Matthew Yglesias

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Today’s Comey testimony changes very little, as it’s still difficult to envision any scenario in which a GOP Congress would impeach Trump, no matter what he’s done or does. In fact, it seems even clearer now Republicans will double down on this illicit, incompetent White House.

Either they’re afraid that mercifully pushing Trump from the Oval Office, which he’s given them ample opportunity to do, would be too damaging to the party as a whole, or there were more contacts and money flowing between the Kremlin and members of the GOP than we know and they plan to keep it shrouded with a united front.

Would incriminating phone calls leaked by the IC community (domestic or foreign) that demonstrated collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s team make a difference? I doubt it. The President would then be given distance from his minions. Even if there was tape of Trump himself doing just that, I think it would be rationalized. “He’s new at this,” Paul Ryan said, when addressing the President’s unbecoming conduct in trying to obstruct justice.

The same rationale could be applied to essentially any misdeed, though Trump is in no way new at the mob strong-arming tactics he tried with the FBI director he ultimately fired. They’ve long been part of his modus operandi as a “legitimate businessman.” The careful language (“I hope you can let this go”) reveals he was very aware of what he was asking in that meeting, even if he’s been erratic in it’s aftermath (e.g., unhinged Lester Holt interview).

Would proof of laundered money push the GOP to act? Unlikely. Long before politics, Trump engaged in this illegal behavior and there would be a justification that he still won the electoral college despite the citizenry knowing all about it. “People got what they voted for,” as Marco Rubio has said.

Beyond any crimes committed by Trump and company, the extraordinary powers of the Presidency make it possible for the person holding the position to destroy our democracy even without traversing the law. Either the Democrats retake the House in 2018 or we’re likely stuck for four years with Trump and his cabal attempting to remake America into an authoritarian state. By then, it could be too late.

From Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

Forget Russia. Trump, like any president, has a wide range of contacts with friends, political supporters, donors, and the broader social and professional networks of his subordinates. He also oversees a vast executive branch that is responsible for supervising a huge range of law enforcement officials and regulatory agencies.

He could, if he were so inclined, sit in the Oval Office and spend his time making various phone calls to various law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and regulators and suggest to them that they should drop various investigations and enforcement activities into his various friends and donors. That would, of course, end up transforming the United States into the kind of authoritarian kleptocracy that the founders feared.

The safeguard would be Congress. Congress is supposed to stiffen the spine of executive branch officials by reminding them that their oath is to the Constitution and not to the president. Congress is supposed to oversee the executive branch and police not only legal misconduct but political misconduct, like perverting the legal process to benefit his friends and allies.

Instead, congressional Republicans have chosen to stand on the ground that it’s okay to order an investigation quashed as long as you do it with a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge — even if you follow up by firing the guy you winked at.•

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Wrote several times before the election that a landslide Trump loss at the polls on Election Day would be a death in the gutter for the contemporary GOP, but that America itself would slip from the curb if it somehow chose a bigoted, fascistic clown. Sadly, the latter that occurred.

It’s not that the country hasn’t flirted with such things in the last century. The 1930s were a time when some U.S. titans of industry spoke openly and admiringly of Mussolini, even Hitler, for being autocrats who could reign in their citizens and produce a pliant workforce. Not even World War II completely quelled that madness. In 1946, just a year after the Allies defeated the Axis, thousands of citizens attended a Madison Square Garden rally that urged the revival of Nazism. There have until now always been enough good, informed, sane people to pull us from the precipice.

Not that we were ever saints free of large-scale atrocities or institutional prejudice, but there was a belief among many of us that “a more perfect union” was what we were genuinely moving toward. Even those who didn’t feel we were living in a “post-racial society” after President Obama’s election may be shocked to learn that there was this degree of hatred right below the surface just waiting to be activated. Trump gave it license, speaking and acting disgracefully as he did, awakening a monster. This election may have also been about economics and other matters, but it mostly about an amoral opportunist activating the worst in us. 

That’s not to say the new Administration will convert America into a Putin-level autocracy, but a cadre of mediocre, sociopathic, bigoted wingnuts can lawfully cause no small manner of mayhem. And that’s really the best-case scenario. Many people could end up dying long before they should because of our political descent. Things can get ugly, the gloves coming off. You might still think that good will prevail and our liberties preserved, but does anybody really know that or anything else anymore? No matter how events unfold, we can never rest again believing that the worst can’t be realized. That dream is over.

It can happen here. It did. 

From Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

Many American administrations have featured acts of venal corruption, and Trump’s will likely feature more than most. The larger risk, however, is that Trump’s lack of grounding in ideological principles or party networks will create a systemically corrupt government. Such governments, Wallis writes, “are rent creating, not rent seeking, governments” that operate by “limiting access to markets and resources in order to create rents that bind the interests of the ruling coalition together.”

This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.

Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it. One can, of course, always hope that the worst does not come to pass. But hope is not a plan. And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.

Trump’s first 100 days could also be the last 100 days in which America’s system of republican government can be saved.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli, Libya October 18, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR2ST4W

The only thing Hillary Clinton had to gain from using a private email account and server as Secretary of State was convenience. She wasn’t trying to hide or steal anything. You could argue this server was less secure and made it easier to hack sensitive business, but it’s not like the American government’s servers are exactly impervious to breaches.

The partisanship of the FBI in trying to launch an October surprise may be shockingly reckless, but the press in all its forms was making a small story into a huge one long before Comey’s cohort tried to tip the election. The media may know its biases, but when it comes to scandal–or something that looks like it might pass for it–everyone is all in. That’s why a Secretary of State using a private email account, something Colin Powell also did, has been treated with the utmost importance, though it will not in any way decide foreign policy or create jobs or fix the healthcare system. When it comes to the future of our country, it’s a non-issue masquerading as a vital one.

The opening of Matthew Yglesias’ take on the “scandal” at Vox:

Some time ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisers decided that the best course of action was to apologize for having used a personal email address to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state. Clinton herself was, clearly, not really all that remorseful about this, and it showed in her early efforts to address it. Eventually aides prevailed upon her to express a greater degree of regret, which they hoped would lay the issue to rest.

It did not. Instead, email-related talk has dogged Clinton throughout the election and it has influenced public perceptions of her in an overwhelmingly negative way. July polling showed 56 percent of Americans believed Clinton broke the law by relying on a personal email address with another 36 percent piling on to say the episode showed “bad judgments” albeit not criminality.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way.•

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At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a post about labor automation, “Robots Won’t Destroy Jobs, But They Will Destroy The Middle Class,” which focuses on a recent paper by economist David Autor that encourages education as a means of combating further income inequality. Yglesias suggests that wage growth for McJobs will likely lead them to be automated, but that’s happening regardless. That’s why the title of the post seems unlikely to turn out to be true. From Yglesias:

“Will automation take your job away? No, argues economist David Autor in a new paper presented at the Federal Reserve conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday. Instead, it’ll just push you into a menial low-wage job.

That, at least, has been the recent past of technology’s impact on the labor market, Autor suggests. We’ve seen what he calls ‘job polarization’ where automation has increased the demand for highly skilled managers and creative types, plus the demand for low-paid food prep workers and such. …

Autor says this more or less shows the importance of improving education. Someone who might once have been qualified for a pretty good secretarial job is nowadays only going to be qualified for a job at Chipotle, since modern technology reduces the need for secretaries. To save her from the dismal future of a burrito stomping on a human face forever, she needs to be trained up to the level where she can get a job as an app developer or devising burrito marketing campaigns.

The other view, which Autor doesn’t really mention, is that perhaps a strong labor movement could turn burrito-rolling into a highly paid job. The most likely answer, I think, is that to the extent you try to transform low-wage work into middle-wage work you simply encourage those newly middle class jobs to be automated.”

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In a Vox post, Matthew Yglesias manages to get excited over time zones, a remnant of the railroad era. He suggests one global time to avoid confusion from a welter of zones that often don’t make sense. An excerpt about what a world would like like post-time zones:

“If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it’s dark out and work when it’s light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London’s bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there’d be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don’t need to remember that it’s in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

This has always been the underlying logic of the railroad time scheme — clockface times should be abstracted away from considerations of solar position. But the initial introduction of railroad time was controversial. It struck people as unnatural. Today, however, we are very accustomed to the idea that time zone boundaries should be bent for the sake of convenience and practicality. That means we should move to the most convenient and most practical time system of all — a single Earth Time for all of humanity.”

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Following up on this week’s post about Google perhaps getting into the driverless-taxi business, here’s the opening of a Matthew Yglesias Slate piece warning that regulation might stymie the emergence of this autonomous sector:

“Google’s eye-popping $258 million investment in the car-hailing app company Uber made headlines last week. It’s the search giant’s biggest-ever venture capital investment, and it gives a much-discussed but rather small-scale company a delirious $3.5 billion valuation. But so far, the commentary on the deal—which has been mostly focused on bubble speculation and startup mania—has missed the real story.

Google’s interest in Uber is likely connected to their ongoing investments in driverless or autonomous cars, and it shows that the potential of this technology is much greater than is commonly realized. By the same token, however, the stakes in ongoing regulatory battles between tech startups and taxi regulators are higher than most people know. This is not just the future of yuppies getting a ride home from the bar. It’s a set of issues that has the potential to radically remake the American landscape.

But to get there, regulators would have to want cheaper and better taxi service. Current trends make it unclear that they do.”

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Remember earlier this year when I posted about Barnes & Noble announcing it would cut only a small percentage of its stores over the next decade, as if the chain were capable of controlling the sweep of history? Things continue to get stickier. From Matthew Yglesias at Slate:

“Obviously Michael Huseby isn’t going to save Barnes & Noble. Because Barnes & Noble is a very successful chain of bookstores, except the number of people who want to buy physical books is plummeting. A digital bookstore can stock a much larger inventory with almost no warehousing costs, and can deliver the book of your choice to you within seconds. What’s more, a Kindle Paperwhite or a iPad Mini is lighter than a book and yet can contain many books, greatly facilitating travel. Even better, you can highlight passages of your digital books and annotate them and then have all your annotations available to you on all your digital devices. The only real value of physical books at this point is a kind of nostalgia-soaked experience, and people want to experience that at a friendly independently owned bookstore not an impersonal chain.”

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