Friday, June 30, 2017

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

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

Oh, fuck it.

A brief comment on Republican criticism of Trump's latest tweet

Trump loves nothing more than getting away with things, and dominating people.  The Republicans criticizing him for his treatment of Mika Brzezinski should understand that their unwillingness to impose any consequences on him for his behavior means that he is dominating them just as much as Brzezinski.  He is enjoying this.  He is enjoying his ability to get away with treating women like shit, and his ability to get away with brushing the Republican Party aside as easily as he brushes everyone else aside.

Make no mistake:  Donald Trump will suffer no consequences for this, and the Republicans criticizing him are doing nothing more than making it even more enjoyable to him that he is getting away with it.  They are all Trump's playthings, and they are too fucking stupid to realize it.

The fact that Trump is enacting his "travel ban" now... raises questions

Trump is now enacting the part of his "travel ban" that the Supreme Court has allowed, pending Court review.  Just a quick note for today, because this won't take long.

Wasn't the supposed point of the "travel ban" that the administration needed time to develop better vetting procedures?  Until such procedures could be developed, the safest course was a total ban.  Then, after better procedures were in place, the ban could be replaced with a more sophisticated procedure.  It was only supposed to be a temporary measure, to give them time to work out an improved system.

Yeah, they've had longer than 90 days since the first "travel ban" was announced and blocked anyway.  What have they been doing with that time?  Well, Trump has been obstructing justice, whining about the media, and probably grabbin' some pussy.  I guess Mika didn't let him...  Homeland Security?  Well, um, why haven't they just implemented that new vetting procedure that they have assuredly been working on already?  It has been more than 90 days, so what have they been doing with their time?  Shouldn't they at least need less time to work out something?  Just askin'...

Also, when the first ban was rushed into place, Trump's people insisted that there couldn't be any warning or time to prepare because then all the terrorists would rush into the country before the ban went into place.  Hasn't there been, like, warning n' stuff, thereby nullifying the effect of the ban?

Or, hey, and I'm just spit-balling here, maybe the ban was the point, and the "we need time to work on a new procedure" thing was always bullshit, as was the line about not giving terrorists a window before the ban went into effect.  Just a thought.  Maybe it really is just redlining.

Will the Supreme Court see it that way?  I'll pick that thread up soon, unless something else dramatic happens...  We've got a maybe deal on healthcare, and Trump keeps tweeting...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Republican opposition to Obamacare

In yesterday morning's post, I observed that sheer determination should be factored into Republicans' likelihood of success in their Obamacare repeal efforts.  Public opinion is against them, but a committed minority tends to beat an apathetic majority, and Republicans are really really really committed here.  With majorities in both chambers of Congress and a willing president (who, let's face it, doesn't know jack shit except that Obama's name is informally attached to existing law), that really might be enough to overcome anything.  I find myself thinking, then, about the astonishing level of hatred Republicans have for Obamacare.

The irony, as plenty of others have noted before, is that Obamacare is a fundamentally Republican policy, having been enacted in Massachusetts by a Republican governor (Obama's 2012 opponent, no less), after having been developed by the Heritage Foundation as the Republican counter-proposal to the Clintons' proposal in 1993-4, then called "Hillarycare."  How much of this is the rightward movement of the GOP, and how much of it is attaching Obama's name to it?  Six of one, half a dozen of the other, to make an unmutual reference...  Regardless, Republican opposition to Obamacare has not followed normal historical patterns.  They never accepted the loss.

Here's a famous clip of Saint Ronnie, peace and blessings be upon him (would Trump be smart enough to be offended by the phrasing?  nah...), warning about what would happen if Medicare were enacted:



Yeah, so, um...  Medicare is still around.  Republicans have periodically fought to curtail it (the 1995-6 shutdowns were actually about Medicare cuts!), but they didn't really maintain the kind of eternal, frothing-at-the-mouth opposition that one might have suspected given Ronnie's famous line.  In fact, one of Republicans' more prominent attacks on Obamacare was that some of the money it spent on healthcare for poor people came from cuts to Medicare.  Suddenly, Republicans are defenders of Medicare!  They may occasionally talk about turning it into a voucher program (and then run scared from the idea when they see the polls), but they aren't doing the Ronnie thing on Medicare, nor have they spent the last half-century fighting a constant war against it.

So, I've been thinking about Republican opposition to Obamacare in historical context, and the never-give-up attitude.  Right now, it looks like the party might even be willing to take on major electoral losses to keep fighting a battle that they just refuse to stop fighting.  This... isn't normal for a party.  Sometimes a law passes that you don't like.  That doesn't mean you devote yourself to an eternal, all-consuming battle against it.  Democracy requires accepting that sometimes you will lose, and part of what is going on here is that Republicans have never accepted the legitimacy of the law, but the abnormality of Republican opposition here has me struggling for context.

Keep in mind the level of opposition here.  At the federal level, the opposition has been total, but largely symbolic.  Candidates for federal office have uniformly spouted empty platitudes about how much they hate "Obamacare," and while it is easy to make fun of how idiotic Trump sounded when he talked about replacing Obamacare with "something terrific," while clearly having no fucking clue what, it was obvious all along that nobody else in the party had any more of a clue either.  The reason they are struggling now is that nobody ever bothered to construct any alternative to Obamacare in the last seven years.  That's a lack of serious policy thought, and it should be ridiculed.  Trump is a symptom of a greater problem within the GOP.  The ritualistic "Obamacare repeal" votes that Congress used to hold, back when Obama was President and the votes incurred no risk, were a fucking joke, and everyone knew it.  They implied a kind of mindless opposition without any real thought behind it.  Yet, when we dug deeper, we saw something more interesting...

At the state level, there was more variation.  The Supreme Court struck down part of the ACA, requiring states to expand Medicaid in order to maintain funding, so a bunch of states under Republican control blocked the Medicaid expansion.  Why?  What do I keep telling you?  Conservatism is an opposition to welfare.  Medicaid is welfare.  Why would they expand the welfare state if they don't have to?  But, a bunch of Republican governors did expand Medicaid.  Why?  Well, principles be damned, it was a good financial deal, and at the end of the day, pragmatism beat out principle for a bunch of them.  And so we begin to wonder how deep the opposition to Obamacare really is as we start to dig deeper...

Now we find ourselves with a Republican legislative caucus trying to figure out how to manage the divisions.  Most of them really do seem to want to gut a lot of the law.  Not all, but a lot of the law, and therein lies the challenge.  Somehow, that hatred of Obamacare has persisted at the federal level to a fascinating degree.

And I'll make a couple of references.  After Roe v. Wade, it took a few years for the parties to sort out their positions, but the GOP became the party of social conservatism, and social conservatives-- and hence, the GOP-- never accepted the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade.  More than 40 years later, they are still looking for ways to undercut it at every opportunity, and ultimately change the balance of the Court to overturn it.  Why?  Well, if you accept the premise that a fetus is a human life, then an abortion is the murder of a human life, and legalized abortion is legalized murder.  That follows logically from a belief about when human life begins.  When does human life begin?  That is not a question that can be answered through logical deduction.  That is a definitional issue.

In terms of the politics, then, social conservatives never gave up because they viewed the issue as one of legalized murder.  That's not the kind of thing where you just say, "oh well, I guess we lost, let's move on."  And, of course, this brings us to Obamacare.  Remember that death panel bullshit?  Yes, it was total fucking bullshit, and it would be nice to think that it plays no part in GOP opposition to Obamacare, but... if anyone remembers the debates over the passage of Obamacare, "death panels" were a thing.  Or, rather, the lie about death panels was a big thing.  Fuck you, Sarah Palin, and fuck you, John McCain, for putting that proto-Trump on the national stage.  There are no death panels, and we don't hear much about them anymore, but there's stuff like this...



Yes, some GOP Members of Congress still believe in this idiotic fucking bullshit, thanks to Sarah Fucking Palin.  If you believe that there are death panels, do you give up?  No.  No, you don't.  Same as with Roe v. Wade.

But, there's another historical analogy here.  The GOP once thought that they were fighting on the side of majority opinion.  Obamacare was originally unpopular, but the winds have shifted, as the winds of public opinion are wont to do.  More importantly, the GOP bills, in various forms, are really really really unpopular.  Now, some of the Republicans in Congress may live so secluded in the Fox News/talk radio/conservative blogosphere bubble that they may not understand this.  They may actually think that their bills are really popular.  After all, that asshole above believes in death panels.  He probably believes in the fuckin' tooth fairy too.  McConnell?  He knows what's real.  Paul Ryan too.  The guys at the top understand reality.  They have to.  I suspect that most in Congress actually know the polls because McConnell and Ryan have brought them into the caucus meetings anyway.

Yet, they are continuing to push the legislation, against public opinion.  And this has me thinking of an analogy that many conservatives themselves make.  The civil rights movement.

In the 1950's, the idea of desegregation was not popular.  It was a struggle on behalf of a minority population, against the will of the majority, undertaken at great personal risk by true believers.

The opposition to Obamacare right now is a fight on behalf of a minority, against a majority.  The minority who would benefit from the Republicans' plans is an economic minority, and the risks are political rather than physical, but given the clarity of the risks and the devotion being demonstrated over the years, this is starting to look apt, and it is certainly how Obamacare opponents see themselves.

There is also political/economic theory here, which most lefties won't like.  James Buchanan & Gordon Tullock's The Calculus of Consent.  It is the foundational work in what we call "public choice" economics, which is central to libertarian thought.  The central challenge for democracy is as follows:  if you create an electoral rule, like say, majority rules (50%+1 wins), then how do you prevent "the tyranny of the majority?"  You should recognize that phrase.  In terms of the civil rights movement, if you had left civil rights up to a majority rule decision, desegregation wouldn't have happened.  Why?  Racist whites didn't want it, and they were the majority.

Time to poke at liberals and their bullshit.  Big majorities want background checks on guns and we don't have them!  Unjust!  Unjust!  Yeah, remember when big majorities opposed desegregation?  Remember back just 20 years ago when gay marriage was such a radical fringe position that it was a horrendous slur to accuse your political opponent of supporting it, and Bill Clinton signed DOMA to bipartisan acclaim?  To say that majority rule is correct is to say that you should lose when you are in the minority.  Do you really accept that?  No, you probably don't.

So, here's the thing.  If you have a system of majority rule, then 50%+1 can decide to confiscate everything from, then torture and murder 49%, just for the hell of it.  Don't like that?  How about making the electoral threshold 99%?  Now we're talking about "the %1."  Get it?  The 99% can decide, just for the fuckin' hell of it, to confiscate everything, torture and murder the 1%.  Call it a revolution.  Do it with a French accent.

OK, so you're thinking, "nobody is saying we want to take everything.  Just enough to cover healthcare."  But, the principle is there.  Once you accept the justification for confiscation, where does it end?  That's the Buchanan & Tullock problem, and that's were libertarian economic thought goes.

Of course, it is a lot harder to have sympathy for some whiny billionaire who tries to invoke kristallnacht every time his taxes go up a bit than for those enslaved and laboring under Jim Crow, but again, you begin to see the mentality of opposition.

Yet, all elements of the welfare state violate that principle.  Why fight Obamacare to this extent, and not, say, Social Security?  Well...

I'm just writin' here.  All I have to say is that it is fascinating how frothing-at-the-mouth Republican opposition to Obamacare continues to be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A delayed vote on healthcare means...

... absolutely nothing.  (Which is what you are about to become.  Sorry, couldn't resist).

Look, this accelerated timeline for a healthcare vote was absurdly stupid and impractical.  Legislative negotiation on anything this complex takes time, and the idea of rushing the process is... well... didn't we see how that worked in the House?  And the House is where party leaders have actual power.

So, the fact that McConnell couldn't pull it off on the insanely accelerated timeline originally planned says nothing about whether or not the GOP will be able to pull it off eventually.

What it means is what we already knew-- they don't have it worked out yet.  (Is that the same thing as meaning nothing?  Probably not, but I really wanted to use that Spaceballs reference.)  As I said yesterday morning, they are still messing with the lapsed coverage provision, which the Senate parliamentarian could axe, and nobody knows what's going on with Heller.  The drama club (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ron Johnson) is doing what the drama club does-- putting on theater.  That theater consists of pretending that they hate the first offer, but we can ignore that since it is just spectacle for the rubes.  But, until the stuff with Heller, the lapsed coverage provision, and other issues are addressed, McConnell is stuck.

He is, though, in the same position as Harry Reid in 2010.  Harry Reid had 60 Democrats (but only really for a few months...*), and needed to keep all 60, so he gave everyone exactly what they wanted.  McConnell has 52, but 2 are lost causes:  Collins and Murkowski.  There is probably no way to keep them on board, and the House Freedom Caucus at the same time.  So, he's basically at 50, and he needs 50.  It's a brutal process, and it may not be possible.  However, the difficulty of the task means that we shouldn't mark him down for the fact that it is taking time.

Do we factor in the observation that McConnell planned an early vote?  Eh...  It was aspirational.  Delay costs him nothing.  Had he held a vote and lost on the motion to proceed, then I'd say he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing, but as is?  Don't read anything into the delay.

Current rough Bayesian assessment of Republicans' eventual chances?  Somewhere in the 40% range.  They are below 50% with Heller objecting from the left, and I have a really hard time seeing how the parliamentarian goes along with the current proposal on lapsed coverage, but the fact that they are trying this hard suggests to me that even if the current proposal doesn't pass, someone will try to blackmail Heller with something.  I don't know... kidnap his family, or something.  I'm being semi-facetious here (hi, FBI!  It's a joke!  Me, a jokester!), but I can pretty much guarantee you that Heller is receiving death threats from all sorts of cranks right now, and national Republican leaders just had to ask an independent conservative group to pull anti-Heller ads from Nevada to try to manage the pressure because figuring out the proper balance of hard and soft pressure is difficult.  Basic lesson about politics, though:  a committed minority will generally defeat an apathetic majority, and the GOP is very committed.  Don't discount the power of that commitment.  Yes, the mechanics are against the Republicans here, but it doesn't look like they are going to give up.



*Historical side note:  the 2008 election only gave the Democrats 59 seats, but initially, they had 58 seated because incumbent Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota refused to concede to Al Franken for a loooooooong time.  Even after Franken was seated, though, that only brought the Democrats to 59.  It wasn't until turncoat Arlen Specter switched parties that the Dems went up to 60.  Specter blatantly admitted that he was terrified of a rematch against Pat Toomey in a GOP primary in 2010 (he only narrowly beat Toomey in 2004, and he read the tea leaves, so to speak), so he switched (and then lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who lost the general election to Pat Toomey).  That got the Dems up to 60, but then murder-a-girl-in-a-drunk-driving-accident-and-get-away-with-it-guy, Ted Kennedy died, and Scott Brown won the special election to replace him, bringing the Dems back down to 59, so the Democrats didn't have 60 for all that long.  Anyway, worth remembering that Democrats didn't really have all that long to control everything.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What we have and haven't learned as we barrel towards a conclusion on healthcare reform

A lot is happening quickly on healthcare reform.  What matters and what doesn't?

What does matter is the recent change to the bill on lapses in coverage.  If you go a period of time without coverage, you are locked out of the individual markets.  Why?  Well, the GOP has decided that they don't like the individual mandate, even though it was their fucking idea (or, rather, it was the Heritage Foundation's idea, and they picked it up and ran with it until the Democrats got on board), but since you need healthy people in the insurance pool, how do you get/keep the healthy in the insurance pool without a mandate?  The solution is to lock anyone out of the individual market, by government order, if they have a lapse in coverage.

Why is that better, from a free-market, keep-the-gub'mint-outta-my-way perspective, than the individual mandate?  Um...  Yeah.  This isn't based either on economic theory or an underlying philosophy on the proper boundaries of government action.  They just recognized that they needed something, and tried to find something that isn't Obamacare.  Anti-intellectualism at its finest.

But, what matters is how this change is viewed by the guy I told you to watch:  the Senate parliamentarian.  This new rule is not, by any stretch of the imagination, budgetary.  It's got jack fucking shit to do with the budget, and if it isn't budgetary, then including it in the bill means the bill doesn't conform to the rules for budget reconciliation, and it can be filibustered.  The Republicans are struggling to get to 50+Pence, and have no chance of getting any Democrats on board, so this really puts things in jeopardy.  If this rule is a deal-breaker, they could be fucked.

Like I've been saying, watch the Senate parliamentarian.  If he doesn't like this new change, which is a real stretch to call budgetary, and it turns out to be a deal-breaker, then the GOP is in real trouble here.

What else matters?  We still have no clue what's going on with Dean Heller.  Watch him closely.  If he can be bought off, the Republicans still have a shot.  If he is really in the Collins-Murkowski camp in terms of needing real leftward movement to vote yes, then the GOP's plans are toast.

Now, what doesn't matter:

The CBO report doesn't matter.  Not one bit.  Yes, people will lose coverage if the Republican bill passes, in any form.  That's the point.  The core tenet of conservatism is an opposition to wealth redistribution.  Obamacare is redistribution.  It pays for poor and sick people to get healthcare by taxing the rich, and forcing health insurance companies to pay for stuff that no sensible, for-profit company would cover, if they had a choice.  All government-funded programs consist of the following:  the government points a gun at somebody's head and says the following:  "gimme your money or I'll fuckin' kill you.  Or, maybe I'll just injure you and haul your fuckin' ass off to prison.  Either way, gimme your fuckin' money."*  The government then takes that money and does something with it.  In the case of welfare, it is the following-- either give it directly to, or spend it on behalf of the poor.  Conservatives aren't cool with that.  So, they want to roll back the Robin Hood stuff.

The trouble is that Robin Hood is actually kind of popular, and 22 million people losing coverage sounds bad.  Why doesn't that matter?  Because the bill was already very unpopular anyway and the GOP has already demonstrated that they don't give a flying fuck.  This isn't news.  The whole concept of the bill is a roll-back of entitlements.  That was never going to be popular.  If they really thought this would be popular, they really would have just repealed Obamacare on Day 1, like they lied about doing for the last seven years.

Will the CBO thing generate enough press coverage to matter on its own?  Fuck no.  Hey, look over here!  Trump said something stupid/racist/misogynist/Trump-like!  Pay attention to that!

Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee keep acting like my damned cats.  They want to be pet, and they walk away, demanding that you follow them.  At this point, I pretty much think that's a perfect analogy for this group.  In the end, though, like my cats, they're going to flop down on the ground, roll over, and purr while they have their bellies rubbed because they have just as much dignity as those disgusting, little creatures who lick their own asses every chance they get.  Yes, the supposed conservative objectors are making noise about not liking the bill.  I warned you ahead of time about this kind of thing, and I still think that they are full of shit.  Ignore them.  That's the trick with cats too.  If you follow them, they keep walking away.  If you ignore them, they start following you.  Treat them like cats.




*Get over it, you hippy-dippy liberals.  This is what is happening.  Don't avert your gaze and pretend otherwise to claim some non-existent moral purity.  Ain't no such thing in politics.  Don't be like one of those people who eats meat and pretends it doesn't come from an animal.

A brief note on how to read the tea leaves with SCOTUS and Trump's executive order

The Supreme Court partially lifted the injunction on Trump's travel ban until they hear the case.  What does that mean?

Um...

Be very careful making snap judgments on that, lest we find ourselves in the same position as with the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.  Roberts surprised everyone by crossing over to vote with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor, while we were all watching Kennedy.  Weird shit can happen.

I'll probably pick this up later, but I've got healthcare to tackle this morning.

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

I have no references today, so I'll just go with this for no reason in particular.  Sometimes good music can be made by people with awesomely bad mullets.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Politics, physics and protests: Where Democrats and Republicans go wrong on the politics of healthcare and whining in public

I lecture students a lot about the "science" part of political science.  Science is a method, not a subject.  I teach its application to questions about politics.  That doesn't mean that the subject works the same way as, say Newtonian mechanics.  F=ma.  Nice, clean and simple.

Politics are messy and complicated.  Right now, Senate Republicans are maybe about to pass a bill that would repeal healthcare entitlements.  A major entitlement repeal has never happened.  The bill is very unpopular.  Democrats are flummoxed that the bill has any chance at all of passing.  The popular explanation right now seems to be that it is a consequence of the secrecy under which the bill has been drafted.  As I have explained before, that secrecy makes some strategic sense in order to manage intra-party tension, but that isn't a complete picture here.

Democrats have expected a natural uprising against an unpopular bill.  F=ma.  The bill is unpopular, so people rise up against it.  That ain't the nature of things.  Big movements take organization.  Organization takes leadership, etc.  Why haven't there been mass protests about the GOP healthcare bill, the way there were against Obamacare in 2009 and 2010?  'Cuz nobody has organized them.  It isn't the secrecy of the bill-- it is the lack of organization.  Democrats have counted on some political F=ma on an unpopular bill sparking mass protests to do the work for them, and that isn't what happens.  Instead, political opponents of the GOP bill are sitting around with their thumbs up their asses right now hoping that Dean Heller or the Senate parliamentarian decides to take their side, because if not, they're fucked, and not just by their own thumbs.

Of course, in 2010, all the protests in the country did absolutely nothing to stop Obamacare from passing.  They may have helped the GOP organize for the midterm, though, and there is some solid research that the ACA vote hurt the Democrats in the 2010 midterm.  See, for example, the paper by Brendan Nyhan and many co-authors called "One Vote Out Of Step?" (here is an older, but un-gated copy for those of you not on academic terminals).  That 2010 election was a GOP landslide of historic proportions, and by never giving up, the GOP is here now.

The Democrats seem to be convinced that if the Republicans go through with some version of "repeal-and-replace," the reverse will play out.  But, you know what?  There's something missing.  Major protests from the other side.  Why?  Because the left is too fucking stupid to organize them.

Politics ain't physics.  There's no F=ma here.  Or, maybe there is, but somebody's gotta apply that fuckin' force.  It doesn't come out of nowhere.  (That, of course, is the problem with analogies-- you can always twist them around...)  One way or another, there is far more going on here than the secrecy with which the Senate has drafted its bill.  Republican opponents to Obamacare organized.  Democratic opponents to the Republican bill aren't bothering to do that.  If they sit around slack-jawed expecting political processes to occur like clockwork* without them actually having to do anything, then they are even dumber than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  (Zing!)

Will the Senate actually pass anything?  I still don't know.  Dean Heller is a mystery-man here, and as I explained the other day, there are several historical reference points that lead in different directions for how this plays out.  I doubt that protests would do very much to affect the Senate right now.  Remember, they didn't do jack shit to affect the policy outcome in 2010.  What they did do, at least potentially, was help the GOP in 2010, and keep the party on track to where they are now.  That still matters a lot, though.  The Democrats don't seem to realize the importance of the long-game or organization.  They never really did.


*OK, that was another analogy.  So, I'm a hypocrite.

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Supreme Court retirement/death watch

Will Anthony Kennedy retire soon?  I don't know.  If he is smart, he will seriously consider it.  He is more likely to get a replacement whose decisions will comport with his own preferences under a Trump Presidency than under whoever comes next.

Terminology:  I have referenced this before, but here's a reminder.  The "attitudinal model."  Judges are normal politicians dressed in stupid costumes.*  They have normal political ideologies, but conceal them in the trappings of "judicial philosophies."  Whenever someone describes himself as an "originalist," or as believing that the Constitution is a "living document," that's a bullshit rationalization.  They're liberals, moderates, conservatives, and occasionally idiosyncratic politicians who just don't have the integrity to admit what they are.  To an attitudinalist, Kennedy is a conservative-leaning moderate, who is vaguely-kinda pro-choice, but mostly leans conservative.

How empirically-grounded is the attitudinal model?  It's a model.  To quote George E.P. Box, "all models are wrong.  Some are useful."  Supreme Court justices can be hard to predict.  See: Roberts, John, on Obamacare.  Scalia was pretty consistent on free speech issues, leading to conservatives getting pissed off at him when he upheld the constitutionality of flag-burning, so yes, you whiny, little liberals, Citizens United was really a consistent ruling from him about free speech.  Scalia also had some weird consistency about the Fourth Amendment.  Regardless, no Justice is as predictable as you think.

Nevertheless, we usually know how nominees will vote on basic social issues, like abortion.  Presidents have gotten very good at vetting to ensure that they'll get someone they like, since Poppy Bush fucked up with that Souter nomination.

And Kennedy knows this.  If Kennedy retires now, he'll get someone who disagrees with him on abortion, but who agrees with him on most other stuff.  Should he retire?  That's a real strategic calculation.  And he's smart enough to understand that.

You know who isn't?  The dumbest person on the Supreme Court.

That would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Let's all take a moment out of our day today to laugh at the Trump-ian stupidity of this woman, and at how deep the consequences of her stupidity could be.

Yes, that's right, the dumbest member of the Supreme Court right now is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it isn't close.  Now, I could pick on the idiocy of plenty of her opinions (e.g. Citizens United, which you may think you understand, but you don't,  unless you are one of my students who took careful notes during one of those lectures, and she doesn't understand it either), but I'm going to focus more on her obliviousness to political reality here.  You see, back in 2014, she gave an interview to Elle magazine (the source of all intellectual growth in the world) in which she was asked about the possibility of retirement.  Frankly, she showed how low her IQ is when she didn't retire during Obama's first term (she's older than dirt and cancer-prone), but by 2014, not retiring was Darwin Award-level dumbassery.  So, how did she explain herself?  Well, here's what she said:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have?  If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court.  [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court.  So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they're misguided.  As long as I can do the job full steam... I think I'll recognize when the time comes that I can't any longer.  But now I can.

Let's unpack that, shall we?  This was during Obama's second term, with a Democratic Senate majority, post-nuclear option.  Harry Reid had already used the nuclear option because Senate Republicans blockaded the DC circuit court.

What the fuck did Ginsburg think would happen if she stepped down?  Here's what would have happened.  Republicans would have filibustered anyone.  Did Ginsburg think that the rule change Reid instituted was, at that point, an ironclad law of physics, unchangeable from then until the end of time such that no further change to Senate rules could ever be made again?  Did she seriously not understand that what happened demonstrated precisely that Reid could do exactly the same thing again to confirm anyone?  Yes, Republicans would have filibustered anyone had Ginsburg stepped down in 2014.  Reid would have been forced to use the nuclear option again.  Obama's replacement would have been confirmed.  Ginsburg was just too fucking oblivious to do it.  Instead, Scalia died with a Republican majority, McConnell blockaded the seat for a whole fucking year on the gamble that a Republican would win in 2016, allowing Trump to nominate plagiarist-Gorsuch under the nuclear option that Ginsburg had her head too far up her own ass to understand was the inevitable thing anyway.

Remember, if Ginsburg's analysis were correct, plagiarist-Gorsuch wouldn't be on the Court because the Democratic filibuster would have blocked him.  Ginsburg is an idiot.

So, why didn't Ginsburg step down in 2014?  It was that last line.  "I think I'll recognize when the time comes that I can't any longer.  But now I can."  Ginsburg just didn't want to retire.  So, she didn't.  Let's all laugh at the fucking moron.  Maybe she survives the next year and a half, and the Democrats get the Senate in 2018.  At that point, they blockade the Supreme Court so that no matter what happens, Trump can't appoint anyone, but even so, her death means she isn't there to vote, and there is a high likelihood of 5-3 conservative rulings (which isn't really that different from 5-4 anyway, but I'm getting to the real consequences...).  But, there's a good chance the moron croaks before then and Trump appoints her replacement, when she could have just done the smart thing and retired under Obama.  Would it have taken the nuclear option to confirm a replacement?  Of course, but the nuclear option was inevitable anyway.  The fact that she didn't think it was even a possibility in 2014, having just watched it happen, shows that she truly is the dumbest member of the Court.

If Anthony Kennedy is smart-- smarter than Ruth Bader Ginsburg-- he will retire in time to allow Trump to appoint a successor before the 2018 election because otherwise, the Democrats could retake the Senate and blockade the Supreme Court.  I suspect that Kennedy is smarter than Ginsburg because my dumbass fucking cats are smarter than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  There is a high likelihood, then, that Trump will be able to appoint a replacement for Kennedy, who will be far to the right of Kennedy, and there is a high likelihood that older-than-dirt-as-well-as-cancerous Ruth Bader Ginsburg will kick the bucket before the Democrats even have a chance to retake the Senate in 2018, allowing Trump to move the Court way to the right.

Imagine this:  a Supreme Court with Roberts, Alito, Thomas, plagiarist-Gorsuch and two more Trump nominees.  That's a real possibility.  If Kennedy isn't a fucking nitwit, it will be at least one more Trump nominee.

Strategic retirement is a thing.  Ginsburg just isn't smart enough to understand it, and never was.  Of course, even if she had retired, that wouldn't prevent a Roberts/Alito/Thomas/plagiarist-Gorsuch/other-Trump-nominee Court, and that's a five-justice majority to do things like overturn Roe v. Wade, but add a sixth justice to that and the left is fucked for a long, long time.

So remember:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dumber than Clarence Thomas.  Deal with it.



*Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist put stripes on his robes as a Gilbert & Sullivan thing.  Yes, really.

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

More old-timey Appalachian than bluegrass today

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Who is Dean Heller, and why does he now control everything about healthcare reform?

Um...

Oops?

So, for the last couple of days, I've been going through the mechanics of passing healthcare reform, and I've been explaining that I thought the Senate GOP had pretty much gotten over the last major hurdle in terms of reaching 50 votes (plus Mike Pence) for passing something through the Senate.  And then yesterday, Dean Heller came along and threw a wrench in everything.  The Senator from Nevada really could kill this whole thing.  Yesterday, I said we were at around a coin toss for passage of something.  Bayesian update for the morning:  40% chance of passage, to pull a number out of my ass.  We're now below a coin toss.

First, some basic vote counting.  In order for the Senate to pass anything, they can lose two votes.  That would be Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.  They are true moderates.  The House Freedom Caucus?  They are batshit crazy, and they would rather keep Obamacare in place than support anything that isn't way, way, way to the right.  Collins and Murkowski won't vote for anything the House Freedom Caucus will support, and the House can't pass anything without the Freedom Caucus.  That means Collins and Murkowski are probably out of the game.  That puts the vote count in the Senate at 50 plus Mike Pence for anything realistic.  The Senate can't lose anyone else.  I've been focused on Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, Cory Gardner and Bill Cassidy because the former three signed a letter about Medicaid expansion, and the latter co-authored a proposal with Collins.  Once the letter cosignatories backed down and Cassidy divorced Collins, it looked clear to me, and I don't take seriously the chest-thumpings of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee or Ron Johnson.  They're fake tough-guys, and I don't buy that shit.  Disingenuous bullshit from whiny, little fucking twerps who want to pretend that they are in charge of everything.  Here's what I have to say to those four:



Dean Heller?  He came out of nowhere.  He's been quiet the whole time, and maybe that's a consequence of McConnell's through-a-committee-darkly strategy.  Still, Heller has taken a moderate stance, joining Collins and Murkowski as a skeptic from the left.  If he votes no, along with Collins and Murkowski, this thing is sunk.  If he demands that the bill move left to satisfy him, the concern is not really that the bill loses support from Rand Paul or Ted Cruz.  Even if the bill made it out of the Senate, the result would be unpalatable to the Freedom Caucus, and it would fail after the House and Senate versions are reconciled.  Either way, you'd have a dead(ite) bill.

So, I come back to the question:  who the fuck is Dean Heller?

You think I am asking some biographical question.  I'm not.  I'm asking an historical reference question.  In 2010, when the Democrats were struggling to pass their bill, several Senators wound up playing critical roles.  Consider three in particular:  Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman.  Nelson and Landrieu were moderates who were willing to be bought off.  They were nervous about voting for Obamacare, but decided that if the bill included pots of money for their respective states (Nebraska and Louisiana), they would relent and vote yes.  Lieberman?  His story was more complicated.  He kept forcing the bill to the right on substance.  There were serious questions about his commitment to any kind of real policy goals, but he did move the bill on ideology.  After all, at one point, Democrats proposed reducing the age of Medicare eligibility, which was a proposal that Lieberman had formerly championed, and Lieberman thought long-and-hard about it, so-to-speak, until Mr. Long-and-Hard, Anthony Weiner, announced that he loved the idea, at which point Lieberman trashed his own policy proposal because the left liked it too much.  (This was, by the way, before Weiner fell-- he was still riding high as a champion of the left back in 2010).

Since the Democrats had no room to maneuver in 2010, everyone's demands had to be met.  Nelson and Landrieu were bought off with the "Louisiana purchase" and the "Cornhusker kickback,"* while Lieberman kept playing Mr. Indecisive in order to make Harry Reid give in to his every whim (and I do mean "whim" since he didn't appear to have any principles, having trashed his own policy proposals once Weiner supported them), but everyone got what they demanded.

Now, who is Dean Heller?  Is he Ben Nelson/Mary Landrieu?  If so, he can be bought off without moving the bill to the left, and this thing ain't dead yet.  If he is Lieberman, then he'll demand that the bill get moved left, in which case the end result will be something that the House Freedom Caucus won't support, and even if it gets through the Senate, the whole thing dies after the House and Senate bills get reconciled because the House won't pass the reconciled version.

It isn't clear what Heller wants.  But, he has a LOT of power right now.



*The post-script, of course, is that both the Louisiana purchase and the Cornhusker kickback were repealed in a budget reconciliation bill immediately after the House passed the Senate's version of the ACA, and since budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered, it didn't matter that Harry Reid couldn't count on Nelson or Landrieu's votes for that bill.  So, Nelson and Landrieu got totally screwed on that!  Awesome, right?  Lesson to Dean Heller:  don't cut deals like that.  McConnell is probably more of a douchebag than Reid, and he'll fuck you twice as hard.

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

Just a bit of twang...

Friday, June 23, 2017

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

A twofer tonight.




Now that we have seen the Senate healthcare bill, what do we know?

In yesterday's post, I gave the following basic pieces of advice on how to interpret what would happen when the Senate released its long-awaited Obamacare "replacement" plan.  First, the GOP should be able to get 50 votes for something, although not necessarily for the same thing as the House.  Second, watch the parliamentarian, who determines whether or not the various provisions are actually budgetary, and therefore immune to the filibuster as part of a "budget reconciliation" bill under the Byrd Rule.

On the vote-counting issue, several conservative Senators announced that they aren't happy.  Ignore them.  I told you yesterday that the Senate should be able to get 50 votes for something, throwing Collins and Murkowski overboard.  Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson have said that they need more concessions.  I warned you about bluster yesterday, and their bleating is exactly what I meant.  The far right needs to pretend that the first offer is unacceptable because otherwise, they're cuckservatives.  Remember what happened in the House?  The Freedom Caucus needed to force Paul Ryan to scrap the first version and give them more.  That's the same book we've read over, and over again, where the right flank forced the leadership to give up on the first plan, and give them concessions because the act of forcing the leadership to give them something is like the act of my arrogant, little asshole cats trying to get me to follow them around the room instead of just sitting still while they get pet.  Little, fucking assholes...

Anyway, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson just need to get something more in order to pretend they aren't cuckservatives, and then they'll vote yes.  Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito have already caved completely like unregulated coal mines.  (I haven't seen much from Cory Gardner, who also signed the letter with Portman, Capito and Murkowski, but I'll assume he died like the canary, and someone will cast a yes vote for him by proxy).  Bill Cassidy?  Once he stopped talking to Susan Collins, that's all that mattered.  He's a yes.

Everything left is just sturm und drang, unless McConnell is an idiot, and he's not an idiot.  McConnell is the only Republican Party leader left with a real strategic brain.

Well, almost everything is sturm und drang.  The other thing I told you to watch was the parliamentarian.  The Senate is trying to finesse the Byrd Rule by messing with the "essential health benefits" portion of Obamacare in a way similar to the House bill.  States will be able to "opt-out," basically if they have budgetary reasons.  Yeah, it's more complicated, but I'm doing a quick summary because if you are reading this, you are reading it for politics and strategy, not policy-nitty-gritty-details.  It is kind of a rhetorical gimmick, but it could work.  Again, though, this will be in the hands of the parliamentarian.

Now...  if McConnell were very, very smart, he would have done his homework and tried to figure out in advance what he could get away with doing here.  There isn't exactly a formal "pre-clearance" process, but McConnell can think through what is likely to pass muster, and he could always ask the parliamentarian...

Don't count on the parliamentarian blocking this.  I call this a bullshit gimmick, but it ain't my job, and I'm less tolerant of bullshit than others.

What does this mean?  It means that I have to update my predictions about what happens.  Right now, the odds of something passing?  At least a coin toss.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What to expect in the Senate on healthcare

The Senate will finally unveil its Obamacare "replacement" today (note the sarcastic quotation marks, given that they can only do a partial repeal under budget reconciliation rules...), and we have gotten some leaks about what will likely be in it, but it is worth spilling some more virtual ink about the current state of the politics.

The quick recap of how my assessments have vacillated is as follows: after John Roberts declared the individual mandate in the ACA to be Schrodinger's tax (see my comments in the other day's post on gerrymandering), and Obama won in 2012, I thought that Obamacare was basically safe because no major entitlement program has ever actually been repealed after going into effect, legislatively.  Once Trump won, I wondered here whether or not King Louis XVI would convince the GOP that they actually could get away with repealing an entitlement program because, hey, if you can get away with grabbin' 'em by the pussy, why not?

As the politics have played out, there have been three main obstacles for the GOP:

1)  Breaking up the Collins-Cassidy coalition.  Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy came out with a replacement proposal early on, and while it was obvious all along that if the GOP was going to appease House conservatives, they would need to throw Collins overboard, they couldn't afford to lose both Collins and Cassidy.  The Senate can only afford to lose Collins and Murkowski.  Any other GOP Senators who vote no cause the whole thing to fall apart.  So, breaking up that political marriage was going to be critical.

2)  Getting Portman, Capito and Gardner to back down on their demands to keep the Medicaid expansion.  Early on, these three (along with Murkowski, but she's with Collins, so the GOP were probably going to give her the shaft to keep the House conservatives happy anyway) signed a letter saying that the House version was too harsh on cutting the Medicaid expansion.  There was no way, mathematically, to pass a bill without them, so getting anything through required getting them to back down entirely.

3)  Either getting the Senate parliamentarian to play funny games with reconciliation rules on health insurance regulations, or getting House conservatives to back down on their demands to cut regulations...  I'll get to that momentarily.

4)  Getting something through conference.

The GOP looks like it has managed 1 and 2.  Cassidy hasn't made much noise, and Collins looks to have been successfully sidelined.  If she was going to push her version with Cassidy, she needed to do so much more aggressively.  Instead, she did jack fucking shit, and she's out of the game.  Cassidy will back whatever McConnell puts out today.  1 is done.  Portman and Capito also caved on their demands.  They basically said that as long as the Medicaid expansion is phased out a little more slowly, they're fine.  My guess is that the Freedom Caucus can probably live with that.  2 is done.  I don't see any policy-based obstacles to 50 votes, grumbling aside.  I could be wrong on this, but all of the incentives line up for 50 votes for something.  That doesn't mean they all line up for 50 votes on something that the House can pass, and I'll get to that too, but I'm talking about incentives right now.

As I have written before, though, there is no strategic game that can be played with the parliamentarian, who is just some bureaucrat.  The parliamentarian rules on whether or not changing or repealing Obamacare policies on health insurance regulations are "budgetary."  If a law says that insurance companies must offer coverage to people with "pre-existing conditions," and a new bill changes that, how do you argue that the provision is budgetary?  Yeah, kind of a stretch, and if the parliamentarian says no dice, this whole thing falls apart.  McConnell's only tool there is to declare the parliamentarian wrong, hold a majority vote to declare him wrong, and pass something that way, but that's a version of the nuclear option.  That's really dangerous.

And if the Senate can't get the parliamentarian to go along, then either the House (specifically, the Freedom Caucus) has to back down, or the whole thing falls apart, which brings me to 4.  We still have no idea whether or not anything can get through a conference committee, where the House and the Senate try to reconcile (yes, the same term as "budget reconciliation") their versions of the bill, and then pass a reconciled version through each chamber.  The Freedom Caucus could still throw a shit fit, and vote down a reconciled version.

Of these problems, the biggest one remaining, as I see it, is still 3.  The Senate parliamentarian is the one who decides whether or not changes to insurance regulations are budgetary.  If the parliamentarian says no, then this all falls apart, because I don't see the Freedom Caucus backing down on their demand to repeal the regulations.  After all, they blocked passage of the first version of Trumpcare/Ryancare/Whatevercare in the House because it didn't have that stuff.  So, if the parliamentarian says no to the regulation changes, then McConnell has to strip them from the bill, or they can't use reconciliation, meaning the bill is subject to a filibuster.  That means the provisions needed to get a bill through the House make the bill unable to get through the Senate under Senate rules, and the whole thing is doomed.  No amount of deal-making can cut through that process.  It is all on the Senate parliamentarian, unless McConnell is willing to go nuclear, and over-rule the parliamentarian on a party-line vote.

So, where do things stand?  In the hands of the Senate parliamentarian.  As far as I can see, any objection being raised by any Republican, save Collins or Murkowski, is just bluster right now, and the GOP can lose both and still pass the bill.  Then, even if the parliamentarian okay's the regulation changes, we'll see how amenable the Freedom Caucus is to deal-making.  Really, though, pay no attention to the bluster of Senate Republicans right now.  Wait for the parliamentarian.  After all, if Portman and Capito have already backed down, I don't see much other substantive opposition in the Senate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

That Georgia special election? STILL doesn't mean anything...

And heeeeere we go again...  Tomorrow I'm planning to get back to healthcare, but today, I just gotta do this.

Yesterday, we had the runoff special election in Georgia.  After the first round, I posted this, about how special elections are irrelevant shiny things that just distract us when we have nothing else to hold our attention.  Yes, I also admitted that I have a sickness because I, too, am easily distracted by these things, but hey, did you notice that I refrained from writing about that ad!  Yay, me!  Regardless, my general point remains what I said after the Kansas special election back in April-- they don't mean jack shit.  Don't try to over-interpret what a special election means for 2018.

It is worth noting, though, that there has been a change in tone.  In the first few rounds of special elections in which Democrats lost, they were arguing that they lost by smaller margins than expected, so that's kind of a win, and indicative of good things to come.  I haven't seen as much of that with the Handel-Ossoff runoff result.  Figuring out the proper baseline in a special election is difficult, and that has been my point, so really, all that matters here is-- I hate to say it-- what Trump would say:  winning or losing.  The Republicans have been winning.  That's probably because they are holding these elections on Republican ground, but they are winning.  What does that mean?

NOTHING.  Haven't you been paying attention?

Of course, there is one way that this might matter.  The self-fulfilling prophesy.  If congressional Republicans are stupid enough to take these special elections as indications about public opinion more broadly, then a win might convince them that it is safe to act on healthcare reform, for example.

Would that be totally fucking stupid?  Yes.  Like, Donald Trump-tweeting-in-the-middle-of-the-night or admitting-guilt-to-Lester-Holt-stupid?  Yup, that fucking stupid.  That doesn't mean they won't see it that way.  Or, put another way, had Handel lost, that might have scared Senate Republicans into voting against repeal, but with Handel's victory, they don't have that acting against their repeal efforts.

Look, special elections are irrelevant shiny things.  All that really matters in the House is which party has the majority.  You saw what happened with the Obamacare repeal.  With all of the stupidity involved, and all of the opposition in the caucus, Ryan still managed to pass that piece of shit.  (I'm trying to figure out a joke about "regular" order, but technically, they didn't use regular order).  These special elections were never about majority status.  We can over-interpret them, if we get sloppy, but they only really, truly matter if others who matter (e.g. Senators) over-interpret them.  In principle, they could.  It would be stupid, and I doubt they will, but hey, I've been wrong about a lot so far.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Supreme Court and partisan gerrymandering

Yes, that's a hard-g in "gerrymandering," people.  Elbridge Gerry.  Hard-g.

Anyway, some definitions are in order because for most people, "gerrymandering" is just some generic evil, like fascism or hipsterism.  There are actually three primary categories of gerrymanders, in most taxonomies.  I say four, but I'm unmutual.

1)  The racial gerrymander, which dilutes the voting power of a racial or ethnic group.  Unconstitutional, sort of.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that, where possible, lines be drawn to create majority-minority districts (which are districts in which a majority of the population is a racial or ethnic minority) because that is the only way minorities wind up in office since white people don't often vote for non-whites.  On the other hand, the Supreme Court ruled, in Shaw v. Reno, that lines can't be drawn primarily on race.  Since these requirements obviously contradict each other, the requirements on "racial gerrymanders" are actually kind of a mess, in terms of constitutional doctrine.

2)  The bipartisan gerrymander packs Democratic voters into Democratic districts, and packs Republican voters into Republican districts.  That way, Democratic incumbents win overwhelmingly in their districts, and Republican incumbents win overwhelmingly in their districts.  There are no close districts.  Your average goo-goo* hates these plans.  I love them, and have published a bunch of stuff on the mathematical properties of these plans, particularly in relation to the competitive gerrymander (see below).  Mostly, they give you a partisan balance closest to the electorate, ideological compositions that are best suited to the electorate (that one really surprises people), and done properly, actually prevent one party from locking in a big majority through a wave election that winds up combining uncomfortably with incumbency advantages.  Think about that last one-- if the House is 217-217-1, then everything turns on 1 district.  435 competitive districts?  One big wave election plus incumbency advantages and one party can lock in a long-term majority with the luck of timing.  I went through the math on that in an old paper.

3)  The competitive gerrymander.  This is when you go out of your way to draw 50-50 districts.  Most people don't call this a gerrymander.  I do.  You often have to draw crazy lines by doing things like chopping up cities to get this outcome, and that can be ugly.  Any plan intended to achieve a political outcome is a gerrymander, and there are some negative representational consequences of 50-50 districts, as a lot of my research shows.  But, I'm rambling.  I'll get to the point...

4)  The partisan gerrymander.  This is what nobody (except the advantaged party) will ever really defend.  A partisan gerrymander is a plan that gives a mathematical advantage to one party through a "pack-and-crack" system.  It gets lumped in with the bipartisan gerrymander by people who just think of all gerrymandering as a generic evil, but that's the problem because the plan is very different.  Bipartisan gerrymanders pack voters of each party into their own districts.  Here's how a partisan gerrymander works:

One state, 33 voters, to be divided into 3 districts.  12 Republicans, 21 Democrats.  Districts 1 and 2 get 6 Republicans each, and 5 Democrats each.  District 3 gets 11 Democrats.  Did you catch that?  District 3 is "packed" with too many Democrats-- way more than they need to win.  The remaining Democrats are "cracked" across Districts 1 and 2.  With 10 remaining Democrats, that's enough to win another district, but not if they are spread like that.  As a result of the pack-and-crack, 12 Republicans have a majority in 2 out of 3 districts, even though they have about 1/3 of the population.  That's a partisan gerrymander.

The Supreme Court has a messy history with this one.  They have ruled in the past that, in principle, there may be such a thing as going too far with a partisan gerrymander, but they have never actually struck down a redistricting plan for partisan gerrymandering.  Last month, they came close-- they struck down a redistricting plan in North Carolina by recognizing that a partisan gerrymander was a racial gerrymander, so they could just use precedent on racial gerrymanders to strike down a partisan gerrymander.  I posted about it briefly.

That hints at several of the issues here.  First, why is a partisan gerrymander still considered constitutional?

Um, do you know how long it took before the Supreme Court struck down districts of unequal population?  Baker v. Carr.  1962.  Why?  Well, if the Senate is based on state lines, and states are of unequal population, then obviously district lines don't need to be based on equal population.  That sounds morally vile, but on constitutional grounds, you gotta admit-- it isn't completely groundless.  Evil, yes, but the Constitution isn't a moral document.  It enshrined slavery, for fuck's sake!  Then, and here's something everyone forgets--  go read the Constitution.  Where does it say you have a right to vote?

Nowhere.  It gives you some reasons that you can't be denied that right, but there is no positively stated right.

You start to see the problem.  From a moral standpoint, it is easy to look at a partisan gerrymander and find it vile.  From a constitutional standpoint, finding grounds to strike down any given plan has always been problematic.  In the recent North Carolina case, the SCOTUS found a way-- use race and the inseparability of party and race.  Now, it is still the case that majority-minority districts pack Democrats inefficiently into their districts, and that benefits Republicans.  As long as that happens, Republicans have an advantage, and I'll get to that, but North Carolina Republicans pushed it too far.

Anyway, though, the Supreme Court is now taking up a case in Wisconsin that isn't about race.  It is a straight-forward partisan gerrymander case.

What will they do?  Well, where things get messy is in the implications.  Redistricting plans always have competing goals.  The VRA issue is just one example, but the basic point is that any plan that has a partisan bias can be defended on other grounds.  Keeping "communities of interest" together, i.e. not chopping up cities (where most minorities live anyway) in ridiculous ways, will keep Democrats packed into their districts because Democrats cluster more in cities.  That type of thing benefits Republicans.  A Supreme Court ruling could, in principle, put a limit on what states do, depending on what they are willing to say, and how far they are willing to go, but we don't know that.

Having already taken away the race-partisanship excuse in the North Carolina case, states are more limited in what they can argue, and I won't hazard a guess at the outcome here.  But, I'm a cynic about the Supreme Court, and legal thought in general.  I tend to think of the field as one big exercise in motivated reasoning, where they start from an outcome, and then reverse-engineer an argument to get them to where they want to go.  If five justices decide that they want to start limiting partisan gerrymanders, they'll find a way to do it.  Hell, on the ACA a couple of years ago, Roberts decided that the individual mandate was not a tax, therefore anti-injunction didn't apply, and he could review it before it went into effect, but as soon as that happened, it became a Schrodinger's cat type of thing, changed with observation, became a tax, and therefore became constitutionally defensible under Article I as a tax rather than under interstate commerce, but only after being observed as not a tax so that he could get around anti-injunction.  Did'ya follow that?  Why did Roberts not want to strike down the ACA?  Who the fuck knows?  But, with a chain of reasoning that convoluted, you know it's motivated reasoning.  They do that kind of shit all the fucking time.  They twist themselves into knots to get to their chosen outcomes, and they will do that here.  What will they argue?  It depends on where they want to go, which I don't know.

Remember, there is no constitutional right to vote.  Should there be?  If I were writing a constitution, I'd include one.  Partisan gerrymanders?  Yeah, they suck.  What will SCOTUS do?  Twist themselves into knots to get their chosen outcome.  They've been reluctant to strike down partisan gerrymanders before, but hey, they sort-of got there with North Carolina.  Maybe they'll go all the way this time.




*Infantilizing term for good government advocate.  Since they are infants, they should be infantilized.

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

Things are going to shit again in Mali, the country from which these guys had to flee.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The strategy of Trump suddenly denying that he is under investigation

One should never be surprised by a new Trump lie.  He rose to political prominence by claiming that Obama was born in Kenya, although he wasn't the originator of that lie, and his first act as President was to insist that his press secretary lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.  The bizarreness of that latter lie means we should always leave open the possibility that any particular Trump lie just comes from some malfunction in his brain rather than any systematic thought since the size of his... inauguration crowd matters not one whit.  Yet, some Trump lies really are strategic, and it is with that distinction in mind that we should address the baffling spectacle of Trump's lawyer going on tv and issuing a formal denial that Trump is under investigation by Mueller.

The original reporting that Trump is under investigation came from, of course, anonymous sources, which Trump used to love.  The reason Comey didn't want to make a formal public statement that Trump wasn't, past tense, under investigation personally was that if he did, he would have to correct it should that change, and the Feds aren't in the habit of doing so.  They don't make public statements about who is and isn't under investigation.  They don't even make a formal practice of telling people when they are under investigation.  That's why Trump was so persistent in asking.  Mueller isn't even a normal Fed.  The likelihood that he made a formal statement, one way or another to Trump, is very low.  The only information Trump has that we don't is what Mueller has been requesting from him and his people.  However, Trump has almost certainly not received a blanket statement from Mueller that he is not under investigation, just as he has probably not received a formal statement that he is.  Does he believe that this means he isn't under investigation?  I... don't know.  Trump could just be in total denial, if he hasn't heard anything from Mueller.  He could simply assume that nothing has changed until he hears that he is under investigation, even though Mueller wouldn't see it that way.

Then again, this could be strategic.  Mueller could take a long time with the investigation, particularly if he needs to go through Trump's complicated finances.  If so, then Trump's lie (or maybe just bullshit) that he isn't being investigated won't be debunked until a formal report is released anyway, and until then, he can claim that any stories about the investigation are just... say it with me:  "fake news."  Besides, that could be a long time in the future, and Trump has never been punished for lying anyway, so why not just lie and get some more mileage out of bashing the media?

This is the problem with trying to analyze Trump.  Mueller probably wouldn't give Trump formal notification, in which case Trump really might believe that he is not personally under investigation.  Yet, even if he were, he'd still have his lawyer lie brazenly about it.  And it wouldn't even be a stupid lie.

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Checks on executive power and Miles's law

By now, you may have seen this clip of Newt Gingrich asserting that the President of the United States cannot obstruct justice:



You have also probably seen this put in the context of those who recall Newt impeaching Bill Clinton for... yup, "obstruction of justice."  The hypocrisy shouldn't surprise you.  That case was about an affair with an underling, and Newt was, himself, having an affair with an underling at the time.  The tradition of thought here goes back to, of course, this little gem...



And now, I can't believe I'm going to post this, but...



Newt Gingrich is reaching back to the Nixon defense (or forward to the Judge Dredd defense), and not by accident.  Trump did the exact same thing that forced Nixon from office.  Well, not the exact same thing.  Nixon kept his tapes secret because while Nixon was paranoid, he was smart.  Trump is the dumbest motherfucker in political history, so he blurted out his own guilt on national tv.  The only defense is the Nixon/Dredd defense.

There is even a semi-coherent theory behind it.  During the Bush 43 administration, you may have heard of it as the theory of the "unitary executive."  It is the notion that all executive power is vested in the president.  No member of the executive branch has independent authority beyond what the president allows-- including the Director of the FBI.  Thus, the president is in charge of all investigations, including investigations of himself.  Thus, there is literally no way that the president can obstruct an investigation.  That is the obviously-hypocritical argument that Newt was making.

The hypocrisy brings us to Miles's law:  where you stand depends on where you sit.  Executive authority is a tricky kind of issue, and most people don't really have coherent preferences on it.  If they like the president, strong executive authority.  If they don't, weak executive authority.  So, would Newt have accepted anything like the unitary executive model or an "I am the law" argument from Obama?  Hell no.  He didn't from Clinton, and that was about a lie about a blowjob while Newt himself was cheating on his own second wife (he had left his first wife while she was convalescing in the hospital from cancer, and he was, shall we say, not diligent about paying child support because Newt Gingrich is in competition with Trump for most vile sack of festering, disease-ridden bio-waste in modern political history).

Process arguments and outcome arguments are difficult for simple minds to grasp.  Making a process argument requires accepting that the argument will cause you to lose at some point.  Nobody likes to lose.  Accepting a process argument requires accepting the rightness of your own loss, once in a while.  For Trump, you can see why this is a problem.  He defines everything in terms of winning and losing.  No loss is legitimate to him, so he can never accept a process argument.  He'll lie and cheat because all that matters is winning.  Newt is the same way.  He is, historically, Trump's progenitor.

He rose to the position of Speaker as the guy who would do anything to win.  For 40 years, the Republicans were the minority party in the House of Representatives.  One faction-- the Bob Michel faction-- basically accepted that, and was willing to go along and get what they could for their own districts.  Gingrich led a faction that came to be called "the bomb-throwers," whose mindset was to tear down anything they could, obstruct everything and fight tooth-and-nail based on the premise that the only thing that mattered was trying to get majority status, by any means necessary, so to speak.  Nothing was out-of-bounds for Newt and the bomb-throwers.  In 1994, they finally got control, but since Newt is a total fucking moron, the 1995 shutdown, the impeachment and Newt's own ethical problems led to his own downfall in 1998.  Still, Newt set the template for Trump, and his Miles's law interpretation of executive authority?  Yup.  That's there too.

Trump, of course, knows none of the history, none of the law, and nothing about anything.  The famous line about Newt Gingrich (the origin of which is difficult to trace) is that he is a stupid person's idea of a smart person.  Trump is just a stupid person, but he is the reductio ad absurdum of Gingrich, and Newt was already absurd.

Trump, Newt and people like that have neither the intellectual nor moral capacity to make process arguments, like arguments about executive power because such arguments require accepting the principle that it is right for my side to lose in certain circumstances.  That's a hard thing for anyone to accept, much less stupid and horrendous people, like Trump and Gingrich.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

When to talk, and when to shut your pie hole

So, um, what's the deal with the Senate healthcare bill?  Nobody knows.  Seriously, nobody knows.  Activists are pissed, Democrats are pissed, journalists are pissed, even a lot of Republicans are pissed.  But, Republicans are doing this strategically, and it is smart.  Negotiation is difficult.

One of the books I regularly assign is John Gilmour's Strategic Disagreement, which deals with the problem of negotiations breaking down because if one side thinks that maintaining the status quo gives them an electoral advantage that will eventually turn into total victory, then why compromise?  Good book.

Gilmour was really talking about inter-party disagreement, and right now, what's going on is intra-party disagreement.  That is important to understand because it isn't really the same thing.  The hardliner faction of the GOP is fighting with the semi-moderate faction over just how much of Obamacare to repeal, and how quickly.  Within that is a conflict that plays out in Republican primaries based more on threats than actual wins and losses.  It isn't quite the same thing as policy disagreements between Dems and the GOP combined with general election wins and losses which are actual wins and losses.  I could write a long treatise on the differences, but it's early on a Saturday morning, and...  I don't wanna.  My coffee will run out.  I want to talk about something else, and who's gonna stop me?

One of the trickier chapters in Gilmour's book, and one that rarely gets tested in any systematic way, is the idea that you can sometimes get around the incentives for negotiations to break down by having the negotiations happen in secret.  The problem is that the process of negotiation is hard, and involves a lot of back-and-forth.  If any given offer is subject, not just to the negotiation process, but to public scrutiny before the process is complete, the whole thing is doomed from the get-go.  If I have to consider making some minor concession mid-way through the process, and some fucking asshole leaks that I'm making it to the public, and they don't see me get anything for it because the process is still on-going, I'm fucked.  See the problem?  So, Gilmour says, you need private negotiations to get around the challenges of strategic disagreement.  I don't remember him using terms like "fucking asshole," though.  For that, you gotta come here to The Unmutual Political Blog-- home of serious academic citations, and all the words they won't let me use when I publish with a university press.

Anyway... the Republican Party really has no idea how to handle internal disagreements and backbiting over Obamacare.  Solution?  Negotiate in private.  You don't talk until after the deal has been reached.

On the other hand, consider someone who doesn't know when to shut his pie hole-- do I have to type his name?

Ask any lawyer for advice on what to do when you are the subject of any legal inquiry.  Any lawyer with a tiny fraction of a brain will tell you the following:  keep your stupid, fucking mouth shut.  Typing and tapping fingers too.

Here's some bonus music for the day.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

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

The Scalise shooting

Ooooh, a windmill!  I think I'll tilt at it.  I passed on this yesterday to address the reveal that Trump is under investigation, but I just can't pass up the chance to poke at everyone with a mass shooting.

A mass shooting just happened.  Please don't revert to pre-fabricated arguments that are intended to apply to every shooting, and don't actually apply to any specific incident (or, really, ever).  This applies to pretty much everyone.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Shootings and gun control bring out the stupid.  Liberals use the incident to advance generic "gun control" (as though there were any such thing), and conservatives just delude themselves into thinking that they can be the heroes of action movies.

I'll start with the liberals, because they are more important to prod here.  Every liberal's favorite policy on guns is the background check, and every liberal's favorite observation in a case like this is the history of domestic violence for offenders like Hodgkinson.  James Hodgkinson was a scumbag before this happened.  And a Bernie-bro.  This is the point where I make a joke about Bernie, and somebody else tells me, "too soon."  To quote Matt Jarvis:  "The road to hell is paved with people asking:  too soon?"  Regardless, the relevant point for people trying to shoehorn a background check argument in here is that Hodgkinson was never actually convicted.  He was charged, but not convicted of battery and "aiding damage to a motor vehicle."  Charges were dropped.

Now, suppose you introduce some law, with a more elaborate background check that looks for a history of domestic violence, which Hodgkinson had.  You've got a big problem, constitutionally speaking.  He was never convicted.  Unless you write a law that allows sales to be blocked for people who weren't convicted, that sale would go through anyway, and if you block sales for people who weren't convicted, um... have you ever heard of a little thing called "due process?"  And that's before we get into the question of whether or not background checks do fuck-all besides send buyers into the black market.  So, yes, Hodgkinson was a scumbag but any law about domestic abuse and firearm sales would either fail to catch him or run afoul of due process, and that's my point about the problem with pre-fabricated arguments.  (And again, that's before even addressing whether background checks do anything other than send buyers into the black market, which is another matter completely).

On the other side, take Rep. Chris Collins.  He is just a particularly prominent example of the mentality that you need a gun with you at all times to protect yourself from this kind of thing.  He said, after the shooting, that he will always carry a gun because he thinks he'll be safer.  That is predicated on two mistakes-- one shared with the liberals, one different.  The shared mistake is the overestimation of the danger of being the victim of something like this.  After the Pulse shooting last year, I posted this, trying to put things in perspective in terms of the scale of death.  You aren't going to be shot.  If you are worried about this happening to you, you are worried about the wrong things.

That goes for you, too, liberals.  Quit it.

Now, Members of Congress, and people in the public eye have a little more to worry about, true, but that brings me to the second point.  The tough guy fantasy.  Shooting a gun takes practice.  Go to a range on a regular basis, and you can get your aim down.  Doing it in a high-stress situation?  Nope.  Ain't gonna happen.  If you are a regular person, you are going to hurt yourself, or someone innocent if you are stupid enough to pull out a gun during an incident like this.  It isn't just the aim.  It is the tactical training and the nerves.  Why do we still know who Sully Sullenberger is?  Because he is a supreme, superhuman badass.  Why?  Because he kept his calm when any normal mortal would shit their pants and kill a plane full of people.  Because he kept his calm, nobody got hurt.  That's what it takes, and you don't have that.  No matter how much you practice at the range, unless you drill with a SWAT team, you'll never have that.

Mass shootings bring out the stupid in everyone.  Mass shootings are extremely rare.   You won't be shot.  Relax.  Whatever policy you have in mind, it wouldn't have done jack shit to stop whatever just happened.  Also, your nerves suck.  If you pull out a gun, you'll probably hurt yourself, or someone innocent.  Gun control makes people stupid.  I don't mean that guns make people stupid.  I mean that the issue makes people unable to think rationally.

And that's before we get into the stereotyping and the fact that the shooter was a Bernie-bro.  Now, as a Bernie-hater, I personally have no cognitive dissonance about that, but I raise it as an observation that the way people think about guns and culture does not break down along the lines one expects.  Of course, in the Senate, Sanders had a voting record on gun control that bothered some liberals.  Why?  He represented Vermont, where there are a bunch of hunters in the largely rural state, and Sanders is more of a sell-out than he would want you to believe.  Yeah, culture and expectations on guns.  That's part of why nobody thinks rationally about the topic.


As an aside, if anyone wants the short version of a gun control debate, read the comment thread in yesterday's post.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What it means that Trump is "under investigation"

I figured I knew what I would be writing this morning as soon as the shooting happened, but then we found out that Trump really is formally under investigation.  Yup, Mueller really is formally investigating Trump for obstruction of justice on the Comey firing.  If you check in on the prediction markets, though, they have gotten a bit of sanity back on the whole impeachment thing.  I still think they are overestimating the likelihood of impeachment.  I wouldn't pay 14 cents for that dollar payoff for a 2017 impeachment (and in fact, I don't participate in these things at all), and while Trump might not finish out 2018, his odds of getting through the year are better than 2-1.  I have a hard time seeing Trump resigning voluntarily, impeachment is absurdly unlikely (which I'll address again today), and that leaves death.  Trump is old, and contrary to his crazy, old coot of a doctor, he can't be healthy because he leads an absurdly unhealthy lifestyle because he thinks that exercise is unhealthy for wasting his precious bodily fluids, or something like that.

So, that brings us back to impeachment.  Comey was investigating the Trump campaign's connections to Russia, Flynn, etc.  Trump told him to back off, the way a mafia don would.  Comey didn't.  So, Trump fired him, and like the dumbest unclefucker* in political history, he admitted the reason on national tv, even after having lawyers craft something vaguely resembling a different legal justification for the firing to give him cover for the act.

As a political scientist rather than a lawyer, this looks pretty open-and-shut to me, but lawyers have an amazing ability to tie themselves in knots over definitions of words too obscure even for me, and that's before we get into, "that depends on what your definition of 'is' is."  But, of course, that's kind of where I'm going here.

Yes, if Mueller isn't a total hack, he'll recommend charges be brought against Trump because Trump already admitted, on national tv, to exactly what Mueller is investigating.  Add that to Comey's memos, which nobody except Trump is challenging-- and even Senate Republicans didn't challenge Comey when he called Trump a fucking liar-- and it is hard to see how Mueller exonerates Trump on obstruction of justice.

Of course, this could get dragged out, or he could get fired.  He could say that he can't draw a conclusion.  There are a lot of ways that this could play out, but a very strong possibility now is that Mueller recommends charges, and that goes to Congress.  With a sitting president, the proper course of action, constitutionally speaking, is impeachment.

And that brings us back to Kenny Starr.  Starr was given the task of finding something, anything that congressional Republicans could use to impeach Bill Clinton.  It started with the possibility of something shady in the Whitewater land deal, but expanded way beyond that.  What, you may ask, did that have to do with a blowjob from an intern named Monica Lewinski?  Nothing.  You see the point.  Starr's job was just to find anything Republicans could use to impeach Clinton.  So, he was given several years, tens of millions of dollars, no topical constraints, and the goal of finding wrongdoing with respect to anything on any topic.  The best he could come up with was that he found out about Clinton banging his interns, asked about it with Billy-boy under oath, confirmed that Clinton had lied about it because, well, there was a stain on her dress and Lewinski had talked about it to Linda Tripp with the call recorded, and voila!  Clinton lied under oath.  Was that "perjury?"  The legal distinction is that a lie under oath is only perjury if it is material to the case.  Since Clinton's relations with Lewinski were relevant to nothing except his own marriage, impeaching him for lying about it was kind of a problem.  So, while House Republicans under Newt Gingrich, who was cheating on his then-second-wife with a staffer (now his wife) impeached Clinton for perjury, Democrats killed Kenny's report, with the Senate only garnering 50 votes to convict, thanks to Arlen Specter (at that point, still a nominal Republican) being a douchebag and refusing to vote either guilty or innocent, and instead pulling some bullshit from Scottish common law, and voting "not proven therefore not guilty."  It wouldn't have mattered anyway if he had voted guilty since the conviction threshold is 2/3.  He was just being a tool.

Anywho, the point is that the president's party rejected the charges.  That can happen.  Mueller can recommend that Trump be charged with obstruction of justice.  It is hard to see him convincing Republicans in Congress to remove Trump.  Have you watched those hearings?  Did you see Tom Cotton?  I don't care what's in Mueller's report.  Cotton won't vote to convict.  Risch?  No fucking way.  It doesn't matter what is in that report.  McCain tortured himself worse than the VC to defend Trump against Comey's testimony.  Little Marco was toeing the Trump line.  Lindsey Graham was doing Trump's bidding.  Ted Cruz, whose father Trump accused of murdering Kennedy, and whose wife Trump called ugly, is backing Trump all the way.

Why?  The 1974 midterm election, and the 1976 presidential election.  The party is circling the wagons around Trump because that unclefucker has a electoral bomb strapped to him with a dead-man trigger, and they're chained to him by that "R" after their names.  If Mueller puts out his findings before 2018, it will be brutal.  All the Republicans can hope to do is minimize the damage, though, by circling the wagons.  Witch hunt!  Fake media conspiracy!  Deep state!  Trump could even try some Wag the Dog shit.  This could get very ugly, but the Republicans' best chance to minimize the damage is to signal to everyone that this is a purely partisan fight, and they do that by holding ranks.  So far, they're doing that.

And yes, I know that after a shooting, we're supposed to tone it down and pretend to be nice and play along.  No.



*Does anyone ever notice how much Trump loves to bring up his uncle, the professor from MIT, as evidence that he, Donald, must be smart?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Sessions hearings

I joked yesterday that Sessions might tell Kamala Harris to bring him some sweet tea and get out of that chair before the real Senator showed up.  Instead, he told her that her questions made him nervous.  He's kind of slow...

Anyway, yesterday's hearings show why most congressional hearings really are pointless.  My lead-up to the Comey hearing described hearings as being about legislators strutting around before the cameras.  With Comey, at least he actually wanted to answer questions, with the constraint that some questions could only be answered in closed-door sessions.  On the other hand, combine the basic showboating nature of a Senator with a witness whose objective is to not answer questions without explicitly taking the 5th and you have something truly pointless.

Like yesterday.  Poor Jeffie-boy.  He got nervous!  He's not used to being rushed!

There are a lot of stories floating around about interruptions of Kamala Harris, and I have written before about people counting interruptions of women without counting interruptions of men in order to do a direct comparison.  I did it during the debates last year.  Bad methodology.  Don't do that.  Now, I wasn't actually counting interruptions anyway, but instead, I'll ask it this way.  Can you imagine if woman responded to Senate questioning by saying she's not used to being rushed like that, and it makes her nervous?

Yeah.  Fuckin' tough guy, that Jeff Sessions.

Sorry I don't have any actual political science today.  I got shit to do.