Friday, March 23, 2018

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

Must... resist... temptation...

Nope.  Can't do it.  Here's Roland Kirk's "Stormy Weather," from Third Dimension.  Get the cd version, Third Dimension and Beyond for the extra materials.  I didn't want to use Roland again, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and really, there's no such thing as too much Roland Kirk.

Come on.  At least I haven't used "Riders on the Storm."  (Or... "The End"...)

Function and dysfunction in 2018

No shutdown.  This shouldn't be a question, but there are lots of questions we shouldn't have to ask that I find myself asking on a regular basis.

Hey, look!  Appropriations!  Not one of those stupid "continuing resolutions" that just makes minor adjustments to the idiocy of the 2011 Budget Control Act and sequestration!  Also, I didn't set my kitchen, nor subsequently the entire neighborhood on fire this morning when I made my breakfast omelette!  Yay, me!

Bars.  Limbo, limbo, lim-BO!  Nope, made it over it that time.

Then, of course, we have the firing/resignation/whatever of McMaster.  John Bolton is going to be the new National Security Advisor.  (What do bomb shelters cost these days?)  And Trump is amping up his trade war, so the markets tanked yesterday.  His lawyer in the Mueller investigation resigned because, well... most likely, Dowd was telling him not to tweet taunts about Mueller, McCabe etc., and he couldn't do it, so Dowd quit.  And then there's McDougal and the upcoming Daniels thing, and, and, and...

So, a few points.

1)  In budgetary terms, this isn't really what I'd call, "functional."  Functionality would entail the involvement of committee work, CBO scoring and all of that stuff.  This last-minute brinksmanship bullshit?  Not functional.  Also, anything involving Rand Paul is, by definition, not functional.  I guess he tried to get the Drama Club back together, but only managed a one-man show.  I wonder if Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson will be going through their "goth" phases soon, leaving Rand entirely on his own.  Anyway, just because we a) aren't going to have a shutdown, and b) aren't doing a CR, doesn't mean Congress gets a pat on the back for functionality.  Besides, haven't a bunch of them been warned about pats on the back and other physical displays?

2)  It's this, the tax bill, and nothing else for the rest of the term.  And the tax bill was written in an even more haphazard way, making it infinitely exploitable.  That's not functionality.  We are simply seeing more functionality than shutdowns and CRs.  How low can our standards get?  Low enough to elect Donald Trump, apparently, which leads to...

3)  The obvious comparison is to Trump, and his dysfunction.  As bad as Congress is, Trump makes them look positively effectual.  Remember, though, that Trump is a product of the same political dysfunction that produced the tea party lunacy that has afflicted Congress since the 2010 election, and the general anti-intellectual, constant partisan warfare mentality that really traces back to Newt Gingrich, and his takeover of the party in 1994.  He shut down the government twice in 1995 and 1996.

4)  You will continue to hear that the GOP has made a deal to defend Trump because Trump signs Republican bills, like tax cuts.  Well, that's done now.  They've shot their wad on healthcare, and they failed.  A bunch of times.  The tax bill passed, so that's done.  The omnibus appropriations bill is going through.  Congress is done, essentially, through 2018.  That's it.  They have nothing left, policy-wise.  It's time to call bullshit on this argument.  Republicans aren't backing Trump in exchange for a tax cut because they already have their tax cut.  They could throw him overboard, put Pence in charge, and the tax cut would still be there.  Why are they still defending him?  The same reason I keep telling you.  If they let him burn, it's 1974 and 1976 all over again, but if they circle the wagons, and declare all attacks on Trump to be empty partisanship, then they minimize the electoral damage.  That's it.  Republican defenses of Trump are all about minimizing the electoral damage of his scandals.  Period.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Understanding the likely budget deal

We probably won't have a government shutdown.  Probably.  Funding runs out tomorrow, so if there's a slip-up (I'm looking at you, Rand Paul), we might have another of those fake, weekend shutdowns, or there might be a weekend "continuing resolution" while they iron out the details and pass the final bill on Monday, but...

Holy shit!  They're passing an actual set of appropriations!  Real appropriations, rather than CRs!  This... shouldn't be news.  Congress is supposed to pass, and the president is supposed to sign regular appropriations that fund federal agencies from fiscal year to fiscal year (October to October because, why the fuck not?), but we stopped doing that back in 2011.  Why?  Remember when the "tea party" was a thing?  Remember when they nearly drove the country, and hence the world, to financial ruin just for shits and giggles?  Yeah, that...

Back in the summer of 2011, we needed to "raise the debt ceiling," which is supposed to be a routine thing.  Forget the name.  It just means giving Treasury the authority to issue the bonds necessary to fund the spending that Congress has already authorized through prior appropriations (or CRs) and "entitlement" spending (Social Security and Medicare, mainly).  The debt ceiling is the statutory limit on the value of the bonds Treasury can issue, and if they aren't allowed to issue the bonds necessary to cover the spending they are required to cover, then... somebody's gotta break a law, and bad shit happens.  So, we raise the fuckin' debt ceiling to prevent bad shit from happening.  Nobody likes voting for it because saying "I voted to raise the debt ceiling" sounds bad to people who a) don't know what the debt ceiling is, and b) have a reflexive misunderstanding of the difference between private and public debt, but... damn it, raise the fucking debt ceiling.  Or, if we were intelligent, we wouldn't have a debt ceiling.  It's a stupid law, and other countries don't have one.

Anyway, back in 2011, after the "tea party" wave that brought the GOP to a House majority, they kinda forgot that as majority, they actually needed to vote to raise the debt ceiling.  Normally, prior to that, it was the minority party that did its bullshit posturing against the debt ceiling.  But, the teabaggers kept up their posturing, and either said no debt ceiling increase period, or demanded massive spending cuts.  They pushed then-Speaker John Boehner to play a game of brinksmanship with Obama.  The result was the 2011 Budget Control Act.  It raised the debt ceiling (but didn't eliminate it), but also imposed massive spending cuts, and then, to make matters worse, created a "supercommittee" to propose more "deficit reduction" measures, and if that committee couldn't agree, we would get "sequestration."  Across-the-board spending cuts intended to be so stupid-- so obviously stupid-- that nobody would let it happen.  The supercommittee would come to an agreement.  Except that the Republican position was that it should be 100% spending cuts, 0% tax increases, and the Democratic position was that it should be more than 0% tax increases, so... no agreement.  Sequestration went into effect.  Across-the-board, intentionally, recklessly stupid spending cuts, on top of those written into the Budget Control Act.

And that's where we've been.  Incrementally, Congress has been trying to claw back bits of the dumbassery in sequestration, but fiscal policy has been set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 because... well, mainly because of the oh-fuck-it mentality.

We are finally getting new appropriations.  The omnibus appropriations bill that is about to be passed is a real set of appropriations rather than the continuing resolutions that have incrementally modified the 2011 Budget Control Act spending levels.  What does it do?  There are bits here and there, and a lot of what is getting attention is the stupid, little shit, like "Fix NICS."  That's a nothing bill, incorporated into the omnibus legislation as a sweetener.  Mostly, what Congress is doing is undoing the Budget Control Act and sequestration to the degree that they can.

That's what's going on.

So, remember that big fight from 2011?  Remember all of the stupid shit that followed between Obama and the Republicans in Congress?

Oh, never mind.  We were just kidding.

Oh, and from a Keynesian perspective?  In 2011, the economy was weak.  That was when we should have been increasing the deficit.  The economy is strong now.  Now is the time to cut the deficit, for anyone who actually follows the logic of John Maynard Keynes.

Random Thursday music

I just can't help myself.  I have too many of these...  Mark Growden, "Been In The Storm So Long," from Saint Judas.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Flake and Graham could really do on the Trump/Mueller issue

As you may have read, Senators Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham have made noises about supporting impeachment if Trump fired Mueller.  You know what I'm going to say, right?


There is something that Flake and Graham could do, though, if they really wanted to prevent Trump from firing Mueller.  The fact that they aren't doing it demonstrates that they are full of shit.

Remember Jim Jeffords?  I've told this story before.  It was important.  The 2000 election created a 50-50 Senate, so when the White House went to George W. Bush, Cheney got the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, giving the chamber to the GOP.  By one vote.  That included Vermont Republican, Jim Jeffords.  He... didn't get along with Majority Leader Trent Lott.  Lott was a good ole' boy from Mississippi, who eventually had to step down when he told too many people, too many times, that the country would have been better off electing Strom Thurmond on his segregationist platform in 1948.  Back in 2001, though, he was still Majority Leader in the Senate, and he and Jeffords clashed a lot, most famously over something that they have in abundance in Vermont.

No, not pot, nor the hippies that accompany it.

Dairy products.  Lott pushed a provision to cut dairy subsidies.  It was a straw, and there were camels and chiropractors, or... I forget how the metaphor goes, but Jeffords lost his shit because he was a Republican, and he wasn't smoking all of that pot they grow in Vermont, so he actually switched parties.  He was a moderate anyway, so it wasn't a big deal for him.  He decided to give his vote to South Dakota's Tom Daschle as chamber leader, and that one vote was enough to given Democrats procedural control of the chamber.  The Senate went from 50-50 with Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote to 51-49 Democratic.  Because Lott fucked with dairy subsidies.  That was all it took.

Right now, the Senate is 51-49 Republican.  It would have been 52-48 if the Alabama GOP hadn't nominated a child rapist in last year's special election, but... the heart wants what the heart wants.  If two Republican Senators voted to give procedural control to Chuck Schumer, control of the chamber would flip.

Hmmmm.... Two.  I wonder... are there two who have been making noises about anything?  Jeff?  Lindsey?  See where I'm going with this?

Yeah, impeachment ain't happenin'.  However, there is a stalled bill to block the firing of Robert Mueller.  The general Republican response has been that there is no need for any such bill because Trump would never fire Mueller, so don't pass the bill, which... a) is bullshit because Trump absolutely would fire Mueller if he thought it were his best option, and b) completely misses the point of policy insurance and independent investigatory structures.

If Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham really do object that strongly to the idea of Trump firing Mueller, they could jointly issue the following demand:  the House and Senate must pass that bill, or they both flip, and give procedural control of the Senate to Chuck Schumer.  All it would take is their two votes.

This would be a devastating action on their part.  For the rest of the session, Trump couldn't make any appointments, or pass anything.  The 2018 election is coming up, and it's looking bad for the GOP.  The House?  PredictIt currently gives the Democrats a 70% chance or so of taking the House, and while the Senate is trickier given the seats in play, and Flake is retiring anyway, Graham isn't.  That would contribute to the Democratic chances of holding the Senate in 2018 after a Flake/Graham flip.

Carrying out this threat would be brutal to the GOP.

And Jeff Flake is retiring anyway.  What the hell does he have to lose?

You may notice that nothing of the sort is happening.  Why not?  Because neither Lindsey Graham nor Jeff Flake are serious about this.  There would be policy consequences to giving Chuck Schumer procedural control of the Senate, and neither are willing to pay those policy consequences.  As I wrote the other day, this all comes down to the credibility of threats.  Put in terms of "impeachment," both Graham and Flake know it will never get that far.  They are Senators.  Impeachment starts with the introduction of articles of impeachment in the House, and then a trial in the Senate.  Flake in particular doesn't have to worry about this because he's retiring.  A Republican House would never even consider taking up articles of impeachment against a Republican president.


Graham?  Even if the Democrats take the House in 2018, a) they probably won't impeach, b) they won't get enough seats in the Senate to convict (2/3 supermajority), so his vote won't matter, and c) he's a spineless weasel, so if the Democrats did win the House in 2018 and impeach in the House, he'd just go whichever way the wind blows, and if he has to weasel out of an old promise, that won't bother him.

The point is that if Flake and Graham wanted to do something, they could.  They aren't.  Two GOP Senators are enough to force the party to block Trump from firing Mueller.  Flake and Graham have said they might vote to impeach Trump if he fired Mueller, but... if they were serious, they'd take action.  They aren't taking action.

Therefore, they are full of shit.

Remember, Jim Jeffords gave procedural control to Daschle over dairy subsidies, and these weasels are willing to let Trump get away with high crimes.

Random Wednesday music

I don't have a regular Wednesday music series, but for some reason that I can't quite identify, this tune popped into my head recently.  Here's Bruce Cockburn's "Mistress of Storms," from The Charity of Night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Democratic Representative goes "Second Amendment" on Trump

Representative Tom Suozzi (D-NY).  Learn the name.  Until yesterday, he wasn't on my radar, but as the very, very few readers of this blog know, I have an affinity for the wackos.  Yesterday, this story broke.  The Democratic Representative from New York went there.  The Second Amendment.  Here.  Let's just watch and listen...

Soooo, that happened.

Hey!  Remember Sharron Angle?  She was the one who lost to Harry Reid in 2010.  Why?  It had a little something to do with this clip:

Of course, when Donald Trump echoed that line, and talked about "Second amendment people," the left went ape shit.

Funny, though.  I saw the Suozzi story early yesterday, and scoured the news to see how everyone covered it because... that's what I do.  What's the difference between Suozzi and Angle?  Or Suozzi and Trump?  Mainly, his party affiliation and the direction of his comments.  Big news at Fox, downplayed at CNN and elsewhere.  Gee... I wonder...  Hmmm...

Angle was national news  You'll notice that the clip above is from Maddow.  When I looked for Suozzi in youtube to embed a clip, the first thing that came up was Alex fuckin' Jones.

Let's be clear about something.  A Democratic Member of Congress was making intimations about someone assassinating the sitting President.  There is history here.

What's going to happen?

1)  Suozzi's going to raise a bunch of money from the left.

2)  Some Republican running against Suozzi will also raise a bunch of money, and the net effect will be to hurt Suozzi.

My evidence?  Mainly, "The Crazy Train" paper.

Beyond that, though, here are some questions.  The left and guns...

The left is generally irrationally terrified of guns.  The reaction of the crowd was interesting, though.  How would you react if someone really did what Suozzi suggested?  Keep in mind how Suozzi set up the question-- in terms of failures of the system.  "What if the president was [sic*] to ignore the courts?"  Vague memories of Andrew Jackson quotes may also be running through your mind, along with Trump's semi-informed admiration for Jackson, but that's how Suozzi set up his version of Angle's line.  So, that should inform your thinking about Suozzi's hypothetical, and your hypothetical reaction to it.

At the end of the day, Tom Suozzi and Sharron Angle-- how you evaluate them can differ only if you assess them based on the people against whom their tacit threats are directed, and their comments ride the line.  Are you more OK with that kind of comment directed at Trump because he's Trump?

Think about your own thinking here.  I'm looking at news coverage, and I'm seeing a real difference.

And I fucking hate Trump.

*Subjunctive:  "were."  Yes, I realize that correcting Suozzi's grammar in the context of a tacit threat to the President's life might seem small and petty, but... hi!  Have you met me?