While I Was Away

Here are a few things from the past week or so I wanted to share:

From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Wonking Out: The Tax Cut Zombie Attacks Britain

I’ve written a lot over the years about zombie economic ideas — ideas that have failed repeatedly in practice, and should be dead, but somehow are still shambling around, eating policymakers’ brains. The pre-eminent zombie in American economic discourse has long been the belief that cutting taxes on the rich will create an economic miracle.

That belief is still out there: Even as its infrastructure was collapsing to the point that its largest city no longer had running water, Mississippi tried to raise its economic fortunes with … a tax cut….

The important point to understand is that there isn’t a serious debate about the proposition that tax cuts for the rich strongly increase economic growth. The truth is that there is no evidence — none — for that proposition….

Of course, people on the right, raised on the legend of Saint Reagan, believe that his tax cuts did wonders for the U.S. economy. But the data don’t agree [he has charts, etc.]

From Jamelle Bouie, also at the New York Times:

In political writing about the federal judiciary, there is a convention to treat the partisan affiliation of a judge or justice as a mere curiosity, to pretend that it does not matter that much whether a jurist was nominated by Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama so long as he or she can faithfully uphold the law.

The issue with this convention, as we’ve seen in the legal drama over the classified materials found … at Mar-a-Lago, is that it isn’t equipped to deal with the problem of hyperpartisan, ideological judges who are less committed to the rule of law than to their presidential patron….

Thankfully, there is a solution, and it takes only a simple vote of Congress: expand and reorganize the federal court system [well, actually it would only be a partial solution and important votes in Congress are rarely simple].

The practical reason to increase the number of courts and judges is that the country is much larger than it was in 1990, when Congress made its last expansion….

In the 32 years since 1990, the United States has grown from a population of roughly 250 million to a population of over 330 million….. And the federal judiciary is swamped. Last year, the Judicial Conference of the United States, a nonpartisan policymaking body for the federal courts, recommended that Congress create 79 new judgeships across existing district and appeals courts.

Congress, and here I mean Democrats, should go further with a court expansion to rival [Jimmy Carter’s in 1978]…. The goal is simple: to account for growth and to deal with the problem of a cohort of hyperpartisan and ideological judges whose loyalty to [the orange-ish ex-president] may outweigh their commitment to the law.

Would it be a partisan move? Yes. But it is a truth of American politics going back to the early days of the Republic that partisan problems — like the one engineered by Mitch McConnell … and the Federalist Society — demand partisan solutions.

From Charles Pierce for Esquire:

In the End, Climate Change Is the Only Story That Matters

To pretend otherwise is just to build the walls of your sandcastle higher.

While we watch the disembowelment of various lawyers in the employ of a former president* and wrap ourselves in the momentum of the upcoming midterm elections, the climate crisis—its time and tides—waits for no one. Every other story in our politics is a sideshow now. Every other issue, no matter how large it looms in the immediate present, is secondary to the accumulating evidence that the planet itself (or at least large parts of it) may be edging toward uninhabitability….

To stand on the bluffs above the Chukchi Sea [between Siberia and Alaska], looking down at a series of broken and ruined seawalls that have already failed to hold back the power of the ocean, and to consider that there are politicians in this country who are unwilling to do anything about the climate crisis, or who even deny it exists, is to wish they all could come and stand on these bluffs and look out at the relentless, devouring sea.

It probably doesn’t matter, but:

From Verlyn Klinkenborg for the New York Review of Books:

Endless Summer [not a great title]

Brian Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time….

I have trouble accepting that Smile—the album he abandoned in 1967—was finally finished in 2004, because I question the continuity of the creative mind that “finished” it nearly forty years after it was begun. My skepticism makes me wonder whether I’m simply clinging to the memory of my own experience of the Beach Boys when I was young. But I don’t think so. They’re the same doubts that apply, say, to Wordsworth’s late revisions to The Prelude.

The joy I experience listening to those early Beach Boys records—through “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” and slightly beyond—has nothing to do with nostalgia, with memories of where I was or who I was when I heard them. They don’t evoke for me an idealized California or even my adolescent yearnings. I don’t hear them from [Iowa] or Sacramento. I hear them from now. Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time. What makes them so remarkable isn’t just the artistic fulfillment they achieve. It’s the artistic promise they embody. You can feel the explosive, disruptive, but ultimately controlled power of Wilson’s musical imagination—usually in three minutes or less….

Wilson marvels, in one of the documentaries I’ve mentioned, how quickly he wrote the melody of a song like “Caroline, No.” To me, that’s a sign that he’s allowed himself to misunderstand—in wholly conventional terms—what’s most remarkable about his work. It isn’t the melodic line or the speed with which it was written that stuns me now and stunned me then. It’s the shape of the mind in which the intricate shapes of his music entangled and resolved themselves. That mind has only ever been captured in one place: in the music as Brian Wilson recorded it long ago. 

Finally, two conclusions about France:

Louis XIV’s Versailles estate is too damn big. Did any of those 18th century aristocrats walk great distances in their 18th century shoes? The “gardens” are not somewhere to stroll around. They’re somewhere to hike or ride around.

And almost every French waiter was extremely nice, even the one who spilled the orange juice. Aren’t they supposed to be mean and snooty? Or is that only at the more exclusive establishments?

Some Real World Perspective on the Case of the Purloined Papers

As I wait for the black-robed person with the lifetime judicial appointment to share her next pronouncement from on high, author and lawyer Seth Abramson expresses himself on the Florida fiasco. I especially found interesting his description of how a case like this works in the real world:

We have our special master! In a… uh… theft case… not involving attorney-client privilege or executive privilege or anything else special masters deal with… {sigh} This is all so goddamned stupid.

I earnestly admire those lawyers who are spending hours and hours analyzing the legal maneuvers in the Mar-a-Lago case. But I decided I couldn’t do it—because it’s all so stupid and farcical and pretextual and an insult to the rule of law and how {waves hands} all of this works.

I have worked *extremely* complicated criminal cases, from first-degree murders to armed robberies to felonious sexual assaults to financial crimes cases and other types of cases in which documents are at the center of everything. And let me tell you what the Mar-a-Lago case is:

It’s the equivalent of a man being caught with a gun over the dead body of his victim—smoke still rising from the gun, residue all over the hand of the shooter—with a *signed confession in his handwriting* pinned to his chest like he’s a kindergartener on his first day of school.

There is—I can’t emphasize this enough—nothing complicated about this case besides the political consequences and implications of it, which every lawyer in America took an oath not to consider when they became a lawyer (and that includes judges). So the whole thing is sickening.

The lawyers who are currently analyzing this case to death are doing so in good faith and are trying to be good people and lawyers. But they are also normalizing the idea that there are any actual complications to write about here. There are not. They are all invented and false.

There are no attorney-client privilege issues here. There are no executive privilege issues here. The defendant is dead to rights and has no plausible defense. Under normal circumstances plea negotiations would’ve begun immediately, and prison time would be a given to both sides.

I have committed myself to being honest with readers about the law, and also honest about my desire that our justice system be better than it is. How can I pretend to the readers of this feed that the Mar-a-Lago case is interesting when *legally* it is just effing *not*? At all?

And don’t tell me about this being the first case of its kind involving a President of the United States. Had Trump gone to Fifth Avenue as he once promised and gunned down a bunch of innocent civilians, would that make the resultant homicide cases *legally* interesting? Hell no.

Mar-a-Lago case talk is a flim-flam we’re sucked into because we feel like there’s no other choice. We “have” to discuss the minute details of the case for political reasons—and because T____’s the sort of criminal who’s never been held accountable and never takes responsibility.

But the other reason it seems we have to talk about it is that the federal judiciary in Florida apparently corrupt, and will openly treat a very rich and very powerful and very famous white male politician in a way that it wouldn’t treat anyone else. And it’ll do so unabashedly.

So every single reason to cover the intricacies of the Mar-a-Lago case is depressing. And I feel the world is depressing enough already. It should be sufficient for readers to simply know that T____ is dead to rights and would be imprisoned already if he were not D____ T____.

Yes, as a former federal criminal investigator, I can point out all the critical investigative steps the Department of Justice deliberately *didn’t* take—all of them dereliction of duty—for purely political reasons, which makes their repeated protestations that they’re above politics morally toxic but they could easily reply—or their defenders could do so on their behalf—that they’re just reacting to a corrupt judiciary that won’t let the wheels of justice turn unimpeded when the rich, powerful, and famous in politics are involved….

So when I write on the Mar-a-Lago case, I’ll write about a case in which the defendant has no defense and should already be in prison (remember, DOJ/NARA—extraordinarily—gave T____ 18 months to remedy his crime, and he refused *and committed more*) and the legal issues are banal….

It is true that in any case in which documents are seized, some documents not related to the investigation may be accidentally taken. These are returned *as a matter of course* (e.g., T____’s passports). If the defendant thinks some items were not returned, he has his attorney ask government agents for them back. If the government agents refuse, the defendant has his attorney go to the judge and a hearing is held and an order (if appropriate) issued. If the parties *dispute* whether something was properly taken, the judge may personally review the *handful* of documents answering to that description (and indeed it would only be a handful of documents). There would be no special master, no delay of the criminal investigation. None of the abject, embarrassing BS we are seeing in the Mar-a-Lago case.

This judge impeded a federal criminal investigation and will appoint a special master without D____ T____ having even identified any documents he thinks were wrongly taken or making any attempt to negotiate their return (or have the judge herself review them). It is all a sham.

Special masters are for cases that look nothing like this one—for instance when the office of a defendant’s attorney is searched. T____ has yet to even make the argument—because he could never make it—that he had a right to retain classified documents in his home post-presidency.

So yes, I do believe that every legal analysis of this case should begin with a disclaimer explaining that nothing about this case has been handled in the manner it would be handled were the defendant anyone but D____ T____—and that the rule of law has been bent at *every* turn.

The Russians Are Running Away

According to the Kiev Post, the stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive that began earlier this month has now reached the border with Russia near the town of Hoptivka. Let’s hope Ukraine can secure the thousands of square miles they’ve now recovered and eventually restore all of its national borders.

Untitled

Tonight, President Zelensky had a message for Russia:

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Humanity Continues To Screw Itself and Others

From The Guardian:

The climate crisis has driven the world to the brink of multiple “disastrous” tipping points, according to a major study.

It shows five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1 C (2 F) of global heating caused by humanity to date.

These include the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, eventually producing a huge sea level rise, the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic, disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost.

At 1.5 C of heating, the minimum rise now expected, four of the five tipping points move from being possible to likely, the analysis said. Also at 1.5 C, an additional five tipping points become possible, including changes to vast northern forests and the loss of almost all mountain glaciers.

In total, the researchers found evidence for 16 tipping points, with the final six requiring global heating of at least 2 C to be triggered, according to the scientists’ estimations….

“The Earth may have left a ‘safe’ climate state beyond 1 C global warming,” the researchers concluded, with the whole of human civilisation having developed in temperatures below this level. Passing one tipping point is often likely to help trigger others, producing cascades. But this is still being studied and was not included, meaning the analysis may present the minimum danger.

Prof Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was part of the study team, said: “The world is heading towards 2-3 C of global warming.

“This sets Earth on course to cross multiple dangerous tipping points that will be disastrous for people across the world. To maintain liveable conditions on Earth and enable stable societies, we must do everything possible to prevent crossing tipping points.”

Dr David Armstrong McKay at the University of Exeter, a lead author of the study, said: “It’s really worrying. There are grounds for grief, but there are also still grounds for hope.

“The study really underpins why the Paris agreement goal of 1.5 C is so important and must be fought for.”

“We’re not saying that, because we’re probably going to hit some tipping points, everything is lost and it’s game over. Every fraction of a degree that we stop beyond 1.5 C reduces the likelihood of hitting more tipping points.”

The analysis, published in the journal Science, assessed more than 200 previous studies on past tipping points, climate observations and modelling studies. A tipping point is when a temperature threshold is passed, leading to unstoppable change in a climate system, even if global heating ends….

Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, a co-author of the analysis, said: “Since I first assessed tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically.

“Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonising the economy. To achieve that, we need to trigger positive social tipping points.”

Cable News and the Ways of the World

It’s human nature to want a single explanation for anything that happens. We usually look for the reason, not the reasons. Thus, when the new management at CNN fired John Harwood and Brian Stelter, both of whom have openly criticized the former president (and full-time criminal), the reason that immediately came to mind was a political one. CNN’s new owner, Warner Brothers Discovery, wants the company to be nicer to Republicans.

An article from Vox written a couple weeks ago suggested that’s one reason, but there’s probably another as well:

In [one] version of events, Stelter is the victim of John Malone, the billionaire cable magnate and the most powerful investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the rest of what used to be called Time Warner.

Malone’s politics lean quite right/libertarian…. More to the point: Current and former CNN employees believe Malone’s view of CNN is entirely colored by Fox News. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone only watches CNN via Fox News,” says a CNN employee. “If I watched CNN via Fox News, I would hate CNN too.”

And Stelter, who spent most of the Trump era criticizing the American right’s embrace of disinformation, was already a target of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson…. Then, after Stelter’s boss, Jeff Zucker, was pushed out in February, Stelter went after Malone, who had said he wished CNN was more like Fox News because Fox News had “actual journalism.”

Asked about this theory by the New York Times, Malone gave one of the most candid admissions you’ll ever see a public person make in the guise of a denial: “Mr. Malone said he wants “the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist, but I am not in control or directly involved.” Translation: Yes, this pleases me.

So in this theory, … Malone and his managers — CEO David Zaslav and Chris Licht, the executive Zaslav hired to replace Zucker — will find other CNN journalists they want off the air as well. [In fact, they already have. They fired John Harwood this past week — he called the Republican front-runner a “dishonest demagogue” on his way out the door].

Then again, maybe they’ll need to let go of a lot of people because of theory No. 2:

Warner Brothers Discovery has a heavy debt load, but Zaslav has told investors that won’t matter, in part because he’s going to find $3 billion in savings.

We’ve already seen signs of budget-cutting in the company’s entertainment properties … but there will be many more cuts to come this fall. So Stelter, who reportedly made close to $1 million a year, was an easy cut: His show … was a big deal in media circles … but not a huge draw for normals.

Under Zaslav/Licht, CNN has already made one significant cut: Killing off CNN+, its brand-new streaming service, weeks after it launched … But that may not be anything close to enough to help the parent company hit its numbers. In which case, Stelter’s departure could be the first of many, and we’ll spend less time worrying about CNN’s politics and more time worrying about its ability to provide first-class news coverage.

But there’s another theory. Someone who goes by YS on Twitter and claims to have worked at CNN for 18 years says it’s all about who watches cable news:

Each quarter, the cable operators [like Comcast and AT&T] release their subscriber base. For seven consecutive years, the cable operators have seen subscriber declines… It’s called in the TV biz, “Cord Cutters”.

97% of “Cord Cutters” are under the age of 50. The majority of what is left watching cable are … old people. As demographics for cable TV has changed … the networks remaining with any traction (ESPN, news networks, etc.) have to – HAVE TO – appeal to who is sitting on their couch watching.

In the ratings war, the scorecard is usually based on the A18-49 demographic. But not for news. All advertisers on these networks buy them for A50+. [Aiming for that demographic] MSNBC went left. Fox News went right. CNN tried to play the middle.

But between 2008 and 2016, CNN lost 60% of its 50+ audience. Fox News, saw a 70% increase in the same demographic during the same period (mostly men). Fox News gave the audience what they want, an aggrieved white man perspective…. While the rest of America is out there cutting the cord, Fox News doubled down on old people. And won. 

News networks are not here to defend democracy. There is only one goal and one goal only. Higher CPM’s [i.e. what they can charge advertisers to reach a thousand viewers. On average, advertisers pay $20 to reach 1,000 viewers, which adds up when 100 million people watch the Super Bowl]. CPM is the currency used in TV to reflect the value of the programming.

[CNN’s new boss] was given one edict. Raise CPM’s. That’s it. That’s all he has to do. And he believes [becoming more “centrist”] is how.

Whether there’s one reason or several for CNN’s management to change its programming, the basic fact is that many old people (although not all of us) watch cable TV and will accept a kind of fascism if it comes to that, and the people who call the shots for big corporations tend to be Republicans who have some doubts about democracy and no doubts at all about making money.