Friday, September 29, 2017

Trumpism Fractures the Republican Party. How Is This Happening and at What Price?

I could give a flying crap what happens to the unctuous GOP, except that its destruction would leave a vacuum, and it's what would fill it that is truly frightening.

Senate candidate Roy Moore waves a gun while campaigning. A sign of the times?

 Not only is Roy Moore the odds-on favorite of winning the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he represents a key turning point on the road to a new and still uglier face of today's Republican Party. It's no consolation that Trump supported his opponent, Luther Strange. For the forces at work that makes a Moore candidacy, let alone his election, even conceivable depends upon Trump's shredding of long-established norms.

The you-break-it-you-own-it rule has been turned on its head in the age of Trump. After all, his famous "grab 'em by the pussy" comment that so many observers expected to destroy his candidacy may have won him votes rather than wrecked his chances.

Want to know how far from established norms we've come with the Moore moment in time? Michelle Goldberg, recently installed as columnist at the New York Times, has a revealing column that is frightening in its implications. She recalls one of then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's decisions in a case involving a lesbian mother whose children he gladly withheld from her:
“Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated,” wrote Moore. He added, “The state carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”
Yes, you read that right: Moore advocated the execution of homosexuals as one of God's dictums. That was then, this is now, where a campaigning Roy Moore saw it fit to brandish a handgun at a rally to impress upon his voters his commitment to the 2nd Amendment.

Yes, this follows from the crushing of norms Donald Trump has ushered in. Recall Trump's words on the loyalty of his base:
I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.
Shockingly, he may be right. So what is at the core of his magnetism, his "Make America Great Again" pull? Michelle Goldberg finds it in the ultra-conservative underpinnings of the rise of fascism in pre-Nazi Germany:
In trying to understand the movement I was reporting on [the rise of Christian nationalism], I turned to scholars of authoritarianism and fascism. If their words seemed relevant then, they’re even more so now. Fritz Stern, a historian who fled Nazi Germany, described the “conservative revolution” that prefigured National Socialism: “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future.”
Destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future. Sounds about right in describing the Bannon-shaped world view Trumpism aspires to uphold. The pity is that the ardent supporters of this view are asking a narcissistic, grossly uninformed billionaire -- whose main skill set is his ability to obscure his intentions while fighting by any means in order to dominate -- to do for them what he has no intention of doing.

While much of Trump's support shrinks to include only those few who believe in this "idealized past," the rest of us must suffer the collapse of what has actually made America if not great then at least a stable nation in a stable world. Now, however, all bets are off.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Tax Cut That Eats Itself, While We Get Squat

Talk about your fuzzy math. There's a hitch in yer giddyup in the GOP tax plan. Krugman explains.

OK, fine, I get a big tax cut. So what's your point?

Paul Krugman offers yet another reason why cutting taxes now makes no sense.
Actually, two reasons. First, tax cuts are supposed to spur growth by increasing the amount of an increment in income someone can keep for himself or herself. When you start from 70% taxation, cutting the rate 1 percent raises the take-home component by 1/30, or more than 3%. When you start from 39.6%, the same size cut raises the take-home slice by 1/60, or half as much. In other words, we’d expect the incentive effects of a given tax cut now to be only half what they were under Reagan.

And suppose for the sake of argument that you do get some extra growth. How much of this feeds back into higher revenue? That depends on the marginal tax rate — which is much lower now, only a bit more than half, than it was in 1981.
Gee, never thought of that, the part about extra growth causing higher tax revenue -- likely won't -- that is hard to capture with an marginal tax rate now too low to scoop up much new revenue. Tax cuts eating their own tail, so to speak.

As Krugman also points out, the GOP has a superpower for selling such nonsense. It's called lying.

Take a Knee Is Peaceful Black Protest that Drives Whites Crazy

Snowflakes are falling in the white heartland. Safe spaces, anyone?

Funny how we forget the Constitution when black people protest.

It's well established by now that predominantly black athletes took a knee to protest police shooting deaths and continuing mistreatment of the black community, despite the fervent denials by the Trump administration to the contrary. What should frame this debate is who sides with whom.

Those who are up in arms at the take-a-knee movement are unsurprisingly white:
Here's a just a handful the many, many white tears that have landed in in the last 24 hours.
The Steelers' team decision to stay out of public view during the national anthem Sunday angered one fire chief so much that he called the coach, Mike Tomlin, an "N-word" on Facebook. He was pressured to resign and has since denied being a racist.
DirecTV went on the defense, and announced they would provide refunds of their Sunday NFL package to customers offended by the anthem protests, even though their company protocol specifically outlines otherwise.
One British tv host felt it critical to get Steven Seagal's much-sought after opinion about the NFL protests. "I think it’s outrageous, I think it’s a joke, it’s disgusting," Seagal said on "Good Morning Britain." I respect the American flag. I myself have risked my life countless times for the American flag and I don’t understand or agree with this kind of behavior. I think it’s an outrage." Unfortunately, Seagal did not comment on his hairline.
The man who Corretta Scott King warned was too racist for federal nomination in 1986, yet has somehow become Attorney General in 2017 called the NFL protests a "big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens a commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom."
Wow, Sessions, talk about tortured logic. Taking a knee weakens the American commitment to the freedom to take a knee. Thank God we have such reasoning skills at the DOJ.

Someday this whole incident will pass, and Colin Kaepernick might yet play quarterback again in the NFL. And, yes, we may forget what this incident teaches us most clearly, that this country hasn't moved as far as we thought from the good ole Jim Crow days.

Let's hope we don't forget. Freedom for me but not for thee is a hell of a way to run a country.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tax-Cut Tuesday: Let the Lying Begin!

It's no joke: Buried within the brand-sparkly-new GOP tax-cut proposal is the Big Lie, the one that's not supposed to be noticed when you go Oscar-Simpson-style, "Oooh, tax cuts!"

House Speaker Paul Ryan has never met a tax proposal he couldn't lie about.

We knew this was coming, just like the dark after the Sun goes down. With great fanfare, the Republicans announced a tax cut without any offsets because everybody knows when you cut taxes, tax revenue goes up!

But that's not the zombie Big Lie I'm talking about. Josh Barro, crimping notes from Jonathan Swan of Axios, explains how the DOUBLE YOUR STANDARD DEDUCTION! is a big fraud. Most of us middle-class members will get nearly nothing in tax cuts and a number will find their taxes increased. Fer real.

And, of course, there are massive tax cuts for the wealthy. More to come. But read Josh Barro's take-down. Then pay close attention over the coming days and weeks. We'll all need each other to explain things to Oscar Simpson AKA Trump's beloved poorly educated. Otherwise, fiscal Armageddon.

Love of Country? Nationalism. Mandatory Love of Country? Fascism.

Donald Trump has already made clear that he's a nationalist, America over all others. Now, with his "Players must honor the flag" demand, he's working to rebirth a new American fascism.

Donald Trump's hard-on for the American flag is unseemly and anti-American.

Important points, before we get started:
  • The Constitution doesn't mention a flag or an anthem.
  • American troops don't fight for a flag, they fight for the sovereignty, principles, and values of their country. (When a country has bad values and bad principles, troops are still fighting for them.)
  • No one would disagree that Americans fight for American ideals, which are rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
An important note: Over the centuries, armies in Europe carried their flags into battle. Yes, capturing a flag was tantamount to winning the battle because the flag was as protected as the leadership, who would surrender at that point. That is, people should agree, an antiquated, romanticized view of war.

If love of the American flag and the anthem that celebrates it is made mandatory -- something that Donald Trump is loudly, insistently calling for -- something has been removed from the equation. That something is liberty.

Full stop.

That's clearly unconstitutional, as the First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
"Taking a knee" is a gentle form of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. So the originators of the movement have made clear. It's interesting to note that Trump and his spokesperson, Sara Huckabee Sanders have said that that isn't the reason players are taking a knee.

Why the switcheroo?They want to rob the protesters of the legitimacy of their protest by saying "That's not why they're protesting. They're protesting against the flag and the troops that have died fighting for it."

So, new rule: It's against all that is sacred and holy to fail to stand during the national anthem at a sporting event because troops died defending a flag. A four-star general with 39 years in the Air Force -- former CIA chief Michael Hayden -- disagrees, but, hey, Donald "never-served-because-of-bone-spurs-grab-em-by-the-pussy" Trump is the real patriot here.

The vast majority of Americans now agree that the Vietnam War was a mistake. Remember the AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT bumper stickers back then?

That hostile notion of citizenship was wrong then, and flag worship is wrong now.

The whole thing smacks of fascism. It must be resisted.

The Supreme Court has ruled -- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) -- that Flag burning constitutes symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Something as mild as taking a knee is clearly protected symbolic speech.

Which America do you want to live in, the constitutional one or the unconstitutional one? I know which one the fascists want us to live in.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The No-Trump Zone: Lead's Effect on Violent Crime

I recently drove in a (lead) gas guzzler from the 70s. It brought to mind the theory that lead exposure in children produced upticks in violent crime. A recent study greatly strengthened the theory.

The above graphic shows that two study groups -- one whose members were tested and whose high levels led to an intervention and another that had no intervention -- differed markedly in the amount of violent crime each group was involved in. Relevant conclusion? Lead exposure contributes mightily to violent crime.

Kevin Drum wrote up this study in his Mother Jones piece, which contains a link to the whole study. It's a good and important read.

My takeaway? Flint, Michigan, notwithstanding, get the lead out. There's still a ways to go, especially in aging urban areas. Also, studies like this contribute to our understanding of why crime has dropped so much in the past 25 years. Here's a good look at various theories about violent crime reduction.

Republicans: How Many Ways Can They Lose? (Let's Count Them)

Whatever made them think they could govern if they controlled all three branches of government? Winning elections apparently didn't do the trick.

Freaks like this don't help: Senator Cassidy (R-LA), this week's Liar King.

The Trump administration and its minions in Congress aren't completely down and out, not by a long shot, but its record since Day One has been pretty sparse. Now erstwhile "level-headed" Republican voices are counting the ways for them.

Frum, one of a number of conservatives who have turned against Trumpism with a passion, fits well with formerly conservative voices like Charlie Sykes:

 and Jennifer Rubin:
If you thought it absurd and incredibly irresponsible for Republicans to propose last week a slipshod, radical health-care bill that would not even allow for a Congressional Budget Office score, then the Sunday night amendments cooked up by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will infuriate you.
ICYMI, Grassidy (as they're being called) slipped various bribes into the bill to snag votes from Alaska, Maine, Texas, and Kentucky. Rand Paul called it "unseemly." Ya think?

And today conservative columnist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson dares to call Trump by his name:
Stop and consider. This is a sobering historical moment. America has a racial demagogue as president. We play hail to this chief. We stand when he enters the room. We continue to honor an office he so often dishonors. It is appropriate but increasingly difficult.
Republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa spelled out the Republican predicament best of all. About the Graham-Cassidy bill that just went down in flames:
"You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered," the Iowa Republican said. "But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill."
Mind you, Grassley was fully prepared to vote for the bill. That's today's GOP. Holy shit.

BTW, they're going after tax cuts next. Since they're prepared to use voodoo economics to justify a $1.5 trillion cut without offsetting spending cuts, what are the odds? Unfortunately, that still isn't evident. Hopefully, they'll screw this up, too. Fingers crossed!

Bonus. National Review -- a conservative bible if there ever was one -- thinks the Republican tax plan is bananas. Wow.

When Basketball Coaches Are More Moral and Decent than Our President

Trump has caused an eruption over a fundamental American right, embedded in the First Amendment, not just to protest, but to speak freely. And the Supreme Court has made clear that actions are speech. Hell, they've made clear that money is speech, for chrissake.

Greg Sargent put it best about our Dear Leader:

The term commander-in-chief doesn't come to mind. Big-ass baby does.

Meanwhile, two coaches tell it like it actually is.

That's some real leadership.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Donald Trump and Tom Price Hate the Lower Classes with a Passion, Healthcare Edition

There is no reason on Earth to disrupt current ways of accessing healthcare under Obama-era rules -- i.e. Obamacare -- but the petty, vindictive, hate-driven Trump administration will do it with a vengeance. Is anyone surprised?

People will die, but that's the point!

The Department of Health and Human Services will do its best to do its worst during Obamacare open enrollment:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning hours-long maintenance shutdowns of the federal ObamaCare exchange during the next open enrollment period, CNN reports.
HHS officials said the website will be shut down for maintenance for 12 hours from midnight to noon almost every Sunday of the next ObamaCare enrollment period, which lasts from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, as well as overnight on the first day of the enrollment period.
A spokesperson for an ObamaCare navigator group, which helps people sign up for coverage on the exchanges, told CNN the shutdowns could impact sign-ups.
"I could see this really impacting the ability of people to complete an application sign-up in a single sitting, which is so important," Jason Stevenson, of the Utah Health Policy project, told CNN.
Those navigator groups had their funding slashed by 41 percent in a round of HHS funding cuts last month. Navigators will now receive funding proportionally to how they fared in hitting their enrollment targets during the previous year.

The budget for ObamaCare advertising and outreach was also slashed from $100 million last year to $10 million this year.
Every Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare this year has really been an attempt to slash health services to the poor and "undeserving." Of cournse, the middle class is adversely affected, as well. Since none of the efforts succeeded, Trump's goons will sabotage our existing healthcare system any way they can.

How is it that any sane American votes for these people? Saw a Frank Luntz focus group with seven Hillary voters and seven Trump voters last night on 60 Minutes. Trump voters unswervingly support him after his first nine months. "Give him a chance!" they demand.

We're screwed.