Fox executives. Some interpret it as a sign that the 84-year-old, newly engaged Australian mogul is preparing for a future when the 75-year-old Ailes is no longer in the picture. It’s one of the most significant decisions Wall Street will be watching: Fox is valued at north of $15 billion and generates as much as 30 percent of Murdoch’s profits. “He wants a smooth handover,” one executive told me. Right now the two leading internal candidates are Michael Clemente, who’s in charge of news, and Bill Shine, who oversees Fox Business. The rivalry between the two, as I’ve reported in the past, is fierce to the point that the two rarely speak. On Thursday night, Shine will have a chance to showcase his producing skills when Fox Business hosts the GOP debate in South Carolina…

Meanwhile, Fox hosts and producers tell me Ailes has been a somewhat diminished force at the network. In 2014, he took an extended leave of absence after a health scare. He still has trouble walking and rarely ventures out of his executive suite. A friend who ran into Ailes in Palm Beach over the holidays remarked that he was using a walker. “He seems detached and removed,” one Fox personality tells me. “He’s not around as much,” says another friend of Ailes. “He doesn’t have as many meetings with talent.”

What this means politically is that during this year’s fractious Republican primary, Fox isn’t functioning like the disciplined campaign it’s historically been. “There’s no directive on anything,” one anchor told me. “There used to be directives on everything, and now there’s not, which is kind of nice.” By far, the clearest sign of this leadership vacuum is the network’s erratic handling of Trump in the wake of his feud with Megyn Kelly. “There is no Trump strategy,” the source explained…

Several other prominent conservatives I’ve spoken with grumble that Murdoch is pushing Fox to be openly hostile to Trump and Ted Cruz at the same time the channel boosts Establishment candidates, most prominently Marco Rubio. “I’ve joked to people that they’ll be doing a segment about kumquats in China and somehow they’ll mention Rubio,” one Cruz ally told me. Another conservative activist pointed out that Fox gave Rubio the first interview opportunity following Obama’s Oval Office address on ISIS last month. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, it should also be noted, has been one of the most aggressive Trump and Cruz critics…

Pretty clearly, Trump and Cruz got all the “earned” (free) media last night; those few commentors who noticed Rubio’s presence weren’t impressed by his performance. So, did Fox Business “fail” at dinging Il Douche and the #Failgunner? Or can it be argued that last night’s Battle of the Titanic Egos makes both Donald & Ted look even more unappealing to the low-info primary voter?

Fortune got Murdoch to deny that Ailes was “taking a backseat,” for what that’s worth. But here’s the latest three entries on Rupert’s twitter feed (which he is said to compose & post):

If nothing else, I think we can safely add Murdoch to the list of those who don’t like Ted Cruz.

Open Thread: Eat the Rich

I’d add “and steal their clothes,” except I don’t trust their taste in garmenture, either.

“We were asked to spiff up a client’s jet because the companies that usually clean planes don’t know how to deal with fine upholstery,” says Wayne Edelman, owner of Meurice Garment Care, who charged up to $300 per hour for the mile-high overhaul. Another client had a leak in her Tribeca loft, and Edelman’s crew was called in. “We had to take out every item in her closet, including 300 pairs of jeans, clean them, and put each one back in its exact spot. She let us know that if anything was out of place, there would be hell to pay.”…

How big an arse must you be, if you need 300 pairs of jeans to cover yourself?

Thursday Morning Open Thread: CLAANNNNNNG

ballard acappella racoon cymbals

(Ballard Street via

That raccoon is my spirit animal for the new year.

What’s on the agenda for the day and/or Amateur Night New Year’s Eve?

The Income Defense Industry

The grotesquely wealthy are just like you and me, only with fuck-tons more money. Their fat stacks don’t just buy them freedom from want and the little extras like insider stock tips, fabulous toys, exotic vacations, top-drawer educations, get-out-of-jail-free cards, etc.; it turns out they get their very own tax system too! Or so says a special report in today’s NYT:

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.


The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.


In the heat of the presidential race, the influence of wealthy donors is being tested. At stake are the Obama administration’s limited 2013 tax increase on high earners — the first in two decades — and an I.R.S. initiative to ensure that, in effect, the higher rate sticks by cracking down on tax avoidance by the wealthy.

While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these voters, virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income.

The New York Times seems to have committed an act of journalism here; the whole article is worth a read. It delved into a phenomenon with which I had fleeting experience once: the existence of the “family office” — organizations staffed with clever, industrious people that exist solely to protect the vast wealth of a single family or group of mega-rich individuals. (I wasn’t one of the clever, industrious people — just a lowly scribe serving an insignificant vassal.)

The article also mentions how crippling the IRS by slashing its budget 15% and engaging in absurd congressional witch hunts, etc., has coincidentally improved the fortunes of these indolent parasites so greatly. It’s almost as if that were the entire purpose of the Republicans’ anti-IRS jihad rather than an unfortunate side effect of standing up for fiscal responsibility and freedom…

Gas Up Your Tumbrels

I think that this has already been discussed in a comment thread or two, but today (a) The New York Times reminded us that it can do essential, truly top-notch journalism and (b) exposed truly grotesque practices within a “justice” system that offers scant justice to anyone that doesn’t sport “Inc.” as a last name:

Encore and rival debt buyers are using the courts to sue consumers and collect debt, then preventing those same consumers from using the courts to challenge the companies’ tactics. Consumer lawyers said this strategy was the legal equivalent of debt collectors having their cake and eating it, too.

The use of arbitration by the companies is the latest frontier in a legal strategy orchestrated by corporations in recent years. By insertingarbitration clauses into the fine print of consumer contracts, they have found a way to block access to the courts and ban class-action lawsuits, the only realistic way to bring a case against a deep-pocketed corporation.

Their strategy traces to a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and 2013 that enshrined the use of class-action bans in arbitration clauses.

The result, The New York Times found in an investigation last month, is that banks, car dealers, online retailers, cellphone service providers and scores of other companies have insulated themselves from challenges to illegal or deceptive business practices. Once a class action was dismantled, court and arbitration records showed, few if any of the individual plaintiffs pursued arbitration.

Bottom feeders buy old debt.  They sue to collect.  Doesn’t matter if the debt is too old legally to collect.  Doesn’t matter if the sharks don’t have proper documentation. Doesn’t matter if they string up little old ladies by their big toes.  (Hyperbole alert).

Rembrandt_Christ_Driving_the_Money_Changers_from_the_Temple (1)

Crappy judges at the trial court level, insulated — guided — by crappy justices with robes, lifetime appointments, and no moral compasses whatsoever, make sure the Man gets his cash:

In the cases that The Times examined, judges routinely sided with debt collectors on forcing the disputes into arbitration.

In Mr. Cain’s case, Midland Funding, the unit of Encore Capital, persevered despite originally lacking a copy of a Citibank arbitration agreement they said he signed in 2003. Instead, the debt collector presented as evidence a Citibank contract that one of Encore’s lawyers signed when he opened an account.

In Mississippi, Midland Funding won a court judgment to compel Wanda Thompson to pay more than $4,700 on a debt that was too old to be collected under state law, court records show.

When Ms. Thompson filed a class-action suit on behalf of other state residents, Encore invoked an arbitration clause to have the lawsuit dismissed. Ms. Thompson’s lawyers argued that the company had clearly chosen court over arbitration when it sued her to collect the debt. By going to court, the lawyers said, Encore waived its right to compel arbitration.

Unpersuaded, the judge ruled that Encore’s lawsuit to collect the debt was separate from Ms. Thompson’s case accusing the company of violating the law.

I can’t put into words my revulsion for the people who steal from the weakest in our system, except to note that my loathing of those who enable these pen-armed robbers is far greater.  The GOP  hopes most people will be too scared of Syrians, gun-grabbers, and the Kenyan in the White House to notice who’s doing what to whom.  There’s an opening here for our side — and an obligation to take it.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ driving the money changers from the temple, 1626.