Friday, March 31, 2017

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

Why real tax reform won't happen anyway

Yesterday, I posted a non-ideological, technocratic case for true tax reform, meaning the revenue-neutral simplification of the tax code.  Supposedly, this is next on the Republican agenda.  It won't happen.  The basic political reason is that most of the complexities in the tax code are benefits for someone rather than costs.  They are mostly deductions and credits, not penalties.  And here is an iron law of politics (and psychology) for you:  people will fight much harder to preserve a benefit they currently have than they ever would have fought to get it created in the first place.

The simplest tax code is either a flat tax, or a progressive tax with no deductions.  Wait, do I mean no deductions, even for charitable contributions?!  Yes, that's what I mean, and you begin to see my point about why tax reform is hard.  Some complexity will be preserved.  The political question becomes this:  which complexities get preserved?  Some deductions are just too politically popular to eliminate.  Consider the home mortgage deduction.  Take that away and plenty of homeowners will complain.  But, does it serve a valuable economic purpose?  That is more questionable, particularly after an economic collapse caused, at least to some extent, by too many people buying houses they couldn't afford.

Then there are the less popular but more economically important complexities, like the tax benefits for long-term investments.  Capital gains are taxed at lower rates if you hold an asset for longer than a year.  So, buy some stocks, hold them for longer than a year, sell them, and you pay a pretty low tax rate on what you make in profit.  To a lot of people, particularly on the money-hating left, this sounds horrible, but not only does it encourage investment, it encourages a healthier form of investment than the high-frequency traders who cause a lot of the real problems in the market.  This is one of those attempts to create market distortions that are beneficial, even if you need to understand some economics to see how.

The problem for debating tax reform, then, is about how to decide which complexities to keep.  That's hard, and every group getting a benefit thinks that theirs is critical.  Everybody in Congress represents different kinds of groups.  When they are unable to agree on whose benefits are kept, what happens?

Congress defaults to minor changes at best to the existing tax code, which retains its complexity.

Doing tax reform requires making tradeoffs.  You can't give everyone everything.  Keeping it revenue-neutral so that it is tax reform, and thus won't add to the deficit, and thus remains eligible for "budget reconciliation" rules in the Senate and cannot be filibustered, requires making tradeoffs.

The whole point of the House Freedom Caucus is that they don't accept the concept of making tradeoffs.  They want everything.  No compromise.  Not on anything.  Not ever.  That means they don't want revenue-neutral changes to tax policy.  They want to change the tax code in a way that lowers rates.  That would add to the deficit, make the bill ineligible for reconciliation rules in the Senate while guaranteeing Democratic opposition and a filibuster, and guaranteeing failure.

Tax reform is about making tradeoffs.  The House Freedom Caucus won't let the party make tradeoffs.  The last Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, Dave Camp, tried to propose a tax reform package on his way out of town.  They laughed at him.  This won't happen.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The case for true tax reform

Supposedly, the next real issue the GOP will take up is tax reform.  Tax reform-- real tax reform-- won't pass.  But there is a case for it.  Here it is.

First, let's define our terms.  Tax reform, separate from tax cutting, means simplifying the tax code, in a revenue-neutral way.  The tax code is littered with loopholes.  Get rid of the loopholes, and you can lower the nominal rates for everyone, keeping the same level of revenue.  Some people's rates go up, some go down, but everything gets more simple.

The tax code is insanely complicated.  That has costs.  We reward and punish people through the tax code.  Sometimes we do so intentionally to reward "good behavior," like giving people tax benefits for charitable contributions, although some of the things that get rewarded as charitable contributions are not exactly feeding homeless children.  Regardless, some of the complexity is there to incentivize the behavior we want to incentivize.  A lot of the complexity, though, is either outdated, or just there to reward one group over another, not to benefit society more broadly, but because somebody in Congress saw an advantage in putting it there (i.e., the company that benefited most was in his district).  When we incentivize charitable contributions, we are distorting the market in a "good" way.  When we give an advantage to Company A over Company B because the tax code has a giveaway that happens to benefit Company A, we are distorting the market in a "bad" way.  Simplifying the tax code can get rid of the bad distortions.

Relatedly, companies have incentives to spend money looking for ways to exploit the tax code rather than, ya' know, R&D etc.  That both draws their resources and drains revenue from the Treasury when they succeed.

In fact, they have to spend a significant chunk of their operating costs on tax compliance given the complexity of the tax code.  That's wasted money that doesn't have to go to waste under a simplified tax code.  Who pays for that?  Ultimately, consumers.

That's the quick version, but there is a lot to be said for a simplified tax code.  Of course, we haven't done tax reform since 1986.  Why not?  Tradeoffs.  We'll get to that, but it won't happen.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Are Republicans really going to try again on healthcare?

Yesterday, I did a reminder post that the GOP always had an easier path on healthcare, and then, throughout the day, we got rumblings that they might try again.  How seriously should you take these rumblings?

Not very.

1)  Remember that a single bill can't happen.  If Ryan's bill, with all of the concessions that he and Trump made to the Freedom Caucus still couldn't get through the House, then there is nothing that could get both the support of the hardliners in the House and the Senate moderates.  That means nothing can pass in a single bill.  Piecemeal measures?  Sure, but a single replacement?  Nope, and since there are more than two votes against repeal in the Senate without a simultaneous replacement, this can't be done in a single bill.  This is all posturing.

2)  The GOP can't be seen to give up after just a few weeks.  That was one of the many stupid aspects of this process.  Being the party that fights the never-ending fight against Obamacare doesn't work if you have a plan that is revealed to be an utter failure in a few weeks.  Send a few measures to committees.  Have lots of hearings.  That's what they should have done in the first place.  Drag it out.  If the point is the fight, Congress is great at dragging things out interminably.

3)  The committees should have had a say in this from the beginning anyway.  That is where negotiations take place, where the hardliners could duke it out with the moderates, and where they could have figured out from the beginning that a single bill wasn't going to work.  Committees are still where they can figure out what can pass.

4)  Parties are supposed to make sure that the only stuff that gets anywhere near the floor is the stuff that unifies the majority against the minority.  How?  You have to know what your party will support.  In advance.  The committee system, the whip system, all of these can be tools of party leadership, in the right hands.  Paul Ryan has never governed before.  As a condition for accepting the speakership, Boehner had to raise the debt ceiling first so that Ryan wouldn't have any real work to do before the 2016 election.  In the past, I have recommended that everyone read Richard Fenno's Learning to Govern.  It is about the mess after the GOP took control after the 1994 election, unexpectedly.  Nobody knew what they were doing because nobody in the GOP had ever been in the majority, it having been 40 years since the GOP controlled the House.  At least Paul Ryan isn't quite as stupid as Newt Gingrich.  Low bar, but still...  I expect him to get better.

What does all of this mean for healthcare?  In all likelihood, occasional posturing.  Maybe a few small measures.  A real repeal-and-replace?  Fuck no.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Remember that the Republicans always had an easier option on Obamacare, and still do

Amid the flaming wreckage of their repeal-and-replace fantasies, it is worth remembering that there was always an easier way.  From the beginning of this mess, I pointed out that the easiest thing for Republicans to do was as follows:  piecemeal repeal of the easiest provisions to eliminate.

Begin with the employer mandate.  The employer mandate requires any employer with over 50 employers to provide health insurance.  It creates a threshold problem.  Hiring the 50th employee can dramatically raise the cost of doing business.  How big a problem is that for the economy over-all?  Not a 'yuge' one, but it does create perverse incentives.  Besides, the vast majority of employers over 50 provide insurance anyway.  Get rid of it in one small, separate bill.  Will the Freedom Caucus really oppose that?  Not likely.  It is deregulation.

Next, get rid of the medical device tax.  It's a tax cut.  The Freedom Caucus can't oppose a tax cut, nor can anyone in the Republican Party.  In fact, you'll get some Democrats on board for both of these.

After that, things get more obscure, but the point is to do a sequence of repeal votes.  My original proposition was that the best way to handle the GOP's repeal dilemma was with a series of repeal votes of ever-decreasing magnitude because trying to do an actual repeal just wouldn't work.  Repeal failed.  The small-bore measures can still happen.  What is stopping or will stop them at this point?

Humiliation.

Unless pressure builds because they need to do something.

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

No theme today.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The difference between political and business deal-making

Donald Trump was never the master businessman that he always claims to be.  The analogy I have made on many occasions is that he is to business as Hulk Hogan is to martial arts-- great at bragging about how great he is at it, made even more perfect by his association with professional wrestling.  Trump failed to "close the deal" on healthcare because he ran into one of the biggest differences between deal-making in business and deal-making in politics.

In business, Trump could close a deal one at a time.  X for Y, one on one.  He was never the best at it, but he wasn't the worst either.  The thing about business deals is that the impact of one deal on another is minimal.  If I invest in you, I have less to invest somewhere else, but another business endeavor isn't likely to turn down my money just because I invested with you.  Spill-over effects just aren't that big.  This is part of why Trump thinks that he can handle everything with bilateral negotiations.  We have seen this in his desire to work out trade deals bilaterally, and his desire to handle Obamacare replacement negotiations person-by-person.

The problem is that politics don't work that way.  This is where we see the real value of something like "the spatial model," where we put policies and legislators along a line from left to right.  Within the Republican Party, on the left, we have Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.  Without them on board, the Senate Republicans would have had precisely 50 votes, with Pence casting the tie-breaker.  They would have had no extra votes to spare.  But, there were more Republicans nervous about how far to the right the Obamacare replacement bill had moved, including some in the House.  On the right, far, far, far to the right, there was the House Freedom Caucus.

Any change Trump tried to make that moved policy to the right, to satisfy the Freedom Caucus, made the moderates even less willing to support the replacement, and any move to the left to satisfy the moderates lost the Freedom Caucus.  Trump kept trying to make incremental changes to get the Freedom Caucus on board, but what Paul Ryan realized was that there was no way to get a majority, period.  Why?  Because any bill that would have satisfied the Freedom Caucus would have been unpalatable to the moderates (and couldn't have gotten through Senate reconciliation rules anyway), and any move to the left lost the Freedom Caucus.

Could any negotiation have solved this?  Perhaps not, but it certainly couldn't have been done one-on-one, the way Trump wants, and the way business deals work.  Politics don't work that way.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Donald Trump: Carter or Nixon?

During the campaign, I wrote regularly that if Trump ever got elected, he would be Jimmy Carter on domestic policy.  As an outsider with no connections to his own party and poor relations with those in DC, his agenda would be stymied-- a point I derived from Consequences of Party Reform, by Nelson W. Polsby (my grad school advisor).  So far, his first major agenda item has gone down in acrimonious flames.  So, Carter, right?

The vote didn't actually happen because Paul Ryan followed regular congressional norms and canceled the vote to avoid a) the embarrassment of losing formally, b) the formally split party, and c) forcing anyone to cast a vote that they might not have wanted to cast.  Ryan will not go down in history as one of the greatest Speakers ever, but he isn't a complete moron.  But, the most stunning/not-stunning leak recently is from this New York Times piece indicating that Bannon wanted a vote to happen so that there would be a tally of no-voters for Trump's enemies list.  This isn't how Carter operated.  It is how Nixon operated.  Or, rather, it is dumber than how Nixon operated.  Nixon didn't try to force votes in Congress that he couldn't win just to get an enemies list.  He could keep a tally based on private negotiations of who wouldn't be on board, if so inclined.  This kind of tactic is a level of stupidity and douchiness that Nixon knew not to use.  Ryan didn't do it, and Trump was talked out of trying to force the issue, but it does raise a point.  Trump isn't Carter.  He has the same positional weaknesses as Carter-- he is an outsider with no connections to his own national party, and poor relations with those in it.  However, his self-destructive, paranoid, vindictive streak is even worse than Nixon's, and Bannon is there to fan the flames.

Nixon actually accomplished a lot on domestic policy, but he did so by working with the Democratic congressional majority.  He wasn't an ideologue.  Trump isn't an ideologue either.  However, he can't work with the Freedom Caucus because no one can work with the Freedom Caucus, and he has dug himself in to the extent that it will be hard to work with Democrats.  He doesn't back down or admit error, and his rhetoric has alienated them to an extent that makes bipartisanship highly improbable.  And even if he wanted to work with them legislatively, the Republican House majority would block consideration of Democratic bills (at least through 2018), so Trump can't work with Democrats no matter what.

During the campaign, I wrote a lot about how Trump would be as ineffectual as Carter on domestic policy.  It is actually a fascinating combination of the worst traits of Carter and Nixon that combine to make up Trump.

Now he thinks he'll do tax reform.  Yeah, that'll happen...

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

Lousy song, great rendition.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why repeal-and-replace failed

The other day, I posted that the incentives were set up for Paul Ryan to pass something.  He had to stop the vote to avoid losing.  What happened?

With respect to Thursday's post on strategic incentives, there are two possibilities:  strategic mistakes, or I missed something.  I'm going with some of both.

First, my mistake.  What I didn't factor into the incentive structure was as follows.  It was pretty clear as of Thursday that nothing would be signed into law, and that was part of my reasoning.  Passing something in the House, then, just would have dragged out a doomed process.  Better to end it fast.  I didn't factor that in, and I should have, so that was where I went wrong in assessing everyone's strategic incentives.

As for strategic mistakes, um... [cough, cough] Freedom Caucus.  These are the people who drove John Boehner from office, and can't take yes for an answer.  As I wrote repeatedly earlier in the process, if the Republicans were a normal party, once Susan Collins introduced her bill with Bill Cassidy, that would have been it.  They would have run the show, the way Max Baucus did on the ACA in 2010.  But, the Freedom Caucus has an all-or-nothing mentality that prevents them from accepting... damn near anything.  They are not, in any reasonable sense, strategic actors because they don't actually select actions based on the consequences of those actions.  They select actions based on how they perceive the purity of those actions.  They would rather save Obamacare through inaction than vote for anything that isn't their absolute perfect ideal policy.  They are even dumber than Donald J Fucking Trump.  Yes, let this sink in.  Donald Trump understood the basic strategic point that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  The Freedom Caucus can't grasp that point.  Compared to the Freedom Caucus, Donald Trump is the voice of reason.

Remember, though, that this was always going to be a hard slog.  Prior to Trump's surprise victory, here is what I had been telling everyone.  Once the Supreme Court ruled and Obama won in 2012, I thought Obamacare was here to stay.  It is not politically feasible to take financial benefits away from millions of people, and that's what a repeal would have been.  Ted Cruz understood this when he pushed for the 2013 shutdown.  The subsidies and Medicaid expansion kicked in the following year, so he knew that the last chance, which wasn't really a chance, was to block them before they kicked in.  That's why he pushed the shutdown.  It was a scam because the shutdown was a doomed scheme to make establishment Republicans look bad when they caved, but Cruz understood the politics.  He knew that you couldn't take benefits away once they kicked in.

I started to question things when Trump won.  Perhaps Republicans might interpret Trump's victory as a sign that they could brazen anything out.  After all, the guy brags about sexual assault, lusts after his own daughter, makes fun of a disabled reporter, etc., and he still won by just never giving an inch on anything.  Not that he has so much as an inch, but, ya' know.  The point is that Trump won even though he broke all of the rules.  Perhaps, I commented here, that would convince Republicans they could rescind benefits and get away with it.  Just look at what Trump got away with doing...

As it turned out, no.  Social Security.  Medicare.  Medicaid.  Obamacare.  (Cash assistance to the poor in the form of AFDC/TANF or unemployment benefits were never large or consistent).  There have been four major programs created to provide financial benefits to large segments of the population.  Despite regular dreams and attempts to scale them back by conservatives, none have ever been repealed or significantly curtailed.  That record remains unbroken.  Why?  Because it is too dangerous to take away financial benefits.  There are plenty of House and Senate Republicans who would repeal Obamacare, but there are enough who wouldn't to stop the party.  Somehow, that's always true.  George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security in 2005.  Whatever happened to that plan?  Oh, right.  You see my point.

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

How perfect is this?!  See, cuz' Ryan stopped the vote twice.  Huh?  Huh?!  Fuck.

Friday, March 24, 2017

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

Trump and idle threats

And there's this little gem:  Trump has told congressional Republicans that if the House doesn't pass an Obamacare repeal today...



That's right.  If the House doesn't pass a repeal today, Trump is done with healthcare, and Obamacare stays.  Does anyone believe that if the House passed Trump's ideal plan, whatever that might be (if such a thing even existed) on Monday, and the Senate passed it on Tuesday, that Trump would veto it?

No.

This is an idle threat.

I've talked a lot about idle threats and whether or not Trump is crazy enough to make a threat credible when no sane person could make it credible.  No, even Trump can't make this a credible threat.  It's just bullshit.  Why is Trump doing it?

Quite simply, if the House can't pass anything today, it will be a clear demonstration that Republicans can't pass anything across chambers, and rather than have it be a display of Trump's... impotence, he wants it to look like he is carrying out a threat.  By failing.

Sean Spicer says a true thing

The White House Press Secretary says a true thing, and it's actual news.  That's our world.

In yesterday's press briefing, Spicer said this:  "You've taken a bunch of these free votes when it didn't matter because you didn't have a Republican President.  And you got to vote for repeal and go back and tell your constituents something like 50 times-- well this is a live ball now."

Yeah, that pretty much sums up why it's harder now.  Reference time:  David Mayhew's Congress: The Electoral Connection.  Mayhew asks, what if Members of Congress cared exclusively about reelection.  They would engage in three types of activities:  advertising, credit-claiming and position-taking.  That last one is what all those pointless Obamacare repeal votes under Obama's administration were about.  Republicans knew that nothing would come of those votes.  They were just showing their base how much they hated Obamacare.

Now that shit is real, it's a lot harder.  The Freedom Caucus used to be willing to vote for partial measures because they would vote for anything that was at all anti-Obamacare, and the moderates didn't have to worry about consequences.  Now?  The Freedom Caucus has dug in and the moderates suddenly care about the consequences of their votes.

Governing is harder than position-taking.

We'll see if they can pull it off today.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strategic incentives in the House on Trumpcare/Ryancare/whatevercare

Today there may be a vote on some kind of Obamacare replacement in the House.  If Ryan is smart, and he doesn't have the votes, he'll cancel or postpone the vote.  Will he have the votes?  He should.  That comes down to everyone's strategic incentives.

The basic point is that the probability that anything gets signed into law right now looks pretty low, and if anything does, it has to get watered down a lot to get through the Senate.  Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy, Portman and the rest won't let anything even remotely like the old House version get through the Senate, and the House bill has already moved right.  So, one of two things is the case:  everything going on in the House right now is silly posturing over a bill that won't get signed into law, or everything going on in the House right now is silly posturing over a bill that will get moved in the opposite direction.  Let's consider each possibility for the two sets of possible "no" voters in the GOP (assuming that mainline GOPers just vote "yes").

House moderates

Suppose the bill is just dead on arrival in the Senate, and like the Monty Python parrot, ain't comin' back.  In that case, the moderates don't need to worry about whether the bill goes too far for them because it won't be enacted.  They just need to worry about a) primary challenges (which are kind of a bullshit concern, but they think they need to worry), and more importantly, b) threats of punishment from leadership.  So, just vote for the damned bill.  In the alternative, meaning that the Senate will move the bill in the opposite direction, then it doesn't matter if the House version is batshit crazy because the Senate will do its job.  Just vote for the damned bill.  Either way, vote yes.

Hardliners

If the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, then the point is merely to beat Paul Ryan into submission, making demand after demand that he is forced to meet, and then having someone to blame for failure.  If the Senate is the chamber that votes no, then you get to blame the Senate for failure while treating Paul Ryan the way Donald Trump treats women, thereby feeling bigly about yourself.  Hardliners just need a) lots of concessions, which they've gotten, and b) someone to blame, and as long as they can blame the Senate, they might as well vote yes, and call it another Obamacare repeal vote.  Things only get complicated when they are forced to deal with a reconciled bill brought left by the Senate in the case that the Senate will pass some version, but just a much more moderate version.  But, we aren't there yet.  Right now, the simple thing to do is to vote yes, having already smacked Paul Ryan around.

What happens today?  I don't know.  Most of the time, over the long haul, the House majority party gets its way.  This is Paul Ryan's first big test.  If he passes, I'll be at least somewhat impressed, but as I said here, the incentives are on his side.  The Senate, though?  I said this to my classes yesterday, and I'll say it here.  I regularly praise both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner as remarkable and brilliant legislative leaders.  The Senate is currently scheduled to vote on an Obamacare replacement next week.  If McConnell can pull off a yes vote, next week, then move over Boehner and Pelosi.  There will be a new master before whom we must all bow down.  Republicans might pull this off, but to get it done next week?!  That would be one of the most impressive political feats I've seen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why the Gorsuch hearings are the most intolerable confirmation hearings ever

Yes, I mean that.

You may have picked up on this, but I'm kind of a misanthrope.  In particular, I really hate pretense, and no Supreme Court confirmation hearing has ever been more filled with pretense than the Gorsuch hearings.

Social science buzzword:  the "attitudinal" model.  This is the model of Supreme Court decision-making in which justices (we call Supreme Court judges "justices" rather than regular, old judges) are basically politicians with normal ideologies, but silly costumes.  They gussy up their liberalism and conservatism in obscuring language to pretend that they have "judicial philosophies" rather than conventional ideologies, but that's all bullshit according to the attitudinal model.

How's the empirical evidence on the attitudinal model?  Mixed.  It is hard to evaluate because most of the cases that the SCOTUS (great acronym, right?) deals with don't address issues of liberalism and conservatism.  Then there are the other complications.  If someone isn't a pure liberal or pure conservative, does that mean they aren't ideological at all?  So, when Scalia pissed off conservatives on criminal justice issues, like on 4th Amendment cases, is that because he wasn't an ideologue, or because he was just mostly conservative, but weird on some stuff like the 4th Amendment, flag-burning, etc.?  One of the key lessons from Philip Converse's 1964 piece, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics" is that ideology is about constraint-- to hold an ideology is to be constrained to hold that ideology's opinions across a range of issues, but neither liberalism nor conservatism can be reduced to purely logical constraint.  Buchler's corollary:  if you hold exclusively liberal or exclusively conservative beliefs, you aren't thinking logically.  So, maybe justices are kind of ideological, but in weird-ish ways.

So, there's a debate about the "attitudinal" model.

But every Senate Republican believed that Scalia was basically a conservative, and that any nominee by a Republican president (even Trump) would basically be a conservative.  They are all attitudinalists.  That's why they refused to consider any Obama nominee, including Garland, even though Hatch had previously said that Garland could be confirmed.  They held the seat open for what they, at least, believed, would be a conservative.

Yet, the confirmation hearings for Gorsuch, like every confirmation hearing since Robert Bork, must at least follow the pretense that Gorsuch has no personal beliefs, or at least none that would influence his rulings.  And of course, the Republicans in the Senate pretend to believe this absolutely.

If they believed this, Gorsuch wouldn't be sitting there.

I hate pretense.  Whether you believe the attitudinal model or not, this wouldn't be happening unless the Senate Republicans believed the attitudinal model.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Freedom Caucus loves Obamacare

The House Freedom Caucus continues to demand that Paul Ryan move the Obamacare replacement bill to the right, and even after recent changes, they still say it isn't enough.  In doing so, they doom the bill to failure in the Senate, leaving Obamacare in place, as I have been explaining.  Thus, the House Freedom Caucus loves Obamacare.

The most fascinating thing about the House Freedom Caucus, their tea party antecedents, and the conservative movement in general, is what looks like a refusal to think strategically.  What is going on here is best explained by John Gilmour's Strategic Disagreement.  The basic issue in the book is the strategic question of whether or not it is better to settle for a compromise when there may be the promise of getting one's ideal later.  The problem is that one may be mistaken about the likelihood of total victory later, and the Freedom Caucus is certainly mistaken if they believe that here.  It is also worth noting that Gilmour was concerned with disagreement between rather than within parties, but the Republican Party has faced a level of internecine warfare that really wasn't the subject of Gilmour's text.

The Freedom Caucus:  the best friends Obamacare could have, thanks to a stupidity-driven civil war in the Republican Party.

Somewhere on a golf course, John Boehner is laughing instead of crying today.

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

Apparently, the allies we're pissing off now are the Germans.  That always goes over well...  Incidentally, sometimes I like weird music.  Weirder music.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Who takes the blame if Obamacare repeal fails?

I've been saying a couple of things all along here:  repeal is far from certain, and somebody will take the blame if it doesn't happen.  Most recently, though, I was assuming that blame would fall on Paul Ryan.  When the Freedom Caucus, spurred on by Ted Cruz, forced Speaker Boehner to shut down the government in 2013 based on the false premise that they could force Obama to defund Obamacare, that led directly to Boehner's downfall.  I was starting to suspect that Obamacare would claim the next Speaker's hide too.

Trump, though, must be the center of everything, and here is where we see a critical difference between how Trump is attempting to manage healthcare and how Obama did.  Obama didn't actually do much until the end of the process.  He made a few public statements at what he thought where critical junctures.  What he did early in the process was move the bill to the center, alienating liberals by, for example, stating his willingness to abandon "the public option" (a government-run plan that would compete with private plans on the exchanges).  Other than that, he waited until he needed to sway a few votes, most notably Dennis Kucinich's, which he got by offering the little twerp a ride on Air Force One.  What Obama didn't do was negotiate the specifics of the bill.

That's what Trump is now trying to do.  By doing that, Trump is taking on a more central role, arguably, than Ryan, and if this thing fails, that may take the heat off Ryan because it will be Trump-- the deal-maker-- who failed, not Ryan.  Voters are inclined to place outsized importance on the presidency anyway since the president tends to be the most visible figure in the system even when the president isn't Trump.  Add to that a president who wants to be the center, and who makes himself the central figure in the process, and Ryan may be spared the wrath of the Freedom Caucus and conservative activists because he can blame Trump for screwing this up.

If it doesn't happen.  If it does happen, then it's kind of a money-where-your-mouth-is thing.

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



Side note: For all those claiming that Johnny B. Goode will be the first rock n' roll song aliens hear because it is on Voyager, um, doesn't that depend on either where they are, or their direction of approach?  Just sayin'...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What to watch for in Obamacare this week

There may or may not be a vote in the House this week.  Look for a Goldilocks-level of difficulty.  It can't be too easy, and it can't be too difficult.

The House is never as challenging as the Senate.  The Republicans have a bigger margin for error in the House, numerically, and fewer moderates, which is to say, basically none.  In the Senate, they can only lose two votes, and they have Collins and Murkowski tugging them leftward.  Collins and Cassidy cosponsored a more moderate bill, so count them as three collectively, and then you have the four signatories of that letter demanding a reduction of those Medicaid cuts.  That's seven Senators whose positions seem less hard-line than the House.

Then, you have basic Senate rules.  The Republicans are doing this through "budget reconciliation," which means that nothing included in the bill can be non-budgetary.  Some of what's in the bill may have problems with the Senate parliamentarian, like the provision that insurers jack up their rates on anyone who has a lapse in coverage, since that doesn't directly touch either taxes or outlays.

The Senate is always more difficult.  So, if the Republicans have too hard a time in the House this week, then things are looking really bleak for a repeal of Obamacare.  So here's where things get really fun.  If Ryan is smart, and things get challenging, he'll delay or cancel a vote.  If his whip count comes in and he doesn't have a majority, the last thing he wants is to "get rolled" (Congress jargon for what happens when the majority party's formal position loses on the floor).  That rarely happens.  Why?  Partially, a smart Speaker won't hold a vote if he thinks he'll get rolled.  If the vote gets delayed or canceled, shit is getting bleak for Ryancare/Trumpcare/whatevercare.

But remember I said something about a Goldilocks-level of difficulty...

What about "too easy?"  Well, if the vote is too easy, that means everyone knows this is theater, and they're just passing something symbolic.  So, Ryan makes a bunch of concessions to the Freedom Caucus, puts the bill on the floor, they get maybe a couple of defections from, say Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the others who pass for moderates in today's House, and call it a day, knowing that Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy and a few others will kill the whole thing in the Senate anyway, so they go home and relax.

This is only serious policy-making if it is difficult, but not too difficult.  How difficult is that?  I... don't know.  Honestly, the Senate is the real battleground anyway, which I've been saying all along (I'm pretty sure).  I'm just making two points:  If they can't even manage this in the House, then they can't get it together in the Senate, and if they aren't taking it seriously in the House, they probably think it's a lost cause in the Senate.

This should be a fun week.

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Facts, inferences, and journalism when discussing Trump's bullshit

Nonpartisan journalists operate on the model that they limit their reports, to the degree possible, to what they think are verifiable facts.  How do they verify facts?  Documents, video evidence, etc.  So, when Trump claimed that Obama wiretapped him, in the absence of contrary evidence, most nonpartisan journalists were unwilling to simply call bullshit.  Why?  Because in theory, there could be evidence somewhere.*  Hence, the claim could be true, Trump could have evidence, and he might not be a total fucking liar.  I'd tell you to stop laughing, but no, go ahead and laugh.  Anyone who ever took this seriously was a fucking moron, but that has always been true for Trump's lies, which I have analogized to the Nigerian Prince scam (see here and here).**

The problem with applying the verifiable-facts-only model in the case of the wiretapping claim is that we know exactly how it came about.  Radio wacko Mark Levin first came up with it, and from there, it spread to... Breitbart!  From there, it was a straight shot to Trump himself.  We also know that Trump does not take regular intelligence briefings because "I'm, like, a really smart person," and that he hates the intelligence agencies because they tell him things like, oh, say, Russia hacked the DNC in order to interfere in the election to put him in office.  That's why, when pressed for his sources on the claim, he cites, not briefings from intelligence agencies, but Fox News personalities who are dutifully repeating what Trump says because he says it in a perfect circle of terrifying, paranoid lies.

So, do we evaluate the claim based on what we know about the process by which the "information" is transmitted, giving it an essentially zero probability of being true, and thereby treat it as a total fucking lie, or do we treat it as a question mark because it is an unverifiable claim with no evidence?  The facts-only journalistic model says the latter.  My statistician/social scientist brain, updated in Bayesian terms based on Trump's record of lying, giving him zero credibility, says the former.

This is an important point about the gap between how journalists think about evidence and how statistically-minded social scientists assess claims.  I keep thinking in statistical terms.  Yesterday, I wrote about Bayesian assessments of Trump.  Journalists don't, and can't think in those terms, partially because they are conditioned to think in more legalistic terms (you can't convict on probabilities), and partially because, well, journalists generally can't think in mathematical terms anyway.  However, I will always revert to Occam's Razor.  The simplest explanation, when Trump makes a wild claim with no evidence, is that he is full of shit.  Standard journalistic models don't work when the President is a pathological liar.



*  In theory, communism works.  In theory.-- Simpson, H.J.

**  I'll admit that I dragged that series out to stall for time before politics got going again, but there's some good stuff in that series.

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

I haven't used the Drive-By Truckers in a while, and technically, this isn't a DBT song.

Friday, March 17, 2017

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

To everyone still trying to defend Trump's wiretap bullshit...



Post-script:  Dexter Gordon left America for a long time to live in Paris, like a lot of jazz musicians in the '60s.  One of his best and most famous (relatively speaking) albums was "Our Man in Paris."  Of course, the French have their own history of racism, and their taste in jazz should not distract from their fondness for Jerry Lewis.

Two statistical models of Donald Trump's lies

Because everything is about math.  Specifically, Bayesian math today.  Don't worry, I won't be assigning homework, unless you already have homework to do, in which case, get back to work.

Anyway, Bayesian statistics are built on the idea that probabilities are just about how much information we have.  If a coin is covered up, there is a 50% chance that it is "heads," because I just don't know which side is up, and given my information, there is an equal chance of heads or tails, unless I have some reason to believe otherwise.  As I encounter new information, I update my "priors" to incorporate new information.

If you play poker, you use Bayesian updating.  In a game like Texas hold 'em, you estimate the likelihood that you will get a card that you need to complete your hand from a community card at each stage, updating your estimates as each new community card is dealt.  You also have a prior estimate of the likelihood of a hand beating yours based on raw probabilities, and attempt to update those beliefs based on your opponents' bets.  Bayesian updating.

Of course, if you observe a pattern that a player always bluffs, that player is easy to beat, which brings me to the subject of liars.

Trump's wiretapping claim has been pretty thoroughly debunked by now, but the thing is, it was obvious all along that it was bullshit, not just because it was outlandish, but because Trump said it.

Which of the following two conditional statements is more appropriate?

A) Probability(X is true | Trump says X) = Probability(X is true)

B) Probability(X is true | Trump says X) < Probability(X is true)

Um....

Uh....

Yeah.  Hard one, right?  Statement A says that the probability of a statement being true is independent of whether or not Trump says it.  Statement B says that your estimate of a statement's probability of being true goes down when Trump says it because he's such a fucking liar.  And let's keep in mind his PolitiFact scorecard.  (Usual caveats about PolitiFact...)

This is the dude who rose to the presidency by claiming that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and along the way, told such doozies as that Ted Cruz's father killed Kennedy, the Chinese government invented the idea of global warming to inhibit US economic growth, and I could go on, and on, and on, and on, and on.... but I've got real work to do today.  The point is that we have never, in the history of this country, seen a liar as shameless and brazen as Donald Trump.

Now be honest.  Donald Trump makes a statement.  Can you really say that you aren't even a little bit in category B?

Realistically, there is no informational content in Trump's words.  He is an idiot child, and I wrote a post a while back arguing that the proper term for him is actually "bullshitter" rather than "liar" if we take the distinction made by Harry Frankfurt.

Still, there is a lesson here for how we discuss and cover Trump's claims, particularly his outlandish ones.  The closest thing to progress I have seen has been that journalists decided to cover the wiretap claim by pointing out that Trump didn't provide evidence.  True, but what they should have done is also provide context, that context being the number of times in the past that he has made claims like the batshit crazy ones about Ted Cruz's father.  Note how pointing out that one neatly sidesteps the partisan issues of Trump's birtherism.

Trump is the most dishonest politician we have ever seen.  It isn't close.  Still, remember that the correct answer is model A not B.  Trump's wiretap claim was just so obviously insane on its face that his inability to provide credibility meant that we could discount it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Donald Trump and The Art of the Retcon

Yesterday, I subjected you to economics and Fed analysis.  Today, we have fun with comic book lingo.  No, the "con" in "retcon" isn't about con artistry.

"Retcon" is short for "retroactive continuity."  Many popular comic book characters have been around for decades, and their storylines are... inconsistent.  How do the publishers handle this?  Sometimes there are hard reboots, but sometimes they use a little trick called a "retcon."  You know that thing you think you read?  That's not what you read.  That character wasn't who you thought it was.  It was actually an imposter.  Or mind control.  Or... something.  At the time, that wasn't what the writers and publishers meant, but once a new writer is in charge, they change it, retroactively, to get rid of continuity errors.  Hence, "retroactive continuity," or, "retcon."

Remember that thing I said about it not being con artistry?  Never mind.

It pops up all over the place in sci-fi.  In a terrible spin-off of Doctor Who called Torchwood, they invent a drug to make people forget the weird, freaky alien and sci-fi shit they see.  They call the drug "retcon."  The show basically sucked.  That joke was the best part.

Remember Trump?  This is a post about Trump.  A couple of weeks ago, Trump tweeted (of course) that Obama wiretapped him.  Now, unable to produce any evidence (because it was obvious all along that it was bullshit), he and his people are engaged in... retcon!  He didn't mean Obama personally, he meant the executive branch, even though the tweets made it clear that he was talking about Obama personally.  And he didn't mean a technical wiretap of Trump personally, even though that's what he tweeted.  He meant general surveillance of Trump Tower generally.  Retcon.  Why?  Because a deadline passed to provide evidence to Congress of his claims, and he couldn't because it was bullshit.  So, rather than admit it, he and his flacks engaged in retcon.

What is fascinating is that even Rep. Devin Nunes was going along, at least partially, with the retcon.  He soft-pedaled his criticism of Trump by saying that Trump's accusations were only wrong if we take them "literally."

I wonder who Nunes's favorite comic book character is.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Fed will probably raise interest rates today, and that matters more than the Trump partial tax return non-story

Yeah, that non-story last night was a bust.  What matters?  Today, the Fed will probably raise interest rates.  They haven't been doing that a lot lately.  As in, they haven't been doing that much for basically a decade.  You can get the economics story from an economist, but I thought I'd talk about the political science behind the economics.

Basically, the Fed is supposed to lower interest rates when inflation is too high, and raise it when inflation is too low, based on the premise that there is a tradeoff between inflation and unemployment.  What inflation rate are they supposed to target?  The "NAIRU."  It has a really cool jacket.  It stands for "non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment."  What is the NAIRU?  Um... we don't really know.  So, what they actually have is a target rate of inflation of 2%.  How's inflation looking?  Here's the graph going back to just before the Great Recession.



See how we're just shy of 2%, and only barely crossed over the threshold a few years ago?  Funny, that.

Now, I promised something more like political science.  Here it is.  Who has the burden of argument when dealing with a rate hike: those arguing for it or against it?

The Fed will probably raise rates today because the burden of argument has been placed on those arguing against a rate hike.  Rates are lower than their historical norms, and advocates of a rate hike have insisted that rates return to those norms in the absence of a compelling argument to the contrary, like high unemployment.



Nope, not there.  But, if the burden of argument is on those arguing for a rate hike, the burden is on those looking at the inflation numbers, and with inflation below target, there's no reason to hike.

Inflation isn't accelerating, so the Fed isn't targeting the NAIRU, and inflation is below its target, so raising rates before it hits that target runs counter to that goal too.  The Fed is probably raising rates because the burden of argument has been placed on those arguing against the rate hike, and they have been unable to make the case.  This isn't an action taken for the sake of economics.  It is an action taken for the sake of political science.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The CBO projections and liberal/conservative differences in healthcare objectives

Time for some political science references.

CBO says that in the long term, 24 million fewer people would have health insurance under the GOP healthcare proposal, combining the dropped mandate and scaled back subsidies and Medicaid.  To liberals, that's scandalous.  To conservatives, that's the point.  And here is where we get into the distinction I have addressed many times before, coming from Donald Stokes and his 1963 article, "Spatial Models of Party Competition," published in the American Political Science Review.

Stokes distinguished between positional issues and valence issues as follows.  Positional issues are the issues about which voters fundamentally disagree about the objective.  Should abortion be legal or not?  Valence issues are the issues about which voters agree about the objective, but disagree about how to get there.  An example of a valence issue would be a high rate of economic growth.

Healthcare policy is a positional issue, not a valence issue.  Reducing the number of uninsured people through wealth redistribution is a positional preference.  You have to accept the premise that you are having the government stick guns at peoples' heads (usually just implied) to take their money in order to use that money to save lives.  (And mushy-headed, gun-fearing liberals like to pretend those guns aren't involved because they don't see the guns, but that's another issue for me to prod them about...)  That is a moral tradeoff.  Robin Hood-ism.  All policy decisions involve moral tradeoffs.  The liberal position involves something kind of like armed robbery since taxation is backed up by the threat of violence with the government's armaments.  The conservative position involves letting people die because they made the mistake of being born poor, and yes, birth circumstances have a lot of predictive power.  Tradeoffs.  Yes, the Republican bill (Trumpcare, Ryancare, whatever) reduces the number of insured people.  That's because reducing the number of uninsured people without regard to the method is not a valence issue.  It is positional.

The CBO headlines sound bad to liberals, and they won't sound good to anyone paying attention who doesn't have well-formed opinions, although most people don't pay attention, and most people have no clue what the CBO is.  These certainly aren't the headlines Republicans would want if they could choose (which was why they spent so much effort trying to discredit the CBO in advance).  However, the dynamic at work here is a simple one.  Reducing the number of people who receive taxpayer-funded government subsidies is the purpose of the bill.  So, treating the CBO score as though it were a measure of the quality of the bill, based on the premise that the number of people covered was the point-- like it was a valence issue-- misses the point.

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

With the Turkey/Netherlands thing in the news, I thought I'd go with this.  Tev isn't Turkish, but he has an interesting take on Turkish music, among many other styles.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The left-wing information bubble and "Ferguson"

Yes, I put "Ferguson" in quotes.  You'll see why.  Yup, I'm earnin' the blog title today.

Did'ya hear?!  A new tape surfaced!  Before the "robbery!"  This changes everything!!!!  Extra exclamation points!!!!  (I'd go back and re-type that in all-caps, but I'm lazy.  Daylight savings time, and all...)

Every time this topic comes up, I have to link to this, which is the Department of Justice report on the shooting incident.  Very few lefties even know that this document exists.  I'm just going to quote here:
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson.  As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness's own prior statements with no explanation, credible or otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time.  Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media.  Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.
Translation:  the "hands up-don't shoot" story looked sketchy at best to Obama's DoJ.  And it should have been obvious all along that the story was suspicious.  The story was first told publicly by Brown's accomplice in the liquor store incident, and then, only after that happened, did a series of "witnesses" claim to have seen that.  This is precisely when eye witness testimony is least reliable-- when they can influence each other.

However, the story played into the core beliefs of the left.  And the cops really do use excessive force, primarily against African-Americans.  Just ask Eric Garner.  Oh, wait.  You can't.  He can't talk.  Or breathe.  That one was real.

And this is where we get into the basic psychology of ideological beliefs.  If you are committed to a belief, you will filter out evidence against that belief in order to minimize "cognitive dissonance."  People maintain schemas through which they view the world, making it easier to retain information consistent with their world views, but harder to retain information inconsistent with their world views.  The rigidity of their schemata determines the extent to which they experience cognitive dissonance, and their tolerance for cognitive dissonance will determine how they filter information.

There.  Crash course.

The left focuses so heavily on the existence of real racism among the cops (see: Garner, Eric among many others) that they simply do not follow the basic principles of "innocent until proven guilty" when it comes to cops shooting black people.  As soon as the "hands up-don't shoot" story started to circulate, the left committed to it so completely that there was no way to back out of it should the evidence not support them.

And that was a problem.

Remember that DoJ report on the shooting.

The one that the left mostly ignores.

Why?  It can't penetrate the left-wing information bubble.  It's like an investigation showing that Hillary Clinton didn't do anything wrong with regard to Benghazi (there were many such reports).  There's no way they could penetrate the Fox News/right-wing bubble.  The DoJ report doesn't get attention in left-wing media, and if it did, it wouldn't get past lefties' internal filters because it would require a major internal correction.  "Hands up-don't shoot" became a slogan.

"Ferguson" became a slogan.  A one-word slogan representing everything wrong with policing in America.  And a separate report on policing in Ferguson showed real problems, but that doesn't get away from the basic problem that the DoJ investigation showed the left getting snookered.  The Michael Brown story was central to mobilizing people on an issue that is core to the left right now, and that story was not backed up by the DoJ report.

So now, a new tape has surfaced, with Michael Brown walking into the liquor store before the incident.  According to the new story, we have misunderstood the liquor store incident.  It wasn't a robbery.  It was a drug deal gone bad.

Yeah, that'll elevate Brown to sainthood in the eyes of the unconvinced.

Why is the left still poking at this?  There are two varieties of lefties at work here:  those who have read the DoJ report and are still hoping to find vindication somewhere, and those who haven't read it, and just want to poke at things.  I admit to bafflement in some sense.

Anyone still going on about Michael Brown who hasn't read the DoJ report...  read that thing.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The US Attorney firings are normal. Get over it. (Them).

I... don't like Donald Trump.  Perhaps you have noticed.  However, there is an unfortunate tendency for those who live within a partisan or ideological bubble to look for reasons to get outraged at whomever they don't like.  Case in point:  Donald Trump fired a bunch of US Attorneys.  Oh, no!  Cue the outrage!  He's going to staff the DoJ with cronies!

Yes.  Yes, he is.  That's what presidents do.  And since it is just what presidents do, you need to calm down and accept that this is basically just normal politics.

In December of 2006, we saw something rather different from normal politics.  In the middle of George W. Bush's second term, he selectively fired a set of US Attorneys for their failure to prosecute cases of voter fraud.  The Bush administration had told them to go after voter fraud-- a longtime Republican boogeyman-- but since voter fraud doesn't exist on a large scale, and even individual cases are incredibly rare and hard to find, the Attorneys couldn't do it.  So, Bush fired them.  That was more of a violation of norms.

This isn't.  Trump is behaving normally and within the bounds of what presidents are supposed and entitled to do.  Reports have come in that he did it in a disorganized and douche-y way because he's Donald Trump, but focus on substance, not style.  This is normal.

However, it is important to remember the December, 2006 incident.  Voter fraud.  Trump is big on this nonsense.  If he tells people to go after voter fraud, one of two things will happen.  Case 1)  bullshit prosecutions that fall apart, or Case 2) failure to prosecute, and we revisit 2006.  Which do we see?  It depends on who he hires.

But, that's the future.  The firings?  Normal.  Get out of your bubble.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

False promises and Obamacare repeal

After the 2012 election, I began telling people that even if the Republicans won unified control of government, they wouldn't repeal Obamacare.  The Medicaid expansion and subsidies would have kicked in, and repealing it would have meant taking away people's health insurance.  It would be too dangerous, and they wouldn't risk it.  I started wavering on that point when the particular form of unified government included Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump, who may have convinced the party that they can get away with anything if they just brazen it out.

Right now, it looks like the will of the party in the Senate to go through with it is faltering.  The House version doesn't have the support in the Senate, and the Freedom Caucus still thinks it's too squishy.  Of course, Obamacare itself was declared dead enough times that we shouldn't be too hasty in declaring defeat, but the basic point is that the chances of repeal are far from certain.

And who is leveling with the party about this?

Story time.  Back in 2013, we had a government shutdown, and it led to the downfall of John Boehner.  Remember how I said 2012 was the last chance to defeat Obamacare?  That was because the idiots who wrote the bill didn't have the benefits kick in until after the 2012 election.  Complicated budgetary games.  You know who knew that in October 2013 as the fiscal year came to an end?  (Fiscal years run from October to October.  Kind of like academic years, but different.)  Ted Cruz.  So, he decided to use that for his own ends.

You see, the House Freedom Caucus (those would be the people John Boehner used to call the "knuckleheads") are basically a group of people who live up to the worst stereotypes that liberals have of conservatives.  They are the Bernie Sanders-es of the right.  (Yup, I still hate that fuckin' guy).  That also means they are extreeeeeeemly stupid.  So, in 2013, Ted Cruz came along and told them the following lie:  shut down the government by refusing to approve new spending bills, and don't agree to anything until Obama agrees to defund Obamacare.  Really, trust him.  Obama will cave.

Yeah, fuckin' right.

Of course, it didn't work.  The ploy was that Obama would never cave.  Rather, the Freedom Caucus would force Boehner to shut down the government, public opinion would shift against the Republicans, Boehner would be forced to cave, and then Ted Cruz would tell the Freedom Caucus that Boehner sold out the cause, and that if only he had held out a little longer, Obama was just about to cave.  Instead, they should all listen to Ted Cruz, the right and true leader of the conservative movement.  It was all a scam to set up his presidential campaign by sticking a knife in John Boehner's back.

Which was exactly what he did, contributing to Boehner's downfall.

The basic problem was that Ted Cruz, and people like him kept feeding the Freedom Caucus false promises about what could and would be accomplished.  For seven years now, Republicans have been going on about repeal-and-replace.  This may very well fail.  And if it does, someone could take the fall because it has all been a lie.  Chances of a repeal may have ended when Romney lost, and they only even existed then because the Democrats who wrote the bill were stupid enough to delay the start of the benefits.

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

Kinda bluesy, and technically, she's Canadian, but...

Friday, March 10, 2017

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

Some fusion tonight.

Obamacare, and what may be the dumbest nuclear option in the Senate

Before this legislative session got going, I pointed out that if the Republicans really, truly wanted to get rid of Obamacare, they had the following option:  the nuclear option.  They could do exactly what Harry Reid did a few years ago on court nominations below the Supreme Court.  In November, as part of my "The future of the filibuster series," I posted this about how the Republicans might even strategically pretend that the nuclear option isn't there in order to avoid a full repeal if they didn't want to go through with it.

Now, though, the Republicans might find themselves forced into the dumbest nuclear option ever.  They are going through budget reconciliation because budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered.  The House's bill doesn't look very solid in the Senate, to say the least.  This could just be Paul Ryan attempting to show that at least he is trying to do something on Obamacare.  Nevertheless, they are going through the motions, and setting up budget reconciliation.  The problem in the Senate (aside from the fact that more than two Republicans kind of seem to hate the damned thing) is that pesky Byrd rule, which says that non-budgetary provisions aren't kosher in a reconciliation bill.

Of course, everything affects the budget, indirectly if nothing else, but the House bill has at least one really sketchy provision.  Insurers are supposed to jack up your rates by 30% for a lapse in coverage.  Will that indirectly affect the budget?  Sure, but only indirectly.  Like I said, everything has an indirect effect.  Is that enough to justify inclusion in a budget reconciliation bill, or does that mean Democrats can filibuster?

That's up to an appointed specialist called the "parliamentarian."  What if the parliamentarian tells the Republicans they are off their rockers?

Option 1)  Back to the drawing board.

Option 2)  Give up.

Option 3)  Ignore the parliamentarian.

Can they really take option 3?  Yes, they really can.  By majority vote, the Senate Republicans can declare that the Senate parliamentarian is wrong, that any provision they say is budgetary, and that bacon is kosher.  Yes, that is a form of nuclear option.  Yes, that is the dumbest version of the nuclear option because you might as well just declare filibusters off limits formally, because that's what you'd be doing.

And if that's what you are doing, why not just do a full repeal?  The only thing stopping full repeal is the capacity of the Democrats to filibuster, and overruling the parliamentarian on budget reconciliation is basically getting rid of the filibuster anyway because it allows the majority to stop any filibuster they want on legislation by declaring anything they want budgetary.

Like I said, dumbest nuclear option ever, if they go through with it.  Will they?  I don't know.  This whole process is a mess.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What does Paul Ryan think he is accomplishing on Trumpcare?

I guess we're calling it that.  Trump has as much to do with the shape of the current Republican plan as Obama had to do with the ACA, so why not?

Anyway, the Ways & Means Committee acted like college students and pulled an all-nighter to report the bill out of committee, except that they weren't on any real deadline.  (I pulled plenty of all-nighters, but never without reason).  Still, Ryan seems intent on getting something through the House quickly.

The general reason Republicans want to pass any bill quickly, or so you may have read, has to do with budgeting, and changing the baseline spending numbers to make tax cuts easier.  I'll get into that soon enough, and I'll basically call bullshit on it (shocker!), but the bigger issues here are, as I see them:  the Senate and the Freedom Caucus.

The House generally moves faster than the Senate.  That's just the way of things.  The Senate will be the big obstacle anyway, as I keep pointing out.  That almost makes anything Ryan does here meaningless anyway, so in a sense, he might as well just get this done and move on.  There is logic, then, to just shoving a bill through committee, getting a floor vote on something knowing that the Senate will either do something completely different or not at all, thereby making the House irrelevant anyway, so this way, even if the Senate fails to do anything, at least Ryan can put all the blame on them having wasted minimal time and effort.

The catch is the House Freedom Caucus.  Ryan doesn't have to worry about moderates like Collins or Murkowski.  The House doesn't really have Republican moderates.  He does have to worry about the people that John Boehner called "the knuckleheads."  These are the people incapable of  complex strategic thought, and probably incapable of thinking their way out of a wet paper bag.  They would like to repeal not just Obamacare, but all of Medicaid, and what the hell, privatize Medicare and Social Security, cuz' that would go over well with the electorate.  And a lot of conservatives aren't happy with Trumpcare as is.  In case you hadn't heard, Trumpcare has also been called "Obamacare lite," and "Obamacare 2.0."

Figuring out what can get the support of the Freedom Caucus and Susan Collins is haaaaaaaaard.  That's actually the central challenge the Republicans face.  You know what might be a good place to try to start workin' that shit out?  How about a fucking committee?  You know, with real hearings, mark-up, and the whole shebang?

Ryan evidently is not worried about getting the Freedom Caucus on board with his version, or he'd be taking more care.  Maybe he is right.  Maybe the Freedom Caucus is more on board than they have already indicated.  I don't know.  The bill did get through Ways & Means, and there are a few hardcore people on that committee.  Just scanning the roster, Dave Schweikert jumps out at me (his DW-NOMINATE score is .892 on the -1 to +1 scale, putting him just a hair to the right of Ted "I fry my bacon with a machine gun" Cruz).  So, Ryan really might be able to pass Trumpcare through the House.  As I have been saying all along, though, the House isn't the biggest obstacle.  The Senate is.  The Senate is where legislation goes to die.

And plenty of Senators have already said they aren't on board with Trumpcare as is, in which case Ryan may just be going through the motions.  We'll see.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The conservative problem with the "replace" part of "repeal and replace"

The core tenet of conservatism in its modern form is an opposition to taxation for the purpose of redistribution to the poor.  The core purpose of Obamacare was to provide healthcare to people who couldn't otherwise afford it, and the only way to pay for that was through taxation following the Willie Sutton rule.  Willie Sutton was a bank robber.  When asked why he robbed banks, his answer was simple.  That's where the money is.  Why do Democrats want to tax the rich?  That's where the money is.

So, Republicans now find themselves in a rhetorical bind.  For years, they have been promising to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.  The problem is that "replace" indicates dissatisfaction with the pre-Obamacare status quo.  Yet, that system was not one that Republicans, or at least conservative Republicans were eager to change.  Every time Democrats got a chance, they made moves to change the healthcare system, by trying to expand healthcare coverage, at cost to someone.  They failed, until 2010.  The most famous failed attempt was the Clinton attempt during 1993-4, and that should be striking because after 1994, the next time Democrats had unified control of government was... 2009!  So, basically, any time Democrats had a chance, they tried healthcare reform.  They didn't succeed until 2010, which was when they had a big majority in both houses of Congress, and relatively liberal voting blocs in each (all the Southern Dems were gone).

How about unified Republican control?  Well, much of George W. Bush's Presidency was unified.  Did they attempt major healthcare reform?  Um, no.  Other than that, it is a little tough because before W, you have to go back a long way for another unified Republican government.  But, there was Reagan's nearly unified first six years (he had the Senate), and they didn't do bupkis.  Why?  If you oppose redistribution on principle, then why would you have the government intervene to create a welfare program?

Conservatism in its modern form opposes redistribution.  The reason that the Republican Party is struggling with the "replace" part of "repeal and replace" is that they don't want to replace a redistributive policy.  This is a party trapped by its own bullshit rhetoric.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trouble on the road to Obamacare repeal

As I have been telling you, the Obamacare repeal efforts are far from certain.  Just yesterday, my home state Senator, Rob Portman, released a statement along with Lisa Murkowski (about whom I have said much lately), Shelley Moore Capito and Cory Gardner saying that they aren't happy with what they are seeing from the House bill.

If you want policy, go elsewhere.  Come here for the legislative wrangling.  Here's the basic issue.  This letter doesn't even have either Collins or Cassidy as cosignatories-- cosponsors of the main, moderate alternative in the Senate.  Figure, then, that there are not four, but six Senators unhappy with the state of the House bill.  That's plenty to sink any "repeal-and-replace" effort.  The basic problem, as I have been saying all along, is that if you have to please the hardliners in the House, and anyone even remotely moderate in the Senate at the same time, that may not be possible.  If Collins, Cassidy and the cosignatories of this letter can't agree to anything with significant cuts to the Medicaid expansion, and the hardliners in the House can't agree to anything that preserves the Medicaid expansion in anything like its current form, then the result is deadlock.

The irony, of course, is that deadlock reverts to the status quo, which is Obamacare, and only Susan Collins and the Republicans close to her (like maybe Murkowski) find that acceptable.  Translation:  the Republican hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus are being irrational.

This shouldn't be a surprise.  They drove John Boehner from office.  We have seen two truly brilliant Speakers in modern history, ironically back to back:  John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.  Both were astonishingly effective, factoring in their circumstances.  The difference is that Pelosi's caucus allowed her to get things done, whereas Boehner was constantly fighting the idiots in his own caucus.

Now, those same idiots, and a few new ones are working against their own policy preferences.

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

Something Indian today because, well, you know...

Monday, March 6, 2017

Did Donald Trump just pull a Gary Hart?

OK, raise your virtual hand if you know/remember who Gary Hart was?

For the 1988 campaign, he was going to be a top-contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He was also dogged by rumors that he was... clutch those pearls... adulterous!  So, the story goes, (in oversimplified form), he dared reporters to follow him around, claiming that they'd just be bored.  So, they did.  And, somebody caught him on a boat called... "Monkey Business," (seriously) with Donna Rice.  This was back in the days when a plain vanilla, consensual affair was enough to end a political career.  No airport bathroom hook-ups with gay prostitutes, like former Senator Larry "wide stance" Craig.  No dick-pics, like former Representative Anthony "self-fulfilling prophecy" Weiner.  Just a regular, old affair.  It was enough, though, to end Hart's presidential ambitions.  Now, he's just a punchline to a joke too dated to be funny anymore.

Trump is now calling for congressional investigations into Obama supposedly wiretapping him.  What are the odds that Obama actually did it?  If I had to put money down, I'd put them at no higher than the odds of any wild Trump statement being true.  PolitiFact currently scores 16% of Trump's statements as either "mostly true" or "true."  Wanna add in "half true?"  That only brings you up to 30%.  So, if you go by PolitiFact, figure a baseline 70% chance that Trump is at least half full of shit, with only a 16% that he is on the level, going by PolitiFact as a baseline prior probability.

Now, factor in the observation that Comey, the FBI director who intervened in the election to hand the Presidency to Trump, is calling bullshit on Trump's claims, and what are the odds that Trump is just making shit up again?  Higher than the baseline.  So, if there is a baseline 16% chance that Trump is on the level, Comey's statement indicates that on this matter, the chance that Trump is on the level is significantly lower than 16%

On the other hand...

What is the probability that there is something fishy between Trump and Russia that an invited/dared investigation would uncover?  If Congress really did investigate, wouldn't they have to look into whatever was going on with those Russian banks that were supposedly communicating with some computer in Trump Tower?  Wouldn't that lead to further investigations into Trump and Russia?  If there really is more to Trump and Russia, would an investigation uncover it?  Chaffetz and the rest have done their level best to prevent any such investigation, and Trump is now demanding something that might force what Chaffetz has been trying to prevent, for Trump's benefit.

So, Trump could have nothing to hide, and he could be demanding an investigation, like an innocent person who feels threatened and attacked.

Or, he could be pulling a Gary Hart.  The difference, of course, is that consensual affairs aren't treasonous.

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How the "Obama wiretapped me" thing could backfire

Speculating about Trump and his schtick is, quite literally, a fool's errand, but what the hell.  Trump says Obama wiretapped him.  Of course, Trump got his start in politics by spreading insane lies about Obama, and if Obama really did want to mess with him during the campaign, the easier path would have been to find a way to get the IRS to leak his tax returns, but there are really two possibilities:

1)  Obama really did something shady here.  I guess maybe his drones were busy doing things that liberals like to pretend they weren't doing in order to maintain their warm, fuzzy feelings about him.  (Except the ones who found a new love in that dumbass, fucking Vermont commie, as long as I'm ranting.  You remember the title of the blog, right?).

2)  Obama was uninvolved, and whatever was happening was part of a legitimate investigation into ties between the Trump organization and Russia done by civic-minded investigators.

If Possibility 1 is true, there should be evidence somewhere, and Trump, as President, should be able to have his people dig it up and release it.  On the other hand, if Possibility 2 is the case, then in the current, leaky atmosphere, somebody might get pissed off, so to speak, at having their integrity questioned by Trump, and start leaking documents damaging to Trump about why they were seeking FISA approval in the first place, assuming someone was even doing that for anything in Trump Tower.

Does Trump really want to press that?

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

On daring Republicans to vote against Obamacare repeal efforts: Lisa Murkowski

The current "plan" for Republicans and their Obamacare repeal effort seems to be to "dare" Republican legislators to oppose them.  In the House, this may work.  The Senate is a different story.

Remember the key dynamic in the Senate.  At least three Senators have said that they won't support a repeal without a simultaneous replacement:  Collins, Murkowski and Paul, and losing three votes on repeal means they can't even use budget reconciliation for a partial repeal.  Losing three votes on a replacement package means a replacement package fails, and if that fails, the repeal fails because the aforementioned trio votes against repeal.

Let's talk about daring Republicans to vote against repealing Obamacare.  The logic here, such as it is, is that repealing Obamacare is so core to what the Republican Party has become, and so critical to their electoral fortunes, that any Republican who blocks Obamacare repeal is toast.  Primary City, baby.  Population, you!  Is that a credible threat?  Well.......

Let's talk about Senator Lisa Murkowski.  Notice how she is a Senator?  I mean, still a Senator?  She got primaried by a hardcore Tea Party guy named Joe Miller back in 2010, the height of tea party mania.  And by "got primaried," I mean that she fucking lost her primary to Joe Miller.

So, you may ask, how is she still in the Senate?  Well, Lisa Murkowski didn't give up.  She ran as an independent candidate.  But, you see, the deadline to file had already passed, so she had to run a fucking write-in campaign.  And you know what?  She still fucking beat that dude.

Oh, and there was some little legal question about the write-in ballot.  What happens when someone writes in "Merkowski?"  That isn't her name.  It wasn't technically supposed to count.

Murkowski still won.  As an independent write-in candidate.  After having lost her primary.

So, how scared do you think Lisa FUCKING BAD-ASS Murkowski is of a little primary challenge?

Oh, and one more thing.  She was just up for re-election last year.  Anyone who wants another shot at her won't get it until 2022.  And apparently she's invincible anyway.

So how scared do you think Lisa Murkowski is of these threats?  I'm sure she's quakin' in her Alaskan boots.  If she doesn't like the terms of the Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts, there is nothing that Mitch McConnell, the House Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party or Fox News is going to do about it.  If she demands that the policy move to the center and towards her DW-NOMINATE score of .1070, and that demand isn't met, she absolutely can block an Obamacare repeal without fear.

And if two more are immune to threats, then this is all pointless theater.

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

This one's for you, Jeff.

Friday, March 3, 2017

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

The House GOP's Obamacare replacement bill

The House GOP's super-secret replacement bill.  It's so cute how they think they matter.

Actually, they kind of do matter, in a strange way.  No matter what bill they pass, and they probably will pass some form of bill, it has minimal chance of becoming law.  Why?  For the same reason that the Senate threw the House Democrats' version of Obamacare in the garbage in 2010.  The Senate kind of looks at the House the way that a 12-year-old looks at a 10-year-old:  with contempt based on delusions of world-weary wisdom.  Also, the 12-year-old is bigger, and can bully the 10-year-old.

The House version of the bill won't really go anywhere.  It is symbolic, but it is already a mess, and not just the symbolic mess because of the secrecy.  Rep. Mark Meadows is the chair of the Freedom Caucus (basically, the Tea Partiers, but the "Tea Party Caucus" was a mess because it was founded by... hang on while I swoon... Michele Bachmann).  Meadows is already unhappy with what he has heard.  If Meadows doesn't like what he is hearing, he will want the bill to move right.

Now, think through the coalition politics.  If nothing can pass the House without going hard right to get Meadows on board, which really might be true given the dynamics of the House and the fact that the Freedom Caucus has an all-or-nothing mentality, what would they say to Collins-Cassidy?  That'd probably be a no, there, good buddy.  Now, Meadows could understand that this is purely symbolic, and could therefore simply demand purity on the symbolic bill, while being willing to compromise on the real deal, knowing that the actual bill comes later when the House and Senate reconcile, but that is giving an awful lot of credit for intelligence and willingness to compromise to someone who is clearly otherwise an intransigent fuckwit.  (Sorry.  I should use John Boehner's word: "knucklehead.")

Rather, this points to the basic underlying problem of coalitions that I have noted before.  Repeal won't happen without replace because Collins, Murkowski and Paul (!) have said so.  A replacement bill must satisfy Collins, Cassidy (co-sponsors) and Murkowski, along with the House Freedom Caucus.  If the House Freedom Caucus isn't even satisfied with the clearly symbolic bill that everyone should have known wasn't going anywhere, then it is hard to see how they get on the same page with Collins and Murkowski.

Democrats passed Obamacare because the left gave up a lot.  They never considered single-payer.  They dropped the public option immediately.  They considered lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare, and dropped that because, even though Lieberman supported it previously, he stopped supporting it when he found out that Anthony Weiner liked the idea (note that this was before all the dick-pics).  Democrats moved right, and started with a plan based on Romney's Massachusetts plan, which was itself based on the Heritage Foundation's response to the Clintons' proposal from 1993-4.  Liberals balked.  Some, like Dennis Kucinich, almost voted no.  Sanders continued to whine throughout the primary campaign about how nothing of any consequence ever really happened, although to be fair, Sanders always whines.

If the Republicans followed the Democratic model of legislative bargaining, they could pass something.  It would just require throwing the Freedom Caucus under the bus and letting Collins run the show.  Republicans, under the advice of Frank Luntz, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," because it polled badly under that moniker.  Really, though, it should be called, "Baucuscare."  Why?  The person with the most influence, by my estimation, was Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (not a liberal).  If the Republicans really wanted a replacement, they'd just tell the Freedom Caucus to take a stiff drink and vote for Collins-Cassidy.  The fact that Meadows won't even support the symbolic thing that Ryan is throwing together, though, really suggests that the GOP still can't bridge the gap.

What will happen?  Don't count them out yet, but if I had to bet right now, the odds are leaning somewhat against a repeal.  These days, though, would it really be so crazy if Congress passed a total repeal of all spending on healthcare?  I mean, yes, it would be crazy, but compared to the Russia stuff?  Really?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sessions, Trump, Russia and the philosophical precept that "you can't prove a negative"

So now Jeff Sessions is in this thing.  I guess you've read by now that he met twice with the Russian Ambassador, but lied about it under oath during his confirmation hearings, claiming that he never said nothin' to no Ruskies.

At some point, you have probably heard the phrase, "you can't prove a negative."  It's not quite right.  I don't want to get into a debate on the nature of proofs and disproofs in mathematics, which is where proofs actually occur, but we can prove and disprove lots of things.  In math.

Outside of math, we don't really prove or disprove much of anything.  Rather, we rely on the scraps of evidence we can gather.  Scraps of evidence are either compatible with Explanation A or Explanation B, if A and B are mutually exclusive and exhaustive.  However, if Explanation B is basically "nothing is going on, move along folks, nothing to see here," then the question is, what evidence would be directly suggestive of it?

And that is the philosophical problem referenced in the famous aphorism.

Suppose that Trump is being influenced by Russia.  What would we observe?  Lots of contacts.  Check.  What else?  Attempts to loosen sanctions.  Check.  Refusal to confront aggressive action.  Check.  There should be deeper stuff.  We should investigate.  Clearly right now, Sessions can't be the guy leading the investigation.  The fact that he failed to disclose meetings, plural, with the Russian Ambassador means he really can't be anywhere near the investigation.

From a criminal standpoint, there is a difference between lying under oath and perjury.  It's only perjury if it is material.  The concern was about Sessions' behavior as a Trump surrogate.  If Sessions was acting as a Senator rather than a Trump surrogate, then he was not perjuring himself, as I understand it.  He was just lying under oath.  That's why Bill Clinton didn't perjure himself.  He was just lying.  Of course, now that the shoe is on the other foot...

Anyway, suppose that Trump is not being influenced by Russia.  What evidence would directly suggest that?  Um...  Uh...  See the problem?  Everything we have observed is also compatible with the notion that Trump can only get it up by thinking about Putin, and if he is not influenced by Putin, but just in love with Putin, then there is nothing criminal.  There is a contingent in the Republican Party who have been Putin-worshippers for a while because they are ironically hot for the gay-basher, but this is all compatible with everything we have observed so far.  The question is:  what evidence would directly suggest this?  Actual, hand-written love letters from Trump to Putin?  Yes, but c'mon.  We aren't going to find those.  That's the problem.

This was, ironically, the McCarthyism problem.  The accused couldn't prove that they weren't communists.  This is why we have a legal system built around the presumption of innocence.  Of course, the circumstantial evidence continues to pile up that the connections between Trump and his people are beyond what they say at any given point in time.  And we are less than two months in.  Drip, drip, drip...

Epistemologically, though, Trump is already fucked.

(Where else do you get sentences like that?)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Grading Trump

I told you that you could skip that speech.  It was pointless.  The Democrats didn't even pull a Joe Wilson.  Why bother?

Anyway, today I thought I'd handle something more fun.  You may have heard that Trump has decided to give himself an early grade.  On Fox & Friends (of course), he gave himself a C for "messaging," and, um, what do you think for substance?  He could crap his pants on national tv, burn down the White House (without a war), and then start a war with Turkey because he bought cattle futures and didn't know the country wasn't a bird, and he'd still give himself an A.  This is Donald Trump we are discussing.

As a professor, with some experience in the matter of assigning grades, I just can't resist.

Legislative success rate on major priorities:  0% so far, but keep in mind that this should go up.  Obamacare repeal is spinning its wheels, and apparently Trump just recently learned that healthcare is complicated.  Apparently, he thinks that this is a novel discovery.  Nothing else has happened in any other major area either.  On legislation:  F.  Yes, this can go up, but by comparison, other presidents have often signed major legislation by now.

Executive orders:  This is more of a challenge because the key becomes weighting.  The muslim ban (or, muslim redlining, as I prefer to call it) is in legal trouble.  The fact that this was such a priority means it should be weighted heavily, bringing down his grade, but he is having an easier time with deportations, and some of the other executive actions.  He hasn't been lazy about these, and he has pretty much done what he has said.  It's just that some of the legal issues were obvious from the get-go, but that should be factored into the grade.  On executive orders:  B

Appointments:  This is where Trump really stands out from the crowd in his ineptitude.  He has had a slow pace of appointments and confirmations, and a lot of that is his fault, but what clinches his grade here is the Flynn debacle.  All-time classic failure.  Just for good measure, though, the guy in charge of the nukes wanted to eliminate the department because he didn't know what it did, but couldn't remember that that was the department he wanted to eliminate back in 2012.  Really, though, Flynn clinches the F here.  And just for good fun, Trump's first pick to replace Flynn wouldn't take the job!  We could add in the fact that the guy he picked for HUD is just there because of his skin color, and while a brilliant surgeon, has no relevant qualifications for HUD whatsoever.  There's the Puzder debacle.  There's what just happened with the Sec. Navy position.  And I haven't even started in on DeVos.  There's our Attorney General, who was denied a federal judgeship for being too racist in the 1980's, which is apparently just racist enough for Trump.  And I could keep going.  Now, to be fair to Trump, not all of his nominees are epic disasters.  There's Elaine Chao, who gets appointed by every Republican President for something because she's really, really, really smart and, oh yeah, married to Mitch McConnell.  So, this isn't a 0% F, like Trump's legislative success score, and not all of these are Flynn-level disasters.  Tillerson may be uncomfortably close to Putin, so I wouldn't score him at 100%, but he's certainly not a 0%, and Sec. State is part of the grade.  Still, Flynn alone is so disastrous that this is an F.  In the grade sheet, I'd enter this as probably a 50%-55% F.

International relations:  Trump ran for office on the promise that everyone would be so in awe of him that some sort of undefined, generic form of "winning" would happen.  The only world leader who appears to be in awe of him is Rodrigo Duterte, although to be fair, according to the New York Times, the Cambodian government is now using Trump's attacks on the media to justify their own opposition to the concept of the free press.  Foreign respect for Trump among people who count?  Not seeing it.  Instead, Putin looks at him as somewhere between "pawn" and "useful idiot."  Our allies are somewhere between baffled and terrified, nobody is cowed, North Korea is doing missile tests, Iran is rattling sabres...  Oh, and Mexico doesn't appear to be ponying up that money.  Shocker.  International relations:  F

Basically, Trump is flunking everything except Executive Orders, which is the easiest component of the grade.  In assigning grades, that's like the "classroom participation" grade.  Show up, talk and indicate at least passing familiarity with the materials, and you won't fail that part of the class grade.  Trump is flunking everything else.

And that's before we get into the Academic Integrity violations.  Connections with Russia (which is really what the Flynn thing is about anyway), emoluments violations...  There is a wide world of things that clearly call for at least some form of investigation.  And remember, Clinton was impeached by Republicans for lying in the course of an investigation about a matter that wasn't even related at all to the subject of the original investigation.  And nobody lies like Trump, if they were to apply the same standard...

So, overall grade for Trump?

Do I even have to type it?