Friday, November 16, 2018

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

If you didn't think I'd play Roy Clark today, you either don't see a pattern in my posts, don't know Roy Clark, or both.  Roy Clark was a genius.  Mostly, people think of him as that slack-jawed yokel from Hee Haw.  Dude was a serious musician when he wasn't making stupid jokes.  As an instrumentalist, what kind of a guitarist do you think is good?  Clapton?  Roy Clark.  And he could play anything, including jazz.  Quick, for all you jazz-buffs.  Who was the best jazz guitarist ever?  Within a few names, you'll get to Joe Pass.

Here's Roy Clark, keeping up with Joe, on Roy Clark & Joe Pass Play Hank Williams.  Which track?  "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive."  Rest in peace, Roy.  More Roy Clark tomorrow.  He deserves multiple days of tribute.  Yeah, I'm a Roy Clark fan.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Brief comments on House leadership contests, Jeff Flake, and the CNN Acosta thing

OK, it's mid-week, but there's stuff a-goin' on.

1.  The House GOP elected McCarthy as Minority Leader.  I can't say that I picked correctly because I didn't really make a prediction, but there were 43 dissenting votes.  Minority Leader votes don't require a majority of the floor, so 43 Republicans could dissent, and McCarthy could still win.  As I said last weekend, low stakes.  43 dissenting votes in a Speakership contest and you're not Speaker, which brings me to...

2.  Nancy Pelosi.  As I wrote last weekend, the dumbest thing the Democratic Party could do is pick anyone not named "Nancy Pelosi" as Speaker.  So, a bunch of Democrats are trying to out-stupid each other because, hey, it seems to work for the GOP, right?  Will the children oust the adult (note: singular)?  They still have a "who?" problem, but enough Democrats have said they are a "no" that without changes, Pelosi loses.  Then again, she's faced harder challenges, like Obamacare.  This is just about dealing with a bunch of whiny, little twerps who need a good kick in the ass.  And nobody kicks more ass than Nancy Pelosi.  What happens?  Deal-making, but the anti-Pelosi fools still have two problems:  first, they need to coalesce around someone, and second, they actually need to convince the Pelosi loyalists.  There are more of the second than there are anti-Pelosi people.  So, how politically suicidal are the left-wing teabaggers?  I guess we'll find out!  Still, bet on Pelosi.  When you think of San Francisco, don't just think of filthy hippies.  Think of Dirty Harry.  The badass version.  Not the old kook yelling at an empty chair.

3.  Jeff Flake now says he won't vote to confirm judges until Mueller is protected.  Little late, Jeff.  I told you, he never really does anything beyond the symbolic.  The GOP picked up Senate seats, and they can ignore him.  As I wrote a while back, there was a time when he and Graham were both singing this song, when the GOP had 51 seats.  Had they pulled this act then, it would have mattered.  They didn't, so I called bullshit.  Flake is a posturing phony, and always has been.  He wouldn't do this if it mattered.

4.  CNN's lawsuit on Jim Acosta.  Was the Trump White House out of order revoking his press pass?  Of course.  The doctoring of the video pretty much tells you what's going on.  However, why do we have these press conferences?  Trump, Sanders, Conway, and the rest of the Trump coterie will do nothing but lie.  So, why go through the charade?  Why does Jim Acosta have a job?  CNN shouldn't hire someone to go ask Trump, Sanders or whoever questions, and give airtime to the lies that inevitably occur in response.  They should adjust to the reality that these events need to be canceled because nobody in the Trump White House is capable of speaking truth.  Don't ask liars questions.  There's no point.  (Unless you get 'em under oath!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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

Find someone who looks at you the way Trump looks at Putin.

Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg.  "Strange Eyes," from Double Jeu.  (Yes, of course I was holding onto this one.)  Romane is even French!  (Stochelo is Dutch).

Monday, November 12, 2018

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

More blues-adjacent, but it seems appropriate these days.  The late, great Chris Whitley.  Title track from Living With The Law.  (And remember that while I may do some small posts throughout the week, I'll return with real posts next weekend.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Coming leadership battles in the House of Representatives: Republican edition

In yesterday's post, I addressed why Nancy Pelosi is likely to become Speaker again, and those in the Democratic caucus making noises about not supporting her are either just making noise or have intellectual deficiencies.  Democrats are the party of political correctness, and I'm not supposed to use the "r" word, but...

Anyway, let's talk about the party of riding the short bus.  The "R" Party.  Paul Ryan is stepping down as Speaker, and while Kevin McCarthy would very much like to replace him as party leader if not Speaker, we've been here before.  Story time.

When John Boehner was Speaker, I wrote a conference paper for what would eventually become a chapter in the book I referenced in yesterday's post, Incremental Polarization.  I pointed out that I didn't think his Speakership could be stable.  This was during Obama's Presidency, and the nutjobs in the Republican Party kept insisting on shutdown showdowns and debt ceiling fights.  That created a dynamic in which Boehner was forced to seek votes from the Democrats to prevent disasters, and that made his Speakership unstable.  Boehner was then forced to resign by the Freedom Caucus.  I wrote a couple of posts about this for The Monkey Cage, and in the editorial process, something interesting happened.  I put in some cautionary words about how we shouldn't assume that McCarthy was going to be the next Speaker, even though he had announced his candidacy, and a bunch of people presumed he would get the job.  After all, the Freedom Caucus could sink him.  Those cautionary words were... taken out in the editorial process.  McCarthy then went into a conference meeting for the pre-vote, which was the informal caucus vote to make sure that the GOP's guy had enough to get a full majority of the House (you need a majority to become Speaker, not just a plurality), and the Freedom Caucus wackos told him to eat shit and die.  (No comma, for fans of Eats, Shoots & Leaves).  Once McCarthy was out of the contest, the GOP had to look around for anyone who could get the votes.  The only one who could get a sufficient number of votes was an innumerate con man who plays the role of a budgetary deficit hawk to credulous audiences across the country.  You know him as Paul Ryan.  He has had a much easier time as Speaker than Boehner because during that last year of Obama's Presidency, he didn't have to raise the debt ceiling.  Boehner did it for him first.  Little Paulie was too scared to do the job.  He needed a real Congressman to do the job for him.  And then Paulie didn't have to deal with divided government.  He just passed a tax cut.  And now he's getting out while the gettin's good.  He's a con man, but he's not the dumbest con man around.  That'd be Donny.

Anywho, there are some important lessons here.  First, don't assume it's McCarthy.  (In other words, pay attention to those jackasses in the Freedom Caucus.)  Second, pay attention to the unified/divided government issue, and the majority/minority status issue.  Third, pay attention to the desirability of the job.

McCarthy is a weaselly, little guy with no real political knowledge or skill except sidling.  He's the guy from that Seinfeld episode.  The "sidler."  He sidles up to whoever did the work, stands next to them while they hand the product over to the boss, and tries to take the credit after doing nothing.  It's gotten him up to the Number 2 slot, but he isn't even.... "the new Number 2!"  (Hey!  A Prisoner reference!)  He's been there, trying to become Number 1, but he can't because he doesn't get that, like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, "Number 1" is a comma issue.  "Who is Number 1?  You are, Number 6!"  Those commas will get you every time.  Anyway, McCarthy's problem with the Freedom Caucus is that he is just so obviously a phony.  He tries to drag his knuckles on the ground, and they can see that he's wearing gloves to protect his precious, dainty, little hands.  He tries to breathe through his mouth, and they can hear sound whistling through his nose.  So, eventually, some Freedom Caucus member will pick up a femur from the ground and start trying to bash in McCarthy's skull with it while doing chimp yells.  (See, DeSantis, it's not racist 'cuz they're all white.  Kubrick, you philistines.  Kubrick.)

Next, the divided government issue.  This is rather brief.  Nothing will happen, so the stakes are low.  More importantly, though, the GOP is the minority party in this particular divided government split.  The majority party in the House controls the agenda.  They select committee chairs, determine which bills get consideration, who gets to offer amendments, and so forth.  The minority party is procedurally irrelevant.  They have almost no power.  So, it almost doesn't matter who their leader is.  Their leader has some authority over their committee assignments, but even those are relatively meaningless because minority party members have little influence within committee, and the House won't be passing any legislation anyway.  It will be the job of the Minority Leader to hold the party together in opposition to whatever bills Nancy Pelosi brings to the floor, but... that'll be easy.  Frankly, the harder part will be convincing them not to mail pipe bombs to Pelosi.  Really, though, whether it's McCarthy, or someone else, the job doesn't have much in the way of formal responsibilities.

Following from that... who cares?  Is there really a difference between Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Jim Jordan?  Or Minority Leader Greg Gianforte, Steve King, Louis Gohmert, or whoever?  In terms of outcomes?  No.  Pelosi will run roughshod over the GOP no matter whom they pick because that's how the House works.  There just isn't much at stake here.

There's a little.  When the GOP retakes the House, whoever is at the top is in a good position to be the next Speaker.  It doesn't necessarily work that way, but that's part of it.  There's also a question for the party of who they want in a visible position.  That child molestation enabler, Jim Jordan, may not be who the GOP wants as the face of the House GOP, but then again, they're totally cool with an out-and-proud rapist like Trump as the leader of their national cult, so hey.  Why not?  For the most part, though, this is a pointless fight.

So, what happens?  Jim Jordan probably doesn't get the job.  Too many people in the caucus hate him.  Steve Scalise?  Also known as "David Duke without the baggage?"  If the Freedom Caucus decides, once again, that they won't have McCarthy, Scalise would be their obvious choice, with his racism being a big part of the appeal.  Does McCarthy get the job?  I truly don't know.  The big question is, why would the Freedom Caucus be more amenable to him now than in 2015?  They may decide that it doesn't matter because the GOP is in the minority, so let the weasel have the job, and fight the bad fight later.  That's the problem here.  This is such a petty, stupid fight that there is no way to predict how people will behave when there is truly nothing at stake.

Pelosi will run everything.  Whether it's McCarthy or Scalise, or hell, Gohmert, that job's a dummy prize.  I don't understand why anyone would want it anyway.

Besides, have you seen John Boehner lately?  The happiest day of his life was the day after he left those assholes in the House GOP.  And he was good at the job.  Why would a useless fuckwit want the job when it's just pointless stress?  I may study politics, but that doesn't mean I understand politics.

Anyway, remember that I'm shifting to weekend blogging, so I'll put up some blues tomorrow, some un-American music to get HUAC on my ass on Tuesday, and while I might put up some brief comments throughout the week, longer posts will return next weekend.  I might start putting up more music mid-week just for the hell of it, though.

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

Most people who are aware of Ralph Stanley today think of him as a singer, and associate him with the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?  As a banjo aficionado, I associate him with a style known as "clawhammer," which predates the more popular three-finger style associated with Earl Scruggs.  Here's Ralph Stanley, showcasing his banjo playing on "Battle Ax," from Old-Time Pickin'.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Coming leadership battles in the House of Representatives: Democratic edition

Nancy Pelosi.  One of the two great Speakers of the modern era, along with John Boehner.  So, of course there must be a contingent of knuckle-dragging fools determined to remove her, right?

With the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, one of the big issues hovering over the Democratic conference has been the question of leadership of the party, and I even got a request for this one.  A bunch of Democratic candidates announced that they wouldn't support Pelosi for Speaker, so can she get the votes?  Should she?  What now?

As for the question of should she, the obvious answer is yes.  Handing the gavel to anyone else would be an act of stupidity worthy of the Tea Party and the sacking of John Boehner.  And Pelosi probably will be Speaker.  Let's go through this, though.  First, we must address why a bunch of Democrats have announced opposition to Pelosi.

First, a bunch of Democrats have let the GOP get in their heads.  Republicans have spent more than a decade talking shit about Nancy Pelosi.  They also took the majority of the House in 2010, and held it through 2018.  Are these two observations related?  The force of the GOP's trash-talking can have a powerful influence on the weak-minded, but no, these two observations are not related.  Nancy Pelosi is a famous name.  To political junkies.  We know who she is, but we are also people who aren't swayed by petty trash-talking about how "San Francisco values" are oh-so-horrible.  In the 2016 American National Election Studies survey, we asked about Paul Ryan, because he was Speaker.  Only 54% of respondents, weighted, correctly recalled him as Speaker.  Anyone who knows who the Speaker is just isn't someone who is persuadable.  So, worrying about the GOP's rhetoric on San Francisco is just stupid.

The related point is that Republicans will trash-talk, and at this point, flat-out lie about anyone, so letting their trash talk dictate Democratic Speakers is just idiocy.  Don't give lying, bullying assholes what they want.  You just invite more lying and bullying.  Fight back.  Hard.  And yet, a bunch of Democrats have let the GOP get in their heads.  Oh, no!  Republicans have trash-talked Pelosi!  We can't pick her as Speaker!  She's "polarizing!"  News flash, folks.  If Ronald Reagan came back from the dead, announced himself a Democrat, and the House made him Speaker (the Speaker, constitutionally, doesn't have to be a sitting member), the GOP would say, "we always hated you, you amnesty-granting tax-raiser!  The 1982 tax increase was the most communist thing ever in American history!!!"  Democrats would be foolish to let GOP trash-talk, or fear thereof, dictate their choices.  If that's the strategy, they might as well hand the gavel to either McCarthy, Scalise or Jordan, but I'll get to that tomorrow.

Next, and relatedly, a bunch of the Democrats announcing opposition to Pelosi are just signaling "moderation."  Look, folks, you know what I think of "moderates."  We are supposed to heap praise and blessings on moderates.  You know, like Strom Thurmond, back in the good ole' days.  He was what used to make up that moderate center, where the parties overlapped.  Racist shitbag.  Or, we could talk about that useless idiot, Susan Collins.  Moderates...  I have no use for them.  Anyway, if you want to signal that you aren't a lefty, you can defer to Republican trash-talk and oppose Nancy Pelosi, thereby showing your redneck constituents that you ain't no San Francisco you-know-what.  I could make some really nasty comments about these people, but that's already implied, isn't it?

The irony is that on the other side of the ideological spectrum, you can get the left-wing Tea Party (basically, Sanders types) opposing Pelosi because they think she is somehow compromised, or not pushing hard enough, or... whatthefuckever.  I'm relatively unsparing in my praise of Nancy Pelosi, but the one time I excoriated her was the stupidity of pushing for a shutdown on immigration.  She was pushed by the left for that dead-end strategy.  And they wanted more.  There are some lefties who want Pelosi gone, so she's getting it from both ends.  Left-wing teabaggers.  Just what the Democratic Party needs.

And then, you have the time-for-a-change people.  These are the people I just find the most insufferable.  Nancy Pelosi has been at the top of the Democratic caucus for a decade and a half.  A bunch of Democrats say it's just time for someone new.  'Cuz.  This is just moronic.  Being Speaker of the House is one of the most difficult jobs in the country.  You need someone really smart to do it.  You need someone who understands policy, understands political gamesmanship, understands the political dynamics of the caucus, and just gets shit done.  Nancy Pelosi will go down in history as one of the best ever.  And some of these twits just want to throw her out... 'cuz?!

So, the question is, will these people cave and vote for Pelosi?  The basic points to understand are as follows.  First, the selection of a Speaker is the selection of a disciplinary system.  This is the basic argument that I made in my latest book, Incremental Polarization: A Unified Spatial Theory of Legislative Elections, Parties and Roll Call Voting.  (Shameless plug, shameless plug).  Legislators have competing incentives-- policy incentives and positioning incentives, and they have to decide what kind of disciplinary system they want, which will determine how they balance policy gains (or losses) with their electoral positioning.  They do that through a Speakership contest, in the majority party.  What Pelosi offers is victory.  She wins.  She twists arms until the Democrats win.  Because unlike anyone else in that ineffectual party of dipshits, she knows what she's doing.  You want to win?  Shut up and do what Nancy Pelosi says, you whiny, little cry-babies.  (I apologize for using the language of Trump, but it is appropriate here).  Of course, a party that doesn't care about unification or victory could just pick a feckless c...ongressperson (HT: Samantha Bee) as Speaker and let the party dissolve into petty bickering and probably a bunch of identity politics finger-pointing, "calling out," and general snowflakism that won't lead anywhere.  In other words, being Democrats.  Or, you know, they could just give the gavel to Pelosi and fucking hold the party together.

And note that most Pelosi-detractors, in and out of Congress, are doing it for signaling purposes.  You've got the scared-of-Republicans detractors and the left-wing teabaggers.  That's basically just signaling.  Would they prefer to signal either moderation or purity with opposition to Pelosi, or... get something?  Then, you've got the fuck-winning contingent.  What happens now?

With the signalers, we've seen this before.  Bart Stupak.  Remember him?  This was the guy who said he could never vote for Obamacare because of some demands on abortion.  He was a "moderate," representing a marginal district.  Pelosi twisted his arm, along with a bunch of others, and they voted yes.  Why?  Because she fucking said so.  And then Stupak resigned.  This time?  She has goodies to offer these loud-mouths.  If they are interested in signaling, she can give them other opportunities to signal whatever they want.  She can also arrange the vote such that a bare minimum vote for her, and let the most marginal vote against her.  If it's just signaling, they're bribable, and Pelosi beat back more difficult signaling challenges with Stupak on Obamacare.

The time-for-a-changers have nowhere to go because they have no one to run.  Hoyer doesn't know how to do the job, neither does Clyburn, and none of the children do either.  Let's be clear on this.  Passing Obamacare was the hardest thing I have ever seen.  There were so many times it looked deader than John McCain, Trump's... potence, and American democracy that the fact that Pelosi pulled it off means that anyone who even contemplates giving the gavel to someone else should have their fucking head examined.  This isn't fucking little league.  You don't say that every kid needs a turn just 'cuz.  Fairness and taking turns and blah, fucking blah.

Imagine your life is in danger.  You need a bodyguard.  Your current bodyguard has been with you for years, and is roughly as badass as James Bond.  Do you say, "oh, fuck it.  Time for a change.  I can't find anyone nearly as good, but some rookie cop might like a pay raise, so let's replace James Bond with him?  Taking turns is good!"  No.  Not if you value your life.  Nancy Pelosi is to legislative politics as James Bond is to general badassery.  I think that should be on the SATs.  The time-for-a-change folk have a basic problem.  They can't find anyone.

And that will bring me back to the basic point of my latest book.  A leadership contest is a contest over leadership platforms.  Nobody has anything to offer beyond Pelosi, which means they'll have a hard time finding an alternative.

And yet...

The stakes of this leadership election are remarkably low.  By that, I mean that all the Democrats have to do is refuse to go along with whatever batshit insanity Trump tries to push, and as far as budgetary negotiations go, just hold firm on continuing resolutions with minimal changes from the current agreement.  In other words, do nothing.  How hard is that?  It's sort of the default in Congress.

Well, it requires having a spine.  Democrats aren't known for that.  Except Pelosi.  In 1995, when Gingrich took over as Speaker, he adopted a strategy of scorched earth opposition to Clinton.  However, Clinton was a moderate, willing to deal, and deal he did.  Hence, welfare reform.  In 2011, Boehner and McConnell adopted a strategy of scorched earth opposition to Obama, and while Obama wasn't a moderate, he was a strategic fool who didn't understand what he was facing, so he dealt.  Hence, the 2011 Budget Control Act.  Trump is a different kind of fool.  He won't deal, so there's no point in trying.  There's no point in anything except scorched earth opposition.  That, however, requires some will.  Not a lot, and the left-wing teabaggers would be amenable to that with or without Pelosi.  They just might not be as effective keeping the lily-livered cowards on board because they'd be too busy alienating them with "call-out" games, or some other form of left-wing purity test.  (I write as I refer to the "moderates" as "lily-livered cowards."  Why?  Because I have no responsibility to do otherwise.  There is freedom in being nothing but the peanut gallery.)

Still, there will be no legislation.  Whatever left-wing dreams the liberal teabaggers have... ain't gonna happen.  Impeachment?  If either Pelosi or another Democrat doesn't stop it, it'll guarantee Trump's reelection, regardless of the economy, and remember that the Senate has zero chance of convicting him, no matter what happens over the next two-to-six-to-infinity years.  The only real task for a Speaker now is making sure the Democrats hold together in opposition.  That's still a challenge, though, and the only strategic brain in the party belongs to Nancy Pelosi.  The signalers are bribable, the take-turns crowd has nobody, and that means she gets the gavel.

And then nothing happens because this is all a meaningless charade.

Tomorrow, I'll write about the even more insane and meaningless conflict on the Republican side!