Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

OK, I'm inconsistent on this one.  I use Jonas Hellborg semi-regularly for the Tuesday series, and I'll call that appropriate given the breadth of his musical palette, but today, I'll use him for Friday, both because you can make a case that this is jazz, and his group here-- Shawn Lane and Jeff Sipe*-- consists of 'mer'cans.  Besides, this one just seems right.  From Zenhouse, here's "The House Stands Still: In The House."

*Jeff Sipe often goes by the stage name of Apt. Q-258, because he's a weirdo.  His musical resume consists of work with jazz groups,  rock nutjobs like Col. Bruce Hampton (who was awesome!), and pretty much anybody else who needed a drummer who could play anything.  Also, Shawn Lane, the guitarist, is not to be confused with the mandolin player from the bluegrass group, Blue Highway.  Cool musicians, both, but very different.  Yay for pedantic footnotes in blog posts!

Brief comments on a week of insanity

I've stopped doing weekday posting, for the most part, and I don't think these comments warrant a weekend post, but this week has presented special temptations to throw aside work and rant.  Here are just a few comments on assorted nuttiness during one of the nuttiest weeks ever in the era of perpetual anaphylactic shock for those allergic to both nuts and legumes often incorrectly categorized as nuts.  Three cheers for pedantry!  Hurray!  Hurray!  Hurray!

1.  It looks very much like Trump told Cohen to commit perjury.  That's obstruction of justice, it's impeachable, and blah, blah, blah.  Do I, in Bayesian statistical terminology, update my assessment of the probability that Trump gets impeached or otherwise removed from office?  No.  It remains precisely zero.  Why?  The premise of my assessment is that Republican defenses of Trump are unrelated to facts.  My analogy remains.  The GOP has an electoral bomb strapped to it.  There's a dead-man trigger wired up to Trump, and if Trump goes down, the bomb goes off.  So, the GOP will defend him no matter what.  No matter what.  Nothing will ever get the party to turn on him.  Are we learning just how corrupt he is?  Yes, but it won't take him down because the Dems don't have 2/3 of the Senate.  It's as simple as that.

2.  Steve King.  Now?  This?  This is what does it?  OK.  Whatever.  That is all I have to say.

3.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Go away.  Republicans:  Stop obsessing over her.  Democrats:  Stop trying to defend her.  Nobody who seriously advocates a federal jobs guarantee without anything resembling a plan knows what she's doing.  If everyone did this, she'd go away and I wouldn't have to keep reading about her.

4.  Lindsey Graham.  Not compromised-- just a pathetic, wimpy, little tool who got bullied by Trump, and the Stepford treatment took hold.  Is he gay?  If I had to bet, I'd bet yes, but he has spent his career as a second fiddle and a lackey.  Now, he's Trump's.  Occam.  The Best A Man Can Get.  Yes, I still use that line, and no, I'm not getting into whatever people are writing about some stupid ad.  I don't care.

5.  Anti-semitism and feminism.  Yup, it's a thing.  Anti-semitism isn't just for the right!  Ah, the joys of identity politics...

6.  Oh, and um... State of the Union?  Um...

Is that a weekend post, or a...

I think I'm developing a nut allergy.  Damn.  Please!  Not the cashews!  I love cashews!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, or stuff Steve King would approve of, you just suck

I am uninspired by the news today, internationally.  My knowledge of Russian music is for shit, likewise Iranian music, and I long ago used up both.  There's more Brexit stuff, but I try not to overdo British folk, given the motivation for the Tuesday series, so let's just go with something cool.  I don't think I have posted these guys before.  Bajourou, "Hakilima," from their only album together, Big String Theory.  Of course, there are other places to get Djelimady Tounkara's amazing guitar work, but this is a great album.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Of walls, shutdowns and bargaining: The importance of a president's professional reputation

Time for a standard reference.  Yes, I make this one all the time, and so does every political scientist, but that's because it matters.  Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power.  A president, according to Neustadt, relies not on formal institutional power because the president's institutional power is not that strong.  Instead, the president must rely on bargaining with Congress.  To do so, the president must carefully guard his (sorry, Hillary) professional reputation, as Neustadt put it.

What is the president's professional reputation?  He must have a reputation for dealing honestly and following through on promises.  Say something, and people need to know that your word is your bond.

OK, are you back?  Have you finished?  Do you need another laughing break?  I'll wait.  That's the cool thing about reading, isn't it?  You can pause, and the text doesn't go anywhere.  So, let's just let that...

Never mind.  I just needed another laughing break.  That, after all, is my point.  Donald Trump is a liar and a cheat, and everyone in Washington, D.C., except a few feckless c...ongresspeople (HT: Samantha Bee) who probably spend every penny they earn on the Home Shopping Network buying Stephen Miller's spray-on hair knows it.  Donald Trump's entire career has been built on lying and breaking deals.  And even that wasn't enough for him, because he'd be broke without all of that money he funneled from Daddy.

This is conspicuously important for Trump's "wall" for a couple of reasons.  First, as I mentioned yesterday, the Democrats had offered Trump a wall funding-for-DACA deal, and he walked away from it.  Second, he said he'd agree to fund the government without wall funding, until some right-wing media types goaded him into the shutdown.  Third, remember that Nieto phone call?  Remember how he admitted that the wall didn't matter?  He admitted that it was a bullshit stunt, for all practical purposes.

All of this adds up to one thing.  Trump can't be trusted to deal honestly.  Of course, we knew that, but what does that mean as far as shutdown negotiations go?

It means two things.  First, suppose Pelosi and Trump actually did agree to something like a wall-for-DACA deal this time around.  Would Trump back out of it again before signing the legislation?  Given Trump's inability to stick to anything, he might!  So, from Pelosi's perspective, that's a problem trying to negotiate with Trump, which hurts Trump's ability to negotiate because it takes away Pelosi's incentive to bother.  Why offer him anything if he can't be trusted to follow through?  That was Neustadt's point.

It gets worse, though.  Suppose Trump followed through and signed a wall-for-DACA bill.  Would he then turn around and screw the Democrats on implementation?

Almost certainly.  In case you haven't noticed, he's got this thing about unilateral executive power on implementation, and he'd look for ways to avoid implementing the DACA part in good faith.  So, from Pelosi's perspective, even if Trump put his signature on the bill, he'd still look for ways to weasel out of the deal.  This is the problem with having such a bad professional reputation, by Neustadt's definition.

Nobody with a brain trusts Donald Trump.  I have a lot of names for him, but one of my stand-by's is, "the lying-est liar who ever lied a lie."  He doesn't know how to stick to an agreement.  Worse, he gets special pleasure from breaking them.  He has done so much damage to his professional reputation that Pelosi can't deal with him, particularly by giving in to extortion.

Now, though, we must also address the question of Neustadt's fundamental argument with regard to Trump.  Neustadt says that presidents rely on bargaining because their institutional powers just aren't that strong.  What we are likely going to see is Trump use the "national emergency" stunt to end the shutdown.  That will allow him to avoid having to bargain, and use unilateral executive power.  To be sure, this will be the very definition of executive over-reach.  What does this mean, from the Neustadt perspective?

Two observations.  First, Congress gave the president the authority to declare national emergencies, so to the degree that there is unilateral executive power, it was granted by Congress, and there is a hole in Neustadt's argument because the president can have more authority than Neustadt allows.  Terry Moe has made some arguments along these lines.  However, Trump using the national emergency declaration when there is clearly no emergency to steal funding from properly appropriated projects to build a stupid wall that Mexico was supposed to fund because Congress refused to fund it when he asked... that's probably not really what Moe meant.

On the other hand, who's gonna stop him?  No one.  Democrats will try.  They'll file suit, but the courts will likely say they don't want to get involved in a partisan inter-branch thing, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will have Trump's back, and Republicans will flip as soon as a Democrat gets the White House.  I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a SCOTUS ruling that looked like Bush v. Gore-- don't use this for precedent because we know our "reasoning" is partisan garbage and we don't want it coming  back to bite us.  Don't tell me that can't happen because, um... Bush v. Gore.

So, professional reputation.  How much does it matter?  Well, if Trump had one that didn't live in the most disgustingly clogged toilet in the worst frat house in the country, he could cut a deal with Pelosi.  Wall funding for DACA.  But, he already walked away from that deal, and his reputation makes it such that Democrats can't trust him to engage in bargaining anyway.  Trump doesn't know the meaning of the phrase, "good faith."  He thinks it is a synonym for "sucker."  As in...  All of that hurts his ability to get anything from the Democrats legislatively.  By Neustadt's argument, that should make him, um... impotent.

Then again, maybe we should remember that the formal powers of the president are harder to define.  Declaring a national emergency?  How big a power is that, and what are its limits?  Testing and exceeding legal limits is what Donald Trump does.

So, I return to yesterday's nickname for Donald J. Trump:  Shiva, Destroyer of Constitutional Governance.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Ralph Stanley, "True Blue Bill," from Old-Time Pickin'.  You may think of Stanley primarily as a singer, but he was also a damned-fine clawhammer banjo player.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How the unthinkable becomes inevitable: Bullshit national emergency declarations as power grabs

Three years ago, if someone had told me, or any political scientist, that a president would declare a bullshit national emergency to steal funds appropriated to other projects to fund his own pet project because Congress wouldn't fund it, and use that stunt to end a government shutdown that he couldn't win, I would have thought it was absolutely batshit crazy, unthinkable, and not plausible.  Now, I think it is damned-near inevitable.  How does that happen?

A week ago today, I wrote my first reaction to Trump floating the possibility of declaring a "national emergency" to end the shutdown and use funds appropriated for other projects to build his "wall."  My reaction in that post was, essentially, that it was a real possibility, with a probability that I couldn't estimate because it was too fucking crazy and beyond the scope of what we have seen in politics.  A day later, I thought it was the likely outcome.  Then, with another day to think about it, it just seemed like I couldn't figure out another way this played out.  So, over the course of less than 48 hours, I went from "uh, fuck it, it could happen, but I have know idea how likely it is!," to, "yup, this is happening," and this is for a course of action that, three years ago, would have been so batshit crazy that my response would have been to tell anyone who predicted it to put down the crack pipe.  Drugs are bad, m'kay!

Politics in the age of Donald J. Trump.  I have a new nickname for him.  Shiva, Destroyer of Constitutional Governance.*  (I should start keeping track of all of the stuff I have called him.)

How does this happen?  Let's deal with some of the bullshit punditry first.  This isn't about "the wall."  It is about Trump's need to establish dominance.  Remember two things.  First, he had agreed to fund the government without any wall funding until some conservative media figures goaded him into the shutdown.  Second, Democrats offered him wall-funding in exchange for DACA, and Trump turned them down.  Why?  He hates DACA more than he wants his "wall."  Otherwise he would have said yes.  In economics, we call this "the axiom of revealed preferences."

What does Trump value intensely?  The image of dominance.  The point is to show what he thinks is "toughness," which he gets by making Democrats cave.  What if he truly wanted wall funding?  Offer DACA.

Hell, offer expansion of healthcare spending.  Something like that.  If Trump really thought the "wall" were that important, and he really knew how to make "a deal," he could get wall funding.  Why doesn't that happen?  Because all of his "I'm a deal-maker" shit is bullshit.  Remember, he views everything in zero-sum terms.  I wrote a long series about this back during the 2016 campaign, but this is antithetical to the concept of deal-making.  Trump doesn't want to make a deal because he doesn't want to give up anything.  That's the point of a shutdown.  The point of forcing a shutdown, as Trump did (remember-- he insisted that it was his shutdown) is to try to get the other side to give you something for nothing because you don't want to make a deal.  You want to show dominance.  And since that dominance is the point for Trump, not the wall, there's no deal to be had, and there never will be.  The whole point is to not deal.

Otherwise, Trump would have taken the wall-funding for DACA deal when the Democrats offered it.

That's not where we are, though.  Trump won't offer anything because the whole point is to get something for nothing.  That means, given the structure of his true preferences, he can't offer anything.  This is where things start breaking from the norm.  A normal president, or even any normal political figure, has real beliefs about policy.  Trump cares first and foremost about establishing dominance for himself.  Nothing will ever be more valuable to him than that.  He'd burn the country to the ground if he thought it made him look "tough."  This is what is driving Trump, and causing a major break from normal political negotiation.

That means Democrats can't agree to any of Trump's terms because Trump will never offer anything.  He walked away from the DACA deal.  He won't offer anything because the whole point is to get something for nothing, and Pelosi can't give that to him.  She cannot, in the sense that she'd get removed as Speaker if she tried.  Joe Cannon, John Boehner... and then Nancy Pelosi.  And that's even if she wanted to cave, which she doesn't.  She is constrained not to cave.  What if Trump were to offer a true deal, and weren't a lying shitbag who would back out of it?  What if he could be trusted to go through with something on DACA, maybe throw in some healthcare spending, blah, blah, blah?  Could a deal be reached?  Yeah.  Re-open the government first.  Give it a month.  DACA plus something in exchange for some wall money, and Democrats could deal.  Why?  That's a deal, rather than extortion.  The wall is stupid, and it won't do anything.  It's a waste of money, and a broken promise because Mexico was supposed to pay for it, but if the Democrats could get something out of throwing some wasted money at Trump's ego... sure.  However, the whole point for Trump is to force Democrats to cave with nothing in exchange.  That's why we are in a shutdown.  If Trump were willing to deal, and really wanted the wall, he'd have taken the wall funding for DACA deal when it was offered.  Donald Trump is always lying, and always full of shit.

And that leaves one way out.  The bullshit national emergency declaration.  This is a completely ludicrous shutdown created by Trump's need to establish dominance.  That's where it breaks from past shutdowns.  The 1995-6 shutdowns were about cutting funding to social programs, for example.  Gingrich just lost, and it took time for him to admit it.  The 2013 shutdown was about Obamacare, forced by Ted Cruz, and it took time for Boehner to get his caucus to admit that the GOP had lost.

This isn't really about policy.  It's about Trump's need to establish dominance because conservative media figures called him weak.  Pelosi can't cave, and Trump's whole reason for doing this is to try to force them to cave, and not cave himself.  This is the weirdest, dumbest shutdown ever, and that's without even talking about the intrinsic stupidity of the wall, or the fact that Mexico was supposed to pay for it.

Once you understand that, you understand that we are already in a situation that breaks from any past shutdowns, and shutdowns are already really weird.  Given Trump's position, he has one option, given the structure of his preferences-- the national emergency declaration.  It is the only way that the shutdown ends without him either caving or offering Democrats a true deal, and since he considers real deals to be caving, that can't happen.  He already destroyed any possibility of that anyway when he walked away from the wall-for-DACA deal.  He forced a shutdown with the hope that he could make Pelosi cave, and he can't.  That leaves only one realistic option-- the emergency declaration.

Yes, that option is an option that should have been considered so "inconceivable" that it was off the table completely.  However, Shiva, Destroyer of Constitutional Governance has so radically altered our political landscape that this kind of thing just... happens.  He floats the idea, waits, and eventually, it's just going to happen because nothing else can happen.

Right now, Trump is acting like he doesn't want to do it.  There is some bullshit, phony pushback from within the GOP, from corners who still remember what they used to say about Obama, and blah, blah, blah.

ALL of that will disappear when Trump actually goes through with this.  Remember the "neverTrumpers?"  Remember when Lindsey Graham hated Trump?  You know how he is now the most loyal, little Trump fluffer in the Senate?  And if "Willard" says anything even remotely critical, the whole party piles on?  Yeah, watch what happens.  The shutdown might need to drag on a bit longer.  The pain may need to grow.  Pelosi has no need to cave.  The thing is, once Trump goes through with this, and once Fox News and the rest of conservative media back the emergency declaration maneuver, every one of those hypocritical little shits feigning distaste for the emergency declaration will get in line.  Just like Lindsey Graham.  Spineless cowards, all.

And that's how this happens.  We get a president with no true policy preferences, who cares only about establishing dominance, who refuses to engage in actual bargaining, walks away from real deals, gets goaded into a stupid shutdown with no plan to end it, and is surrounded by a party of lying, hypocritical sycophants who will back him no matter what.

He is become death.  Destroyer of Constitutional Governance.

*I am ripping off one of my favorite authors-- John Scalzi.  In the "Old Man's War" series, one of the central characters had a dog that he had nicknamed, "Shiva, Destroyer of Shoes."  As John Fahey wrote in the liner notes of an early album, if you are going to steal, steal from someone obscure.  Is this obscure?