On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson


How the Shutdown Ends. It will likely end one of two ways. An increasingly demented Trump could go ahead and declare a national emergency, order the military to build the wall—and his order will end up being quickly reviewed by the Supreme Court. 

It’s not quite a slam-dunk that the Court would approve it, because Chief Justice Roberts is showing signs of disgust with Trump’s extra-constitutional tendencies. To the extent that Trump listens to political advisers at all, he’s being told that this is a really bad idea.

Just as likely is that more Republican senators will defect. As recent public comments suggest, such GOP senators as Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, as well as several other senators up in 2020 such as Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine are very unhappy about the shutdown. 

They would much prefer to continue the fight about the wall in a separate ring of the circus, while the rest of the government re-opened. This happens to be the Pelosi-Schumer position, and as the shutdown drags on, the risk of more Republican defections continues, leaving Trump to play the weaker hand.

The end-game could be very well be some sort of fig leaf that Democrats can call border security and Trump can call a barrier. But with Trump, you never know. He might invade Mexico. Or Canada.


Governor Newsom and the Return of Laboratories of Democracy. This week, a number of states are swearing in new Democratic administrations. California, of course, was Democratic before November’s election, but it’s more so now, with Gavin Newsom taking the oath yesterday to succeed Jerry Brown as governor, and with the share of Democrats in each house of the legislature rising from just under two-thirds to a hegemonic-and-then-some three-quarters.

Newsom’s inaugural address held few surprises, save that when his two-year-old son toddled over and embraced him mid-speech. But the health insurance policies Newsom laid out in his speech and subsequent executive orders provide a good model for how a state can set a template for a policy shift on the federal level, should the Democrats capture the White House and the Senate in 2020.

At the outset of his gubernatorial campaign, Newsom had pledged his support for single payer health insurance in California. Rather than announce he would submit a single payer proposal to the Legislature, however, he promised in his inaugural address to petition President Trump and Congress to redirect federal funds (for, say, Medicare) to the state so it could establish a single payer system—a necessary prerequisite for putting the new system in place. In a sense, that fulfills Newsom’s pledge without his having to deal with the very complicated and politically difficult task of formulating a single payer plan capable of legislative enactment and, once the tax hikes are factored in, public support.

In his speech, Newsom also unveiled expansions to the state’s Medicaid program. California already covered (on its own dime, not the feds’) undocumented immigrants up to the age of 18; Newsom proposed to raise the age threshold to 25. He also signed an executive order yesterday empowering the state’s Department of Health Care Services to negotiate all drug prices for the state’s 14 million Medicaid recipients. Until now, a range of state and local agencies bargained separately with the drug companies. Giving one agency the power to negotiate prices for 14 million people will create a bargaining agency with more clout by far than any currently in existence anywhere in the nation. With congressional Democrats committed to doing the same on the national level (though the chances of such legislation passing in the Republican controlled Senate are slim), Newsom’s order enables California to show just how effective and far-reaching such a process can be in reducing drug prices.

Newsom also announced the state would increase the income threshold for Californians enrolled under the Affordable Care Act—up to $72.840 for individuals and $150,600 for families of four. To fund this increase, he announced he’d ask the legislature to re-impose the individual mandate requiring all Californians to have insurance or pay a penalty if they don’t. The mandate had been a part of the original ACA, but the Republican Congress revoked it, with President Trump’s signature, in 2017.

Which raises an interesting, if probably academic, question. Last month, a Republican-appointed federal judge in Texas struck down the ACA because the Supreme Court had upheld it due to Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling that the mandate was a tax, and hence, constitutional. Minus the mandate, the Texas judge ruled, there was no longer a constitutional basis to uphold the law, which he struck down in its entirety.

Most legal authorities who’ve weighed in have written that the judge’s decision is wrong, that the act is clearly constitutional with or without the mandate, and that the ruling is very likely to be reversed on appeal. That’s why I said this is likely an academic discussion. If it’s not, however—if the ACA depends on the existence of a mandate—would the program be upheld in California or in any other blue states that follow Newsom’s lead, even if it is scrapped in states without a mandate?

In any event, Newsom has already pushed the envelope for progressive change, renewing Louis Brandeis’s faith in the potential of states to be democracy’s laboratories.


Needed for the Democrats—a Process of Elimination. With more than two dozen Democrats likely to declare for president, how on earth do they stage debates? We all remember what happened with the Republicans in 2016. With an immense field, there was no discussion of issues; it quickly turned even more nasty and personal than usual, paving the way for the most negative and outrageous candidate to win the nomination.

Uh-oh.  With a field this large and more than a 15 candidates onstage, anything could happen. Supposed charisma could crowd out content. Almost anyone could be declared the winner.

Maybe the Dems should emulate the World Cup or one of the major tennis tournaments, and use elimination rounds. For the Wall Street Democrats, Booker against Gillibrand. For the geezers, Biden against Sanders. For the progressives, Warren versus Brown (or maybe Sanders). For the dark horses, Landrieu against Castro.

Or we could decide this by coin toss. Or maybe by race or gender, God help us. Then the winners of the quarter-finals go to the semis, and then we get a one-on-one debate in the final.

Sound far fetched? Give me a better idea. Or just wait and watch the real thing—and weep.


Personal News and Prospect News. The very talented David Dayen, whose writing you probably know from our pages and other national publications, will be joining the Prospect in the spring as executive editor. 

In addition to adding immeasurably to our magazine, this will enable me to reach a long-sought personal goal of pulling back from management, to focus on writing, for the Prospect and other magazines and blogs. The rest of our leadership team will continue, joined by our wonderful new publisher, Ellen Meany, former creative director of the Madison weekly, Isthmus.

As we approach a new year and a new chapter in the ongoing struggle to reclaim our democracy and build a decent and just society, the Prospect will be breaking news and making news, and in very good hands.

Happy holidays to all.


Orbánomics and Our Brain-Dead Ambassador to Hungary. Having long since undermined any claims he might have had to rudimentary decency, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has now begun to undermine his own dangerously authoritarian regime.

The most overtly anti-Semitic leader of a European nation since Adolf Hitler, Orbán is now the target of daily demonstrations from an increasingly unified group of Hungary’s previously squabbling and fissiparous opposition. His take-over of the nation’s independent media, his closing of Budapest’s Central European University, his supplanting the nation’s independent judiciary, his anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish demagogy had already infuriated Hungarians of various political stripes—all but the rural, more elderly ultra-nationalists who constitute his party’s base of support.

In recent days, however, he may well have upset them, too, by pushing through a new law enabling employers to require their workers to put in up to 400 hours of overtime a year. The problem, apparently, is that Hungary is a small, relatively low-wage country—with 9.7 million residents, it accounts for just 2 percent of Europe’s population—to which manufacturers from Germany and elsewhere flock for cheap labor. And the nation is no longer able to do the work that has come, or would come, its way due to its small labor force.

And who’s responsible for that small labor force? By vetoing Angela Merkel’s proposal to distribute the immigrants to the EU among its member nations, by building a wall on Hungary’s borders to keep out virtually all immigrants, by compelling a number of the best educated and most productive Hungarians to move to other lands, Orbán has effectively ensured that the nation’s labor force will be too small to create a more vibrant economy. That’s why he came up with the forced overtime.

Confronted with the most fascistic regime in Europe since you-know-when, the Trump administration has stayed resolutely mute. Besides our president’s own tin-pot proclivities, it’s also the case the foremost target of Orbán’s anti-Semitic broadsides is George Soros, the Hungarian-born American financier who supports a range of liberal causes here and abroad—for which he’s repeatedly been the subject of Trump’s attacks as well. One of those causes Soros supported was the now-shuttered Central European University, which he founded.

The U.S. ambassador to Hungary—make that Trump’s man in Hungary—is David Cornstein, an octogenarian New Yorker and lifelong Republican. Representing the United States in the midst of the most anti-Semitic, anti-democratic Western regime we’ve seen since the 1940s, Trumpier-Than-Thou Cornstein—who is Jewish—has yet to find anything worthy of his condemnation or even concern. He’s called Orbán a “friend,” found nothing upsetting in Orban’s ordering the Central European University to close its doors, and said he’s seen no evidence of the nation’s movement towards authoritarianism. He’s made no comment on Orban’s appointment of the owner of a notoriously anti-Semitic magazine, who has condemned as too harsh the sentences handed out at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, to head the nation’s new Holocaust museum.

Debate continues as to whether Cornstein is the World’s Dumbest, or just the World’s Blindest, Jew. 


Corporate Free Speech and the Israel Lobby. As you may have read, the latest ploy by the Netanyahu government and its allies in the U.S. Senate is a provision that would apply criminal penalties against U.S. corporations that boycott companies that operate in the occupied West Bank. This is opposed by the liberal pro-Israel organization, J Street, and the ACLU. 

The measure, in the form of a Senate rider to the emergency bill to keep the government open, is one of those ideas that gives bipartisanship a bad name. Its lead cosponsors are Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.

The rider is especially sneaky in that it makes no distinction between the occupied West Bank, where the boycotts have broad support, and the attempt by some in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to impose boycotts on Israel itself, which liberals tend to reject for good reason.  

This measure is unwise—and maybe it’s also unconstitutional. Prior to the far-right hijacking of the Supreme Court, this argument would have been far-fetched. If Congress wants to regulate corporate behavior, fine. But the Roberts Court has been highly inventive in redefining corporations as citizens—for purposes of making campaign donations, undermining reproductive rights, discriminating against gays and lesbians—all in the name of corporate free speech.

So, hey, if our corporate brethren want to boycott some sweatshop in the occupied West Bank, that’s their right as citizens, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll get one decent, accidental byproduct of the wretched Roberts doctrine on corporate citizenship.

As my grandfather use to say, “Shouldn’t be a total loss.” 


Corporate America’s Only Priority: Rewarding the Rich. The stock market may be tanking, but investors—make that, major investors—are doing great nonetheless.

How, you may ask, is this possible? It’s because corporations have showered them with heretofore unimaginable dividends and share buybacks.

According to a front-page story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “companies in the S&P 500 have spent nearly $421 billion on dividends through November,” which is more than they spent on dividends in all of 2017. And this doesn’t take into account the amount of money corporations are devoting to share buybacks, which is more than twice the amount they’ve shoveled into dividends this year. Indeed, both dividends and share buybacks have already broken their all-time yearly record—and the Journal predicts that next year’s levels will surpass this year’s, notwithstanding the downward direction of the market.

In recent months, both wages and domestic capital investment have inched up, but at nowhere near the level of the increase in the return to shareholders. As the terrific new study by Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute makes clear, the single most important factor in the past-four-decades’ diversion of business income from workers to shareholders and executives is the success of business’s assault on worker power, and the concomitant success of business’s insistence that government favor the rich over everyone else.

The last time I looked, the theory behind the government’s decision to tax capital gains at a lower rate than income from work was that investors bolstered the economy by investing. Now that corporation’s main mission is to reward investors at the expense of all other conceivable ways to spend its revenues, however, the capital gains tax has become purely a way to reward investors for extracting money from corporations, for siphoning funds from what otherwise might be productive enterprise.


Trump Gave Theresa May What She Deserved. Poor Prime Minister May. She has not been able to get her Conservative Party to agree on a Brexit formula, members of the cabinet are deserting her left and right (mostly right), and now she gets sucker-punched by Donald Trump.

May, braving broad hostility to Trump throughout Britain, went out of her way to host a friendly visit for our lunatic president, assuming that Trump might reciprocate with a bit of gratitude. But Trump doesn’t know from quid pro quo gratitude, except maybe when it comes to Vladimir Putin.

So while May and Trump were concluding a cordial dinner (salmon, beef, clotted cream ice cream) at Blenheim Palace, the right-wing tabloid The Sun published a startling interview in which Trump virtually endorsed the crackpot demagogue Boris Johnson to replace May as prime minister.

Johnson is basically the British Trump. He resigned as foreign minister earlier this week, ostensibly to protest the terms of May’s proposed Brexit deal, but actually to plot a campaign to oust her in favor of himself.

Steve Bannon has been in Britain this week. He’s a big fan of Johnson, and is working much of Europe to try to get more Trump-like figures to oust establishment pols.

The Trump-Johnson caper bears the characteristic signature of a Bannon operation. Trump doesn’t quite have the deftness or knowledge of British politics to think it up himself.

Serves May right for giving a warm welcome to Trump. Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.


Germany a “Captive of Russia”? How About America a Captive of Texas? Germany, President Trump charged yesterday at the NATO summit, is “a captive of Russia.” He was referencing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which, when completed, will enable Germany to get much of its natural gas from Russia.

By any other criteria, Germany might be said to be less of a Russian captive than Trump himself, though what Russian bounty has flowed to Trump over the years remains the subject of investigation—and is not the subject of these jottings.

Because the phenomenon of energy dependency upon a politically backward state compromising a nation’s values is one Americans should know all too well. If Germany is a captive of Russia, then America is a captive of Texas.

The baleful influence of the oil industry on U.S. policy extends well beyond the climate-worsening policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party (and some of the Democratic Party) generally. Dating back to the Hunt family and beyond, the oil fortunes of Texas, Oklahoma, and the rest of the fossil-fuel belt have funded generations of reactionary campaigns against liberal and moderate candidates in races where energy policy didn’t figure at all.

For that matter, energy dependency has been the basis of U.S. support for the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia since 1945, even though the Islamic fundamentalism that the regime has supported and fostered has helped spawn the very terrorist organizations the U.S. has spent a fortune combating.

So Trump should be careful about alleging that energy dependency can compromise a nation’s values and safety. By that metric, it’s us—not the Germans—who are the club champions. 


If Putin Is Trump’s Chum, Why the Pressure to Spend More on NATO? OK, it’s not exactly news when Trump contradicts himself, but consider this doozie:

Trump is excoriating America’s NATO allies for failing to meet the agreed-upon target of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on the military. The U.S. spends close to 4 percent, and Trump has just urged NATO members to double their target to 4 percent, too.

But hold on. If memory serves, NATO was created to protect Western Europe against Soviet Russia.

The Kremlin is no longer Soviet, but its near-neighbors like the Baltic republics and Ukraine are all too aware that Russian territorial swagger has not disappeared. Donald Trump, however, seems to believe otherwise. If things go according to plan, he will go directly from the summit meetings bashing our NATO allies to a love-fest session with Putin.

So please explain: If Putin is a benign pussycat, why does NATO need to spend more money on the military—to contain a nation that Trump no longer considers a threat?

a) This is just an excuse to bash Europe.

b) Trump doesn’t know, and he is oblivious to contradictions.

c) Whacking NATO is another way to suck up to Putin.

d) Europe is spending plenty, even if Putin is a problem.

e) All of the above.