Friday, March 31, 2017

West Virginia Is Living in a Culture of Nostalgia for a Time Long Gone, and "Clean" Coal Ain't Bringing It Back

Trump is a decent salesman, granted, but he's still selling snake oil when it comes to bringing jobs back that have disappeared for good.

The chart above shows the real truth of the matter. These days, there are 20 thousand coal jobs in West Virginia and just under 120 thousand healthcare jobs, required to take care of an aging population.

As Paul Krugman points out:
Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction techniques — like blowing the tops off mountains — require far less labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap natural gas.
So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.
Due to the aging of West Virginians -- and a heritage of bad health brought on, yes, by the coal industry itself -- healthcare and social services account for five times the jobs that West Virginians do compared to coal, regardless of the continuing, but waning, cultural image of a time when "men were men, and miners dug deep."

If coal comes back as an industry -- and that's a real long shot, given the rise of cheaper, cleaner alternatives -- maybe a few dozen jobs will result. Try telling that to the ever-present West Virginian Trump voter, and you'll get an earful. What you, and that West Virginian, won't get is very many new jobs in coal country.

It's time to dig deep all right, and hope to find new industries -- God forbid they'd be in renewable energy alternatives! -- and build a new future in an aging state. Because, as Krugman says, coal is a state of mind, not a viable trade for tomorrow.

To drive the point home:

Where are those new WV jobs coming from? The Medicaid expansion, with all those new citizens with health coverage from Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. So, can Trump cure West Virginia's problems by pushing coal and slamming Obamacare? No. That's a recipe for disaster in coal country. Who will it hurt? Uh, Trump voters, to be sure.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Really Bad News for Trump: Trump Voters Are Beginning to Dislike Him.

I didn't see this coming, mostly because Donald Trump knows how to reach his people. But now he's not doing that. The latest polling bears that out.

I don't think another rally is going to fix this.

Let's face it, Donald, polling shit just got real:
A drop of five percentage points among Republicans isn’t ideal, but it’s not that huge a deal. A drop of nine points among independents, though, is a loss of more than one-fifth of Trump’s support from that group over the last two months. That’s a brutal decline that may start to make Republicans nervous about how he could affect their electoral prospects over the long-term. Among those who identify as independents ideologically (as opposed to their partisan identification), the drop was 11 points, a loss of nearly a third of all support from that group since Jan. 20.
Other groups saw less-steep but still-important drops, like those Republicans. White voters have dropped under 50 percent support as has support from regular churchgoers. Those without a college degree — a bastion of Trump support — have dropped from 48 percent to 42 percent.
Trump's gone underwater with everyone, even with groups that should be his fans. Now, he can wait for things to get better. Re-election is years away. But for members of Congress, especially the House, it begins in earnest only months away. Even what's happening now begins to signal difficulties they'll face.

Do they want The Orange One dragging them down? No, they don't. So getting those badly needed votes for the Trump Agenda (whatever that is) will be difficult to impossible moving forward, especially if Trump keeps fucking up everyday or every other day. I wouldn't wanna be him, believe me.

To quote a somewhat dated line from Huey Lewis: Sometimes bad is bad.

Justice Samuel Alito, Anti-Gay Snowflake

I willingly admit I was just a little bit Alito on gay issues until I snapped out of it a few years back (true about a lot of us). Nonetheless (or because of it), I'm allowed to criticize the real Alito, who is a Grand-Canyon-sized hypocrite.

Awwh, Sammy, gays a little too icky for you?

I read two Slate articles back to back that ring true about sexual orientation discrimination. The first showed that the law -- and even the freaking Constitution -- fundamentally protects against just about any form of discrimination you can think of, including what the folks in Independence Hall in Philadelphia contemplated when the came up with the Bill of Rights. True, the founding fathers didn't anticipate its application to gay rights:
Next, Katzmann described what I call the Loving theory of sex discrimination, which appealed to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals when it confronted this issue in November. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that anti-miscegenation laws do not discriminate on the basis of race because whites and blacks in interracial relationships were punished equally. The Loving court found that anti-miscegenation laws still constituted race discrimination because they punished romantic association on the basis of race. Courts have since extended that logic to Title VII, holding that when an employer discriminates against an employee for associating with black people, it has engaged in race discrimination.
“Once we accept this premise,” Katzmann wrote, “it makes little sense to carve out same‐sex relationships as an association to which these protections do not apply, particularly where, in the constitutional context, the Supreme Court has held that same‐sex couples cannot be “lock[ed] … out of a central institution of the Nation’s society,” citing Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor. “In sum, if it is race discrimination to discriminate against interracial couples, it is sex discrimination to discriminate against same‐sex couples.”
What I found so brilliant about Katzmann's theory is that it gets to the heart of civil rights: If it's discrimination one way, it's discrimination all ways. Apply the logic. If it's wrong to tell interacial couples they can't marry -- or tell blacks they can't use this or that restroom or they can't have this or that job -- it's also wrong when applied to gays, trans, or other differently sexually oriented people. You might call it the Unified Theory of Discrimination.

Before I get to the second article, let me offer that this Unified Theory of Discrimination doesn't apply to "religious liberty" because the First Amendment specifically crafted a separation of church and state with its Establishment Clause. With that in mind....

Next was the article about Alito himself, anti-gay snowflake, because being Catholic is so, er, hard.
Poor Samuel Alito! The Supreme Court justice has so much to be upset about. Sure, he’s about to gain an ally on the bench in his ceaseless fight against unions, women’s rights, the environment, and LGBTQ equality. But in spite of all that, gay people can get married in America—and that makes Alito very sad. So on Wednesday, he spoke to Advocati Christi, a Catholic lawyers’ association, about the grievous threat that marriage equality poses to religious liberty. From the Associated Press:
Alito used his own words from his dissent in the Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage case, telling the gathering he had predicted opposition to the decision would be used to “vilify those who disagree, and treat them as bigots.”
“We are seeing this is coming to pass,” he said. … “A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”
Oh, dear. The dystopia that Alito describes really is quite chilling: a world in which religious conservatives cannot use the law to restrict the rights of minorities without … being criticized. Can you imagine it? Surely our founders did not write the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause with the intent to protect criticism of political beliefs. Have the bounds of discourse really been so corrupted that Americans believe they can publicly denounce anti-gay activists? Using mean words? What has this once great nation come to?
Poor wittle Awito! The First Amendment might let people -- who think he's been mean to them -- be mean right back. Oh, heavenly vapors!

Straight up, I believe that religion is antiquated superstition, not to mention that THE FIRST AMENDMENT DOESN'T ALLOW THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A RELIGION, CHRISTIANITY OR OTHERWISE. Can't say that loudly enough. This nonsense of religious freedom is an improper application of the Establishment Clause because people's religious beliefs can't be imposed on others, which is exactly what Alito's fav, Hobby Lobby, imposed.

So, Sammy, you won one with Hobby, so fuck off with your "they're so mean to us Catholics" meme. The Constitution doesn't give you a safe space or offer you a pass from microaggressions, you precious little snowflake.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What Americans Need to Understand about Health Insurance

Of course, the best way to "understand" health insurance is to eliminate it (no more Mr. Middleman!), but if we have to have it, at least we should know how it works (or should work).

Auto insurance is mandatory so we can all afford it, even on a BMW.

We insure things -- and lives -- to cover risk, the risk of crashing, of getting injured, of dying. The reason we can afford insurance at all is that everyone, or a reasonable proportion of people, buys it.

Car insurance is affordable because, by law, everyone has to have it. Health insurance isn't affordable -- in the U.S. -- because not everyone has to have it. That was true until Obamacare. One of Obamacare's legs in the three-legged stool was the mandate. Unfortunately, that's been weakened through a late roll out and now a lack of enforcement (if Trump gets his way).

The thing that everyone must understand about everyone having health insurance is that just because you don't need it doesn't mean you shouldn't purchase it anyway. Why? Because the system of insurance is designed so that those who don't need it pay for those who do. Eventually the favor will be returned.

When the young, buff, and healthy turn old and gray -- and sick -- a new crop of young, buff, and healthy will step up and take care of the old. It's the way it's supposed to work and those who say, "The hell if I'm going to pay for the bastards" are actually ditching their responsibility. Also, if everyone pays, the risk pool is big enough to bring and hold costs down, yes, for everyone.

So, dammit, conservatives, take responsibility. That's what you claim you do, right?

Conservatives Beginning to Think Truthtelling Might Be the Way to Go

Imagine a whole political movement so devoted to winning the messaging wars that it forgot that using the truth was the best way to do it. You'd be thinking of conservatism.

Never liked him, but never had reason to distrust him.

My dad, an LBJ liberal, watched Buckley all the time because he wanted to know what the other side was thinking. As a kid, I never liked Buckley because he seemed too glib and cynical. Of course it would be years before I knew what glib and cynical meant, but it turned out, in my view, I was right.

But I never thought he was outright lying to me. When he started the National Review, I'm sure it was a sincere attempt to counter the message of The Nation and The New Republic, which came over our transom at home. I was too busy listening to rock 'n' roll to read them. That was then, and this is now, when I eat, sleep, and breath politics and economics (Okay, I golf, play music, work out, cook, and live, of course).

Flash forward a few decades, and we live in a world where the right wing of American politics came to value their ability to control the message, something they do very well. It's become an art form for them. Frank Luntz is a great practitioner of it. As an example (he loves to offer this one up himself), Luntz said the best way to sell a bill or a regulation that lowers pollution standards is to call it the Healthy Skies Initiative. See how it's done?

That tendency to misinform, dissemble, and outright lie has grown among conservatives to the extent that there's no comparison with the other, liberal side, whose very liberalism actually curtails the abuse of the truth. We liberals still think that truth is our secret weapon. Yes, we're not always pure, but against the conservatives there's no fair comparison. Think Bill O'Reilly vs. Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity vs. Chris Hayes, and Rush Limbaugh vs. Michael Smerconish.

Now for the late lede: So, apparently, some on the right side of the media are beginning to agree that they've left the truth too far behind. The new editor of The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes, has decided that bunk is bunk and no longer a handy cudgel to reach for. He thinks truth might be coming back into fashion.
Mr. Hayes shares the viewpoint of another prominent Wisconsin conservative, Charlie Sykes, the #NeverTrump talk radio host who declared last year that he and his fellow conservative media stalwarts had been too successful in delegitimizing the mainstream news media.
“We destroyed our own immunity to fake news while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right,” Mr. Sykes wrote in The Times last year.
Mr. Hayes said he put more of the onus for that on the mainstream news media than Mr. Sykes does (though Mr. Sykes certainly puts some there). It has undercut itself with conservative-leaning readers, he said, through “the questions that aren’t asked and aren’t covered” in a way that seems to favor liberal viewpoints.
Yet the effect remained: There are right-leaning voters who “don’t believe what they’re getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets” and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.
At the "expense of true information" indeed. By the way, I've enjoyed seeing Charlie Sykes -- who's often on MSNBC now that he reformed -- because his candor is so refreshing among the stalwarts of right-wing radio from whence he's sprung.

The right, of course, has Donald Trump to blame for its predicament. That and the generalized epistemic closure that brought The Orange One to power.

Interesting factoid that I didn't know: The Weekly Standard was owned by Rupert Murdoch until he sold it in 2009. No wonder it was so right-wing and prone to disinformation, and no wonder it's ready to experiment with the truth. We wish it, and Stephen F. Hayes, luck.

Paul Ryan, Policy Wonk? More Like a Policy ((BONK!!))

Paul Krugman went after Paul Ryan's fake wonkishness years ago. Now everyone is finally catching on.

Those of us who've been schooled in real math and real economics -- often by Paul Krugman (there are others, like Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, Joe Stiglitz) -- long ago stopped being fooled by Paul Ryan's policy wonk schtick. Now, after his healthcare disaster, he may never get away with it again:
During last year’s Republican primaries, Marco Rubio famously described Donald Trump as a “con artist.” But this week, with the disastrous rollout of the American Health Care Act, we’ve seen the con artist get played by an even slicker, more professional grifter. And Trump is not alone in being conned: House Speaker Paul Ryan has been fooling a lot of people for a long time, making the world believe that he’s the foremost Republican policy wonk, an expert in the fine print of budgets who could bring a much-needed seriousness to Washington. In an ideal world, the damage caused by Ryan’s role in pushing the deeply flawed AHCA won’t be limited to his relationship with Trump. This episode should strike at the real root cause of the mess: The powerful, persistent Washington myth that Ryan is a policy genius.
Ouch indeed. I'm sure folks like David Brooks -- that never learn -- will still throw the policy-wonk moniker his way occasionally, but let's hope it completely disappears among the actual intelligentsia. Knucklehead is more like it.

And, for good measure, read how Politico summed up Ryan's catastrophic bill.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why the Ryan/Trump "Obamacare Repeal and Replace" Didn't Succeed

I've been reading a lot of autopsies of the AHCA failure. They generally miss the mark.

Dumb and Dumber.

You only need to know two things about the AHCA failure:
  • Donald Trump didn't really know what was in the bill. But the bullet points sounded okay.
  • Paul Ryan wasn't trying to reform healthcare. He was trying to pull a fast one: He was really trying to repeal Medicaid. He wrapped it in a tax cut as a sweetener.
Therefore, when their party looked at the bill, they couldn't see any there there. When the conservatives demanded and got some there there, the moderates said no way.

So why did the conservatives vote it down anyway? Trump pissed them off with threats to "go after them." They're pliant, but they're not going to let some fucking dick play them, especially some fucking dick named Donald Trump.

There it is. If Trump knew how to play well with the other kids, he might have gotten his way. Good to know.

Crafting Legislation Is Like Making Sausage Except When It's Like Killing People

I looked at the American Health Care Act and couldn't see any health care. It could be because it wasn't there.

This is the smile of a man who has nothing to smile about.

Can anyone recall any bit of "legislating" that resembled the last nineteen days? The Republicans introduce a bill on March 6th, ram it through two committees with no witnesses or public debate, do the same through a couple other committees in the ensuing two weeks, again with no expert testimony or public debate, and then set it for a vote on March 23rd because it was the seventh anniversary of the ACA passage. We'll kill Obamacare on its seventh birthday, except...oh, wait. We can't.

A day later, amid sturm and drang and Donald Trump's deal-making superpowers, the House leadership ate a ton of crow followed by a few quarts of Pepto and flushed the repeal down the toilet. Literally, holy shit.

What's the lesson here? It's hard to fathom, but at the center of what happened is that Paul Ryan crafted a bill that actually was an attempt to transfer about a trillion dollars of Medicaid and healthcare spending to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts while pretending its was healthcare reform and Obamacare repeal. But the astounding thing is -- and it can't be said loud enough -- THE BILL FAILED BECAUSE THE MOST CONSERVATIVE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE THOUGHT IT WAS TOO KIND.

Literally, holy shit.

Ryan and Trump tried to make it less kind, BUT THEY COULDN'T MAKE IT LESS KIND ENOUGH FOR THE MOST CONSERVATIVE OF THEIR MEMBERS. In a completely understandable twist, a bunch of not quite so horrible "moderates" peeled off from the whole and opposed the bill because "it didn't lower premiums enough," which is code for "holy crap it's mean and shitty."

A final thought (and I won't shout, but I should): About one hundred eighty or so average, run-of-the-mill Republican House members were quite ready to vote "yes" on this bill. One hundred eighty or so Republicans were quite content to vote for a huge tax cut for the rich masquerading as a fake healthcare bill because, well, it did fuck up Obamacare but good, too. Another day at the office!! Heartlessness and cruelty for the win!!

Yes, that's what happened. In the weirdest of victories, the Democrats won by staying the hell out of the Republicans' way. Funny how that works.

Monday, March 20, 2017

At What Point Does Trump's Compulsive Lying Start Requiring Us to Put "The President" in Air Quotes?

There's not a lot anymore to bolster the claim that Donald Trump knows what it means to be president of the United States -- other than he's free, on the taxpayers' dime, to fly around the country playing golf. The truth isn't a component, apparently, and understanding policy and international diplomacy aren't either.
This started years ago, but when is it going to stop? Before or after WWIII?

 Yes, Paul Krugman has it right:
 The New York Times reports it correctly:
The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey said that it was unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but that in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau will sometimes discuss such matters.
“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.
Mr. Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, “We have no information to support” President Trump’s assertion on Twitter that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
“We have no information to support those tweets,” Mr. Comey said, repeating moments later, “All I can tell you is that we have no information that supports them.”
The N.S.A. chief, Admiral Rogers, weighed in as well, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Mr. Trump. That seemed to refute another claim made by the White House.
“I’ve seen nothing on the N.S.A. side that we engaged in such activity, nor that anyone engaged in such activity,” Admiral Rogers said.
He then explicitly denied having any indication that Mr. Trump was wiretapped by British intelligence at the request of Mr. Obama.
There you go. Another unique feature of the hearing was that Donald Trump was tweeting falsehoods or misinformation during the hearing itself.
The White House tweeted Monday that the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency told Congress Russia did not influence the 2016 presidential election. But to borrow a phrase from the administration’s own parlance, that’s actually fake news.
The tweet, which came from the president's official government Twitter account and was sent out by his staff, tries to bolster the claim with a clip from Monday’s high-profile congressional hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.
 Of course, Comey and Rogers were commenting on the electoral process itself, the vote count, not whether the outcome -- how and why people voted as they did -- was altered by the Russians.

As long as "the president" chooses to misinform and deceive, by tweet or otherwise, he will be undermining his own standing, his own deteriorating credibility.

Oh, and do I need mention that after this damning testimony, Trump still, via his spokesman, insists that the final word about the Obama "wiretapping" is not in yet?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Donald Trump Will Trash Alliances that Have Built Up over Decades, One Piece at a Time.

Never mind the small fry like Mexico, Canada, and Australia. When Trump upends long-standing relationships with allies like the UK, Germany, and Japan, he disrupts what has worked for the U.S. since World War II. And for what?

A picture worth a thousand words: How'd this guy even happen?

Simply put, Donald Trump is very, very bad at diplomacy. This lack of skill in a vital aspect of political life is quite evenly spread among his staff. Sean Spicer, for instance, blew a hole in our "special relationship" with the UK by suggesting their top spy agency helped bad (or sick) guy Barack Obama "tapp" Trump's wires.

Next, Trump used his notorious Twitter finger to insult Germany a mere handful of hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel finished up her dutiful trip to the Trump White House. Not surprisingly, the twin tweets, in which Trump claimed Germany owed NATO and the U.S. "vast sums," was utter nonsense:
Security experts quickly attacked the flaws in Trump’s logic. On Twitter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote that increased defense budgets by Germany aren’t transferred to the United States. He also pointed out that NATO decided to make the 2 percent requirement mandatory just a couple of years ago. The alliance gave all member states until 2024 to reach that goal, and Germany is on track.
“Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told us. “The President keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”
Naturally Trump would be ignorant -- or simply dense -- of how we structure our defensive posture. Japan and Germany, who lost bigly in WWII, have built up a very small defense force as a grand statement of their permanent goal to settle disputes by peaceful means. This approach has stood the world in good stead for over seventy years. They remain non-violent and give us land to host military bases that expand our reach conveniently and inexpensively near our traditional rivals.

Now, with Trump's election, bull, meet china shop.

As for Japan, he's more than suggested that it should develop nuclear weapons, ostensibly to hold off China and North Korea. Smart!

And as for the UK, the rift about the wiretapping no doubt will heal -- mostly -- but the one serious effect will be that intelligence services across the world cannot trust Trump, who may not realize (what does he realize?) that we depend on international surveillance cooperation for our own national security.

Someone should tell him, someone who's not afraid to intimate that he's a fucking idiot, a dangerous one at that.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Donald Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy

Trump ran up against his own words when he issued the first travel ban, which cried out for injunctive relief because of who issued it, not because of what was issued. Here, then, is the person overruling his own interests. It's -- what would you call it? -- Trumpian.

Here's his Hugeness hugely blowing it. How long will his own words haunt him?

Indeed, it's Trump's own words that follow him around, most especially on the pair of travel bans that haven't passed muster with the courts. He may still win, especially in the Supreme Court, but so far his words are trampling on his hoped-for deeds.

Paul Krugman linked to this fascinating post on a legal blog operated in part by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith questioning the legal rationale for ruling against Donald Trump on his legal ban:
But also there is a third possibility, and we should be candid about it: Perhaps everything Blackman and Margulies and Bybee are saying [in their dissents against injunctions of the travel bans] is right as a matter of law in the regular order, but there’s an unexpressed legal principle functionally at work here: That President Trump is a crazy person whose oath of office large numbers of judges simply don’t trust and to whom, therefore, a whole lot of normal rules of judicial conduct do not apply.
In this scenario, the underlying law is not actually moving much, or moving or at all, but the normal rules of deference and presumption of regularity in presidential conduct—the rules that underlie norms like not looking behind a facially valid purpose for a visa issuance decision—simply don’t apply to Trump. As we’ve argued, these norms are a function of the president’s oath of office and the working assumption that the President is bound by the Take Care Clause. If the judiciary doesn’t trust the sincerity of the president’s oath and doesn’t have any presumption that the president will take care that the laws are faithfully executed, why on earth would it assume that a facially valid purpose of the executive is its actual purpose?
In this scenario, there are really two presidencies for purposes of judicial review: One is the presidency when judges believe the president’s oath—that is, a presidency in which all sorts of norms of deference apply—and the other is a presidency in which judges don’t believe the oath. What we may be watching here is the development of a new body of law for this second type of presidency.
This, we suspect, is the true significance of all of the references in both district court opinions to the many statements made by Trump and his aides about the Muslim ban and the true purpose of the policy effectuated in both orders. These references present, of course, as discussions of whether there is truly a secular purpose to the policy in an Establishment Clause analysis using the Lemon test. But there’s at least a little more going on here than that. The lengthy recitations of large numbers of perfectly objectionable presidential statements about Muslims coexist with a bunch of other textual indicia showing not merely that the judges doubt Trump’s secular purpose but that they doubt the good faith of his purpose at all—indeed, that they suspect that he is simply lying about his own motivations.
A few points. One, a president could normally be afforded deference and granted the right -- on its face -- to assume a national security interest in determining who enters the U.S. Two, what stands in Trump's way is his own widely expressed animus toward the religion in question, Islam. Three, the Lemon test to which the author refers derives from a Supreme Court case that tested the limits of government interference either for or against a religion. (Such interference can be neither.)

Barack Obama would have been afforded that deference. Donald Trump, due to his clear statements wanting to ban Muslims from entering the country, can hardly expect the same deference. And were a court or a judge to wonder how to decide, Trump, because of his numerous statements on the subject, has no doubt illustrated that his travel ban(s) utterly fail a Lemon test.

Those who want Trump to prevail in these disputes state plainly that the law does not allow a policy to be set aside simply because one president is different from another. But anyone who looks at Donald Trump can't help but notice that he's not like other presidents. In many ways, he's thrown the office of the presidency into a kind of chaos by his clearly demonstrated untrustworthiness. His lack of veracity calls into question his actual adherence to his oath of office.

In the end,Trump's faithful adherence to the so-called Take Care clause -- to actually follow the law -- cannot be relied on. Judges trust Trump at their peril. Oh, what a new normal that is.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Tweets Nonsense about "Wiretapping." Why? So Jeff Sessions Lying to Congress Would Fall Off the Front Pages.

Mission accomplished.

Bastard lied to Congress three times to get Attorney General gig. It worked.

I hate to admit that Donald Trump knows what he's doing. It's rancid, embarrassing, but often crudely effective. So it was with his tweets about Obama -- the bad (or sick) guy! -- wiretapping him. Clearly Trump did it to kick the Sessions perjury charges off the front page of every "newspaper" in the country. It worked.

There are consequences, though. Trump, with his continuing denials, has left so many allies and staffers out to dry:
Determining a culprit is an increasingly lonely effort. Initially, a number of Republican lawmakers went out on a limb to defend Trump, saying his wiretapping allegations may well have merit. But after congressional intelligence committees investigating the matter came up empty-handed, Trump's allies went silent or walked their remarks back, leaving senior White House staffers and diehard pro-Trump pundits hanging.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent much of his Thursday briefing filibustering reporters who tried to get him to reconcile Trump's wild allegations with congressional leaders' insistence that they'd seen no evidence to support them. For about seven minutes, Spicer read directly from media reports that he said supported the President’s claims, concluding that “putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.”
Jeff Sessions' job at the DOJ may have been saved, but all of this manipulative behavior by a president that rules by tweets has costs.

At some point, allies and staffers alike will begin to balk at following Trump down his various rabbit holes. When staffers do this, they'll either resign or get fired. If that happens, it will signal the unraveling of this presidency. But that may have begun on day one.

It's degenerated into a third-rate soap opera. That doesn't mean it isn't serious business. Can you say "nuclear codes?"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

If You Read One Thing Today, Read This about Trump's Budget

A true holy crap moment. If we wondered whether Donald Trump gave a damn about anything besides national security, we can stop wondering.

Trump probably didn't write his budget proposal. I'd be surprised if he's read it.

The Donald Trump administration released its budget proposal document -- non-binding, merely a guide to the Congress, which determines how and where the money is spent -- and, to nobody's surprise, it blows a hole in practically everything except defense and national security.

Here's a good place to see it all in quick order.

There are others I'm sure you can find.

Trump's an asshole. Read this piece by Jordan Weissmann in Slate for a more elegant statement on the viciousness of the proposal. Here's a taste:
It should be said that this is not even a full budget. Rather, it's a “skinny” version that presidents issue early in their first year that doesn't include line-by-line spending details or deal with issues like entitlements. In that respect, it's even more of a glorified press release than your typical presidential appropriations request. And in this case all it tells us is that Trump wants to spend bigger on guns, boats, and bombs, and doesn't care much about whether the planet fries. And yet, while espousing those perfectly conventional conservative values, it's still managed to alienate other Republicans who will be essential to implementing the administration's vision. Insofar as they refuse to go along with his plan, it will be another example of Trump's inability to lead his own party. If this is an administration whose malevolence is only tempered by its incompetence, as Lawfare's Benjamin Witte so perfectly put it, this budget doc is its perfect symbol.
Malevolent and incompetent. Hmm. That's rougher, actually, than what I called Trump. Weissmann basically calls him an incompetent asshole. That's rough, all right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hey, Fredo, Wanna Go Fishing?

Paul Ryan was very, very proud and excited about his healthcare plan. That was before it started taking on water. Now he tells people Trump was on board from the beginning, and, and so were a lot of people. Wonder why the change in tune?

On this fishing trip, only one is coming home? Yeah, well, at least in one piece.

Funny how this works. Paul Ryan rolls out his American Health Care Act -- it's very American in that it fucks a lot of Americans -- and now that it's in trouble, he wants to spread the glory around:
Here's where we are. Speaker Ryan from about an hour ago: "This is something we wrote with President Trump."
In other words, let me invite you back on my sinking boat. Ryan went on to say: "This is something we wrote with the Senate committees. So just so you know, Maria (Bartiromo), this is the plan we ran on all last year." So he wants to invite a lot of people onboard.
As the Trumpcare/Ryan bill has endured a murderous three days, there's been a growing move, from various feral and high profile Trump supporters outside the White House, as well as Breitbart News, to say the bill is at least politically a disaster and that Ryan is to blame.
Ooh, snap. Is Bannon making Ryan his bitch? It wouldn't surprise me. More important, though, is that someone is giving permission to Republicans to abandon the "Ryan plan."

For a little more insight, also read Josh Marshall's post on the politics of it. I get a kick out of Josh calling the GOP healthcare plan the "Trumptanic." Ha!

The GOP Calls Medicaid Cuts "Innovation Grants." We Call Them Tax Cuts for the Wealthy. Who's Right? (Hint: We Are.)

Watching and listening to Republicans trying to sell their new "healthcare" bill -- largely with deception -- is like listening to the worst car salesman you've ever met. And yet they persist.

From the very beginning, Paul Ryan was selling tax cuts paid for by
destroying the safety net. Why exactly? Personal responsibility. (He
went to college on his dead father's Social Security. Republicanism!)

Day after day, Republican congressmen have to go out and ramble on about how they'll going to save healthcare with "innovation grants" (cuts to Medicaid), "giving people more choice" (hollowing out coverage to make it more affordable), and "letting states make their own decisions" (leaving them high and dry with much less money to work with). at least you have to admire their grit and determination to sell a plan that's full of holes by plugging them up with bullshit.

What's the truth? Healthcare cuts that allow tax cuts for the wealthy. Surprise, surprise:
The House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is messy and confusing. No one is sure exactly how Americans will be affected and how much more health insurance will cost them.

But there are two certainties. Their health care plan provides a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. And it will make it easier for Republicans to pass more tax cuts this year. It would also break some of the populist campaign promises President Trump made to lift up the country’s “forgotten men and women.”
The repeal of the taxes levied by the Affordable Care Act is necessary for Republicans to move forward with an even more ambitious part of their agenda: tax reform. “Doing this first shrinks the amount of revenue they are going to have to raise to make their tax bill add up,” said Howard Gleckman, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

In order to get any tax overhaul through the Senate with a simple majority, the tax bill under Senate rules can’t increase the federal deficit. Since the health care bill would cut the federal deficit it makes it easier to come back later and pass more tax cuts.

“This dramatically helps us for tax reform,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on Fox News last week.
So, cutting the taxes that pay for Obamacare helps set up the "tax reform" that the GOP and Trump plan for later this year.

By "tax reform" they mean tax cuts for the wealthy. Got it.

Let's get this straight: Cutting taxes that previously paid for expanding healthcare to millions -- and thus taking that healthcare away -- will help the Republicans and Trump institute more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Just so we're clear.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Strange. The GOP Healthcare Bill Is Not Really about Healthcare. Hmm.

It's maddening to hear all the GOP congresspeople lying through their teeth about both Obamacare and their own healthcare bill. It's more maddening to listen to the reporters and hosts of cable news being unable to counter them successfully -- even though they try their damnedest.

Tom Price will only win by lying -- and by being believed by the rubes.

I don't know what to think. No, I have no trouble knowing that the Republican healthcare plan is a sham and a scam and can only pass if enough people can be bamboozled, or enough people are bamboozled enough to make the GOP run the hazard of delivering a phony bill of goods.

Because that's what Ryancare/Trumpcare is. Where I'm lost is figuring out how the GOP/Trump base could fall for it.
The Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare is a description of one of the largest, most significant income redistribution programs the US government has ever considered — from the poor to the wealthy rather than the other way around.
The plan, the CBO concludes, would take more than $1 trillion away from programs targeting poor and middle-class families, to fund an $883 billion tax cut targeted at the wealthy. It is upward income redistribution of a truly massive scale.
That's basically it in a nutshell. Money that could or should go to the neediest Americans will be taken from them and given to the wealthy in tax cuts.

Pure and simple greed, spiced up with brutal cruelty.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Term "Clusterf**k" Was Coined for the GOP Healthcare Plan

Can we put enough garbage into a healthcare bill, put enough garbage lies into selling it, and put enough garbage nonsense into countering the facts provided by the CBO? We can if we're the clusterfuck known as the Republican Party. But that doesn't mean they can't win.

Brainiacs they're not.

Oh myyy. The CBO decided to kick the bullshitters in the nuts.
Twenty-four million people would lose their insurance over the next 10 years under Republican legislation being pushed to repeal Obamacare, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.
And that's only the headline number. There's more.
Obamacare raised money and made various structural changes to insurance provision that lead to millions of people getting health insurance who didn't have it before. Let's be clear: who didn't have it before and in most cases couldn't get it before. There were some losers in the process. But this is greatly overstated. There were people who were purchasing extremely skimpy coverage who were forced to buy fuller coverage. There were also people high on the income scale who had their taxes raised. But by and large, the idea that people were hurt by Obamacare is mainly bogus.
What Obamacare did do was add millions of people to the health care rolls.
Getting rid of it leads to millions losing their care.
And -- relying on simple, straight-ahead reporting from TPM again -- the basis for this loss of healthcare is essentially the need to give huge tax cuts to the rich whose money was in part being used to give healthcare to the needy.
“The bill spends almost twice as much on tax cuts for the wealthy compared to tax credits to help older middle-class Americans afford health insurance. The rich get $592 billion in tax cuts for the richest, compared to only $361 billion for the middle class and the working class to afford health care,” Schumer told reporters in the Capitol building, standing next to Pelosi.
He was referring to the CBO’s estimates Monday that a repeal of revenue-generating aspects of the ACA would result in the loss of nearly $600 billion through 2026.
“So when Speaker Ryan says it's an act of mercy, yeah, for those people who make over $250,000 a year because they get big tax cuts,” Schumer said.
I hate to say it, but this doesn't mean the Republicans can't pass this thing. It defies gravity to think they can, but the GOP has shown us plenty of examples of circling the wagons when they need to. Hope not, but just sayin'.

"Jobs" President Wants to Fire Federal Workers. The Federal Government Is Part of GDP. Huh?

Most people watching Trump know he lies when it suits his purpose -- which is, as we've learned, practically all the time. If we assume he's not stupid (or lying), wouldn't he know firing federal workers, along with freezing their wages and shrinking federal spending in general, is a recipe for fewer jobs and a shrinking economy?

Trump, the dealmaker: "I've gotta deal for you right here."

Donald Trump may continue to fool his people -- he's counting on it -- and we know he assumes he controls the "facts." But at some point, a good number of people will realize that his agenda is a walking contradiction:
The cuts Trump plans to propose this week are also expected to lead to layoffs among federal workers, changes that would be felt sharply in the Washington area. According to an economic analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would reduce employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent, and lower home prices by 1.9 percent.
“These are not the kind of cuts that you can accommodate by tightening the belt one notch, by shaving a little bit off of a program, or by downsizing a few staff here or there,” said Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “These are cuts that would require a wholesale triage of a vast array of federal activities.”
A good number of Trump voters chose him because he's "good at business." So, does someone "good at business" know how to read a graph?

Federal spending represents 24% of GDP. Add state and local, and it's over 40%. If you shrink government, what happens to the economy?

I'll talk more about this later, but if you shrink healthcare, as will definitely happen under the new Republican healthcare plan, what do they think will happen?

Healthcare is about 17% of the economy, rising to 20% in the next few years. If we shrink healthcare, as is very likely when the Republican plan rolls out over 10 years, what will happen to the economy?

You'd think a "good at business" president who is hellbent on jobs, jobs, jobs would get that if you shrink government and retreat on healthcare spending, shrinking jobs numbers and a recession would likely follow. As I like to say, where am I wrong?

Trump Got People Shaken? Viewers Coming Back to MSNBC, Daily Show, and Colbert's Late Show

Yes, Rachel Maddow won't beat Bill O'Reilly anytime soon, but liberals are feasting on what liberal voices they can find on TV these days as CNN slips to number 3 on cable...

Rachel Maddow hasn't bested O'Reilly yet, except in the truth department.

Wow. Didn't see this coming.
Left-leaning MSNBC, after flailing at the end of the Obama years, has edged CNN in prime time. Stephen Colbert’s openly anti-Trump “Late Show” is beating Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight” for the first time. Bill Maher’s HBO flock has grown nearly 50 percent since last year’s presidential primaries, and “The Daily Show” has registered its best ratings since Jon Stewart left in 2015.

Traditional television, a medium considered so last century, has watched audiences drift away for the better part of a decade. Now rattled liberals are surging back, seeking catharsis, solidarity and relief.
Alrighty then. All it took was an authoritarian monster in the White House to skew things toward the left of TV. What will it take to skew things left in real life? Stay tuned.

When Data and Science Are Trumped by Politics -- as a Methodology.

When the facts don't serve you, don't let the facts serve anybody. Ignorance for the win!

The height -- or depth -- of bamboozlement. (Repeat a lie often enough...)

Greg Sargent, via Paul Krugman:
The White House and Republicans are bracing for bad news in the Congressional Budget Office score of the new GOP health plan, which could come as early as Monday. It is expected to find that the GOP effort — which President Trump has endorsed — could leave many millions without coverage, and on the Sunday shows, top Trump advisers sought to discredit the CBO’s finding in advance.
But all of this should be seen in a much larger context. We’re seeing a broad White House effort to corrode the very ideal of reality-based governing, something that includes not just a discrediting of institutions such as the CBO but also the weakening of the influence of science and data over agency decision-making and the deliberate misuse of our democracy’s institutional processes to prop up Trump’s lies about his popular support and political opponents.
Reality-TV was always highly scripted, though entertaining, nonsense. Trump's Reality-Politics is highly scripted, though dangerous, nonsense. It's called propaganda. We didn't like it when Goebbels did it, we shouldn't like it now. But it's how the GOP rolls nowadays, and they hope to get their agenda through using it.

Fact-free doesn't mean the truth disappears. It reappears as failed policy. And with failed policy, you don't get hot-fudge sundaes. You get egg on your face. The GOP, though, will endure that because the donor class gets their tax breaks and will keep giving donations to the GOP to help them remain in power. And that, friends, is what this is all about.

Update. Paul Krugman amplifies Sargent's point with Facts are Enemies of the People.

Is White Supremacy the New Normal of the Republican Party?

When the "good congressman from Iowa" feels free to say "culture and demographics are our destiny," isn't that throwing racism out into the open as not just an accepted way of life but as the only way of life for maintaining a white America?

"Somebody else's babies" means black, brown, Muslim or "other" babies.
Is this how we should roll in America? Steve King says out loud that it is.

To my way of thinking, this is a holy fuck moment.

This is a white American politician going to Europe to find a Dutch white nationalist, Geert Wilders, to praise for his beliefs. One could call this the unified field theory of white racism.

In case you haven't noticed, this is Trumpism, née Steve Bannonism, run amok. Shouldn't we have expected this? Aren't we seeing this in the anti-Semitic bomb threats and cemetery vandalism, as well as the increase in white men shooting random -- mostly Asian -- immigrants? Haven't we seen this in the open celebration by white nationalists since Trump's ascension?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Real Villainy in RyanDoesn'tCare: Slowly Choking Off Medicaid

Paul Ryan wants to "modernize Medicaid." Shrink it and drown it in a bathtub is more like it.

Paul Ryan, hoping to emulate a Trump superpower, decides he, too, can lie
his way to the top of the food chain, stepping on the dead bodies
of the poor along the way.

The real deviltry in the GOP ACA repeal bill is the largely unnecessary redesign of Medicaid, a program begun under Lyndon Johnson and a linchpin of healthcare services to the poor, pregnant women, and elderly poor long-term care.

Ryan Obviously reasons, "Why just walk the ACA back when we can slip in the eventual destruction of Medicaid?" Why, indeed, Mr. Speaker. You have such a rare opportunity to be truly heartless and, admit it, downright evil.

WaPo lays it out:
The proposed American Health Care Act would break with the government’s half-century compact with states in helping to finance Medicaid, which covers 68 million low-income people, including children, pregnant women and those who are elderly or disabled.The House GOP’s legislation would end the system in which the government pays each state a specific share of all its Medicaid costs and instead would provide a fixed sum for each beneficiary — no matter how much or little of the costs that funding covered.
It's bad enough that the GOP wants to roll back a successful expansion of healthcare -- and an original Republican plan as it was! -- and worse that they'd knock healthcare back to well before the ACA to cover even fewer.

The modern GOP likes to claim the mantle of the party of states' rights. In This case, giving Medicaid dollars in block grants -- that are often then misappropriated by other, non-health-related programs -- is tantamount to driving future state budgets to the brink. States' rights indeed. The right to have your state's citizens suffer and die all the sooner.