Saturday, May 26, 2018

When Trump Speaks or Writes, Figure Out the Lies First. Then Call It Like It Is.

We've spent days letting Trump control the agenda with his daily splash of lies. It has to stop.

Paul Waldman gets it:
You may have noticed that today’s news is not dominated by the blockbuster revelations of what members of Congress learned yesterday when they met with Justice Department officials to review information about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, specifically the bureau’s use of a confidential informant who contacted Trump campaign officials after learning of suspicious links involving Russia.

Why is it that the results of that highly unusual meeting (two meetings, actually) are not splashed across every front page and dominating every minute of cable news today? Because the whole thing was a farce, and it didn’t give Republicans what they were hoping for.

This reveals the absurd pattern we’ve fallen into. It goes like this: President Trump makes a ridiculous accusation that almost everyone immediately understands to be false. Then we in the media, because it’s the president, treat that accusation as though it’s something that has to be taken seriously. Then governmental resources are mustered to deal with the accusation. Then Republicans try to twist the mobilization of those resources to give them the answer they’re seeking. But because it’s all based on a lie, they fail once Democrats force some measure of truth to be revealed.
This pattern has to stop. When Trump lies, just report the lie. Then follow up with "We have no reason to take Trump seriously." The press must not say things like "Trump claims [fill in lie]..." followed by reaction around the political sphere. Just say, "There he goes again. We cannot follow up on lies. We await a factual statement on the matter."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Irrationality of Trump's Racism in One Graph

Though Trump apologists are falling over each other to defend or explain his "They're animals!" comment about immigrants, what defeats them before they even venture a word is Trump's history of racist remarks, from his Obama birtherism to his speech announcing his run for the presidency.

The truth of this covers more than New York, it covers all immigrant populations across America. Immigrants simply commit less crime that the native-born.

Face it, between Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and his shithole-countries remark -- not to mention his wistful call for more Norwegians -- we can only find proof of Trump's blatant racism. If that weren't enough, just recall to mind his Charlottesville "good people on both sides" statement.

Thanks to Paul Krugman for the graph.

Monday, May 14, 2018

John Kelly Doesn't Get What It Means to Be an Immigrant

A quick look at Kelly's bio reveals he's Irish-Italian from Boston. If anyone should get what it means to be from an immigrant family, he should. Yet he is displaying a total ignorance of his ancestry and that of so many different American immigrants throughout history.

The definition of a racist might be one who cultivates his ignorance of race
in order to appear rational while explaining why certain population groups
are sub-standard. If so, John Kelly meets that definition.

The Trump administration has practically defined its core belief as "dark skin means rapists, drug dealers, and 'not their best people.'" After all, why don't more Norwegians come here? Why do they have to come from "shithole countries?"

John Kelly, who tries to look rational even as he describes an African-American congresswoman as "an empty barrel" while lying through his teeth about some of her clearly impressive acts. He can't help himself is my guess. Growing up in Boston might make you "Boston Strong," but it clearly also can make you "Boston Racist." Kelly is living proof. Reference the busing riots of yesteryear if you need explanation.

Comes his ridiculous, recent statement on immigration:
The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well.
I don't need to know the particulars of his own ancestry other than the countries his people flowed from to know that his Irish and Italian roots had a fucking boatload of rural people among them, most of which had little need of or access to education to plant and harvest their fields. Even if they came from cities, few had any education. The educated and successful had little reason to leave.

I've been to both Ireland and Scotland and seen up close the land from which my people sprang. I actually have spoken to many of my paternal grandmother's Scottish kin and learned that the Wallaces were drainers. "Oh, aye, Chairlie's a drainer like most Wallaces about." Turns out there's too much water, not too little, around Luthermuir, Aberdeenshire, and draining the land for agriculture was necessary. Who knew?

Kelly, you prick, I did. I've also been all around Galway, Ireland where that side of the family came from, and there were more sheep there than you could shake a stick at, and it was one of the hardest hit areas during the Great Potato Famine. I doubt my kin spent many years in a schoolroom or reading books. Play a fiddle, now that might be a different story. Within two generations, though, my family was producing doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, and, yes, musicians.

John Kelly's world view, like that of most around Trump, is dependent on some people being inferior. Kelly needs that to feel good about himself. In that, he channels Trump. What pure dicks.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fourth Circuit Rules Electronic Devices Searches at Border Are Unconstitutional.

This is great news. So many illegal searches, now over.

No more unwarranted snooping.

This is good news for a change. Confiscation and forensic searches of electronic devices at U.S. borders are out.
The ruling in U.S. v. Kolsuz is the first federal appellate case after the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Riley v. California (2014) to hold that certain border device searches require individualized suspicion that the traveler is involved in criminal wrongdoing. Two other federal appellate opinions this year—from the Fifth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit—included strong analyses by judges who similarly questioned suspicionless border device searches.
Good. A step in the right direction.

Anne Applebaum Weighs In: America IS Losing Hegemony with Trump's Moves

As sometimes happens, I have "original thoughts," only to find out I'm channeling the experts. Nice feeling while it lasted

Leading NATO has let us lead "the free world," as Applebaum says, "on the cheap."

Here's her piece this morning on vanishing hegemony:
Above all, it depended on an American willingness to invest: in diplomacy, in military power — but above all in alliances. By forging mutually advantageous agreements with Germans or South Koreans, the United States had far greater influence than it would have had otherwise. By creating and then expanding NATO, by maintaining troops in South Korea and Japan, the United States kept parts of Europe and Asia free to choose democracy, and open for commerce and trade. Everywhere else, agreements and partnerships as well as money and armies gave the United States an outsize voice in trade and commerce, as well as matters of war and peace.
President Trump knows no history and does not have any idea how the United States became an “essential” country, let alone a superpower. But he seems to believe that he can maintain that status, and even increase it, without making investments — diplomatic, military or monetary — at all. This week, the outline of what this means — call it “hegemony on the cheap” — suddenly came into sharp focus.
The sharp focus is on Trump blowing stuff up, mostly out of ignorance.

What Trump Has Done to Our Carefully Crafted Hegemony

Blown it up is what.

Donald Trump, thinking through shit. This might take a while (if we're lucky).

I've spent my life with baby boomers. We have one thing in common. We've only known a world that America clearly has led, shaped by our victory in WWII, dominated by fidelity to our European allies in the West through NATO (driven by the Cold War) and our allies in the East, Japan and S. Korea (driven by concerns of eventual Chinese hegemony).

So Trump comes in with his America First nationalism and blows up all the relationships. After the smoke clears, we'll see a diminished America, no matter how tough Trump thought he was being. Make no mistake, we will pay a price.

Trump's Drug Plan Blames "Big Government" and Protects Big Pharma. Surprise, Surprise.

On the Destroy-the-Obama-Legacy front, Donald Trump is keeping promises left and right, no matter how destructive his policies are. On the promises that would help real people -- whoever they are -- no so much.

Traders were cautious on health stocks, then Trump spoke, people panicked,
then they figured out what he said, leading to the super spike of relief.

You've got to hand it to Donald Trump, he knows how to obscure his broken promises. Saying “Today, my administration is launching the most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people,” without batting an eye and then adopting a plan that does next to nothing to fix drug prices is quite a trick. if you wonder what Wall Street thought of it, look at the chart above. If you wonder what Big Pharma thought of it look below.

The dip before he spoke? The same. The bit of dread as he spoke? The same. The spike of relief after analysts figured out "big whoop?" Yep. Man of the people, all right.

Friday, May 11, 2018

America's Loss of Standing in the World, Let Me Count the Ways

Sure, we peaked in WWII, though the Korean War was an effort to unsplit a country, and Vietnam was a disastrous opposite effort. Still, we've spent decades creating moral, ethical, democratic, scientific, and, yes, financial leadership. We were at the helm of the financial world, and our dollar became the de facto world currency. All of that is threatened.

Imagine how dangerous he'd be if he knew what he was doing. (Hard to imagine.)

Read this piece on what else Trump is squandering with his violation of the Iran agreement.
Prior to, well, yesterday, the US could claim a moral high ground. Its extraterritorial financial control might be objectionable, yes, but absent some coordinating mechanism like that, there would always be a competitive race among politicians and bankers to allow themselves to be persuaded that Mexican drug lords are just legitimate businessmen from a hardscrabble country and why should the Iranians be prevented from getting nukes when the world winks at the Israelis? The US may not be the ideal global financial policeman, but like every other kind of global policeman that it is, it may be better than no policeman at all.
However, now, specifically with respect to its enforcement of financial sanctions on an apparently compliant Iran, it is the United States that seems, even among its Western partners, to be the rogue state in need of policing. However begrudging European acquiescence to extraterritorial US sanctions may have been two days ago, it is more begrudging today.

NASA to End Space Tracking of Greenhouse Gases

If we don't know the how-much and the where of carbon emissions, we can't track various countries' output of these gas. I guess that's the point. How much more of this can we take?

This is horrendous in a lot of ways. It fits right in with the way the Trump GOP is squandering our standing in the world. Now we are more anti-science and pro-pollution:
The Trump administration has quietly eliminated funding for NASA’s research program that tracks greenhouse gases around the world.
According to Science, the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) tracks the world’s flow of carbon dioxide from space. Such a system is critical to monitoring any improvements — or failures — in attempts to cut the pollution linked to climate change.
NASA spokesman Steve Cole told the magazine that the program was canceled due to ”budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.” Usually, Congress battles such cuts, but this time, there was simply no mention of the program’s $10 million annual budget in the White House budget.
Although existing grants will finish, Cole said, no new projects will be undertaken. NASA’s budget report for fiscal year 2019 assumes the “termination” of CMS.
Watching our step-by-step degradation is beyond disheartening.

All-White Military Wives -- from our 40% Black Military -- Invited to Spouses Day at White House

Okay, maybe I see one Asian in there? Also, no male spouses? What, did Mike Pence get the nod as planner? This deserves a holy fuck.

Absolutely contemptible. But, should I say, absolutely par for the course?

Note. Apparently the odds of this happening by chance are lower than a trillion to one. (Thanks Ronald Klain)

Super Double Note. Someone spotted Ivanka Trump in there. What? Is it product placement?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Republican Party Is So (Russian) Mobbed Up. Can We Survive as a Country?

Read and weep. We're getting a window into how Michael Cohen worked, but this stuff has been going on -- and known -- for quite a while.

From Ruth May's Dallas Morning News article from six months ago:
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team probes deeper into potential collusion between Trump officials and representatives of the Russian government, investigators are taking a closer look at political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia.
Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.
The only good news is that Mueller has been on this for quite a while. No wonder the Republican Party is trying to shut him down. Big-ass gravy train, among other things.

A few weeks ago Mueller diverted a side thread of his investigation to the Southern District of New York in order to more directly go after Michael Cohen. Now, with what's coming out, it's obvious why, and also obvious why Trump is more nervous about this side investigation that the main one. Or is this the main one now? Hmm.

The question now may not be how mobbed up Donald Trump is. The question might be how mobbed up the Republican Party is, and is their patent disregard of the continuing Russian meddling a sign that they want the meddling to continue on their behalf? Double hmm.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Unified Theory of Trump Stormy Scandals and Foreign Policy. Yes, They're Connected!

No, this is not ridiculous. It's exactly the way this shit works with Trump. His messes are his whole mess. We just get to live with it.

Yes, Russian sanctions and the Iran deal-breaking are connected to
Stormy via Cohen. Who would have thought such a thing? Er, Avenatti.

Okay, for the grand Unified Field Theory of Trump's Stormy Daniels Foreign Policy:
  • Trump and his lackies going back as far as 2015 with Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs have been playing footsies, always about playing ball vis a vis sanctions and other quid pro quo arrangements.
  • There were multiple tracks, but one of them turns out to be payments by Viktor Vekselberg -- partly on behalf of Oleg Deripaska -- to the same LLC set up to funnel money to Stormy Daniels. The "quo" is the slow walking of sanctions that would affect the money interests of both oligarchs, who have close ties to Putin. In fact, both a set of sanctions by Barack Obama to punish Russia for dirty campaign tricks and sanctions later passed by Congress have not taken full effect, with both Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross playing their parts.
  • So, Daniels was paid off, in effect, with money paid for having the sanctions delayed.
  • There is very much more to this, as payments from drug company Novartis and AT&T have flowed into the same LLC account set up by Michael Cohen. So stay tuned on that one, but it sure sounds like pay-to-play to me.
  • From a Slate piece on this: "The Steele Dossier alleged that Russians had made a deal with Trump associates for the Russians to sell Rosneft, the massive state energy company, and use the commissions to give Trump associates payments under the radar, in return for lifting or softening sanctions. The Rosneft sale went through in December 2016, a month after the election, coinciding with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page’s various alleged communicatio, ns with Russians. Just eight days before this oil megadeal, Flynn and Kushner met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and Kushner reportedly proposed a secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. Then, a few days after the Rosneft deal, Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, chair of Russia’s government-owned VE Bank (VEB) and Putin’s close confidant."
  • So, yet another crazy piece of the "dodgy" dossier is proven true. (Pee tape, anyone?)
  • Connection to Iran? With the Iran deal, Trump has produced a mirror image: When the clearly dirty-dealing Russians are rewarded by cancelling or delaying sanctions, even though they do harm to the U.S., the Iranians are punished by having their sanctions re-instituted, even though they are in compliance.
By the way, there's one more late-breaking element. We know that the only other client Michael Cohen could claim to have to the court -- other than Trump and Sean Hannity (and that's just "advice on real estate deals") -- is Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser. Apparently Cohen helped arrange a payoff of $1.6 million for Broidy to yet another Playboy Playmate, Shera Bechard, who got pregnant and had an abortion. But here's the funny part: According to records, the Broidy payoff was, just as with both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, arranged between Michael Cohen and attorney Keith Davidson ostensibly representing the women, and the Broidy payoff also used the Stormy NDA as a template right up to and including the fake names David Dennison and Peggy Peterson and paid through the same entity, Essential Consulting LLC that was used to pay off Stormy.

Now, please tell me why it's not obvious that both payoffs were on behalf of Donald Trump, and that for some reason Elliot Broidy didn't mind stepping up and taking the fall -- and the heat -- for Donald Trump. Was it to bury the abortion? Was it also a pay-to-play move by Broidy who had a number of foreign deals he needed help with? John Campos of New York Magazine thinks so. What a mess, and it's only going to get messier.

Note. Don't forget that Michael Cohen is mobbed up with both Russian and Ukrainian interests in a number of ways: he's married into it, he was raised around them via his uncle, and he owned, co-owned, managed, and traded taxi medallions with them.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Withering Fact: Poor Are Born Poor, Rich Are Born Rich

For your entertainment, enjoy this graph showing the percent of inherited wealth in Europe's big three:

Translation: In France, UK, and Germany, among the wealthy, over half are born that way. Share of inherited wealth in the U.S. is as much as 45%.

Upward mobility? Meritocracy? Not so much. This also explains a more recent phenomenon: The rich go to college, and the not-so-rich go into debt.

When I went to college, I emerged with less than 4 grand in debt. Same school, same percentages today? I'd have finished college owing 80 grand. I shudder...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Holy Corruption Charges, Batman! Did Giuliani Just Admit Cohen Is Trump's Bagman?

Does anyone remember how Nixon's campaign committee -- run by his Attorney General -- had bagmen that took payoffs, in cash, to phone booths? I do.

Michael, didn't count on Rudy yapping, did you? Get measured for a jumpsuit.

Josh Marshall lets us know how it works in the Cohen/Trump case:
So now we have Giuliani confirming that this is exactly how Trump and Cohen operated. Hush money to Stormy Daniels is one thing and certainly raises potential serious campaign finance violations, but she is not a public official. What I find most significant about Rudy’s admission is what it says about the nature of the relationship between Trump and Cohen and how it suggests an M.O. for other more serious crimes.
Trump is a major real estate developer in NY who has openly bragged about his ability to cut through red tape and get politicians in his pocket. We now have serious SDNY public corruption prosecutors and FBI agents in possession of a massive amount of electronic data from his bagman. They likely already have all of his financial records as well. And Rudy has now given them the roadmap for how Trump may have laundered bribes through Cohen as purported legal fees or retainer payments. Every invoice Cohen has ever issued to Trump is suspect. Every corrupt payment Cohen has ever made or facilitated to building inspectors, councilmen, pornstars, or whomever can potentially be tied back to Trump. In addition, I suspect Trump and his kids had a false sense of comfort that their communications with Cohen would be privileged. I am convinced this is why Trump and his family are freaking out about the Cohen raid and the possibility he could flip. The SDNY is sitting on the mother lode of evidence and Rudy has given them the connection between purported legal fees and payments by Cohen to third parties.
Yep, sounds like a bagman to me. Also, if Cohen received payments from Trump, plus an extra taste, plus money for taxes (as Rudy makes out), and then he didn't declare the transactions in his 2017 taxes, someone is screwed. Did Trump declare it? Oh, right, he's delayed his tax filings. Hmm.

Senior Editor at Gets All Classy about Stormy.

Oh man.

 People told me people on the right pimp people on the left to get a rise out of them. Now I see what they mean. But, seriously, dude, get some help.

Sometimes They're Just Past Their Prime. Can the Country Afford it?

There's little question now that Trump's recent addition to his "legal team" (deserves to be in quotes), Rudy Giuliani, made a few gaffes in an outing on Hannity and a morning follow-up on Fox&Friends. Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall sums it up.

Oh, Rudy, how much did you screw up? Let me count the ways...

Here's Josh:
I think it’s quite possible that it was the President’s legal team’s plan to eventually claim Cohen had in some way been reimbursed for paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. But it’s clear to me that Giuliani did not plan to do it this way or do this at all. For starters, it does not put his client in a better legal position. If anything it takes a possible FEC violation by Michael Cohen and creates a false report violation by Donald Trump. It also throws into question whether Cohen was actually performing legal duties at all (nominal attorney fees are now described as loan repayments and not for legal work). Most directly, it makes a number of previous claims by Trump and Cohen into lies.
My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). He’s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity – himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim – reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.
In any case, people often imagine there are plans when there are no plans. Or they think that when there’s an intricate argument it must show a plan and perhaps a good one. The reality is that sometimes you have no good plan because you, in fact, have no good options. You’re stuck. Put more coarsely, sometimes you’re just fucked. What you have are a half dozen brainstorms cooked up by a group of old men in a room used to bending reality to their purposes when something goes wrong. That’s much more difficult on a national stage in front of intense scrutiny. That’s what happened last night. Rudy Giuliani is far, far past his prime, used to the accommodating hothouse world of Fox News cronies and cash and carry deal-making in his law firm gigs. This was as sloppy as it looked and did his client no favors.
It's sad, and that would be it, if it weren't so dangerous to the country. And it's not over.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

We Already Know How to Solve Most Problems. Why Don't We Do It?

We've already a head start with Social Security (expand it!), Medicare and VA healthcare system (expand it to everyone, who doesn't deserve it?), and the general aspects of unemployment insurance, food stamps, TANF, and child tax credits (expand them all or fold into a guaranteed minimum income equal to a combination of the components). Why don't we? If everyone paid what they could afford, then everyone would be okay, right? Oh, I get it: Conservatives will have none of it.

Danish fathers still don't take enough advantage of paid paternity leave, study says.
But the Danish system beats the hell out of the U.S., where we have none.

It's always confounded me that Americans don't seem to want what's in front of their faces, and that's more of the social programs already proven to work.

But Paul Krugman knows. He's generally on point on most socio-political economic questions. We don't need new ideas:
I’m not saying that politicians shouldn’t be open to new thinking and evidence about policy. But a political party isn’t like Apple, which needs to keep coming up with glitzier products to stay ahead of Android. There are huge problems with U.S. policy on many fronts, but very few of these problems come from lack of good new ideas. They come, instead, from failure to act on what we already know – and, for the most part, have known for a long time.

Let me give two big examples: access to health care and environmental protection.

On health care, we know perfectly well how to provide more or less universal access, because every other advanced country does it.

How can a nation provide universal access to health care? There are actually three ways. You can have direct provision by a government health system, like Britain’s NHS; you can have a single-payer system of government health insurance, like Canada (or Medicare here); or you can use a combination of regulation, mandates, and subsidies to prod the private sector into covering everyone, like Switzerland.

And all three systems work! True, you can have trouble if the funding is inadequate or the rules aren’t effectively enforced, but that’s true of any policy. Universal health care is a solved problem. We don’t need new ideas to achieve that goal here – in fact, we got about halfway there under Obama, and all we need to finish the job is a progressive president and a progressive majority in Congress.

What about protecting the environment? I guess you can make the case that there were important new ideas in the 1980s. Until then, environmental policy consisted almost entirely of top-down regulation. Economists had known for generations that there was a case for exploiting market forces via things like emission taxes or tradable emission permits, but these first made it into the world of political reality with the Bush-era emissions-trading scheme used to control acid rain.
That's exactly right. We know how to do these basic things, and we only need the correct political environment in which to accomplish them and expand upon them.

A commenter on his article puts it all together so very well:
Moving past the two Republican crimes against American humanity of the greatest 'free-market' healthcare rip-off in the world at an obscene 17% of GDP and the Trump-Pruitt Environmental Pollution Agency, let's give full credit to the primary Republican crime against American humanity: the branding, marketing and force-feeding of 'supply-side' economics strychnine to 320 million.

This incredible economic fraud and Big Lie is simply a form of economic torture and sadism, an enshrined misanthropic assault on virtually every building block of this democratic republic that has decimated the election process, destroyed national infrastructure, trashed public education, made a Reverse Robin souffle of the tax code, and pervertedly turned public goods like national defense, prisons, healthcare, and the the environment into private profit centers for vulture capitalists.

Supply-side economics is a Republican fraud.

Demand-side economics is what powers healthy economies; Keynesian economics is what works well, not right-wing cuckoo Robber Baron economics.

Higher worker wages, strong worker unions, high consumer spending and increased government spending leads to business expansion resulting in greater employment opportunities.

Higher wages and higher levels of employment create a multiplier effect that further stimulates aggregate demand leading to greater economic growth.

Bring back Keynesian economics.
And dump Republican Reverse Robin Hood national-train-robbery economics.
About right.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Paul Ryan's Makers- and-Takers Stance Is in Open Conflict with Christian Values

Ryan fires House chaplain for "being too political." I think what he meant was "Don't call out my hypocrisy."

Thing is, it doesn't trickle down if you grab it and send it back up.

Speaker Paul Ryan stepped in it this week, by all accounts, when he fired the House chaplain for including Christian values in a recent invocation.

Holy Jesus, Batman! What about market forces?!?

Yeah, what about them? A Bloomberg View writer recycles the zombie economics of trickle-down to declare Ryan all-in on behalf of the poor. Sample graph:
At a nationally televised town hall last week, Paul Ryan was asked how he upholds the Catholic Church’s teaching that we should help the poor. Ryan, a Catholic, answered that his emphasis on economic growth, upward mobility and opportunity for all is how, as House speaker, he puts that teaching into practice.
Ugh. How many times do we have to send the money up to the top and watch income inequality increase to understand that market forces don't work (at least the way you say they do)?

Even if it works a little, does that mean Ryan is satisfied that he's a little Christian and the priest should shut up a lot?

I for one want to move past Ryan. He's a well-documented fraud. His numbers never added up, and even as speaker he never tried to push through a budget that met his exact prescriptions and instead pushed budget busters. So here are my general thoughts on the inherent conflicts in conservative economic thought:
Sides in an argument can agree to disagree. That, often, is civil discourse. Fine.

But when one side disagrees with itself -- when its core beliefs conflict with its core values -- the only way the situation is resolved is through confession or hypocrisy.

The central problem is conservative libertarianism runs counter to Christian communitarianism. You either have to say "I don't want to give food to the poor, flat out," (honesty) or you say "Jesus would cut food stamps, too." (umm, no). This is difficult for evangelicals who primarily line up with Republicans. (inarguable)

Liberals don't generally win the religious vote (inarguable), but they don't have any such conflict of beliefs versus values. "We want to feed the poor," lines up nicely with "Jesus went right past food stamps to loaves and fishes, so good chance Jesus is into feeding the poor, too."
My conclusion: Conservatives are dogged by conflicts where liberals aren't, even though conservatives can claim (statistically) that they are the proper home of Christian evangelicals.

Liberals for the win, in this case. If not, explain how a true Christian conservative would solve this dilemma?

Note. Here's how income inequality charts:

A picture's worth? How about another?

At some point, can Americans stop demonstrating such toxic greed? What ratio would Jesus want? (Full disclosure: I'm an atheist. Doesn't mean I don't have values.)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Americans Want Things Only Liberals Will Provide, and Polls Show It.

Below is a list I found in Salon of policies Americans would rush to enact.

And the trouble is Democrats are afraid to totally embrace this, for fear of what, alienating non-college-educated white men? Er, maybe.

Here's the list:
  • Allowing the government to negotiate drug prices (supported by 79 percent)
  • Offering students the same interest rates as big banks (78 percent)
  • Universal pre-kindergarten (77 percent)
  • Fair trade that protects workers, the environment and jobs (75 percent)
  • Ending tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas (74 percent)
  • Ending gerrymandering (73 percent)
  • Letting homeowners pay down mortgages with 401k funds (72 percent)
  • Debt-free college at public universities (71 percent)
  • A $400 billion infrastructure jobs program (71 percent)
  • Requiring the NSA to get warrants before collecting our data (71 percent)
  • Disclosing corporate spending on politics and lobbying (71 percent)
  • Medicare buy-in, available to all (71 percent)
  • Closing offshore corporate tax loopholes (70 percent)
  • A "Green New Deal," creating millions of clean energy jobs (70 percent)
  • A Full Employment Act (70 percent)
  • Expanding Social Security benefits (70 percent)
How many of these things are you against? Thought so.

Get out and tell your representatives what you want. Then vote 2018.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Scott Pruitt's Corruption of the EPA Might Be the Worst of the Trump Effect

Scott Pruitt's living arrangement can only be considered classic corruption, deserving (in any rational, moral administration) of termination, even legal actions. In Trumpworld? Who knows, and that's an ominous result of the overall corruption Trump seems to relish.

We are and should be moving away from coal. Trumpworld wants it back. Why?

Paul Krugman presents all we need to know in a Twitter thread:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Trump Can't Find a Lawyer? It's Because He Can't Tell the Truth.

Donald Trump is coming up on the moment when he has to talk to Robert Mueller. If he can't pack some truth for the trip, he's fried, seriously fried. Lying to Mueller has been more than one man's Waterloo.

Trump is always needing to reinforce, for his base, the notion that he's delivering on his promises. (That's why he's started trade wars by putting tariffs in place, only to roll them back when the shit hits the international fan. Real tough guy!) So he's "tough" on trade like he promised.

Congress, though, even a Republican-controlled Congress, won't give him the border wall he promised Mexico would pay for. But, goddamit, he's getting his wall after all! Or maybe not
The project, which started in 2009, will replace a 2.25-mile section in the California-Mexico border wall, according to a statement last month from US Customs and Border Protection.

The original wall in that section, built in the 1990s, had been built from recycled metal scraps and old landing mat materials, the agency said.

"Although the existing wall has proven effective at deterring unlawful cross border activity, smuggling organizations damaged and breached this outdated version of a border wall several hundred times during the last two years," CBP said.

The project will replace the old wall with a 30-foot-high, bollard-style structure.
Great. Not only is it an old wall built during the Obama years, it's been breached so many times it's laughable. But it'll be a GREAT WALL! For his base, at least.

He can't even brag about his wall without constructing a large fraud -- mostly because nobody's building a goddam wall for him. Congress won't give him the money. So he resorts to, well, his usual tactics. He'd better not try that with Mueller. Any lawyer worth is salt is pretty sure Trump can't help himself. Why should they believe otherwise? Hence, no legal team worth a damn. Pity.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Bolton and Trump Will Fail at Their Alt-Diplomacy

The Bobsey Twins of America First Militarism are bound to fail because their tough-guy diplomacy is beyond ham-fisted.

When all options are on the table, you need to use all options.

This is not original thinking in that I gleaned it from two articles I just read, but alarm bells did go off when I grasped the implications. On the Twitter, Ross Douthat pointed to a Reuters bit that had John Bolton schooling Trump on required parameters to a North Korea meeting, at this point tentatively scheduled for May. Bolton went on Radio Free Asia to pontificate:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Bolton, U.S. President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, said Trump should insist that any meeting he holds with North Korea’s leader must be focused squarely on how to eliminate that country’s nuclear weapons program as quickly as possible.
Bolton, a hawk who Trump named on Thursday to replace H.R. McMaster in the key security role, told Radio Free Asia on Monday that discussions at the proposed summit with Kim Jong Un should be similar to those that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.
Great. Bolton chooses an Asian venue to tell Kim he'll insist on a Libya-style solution -- in which, years later, Qaddafi is pulled from a culvert and ends up beaten to death by the side of the road. Yeah, Kim's totally going for that offer.

Then, in the next article I read, we've got Vox pointing out the implications of Trump pulling out of the Iran deal:
What does Donald Trump’s stance on the Iran deal have to do with his relationship with North Korea? It turns out, quite a lot.

That’s because the president’s desire to pull out of a historic nuclear deal with Iran could likely hurt his chances of reaching a significant weapons agreement with Pyongyang.

There’s a simple reason why, experts tell me: If Trump backtracks on America’s promises to Tehran, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no reason to trust Trump during negotiations about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Game, set, match. What's worse is that the next review of the Iran deal is set for May (the U.S. revisits the deal every 90 days to check if Iran is complying), ostensibly the month the North Korean talks are set, although Kim hasn't actually signals it's on. I guess this is supposed to be set up by the South Koreans, or something.

So, here's the deal. Bolton wants a pre-condition that North Korea will end its nuclear program in order to meet, and Trump is set, at Bolton's encouragement, to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just as the two sides are scheduled to meet. Why, then, would Kim agree to anything? So he can agree to something you can't trust the Americans to uphold, or agree to something that ends with him dead in a ditch?

I don't think so. Way to go, Monsters of War™.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Arm Teachers. That Will Fix Everything.

We are insane.

Uh, could it possibly be the guns? And, hey, why not universal concealed carry?! (They want it in the omnibus budget bill on Friday.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Trump Says So Many Ridiculous Things, It's Hard to Keep Track

In a speech to donors, Donald Trump admits to lying to Trudeau. And that's not the worst thing in the speech.

The master deal maker can't be trusted. Who, now, will make a deal? No one.

Much has been made of Donald Trump making stuff up in a conversation on trade with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Aside from admitting to lying, there's something deeply pathetic about the whole business. Not only does Trudeau know that Trump's full of shit, he also knows that Trump can't win in a negotiation about NAFTA, primarily because he's revealed that he has a losing hand. The U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada!

And that's not even the worst thing in the now-infamous donor speech. Here, buried in an article about it, Trump threatens to blow up our mutual defense deal with South Korea, over what? Naturally, trade:
Trump also implied during the speech that he could pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn’t strike a trade deal favorable to the U.S. with the country, the newspaper reported.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them. We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military,” Trump said. "We have right now 32,000 soldiers between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
Let's get this straight: Trump has just agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un to, possibly, negotiate a deal on denuclearization, and as they ramp up for the meeting, Trump announces that he'd consider pulling our forces out of South Korea if it doesn't reduce our trade deficit. I can hear Kim yucking it up across the DMZ.

Trump and The Art of the Deal? More like The Art of the WTF.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

John McCain, Victim of Torture, Hints He Will Lead the Charge Against Confirming "Ms. Torture."

More than a decade ago, the public editor for NPR explained why she was dropping "torture" as a term and substituting "enhanced interrogation." (Her rationale was that we didn't know what defined torture.) A long-time contributor, I haven't given NPR a dime since. We know what torture is, and Gina Haspel enabled it, directed it, then covered it up.

John McCain's less than stellar medical care in captivity was a form of torture.

It's gratifying that Rand Paul has already announced his vehement opposition to Gina Haspel for CIA Director. John McCain hasn't stated opposition but has declared what he needs to see from her even to consider a "yes" vote:
The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process. I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.
Such a statement invites those on the Senate Intelligence Committee to offer no quarter to Ms. Haspel in her confirmation hearing. Will she get by? Should she even be considered in light of her horrendous career as a mocking, almost celebratory practitioner of torture?
One declassified cable, among scores obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the architects of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques, says that chief of base [Haspel, in Thailand,] and another senior counterterrorism official on scene had the sole authority power to halt the questioning.

She never did so, records show, watching as Zubaydah vomited, passed out and urinated on himself while shackled. During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah lost consciousness and bubbles began gurgling from his mouth. Medical personnel on the scene had to revive him. Haspel allowed the most brutal interrogations by the CIA to continue for nearly three weeks even though, as the cables sent from Thailand to the agency’s headquarters repeatedly stated, “subject has not provided any new threat information or elaborated on any old threat information.”

At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”
Gruesome. Do you want someone like this in charge of the CIA, an institution that has operated black sites and black ops around the globe for decades? The answer can only be a loud no. Write your senator.

Note. When NPR disavows that position and apologizes, I'll gladly start contributing again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trump's Grotesque Choice of a Grotesque Human to Run the CIA

He chooses someone who hates the environment to run the EPA. He chooses someone who hates public schools to run the Department of Education, and someone who hates the poor and is against public housing to head Housing and Urban Development. Now to run the CIA? Someone who believes in torture and has the record to prove it.

New CIA chief was the head of a major torture black site.

Gina Haspel might just have won the trifecta: She directed a torture program, directed its coverup, and now, as her reward, gets to run the whole CIA. Bad mujer for the win.
As Miller put it, she was “directly involved in its controversial interrogation program” and had an “extensive role” in torturing detainees. Even more troubling, she “had run a secret prison in Thailand” — part of the CIA’s network of “black sites” — “where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.

Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.

The name of that CIA official whose torture activities the Post described is Gina Haspel. Today, as BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold noted, CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced that Haspel was selected by Trump to be deputy director of the CIA.

This should not come as much of a surprise given that Pompeo himself has said he is open to resurrecting Bush-era torture techniques...
Fucking unbelievable, unless of course you've been following Donald Trump's appointments. He has only one question.

"Are they horrible?"

"Yes, Mr. President."

Great! They're in."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Amid the Trump Mania, Progress Happens below the Radar

Donald Trump is a boulder careening through American life. We can only hope the damage is short-lived. Meanwhile, we make progress in surprising ways, much of which is unseen but healthy.

It's good that incarceration rates are drifting slightly down for whites. It's even better to see more movement downward for blacks and Hispanics. Parity anytime soon? No, but progress nonetheless.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Trump's Tariffs: When Weird-Ass Policy Meets "Unglued"

Donald Trump is finally showing why presidentin' for your Fox-News-educated-and-sustained base leads to horrendously bad governing. Did he just throw steel and aluminum tariffs out there during a temper tantrum?

How do you put this wack genie back in the bottle? What if the answer is you can't?

Donald Trump has in recent weeks showed us a pattern -- of what former president George W. Bush might have called presidentin' -- that involves throwing a White House meeting for senators or cabinet secretaries and tossing ideas for governing around like they were so many frisbees in the park on a Saturday afternoon. Then, over the next few days he returns to his "normal" self that essentially conforms to the hyper-conservative conventions that pass for "normal" these days.

And everybody involved in policy, be it Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Heritage Foundation, or the NRA, breathes a collective sigh of relief, warily noting that the all-over-the-policy-map guy is again sane enough to be the blue meanie du jour that they usually count on.

This time, though, on tariffs, Trump has indeed gone off the policy rails, catching everybody off guard. And, NBC News reports, it was because he was, at that moment, unglued:
WASHINGTON — With global markets shaken by President Donald Trump's surprise decision to impose strict tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the president went into battle mode on Friday: "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," he wrote on Twitter.
But the public show of confidence belies the fact that Trump's policy maneuver, which may ultimately harm U.S. companies and American consumers, was announced without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff, according to a review of an internal White House document.
According to two officials, Trump's decision to launch a potential trade war was born out of anger at other simmering issues and the result of a broken internal process that has failed to deliver him consensus views that represent the best advice of his team.
On Wednesday evening, the president became "unglued," in the words of one official familiar with the president's state of mind.
Alrighty then, at least now we know. Trump is capable of governing by toddler-style tantrum.

In his defense, there are at least two advisers, Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross who support his protectionist moves, even if they're based on faulty thinking, described by Matthew Yglesias as an accounting error. (Read that link, don't want to go into it here.)

However, most of Trump's economic team are horrified by Trump's action.

Indeed. What remains to be seen -- and there are a number of people praying for it -- is whether or not Trump can "pull a Trump" and change his mind a few days later about this tariff thing. After all, they don't take effect until they are officially crafted and announced, as proposed, next week. Will Trump return to his senses on Monday?

Could be, let's hope so. Trouble is, with a new week, we have to hold our collective breath, worrying what he'll fuck up next.

Monday, February 26, 2018

"I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the armed guards outside my school. One nation, under fire, with liberty and justice not so much."

The Oath Keepers, whether you want them or not, say they're going to place armed guards outside U.S. schools. Great country you got there, America.

The Oath Keepers. Which oath, dudes?

Oh boy.
Imagine if every school campus in the United States had its own volunteer security officer: a former police officer or military veteran equipped with an assault rifle.
That’s the dream of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes.
In the wake of the February 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school, Rhodes is calling on members of his far-right anti-government militia group to serve as unpaid and unaccountable armed school guards — whether teachers and students like the idea or not.
One Indiana Oath Keeper has already deployed to a local school, even though the school district says there’s no need for him to be there.
Just go home.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trump's Solution: Arm Teachers

In an interesting side note, Trump then denied in tweets that he ever said "arm teachers" before clarifying that he said "only arm highly trained former military teachers/coaches." Thanks for the, uh, clarification?

Here is Trump offering his solution: Arm teachers so they can blast away
when a shooter comes in. Can you visualize how that would work?

This morning The Hill offered a number of what I can only describe as bizarre articles. Here's Trump saying he never said "arm teachers."
President Trump in a series of tweets early Thursday denied that he suggested giving teachers guns, saying he would consider giving trained teachers concealed weapons.
Trump said he suggested at a White House meeting giving concealed guns to "teachers with military of special training experience," adding that a gun free school is a "magnet for bad people."
"I never said 'give teachers guns' like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @NBC. What I said was to look at the possibility of giving 'concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience - only the best," Trump tweeted.
"20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to...immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A 'gun free' school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!"
Thanks for the leadership, Trump. I bet the NRA hates your idea of more guns solving the gun problem. You just earned another $30 million contribution!

Another article in The Hill, this one by former ambassador to Cambodia and the Philippines, Kenneth Quinn, suggested building walls around schools, as they had to do around embassies, would be a necessary deterrent to gun attacks. 
It pains me to say so, but it will likely take walls, ballistic doors and access control points to keep the more than 100,000 elementary and secondary schools in America safe. It will be very expensive, and it will take years to accomplish, but it will work. It is the one thing we could do right away that will start to make our school children safer.
Congress could appropriate funds as block grants to those states that choose to participate. Local school boards could decide if they need a wall. President Trump is an accomplished builder with hotels around the world and construction projects across America. It would be a lasting tribute to his leadership and an incomparable legacy of his presidency if he would embrace this national construction program to keep our school children safe. It might just bring our political parties closer together, and like all infrastructure projects, it will create jobs.
Great! Our schools and our kids getting shot up is an opportunity for jobs, jobs, jobs! Just in case you were wondering, this is a major Washington paper, not The Onion.

This is the country we currently live in.


Monday, February 19, 2018

From Ronald Reagan to Rand Paul: Americanism's Great Failed Notion May Be "Personal Responsibility"

When Reagan intoned that government was the problem, not the solution, he set in motion the modern concept of governance -- less is more. What was truly needed was "personal responsibility." How very American and how, quite likely, dead wrong.

Ronald Reagan, performance artist and inventor of homeless people.

The presidency of Ronald Reagan did mark a change away from government solutions to societal problems and toward individual solutions to societal problems (hope you catch how oxymoronic that is). And the snark in the caption to the above photo is not snark at all. Even during his time as California governor he worked to get the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the streets where, in his view, they belonged.

When you multiply Ronald Reagan's anti-government-as-solution stance by Rand Paul's government-can't-regulate-me dictum you'll likely get a society that doesn't know what the fuck it's doing or is supposed to be doing. And that's the world I see shaping up in American life today, though its roots are back in the Reagan years.

Conservatives might say it represents a victory for their ideology, while liberals will point out you get what you pay -- or don't pay -- for.

If you like what we've got here in America, then maybe the conservatives have a point. But I offer this in rebuttal. (First I want to stipulate that what FDR and LBJ accomplished with their agendas are not all that different from what Eisenhower did or Truman and Nixon would have done for social services and environmental protections. After all, Nixon gave us the E.P.A. and expanded Medicare, and Truman did try to introduce a national healthcare system.)
  • Should we be happy with a healthcare system ranked 37th in the world for quality and close to highest in the world for cost?
  • Should we be happy having far and away the most murderous society in the developed world and yet the highest incarceration rate?
  • Should we be happy getting a D+ grade from the American Society of Engineers for the state of our infrastructure?
  • Should we be happy with a Congress who just massively lowered taxes on the wealthy and corporate interests at a time when income inequality is hitting nosebleed levels?
  • Should we be happy that Congress is making noises that due to our huge deficit -- exacerbated by the recent tax cuts -- we have to make major reductions to our Medicare, Medicaid, and social-safety-net spending?
  • Should we be happy having spent over $4 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only to secure Iranian hegemony in Iraq and Taliban ascendance in Afghanistan?
If you're not happy, you're like me. What's more, there are few reasons why we should be in such predicaments.
  • The cry "we must take responsibility for our own success in life!" is remarkable in the face of near historic levels of employment. Where are the freaking goldbrickers?
  • Corporations are at near-record highs for the amount of uninvested capital they're sitting on, and yet they need a massive tax cut that they can't invest or use to drive up already peaked demand?
  • With the aforementioned low unemployment, the federal government in its wisdom is encouraging states to demand a work requirement from its citizens in need of Medicaid at a time when most of those who qualify are already working, are pregnant, elderly, or disabled?
  • After decades of wage stagnation a modest increase in reported wages (2.9% year-on-year) causes the Fed to raise interest rates in part to drive down wage pressures?
  • At a time when we need to encourage immigration to expand our economy and reinvigorate our workforce (make it younger) in order to underpin Social Security and Medicare, we as a country are trying to cut legal immigration in half?
  • Is it wise to round up undocumented workers by the millions and deport them, leaving major farming and food-production industries with unfillable holes in their workforces?
The spirit that drives these well-documented aspects of our current situation, and the likely outcome of new policy prescriptions, is rooted in nationalism, white supremacy, and fear of the deterioration of the Ozzie-and-Harriet world that disappeared something like a half a century ago.

It's also hilariously ironic that everything that we've done to deregulate our country and promote personal responsibility has been done by or is encouraged by laws and regulations.

Somehow I think government-as-the-problem, deregulation-as-the-solution, and the promulgation of personal-responsibility-as-salvation might have driven our country -- literally -- off the rails. We might want to rethink how important individualism is to a functioning democracy and begin to reshape our country as one that is not afraid to work synergistically for the common good.