Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bitcoin is bullshit, Part IV: Who uses bitcoin, amid transaction costs?

Part III was all about how the use of bitcoin in an economy with a functioning government requires volunteering to pay transaction costs, which can't be rational.  What I haven't done, though, and what I won't do, is say that bitcoin will disappear.  Who, then, will use bitcoin?

Does anyone remember some dude named Thorsten Veblen?  In 1899, he published The Theory of the Leisure Class.  Veblen wasn't really an economist.  He was a... [gulp]... sociologist.

Excuse me while I take a big swig of my coffee to wash out the foul taste in my mouth.

Veblen's text is most famous for the concept of "conspicuous consumption."  People buy shit, not because it is intrinsically useful or valuable, but to show off what they have.  There are goods that you consume, not because they are utilitarian, but as affectations.  I'm a pretty utilitarian person, and even I do it.  I don't like that I do it, but I do it.

Conducting economic transactions in dollars will be more efficient than conducting transactions in bitcoin for as long as the government prohibits payment of taxes in bitcoin, and the government will never let you pay taxes in bitcoin (see Part II).  For some people, though, conducting transactions in bitcoin will just be... appealing.

1.  Techno-libertarians.  This is the primary group of people to whom bitcoin appeals.  There is a segment of the population who has a generally skeptical view of government, combined with a positive attitude towards technology and a view that technology will solve problems that government either creates or cannot solve.  Bitcoin is catnip to these people.  If it costs a little extra to pay for shit with bitcoin, they'll do it as an ideological statement.  That's as good a reason as any for conspicuous consumption.

2.  Hipsters.  There is an overlap between techno-libertarians and hipsters, even if hipsters tend towards the old rather than the new, at least in appearance.  Some may find bitcoin appealing simply because paying for things in dollars seems so bourgeoisie.  If it costs a little extra, well then, that's just more conspicuous consumption.  Veblen strikes again.

3.  Anyone trying to break the law.  Remember that efficiency/inefficiency thing?  The whole point of transaction costs is that they apply to any business that has to convert back to dollars to pay their taxes.  What if, and just go with me on this, you are trying to not pay your taxes or otherwise conceal income?  This could be because you are just a tax cheat, or because you are engaged in some other nefarious activity.  Banks, which are federally regulated, report suspicious transactions to the feds.  Bitcoin?  Nope.  That's part of the point.  You can move money around secretly.  If your goal is secrecy, then bitcoin is really appealing.  So, whether you are trying to avoid taxes, move drugs around, or anything like that, bitcoin will continue to be really appealing.  And, any transaction costs wind up being totally worth it.

4.  Speculators.  Group 3 is actively using bitcoin now, and Groups 1 and 2 are potentially growing.  Mostly, though, in order for this to shake out, the speculators have to get the fuck out of the market so that the value of bitcoin can stabilize because, as I wrote in Part I, bitcoin is totally fucking useless to any sensible person as currency unless its value is stable, and even an increase in price, relative to the dollar, makes it stupid for anyone to pay for anything with bitcoin.

Techno-libertarians, hipsters (of a different variety from yours-truly), and drug-dealers.  Basically, anyone willing to absorb the transaction costs either as an example of "conspicuous consumption," or those for whom the cost is simply part of doing business because avoiding government eyes is necessary.  That's your crypto-currency economy in any country with a functioning government.  And notice that part of that is where the government fails!  That's not an accident!

Oh, and notice that I said that this is your "crypto-currency economy," rather than your "bitcoin economy."  After all, bitcoin could be replaced by another crypto-currency!

Still, there is a niche for it.  But, at what price, relative to the dollar?

Nobody is even trying to figure that out right now.  Speculators are just driving up the price, as every buyer looks at the price, and buys figuring they can sell at a higher price to someone else thinking the same damned thing.  That's how asset bubbles work.  Until they pop...  Why?  Because there aren't enough businesses that actually take bitcoin for it to have real use as currency, in part because its lack of stability makes it useless as currency, and it can't stabilize as long as these speculators keep driving up the price because by definition, that upward movement is lack of stability!  And it doesn't even matter if it does stabilize because no government will take tax payments in bitcoin, which will make it intrinsically inefficient anyway.

So, I've just spent four posts ranting about the internal contradictions in the arguments for bitcoin's future as currency.  Notice what I haven't done.  I haven't addressed the arguments that bitcoin advocates use, for the most part.  I pointed out that you can't use the upward movement in bitcoin's price as an argument for its future as currency, but I haven't talked about the basic underlying premise of a non-government-backed currency.

That's worth doing.  Coming soon, but I'll probably delay that because today is the Alabama special election, and I suspect I'll have a lot to say about that tomorrow morning.  I'll swap my economist hat back for my political scientist hat.

Quick take on election day in Alabama

I'll have more to write in the aftermath of today's Alabama shitstorm, but as of today, Moore still has the edge, with a RealClearPolitics polling lead of just over 2 points, and betting at PredictIt putting his shares of winning at over $.70 on the dollar.  There is that Fox News poll with Jones in the lead by 10.  What do we make of that?

What do I keep telling you?  Never look at one poll.  Always look at the average.  Why?  Because if you do enough polls, you'll get a weird one.  Should you assume that Fox polls are biased towards the GOP, and thus that Jones is really way ahead?  Or, should you just factor that poll into the rest of the data?

You should do the latter.  Look at all of the polls together.  All poll aggregators do basically the same thing.  We have a lot of polls.  Most of them put Moore in the lead.  Alabama is a Republican state.  Moore is a Republican.  Yes, he's a child-molesting, idiot demagogue, but this is Alabama.  As I wrote when the news broke, he passed the Edwin Edwards test.  Live girls.  In his 1983 campaign, Edwards said that the only way he could lose is if he were caught in bed with a "dead girl or a live boy."  They don't care about molesting girls in Alabama, and intelligence is a negative in Alabama.  Bible-thumping is a good thing, as far as they are concerned.  Does Moore want to get rid of the 13th-15th Amendments?  Yes he does.  As far as Alabama voters are concerned, that's just awesome.

Oh, and according to his wife (who is not a teenager), he can't be racist, because his lawyer is a jew.


But, this is Alabama we are talking about.

The odds favor Moore.  Betting at PredictIt gives him about a 70% chance, roughly.

If Doug Jones wins (30%, according to PredictIt...), I'm going to spend some time tomorrow writing about a dude named Tim Huelskamp.  Maybe I will anyway, with that teaser, but otherwise, default to party ID.  It's fucking Alabama.

That was less quick than the title suggested.  Sorry...

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

Theme-wise... I got nothin' today.  Fuck it.  Here's a Fareed Haque concert.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bitcoin is bullshit, Part III: Transaction costs, and the irrationality of using bitcoin

When I left off with Part II, I pointed out that you will never be able to pay your taxes in a country with a functioning government using bitcoin.  Why does this matter?  A little thing called a "transaction cost."

If you listen to the bitcoin enthusiasts, what they will tell you is that it is supposed to make everything go seamlessly.  You can transfer money quickly and without fees.  Awesome, right?  Not quite.

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country?  You know how there are these exchange rates between currencies that you look up, that differ from what you actually pay?  Yeah, it's a thing.  You see, if you are in, say, Italy, and you need euros to buy some trinket on the Rialto, and all you have are dollars, then those currency exchanges can charge you a small fee to exchange your dollars for euros.  You don't actually get the formal exchange rate.  You lose a bit of money in the deal.  The exchange keeps something.  It's a business.  They make money because they have something you need-- euros.  So, you give them dollars, they give you euros, and in exchange for the trade, you give them a bit of extra money, above the formal exchange rate because you need that cash to buy the shit you are trying to buy on vacation.  Whether it is a cash-for-cash thing, pulling money out of an ATM... it doesn't matter.  You lose a bit of money in the deal.

Yup, that's what happens.  The process of exchanging currency has a cost.  It can be a really tiny cost, depending on circumstances and who is involved, and how, but it is a cost.

I get paid in dollars.  If you work in the US, so do you.  If you want to conduct your economic transactions in bitcoin, you need to convert your dollars to bitcoin.  That exchange is a transaction, separate from any purchase you make, and creates a cost.  You want bitcoin.  Someone else has bitcoin.  That means, regardless of the formal exchange rate anyone sees on any market, whoever has bitcoin can charge you just a tiny bit to sell it to you to subsidize the cost of operation.  Why?  'Cuz you want it.  Markets.  That's how markets work.  Right now, bitcoin is increasing in price, so people are trading based on speculation, but as I wrote on Saturday, that is precisely what makes bitcoin useless as currency.  Eventually, it should, theoretically, stabilize in price, at which point you just have to suck up that fee to exchange your money.  Now, maybe you can set up some peer-to-peer commie fuckin' thing, but seriously, people, we're talking about MONEY!  Yes, I'm calling bitcoin "money."  You want it to be money?  Sure, let's go with that.  Once it becomes that, you gotta deal with all the shit that comes along with being money.

So, fine.  You decide you want to buy shit in bitcoin.  But, you get paid in dollars.  You pay a fee, either to someone who has bitcoin to make the exchange, or to someone who runs an exchange to supervise an exchange, but either way, you pay a fee.  Transaction cost.  Why aren't you paying a fee now?  So that you can run the risk of Mt. Gox, of course!  Doesn't that sound awesome?!

(Me, I like my FDIC insurance, thank you very much...)

Anyway, you pay a fee, if in terms of risk of nothing else.  Then, whoever takes your money when you buy something just made income.  If they are operating legally, they need to pay taxes on it.

Remember yesterday's post?  They absolutely need dollars now.  (Assuming they are operating in the US.  For another country, substitute the appropriate currency.)  That means they have to convert back to whatever currency you chose to convert away from.  And, since there is now a legal requirement, someone can really jack up the price on them.  Transaction cost!

So, two questions:

1)  Why the fuck are you converting to bitcoin to do this, and 2) why the fuck are they accepting bitcoin when they just have to convert back to dollars to pay their fucking taxes?

This is intrinsically inefficient.  You've got transaction costs on both ends for no fucking reason whatsoever.

This is the point where bitcoin-bugs make some claim like, "if everyone used bitcoin, there would be no conversion," but there are two points here.  First, you can't have a system where everyone uses bitcoin precisely because of yesterday's post.  As long as the government requires that taxes be paid in their own currency, pays their employees and contractors in their own currency, etc., you can't have a pure bitcoin system, and governments that function and wish to continue functioning will never convert to bitcoin.  Second, "you can't get there from here."  Why not?  Because as long as governments refuse to accept tax payments in bitcoin, it is intrinsically irrational for people to use bitcoin for normal economic transactions.  Whenever they do so, they are volunteering to pay transaction costs.  The process of switching would involve massive numbers of people volunteering to pay transaction costs.  For no fucking reason at all.

The transaction costs of conducting business in bitcoin make the concept of bitcoin completely hypocritical.  It is constructed to be efficient, yet it is the opposite of efficient.  The idea is that you can transfer money instantaneously, freely and frictionlessly.  Economics are not free of thermodynamics, though.  At some point, every legal entity has to pay their taxes, and they will only ever be able to do so in currency issued by the government of the country in which they operate.  Moving bitcoin around may be easy (although even that isn't risk-free), but converting currency will always have costs.  That means conducting business in bitcoin rather than the currency of the country will always be intrinsically inefficient.  Ain't no gettin' around that.  That's the main reason that bitcoin is bullshit.

What does this mean for the use of bitcoin, bitcoin prices, and so forth?  Coming soon, in Part IV...

Brief morning comments on Roy Moore, Susan Collins and the tax bill

I do this periodically when I have brief comments that don't warrant a full post.  Mostly, I'm sticking with my bitcoin rant because we don't have real political news yet today.

1.  The Alabama special election is right around the corner.  Senator Shelby, the Republican Senator occupying Alabama's other seat, said he didn't vote for the child molester.  It won't matter, in all likelihood, nor will the fact that the idiot, demagogic child molester thinks that Amendments XI-XXVII could be abolished to the benefit of the nation.  Current polling:  RealClearPolitics still has Moore in the lead by 3.8 points on average.  If any election is likely to understate a candidate's polling numbers, it is one in which said candidate is a fucking child molester.  We used to call this "the Bradley effect."  If Moore beats a 3.8 point lead by a significant margin, I suggest that we rename this, "the Moore effect."  The betting at PredictIt still gives Moore about a 3-1 edge.  Still sounds about right to me.  Not "right" as in "morally defensible," but as in "an accurate assessment of reality.  Jones could win, but when in doubt, bet on party.  Political science.

2.  Susan Collins has said that even though she voted for the Senate's tax bill, she might not vote for the reconciled version after it comes out of conference if she doesn't get concessions.  Does this matter?  Not likely.  First, the House could always pass the Senate's unamended bill if negotiations break down.  Her vote is cast.  If all else fails, the House will probably do that.  (See the ACA, 2010).  But, they shouldn't even have to do that.  Even if the Senate can't get Collins's vote on a reconciled bill, the Senate bill passed with 51 votes.  They can still lose Collins, and as long as nobody else defects, they still pass a reconciled bill.

Too late, Susan.

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

I could go with more posts on the money theme (a common theme in blues), but here are a couple for Roy Moore.  I can make a case that the best working band today is the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  I'm not really a Neil Young fan, but the Tedeschi Trucks Band can make anything work, and they've been playing "Alabama" lately, as a statement.  There's a lot of history to that one, obviously, and I will also strongly recommend, once again, the Drive-By Truckers' classic, Southern Rock Opera, but, um... Neil Young can't sing, and never could.  Susan Tedeschi has just about the best voice ever.  That Trucks/Truckers thing is just a coincidence.  Derek Trucks is the nephew of the late Butch Trucks, drummer from the Allman Brothers, and one of the truly great guitarists around today, although this clip doesn't showcase it.  Go spend some time on youtube, and be blown away by Derek's guitar playing, Susan's voice, and the whole band, particularly when they have Oteil Burbridge on bass.

And, just for Roy, here's Stevie Ray Vaughan, with "Leave My Little Girl Alone," from In Step.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bitcoin is bullshit, Part II: What you will never be able to do with bitcoin, and why it matters

Today, if you want, you will be able to start trading "futures" on bitcoin the way you can trade futures on commodities like oil.


What could possibly go wrong?  Bitcoin proselytizers will tell you that bitcoin's rise in price means that it is the coming thing, but as I wrote yesterday in Part I, even a rise in price, relative to the dollar, makes bitcoin useless as currency.  Still, doesn't that rise in price make you want to go buy a shitload of bitcoin?

Um.  Sure.  Go, get in your time machine, go back to when bitcoin was way cheaper (like, last week), tell yourself to buy a bunch, and then sell it now.

So, go do that.

What?  You mean you don't have a time machine?

Well, then.

And even if you did, if it works anything like time travel in Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland's The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., it still might not be that simple.  (Side note:  fun book).

Still, as bitcoin futures trading opens up, you might think that this is a sign of the normalization of bitcoin.  However, there is a critical thing that you will never be able to do with bitcoin, and it is a big part of why bitcoin is bullshit.

So, um, how's Greece doin' these days?  Remember Greece?  It's that Mediterranean country with finances that are totally fucked.  (One of them, anyway).  Short version, in 2007 and 2008, our economy collapsed, and since we are the center of the world, financially speaking, that spread.  When it hit Greece, it hit haaaaard.  (Yes, I'm oversimplifying.  This isn't the main point.)  A couple of years after the global crisis started, Greece revealed that the government had been cooking their books.  You see, the Greek national pass-time is tax "avoision," as Kent Brockman likes to say.  And, the Greek government being what it was, decided to be complicit, and cover it up, so they just fuckin' lied about how much/little money they had.  Eventually, it all came out, they revealed to the world that they had no fuckin' money, they couldn't pay their bills, couldn't pay their creditors, and Greece went into total financial collapse.

But... it was even worse for Greece than it might have otherwise been.  You see, for a country on its own currency, worst case scenario, you do something that you don't want to do, but can do as a last resort to pay your creditors.  The US government can, as a last resort, quite literally print dollars to pay off creditors.  Canada can print... loonies, or whatever the fuck they use up there, eh?  Any country using its own fiat currency can print money to pay creditors.  It's a bad thing to do if you really have a shitload of bills because... inflation, and if you really have a metric fuckton of bills, literally printing currency causes hyperinflation.  Absolute last resort.

However, the knowledge that a government can do this means that creditors don't tend to worry that the US government will fail to pay bondholders (except when House Republicans started fucking with the debt ceiling in 2011, but that was just political stupidity, not economic necessity).

Remember Greece, though?  This is a story about Greece.  When the crisis hit, Greece was on the euro.  Not the drachma, the euro.  They couldn't print money.  So, holders of Greek bonds legitimately looked at the Greek government's finances, and worried that they wouldn't get paid because they knew the Greek government's accounts were empty, and the government didn't even have that horrible, last-resort option of printing money.  So, interest rates on Greek bonds skyrocketed, sending the country into a fiscal death spiral, such that they needed to beg for money from Germany under whatever shitty terms Germany would give them.  Greece is still fucked because of this.

Back when the "Great Recession" hit, economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart put out a paper called, "Growth in a Time of Debt," claiming that if a country's debt-to-GDP ratio crossed over the 90% threshold, DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!  There were plenty of problems with their paper, not the least of which was an Excel spreadsheet error uncovered by a UMass, Amherst grad student doing a replication paper for a Methods class.  (Yes, really!)  However, all of the countries that have experienced serious problems with high debt-to-GDP ratios are countries that don't use their own currency.

Like Greece.

Greece wasn't alone.  Italy went through quite a rough patch, and if you pay attention to the international business news, you see references to the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), because of the similar underlying economic issues they have faced, and the problems that ensue when you don't borrow money in your own currency.

Basic point:  if a country borrows money in some currency that it doesn't control, it doesn't have options like that last resort of printing money to pay off debt.  Even though nobody wants to have to use it, just having it there means that bond-holders know they're going to get paid, and that makes financial crises like the one Greece faced really unlikely.  That's why the countries Reinhart and Rogoff pointed to as problem countries were all countries that borrowed in some currency they didn't control.  If you control your own currency, that doesn't mean everything is smooth sailing, but you are safe from Greece-style crises.

As long as the government borrows money in currency that it controls.  Any government that borrows money in currency that it doesn't control, knowing what happened to Greece...

That's just fucking stupid.

Solution?  Issue bonds only in currency of your own denomination.  Pay employees only in currency of your own denomination...

And this is vital:  only accept tax payments in currency of your own denomination.  That way, you pay your bondholders in your own currency.  And you are safe from a Greece-style crisis.  Period.

That is why no sane, functioning government will ever let you pay your taxes in bitcoin.

How much of the economy is that?  The proportion of any country's economy that the government takes up, obviously, varies by country.  The thing is, though, that taxes are a portion of every single legal economic transaction.  The government gets a piece of everything.  Or, everything legal, anyway.

It isn't just the size of government.  It is the ubiquity.  So you don't want government to have a piece of the action everywhere?  Tough fucking shit.  It does.  Income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, capital gains taxes, corporate taxes...  That shit ain't goin' nowhere, and it ain't never gettin' paid in bitcoin because policymakers watched what happened in Greece and other countries that saw problems because their debt was denominated in currency they didn't control.  Policymakers won't let that happen anywhere else.  You are either paying your taxes in dollars (assuming you are reading this in the US), or running the risk of imprisonment for tax "avoision" (HT: Kent Brockman).

Now, why does this matter so much?  That will be the subject of Part III!  A little thing called, "a transaction cost."  Hey, if Trump can claim he invented the phrase, "priming the pump," can I claim to have invented the phrase, "transaction cost?"  Anyway, coming soon...  Part III: bitcoin and transaction costs, because...

Bitcoin is bullshit.

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

Blue Highway, "Last Dollar Blues," from Midnight Storm.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Bitcoin is bullshit, Part I: The paradox of bitcoin's rise in value

I'm taking a breather from political idiocy, and putting on my economist hat to discuss economic/investment idiocy.  We have a few days before the Alabama special election anyway, and right now, things are status quo there.  We'll see how long this series goes.  Right now, I don't know because...

Bitcoin is bullshit.

Remember Adam Smith?  That's the dude who wrote The Wealth of Nations, published first in 1776.  Perhaps you recall a central parable.  The exchange of money for goods.  A customer goes to a baker and exchanges money for a loaf of bread.  The customer values the bread more than the money, and the baker values the money more than the bread, so both people are made better off by the transaction.  Hurray for capitalism!  (Fuck you, Bernie Sanders, you illiterate twit!  Sorry, that kind of thing just slips out every once in a while...)

Transactions like this, though, work most effectively, with units of currency that are standardized.  Money.  What makes a currency useful?  Lots of stuff.  There is, in fact, a bunch of economic theorizing about the nature of money because of course there is.  This is the point at which a bitcoin enthusiast thinks that I am going to bash bitcoin for being phony and made up and isn't all money really made up and I'm just a stuffy, old fuddy-duddy who doesn't get it, and what really makes money money is people accepting it so bitcoin will work when people accept it so fuck me!

Yeah, been there, done that.  That's not where I am going, nor where I ever had been going.

So, let's get into what makes something useful as currency.  A unit of currency has to be a stable "store of value."  Basically, everyone needs to know that it will be able to buy the same thing, roughly, today that it will buy tomorrow and the next day, and the next, and so on.

Um... inflation is bad, m'kay?  (So's deflation!  hint, hint...)

What happens if I think that I'm going to be able to buy more with the same unit of my currency tomorrow than I can buy today?  I shouldn't spend it.  I should wait until tomorrow.  On the other hand, if it is going to be worth less tomorrow, the business shouldn't accept it.  Expecting that price change, they should either decline the transaction, or raise the price now.

A currency can't be used, in any practical way, unless it has a stable value.

Bitcoin's price, relative to anything else, is...

To put it mildly.  Bitcoin's price, if you have been following it over the last week or two, has been marked by occasions on which the price can drop 20% or more in a matter of hours.  Yes, really.

Holy fucking shit!

This is the point at which you think I am going to pull an Adam Smith line, and say that no store can rationally accept a currency with the potential to drop 20% in value within hours.

I can very well do that, as that is an absolutely legitimate argument.

But, I'm not even going to bother with that.  I'm going to use bitcoin enthusiasts' favorite argument against them.  Let's ignore the wild up-and-down swings.  We shouldn't, because they are vitally important from the perspective of economic theory, and they fundamentally demonstrate the utter uselessness of bitcoin as currency.  Moreover, since bitcoin has no other value in the way that stocks do, being tied to the assets of publicly traded businesses, and no other value the way that conventional commodities do (e.g. oil, precious metals), its only potential value is as currency, so its lack of stability in value undercuts its only potential use.  We really shouldn't ignore its wild up-and-down swings.  But I'm even going to do that, just to show how fucking stupid bitcoin is.

Let's give bitcoin enthusiasts their favorite observation.  The price is going up!  Way, way up!  Doesn't that mean it's the coming thing?

No.  That means it is stupid as currency, which is its only potential use.  Why?  See above observations.  If the price of bitcoin is expected to go up, you shouldn't buy anything with it!  You should hold, the same way you hold a stock on the rise!  Any expected movement, in any direction, means lack of stability in a currency.  That means uselessness as currency.

Expected upward movement in the value of a currency is deflation.  Right now, bitcoin is deflating.  The price of goods, relative to bitcoin, is going down because the price of bitcoin, relative to any other currency, is going up.  If you have bitcoin, and are thinking about spending bitcoin on goods (not that you can, at most businesses) with the expectation that bitcoin will continue going up in value...

You are stupid.

Mathematically, you are stupid.

You are throwing money away.  (Assuming your expectation is correct, anyway...)

Now, bitcoin isn't necessarily going to keep going up in price.  But, if you think that bitcoin is going to keep going up in price, and you spend it as though it won't, then you can't do math.

But let's be blunt about this.  Most businesses don't accept bitcoin.  And the people exchanging their dollars, euros and other currency for bitcoin aren't doing so in order to conduct their normal economic transactions in bitcoin.

The price of bitcoin is going up, relative to other currencies.  And it isn't going up as currency traders attempt to figure out the correct exchange rate of dollars to bitcoin.  What is the correct exchange rate, after all, when it is an actual news story every time a business decides to accept bitcoin?  (See my occasional posts on "the paradox of news")  People are buying bitcoin as they watch the price go up, hoping to sell at a higher price to someone else who is doing the same thing.

Asset bubbles, pyramid schemes... these terms should be coming to mind.  Why?  Because the same principles are driving up the price of bitcoin.

What is the proper exchange rate of dollars to bitcoin?  Fuck if I know, but the price is not being driven up by people trying to figure that out.  It is being driven up by speculators, and that upward movement itself makes bitcoin useless as currency.

That's right.  The fact that the price is going up makes bitcoin useless as currency in a functioning economy.

At some point, the price of bitcoin will stabilize somewhere.  However, stabilization can only happen once the speculators are out of the market.  How are exchange rates established?  With government-backed currency, it's pretty easy.  With something like bitcoin?  Establishing a stable exchange rate...  That's gonna be really fucking hard.  And without that, bitcoin is utterly useless.

Funny thing, though.  Governments can stabilize currency!  More to come.  Why?  Because bitcoin is bullshit.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Gillian Welch, "One More Dollar," from Revival.

Friday, December 8, 2017

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

John Scofield, "Heck of a Job," from This Meets That.

On the future of government shutdowns

As you may have noticed, a government shutdown has been temporarily averted.  During a period of divided government with extreme polarization, like the one we just had with Obama and the modern GOP holding Congress, avoiding a shutdown was understandably real news.

Reminder:  Congress must appropriate money to federal agencies, either through normal appropriations bills, or continuing resolutions which... "continue" spending levels under current appropriations, or agencies run out of money with which to pay employees.  They start furloughing employees, beginning with the least essential.  The longer the shutdown goes on, the more essential the furloughed employees become.  Bad shit happens.  Shutdowns are blame games, so in divided government, they sometimes happen as one party tries to extract concessions from the other based on the hope that the party that takes the blame gives in because they are taking a hit in the polls.

That... doesn't work during unified government, so extended shutdowns don't work during unified government.

Then again, most of the time during unified government, the party in charge doesn't have a president who is, as I so often put it, "the dumbest motherfucker in the history of politics," combined with congressional caucuses filled with people for whom John Boehner-- their own sacked leader-- had nothing but contempt.  (I'll even lower myself to link to a Politico story, because it centers on a Boehner interview, and Boehner is awesome...)

So, yes, a shutdown is averted.  For a couple of weeks.  What happens in a couple of weeks?  Here's the betting on a shutdown by Christmas.  I'd put the odds at a bit higher than 20% based on two factors.  First, the GOP can't put anything together now.  That means they are scrambling, as usual.  They don't know what they are doing.  Second, the Democrats have more leverage than any minority party should because of Republican disarray.  Add to that Trump doing everything possible to put all blame on himself for any shutdown with his Trumpian tweets, and Pelosi and Schumer have way more leverage than any minority party should.  How much can they demand, and how much will they get?

More to come on this, as that clock ticks down...

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Coming soon: Bitcoin is a con

Politics-depending, I think I might put on my economist hat this weekend, and write about bitcoin.

Bitcoin, as you may have noticed, swings wildly in price, and the recent increase (today's drop notwithstanding), baffles anyone who tries to assess value in conventional ways.

This is nuts.  The bubble might burst completely before this weekend, or bitcoin could double in price.  Who the hell knows?  Bitcoin prices are insane.  Given the range of possibilities and the wild swings over the last week or so (and even today), I'm putting this up now.

I'll try to get something up this weekend.  Unless something blows up, politically.  Or, in the actual, physical world.  Unfortunately, that could happen too.

Al Franken, practical politics and other matters

Right now, it looks like Al Franken is probably toast.  PredictIt has shares of Franken being gone by 3/31 of next year trading at $.85 on the dollar.  Pressure is mounting, particularly after Conyers, and the dam has broken on calls for him to get his ass out of the Senate.

Some part of this is the real process of reduced tolerance for sexual predators, and he is one.  Some of the people calling for his resignation, though, probably just want some political cover for their attacks on the GOP regarding Roy Moore.

I'll leave it to others to comment on the precise level of importance of getting rid of people like Franken for its own sake, but "hostile work environment" is a real thing, and the Senate is a work environment.

As for practical consequences, I'll make a couple of observations about this.  Franken, Conyers, and other Democrats being forced out will have no effect on either the Alabama Senate race, or how the GOP responds to Moore's likely victory.  As of this morning, Moore's lead is down to 2.3 points in the RealClearPolitics average.  That's not big, but it is real, and when in doubt, defer to party.  Alabama is a hardcore Republican state, and I am skeptical that Alabama voters will put aside party in order to vote against a child rapist, particularly when that child rapist is a barely-literate, bible-thumping demagogue (they love that shit in Alabama).  I just don't think Alabama voters care that much about child rape.  I am willing to be shown evidence to the contrary.

I'm going to flip this around geographically.  Massachusetts is a blue state.  A Democratic child rapist would lose there.  Maybe not if he were named "Kennedy," (Ted murdered a woman in a drunk driving incident!) but Republicans do occasionally win there.  Remember Scott Brown?  Remember Mitt Somethingorother?  Alabama, though?  No, they'll probably go with the child rapist over the Democrat.  3-1 right now, over at PredictIt.

At the electoral level, Alabama voters aren't paying attention to the internal workings of Congress.  Most voters can recognize but not recall the names of their own representatives.  If you are reading a weirdo political scientist's blog, you probably pay enough attention to the news to recognize the name, John Conyers, and then suppress a gag, but Alabama voters?  (The ones who can read?)  Nope.  Not even now, with him in the news.  I could make an Alabama-voters-are-racist joke here, but oh, why bother?  A child rapist is leading in the polls.  So, they don't know or care.

What about the internal workings of the Senate?  Does Mitch McConnell care if Al Franken and John Conyers step down?  Will that make him decide he has to expel Roy Moore?

'Cuz, you know, if he didn't, he wouldn't have moral standing, and Mitch McConnell cares about that...


Have I made my point now?  Ex:  Mitch McConnell used to say that every court nominee needed a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate (when Dubya was President).  He supported using the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster if the Democrats ever filibustered even a single nominee.  Then, under Obama, he led unprecedented filibusters, including the entire DC circuit, saying that Obama alone in history should never be allowed to fill any vacancy, and the Republican minority would filibuster any nominee, no matter who they were.  He decried Reid's use of the nuclear option as the worst thing ever, when Reid did exactly what McConnell wanted to do for far less.  Then, McConnell refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court vacancy, before even hearing who Obama's nominee was, with an invented rule never before used (lying, and saying it was Biden's idea, by omitting half the quote), and when Obama picked someone whom Hatch said would have been easily confirmed, McConnell said fuck you, we aren't confirming anyone.  Trump won, and then McConnell confirmed Neil Plagiarist Gorsuch.  Using the nuclear option that he said was the worst thing ever when Reid used it.

Then, after years of saying that the Senate needed a return to "regular order," McConnell has spent the last year bypassing committees and deliberation for everything in order to work out secret backroom deals at the last minute, never giving anyone time to study or think about any deal, much less have any real input on legislation...

I could keep going, but I think I've made my point.  Does Mitch McConnell care about looking like a hypocritical fucking asshole?

No.  Democrats could get rid of every sexual predator in their caucus, and then say to McConnell that it is time for him to clean his house, and it wouldn't move him.  He doesn't care.

He shall not, he shall not be moved.  He shall not, he shall not be moved.

And that leads me to my next point.  The Democrats are cleaning house.  The Republicans won't.  One of the persistent issues in Congress is the partisan asymmetry.  The parties are not the same.  They aren't just ideological mirrors.  One of the things that becomes mathematically clear when you look at voting scores, such as NOMINATE, developed by Keith Poole & Howard Rosenthal, is that the Republican Party has become far more ideologically extreme than the Democratic Party over the years.

But, this isn't ideology.  And this isn't because one party is more concerned with ideological purity, the way Grossman & Hopkins argue, and this isn't about pressure from the electoral base, or anything like that.

There is a lot wrong with the Democratic Party.  They don't think things through.  They are too quick to say, "here's a problem.  Give me a government program to solve this problem, and let's never think through whether or not it will work, or what the unintended consequences might be."  I wrote a long series a while back on the necessity of "classical conservatism," and what we are missing as a country by the death of classical conservatism, which we need as a check on that impulse.  But the Democratic Party isn't batshit fucking crazy.  They just don't have enough skepticism about the capacity of government programs to solve all problems.  I could go on about problems within the party, goo-gooism, Bernie Sanders and his coterie of morons, but the Democratic Party is not batshit fucking crazy.  It is a normal, left-wing party, and what you think of it depends on what you think of left-wing policies.

The Republican Party right now is completely batshit fucking crazy.  This is my diagnosis as a "Doctor."  Ph.D.  Phony doctor, if you what to be technical, but the party is fucking crazy, and it needs to be said.  They have handed nuclear weapons to an idiot child, whom the entire leadership of the party knows has no business being in charge of nuclear weapons.  He has been called a "fucking moron" by his own Secretary of State, and said to have "the intelligence of a kindergartner," by his National Security Advisor.  Mitch McConnell himself can barely keep a straight face when asked whether or not Trump understands policy.  He is way too cozy with Putin, clearly guilty of federal crimes, a serial rapist, an unreconstructed racist, and the entire White House is, as Bob Corker says, "adult day care."

And most of the Republican Party doesn't care.  Roy Moore is a child rapist, and most of the party is just willing to let him take that Senate seat, even though they could expel him to let Kay Ivey appoint a Republican replacement.  They don't fucking care.  It is actual news that Jeff Flake decided to contribute to Doug Jones, writing "Country Over Party," on the check.  When the candidate of his own party is a child rapist.

We see this affect policy.  After years of screaming "repeal Obamacare!," the Republicans didn't have a fucking bill because they never bothered to think about it.  Why?  Meaningless sloganeering.  So, in slapdash manner, they eventually nearly passed one of the dumbest bills I have ever seen:  "skinny repeal."  It failed because a few people had just barely enough sense to realize how stupid it was.
Then, all three of the Republicans who voted against "skinny repeal" in the Senate voted for a tax bill that included it as a provision.  And remember that the individual mandate was the Republicans' idea in the first place, and as recently as 2009-10, they were arguing for it.

A system without the mandate is defensible.  Absolutely.  You can make a case that it is an infringement on liberty.  Go for it.  But, a system with the preexisting condition regulations and no mandate is not defensible.  It is just fucking stupid.  And they used to know it.

A party that repeals the mandate without repealing the preexisting condition regulations is not a sane party.

Um... I started this post ranting about Al Franken, didn't I?  The post morphed into a rant about how it won't affect McConnell's treatment of Roy Moore because McConnell doesn't care.  Because the GOP is messed up.

And McConnell doesn't care.  The parties aren't the same.  One party is left-wing.  The other party is just batshit crazy.

I don't write this as an angry liberal.  Angry, yes.  This is another venting post.  But, my politics are weird, as you may notice if you read this blog regularly and closely enough.  I wrote that series on classical conservatism because I actually do think that there needs to be a real check on the worst impulses of modern liberalism.  A batshit crazy party can't do that.

If the Democrats think that by getting rid of Al Franken, they are doing some intrinsic good, then fine.  If they think they are putting pressure on Republicans, um... no.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Roy Moore, Jeff Flake and the paradox of news

I write occasionally about what I call, "the paradox of news."  My terminology, as far as I can tell.  That which is new and different gets attention, which makes people think that it is normal, when it is the very opposite.  The paradox is most pernicious when it comes to terrorism, mass shootings, and other things that make people shit their pants out of fear of something that really isn't a serious threat to them.  Such fears have real political effects.  In contrast, we do jack shit about waterborne pathogens, which kill 10,000 per day around the world, roughly.

Yesterday, retiring Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona wrote a $100 check to Doug Jones, the Democratic opponent of Roy Moore.  For a while, I have pointed out what has been missing on the Republican side regarding Moore.  If anyone really opposes him, we have a two-party system.  Jones or Moore.  So, unless you are going to advocate, explicitly, that the voters of Alabama elect Moore so that he can be expelled to be replaced by Gov. Ivey, the only way to oppose the child rapist is to support Doug Jones.  Jeff Flake is actually doing it.

And on the check, he wrote, "COUNTRY OVER PARTY."

This constitutes national news.  At one level, anything regarding the Alabama Senate race is news because it is a special election in more than one sense of the word.  Crossing party lines, though, didn't used to be all that unusual.  In fact, in recent national conventions, prominent members of opposing parties have been given high-profile speaking slots.  In 2008, Joe Lieberman supported John McCain, while Colin Powell supported Barack Obama.  In 2004, Zell Miller supported George W. Bush, and then in a testy exchange with Chris Matthews, Miller challenged Matthews to a duel.  Yes, seriously.

The further back you go, the more examples you can find, but there were always at least few.

Right now, though, Flake is being treated as real news because he is real news.  Romney made a comment about how "no majority is worth losing our honor."  Yeah, sorry, Mittski, but you said some similar stuff about Donny-boy, and, um... remember this?

Right now, it is news when prominent Republicans actually, truly support the Democrat over the child rapist.  Why?  Because as far as they are concerned, the D-R balance is all that matters.  Pretty soon, I'll be writing a lot about the work of Frances Lee, I believe.  (Incidentally, I have the job that she vacated when she left CWRU, so thanks, Frances!)

Anyway, let that sink in.  It is real news when someone crosses party lines to oppose the child rapist.  I have written about why, and explained how the GOP has a viable strategic and moral option here-- just let Moore win, then expel him.  If you accept conservative principles, that strikes me as perfectly defensible.  Seating Moore is indefensible, and cozying up to him is not.

Taking a stand against a child rapist, though, is now actually news.  And I don't think this will create the false impression that it is normal for Republicans to do this kind of thing because the story itself is how unusual this is.  We have found a solution to the paradox of news.

So at least there's that.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Trump's defense on obstruction of justice charges

By now, you have probably read that Trump's lawyer is proposing the following defense against the claim that Trump obstructed justice:  a president cannot obstruct justice because, as head of the executive branch and all law enforcement, the president is the sole arbiter of justice.

In June, proto-Trump, Newt Gingrich made the exact, same argument, and I posted this.  I explained the obscure theory of the "unitary executive," referenced Nixon/Frost, Judge Dredd... the whole deal.  Go ahead and read it.  It is all still relevant, and there is no need for me to re-type it.

Now, though, Trump's lawyer is making the argument explicitly.  Why, and what does that mean?

As a matter of legal strategy, when you walk into a courtroom, you make all of your best legal arguments.  If this were a courtroom, and this were all Dowd had, it would mean that Trump basically admitted guilt (and hey! he did! on national tv!), because this is a bunch of fuckin' bullshit.  Nobody takes the "unitary executive" argument this seriously as a matter of general principle.  Sure, Newt, Trump and people like that will make the argument when convenient for their own sides, but that's just Miles's law in action.  If this is all you have, you have nothing.

Remember, though, that Dowd isn't making this argument in a courtroom.  This is the point at which you, the reader, say, "ah!  But he is making the argument in the 'courtroom of public opinion!'"  Ain't no such thing.  Metaphors are bullshit.

Remember that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.  First, a president would have to be removed from office by impeachment.  In order for that to happen, the GOP-- or at least a large chunk of it, given the 2/3 supermajority requirement for conviction in the Senate-- would have to agree to remove Trump.  They really, really, really don't want to do that.  No matter what Trump has done or ever will do.  The GOP will never, under any circumstances, turn on him.  Period.

All they need is an excuse to keep backing him.  It doesn't matter how stupid, flimsy, transparent or hypocritical it is.  The GOP spent eight years of the Obama administration decrying "the imperial presidency" every time Obama issued an executive order.  Where's the outrage whenever Trump issues one?  Oh, right.

Is anyone seeing the outrage from the right about this unitary executive bullshit?


That's because the foremost advocate of the "unitary executive" theory is... John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who was George W. Bush's go-to guy when he needed someone to tell him that even though every law on the books banned torture, torture was really, secretly legal because the president is actually above all laws.  Nobody on the right batted an eyelash about that.  They loved unitary executive theory then.  Why?  Miles's law.

Enter Obama.  Suddenly, every executive order is tyranny and the "imperial presidency."

Now, Trump is President.  Unitary executive is cool again, as far as the GOP is concerned.  So, Trump is above the law.  Dowd isn't taking this shit into a courtroom because it will never see a courtroom.  In order to get that far, Trump would have to be impeached, and that won't happen.

Why not?  Because there is a Republican in the White House, a Republican majority in the House and Senate, and those Republicans in Congress will once again decide that the theory of the "unitary executive" is exactly what the framers intended.

And the next time a Democrat takes the oath of office (assuming we get that far...), they'll decide that it's unconstitutional for a president to sneeze, because Saint Ronnie never sullied the office by sneezing, and that fact traveled back in time to the framers, and made them intend to write the Constitution in such a way as to make "sneezing as president" an impeachable offense.

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

More shit in Spain, I guess.  Here's Andres Segovia.  I'm not a classical music fan, but I am obsessed with the guitar.  Segovia hated flamenco, which he considered the music of the rabble (read: Gypsies, or, slightly more properly, Romany, even though tracing their origins doesn't actually lead you there...).  What a douchebag.  Still, he would sometimes lower himself to play something with some fire to it.  Here's Narvaez's "Cancion del Emperador."  Pick your compilation.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Checking in on Roy Moore

With all of the other news, it has been a while since anyone has paid much attention to Roy Moore, the child-molesting, law-breaking, twice-removed ex-judge running for the Senate seat in Alabama.

And that's exactly why he is back in the lead.  The RealClearPolitics polling average has Moore with a 3.2 point average lead, and the PredictIt betting has Moore as a 3-1 favorite, roughly.

The last time I checked in on Moore, it was when Al Franken was unmasked as yet another reprehensible sexual predator, and I pointed out that anything that even remotely muddies the waters helps Moore.  Anything that takes the focus off of Roy Moore helps Roy Moore because the only way Moore loses is if voters walk into their polling places thinking about Moore raping actual little girls, rather than being... creepy towards the metaphorical ones T-Bone Walker and other blues musicians sang about.  (Well, there's Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and, damn, I don't want to get off topic here.)

As the political world focused on Al Franken, John Conyers and other politicians, that focus left Moore.  As the political world focused on the Senate's tax bill, that focus abandoned Moore.  As the political world shifts its attention to Michael Flynn and Trump's Russia problems again, Moore is in the clear.

And yesterday, Mitch McConnell backed off from the idea of expelling Moore from the Senate if Alabama elects him.  A while back, I proposed that the GOP had an easy way out of this conundrum.  With a wink-and-a-nod, let Alabama elect Moore, then expel him to have Gov. Ivey appoint a Republican replacement.  That way, the GOP has someone who is neither a child rapist nor a Democrat filling that seat.

Nope.  That's not going to happen now.  Roy Moore-- a child rapist-- now has the full support of both the Alabama state and national Republican Party, including Mitch McConnell.  Not just Donald Trump, who was obviously going to support Moore.

What is worth noting here is the fact that the party is not going to take the option available to them:  expulsion followed by replacement by a Republican governor.

If you are not a Republican and not a sociopath, your immediate reaction to the likely victory of Roy Moore is probably, "what the all fucking hell is wrong with these fucking psychopaths?!  HE'S A FUCKING CHILD RAPIST!!!"  And, yes, he is a child rapist.  The state of Alabama is probably about to elect a child rapist to the Senate because the alternative is... gasp... a Democrat.  A while back, I wrote a post turning this around, explaining that you, too would probably do the same in a comparable situation.  It is just that if you are reading this, you probably aren't conservative.  You are reading some weirdo political scientist's morning blog.  You are obviously a weirdo too.

The point isn't that the GOP hasn't endorsed Jones.  The point is that they aren't going to take the expulsion-then-replacement option.  Why not?  That is where you should be disgusted.  There's no justification there.  The argument I posed in my post about looking at things from the perspective of a Roy Moore supporter is a value question about the policy choices that will be made by the winner of the election.  How much do you care about the policies at stake, and how much do you care about the decency of the person making those choices?

If the choice becomes subhuman monster making choices with which you agree versus decent human being making choices with which you agree... letting the subhuman monster stay in office becomes indefensible.  On any grounds.

The Republican Party could justify supporting the defeat of Doug Jones on the grounds that conservative policy must win, and a Republican Senate will expel Moore to be replaced by Kay Ivey with another conservative Republican who isn't a child rapist.

I tried really, really, really hard to put myself in the position of a conservative Republican thinking of voting for Roy Moore.  Read for yourself.  Right fucking here.

Mitch McConnell, though, as I have written before, is his own, special kind of shitbag.  Brilliant, but without even the capacity to understand the concepts of decency or honor.  He took a stand on Roy Moore.  He was going to support expulsion if Roy Moore won.  Nope.  Not anymore.  He's cool with child rapists.

He doesn't have to be.  He could expel Roy Moore, and get a Republican replacement.  It wouldn't cost him a single vote on anything.

Democrats could help him along here.  Al Franken, and especially John Conyers...  Really, though, when you rape a child, you cross a special line.

Not for Mitch, though.  The only line there is for him?  D versus R.




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

I'm going to be writing about Roy Moore today, so... um... blues musicians have long had this creepy thing about referring to women as, "girls," or, "little girls."  Here's T-Bone Walker with, "I Want A Little Girl."  As with any of the classic recordings, I have them on compilations.  In this case, The Complete Capitol / Black & White Recordings.  This is just what I grabbed from youtube.  For all the creepiness of referring to women as "little girls," T-Bone was a great musician, and one of the important links between blues and jazz.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Flynn, turning on Trump

While I think I got a hell of a lot right-- including a couple of tough calls-- on the GOP tax bill, it looks like I got the Flynn thing pretty much wrong.

Here is what I have written about Flynn, in brief:  Flynn was a Trump loyalist, who would keep his damned mouth shut, based on the expectation of a pardon.  His lawyers would drag out any trial as long as possible, and then Trump would pardon him.  He might have to serve a little bit of time, Scooter Libby-style, but nothing serious.  Then, big bucks on the conservative lecture circuit, where he would be covered by "wingnut welfare."

Yeah, that didn't work out.  All of this was predicated on Flynn keeping his cool.  Here's where I miscalculated.  Flynn... not so much on the whole, "keeping his cool," thing.  And I really should have built that into my assessments.  Mueller leaned on him haaaard.  And he broke.  Because Flynn is... not cool.  He's nuts.  He got scared that Trump wouldn't come through with the pardon, cut a deal, turned on somebody (probably Kushner, at least), and now...


Trump hates disloyalty.  Once you turn on him, things change.  Trump's rhetoric on Flynn is interesting now.  Current discussion is about that statement that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI, but what is interesting is that Trump hasn't yet turned on Flynn to the same degree that he has turned on others whom he sees as disloyal.  Then again, that may just be a matter of time.  If Mueller arrests Kushner based on Flynn's testimony, Flynn's pardon, which I had expected, has roughly a 0% chance of happening.

So, how do I assess this?  Game theory, of course.  One might be tempted to think of this in terms of the prisoner's dilemma, but that would be wrong.

The basic prisoner's dilemma is as follows.  The cops arrest two suspects for the same crime, and interrogate them separately.  If neither turn on the other, they each get a minor sentence (say, one year).  If they turn on each other, they each get five years.  If one turns on the other, and one stays silent, the rat gets away scot-free and the patsy gets ten years.

In a one-shot, simultaneous-move game, the solution is for each player to turn on the other because no matter what I think you are doing, my best move is to rat you out.  If I think you are staying silent, I have a choice between one year, and walking.  If I think you are ratting me out, I have a choice between five years and ten years.  I rat you out either way.  So, each player turns rat, even though they would both do better by both staying silent.  There.  Intro game theory.

This isn't the prisoner's dilemma.  First, there's sequence here.  The sequence is just... indeterminate.  Trump could pardon Flynn at any point, but Flynn could, if left hanging, rat Trump out at any point.  Flynn could have kept his mouth shut, conspicuously, to be followed by a pardon.  Or, he could notice that keeping his mouth shut isn't getting him that pardon, and turn rat.  Sequence matters.  And Trump has nothing to gain by leaving Flynn hanging, unlike in the prisoner's dilemma.  It's just a question of precisely how pointlessly dishonorable Trump is.

That brings in the reputation factor, which isn't structurally part of the game.  In order to keep Flynn quiet, Trump has to say, "trust me."  And there's the problem.  In repeated prisoner's dilemmas, players can cooperate based on the threat of future punishment.  If Player 1 defects, player 2 can punish him.  If player 1 has cooperated in the past, player 2 has reason to believe that player 1 will continue to cooperate.

So, Flynn and Trump.  Trump pardoned Arpaio.

Wasn't that supposed to be a signal that he'd shut down everything and pardon his people?  I kind of called bullshit on that.  If the Arpaio pardon had been a signal, Flynn would have kept his fuckin' mouth shut.

Instead, Flynn just got nervous, decided that Trump is too intrinsically untrustworthy, didn't want to play some waiting game hoping for a pardon, and blabbed.

Now, he may serve a little time.  Maybe.  Then again, he gave up Kushner, and who knows what else?

Still, I was wrong about Flynn.  His personal loyalty to Trump was nonexistent, he didn't have the spine to wait for a pardon or serve his time like a pro, so he turned Henry Hill.

Will this lead to an impeachment?  Nope.  I still put the probability of that at some absurdly low number.  I am not updating that probability at all.

There is absolutely nothing that will convince a GOP House to impeach a Republican President, and conviction in the Senate requires 2/3.  Ain't gonna happen.  Trump is going around telling people that the "pussy" tape is fake, and that Obama's birth certificate is fake.  Still.  He's still saying that.  He will lie, lie, lie, no matter what Mueller gets, and no matter how many of his own people turn on him.  The conservative media will back Trump no matter what, and the kind of people who are now defending Roy Moore (like Donny-boy himself) will never, under any circumstances, believe that Trump did anything wrong because we live in a fact-free world now.

Then again, what if Mueller arrests Jared Kushner, and then Kushner turns on Donny-boy?  At some point, he might actually want Ivanka for himself...  I feel like I should be writing this in either Greek or iambic pentameter.  I don't know Greek and my poetry sucks.  Sorry.

There once was a douchebag from Queens
Whose friends went and spilled all the beans...

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

Many possible meanings.  There is a high likelihood that I used some version of this old chestnut before including titles and track information in the music posts, but maybe not this version.  Here's Mark O'Connor, Chris Thile, Frank Vignola, Bryan Sutton, Jon Burr & Byron House with "Don't Let The Deal Go Down," from Jam Session.  Chris Thile, in addition to being one of the great musical geniuses of our era (not at all hyperbole-- he won a MacArthur, and I think the IBMA passed a rule that he wasn't allowed to win the Mandolinist of the Year award anymore, just to make it fair to the rest of the field), is the current host of Prairie Home Companion.  Hopefully, he is less of a shitbag than Garrison Keillor, who is among the latest caught for sexual predation.

Then again, I'd probably still listen to Chris Thile anyway.  I'll probably write more about that, if news slows down.  (Yeah, right...)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Republicans get their way on taxes-- looking back on why

So much news...  I'll get to Flynn tomorrow.

I've been writing a lot about this, and I've gone through my assessments.  I got one significant thing wrong, and a hell of a lot right.  I'll start with the wrong thing.  Bob Corker.  Yup, I was wrong about him.  All along, I have been saying that there is no such thing as a Republican deficit-hawk.  I have been telling you not to believe him, and that he'd vote yes.  He voted no.  He was the one Republican Senator to vote no, after my current favorite person-- Elizabeth MacDonough, The Reaver/Barbarian/Berserker Warrior and arch-nemesis of the GOP-- determined Corker's "deficit trigger" to be in violation of the Byrd rule.  The phrase I kept using for Corker's supposed deficit-hawkery was, "I'll believe it when I see it."

I saw it.  I believe it.  In retirement, a member of Project GOP has a spine.  And a name.  His name is Robert Corker.  Jeff Flake, on the other hand?  Have you seen me mention that invertebrate?  No.  Why not?  After all, he was standing right next to Corker during all of the latter's posturing on the deficit.  Flake voted yes.  What did Flake get?  A promise that there would be some sort of... thing... to... talk... about DACA, and that Flake would be invited to participate in the talks.  And in exchange for that, Flake voted yes.  So, Flake got nothing.  And in exchange, he voted yes.

That much was clear all along.  That's why I never even bothered writing about Flake.

Still, I got Corker wrong.

He just didn't matter.

In the big picture, I've been telling you all along that this thing was likely to pass, and that the GOP was better positioned to pass a tax bill than they were a healthcare bill for the simple, basic reason that the party is unified in their desire to cut taxes.  That is their raison d'etre (damn it, where are those fucking symbols in this text editor?  Yes, I know what goes where...).

Anyway, how were they going to get there without Corker?  They had a margin.  Collins and Murkowski?  Like I kept saying, they were clearly trying to get to yes because they agreed with the concept of the tax cuts.  So, McConnell offered them whatever they wanted.  And they voted yes.  Both of 'em.  The Drama Club?  Ron Johnson got his drama in, and just like I told you, it was nothing.  Rand Paul apparently got his drama in by voting against the initial budget resolution, but didn't feel the need to posture after that.

I'll admit to some minor error in that I expected a bit of silly, empty posturing by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee at the end, and that didn't happen.  They were compliant all along.  I guess McConnell slipped them some catnip.

McCain-- I didn't really make a firm prediction about him.  I kept describing him as fickle because he is, but he didn't matter either.  Once Collins and Murkowski decided to vote yes, McCain was irrelevant.  He could have joined Corker without changing the outcome.

And here's the big one.  Skinny repeal.  The Republicans are repealing the individual mandate.

During the healthcare debate, all along, I was skeptical that they would pass a "repeal-and-replace" plan.  The only thing I really thought could pass?  Skinny repeal.  Here's the link to the post I put up when McConnell proposed "skinny repeal."

In that post, I actually refused to assess the chances of passage because it was too hard.  But, that's different from my general skepticism of everything before that, and then momentum started to build.  It was only McCain's surprise decision to vote against "skinny repeal" that brought it down.

Then, as soon as Republicans introduced "skinny repeal" into the tax bill, I posted this.  Once it got attached to the tax bill, I didn't see what could stop a repeal of the individual mandate.  And here we are.  The Senate just passed a tax bill repealing the individual mandate.

In theory, this thing still has to go through a House-Senate conference committee, and something could still change or collapse, but... no.  This thing is going to pass, and the individual mandate is dead, dead, dead.  The House might even just pass the Senate's bill and skip conference altogether.  That is extremely dangerous, particularly with the cost-sharing subsidies cut off too.  We are entering some really terrifying places in terms of healthcare because of all of the sabotage going on, but that's the subject for more posts later.

So the basic point here is that when a party gets unified control of government, it has at least some capacity to pass its agenda.  The GOP failed on healthcare because they had no agenda.  REPEAL OBAMACARE isn't an agenda.  It's a slogan.  They never had a replacement, and couldn't work anything out.  From the very beginning, I pointed out that the most strategically sound approach would have been piecemeal bills that repealed individual parts so that they could declare victory every month or so without going through the hell of trying to figure out a replacement, which they could never do, given that Obamacare was the Republican alternative to HillaryCare back in the '90s.

They handled that whole thing stupidly.  And it collapsed on them.

Taxes?  Tax-cutting is the central tenet of Republican religion.  The idea that they were going to fail to pass a tax cut was...  It made no sense.  What we did finally have demonstrated was that Republicans actually are willing to raise taxes on people they don't actually like.  The bill does raise taxes on some people.

This is not true tax reform.  This doesn't really simplify the tax code all that much.  Why?  That would have been hard work, and they wrote this idiotic, fucking bill yesterday!  'Cuz committees and hearings are a mug's game, apparently.  It is a corporate tax cut.  Surrounded by other shit to pay for some of the corporate tax cut.

Have you paid attention to the stock market lately?  The S&P 500 is up 18% this year so far.  Long-term, on average, the S&P returns about 8-10%.  Why is the S&P doing so well?  A lot of reasons.  The markets are up across the globe, so you can't attribute all that much to anything within the US, but some portion of this is probably the expectation of tax rates on publicly-traded corporations going down.  Within any given day, we saw the S&P responding to news on the tax bill, after all.  And, this makes sense!  Drop the tax rate from 35 to 20% and corporations make more money.  Valuation goes up, and stock prices should reflect that.  Who benefits from that?

Not the people whose taxes are going up.

I'm not accustomed to writing this.  In 2001, the GOP cut everyone's taxes.  How big of a tax cut you got was determined by how much money you made, and there was an absolutely plausible argument that there was a limit on how much of a tax cut you could get based on how much you were paying at the time.  That argument is gone.  The GOP is raising taxes on individuals to pay for a corporate tax cut.  And not just raising taxes on the rich...

I have written this phrase before, but we are through the looking glass here.  It is no longer quite right to say that tax-cutting is the GOP religion.  Cutting taxes for certain people is the GOP religion.  This wasn't the case in 2001.  There were a lot of complaints that could have been made about that bill, but at least it actually was a tax cut for everyone who paid taxes.

This... isn't!  Holy shit!

There is a term in microeconomics.  The "axiom of revealed preferences."  I can't crawl inside your head to know what you think.  That's not even how it worked in Being John Malkovich.  I can observe your choices and infer your preferences.  The GOP prefers to raise taxes on the middle class if it means cutting corporate taxes.

Since I never really vacillated in my prediction that this would pass, I can't really say I'm surprised, but let's take a moment here and appreciate the holy shit-ness of this.

The Republican Party is raising taxes.  They really are doing this.  They are choosing, plainly, to raise taxes on the middle class in order to pay for corporate tax cuts.

Yup.  Really.  Wow.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

A twofer today.  First up, Caroline Rose, "Time Spent, Money Grow!" from I Will Not Be Afraid.  Then, something that is more on the border of country, blues and rock: JJ Cale, "Lies."  This is actually the first cut from JJ's second album, Really, but the one I found on youtube was from a compilation.  Whatever.  Anyway, this one's for you, Mikey!  Side note:  if JJ sounds familiar, that is because his style was ripped off by a bunch of famous Brits in the '70s, like Clapton and Knopfler.  I wonder what Ralph Waldo Emerson would have said about this kind of thing...

(The American Scholar, anyone?  No?  Just me?... Never mind.)

Friday, December 1, 2017

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

A little on the funk side tonight.  Robert Walter, "Money Shot."  So many interpretations...  Is Flynn's arrest and guilty plea the money shot?  The tax bill?  Um... there's always Harvey Weinstein...

Last minute hiccups, or doom for the GOP's tax bill?

The bloodlust of Elizabeth MacDonough must be slaked!  As she stalks her prey through the halls of the Senate, the scent of fear suffuses the air, and drives her to ever-greater heights of frenzy as the cowering Republicans scurry for cover in any procedural loophole they can find, but the fury of Elizabeth MacDonough cannot be contained!

OK, I'm still obsessed with Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough.  She has struck again.  Bob Corker demanded a "deficit trigger" to pull back the tax cuts if/when they blow up the deficit.  Remember, though, that the GOP is using budget reconciliation so that they don't have to worry about Democratic filibusters.  That means they are subject to the Byrd rule.  Nothing non-budgetary is allowed.  Who makes a ruling about what is and is not budgetary?  The person I love to characterize as some rampaging barbarian, or Reaver, etc.  The Senate parliamentarian-- Elizabeth MacDonough.  I've been having a lot of fun with her because she keeps ripping the GOP's policies to shreds under the Byrd rule.

She strikes again!

Corker's deficit trigger, according to MacDonough, is not Byrd rule-compliant.  Gotta admit-- I did not see that coming.  It had to do with the way the trigger was written, and it was because the trigger was based on economic growth projections in order to incorporate dynamic scoring, but given that, OK.

MacDonough feasted last night.  And now Corker is twitchy about the bill.

What does this mean?

1)  I've been calling bullshit on Corker's deficit-hawkery, and writing that I'll believe it when I see it.  The GOP is now looking for a new way to write the bill to satisfy Corker.  And Corker is still negotiating.  Here's the thing, though.  Corker's initial statement was that he would never vote for any bill that added a penny to the deficit.  Once he starts negotiating on this, I revert to the old joke, and reference only the punchline.  "We've already established that.  We're just haggling about the price."  Corker is just trying to figure out how far he's willing to go breaking that initial promise.  There is no way that any bill the GOP puts on the floor will be deficit neutral, and Corker knows it.  If he isn't a firm no, then he's a deficit-faker.  This is just about whether or not McConnell can find a way to let Corker lie to himself, under MacDonough's rules.

2)  This might not even matter because McCain is full of shit.  Remember how McCain cared so much about regular order during the healthcare debate?  Yeah, fuck that shit.  The tax bill has followed the exact same procedure, and he's a yes vote.  Oh, and remember how McCain voted no on "skinny repeal?"  Well, skinny repeal is in here.  Remember how I keep telling you that McCain is a fuckin' faker?  Yeah.  I'm still right about that.

3)  Collins is twitchy, but not a no vote.

4)  Ron Johnson is still being dramatic.  You can still ignore him.  Treat him like a cat.  He's trying to get you to approach him.  But, he really does want to be pet.  If you ignore him, he'll come to you.  He won't sink the bill.  If the bill is going to fail, he was opposed all along, but if the whip count is 50-49 without him, he'll bring the yes-tally up to 50 so that Pence can break the tie.  Ignore the Drama Clubbers when they get dramatic.

Put this together, and what does it all mean?  I'd still put the odds of passage at something relatively high, eventually.  Corker may wind up surprising me and voting no.  The party might just give up on him, and let him be a symbolic no vote this time.  Collins could vote no.  McConnell is throwing every penny he can find at Murkowski.  The party will give anything for a tax cut, and nobody in the party is opposed to the principle of a tax cut.

So, maybe Corker does vote no.  Maybe he is joined by Collins.  Game theory here says that what McConnell should do is follow ole' Bill Riker's advice from A Theory of Political Coalitions.  The basic strategy is the "minimal winning coalition" strategy.  McConnell has a limited pool of resources to divide because of the $1.5 trillion cap.  So, spread it around among as small a group as possible.  That means 50.  If Corker won't play along, fuck him.  Collins gets nervous?  Well, she's always nervous.  Have you heard the sound of her voice?  Back a dump truck of money up to Alaska, just like the Appropriations Committee did all through Ted Stevens's career to buy her off, smack Ron Johnson around a bit (phrasing intentional), remind everyone else that this is a fucking tax cut and they are Republicans and call the damned vote.

Will it still pass?  Probably.  Last I went through the scenarios, I thought Corker was more likely to vote yes than McCain, but hey.  Gain McCain, lose your Corker, and call it a wash.

The odds of passage did go down.  Elizabeth MacDonough struck again!  I didn't see that coming.  Still, that just puts the pressure on McConnell to keep everyone other than Corker in line (and even Corker isn't a definite no vote).  I don't see why he can't do that.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Republican tax bill and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky

Story time!  Gather 'round!

In 1993, the Democrats had unified control of government for the first time since History's Greatest Monster, and they decided to pass the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.  Yup.  Reconciliation.  As in, let's duck a filibuster in the Senate so that we don't have to worry about trying to get any minority party votes, which we won't get.

Anyway, the bill included tax increases, which was why they weren't going to get minority party votes.  When you read about Bill Clinton raising taxes, that's it.  That's the thing.  And, um, funny story.  It passed by a single vote in the House of Representatives.  Her name was Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky.  She was the final vote to pass the 1993 budget.  As she cast her vote, the Republicans taunted her that she wasn't going to stick around much longer.  You see, she represented a very close district, and midterm elections swing against the party of the president.

As it turned out, Margolies-Mezvinsky was one of the Democratic incumbents who lost her seat in the 1994 election, which brought the GOP the House majority for the first time in four decades.  She served a total of one term in the House.  The popular legend is that her vote for the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act was what did her in.  Realistically, she was a vulnerable, first-term Democrat facing a Republican wave in 1994.  She was in trouble anyway, but the vote probably didn't help.  It wasn't a popular vote, and as David Brady, John Cogan, Brian Gaines and Douglas Rivers argued in "The Perils of Presidential Support," (Political Behavior Volume 18, Number 4), Democratic incumbents who were too close to Clinton did fair fare more poorly in 1994.

Post-script for Margolies-Mezvinsky.  Her son married Chelsea.  Crass joke for the morning:  was that vote a dowry?  (I've told way worse than that...)

Anywho, policy actions have consequences.  Sometimes.

The Republicans are poised to pass a tax bill.  I hesitate to call it tax "reform" because, it's a tax cut.  As simplifications go, this thing ain't much of a simplification.  Mostly, it is a corporate tax cut surrounded by a bunch of other stuff intended to keep it within a $1.5 trillion price tag over a 10-year period to stay within the confines of the budget resolution the GOP passed for itself.  It's a tax cut, rather than serious reform.

Still, the odds of passage are very high.

Then what?  Elections aren't governed by Newtonian mechanics.  There's no action-reaction to it.  Nevertheless, the bill is quite unpopular, and understandably so.  It is mind-bogglingly stupid.  But, the dumbest stuff isn't even the most unpopular stuff.

I've ranted before about the insanity of "skinny repeal," so I won't bother again today, but once that goes into effect, there are some potentially disastrous consequences.  Add to that tax increases on middle class voters, and all to play smoke and mirror games.  You want to cut corporate taxes?  Cut corporate taxes.  The GOP started with the notion of a 20% corporate tax rate, and a $1.5 trillion deficit increase over 10 years, without any plan on how to reconcile those two.

Oh, and they are attacking funding for universities, and trying to make tuition waivers taxable.  Obviously, education didn't do these people any good, so why should the taxpayers subsidize anyone else, right?

The basic problem, in accounting terms, is the old compressibility issue of attempting to fit two decapounds of fecal matter into a single container designed to hold only one decapound.  See?  The metric system is easy!  Water is not compressible.  Are tax cuts?  I guess we'll find out!

And all they had to do was just pass a budget resolution with a higher cap on the deficit increase.

Regardless, the problem the GOP is having is that the tradeoffs they are making in order to fit the 20% corporate tax rate into the $1.5 trillion limit are... 20 pounds of shit.  Per capita.  Once "skinny repeal" goes into effect and the individual healthcare markets start going nuts, problems ensue.

Will the GOP face any electoral consequences, the way Margolies-Mezvinsky did?

There are two possible mechanisms:  the health insurance consequences, and the tax consequences.  Each is a big, separate question.  I guess I'll have more to write!  More to come...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Scenarios for failure on the tax bill are now akin to James Comey's last-minute announcement in 2016

One of the books I regularly assign is Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment.  Have you read it yet?  Why not?  Go read it.  This post will still be here.  I reference it enough...

You're back?  Good.  OK, so the basic point for today is the observation that sometimes predictions go wrong because of some random event.  Shit happens.  The philosophy of "radical skepticism" is that there is no point even trying to make predictions because shit just happens and history is one damned thing after another, but fuck those people.  Yes, sometimes history goes off the rails, but there are patterns, and the occasional oddity is a deviation from a pattern.  That's why I like statistical analysis.  It allows you to see that all of those bark-covered plants protruding from the ground are, indeed, a forrest.

Occasionally, though, shit really will happen, and models will make bad predictions even when they usually work.  In the lead-up to the 2016 election, many of us political scientists were looking at two sets of models:  poll-based models, which told us that Clinton would win, and "fundamentals"-based models, which often told us that Trump would win because conditions were such that a generic Republican should beat a generic Democrat, and if we focus on the aggregate set of bark-covered plants protruding from the ground, then we should not overemphasize the shape of any particular chlorophyl-producing protuberance from any one bark-covered plant.  Like most political scientists, I went with the polls, once we had them.  Oops.  I suck.

I did, however, repeatedly reference Tetlock, right here on this very blog!  I asked, what would it take for Clinton to lose?  Some external shock.  That shock happened, less than two weeks before the election, when James Comey decided to "re-open" the investigation into the Clinton email... thing... because of Anthony Weiner.  Of course, nothing came of it, and Comey's announcement was, itself, a violation of DoJ policy, but the polls moved.  Bigly, and by enough to give Trump enough swing states to give him the White House.

Tetlock warns about the "nobody could have seen that coming" phenomenon.  Truly, though, nobody could have seen Comey's announcement coming, and without it, Clinton would have won because the polls moved by enough to shift those states.  This was measurable.

Shit really does happen.  And we need to keep this in mind.

With that in mind, it is now really hard for me to see how the Republican tax bill fails.  They are advancing it to the Senate floor, and I would expect some dramatics, theatrics and vote-counting problems, but in the end, what would it take for them to fail?  Some exogenous shock that I can't imagine.

Yesterday, I listed several groups of potential obstacles.  If you pay attention to what has been happening, everything is falling into place.  I'll take this out of order.

The Drama Club

The scenario for the Drama Club to kill the tax cut bill is for there to be a failure of coordination.  They all have to posture at once.  That hasn't been happening.  Rand Paul postured on the budget resolution itself, but has been relatively supportive since.  Ron Johnson started posturing about the pass-throughs, but he is being glad-handled.  Once he gets his happy ending, Cruz and Lee can find something to whine about, but the fact that they are doing it sequentially solves the coordination problem.  Nobody in the Drama Club can share the stage, so they take turns giving monologues.  Problem solved.

The deficit-whiners

As I wrote yesterday, there is no such thing as a true deficit-hawk in the GOP.  Once Bob Dole adopted a flat tax proposal for his 1996 presidential campaign, that was it.  Their last goose was cooked, to keep with the bird references.  So, what will Corker do?  His current stunt is some nonsense about a "trigger" that will automatically raise taxes again if the deficit gets too high, even though that trigger would never be allowed to go into effect.  Will this get written into the final bill?

That doesn't matter.  What matters is that it shows Corker wants to vote for the bill.  He wants to vote yes.  He is trying to talk himself into voting yes.  The substance won't matter.  Remember how he wasn't going to vote for any bill that added a penny to the deficit?  Now, he wants a trigger if the deficit goes up by too much...  Remember that old joke, for which the punchline is, "we've already established that.  We're just haggling about the price?"

Here's an old trick.  If you are trying to decide between two choices, flip a coin.  If it comes up heads and you are unhappy, you go with the choice you assigned to tails.

Corker is a yes vote.  Why?  He's a Republican.  This bill will cut corporate taxes.  Nothing else matters.  Everything else is posturing.

The moderates

Collins and Murkowski.  They are negotiating rather than objecting.  That means they want to vote yes.  That means they'll probably talk themselves into voting yes.  During the healthcare debate, they were raising real, substantive objections to the underlying concept-- benefit cuts.  They didn't want to cut healthcare benefits.  Cutting healthcare benefits was what the GOP was trying to do.  So, Collins and Murkowski weren't on board.

Tax cuts, though?  Does anyone hear them objecting to the concept of a corporate tax cut?  No?  Then everything else is just dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s.

John McCain

Without two other objectors, he doesn't matter.

The big picture

So, how do you get three no-votes?  I don't see it.  Could it happen?  Sure.  Maybe McConnell can't find a way to keep Corker happy on some phony "trigger" scheme that doesn't alienate the Drama Club, and Collins gets nervous about somethingorother.  Add in McCain, and this falls apart, but I really struggle to put together any such scenario.  One objector?  Sure.  Why not?  McCain can be obstinate.  Two?  OK, McCain and Collins, or Collins and Murkowski, or... yeah, I can put together pairs.  Three?  That's where I really struggle.

Collins and Murkowski, plus McCain?  Possible, but we aren't seeing real objections from either Collins or Murkowski to the concept of a corporate tax cut, so I don't buy it.  Maybe McConnell loses one, but both?  Plus McCain?  That's getting harder to see.  If both Collins and Murkowski are negotiating to get to yes, it means they want to vote yes.  They are behaving differently than they did before the healthcare vote.  Much differently.  Corker?  Like I keep saying, true deficit-hawkery in the GOP died off long ago.  I ignore everything he says, just like I do for the Drama Club.

What would it take for me to be wrong here?  I could be wrong about Corker.  I don't think I am, but I could be.  It would be the first sign of true deficit-hawkery in the GOP in more than two decades.  Or, Collins and Murkowski could start getting twitchy.  I just don't see it, though.  There would have to be some external cause for that because they are currently acting like they want to vote yes.  That wasn't the case for healthcare.

I've been saying all along that this was different from healthcare.  And it is.

Oh, and have you heard anything about pressure to get rid of the individual mandate-repeal?  No?  Me neither.  The individual mandate is probably toast.  Like I said, the moment it was introduced into the Senate tax bill.

Could they fail?  It's possible, but I have a hard time seeing how at this point.  Somebody would have to introduce a new objection that we haven't heard so far because everything so far... McConnell can do this.  There aren't all that many IQ points in the GOP right now, but they are pretty much all concentrated in McConnell's skull.  (That's why the hardcore conservative activist types hate him so much.  They can't stand smart people!)

Hey, watch me not write about Trump still challenging Obama's birth certificate and telling people that the "pussy" tape is fake!  (Although I'll probably break down and write about that over the weekend.  We'll see...)