Robert Reich, “Saving Capitalism”

Reich’s distinguished career spans three administrations, including a tenure as Clinton’s secretary of labor. He has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Foundation Prize for work in economic and social thought, and is the author of a dozen books, most recently Beyond Outrage. He is also the co-founding editor of American Prospect, co-creator of the film Inequality for All, commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. In his thirteenth book, Reich tackles the growing problem of economic disparity by focusing on the relationship between politics and corporate finance. Closely examining that revolving door between the two, Reich compares myths about both the minimum wage and top corporate compensation, and issues a call for civic action to change the status quo.


Sam: If you want to reach my generation, you’re not going to reach them through books .. you have to use movies and videos

The anti-establishment right is a mess of contradictions

President Trump radiates so much moral toxicity, and his administration displays so much malice and ineptitude in policymaking, that his opponents often fall into the habit of making everything about him. Trump’s racism. Trump’s corruption. Trump’s demagoguery. Trump’s authoritarianism.

There’s truth to all of that. But it might not be the wisest way to wage a political war against the right. Trump’s vileness is all there, right on the surface, broadcast without shame or apology to the largest possible audience every single day. People either love it or hate it — and there are already significantly more people in the latter camp. Why not let the president’s polarizing personality speak for itself and instead take a different, broader tack against the right-wing party and movement he leads?

Every political coalition is a conglomeration of factions that put aside or suppress their differences for the sake of mutual gain. In the case of the many right-populist parties and movements around the world, those differences are especially sharp and ripe for exploitation by political opponents.

Consider Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The German establishment treats the upstart party as ideologically beyond the pale because of its nativist and xenophobic position on immigration. But the AfD is actually a conglomeration of two very different factions. One of them is a genuine neo-fascist movement that traffics in outright racism, but the other focuses on economic policy, advocating for lower taxes and cuts to regulations on business. The two factions fight often and bitterly, but they stick together out of electoral self-interest, realizing that they have a greater chance of gaining and holding power if they collaborate in taking aim at the political establishment (even though they disagree in many ways about what that establishment has done wrong).

This broad fissure — between hard-core nationalist anti-liberalism and an amped-up form of neoliberal or libertarian ideology — can be found embedded in nearly every right-wing populist party or movement. It certainly plays a role in the interminable Brexit debate in Great Britain. Many of those clamoring to leave the European Union do so in xenophobic opposition to the free movement of people allowed and encouraged by Brussels. But many others have no objection to high rates of migration and instead bristle at EU regulations that stand in the way of the UK becoming a free-market mecca parked just outside the over-regulated monetary union like an Anglophone Singapore ready to cash in on a craving for unbridled commerce.

The same tensions are present on multiple dimensions in the Trumpified Republican Party. A number of them have been there in the GOP since the time of Ronald Reagan. But they’ve been pushed to the edge of utter incoherence since Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016.

In recent months, members of the religious right have taken a sharply anti-liberal turn, denouncing the aspiration toward liberal fairness and impartiality in government, which they now consider a sucker’s game that keeps conservatives perpetually on the defensive. In its place, the religious right increasingly advocates a politics oriented toward the “highest good,” which it defines in terms of traditional Christian morals.

As a model, this faction of the right looks longingly toward the explicitly anti-liberal government of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary. A Republican Party that followed Orban’s lead would include policies designed to restrain and restrict capitalism, ultimately subordinating the economy to moral concerns. (This would likely include obscenity laws, censorship of pornography, regulations aimed at taming the “creative destruction” of markets, and the enactment of pro-natalist policies.)

Even aside from the singular absurdity of Donald Trump serving as the leader of a theologically inspired moral crusade, the Trump administration has done something close to the opposite — cutting taxes and regulations on the corporate sector and reining in government-imposed oversight and restraint, even when businesses would prefer otherwise. Far from subordinating the economy to a moral vision, this is a libertarian’s wet dream of unconstrained profit-seeking.

Another dimension to the religious right’s more aggressive agenda is an emphasis on local communities (often low-density rural areas where farming remains an important aspect of daily life) as the proper locus of the yearning for moral regeneration. Yet these hopes for the future revitalization of moral standards and limits are projected onto an administration in which the Secretary of Agriculture recently warned that family farms don’t have much of a future, because “in America the big get bigger and the small go out.” Once again, a radicalized conservative critique of liberalism sits side-by-side with a radicalized form of economic libertarianism.

Nowhere are such tensions more apparent than in foreign policy, where a sizable number of Republicans pine for a revival of realism and restraint (fewer wars and fewer obligations for American soldiers to police the world), whereas many others appear to favor bombing more people than ever as a way of throwing our weight around, showing the world who’s boss, and bullying other nations (allies and enemies alike) into doing our bidding in purely transactional terms. These two visions of America’s role in the world stand in stark contrast with one another, and the haphazard, incontinent character of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is the result.

Put it all together and we’re left with a picture of a political movement in complete ideological disarray, unsure of what it wants to do, and in constant danger of internal conflict. That’s something that Democrats can and should be attempting at every opportunity to encourage and exploit.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. And neither can a political party.

Trump administration will hire Cuccinelli for senior DHS border role

The Trump administration will hire conservative firebrand and former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II to coordinate immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, three administration officials said Tuesday.

Cuccinelli will work at DHS in a senior role and will report to acting DHS secretary Kevin ­McAleenan, while also providing regular briefings to President Trump at the White House, according two officials briefed on the appointment.

.. Cuccinelli, who has been hawkish on immigration policy during television appearances that also praise Trump, appears to fulfill the president’s desire to have a forceful personality and a loyalist at the highest levels of DHS. But his arrival risks new instability at the agency, coming six weeks after Trump ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and replaced her with McAleenan, a long-serving official who was confirmed by the Senate last year as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and who is one of the few administration figures who retains a favorable reputation with lawmakers from both parties.

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank whose immigration-reduction agenda has had significant influence in the White House, called Cuccinelli “an unusual choice.”

He doesn’t have any immigration experience, but he does have law enforcement experience,” said Krikorian, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the appointment would make a difference. The crucial factor, he predicted, would be access to the White House.

“If he does not answer directly to the president, he’s not likely to be able to get much done,” he said.

.. The White House offered the job to Cuccinelli after it was turned down by Tom Homan, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to two officials. Trump also soured weeks ago on Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican favored by immigration restrictionist groups, according to one senior administration official.

.. “It is bad news for [McAleenan],” said one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide candid views. “You have someone at the agency that the White House might have in mind to be the next DHS secretary.”

Another former department official predicted Cuccinelli’s lack of authority at the agency and distance from the White House would leave him in a weak position from the outset.

“Putting an immigration czar at DHS is a total waste,” the person said.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to inquiries about Cuccinelli’s role. Cuccinelli, who was at the White House on Monday, could not be reached for comment. His expected hiring was first reported by the New York Times.

If the White House is grooming him as a possible replacement for McAleenan, he would face a difficult path to confirmation.

Cuccinelli is deeply disliked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has vowed to block Cuccinelli from any Senate-confirmed post for leading efforts in 2014 backing insurgent candidates that hurt the Senate GOP majority, McConnell advisers said.

Two years ago, Cuccinelli signed a letter drafted by GOP activists calling on McConnell to step down.

When Cuccinelli’s name surfaced last month as a potential Nielsen replacement, McConnell told reporters he’d conveyed his unease to the White House. “I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm for one of them . . . Ken Cuccinelli,” McConnell said.

The Virginia conservative, who has a long record of combative television appearances, is even less popular with Democrats. “This is absurd and outrageous,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote on Twitter. “He doesn’t deserve a taxpayer-funded salary.”

Others more supportive of the move noted that the DHS secretary’s role is challenging enough when there isn’t a migration crisis — and with hurricane season approaching, McAleenan could benefit from a strong personality fully devoted to the border.

In April, more than 100,000 migrants were taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border for the second consecutive month, and the numbers in May are on pace to go even higher. McAleenan warned in late March that U.S. agents and infrastructure at the border had hit a “breaking point,” and since then the situation has worsened, leaving holding cells so overcrowded that DHS officials have been transferring migrants out of South Texas by aircraft simply to make room for ever-growing numbers of new arrivals.

Cuccinelli has been a vocal advocate for Trump’s proposed border wall and other measures popular with hard-liners. He has backed constitutional changes to restrict birthright citizenship, urged lawsuits against employers who hire undocumented immigrants and at one point supported denying immigrant workers — including those in the country lawfully — from collecting unemployment benefits if they are fired for not speaking English on the job.

His appointment to DHS has others in the administration worried there will be too many players fighting to establish control over an immigration agenda, with White House adviser Stephen Miller already chafing officials at DHS.

.. One White House adviser said Cuccinelli would advocate for the White House’s aggressive position at the agency. Miller has argued to Trump that others within DHS are trying to stall him.

House Democratic Campaign Arm Nears War With Liberals Over Primary Fights

WASHINGTON — The House Democratic campaign arm is nearing open warfare with the party’s rising liberal wing as political operatives close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to shut down primary challenges before what is likely to be a hard-fought campaign next year to preserve the party’s shaky majority.

Progressive Democrats were infuriated last month when Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, the chairwoman of the campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, moved to protect centrist incumbents by formally breaking committee business ties with political consultants and pollsters who go to work for primary challengers.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who owes her seat to a successful primary challenge, went so far as to encourage her 3.8 million Twitter followers to “pause” their donations to the campaign committee in protest. She also started a fund-raising push on her official Twitter account for Representatives Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Katie Hill of California and Mike Levin of California. That initiative, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, raised $30,000 in roughly two hours. She also helped raise money for Representatives Katie Porter of California and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.

The open hostilities are just the latest in the rising tensions between an experienced party establishment focusing on what is possible in the short run and a group of young liberals chafing at such restraint. House Democrats have divided over single-payer “Medicare for all” versus incremental legislation to bolster the Affordable Care Act and over Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal versus less ambitious climate change policies. Liberal Democrats and more moderate newcomers from Republican-leaning districts have fought over Republican procedural motions.

And divisions on health care, climate change, military spending and tax policy convinced the House Budget Committee chairman, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, last week to give up on drafting a budget that would have laid down a broad legislative agenda for the new Democrat-controlled House.

Now that tension has migrated to the mechanics of the 2020 campaign.

Ms. Bustos’s rule prohibits Democratic consultants and vendors working for a primary challenger to an incumbent from receiving work from the committee. It comes as ardent liberal organizations like Justice Democrats, emboldened by a pair of high-profile wins in 2018 — Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — are aggressively gearing up to challenge centrist or old-line Democrats with liberal candidates.

In the latest swipe in a fight that has erupted into open hostilities, a coalition of progressive groups on Friday introduced an online database of go-to vendors for insurgent candidates emblazoned with the heading, “Despite the D.C.C.C.’s bullying, we’re still going to work on primaries.”

One group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Friday that it was exploring a challenge against Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, because he has not committed to holding hearings on the single-payer health care system known as “Medicare for all.” At the helm of that panel, Mr. Neal has been on the front lines of conducting oversight on President Trump’s finances, and last week requested six years of his personal tax returns.

“We reject the D.C.C.C.’s attempt to hoard power, which will only serve to keep that talent pool — and Congress itself — disproportionately white and male,” María Urbina, the national political director for Indivisible, a progressive grass-roots group, said of the campaign committee. “Incumbents who engage fully with their constituents shouldn’t fear primaries and shouldn’t rely on the national institutions like the D.C.C.C. to suppress challenges before voters ever have a say.”