Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Crisis 2.0

Apparently now GOP members of Congress are actively committing crimes to protect Twitler.

The Crisis

I was on the road Monday and not able to keep up with James Comey (of all people) basically inform us that the FBI and Justice Department feel it's very possible that members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians to help win the election.  To a certain degree - to an observant person looking at the Trump campaign - this is unexpected.  Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn all have deep and important connections to Putin's government and the cronies that surround him.  So when Comey said there was an ongoing investigation, my first response was..."No shit."  We've also heard secondhand accounts of senior members of Congress being briefed behind closed doors and coming away ashen faced and disturbed.  There is more than smoke here.

Let's take a moment to clarify: I don't personally believe that Trump was involved with Russia, in the conspiratorial sense.  His management style is "hand off" in the extreme.  It isn't that he was working hand in tiny, tiny glove with the FSB, but rather that he hired guys like Manafort, Stone and Flynn to work on his campaign precisely because they have the same worldview he does; this is a worldview that is very sympathetic to Moscow. Trump didn't tell them to work with Russia, but their shared admiration for Russia and Russians led inevitably to this situation. Again, that Trump is close to many Russians is incredibly clear from available evidence.  That alone doesn't make him guilty of anything.  All it did was create a worldview sympathetic to very dangerous and illiberal regime, which led him to hire men who are very much tied to that regime.

And then Moscow helped him win.

I don't think anything that I've said above is contradicted by the public record.  Whether this is "bigger than Watergate" remains to be seen, but it's already the biggest scandal since Iran Contra, unless you count the lies that led us into Iraq as a "scandal" or how you feel about presidential blow jobs.  It does not figure to get smaller from here.

However, having said that we certainly seem to be in a place where a foreign and hostile power helped throw the election to the loser of the popular vote is not the scariest thing about this week.

What was terrifying to me was the behavior of the GOP Congressmen who were questioning Comey.

From the beginning to the end, their primary concern was on those who were leaking information about Trump, Trump's people and Russia to the press.  In other words, they were more concerned about the people making Trump look bad than the possibility that Russia tilted the election towards their favorite candidate with the active collusion of the Trump campaign.

I mean...holy shit.  THAT'S what you're worried about?

David Roberts has a long read about the level of epistemlogical closure on the Right.  It is worth your time.  I'll wait....

The primary focus of the piece is on what the media should do in the current environment of post-factual America.  Ironically, while he rightly focuses on the corrosive effect of "fake news" and hyper-partisan, conspiratorial media (and rightly places much of that on the Right), he neglects to really connect it to actual governance.

He makes the point that the Right basically gave up on a central tenet of liberal democracy: agreed upon objective facts. He also rightly points to Gingrich and Fox News and the primary vehicles for this.  This means two big things: there is no inoculation possible once you have the disease and the disease makes you do bad things.

First, once you believe that all the media lies and all politicians lie, then you won't believe the Washington Post, when they report something you disagree with.  You can find a contradictory story on InfoWars or Breitbart, so there libtards!  Because facts themselves are up for debate, who cares what the facts say?  I remember having a brief online argument about the unemployment rate with a Trump supporter.  He basically said that the Labor Department was lying, because they wanted to help Obama (and Clinton).  Because they had a motive, they naturally committed the deed.  There simply was no factual information, no agreed upon reality that I could draw on to contradict his firmly held belief.  I mean, why wouldn't Obama tell the Labor Department to warp the unemployment rate?  I mean aside from the laws and norms that govern American politics.

The problem is that the modern GOP simply does not give a shit about those rules and norms.  Since projection is perhaps their most powerful psychological force, they naturally assume that liberals don't care either.  There is no "good faith" common ground anymore.

The second part is what we are seeing in Congress this week.  The AHCA is a terrible, terrible bill designed to immiserate millions of Americans in order to reduce taxes on the rich.  But the GOP has to do it, because they've come to believe that ACA is the "worst thing since slavery."  We heard some dingbat from Texas compare Obamacare to a tumor that had to be cut out.  Which is a shame, because since Texas didn't expand Medicaid, it probably can't afford to have the surgery.

When you shut yourself off from objective reality, you write horrible laws like AHCA.  You then deny the CBO score.  And the verdicts of the AMA, the hospitals and the insurance companies and pretty much anyone who disagrees with you.

This is where we are. That's more terrifying than any individual policy or tweet or vote or even Supreme Court nominee.  The very idea of liberal republican government - America's original idea - is teetering on the precipice of a Breitbart-fueled tempestuous sea, because the idea of political competition via free and fair elections based on the positions of the candidates....that's seeming quaint right about now.

Absent an agreed upon objective truth, democracy in America cannot work.

In the weeks and months to come, the following will most likely happen: the AHCA will die - either tomorrow or in the Senate; the GOP will find a way to cut taxes for the rich; the investigations into the election will continue.

If AHCA dies in the House, it will be because it is too generous to the poor, but if it dies in the Senate, it will be because it's a shitty bill and the margin for error in the Senate is too small.  Plus, you can't gerrymander a state, so a Senator has to worry about the center as well as her right flank.

The ultimate fate of the AHCA is secondary, in some ways, from the GOP mania to reduce the tax burden on the rich.  The Trump administration is already accommodating the desire of big business to reduce regulations everywhere.

Once they get their tax cuts, you can make a case that the GOP Congress will no longer need Trump, and if the investigations proceed to uncover even worse allegations, they could rupture with Trump out of self-preservation (if not love of country).

Last Monday's questioning by GOP members of Congress was not encouraging on that score.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#Winning

Trump is entirely about winning.  He has to win.  Because if you don't win, you lose.  And Trump is not a loser.  NOT.  A.  LOSER!

This is basically his pitch to the GOP House: Vote for this so you (and I) aren't losers.  The fact that it is a shitty bill that will make life shitty for people who voted for them apparently has no impact on their thinking.

I'm REALLY torn about this.  I don't want to see 20+ million Americans lose their health insurance, and I don't want a bill that will be hard for the next Democratic government to undo.

But it would be nice to see them completely screw themselves over by pursuing the lie they've been telling their base for the past 8 years.

That would be fitting.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stupid Or Cruel?

Ultimately that becomes the question to every policy utterance from Cheetoh Benito.  His health care bill?  Does he understand it and is simply lying? Or does he simply not understand it?  Apparently health care is complicated, who could have known?  But does he have even the barest of knowledge about this plan?

One of the small stories that has leaked out during the Hundred Daze is that Trump really isn't a reader.  As in, he doesn't read.  If it's not in a bullet point, he's not reading it.  Trump's father sent him to the New York Military Academy, at least in part because he had an undiagnosed learning disability.  Attention deficit, probably linked to a reading based learning disability.  Because Trump inherited a lot of money and has never had to personally develop coping skills for his LD issues, he simply glided by, while his attorneys handled the details.

Obama famously said that no easy problems reach the Oval Office.  If the problem were easy, it would have been solved before it got to the White House.  Difficult problems require sophisticated, nuanced thinking.  Trump's inability to see nuance or embrace subtlety is directly linked to his ignorance.

So, again, when we look at the Festival of Cruelty that is the Trump budget, we have to ask: Is he stupid or cruel?  Look, we know Steve Bannon is cruel, and we can be reasonably certain that Trump was not involved with crafting the details of this budget.  So, let's assume that this budget is the product of the Breitbart Boys who surround Trump.  Let's also assume that Trump - the living embodiment of a Yahoo! comment thread - is OK with the broad rhetoric of the Right that would cut all the various programs that he wants to cut.

What Trump hasn't realized is the very real difference between the rhetoric of "cut wasteful spending" and the reality that this "wasteful spending" is quite important in people's lives and they don't want to see it cut.  Republicans in Congress are savvy enough to know the difference between their campaign rhetoric and the reality that many programs are popular.  Big Bird has beaten back more competent foes than Donald Trump.

And so we come back to the original question: Are Donald Trump's policies a product of his cruelty or his stupidity?

And which answer terrifies you more?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The View From Abroad

There is one area that the President of the United States has great constitutional authority and that is in foreign affairs.  That is because the office was designed to speak as one voice for the American people.  Declarations of war were supposed to be run through Congress, so the people could voice their preference, but foreign policy and the military are the province of the President.

The damage that Trump is doing and will continue to do as commander in chief will be hard to calculate.  In the past week he has insulted the British and the Germans and his Secretary of State has threatened war on the Korean Peninsula.

The "global north" (Europe, Japan and other developed economies) have long marveled at the whipsaw nature of our politics.  Most of those countries reside comfortably to the left of America's center, and so they are naturally more sympathetic to Democrats than Republicans.  But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were also more committed to the idea of collective security than were George W. Bush and now, obviously, Orange Julius.  Collective security was an American idea, with roots in Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson's ideas of the New Model Treaty.  It was articulated by Woodrow Wilson and implemented by FDR.  There was always a strain of American conservatism that rebelled against it, but important figures from Eisenhower to Nixon to HW Bush all pushed back in important ways against the "America First" mentality.

Even W Bush worked within the pretext of global institutions, as his "Coalition of the Willing" suggested.  Most people saw right through that, but at least he nodded in that direction.

Der Gropenfuhrer - who is most accurately described as the comment section come to life - is intent as a matter of policy to destroy the post World War II order.  Some of this will be done intentionally.  Some of it will be done by his own rank incompetence.

For the first time ever, the rest of the world looks at America not with alarm, but with real fear.

That won't end well for us.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Overheard

I'm siting upstairs at my parent's house, listening to my dad's physical therapist talk about the basic issue with social programs: the perception of free riders.

All it takes is for people to know one "welfare cheat" to discredit an entire philosophy of government.  If you know that Cleetus down the road is able but taking a gubmint check he doesn't deserve, it's hard to support social welfare program.

Of course, this is a flaw that leads to poor and working class whites to vote for a party that pretty much only gives a shit about tax cuts for the rich.  Trump's budget is a statement of GOP priorities that stretch back to Reagan and his more fervent acolytes.  It basically ends social programs across the board, including as much regulatory protection as is possible.

It's a Gilded Age document for a man who never found anything he couldn't throw a coat of gold paint on.

The debate of health care is essentially the debate over the role of government, but it that debate made real for millions of people who believe Cleetus down the road invalidates the idea of social spending.  The problem the GOP has run into time and time again is that social spending is pretty damned popular with the people who benefit from it.  Social Security, Medicare, ACA/Medicaid, public schools, public health...people like this stuff.  They made loath Cleetus down the road, but they still want what THEY get out of it.

This is currently a fundamental problem for the GOP as they try and gut Obamacare.  There are too many people who benefit from ACA that voted for Trump.  Shit, Trump basically admitted as much in his interview with Tucker Carlson.  If - with full control of government - they pass their preferred policies, they will hurt people - physically as well as fiscally - in order to lavish tax cuts on the rich.  My guess is that will leave to a Democratic wave in 2018 or 2020.

But as soon as you have a Democratic government, you are going to face this same, fundamental Cleetus down the road problem.  How do you sell an agenda of greater economic equality that doesn't somehow reward Cleetus down the road?  Because as soon as the perception is that Cleetus down the road is benefiting in ways that I'm not...you've lost a ton of support.

This is one powerful argument with universals social programs, be it health care, public education or Social Security.  Social Security is popular because it's universal.  ACA is unpopular because it's not.  Preserving ACA is important, because it creates a baseline for President Gillibrand to move closer to universal single payer in 2021.  Whether or not America can embrace a universal basic income is a real question, because it would seem to hold promise for addressing so much of the rampant inequality that has created our fracture polity.

You don't get Trump without 2008.  You don't get 2008 without Bush's deregulation craze.  You also don't get Obama without 2008.  The GOP benefits from the perception that government is broken and doesn't work for anyone but Cleetus down the road.

Democrats have to fix that before they get their hands on power again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Things Paul Ryan Doesn't Understand

1) How insurance works.

2) What ancient history is.

I Hate Trump For Making Me Conspiratorial

I'm not overly fond of conspiracy theories, but the idea that Trump leaked his own taxes seems pretty plausible.  Whoever leaked it had access to Trump's copy.  The form leaked tells us very little about what we need to know about his financial ties.  It was from one year that could easily have been cherry-picked.  In 2004-5, we were really hitting the housing bubble's expansion.  So if Trump DIDN'T make money in those years, he's an even bigger fraud than I thought.

This feels very much like Maddow got played.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Drop Off The Web For One Day

And it turns out my refrigerator was spying on me and also judging me for that late night brie.

Monday, March 13, 2017

My Biggest Error

I did not think the Comey letter was as big a deal as it really was.

Ruh Roh

Steve King once again has let the voice inside his head come outside his head.

Of course, Steve King will see no negative effect from this, because Iowans are friendly, welcoming people, unless you're one of THOSE people.  And by THOSE people, I mean people that Iowans haven't met.

King is and has been an embarrassment, just as Louie Gohmert is and Michelle Bachmann was.

My prayer is that we can generate a wave election strong enough to erase that racists MoFo from the halls of Congress once and for all.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bookmark This Stuff

Here is my prediction. Trump will coast along on the Obama recovery for awhile.  But there is a stock market bubble brewing.  It was brewing a little under Obama, but it is wildly inflating itself now.  Bubbles seem to burst in the fall, but will it be 2017, 2018 or 2019?  If the border tax or the Ryancare goes through, we will see inflation in the first case with a loss of real wages in the second.  Obamacare was one of the greatest redistributions of wealth downward since the Great Society.  Remove that from 15 million Americans, and the money they are currently spending on consumer goods gets redirected towards health care.

Basically, if the GOP repeals Obamacare (doubtful but hardly impossible), adds a border tax (likely at this point) and allows Wall Street to run amok (happening), then we can expect the economy to crash again in some way.

When that happens (if it happens), the Republican response is already in the can and ready to go: Donald Trump was not a True Conservative.  He was a Democrat once, they will say.  He was an outsider, they will say.

Stories like this need to be filed away to be trotted out in 2018 and 2020.  Complete and utter nonsense like this need be played on a loop.

A cynic would say it won't matter.  People have so cemented themselves into their partisan identities that they won't budge.  But an economic crunch or the loss of health insurance is not something you can spin away as the "lying media" or the "coastal elites."

The Democrats need to keep their fingerprints off the AHCA shit-sandwich, precisely so they can hang its failures around the GOP.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Real America

I don't intend this as a "point and stare" exercise, but this story of a KKK leader who was killed by his mentally ill wife is a bit too salacious to pass by unremarked upon.  In it, you can find all the pathologies of rural America that led to them following a two-bit New York con artist down the Primrose Path.  Poor prospects, drug addiction, undiagnosed mental illness...It's Faulkner for the 21st century, a dark gothic stew of resentments, anger and helplessness.

If the principles in this story were minority, I'd have more sympathy for them.  And that is something I need to work on.  Admittedly, being a KKK leader is not a sympathetic stance, so I feel no compelling need to sympathize with the late Mr. Ancona.  There is a justifiable stance that the accrued treatment of minorities deserves more sympathy.  But people like Ancona's have seen no benefit from their whiteness, which is probably why he gravitated towards an ideology that makes him superior based on the one attribute he has in his favor - his skin color.  And I would not sympathize with characters in this tragedy if they were radical black nationalists either.

This is the challenge of Trumpistan.  How do we reach people like the Anconas to let them know that Donald Trump doesn't give a shit about them?  That the Republican party doesn't give a shit about them?  My wife and I were discussing whether it's in the mercenary interest of the Democrats to let the AHCA pass in order to force these older, rural white people to realize how the Republican party is basically interested in nursing your grievances so they can give more money to the rich.

Ancona was a racist.  His racism had to be rooted in some ways in the shitty circumstances of his life.  His shitty circumstances were caused in part by a system that rewards the top 1% out of all proportion to their contributions.  Trump told them he shared their anger.  He lied, which is what he does.  But people like Ancona wanted to believe in those lies so much.

How do you communicate with people who speak such a foreign tongue?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Confusing

One thing the GOP has been very good at over the years is packaging terrible, regressive policies in good politics.  Trumpism is kind of part and parcel of this.  This is how you convince your voters to stick with you, even when your policies suck.

The Shit Sandwich Health Bill is amazing because of its truly awful politics.  Here is a great example: The SSHB will hurt older voters and benefit younger voters.  I can imagine Paul Ryan sitting around with his acolytes and saying, "Hey!  We can wean those young voters away from the Democrats by giving them better terms in health care!"  This fundamentally misreads Millennial voters.  They care about LGBT rights.  They care about the environment.  They like multiculturalism. They are not fond of the 1%.

The GOP lost those voters on social issues and economic philosophy.  Giving them a little bit extra cash just isn't going to move the needle much.

And it will enrage the very demographic that has maintained the GOP majorities in Congress.