Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The future of the Census and my co-author, Tom Brunell

I don't have a great deal to say about this yet, but I may at some point.

Donald Trump might pick a friend and co-author of mine to head the Census-- Tom Brunell.  Brunell and I published a paper together in Electoral Studies, "Ideological Representation and Competitive Congressional Elections," arguing that noncompetitive elections produce better representation.  Brunell and I are basically the only two people around who think that competitive elections are bad for democracy.  I published an article on this in 2005 in the Journal of Theoretical Politics using game theory, and eventually, Brunell put out a book on the topic.

Brunell is rumored to be up for a big job with the Census.  I... wonder.

If Trump's people care primarily about loyalty, they'll... research him.  They'll look at his associations, McCarthy-style.  They'll see me on his cv.  They'll read this blog.  And they'll deny him the job because nobody with such unsavory associations would be trustworthy.

I wonder if the shit I say about Trump will cost Brunell the job...

I can see traffic to this blog, and there was a weird spike right before I saw the news about Tom Brunell...  I kinda wonder...

Nah....  couldn't be....

The thing is, this sounds like total fucking bullshit.  A ridiculous conspiracy theory.  I'm writing something that sounds as absurd as the idea of a president whose campaign collaborated with the Russians to interfere with the election, and who is being blackmailed by the Russian President, and that could never even be considered, right?  Right?

Anyway, I'll have more to say if Brunell gets the job.  He's a good guy.  And contrary to what the goo-goos tell you, he's right about redistricting.  More to come, if this is as ludicrous as it sounds.

'Cuz, this is just a bunch of malarky, right?  Right?

Updating the chances of an individual mandate repeal: Murkowski Edition

Since Republicans decided to include an individual mandate repeal in their Senate bill, I've thought it likely that an individual mandate repeal will happen.  I still think it will happen.

When last we left off, Lisa Murkowski started getting the tiniest bit squeamish about it, and I posted this, saying the chances of a repeal dropped "a bit."  Why?  Short version:  Murkowski recognized the stupidity of double-sabotage of the insurance markets.  The pre-Obamacare system was one with little government regulation for those under 65.  If you couldn't afford health insurance, and weren't eligible for Medicaid, tough shit.  Are you OK with that?  That's an ideological choice based on your beliefs about the proper role of government and how much Robin Hood-ism you are willing to accept.  Tell insurance companies that they have to sell plans to sick people, but that the healthy people don't have to buy plans, thereby guaranteeing adverse selection?  That's just fucking stupid.  Not just regular-person "stupid."  We're talking Donald Trump-stupid (did you read about how H.R. McMaster said that he had the intelligence of a "kindergartner," and is a "dope?").  Add to that Trump's elimination of the cost-sharing subsidies, and you've got double-sabotage.  Murkowski didn't like the idea of double-sabotage, and on Sunday, I wrote about how Murkowski wanted Alexander-Murray to pass as a condition to support a repeal of the individual mandate in the tax bill.

Note:  she didn't outright oppose the repeal of the individual mandate, so I called her out for her bullshit squishiness.  She voted against "skinny repeal" last summer, but she was clearly weakening.  So, she could be manipulated in a variety of ways, and her vote wasn't essential.  So, as I wrote on Sunday, the chances of an individual mandate repeal only dropped "a bit."

Well, Murkowski is back on board fully with an individual mandate repeal.  She wrote this op-ed saying she supports repealing the individual mandate.  Um... hey, Lisa!  You voted against doing that last summer, you little, fuckin' twerp!

"Moderates"...  Fuck this fucking cult of "moderates."  They don't deserve your respect.  They aren't thoughtful.  They aren't principled people carefully weighing options in a complex policy environment.  They are twits who vacillate because they don't know what they are doing.  Murkowski's unique political circumstances make her immune to bullying from GOP leadership, and I scoffed at the idea that she could be pressured to vote for a repeal scheme.  And she didn't.  McConnell, though, is smart.  Smarter than Murkowski.  So, he's going to manipulate her instead.  Nice, Mitch.  This is why you are Majority Leader.

Anyway, Murkowski basically says she wants to get rid of the individual mandate, and pass something like Alexander-Murray, which restores the cost-sharing subsidies, which give money to the insurance companies that get adverse risk pools (sick customers).  As I have also written, Alexander-Murray probably won't pass.  McConnell might tell Murkowski, "don't worry.  We'll pass Alexander-Murray!"  But, he's a fuckin' liar.  Alexander-Murray is probably dead.  They'll pull a bait-and-switch to get Murkowski's vote.  They don't give a fuck what Lisa wants.  They'll lie to her because it's easier and more effective than bullying her.

And it looks like it'll work.  Wow.  What a moron.  Or, to stick with the Looney Tunes theme from a few days ago, what a maroon!  Idjit.  You're making me very angry, Lisa.

Anyway, Murkowski won't stop the individual mandate repeal.

Three GOP Senators voted against "skinny repeal"-- Collins, McCain and Murkowski.  Murkowski will bend on its inclusion in the GOP tax bill.  That only leaves two opponents of "skinny repeal."  If McConnell loses Collins and McCain, he can still pass a tax bill.

Collins is still squeamish about an individual mandate repeal, but who cares about her?  Not McConnell.  She's a hard vote anyway.  McCain is hard to predict.  His opposition to "skinny repeal," if you believe what he said, was never about the substance.  It was supposedly about process.  The GOP is following the same process with the whole tax bill, in which case the inclusion or exclusion of the individual mandate repeal shouldn't matter.  If he's consistent, he'll vote no regardless of the substance, so why worry about what McCain thinks?

What happens to the individual mandate?  I have a hard time seeing how it survives.  There are two Senators left who voted against "skinny repeal" who have yet to take a firm position-- Collins and McCain.  Collins doesn't matter, and McCain is... McCain.  Even if McConnell loses both, though, the bill passes.  I'd bet Collins opposes it, but she's irrelevant at this point.

The individual mandate could survive if the whole bill fails.  That could still happen!  These people are fucking morons!  That's why they made Trump their leader.  Short of that, though, how does the individual mandate repeal get taken out of the bill?  I don't see it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Reassessing Roy Moore's chances

Right now, if you look at the polling in the Alabama Senate race, RealClearPolitics has it at basically a tie, with Jones holding an average of a .2 point lead.  The betting markets have flipped back to giving the edge to Moore, though, with shares of Moore's victory trading at $0.63 at PredictIt.

I think the betting markets are right here.  This isn't a tie.

The last time I wrote about this, I suggested that things were leaning towards the GOP expelling Moore should he win.  I don't even think that's the case anymore.  The reason, in both cases?

Al Franken.  We can throw in people like Glenn Thrush, Charlie Rose, and every other shitbag out there, but Franken is the big one.

Two things are happening here.  If the focus is on people other than Moore, then Alabamans aren't thinking about the fact that one of their candidates is a fucking child molester.  Everything reverts to party identification, and Roy Moore wins.  Second, Al Franken, by not resigning, takes away the moral standing of Democrats to argue against Moore.  Realistically, that isn't completely the case.  There's a difference between armed robbery and murder.  They are both violent crimes, but one is worse.  Roy Moore is a child molester.  He's worse.  But, until the Democrats clean house, Franken muddies the waters, and that's all Republicans need.  It's Alabama.  Moore is a Republican.

Then, there's the question of whether the Senate GOP will really expel him.  I thought there was a high likelihood of that happening... before the Franken story broke.  If Franken doesn't resign, I don't see Moore being expelled.  Franken has signaled that he won't resign.  If he won't resign, which GOP Senators will support leaving Franken in place while expelling Moore?


You see my point.

There is a lot of value to having this shit start to come out.  Sexual harassment is real and rampant.  It is worth keeping in mind that it is possible that some of these stories might be false (remember Duke), but when you have this many stories about the same guy, the likelihood that they are all false is low.  That's the point.  However, the fact that so much is coming out now...


That's protecting Roy Moore.  It means he can hide among the muck.

It sucks to write that, but at least I can end the post with this.

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

Obviously, Zimbabwean music today.  Here's Oliver Mtukudzi's "Dzoka Uyamwe."  I have this track on Tuku Music, but whatever...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Republicans are trying to raise a bunch of taxes. Where's Grover Norquist?

I wrote a bunch of posts a while back on the difference between true tax reform and simple tax cuts.  The Republican plan is... something else.  It is a partial simplification, meaning that some nominal rates come down in exchange for the reduction/elimination of certain deductions and credits, but the result is not a fantastically simple code, and the rates that any individual pays after the plan goes into effect change a lot.  Some groups' rates go up, and others' rates go down.

That's actually what has to happen with any real tax reform.  The tax code right now is insanely complicated.  Simplifying the tax code, by definition, means lowering the nominal rates in exchange for reducing or eliminating the credits and deductions.  The people who benefit from the existing code are the ones who get the credits and deductions.  Take away the credits and deductions, and even the lower nominal rates mean higher overall payments to the IRS for some people.  That's the short version, but tax reform is all about tradeoffs.  Someone's true tax rate goes up, in exchange for someone else's true rate going down.

On the basis of that, I didn't think the Republicans would do anything like real tax reform.  I thought they'd just go for a simple set of tax cuts because... why bother imposing costs on anyone?  Pass a budget resolution giving themselves the authority to increase the deficit for 10 years without any Democratic votes, cut some rates, include some spending cuts to allow a few tax cuts to remain permanent, and Bob's your uncle.  There's a Republican plan.  Doing anything else would mean someone's taxes go up.

Enter Grover Norquist.  Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and the guy who goes around asking every Republican in the country to sign a pledge indicating that they will never, under pain of execution of their puppies, raise any taxes ever.  The Norquist pledge has been a big deal in Republican politics for a loooooong time.  And yet... with a Republican tax plan making the rounds that includes a bunch of peoples' taxes going up... Norquist doesn't seem to be a factor.  What's the deal?  Possibilities to consider.

1)  Maybe Norquist was more a product of his times than a driver of politics.  After Poppy Bush broke his "no new taxes" pledge, the GOP reacted, and Norquist was a part of that reaction, but a symptom rather than a cause.

2)  Maybe when Obama got the GOP to break the Norquist pledge during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, he broke Norquist!  When the Bush tax cuts expired in 2011 (and then again in 2013 after they were extended for two more years), Norquist tried to push the GOP to insist that all of Bush's tax cuts were retained.  Obama negotiated a $400K cutoff.  The cutoff itself was pointless because anybody making more than that does it through capital gains rather than salary, and capital gains are taxed separately anyway, but maybe all it took was breaking the pledge once and suffering no consequences.

3)  Maybe the GOP is simply willing to prioritize some tax cuts over Norquist's pledge.  The plan is really about the corporate tax cuts.  Norquist is a straight-up ideological purist.  He, and others, thought that there was real alignment between his goals and the Republican Party, but the Republican Party may actually have more of an ability to prioritize than I thought, or than Norquist thought.  This is basically the Chamber of Commerce versus the ideological purists, and the Chamber of Commerce is winning.  Bigger tax cuts for the corporations under reconciliation rules require raising some taxes on individuals, and if that's what it takes for the Chamber of Commerce to win the intra-party fight, then so be it.  The Chamber of Commerce-- or at least that mentality-- has more sway within the GOP than many of us thought.  Is this about conflict between groups?  Conflict between principles?  Who knows?  I'm not going to fall back on that bullshit about Republicans just being bought off.  Lazy argumentation, irreconcilable with political science research.  Regardless, perhaps corporate tax cuts just matter more to them than the ideological principle.  Who knew?

4)  This ain't over yet.  The bill could still fail, or be modified.

With healthcare, I marveled/gawked that the GOP chose the hardest path:  a "repeal-and-replace" scheme rather than simply passing a bunch of piecemeal, small-bore bills that would allow them to declare victory repeatedly.  They're... doing it again.  They have a better chance this time, for many reasons, but where the fuck is Grover Norquist?

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

A twofer today.  I referenced a couple of blues artists in Friday's rant, so here's Hazmat Modine (the band led by that dirtbag, Wade Schuman), with "Man Trouble"* from Bahamut, and B.B. King's "Worry, Worry," from Live at the Regal, with that... worrying monologue at around 4:36.  Wade Schuman treats women terribly, but this is great, experimental blues.  Are you going to listen?  B.B. King's attitude towards domestic violence was... dated at best.  Do you still listen?  That album is considered among the best in blues history.

*That would be you, Wade.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lisa Murkowski, the individual mandate, and the Senate tax bill

So far, I have been relatively bullish on the chances that the GOP will repeal the individual mandate in their tax bill.  I just didn't see who, within the GOP, would stop them.  When McConnell brought "skinny repeal" up for a vote, three Senators voted no:  Collins, Murkowski and McCain, and yet none of them have expressed the same kind of opposition to the inclusion of "skinny repeal" in the tax bill.

Well, Lisa Murkowski is moving in that direction.  She's not enough to stop them, but this is important to note.

Remember those cost-sharing subsidies?  The ones Trump cut off in order to sabotage the individual insurance markets?  When an insurance company gets and adverse risk pool, they are supposed to get a subsidy to compensate them.  But, the idiots who wrote the actual text of Obamacare didn't properly appropriate the money.  Obama himself cut the insurance companies the checks anyway.  For a while, Trump did, and then a few weeks back, he stopped because he was throwing a temper tantrum over the fact that he didn't get to "repeal Obamacare."  This is sabotage.  If the companies with adverse risk pools don't get those checks, they either have to pull out of the markets, raise premiums, or something like that.  That's the point of Trump cutting off the subsidies.

As soon as he did it, Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray started working on a fix to Obamacare to restore the cost-sharing subsidies, to prevent Trump from engaging in this act of sabotage because... even Trump's own party recognizes that this is stupid, destructive, and likely to cause havoc which may backfire and hurt the GOP.

However, bipartisanship is verboten in the Republican Party right now, so shortly after Alexander and Murray started working on their plan, Orrin Hatch started working on a partisan plan, at which point I declared Alexander-Murray "probably dead."

And when was the last time Alexander-Murray got any oxygen?

Now, though, the GOP is trying to kill the individual mandate, which is another way to sabotage the individual markets.  If the healthy people don't buy insurance, then the only ones who do will be the sick people, and if the insurance companies are required to sell to them because the GOP repeals the mandate but not the regulations, either premiums skyrocket, or the whole thing collapses because the insurance companies just won't participate.  Add that to the fact that Trump cut off the cost-sharing subsidies, and you've got big(ger) trouble.

You know who recognizes this?

Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski is now saying that she doesn't want to consider a repeal of the individual mandate without addressing the cost-sharing subsidies with something like Alexander-Murray.

A few points.

1)  Murkowski is open to repealing the mandate, conditional on restoring the cost-sharing subsidies.  She isn't opposed to repealing the mandate.  Her position changed.  Why?  Maybe this is just another example of hostage-taking being successful.  Trump actually shot a hostage, and it worked.  Within the GOP, at least.  That means the GOP might pull this off.  (John Boehner called Jim Jordan a "legislative terrorist."  Now, we've got Trump...)

2)  Murkowski prefers Alexander-Murray to Hatch.  Alexander-Murray is far less likely to pass than Hatch's plan.  Why?  The GOP won't stand for bipartisanship.  Can Murkowski be convinced that Hatch is an acceptable substitute?  If so, then this is just sturm und drang.

3)  What about sequence?  If McConnell, Ryan and Trump promise Murkowski that they will pass either Alexander-Murray, Hatch or something like that after the tax bill, will she vote for the tax bill?  She'd be an idiot to trust them, but she might do it anyway.

4)  This may be how McConnell loses Murkowski.  McConnell can lose two votes.  The most likely two to lose are Murkowski and Collins.

5)  Dropping "skinny repeal" from the tax bill would mean they have to scale back the tax cuts.  (Eliminating the mandate allows the GOP to reduce subsidy payments).  This pits Murkowski and Collins against the Drama Club (Cruz, Paul, Lee and Johnson).  In any normal party, Collins and Murkowski would win this fight because they are the center of the chamber.  This is the Republican Party, though.

What happens now?  The odds of the individual mandate being repealed just dropped a bit.  However, Murkowski's vote isn't essential, and she isn't fighting very hard...