Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Tom Price resignation

When Trump named Tom Price as Secretary of HHS, I was puzzled by the reaction.  It went a little something like this:  Trump must be serious about repealing Obamacare!  This means Obamacare is doomed!

So, I posted this on November 30 of last year.  It mostly held up.  I repeated my oft-stated observation that the risk-averse strategy for the GOP on Obamacare would have been a series of small-bore bills that repeal portions of the law, e.g. the employer mandate but not the individual mandate, the medical device tax, and so forth, but that getting total party unity among a skittish caucus would be difficult.  And hey!  Look what happened!

And what role did Tom Price play?  Exactly the role I said.  None.  The House did what the House does.  It operates under majority party control.  Paul Ryan had a lot more trouble than a Speaker normally would because... [cough, cough, Freedom Caucus], but he got a very conservative bill through.  That's how things work in the House.  It is not quite purely majoritarian, but it is majoritarian in the sense that the majority of the majority party gets its way, and that's basically what happened.  The Senate is another matter.  Mitch McConnell did his level best, and as I've said, I think he actually played about the best game a person in that position could have played.  It was just probably not a winnable game given the situation.  Collins and Murkowski weren't going to support any bill realistically supported by the rest of the caucus, and John McCain decided he hadn't been an actual "maverick" for a while.  Add in the dramatics of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the difficulties of managing the Byrd rule, and McConnell couldn't get the pieces to fit together.

Where was Tom Price in this?  The same place the Secretary of HHS should have been expected to be.  Nowhere in sight.  Why did anyone think otherwise?

Because Donald Trump is a fuckin' idiot, and those who were writing news stories about it back in late November and early December of 2016 weren't thinking through the legislative  process.  Cabinet secretaries don't have a role to play in this.  That's not their job.

In principle, the VP could play a role, and I often speculated that Pence could have served as a presidential surrogate, given his history in Congress, and the fact that he clearly knows more about policy than Trump (limbo, limbo, lim-BO!).  The VP also casts a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, but that wasn't the issue either, and this wasn't an issue on which Trump really needed a surrogate because Trump's position was that he'd sign any bill.  ANY bill, as long as he could say he was "repealing Obamacare."  No, Price was never going to be involved in the "Obamacare repeal" efforts in any serious way.  I was puzzled by assertions to the contrary last November, and the idea that the failed "repeal" effort has anything to do with his resignation (rather than just the flight stuff) just strikes me as silly.  And yet, I have read several stories about Trump's anger at Price for the failure of the repeal efforts...  As with all Trump administration news, such stories can be taken with grains of salt, but still...

It is kind of amusing to go back and see what I wrote at the time.  Checking one's own thoughts to avoid internal revisionist history is important.

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

I know, I over-use the Drive-By Truckers, but I really want to use "Shut Up and Get On The Plane" today.  So, a twofer today.  Here's Mike Cooley playing it solo from The Fool on Every Corner instead of the album cut (the song is from the Truckers' Southern Rock Opera), followed by a very stylistically different David Rawlings cut.  "Airplane," from his new album, Poor David's Almanack.

Friday, September 29, 2017

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

Cannonball Adderley, "Hi-Fly," from Live in San Francisco.  No explanations necessary.

Donald Trump, falsehoods, and the paradox of news

I often use the phrase, "the paradox of news," and I think that I use it uniquely.  Occasionally, I Google it to check, as I just did, and I think I'm still safe claiming it, but one can never be certain, and I'm not going that deeply into search results to check because I don't care enough about it.

The paradox of news, as I define it:  a story is newsworthy if it is new and different, yet the coverage of a story creates the impression that it is ordinary and normal.  Coverage of a mass shooting or a terrorist attack, for example, can create the false impression that you are at serious risk of dying in either, even though they are newsworthy precisely because they are so rare.  The CDC will give you a much better assessment of causes of death, and they are mundane things that don't get coverage because they are too common, like heart disease (still number 1!).  So, people sit around eating junk food, worrying about mass shootings (the left's boogeyman) and terrorist attacks (the right's boogeyman), completely missing the point.  The paradox of news in action.  Or, inaction, as the case may be.

Did you catch that little story yesterday about Trump blaming the failure of Graham-Cassidy on Sen. Thad Cochrane being in the hospital?  It was a kind of a blink-and-you-miss-it story, flitting across the news scene.  Trump did a Fox & Friends appearance, asserting that Cochrane's hospitalization was the stumbling block preventing passage of Graham-Cassidy, but that the GOP really had the votes under reconciliation rules, which just expire before Monday.  There are two problems with this.  Cochrane is not in the hospital, and there are more than two no-votes, so his presence or absence from the floor is irrelevant.  If his vote had mattered, the GOP would have wheeled him onto the floor in a wheelchair or a gurney to cast the deciding vote, IV in his arm, nurse physically moving his arm for him, with Bill Frist testifying that he is not in a persistent vegetative state (go look up "Terry Schiavo").

Does Trump know that Cochrane is just resting at home rather than in a hospital?  Does he know that McConnell cancelled the vote because he couldn't get 50+Pence votes even with Cochrane?  We...  don't actually know.  He lies so often that a lie is plausible, but he's also a clueless fuckin' idiot.  This situation is what we call, in social science terms, "overdetermined."

With any even remotely normal president, the false assertion that a non-hospitalized Senator is hospitalized, and that a bill can pass with his vote even though the whip count clearly showed otherwise would be a major story.  Instead, it was a brief amusement in yesterday's news, already off the major news pages.  Go to the New York Times Politics page today, and look for it.  I don't see it.  Isn't the New York Times supposed to be the worst of the worst according to Trump and the GOP?  Who else does Trump hate the most?  CNN.  Go to CNN's Politics page.  As of this morning, no mention of it.  Why isn't it there?  The paradox of news.  It isn't newsworthy when Trump says something wildly false.  As of right now, Trump's PolitiFact scorecard has 15% "Pants on Fire" lies, 33% "False" statements, and another 21% "Mostly False" statements.

It is simply not news when the President says something ridiculously, idiotically false.  It is hard for us to tell if he even knows what the truth is.  And he does this so often that it has stopped being news, to the point that the news organizations that are supposedly most biased against him have trouble keeping up with this stuff.  The Times and CNN aren't even talking about it today.

If we had a remotely normal president, this would be a major story.  "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."  Forty years later, we still tell the story of this gaffe.  A lie from Trump-- or maybe just a demonstration of gross ignorance-- can't hold a news cycle.  They're just not newsworthy.

Meditate on that.  With lots of deep breathing.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Why the Republicans' tax plans will probably play out differently

As I keep telling everyone, the GOP will not stop trying on Obamacare.  However, for the moment, they are supposedly going to prioritize taxes.  They can't pass a "repeal-and-replace" plan unless something changes, like McCain dying (or Menendez getting convicted and having a replacement appointed by Chris Christie-- watch New Jersey!), but they absolutely can pass something on taxes.

However, a quick recap is in order.  Tax "reform" has a specific definition.  Our tax code is ridiculously complex.  Why?  The last time we simplified the code was in 1986.  Each year, we add complexities, usually in the form of benefits for some narrow constituency, because some Member of Congress is catering to a constituency within his or her district and wants to be able to point to something that he or she has done for them.  David Mayhew pointed to this type of behavior as an example of "credit-claiming."  (See Congress: The Electoral Connection).  With this type of thing happening year after year, the tax code gets incrementally more complex, and eventually you wind up with a monstrosity.  Which... we have.  As I have pointed out before, there really is a technocratic case for reducing nominal rates while eliminating credits and deductions, keeping everything at the same total revenue level, but sparing people the time and resources spent managing the vileness of the tax code itself.  That's why the 1986 reform actually was bipartisan.  Difficult as all fucking hell to pass, yes, but bipartisan.

Why is it so difficult?  Because every deduction and credit benefits someone, and whoever it benefits won't want to give it up.  Every Member of Congress who inserted a benefit for some constituency did so for... a constituency.  Every proposal to simplify the tax code has winners and losers.  A technocratic reform is difficult precisely because it involves tradeoffs.  That's why it doesn't happen very often.

And that's why it has absolutely zero chance of happening now.  The people who can't pass a "repeal-and-replace" plan because they can't manage tradeoffs in the healthcare system won't be able to pass an actual tax reform package because they don't want to make tradeoffs.

What do they want?  TAX CUTS!  When do they want them?  NOW!  See?  Free speech and protests.  All good.

In yesterday's post, I pointed out that the GOP had trouble with healthcare because of the theory of "conditional party government."  A party won't delegate power to party leaders when they aren't ideologically homogeneous.  On healthcare, there is no unity within the GOP on outcome goals.  That's why McConnell wasn't given room to maneuver.  A party leader is only as strong as the caucus will let him be.  On taxes?  The entire GOP agrees.  Cut them.

Linguistic rant time.  "Fiscal conservative."  I hate this term.  Why?  It doesn't mean a fuckin' thing.  "Fiscal."  Of, or relating to the budget, when discussing politics.  "Conservative."  Um... what this means has changed so much over time, particularly in "fiscal" terms, that... fuck...

Anyway, to conserve money, or manage a budget in colloquially conservative terms would mean balancing budgets, which is what self-described "fiscal conservatives" sort of want you to think.  Of course, there are two ways to do that.  High taxes and high spending, or low taxes and low spending.  Self-described "fiscal conservatives" could, in principle do either, but would generally, supposedly favor the latter.

Long ago, there used to be people in the GOP called "deficit hawks."  They had names like Senator Ka... BOB Dole.  His eventual running mate, Jack Kemp, used to say of Dole, "he never met a tax he didn't hike."  Of course, that changed in Dole's 1996 campaign, when he ran on a flat tax proposal, but that was after Poppy Bush's broken "no new taxes" pledge, and after the GOP underwent its purge of deficit hawkery.

Today, the actual fiscal policy of those who describe themselves as "conservative" in any way is as follows:  cut taxes.  What's that you've got there?  A tax?  Cut it.  The idea of connecting taxes to spending is verboten in conservative policy circles, and the deficit is a topic of discussion only when the president is a Democrat.

The Republicans in both chambers are truly unified on the concept of tax cuts.  What may divide them?  Which taxes to cut.  There are lots of them.  This could be a sticking point.  Corporate taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, individual income taxes...  Then, there is the question of which deductions go, and which spending provisions they cut in a feign towards balance, but their bill will increase the deficit.  And that leads to the next point.

Byrd rules.  The GOP will use budget reconciliation again.  Why?  Because they aren't going to get Democratic votes for a tax cut.  They aren't going to try for another 1986-style reform.  That would be hard.  They just want tax cuts.  The Byrd rule says that you can't use reconciliation to increase the deficit for more than 10 years.  This was why the 2001 Bush tax cuts expired in 2011, creating part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations right after the 2010 midterm elections.  This is a tradeoff, though.  The GOP could go for permanent tax cuts, using reconciliation, if they could balance the cuts with spending cuts elsewhere.  Here's the problem.  Too much of the budget is stuff that they won't touch-- defense, Social Security, Medicare...  The GOP seems to be deciding that a large tax cut that expires in 10 years is better than a smaller, permanent one.  (Permanence in policy being relative anyway).  But, they are unified on that concept.  And that's the point.

The devil is in the details, though.  The complexity of the tax code means that there are a lot of ways to cut taxes.  The House?  Paul Ryan can pass a bunch of big, ambitious tax cuts there.  Passing a tax cut in the House will be trivially easy.  As usual, watch the Senate.  Watch for Collins and Murkowski to be marginalized because the GOP can do without them.  If they start getting squirmy, McConnell won't care.  As the Drama Club in the Senate keeps pulling things rightward, it will be hard to find any McCain-like objectors, partly because the party won't feel the need to avoid the committee process anyway, which was McCain's bugaboo.

Yes, big tax cuts are probably coming.  Probably slowly, but this will be much easier.  Reform, though?  No chance.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The politics of failure

Yesterday, when the voters of Alabama were sealed in their voting cubicles, they voted for Roy Moore, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and anyone who wants a remotely functional Senate, knows how to read, or ever breathes through their noses.  McConnell also announced that he was cancelling plans to vote on Graham-Cassidy, the last remaining GOP plan to "repeal-and-replace" Obamacare, and I continue to use quotation marks because the use of budget reconciliation precludes an actual repeal anyway.

So, let's talk about the politics of failure.  Remember all that winnin' Trump was supposed to do?

Why does he, and why does the Senate GOP in particular, keep failing?  With Roy Moore, you may be tempted to make some general argument about the risk of getting primaried, and I'll go into this "more" at some point, but remember that Strange was an appointee, and Moore is a celebrity politician in Alabama.  This was weird, and primary challenges are rarely successful.  If you want to study primary challenges, you have to pay attention to the ones that don't work too.  But, let's move on to why McConnell can't pass anything.

Why is it that they can't even pass anything on healthcare?  I mean, isn't this something that was supposed to be their big thing after seven years?  There is the fact that they never bothered to put together any specific legislative plans over the past seven years, never bothered with a real legislative process this year... We can put together any number of explanations specific to healthcare, but there is something bigger going on.  How can we tell?

Because the Senate hasn't done jack fucking shit on anything except to confirm Plagiarist-Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  (No, I'm never letting that go because fuck plagiarists!)

Political science time!  Conditional party government.  This is the model of parties in Congress associated with John Aldrich and David Rohde.  I'm sure they would love to be associated with a blog post including the line, "fuck plagiarists," and an essentially naked Bart Simpson.  Anywho, the model essentially says that a legislative party delegates power to the party leader when a set of conditions are met, most importantly that the party is internally ideologically homogenous.  When that holds, the party leadership will be given broad authority, and the result will be a unified party that achieves its ends.

McConnell just had to pull a vote that he was going to lose because he couldn't keep it together.  His party isn't unified on policy responses to Obamacare.  There are 52 GOP Senators, ranging from Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski on the relative left (true moderates) to Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz on the right, soon to be joined by Roy Moore, who makes those three look like the previous two.  Perhaps more importantly, the caucus is divided by different beliefs about the acceptability of compromise.  Roy Moore will exacerbate that division too.

Without a unified caucus, the party leader can't do jack fucking shit because the caucus won't let him.  Ryan has been able to get more through, partially because the numbers are more on his side, but partially because the structural rules in the House give the Speaker more tools in order to manage the tools he has to manage, if you catch my drift.  The Senate Majority Leader?  Basically, he can schedule stuff.  He has a few more tricks beyond that which I would describe if my coffee weren't running low, but compared to the Speaker's ability to influence the composition of the committees, including the Rules Committee, McConnell is just head deal-maker.  Sure, he's better at that than Trump, but that's not saying much.  Trump is an idiot charlatan.  The problem is that McConnell just doesn't have the numbers on his side.  His caucus isn't unified, and there isn't much you can do when you are trying to bridge the divide between that particular 52-person caucus.

But now, I'm going to go dark, even by my standards.  The GOP is not done trying with Obamacare, and don't believe anyone who says they are.  Collins and Murkowski are out of this.  McConnell can't get their votes for anything that can get the votes of the House Freedom Caucus.  Remember them?  And Roy Fuckin' Mouth-Breathin' Moore is on his way, which means this is all about... John McCain.

John McCain has terminal cancer.  Remember Ted Kennedy?  Remember how his death changed the politics of Obamacare passage?  See where I'm going with this?  If McCain dies, you know who replaces him?  Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona.  He appoints a Republican, and not a McCain-Republican because McCain is a fuckin' weirdo.  He appoints a conventional Republican who goes along with McConnell.  Hell, Luther Strange was going along with whatever McConnell put in front of him.  Take Collins and Murkowski off the table, replace McCain with Joe-Schmo generic Republican, move the bill right in response to the dramatic posturing of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, egged on by that fuckwit, Roy Moore, and you've got a bill that passes.

There's a whole lotta failin' goin' on.  It won't necessarily stay that way.  Why not?  It's all about caucus unity, and that can change.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The future of the GOP, Roy Moore, Obamacare, and all that [no, I won't say "jazz"]

'Cuz I hate show tunes.  I like jazz jazz.

Anywho, here's a little quote from a fun author:

Most postrevolutionary regimes are overthrown by their own hard-line radicals, the ones with the most blinkered ideological outlook— precisely because they’re also the ones most willing to murder anyone who stands between them and a solution to the crisis.— Miriam/Helge, from “The Trade of Queens,” by Charles Stross

If you haven't read The Merchant Princes series, it has a lot of flaws, but a lot of interesting ideas.  You can probably see where I am going with this, though.  In the context of the book, Miriam/Helge was discussing the tensions in a parallel universe in which the American revolution didn't happen until around 2003 because the King wound up in exile in the New World after France conquered the British Isles in 1760, and the revolution looked more like the Bolshevik revolution than 1776, complete with the internecine purification process afterwards.

Gee, hard-line radicals with blinkered ideologies willing to shoot people on their own side?  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  What does this have to do with Roy Moore and the conservative movement these days?  Hmmm.... Let me think about that...

Let's see, we've got an ideological movement that sought power, electorally rather than through revolutionary means, but hey, their whole fuckin' imagery in 2010 was the "tea party" and the Revolutionary Fuckin' War!  We've got people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz trying to out-conservative each other, along with the House Freedom Caucus, making it more difficult for the unified government to pass anything, we've got Roy Moore running in a special election today to challenge Luther Strange, probably on path to victory, and he'll just add to the blinkered caucus.

We are in metaphorical terms here, but sometimes it amazes me how often the sci-fi authors get the politics better than the writers who try to handle politics directly.  Good ole' Charlie Stross has these guys' numbers.

The basic problem, spatially and game theoretically, is that actors like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz try not to allow any ideological room to the right of them.  They are constantly trying to out-conservative everyone.  Consequently, they must reject every deal, and undercut their own party's ability to do anything, which is the basic reasoning behind my last series of posts.  Roy Moore makes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz look like Susan Fucking Collins.

Part of the problem is that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are, at the end of the day, at least kind of faking it.  There is a level at which what they do is basically just bullshit.  Remember how Trump commented that Paul's vote might have been won over on Graham-Cassidy, and I sort of said that if Paul became pivotal, that might have worked?  That's because Rand Paul is a bullshit artist.  Yes, he is very, very conservative, but he's also the guy who took bong hits while worshipping Aqua Buddha.  No, you don't do that shoving the bong into someone else's face, you fucking scumbag, but there is a degree of posturing to him.  And Ted Cruz?  Total fucking faker.  Yes, conservative, but when he led the House conservatives to push Boehner towards a shutdown a few years ago, it was because he knew the GOP would have to cave, and he could be the guy saying that they should have held out longer.  Conclusion?  Total fucking faker.

Roy Moore?  True believer.  Ted Cruz duped the House conservatives into shutting down the government in 2013 based on the premise that they could force Obama to defund Obamacare.  It was bullshit, and the point was to bolster Cruz's credentials as the "true conservative," but that was the scam.  Roy Moore is basically as dumb as the idiots in the House who listened to Ted Cruz.  And there is a high likelihood that he is about to win a Senate seat.

McConnell is shitting bricks right now because the most blinkered ideologue, willing to murder anyone (metaphorically) who stands between him and a solution, is probably about to win a Senate seat.  And McConnell can't pass anything now, when his worst problems are people like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and John McCain.  Add Roy Moore?

Yeah, you thought the Senate had trouble with "repeal-and-replace?"  You ain't seen nothin'.

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

My ignorance of Venezuelan music strikes again.  Sorry.  Instead, here's Brazilian musician, Vinicius Cantuaria with one of my favorites, Bill Frisell.  Enjoy.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My own latest research and Graham-Cassidy

Time for a shameless plug.  At the Midwest Political Science Association conference earlier this year, I presented a fun, little paper.  Unfortunately, I can't provide an un-gated link to it.  Anyway, "Expressive Voting and Legislative Gridlock: The Changing Meaning of a No Vote."  Short version:  In conventional spatial theory, we set up a vote as a choice between a status quo and some specified alternative, and anyone closer to the status quo votes no, while anyone closer to the alternative votes yes.  However, some actors may prefer to vote no on any alternative that is insufficiently close to their ideal policies, even when that means effectively voting for a status quo that is far from their preferences.  Doing so has the additional benefit of sending signals of moral purity.  Fun paper.  I still don't know what I'll do with it because such papers are difficult to publish in mainline journals, which prefer formal theory based around derived equilibria, but I'll do something with it at some point.

Anyway, did anyone notice what's been happening?  As I predicted once McCain did a repeat performance of his schtick from "skinny repeal," we've started to see more Senators coming out against Graham-Cassidy.  In particular... Ted Cruz!

Observe my total lack of surprise at that one.  Why?  What have I been saying all along about Rand Paul?  It's all just posturing from a drama-clubber who has to call every bill not-conservative-enough.  You know who's pissed off that he didn't get in on that action earlier?  Ted Cruz.  Too bad, Ron Johnson, you shouldn't have signed onto the bill!

Now, look at the coalition of opponents!  Susan Collins is strongly intimating that she is against the bill.  She hasn't come out as a hard no, but the likelihood that she votes yes, at this point, is low.  You would have to bet against her support.  For the purposes of this post, let's assume she votes no, which I basically have all along anyway.  The no coalition among the GOP, then, includes Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and... Susan Collins.

Does that sound odd to you?  With... Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, and the leadership and most of the caucus supporting the bill?  It is what we sometimes call an "ends-against-the-middle" division.  And it isn't supposed to happen in conventional spatial theory.  You are supposed to be able to draw a clear dividing line between the supporters and the opponents of a bill, with supporters on the right, and opponents on the left, or vice versa.  What's going on?

Short version:  Susan Collins is a sincere opponent of Graham-Cassidy.  She actually, truly looks at it, and thinks that Obamacare is better.  Remember, her Maine-twin, former Sen. Olympia Snowe, actually voted to report the version that mostly became law out of the Senate Finance Committee.  Snowe did vote against the bill on the floor, but Collins's twin was kind of ambivalent on Obamacare versus the pre-Obamacare status quo.  Collins doesn't actually hate Obamacare.  She really isn't that fond of Graham-Cassidy.  Her concerns are sincere.

Rand Paul and Ted Cruz?  They don't actually think that the policies of Graham-Cassidy are worse than Obamacare.  Graham-Cassidy cuts funding and undercuts regulation.  From their perspective, it is better, but not perfect.  Why oppose it?  Some combination of two factors:  a)  posturing and signaling their moral purity to conservative activists, and b) not wanting to vote yes on any bill that isn't perfect, making no the default vote, which was precisely the argument of my paper at the MPSA earlier this year.

The result?  The coalition of Susan Collins, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, with Ted Cruz freed up to join the no coalition by the demonstration that the bill is doomed anyway.  Would Ted Cruz cast the deciding vote against Graham-Cassidy?  Fuck no, and I'll have more research on that forthcoming soon, but for now, I'll just leave that as what should be an obvious point.

Anyway, for now, I'll just say that I called it in my MPSA paper this past April.  Gridlock, resulting from a bunch of people who just vote no on everything.

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

Cassie Taylor, "No No," from Out of My Mind.  Cassie is the daughter of another great blues musician-- Otis Taylor.  Check him out too.  Otis is one of THE great innovators of our time.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Obamacare: On losing and legitimacy

Good book:  Losers' Consent, by Chris Anderson, Andre Blais, Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan and Ola Listhaug.  Basic point:  in a democracy, you need to accept that you will sometimes lose.  When losers don't accept their loss, bad shit happens.  Of course, since they were writing for Oxford University Press, they didn't use that specific phraseology, but you get the point.  Anyway, read it.  I think you can see where I'm going with this one this morning.

Mitch McConnell's strategy when Obama was inaugurated was to ensure that nothing Obama did had any bipartisan support.  It was a way of denying consent, running parallel to birtherism, conspiracy theories about ACORN, intimations that he was muslim, and so forth.  McConnell even admitted that the point was to keep any appearance of bipartisan support away from Obama for electoral purposes.  The party, particularly at that level, never accepted the legitimacy of the 2008 loss.

And they never accepted the legitimacy of the loss on Obamacare itself.  Bills pass.  They become law.  What is unusual about Obamacare is the extent to which the opposing party continues to dedicate itself to fighting that law, without a clear goal of a competing policy.  Why?  They didn't accept the legitimacy of the loss.

The flip-side of a group of people who don't accept the legitimacy of their losses is that once they come into power under unified government, they believe that they really must win.  Under unified government, they are supposed to control everything.  This is their time to get whatever they want.  With control of the House and Senate comes control of legislative procedure, although that procedural control is rather stronger in the House of Representatives.  To a group of people who have spent the last seven years telling themselves that Obamacare was illegitimately passed through procedural shenanigans, they believe that it would be illegitimate for them to not be able to reverse that through their own procedural control.  What is the point of having the majority, then, if not to use that procedural control to win?  Again, this is about not accepting the legitimacy of the loss.

Right now, John McCain is probably the least popular Republican in the Senate among his colleagues.  Rand Paul... is being Rand Paul.  Trump made some comments about thinking that he could be won over, and I kind of think Trump is right, if Paul were the swing vote.  Collins and Murkowski, at this point, are just sort of accepted as outliers because they are consistently moderate anyway.  There are others engaged in back-and-forth negotiations, but McCain...  He is the one who killed "skinny repeal," which was the GOP's vehicle for sending a bill to conference, and it looks like he has probably killed Graham-Cassidy, probably alienating his only real friend in the GOP caucus, Lindsey Graham.

What McConnell and the rest of Republican leaders really can't stand is one unexpectedly obstinate person screwing up their plans, causing them to lose when they don't believe that any loss is legitimate.  Anderson et al.'s book is about those who lose an election, but it is also important to understand that in this system, even those who are in power don't always get their way.  We have a complicated system of checks and balances, and the party that "controls" the legislature frequently does so very weakly.  Having a majority doesn't necessarily mean you have the ability to win.

What Anderson et al. do show, which is vitally important, is the necessity of accepting the legitimacy of a loss.  Right now, the GOP does not accept any loss as legitimate.  Just think back to Trump's rhetoric during the campaign...  We saw this during the debate over Obamacare, and the party has fought more vehemently against the law than is normal.  By far.  Why?  They never accepted the legitimacy of the loss, despite the fact that they never bothered to formulate an alternative, leading to the current legislative chaos.  And the turmoil in Congress now comes from the fact that this same group of people believes that being in the formal position of power means that they can never, ever, ever lose.  Not true.  Their fury at McCain is not about policy because they have no policy commitment to Graham-Cassidy.  Graham-Cassidy is just some half-assed, unstudied, poorly considered piece of shit that somebody scrawled on the nearest sheet of paper an hour before the homework assignment was due, hoping for partial credit.  Just ask Chuck Grassley.  No, McConnell, Trump and the rest don't care about the content of Graham-Cassidy.  They are pissed at McCain because they don't accept the idea that they can be in the majority and still lose.

Everyone should go read Loser's Consent.  Everyone.

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

Tony Trischka, "Lost," from Great Big World.  Incidentally, that's Abigail Washburn singing.  She is a great banjo player too, although she plays in the clawhammer style rather than the Scruggs, three-finger style.  She also happens to be married to Bela Fleck, often considered to be, along with Trischka, among the greatest living banjo players.  The banjo is a great instrument.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A few thoughts on John McCain's decision to kill Graham-Cassidy

OK, I did not see that coming.  Let's get into this.

1.  On "skinny repeal," McCain waited until the last minute to tell everyone that he was voting no.  With Graham-Cassidy, he announced his intention with time to spare.  Interesting!  Why the difference?  Best guess:  if you are going to vote no on your friend's bill, try not to do it in a "backstabby" way.  (Fuck you, spellchecker.  I call that a word).  Voting yes on Graham-Cassidy after his big speech on "regular order" would have been, well... see this post.  He had no qualms about stabbing McConnell in the back because he hates McConnell, but McCain is apparently trying to salvage some consistency here.  I wonder if he gave Graham advanced warning...

2.  I've been focused on the Senate parliamentarian, saying that the dramatics among Senators were irrelevant if she called Graham-Cassidy out of compliance with the Byrd rule.  McCain has now made her nearly irrelevant.  It is almost impossible to see any coalition in the Senate supporting Graham-Cassidy.  MacDonough will be forced, once again, to feed on carrion rather than slake her thirst on the blood of the living.  (What, you thought I'd give up this stuff?  Hell, no!  Am I calling her a zombie or a vampire now?  I'm not even sure anymore, but it's still fun!)

3.  This opens the floodgates for further opposition.  Graham-Cassidy is custom-made for anyone to oppose for position-taking purposes.  Once again, we turn to David Mayhew's Congress: The Electoral Connection.  Members of Congress seeking reelection will engage in activities like position-taking, meaning actions that will not serve policy purposes, but will signal to constituents that they hold popular positions.  Graham-Cassidy has a lot of components that won't be popular with various constituents.  In an earlier post, I speculated that Rand Paul was waiting for MacDonough to kill the bill, leaving him as the purist conservative who always hated it anyway for it not being conservative enough.  Maybe he was just waiting for the coalition to collapse, and the same reasoning could apply.  We can make the same type of argument for anyone whose state would lose funding, who wants to appeal to those worried about pre-conditions, etc., on the other side.  That's the beauty of position-taking.  If the bill is doomed anyway, you can say you opposed it for any fucking reason you like, and who is to say otherwise?  Once the coalition collapses, more people are likely to come out against it.  Murkowski has been squishy about Graham-Cassidy lately, but McCain just made it much safer for her to make it a firm no, which she pretty much was anyway.  Just as an example.

4.  McCain wants bipartisanship.  Lamar Alexander may have killed that.  He walked away from negotiations with Patty Murray to try to force Republicans onto the Graham-Cassidy track.  I commented on that here.  It is very easy, at this point, to imagine that the Democrats will respond to any post-Graham-Cassidy overtures with a resounding "FUCK YOU!"  Why?  Because as soon as some hare-brained scheme comes along for another attempt at repeal-and-replace, the GOP will walk away from whatever bipartisan negotiations are happening.  How do we know this?  We saw what Lamar Alexander did.  So, what's the point?

5.  McCain wants regular order.  Everything about the process so far has been predicated on the notion that no bill can survive regular order.  Regular order means going through committee, hearings, mark-up, floor debate, amendments, etc.  Why would that be so damaging to the bill's chances?  Time and open debate on the content.  The Republicans are afraid that if they subject their bills to that process, two things will happen.  First, any offered compromise they make during the process will be attacked by purists on their own side, even if that compromise never gets into the final bill.  I have commented on why this creates incentives for private negotiations.  Second, they don't want to let the Democrats do to their bill what Republicans did to the ACA back in 2009 and 2010.  Speed and secrecy are their solution.  Can a "repeal-and-replace" bill survive regular order?  We... have no fucking clue.  But, McCain is actually, truly, really serious about this.  McCain plus Collins and Murkowski means regular order looks like their only option.

6.  The GOP will not stop.  I can't actually wrap my brain around the idea that they will stop trying to "repeal-and-replace Obamacare."  The logical thing to do, as I have been pointing out since last November's surprise victory by Trump, is a series of small-bore measures that would allow the GOP to claim victory, over, and over, and over again.  First, repeal the employer mandate.  Yay!  We repealed Obamacare!  Then, repeal the medical device tax.  Yay!  We repealed Obamacare!  And so forth.  They can keep doing this.  This was the smart thing to do, all along.  They can try things through regular order.  There are options here.  What, specifically, will they do?  I don't know, but they aren't done.  So far, though, we haven't seen a lot of evidence that they have come to grips with the practical and political challenges of their situation.

Don't be fooled, though.  This is not over.  They can even pass a new budget resolution to try reconciliation again!  The September 30 deadline is a bullshit deadline!  What this truly demonstrates, though, is that sometimes, one old guy can throw everything into disarray.  McCain did it on skinny repeal, and he just did it again.

One guy.  One guy is making everything weird.  I am teaching a Freshman Seminar right now called "Prediction," which addresses the challenges of trying to make predictions.  One of those challenges is how a weird, random thing can throw everything into disarray sometimes.  The first book on the syllabus is Asimov's Foundation.  The second book in the series is Foundation and Empire, which I don't have the students read, but it has one random dude throwing everything into chaos.  The Mule.  John McCain is the fuckin' Mule.  (The Republicans see him as a traitor anyway, so the animal thing almost works!)

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

Redd Volkaert, "End of the Line," from No Stranger To A Tele.  A "Tele" is a "Telecaster" guitar, made by Fender.  Many country guitarists favor them, and they tend to produce the "twangy" sound associated with country music.  A few jazz guitarists, like Ted Greene and Ed Bickert, have used them, muting the twang somewhat, as did blues great, Roy Buchanan, who did not shy away from the twang.  Anyway, though, here's Redd.  He looks a lot like my grad school advisor, Nelson Polsby!

Friday, September 22, 2017

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

Dizzy Gillespie, "Rhumba-Finale."  Album source?  This one from youtube says Latino, but the proper album is actually Afro.  Great album.  Get it.  I had a hell of a time getting the track I wanted for this evening, for an end-type of theme, based on this last-ditch repeal-and-replace thing.  First, I looked for Lafayette Gilchrist's "The Last Train."  Nope, not on youtube.  Then, Calvin Keys's "Last Exit."  Not there either.  Charlie Hunter & Leon Parker's "The Last Time?"  Nope.  Look, I love Diz, but I try not to reach too hard with the themes, and I feel like I'm reaching here.  At least there's nobody better than Dizzy Gillespie, and there never will be.

Why the only person who really matters right now is the Senate parliamentarian

You may have noticed that I seem... a little obsessed with the Senate parliamentarian.  And it isn't just these bizarre cultural references I keep making about her (although that's gotten kind of fun).  She really is the only one who matters right now when it comes to the question of what happens with the Republicans' healthcare goals.

To recap, Mitch McConnell announced that he wouldn't use the nuclear option to eliminate all filibusters at the very beginning of this session, thereby limiting the GOP's options on healthcare to budget reconciliation, because budget reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered.  However, such bills are restricted by the Byrd rule, named in reference to long-time Democratic Senator from West Virginia and cross-burning enthusiast Robert Byrd.  The rule prohibits budget reconciliation bills from addressing non-budgetary matters.  Taxing and spending only.  Otherwise, the filibuster just ceases to exist because you can do anything through budget reconciliation.  Who decides what counts as a budgetary matter, given that everything at least indirectly affects the budget?  The appointed bureaucrat known as the Senate parliamentarian, who issues rulings based on boring stuff like Senate rules.  Why?  'Cuz it's a fuckin' rule.

McConnell's proposal fell apart before Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, called bullshit on his bullshit (or, in my earlier terms, "performed unspeakable acts on the corpse of the GOP healthcare bill"), but now, imagine this.  Suppose that we get to Monday morning, on September 25, with one working week to go before reconciliation authority expires, and MacDonough decides that her appetite for bloodshed has been sated.  What then?

Right now, Collins is a clear no.  Murkowski?  Probably no, even though Graham and Cassidy are trying to buy her off with exemptions for Alaska.  Why am I skeptical of their efforts?  In 2010, Reid bought off Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu to vote for Obamacare with "the Cornhusker kickback" and the "Louisiana purchase"-- special pots of money for Nebraska and Louisiana, respectively.  Those pots of money were immediately taken away when the House had to pass the Senate's bill unamended, and then a follow-up budget reconciliation bill stripped those provisions without Nelson or Landrieu's votes (moving from a regular bill to a reconciliation bill dropped the threshold from 60 to 51 votes).  Anything offered to Murkowski for her vote for Graham-Cassidy is intrinsically unstable.  I doubt Murkowski is stupid enough to fall for this shit.  Then again, maybe I'm wrong, but come on, Lisa, we've seen this before.  Still, Murkowski is probably a no.

I've been going on about Rand Paul and his theatrical bullshit.  MacDonough rules that Graham-Cassidy is Byrd-kosher (brined?), and does Paul kill it?  I... doubt it.  McCain?  Again?  With his little buddy, Lindsey Graham as the author of the bill?  We have to factor that in.  McCain hates McConnell.  His relationship with Lindsey Graham is... more friendly.  Who else?  Portman, Capito...  Yeah, they signed a letter opposing cuts to the Medicaid expansion last time around, but caved completely on that with McConnell's bill, so they cave again, and Heller is fully on board.

We can go through every Senator, and right now, there are plenty facing pressure from governors, but I pose my hypothetical:  What if Elizabeth MacDonough issues a ruling that Graham-Cassidy is Byrd-compliant?  The pressure on any hold-out will be beyond anything we have ever seen.  Ever in legislative history.

On the other hand, if she calls bullshit again, nothing we are seeing now matters anyway.

That's why I keep saying, watch the Senate parliamentarian.  Everything else is just a bunch of strutting theatrics that outside observers have no way of interpreting anyway.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Three Theories of (Rand Paul's) Mind

Rand Paul may, or may not be willing to pull a John McCain, and kill the GOP's current last ditch attempt at "repeal-and-replace." He says he opposes Graham-Cassidy.  If the Senate doesn't pass Graham-Cassidy, they have to pass a new budget resolution to start over again, or they are stuck facing Democratic filibusters.  Notice:  I didn't say they have to stop, because they probably won't stop.  That's not the point of this morning's post, though.

What is Rand Paul thinking?  Three thoughts.

1)  Maybe Rand Paul is on-the-level.  Maybe he looks at Graham-Cassidy, sees it as resigning to Obamacare, and refuses to do that because he is such a purist.  He thinks that the proper thing to do to fight Obamacare is to defeat Graham-Cassidy, because that leads to more conservative outcomes.  Leaving aside the fact that this is obviously bullshit to anyone with a brain (Rand Paul is an Aqua-Buddha worshipping moron who doesn't understand Milton Friedman, and is only a charlatan ophthalmologist), maybe this is sincere.  Of course, the problem is that Rand Paul's past votes don't really vindicate this, since he wasn't this strongly opposed to the previous efforts.  So...

2)  Maybe Rand Paul is just being a drama queen.  Again.  I've been making this point for a while.  You can never be sure until the votes are cast with this faction of the party, because they always have to go through the motions of whining about how nothing is conservative enough for them.  That's why I dubbed Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson "the Drama Club" the last time around.  Standing on his own, doesn't he look extra dramatic?  Oh, look at my angst!  I'm so deep!

Since he wasn't really going to follow through on past threats, this is always a possibility.  Preening and strutting should be ignored.  However, the real point of this post is possibility 3...

3)  Remember the last real Obamacare "replacement" effort?  Like I keep saying, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ripped its fucking guts out, and ate its liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.  (I don't need a youtube link for that one, do I?)  Maybe... maybe Rand Paul isn't as dumb as he looks.  Or acts.  Or sounds.  Or as any previous empirical evidence would demonstrate.  If he expected MacDonough to do what she did last time, then Graham-Cassidy is doomed anyway, so he gets a free ride on posturing and preening.

Ted Cruz and the rest of those suckers may have bought into a doomed bill, whereas Rand Paul remains pure.  It doesn't matter how anyone in the GOP votes, or says they plan to vote, if MacDonough tells them she's feeling a bit peckish.*  So, why not stay pure, keep saying no, and be the most conservative guy around just by rejecting everything?

Hypothesis 3 depends on a few things.  It depends on the expectation of MacDonough ruling Graham-Cassidy to be in violation of the Byrd rule, Rand Paul's ability to predict that, and his willingness to exploit it.  So, let's examine them.

How likely is MacDonough to eviscerate Graham-Cassidy?  Hard to say exactly, but given what she did to McConnell's bill (see my description here), quite.  Graham-Cassidy allows the states to get waivers for regulations on pre-existing conditions.  The Byrd rule requires that budget reconciliation bills address only matters of revenue and spending.  I call bullshit, and so did MacDonough last time around on regulatory matters.  Either the GOP strips these provisions from the bill, or the Democrats can filibuster.

How likely is Rand Paul to understand this?  Well, the problem is... 1.  Remember that Hypothesis 1 depends on him being a fuckin' idiot, and... he's kind of a fuckin' idiot.  Many Senators are asshats.  Rand Paul, on the other hand, wears his sphincter as a necklace.  Remember that Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy are actually pushing this bill.  Right after MacDonough ruled McConnell's bill in violation of the Byrd rule.  Is Rand Paul thinking two steps ahead of these people or are they all just shades of panicked and stupid?  Default to the latter.  And that reduces the likelihood of the third condition being met.

Nevertheless, this could turn out to benefit Rand Paul, totally by accident.  MacDonough kills Graham-Cassidy, even if 50+Pence votes emerge, and while Ted Cruz and the other former Drama Clubbers look like sellouts, Rand Paul remains pure.  Pure as an idiot child, too stupid to sin.

* Side note:  I am vaguely amused by the thought of Elizabeth MacDonough ever stumbling across this extremely obscure, little blog and seeing these characterizations.  I have now compared her to Hannibal Lecter and the Reavers.  I have no clue what kind of personality she has, but somehow I have found amusement in these metaphors, which are based in nothing but my desire to make cultural references.  I sincerely hope that, at some point, she was a member of the SCA and dressed up like a Visigoth, or something, because maybe next I'll portray her as a Visigoth sacking the GOP's Roman empire.  These uninformed metaphors amuse me.  Rand Paul, however, really is a dipshit.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Are we really seeing ANOTHER resurrection of repeal-and-replace?

The important news is this:  Lamar Alexander shut down his bipartisan negotiations.  After "skinny repeal" failed, it looked like Republicans had finally accepted defeat.  Lamar Alexander started working with Democrats on actual fixes to the law.  He did this even as Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy were circulating their current proposal, and just a week and a half ago, I wrote this, claiming that Alexander's process was actually the primary obstacle to the GOP getting anything together on Graham-Cassidy.

You can't have a two-track process, I argued, where the party tries to stabilize the markets in one set of negotiations, while tearing down the whole system in another.

And now, Alexander has pulled the rug out from under that process.  What does that mean?

It means two things.  First, it means that the primary obstacle to Graham-Cassidy now is who I said yesterday:  Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian.  Graham-Cassidy lets states ask for waivers to the Obamacare regulations on pre-existing conditions.  What the fuck does that have to do with taxation or spending?  Directly, nothing, and that makes it a stretch to be kosher under the "Byrd rule," so there is a real chance MacDonough will say it won't pass muster under the Byrd rule, in which case the whole thing is eligible for a Democratic filibuster, and this is just a joke.  She did that with the previous attempt at a replacement bill, and I'm not sure how Graham-Cassidy gets past MacDonough, who is the biggest obstacle here.  Graham and Cassidy could get Collins, Murkowski and seven Democrats, but if they don't get MacDonough, it doesn't fucking matter.  (And no, Lindsey, no Democrat will be even remotely tempted to vote for your bill...)

Elizabeth Fucking MacDonough.  Know the name.

The other thing is the other point I made in that earlier post about what looked like some strange shoots of bipartisanship.  I ended the post with, "I gotta think about that..."

Well, with time to think and observe, never mind.  Trump was just being Trump-y on the debt ceiling, and Alexander's taste of bipartisanship was like a kid tasting "baking chocolate."  Oooo!  I found a chocolate bar!  Let's just unwrap this and... AHHHHHHH!!!!! I need something sweet, like an OBAMACARE REPEAL vote!  What is that thing?!  KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!!!

Yeah.  No more of that bipartisanship stuff.  Those people had me worried that my models might stop working, but at least I don't have to worry about that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why you should still be very skeptical of the GOP's healthcare push

Yes, they're still at it.

Here's why you should still be skeptical.  You may have read that Rand Paul is "against" the Graham-Cassidy proposal.  Why do I put "against" in quote marks?  Well, back during the last GOP "repeal-and-replace" effort, I referred to Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as the "drama club."  They were just being melodramatic about everything.  In the end, they wouldn't stop anything that would otherwise pass, but they had to go through the dramatic motions of out-conservative-ing everyone by calling every bill not-conservative-enough.  But, it was all theater.  Hence, "the drama club."  Now, Rand Paul is against Graham-Cassidy.  It is the GOP's last chance.  Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are real no votes.  McCain has switched to yes, and he was the one who killed "skinny repeal."  If McCain revives "repeal-and-replace," will Rand Paul be the guy who kills Graham-Cassidy, or is he just being... dramatic?  I'd lean towards the latter.

But shouldn't that mean Graham-Cassidy passes?  I mean, with McCain switching, Rand Paul faking it, and everything else, what's to stop Graham-Cassidy?

The other person I kept warning about during all of that previous repeal-and-replace mess.  The Senate parliamentarian.  Here's the deal.  The Senate is using "budget reconciliation" to block Democratic filibusters.  It is a special procedure that only works for bills that apply to budgetary matters.  Non-budgetary matters cannot be addressed in a budget reconciliation bill.  Any non-budgetary provision is subject to a filibuster.  Who decides if a provision is strictly budgetary?  The Senate parliamentarian.  "Skinny repeal" was kosher, as far as reconciliation rules went, because all it did was repeal the individual mandate, which is a tax, and therefore budgetary (despite all of the bullshit surrounding it).  That was why skinny repeal had no problems with the Senate parliamentarian, and nothing to fear as far as reconciliation rules went.  Everything else Republicans have tried has been... dodgy at best.

When the GOP had their last real effort at a replacement bill killed by the Senate parliamentarian, I got a little... colorful with my metaphors.  And here we are again.  I have a lot of questions about what she will do with Graham-Cassidy.

Short version.  Graham-Cassidy allows waivers for states with respect to regulations on pre-existing conditions.  You can make a case that anything has an indirect effect on the budget, but that's a pretty far stretch there, buddy.  Given her rulings in July, I really want to see what she has to say on Graham-Cassidy.  She kills that provision, and Graham-Cassidy falls apart, regardless of that drama queen, Rand Paul.

Wanna know what's going to happen with Graham-Cassidy?  Wait to hear from Elizabeth MacDonough.  She's the Senate parliamentarian, and depending on the GOP's perspective, she's either the one who saves them from having to pass a bill that they secretly don't want to pass, or... like I said in my July 22 post, "a fucking Reaver."

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

I really don't know anything about Southeast Asian music.  Blindspot in my musical knowledge.  Sorry.  So, here's something Cuban.  Ruben Gonzalez, "El Cumbanchero," from Introducing Ruben Gonzalez.  Go figure that a jazz nut would be into Cuban music.  Gonzalez got some exposure from Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club project, a couple of decades ago.  Anyway, good music in Cuba.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate runoff

What's going on in the Alabama Senate runoff?

Roy Moore is going to become the next Senator from Alabama.  Here's the basic stuff.  Alabama is a solidly Republican state, so whoever gets the GOP nomination (the runoff between Moore and Luther Strange is for the GOP nomination) gets the seat.  Moore is an... unusual candidate.  We normally distinguish between "quality" candidates and weak candidates based on elected experience, and focus on experience in state legislatures when looking at House elections, and either House or gubernatorial experience when focusing on Senate elections, just because that's sort of a natural progression.  Moore, though, is a celebrity politician in Alabama from his tumultuous time on the Alabama Supreme Court.  The thing is, a serious legal thinker in the Senate would be a good thing, in my opinion.  OK, a serious thinker period would be a good thing.  There aren't many of them.  Mostly, though, Moore's schtick was defying the federal court order to take down a ten commandments monument that the federal courts said violated the establishment clause of the first amendment.  Legal problems ensued for him, but that kind of thing goes over big with Alabama Republicans.

In other words, he was tea party before there was a tea party.  His little ten commandments stunt wasn't actually about policy.  It was about posturing.  The tea party, and now the Freedom Caucus, have been focused, not on achieving any actual goals in Congress, but on grand spectacles.

What has Congress achieved, since the first unified GOP government in a decade?  Jack fucking shit.  Why?  The party has been taken over by the will-to-spectacle.  There is no better demonstration of that than Trump, but Roy Moore...  He'll keep the show going.  The will to spectacle.

Scholarly observation time.  Those powerful interests who supposedly run everything?  What are they getting for their money?  Um...  Uh...

Maybe they aren't that powerful...  Amazing what happens when gooberism gets in the way...

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

Charley Patton, "Going to Move to Alabama."  You're paying attention to Alabama, right?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Is the Senate actually close to passing something on Obamacare?

There are rumblings from Bill Cassidy, co-author of Graham-Cassidy about this.  So...

It's always in the last place you look, right?

Don't you hate the jackass who says that?  Of course it is.  If not, that means you kept looking after you found whatever it was you were trying to find.

It's always your last attempt at replacing Obamacare that works, right?

See where I'm going with this?  On the other hand, if the past is guidance for understanding what will happen in the future, then...  then the Republicans will do what they have done so far on healthcare.  Perhaps come very close, as they did with "skinny repeal," which I thought was very close to passage, and then fail spectacularly.

So, we see the problem.  There is a ticking clock right now for the expiration of reconciliation authority.  If the GOP doesn't pass Graham-Cassidy by the end of the month, they have to go through more procedural rigamarole on their next attempt.

So, a few observations observations here.

1)  McCain supports Graham-Cassidy.

2)  McCain was the person whose whimsy killed "skinny repeal"

3)  McCain gave a big speech about how everything needed to go through "regular order"


What the fuck is regular order?  I've addressed this before, and it isn't really well-defined.  Basically, it's the Schoolhouse Rock "How a Bill Becomes a Law" thing.

Not to be confused with how we amend the Constitution...

So anyway, McCain wanted Schoolhouse Rock.  Um, where are those committee hearings and debate?  If that isn't happening, that doesn't meet any reasonable definition of "regular order" that I can devise, in which case what McCain demanded isn't happening.

So obviously, McCain will have to vote no, right?

Otherwise, he'd be a big, fucking hypocrite, right?  I mean, to give a sanctimonious speech on the floor of the Senate about the importance of "regular order," and then vote for a version of a "repeal-and-replace" bill that didn't go through regular order only to kill "skinny repeal" and bask in the glory of positive media coverage for finally living up to his "maverick" reputation, and then just a few scant weeks later, casting the pivotal vote for another repeal bill that didn't go through "regular order"... I mean, that would just...

That would never happen, right?  Right?

Like I said, unless McCain is a big, fuckin' hypocrite and a sanctimonious windbag without any real principles.

Google "Charles Keating" sometime...

Point being, we haven't seen anything like "regular order."  What does that mean?  A few possibilities.  This could get dragged past the reconciliation deadline.  This could fail again, with someone other than McCain objecting.  Graham-Cassidy could pass!  We don't know.  The whole point of avoiding regular order was to avoid any public scrutiny, thereby also making it hard for us, the observers, to make assessments.  My first-stop source of legislative news is Roll Call.  Here's Roll Call's "Healthcare Hub."  Do you see jack-fucking-shit about serious hearings through regular order on Graham-Cassidy?  Neither do I.

Draw what conclusions you will from that.

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

Emmitt-Nershi Band, "This Is The Time," from New Country Blues.  This isn't the original version.  Emmitt-Nershi Band is a collaboration between Drew Emmitt, who is the mandolin player from one of my all-time favorite bands, Leftover Salmon, and Bill Nershi, guitarist for a band that is more hit-and-miss for me, The String Cheese Incident.  Both bands have some bluegrass elements, but Leftover Salmon is far more creative and eclectic, in my opinion.  The original version of this track is from Leftover Salmon's Euphoria album.  I'm not using it today because this version is a little more straight bluegrass.  The version on Euphoria has some calypso rhythms and other odd elements because Leftover Salmon is awesome.  But, today is Sunday, and by tradition of this blog, bluegrass day.  So, here's some bluegrass.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Healthcare debates and "the Overton window"

This is a fun bit of commentary I keep seeing.  If you aren't familiar with the concept of the Overton window, it goes something like this:  there is a range of options that are considered... considerable.  Any option outside the Overton window is just never going to get onto the table (window, table, whatever), and hence never get adopted.  If you want something to happen, you need to get it into the Overton window first.  That is a necessary first step for victory.

So, consider gay marriage.  In the 2004 American National Election Studies survey, we asked respondents whether or not they supported gay marriage.  Among respondents, 33.3% supported gay marriage.  Times change fast, right?  After all, in 1996, just eight years earlier, Bill Clinton-- a Democratic President, signed the "Defense of Marriage Act" in order to avoid the accusation that he might support gay marriage, and in the 2000 survey, we didn't even bother to ask about gay marriage.  Why?  It wasn't in the "Overton window."  This is one of those policy areas where it might be useful to think of the Overton window.  In 1996, gay marriage wasn't even in the window, and by 2016, even social conservatives mostly weren't talking about it anymore.  In the 2016 survey, support for full marriage rights was up to 59.4%, with another 22.3% supporting "civil unions," and only 18.3% saying there should be no legal recognition for gay couples.  Opposition to legal rights for gay couples is now outside the Overton window, if you want to think in those terms.

Has the push for single-payer healthcare, led by Sanders, put single-payer "in the Overton window," and if so, does that matter?  I have read a bunch of commentary about this over the last couple of days.  A couple of points.

First, this is actually one of those topics on which my little enclave of political science is poorly suited to make claims.  The Overton window is really hard to quantify, and I like quantifying stuff.  Hey!  See those numbers up there?  Numbers are good!

Let's try this.  Put everything on a line from -1 to +1, where -1 is most liberal, and +1 is most conservative.  That scale matches up with the "NOMINATE" scale we use in political science to measure ideology in Congress with roll call voting.  One could, hypothetically, assert that there exists some range, from a to b, written as follows in math notation:  [a, b], such that only options within that range will be considered.  In fact, we do that all the time when we study Congress, except that these choices are made directly, strategically, by legislative leaders based on the desire to use agenda control to their own ends.  They'll simply say that anything to the left of a won't get a vote 'cuz we say so, and fuck you if you don't like it.

Can we move this into some general, public venue?  Well, what determines a?  What determines b?  In Congress, we have well-specified models, and they tend to work relatively well.  Even in today's chaotic Congress, basic spatial models tend to do OK when it comes to figuring out when legislative leaders block an item from the floor (debt ceiling stuff is different, for reasons I have explained).  We also know, definitively, when a vote occurs.

In the public, not only is it hard to specify a coherent model for what moves either a or b, who is to say where they are at any given point in time?  I've read a shitload of stuff over the last couple of days asserting that single-payer is now in the Overton window.  Evidence?  A bunch of Democratic muckety-mucks are now on-board with it.  Um... so fuckin' what?  It has zero chance of passing any time in the remotely near future, and public opinion is incoherent.  People are talking about it, but there are people who talk about all sorts of batshit crazy stuff.  There is a non-zero probability of anything if we take a sufficiently technical interpretation of "non-zero," so how high does the probability of an option being adopted have to get before we consider that option to be within the Overton window?

Put in those terms, the concept of the Overton window gets harder to address, for those of us in the quantitative political science side.  That doesn't make it useless.  It just means that people like me have a hard time working with it.

Next, and following from that, is single-payer really "in the Overton window" now?  A lot of people are talking about it.  People who weren't before.  That is traceable to Sanders.  That only means it is "in the Overton window," to the degree that this is a useful concept, if there is some reasonable possibility of its adoption, as far as I'm concerned.  Otherwise, I'm sort of a talk-is-cheap kind of person.  One key reason Sanders never impressed me is that he doesn't understand enough about either politics or policy to accomplish anything on anything.  He is nothing but an empty vessel for left-wing tea party-style frustrations, and back during the primaries, I basically pointed at him and called him more "tea party" than Ted Cruz in disposition.  If all he does is provide a focal point for venting and no reasonable possibility for any actual policy change, then I can make a reasonable case that single-payer is still not in the Overton window.  Talk is cheap.

I'm still going to make the case that there is no chance of the adoption of single-payer.  Even if Democrats get the White House, House and Senate in 2020, they won't adopt single-payer.  As I wrote the other day, it took half a century of shrinking ambitions to pass even the GOP's 1994 counter-offer to HillaryCare, and that was while the party's membership was moving left.

If a policy has essentially zero chance of adoption, what business do we have saying it is within the Overton window?

Then again, if this is a concept that is foreign to quantitative political science-types like me, what do I know?  Fuck it.  Here's some more country music with a "window" theme.  Cahalen Morrison.  Love this guy.  And, "Cahalen" is as cool a name as "Gurf."

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

Gurf Morlix, "Windows Open, Windows Closed," from Diamonds to Dust.  I do believe that's his real name.  Coolest name ever.

Friday, September 15, 2017

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

Roland Kirk, from his pre-Rahsaan days.  "Meeting on Termini's Corner," from Domino.  I'll admit, I prefer his recordings as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but there's a lot of great stuff in his earlier discography, and there's a reason this one gets covered.  Among the more interesting covers I have heard was by a side-project trio of guitarists, including Charlie Hunter.  The band called themselves "T.J. Kirk."  They covered the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Roland Kirk.  Also... well, gotta appreciate the Shatner-play.  Anyway, here's some jazz.  As a bonus, the follow-up is T.J. Kirk covering it, along with some James Brown and some Monk.

What if Nancy Pelosi is just trying to incite chaos within the GOP?

Yesterday, I expressed some confusion in my morning post about what is happening with DACA negotiations.  Today... just go with me on this for a bit.  Let's entertain a fun, little notion.  What if Nancy Pelosi is watching a Republican Party in turmoil, and just trying to stir the pot?  Yes, this is somewhat speculative, but I pose this as a more-than-slightly-plausible explanation for what is happening with DACA negotiations right now.

I'll start by stating my axioms for political analysis right now.

1)  Nancy Pelosi is a brilliant strategist who understands the nuances of the political process.

2)  Donald Trump is a fuckin' idiot.

3)  Chuck Schumer is... irrelevant.  There's an old joke in D.C.  The most dangerous place to stand is between Chuck Schumer and a camera.  That "hot mic" moment of him saying that Trump likes him?  Um...  remember this?  No, Chuckie.  Trump doesn't like you.  Those two idiots deserve each other, though.  That dinner the other night included two goldfish-brained, narcissistic morons, plus Nancy Pelosi.

Yes, I take these statements as axiomatically true.

What else do we know about immigration policy right now?  If Donald Trump works out a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, like he was trying to do the other night, Paul Ryan cannot let it get a floor vote.  As I explained yesterday, the majority party operates as a "cartel," blocking consideration of motions in order to maintain procedural control of the legislative process.  If Trump works out any deal with Pelosi, the Freedom Caucus will consider that deal to be so tainted as to be the very definition of "amnesty," no matter the contents of the deal.  They will be unable to accept the deal, or anything like it.  If Paul Ryan allows that deal, or anything like it, to receive a floor vote, he will be Boehnered.  The Speakership is an elected position.  It requires an absolute majority of the chamber.  If Ryan loses the support of the Freedom Caucus... that's it.  He's toast.

In conventional game theory, we make the assumption of "common knowledge of rationality."  Everyone is rational, everyone knows that everyone is rational, everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone is rational, and so on, ad infinitum.  With Donald Trump in the mix, that doesn't quite hold.  Why?  See Axiom 2.  I have written about the problem this creates before.  So... to apply...

Nancy Pelosi must understand that any "deal" (note the quote marks, now) that she works out with Trump won't receive a floor vote in the House.  Why?  See Axiom 1.  So, why bother participating in any "negotiation?"  Because Trump may not understand the futility of trying to negotiate just with Pelosi and Schumer.  He may not understand why it is different with DACA as opposed to the debt ceiling.  All Trump does by trying to negotiate with Pelosi and Schumer sans congressional GOP is piss off the GOP even more.  Pelosi should understand this.  Again, see Axiom 1.  All that comes of this, then, is to increase tension within the GOP because Trump is too stupid to understand that DACA negotiations can't play out the way debt ceiling negotiations did.  That is all Pelosi gets by participating in these negotiations.  By Axiom 1, she should have known that, and perhaps counting on Trump's stupidity, that was her goal anyway.

Once again, the only reason the debt ceiling deal received a vote in either chamber was because both Ryan and McConnell knew they needed to pass something, and their caucuses actually wanted to pass something to avoid the economic calamity for which they would have been blamed.  Ryan is now on thin ice, because he is a leader and therefore a sell-out as far as the Freedom Caucus is concerned, because of how that deal was worked out, and because of the fact that he needed to let it get a vote with primarily Democratic support.  With DACA, there's no global financial panic at risk if we revert to a pre-DACA system, and the immigration hard-liners in the GOP hated not just the process but the substance of the policy.  I can't see how a DACA deal between Pelosi and Trump can get a floor vote in the House when that means Ryan facing a revolt by the Freedom Caucus.  Pelosi has to know that.  So why bother?  Just to fuck with the GOP.  She's fucking with them.  And Trump?  Maybe he's falling for it, and maybe he's just fucking with Ryan too.  Who knows?  Pelosi, though?  I think she may be just fucking with the Republicans now.

Admission time.  I am coming dangerously close to the teleological fallacy here, if not falling right off the edge.  But hey, it's a morning blog post.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Trump and the Democrats: What the hell is going on with DACA?

Let me just start by saying... what the fuck?

OK, so... Trump, Pelosi and Schumer have dinner, Pelosi and Schumer say they have a tentative deal on DACA, and now Trump says there is no deal.  What the fuck is going on here?

Let's start with what is highly unlikely:  the passage of anything like the debt ceiling deal, but on immigration.  Remember that on the debt ceiling, Trump made a deal with Pelosi and Schumer, cutting most of the GOP out of the process.  Here's what's so odd about that.  In the House of Representatives, the majority party exercises a form of agenda control based around the following principle:  when a majority of the majority party opposes a bill, it doesn't get a vote.  This is sometimes known as the "Hastert rule," after former Speaker and well-known child molester Dennis Hastert, who semi-formalized the rule during his tenure as Speaker.  Apparently, letting a bill get to the floor when opposed by the majority party was a bridge too far for him.  Molesting children?  Nope.  He was totally cool with that.  Just don't bring bills to the floor of Congress against the preferences of the majority party.  Standards, you know...

Anyway, the majority party doesn't generally let bills reach the floor if they are opposed by a majority of the majority party.  Gary Cox and Mathew McCubbins have formalized this into the "cartel" theory of party organization in Congress.  It holds.  Much of the time anyway.  Why doesn't it work on the debt ceiling?  Well... here's the thing.  Paul Ryan wanted the debt ceiling deal to reach a vote, and much of his caucus wanted the deal to get to the floor.  They just wanted to cast symbolic votes against it.  Why?  Because they knew that breaching the debt ceiling would be disastrous, and they would take the blame.  This was the same thing that played out with Boehner.  There are a bunch of idiots in the Freedom Caucus who want to breach the debt ceiling, but most of them are just trying to figure out how to let debt ceiling increases happen without voting for them.  The problem is... that's hard when you are the fucking majority party.  At the very least, you need to let there be violations of the child molester's rule.  So, that's why the deal between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer slipped through the normal rules of "cartel" politics.

A DACA deal, though?  Nope.  There's no way Trump, Pelosi and Schumer can cut the congressional GOP out of the loop on that one.  Why?  Because even if that six-month deadline expires, as far as the congressional GOP is concerned, there's no disaster.  Sure, it sucks for the people who are no longer protected from deportation, but after that, you are in the realm of ideology.  And a lot of the GOP right now consists of immigration hardliners.  One of the worst words you can use in the GOP right now?  "Amnesty."  That was the word that killed George W. Bush's immigration reform proposal in 2005.  Any deal on DACA will be called "amnesty."  That word will kill the deal among enough of the House GOP that Paul Ryan won't be allowed to bring it up for a vote.

Breaching the debt ceiling is the kind of thing that evokes terror in the mind of anyone who knows even the tiniest bit about economics.  That's enough to override normal legislative politics.  That just isn't the case with DACA.

So... what's the deal with Pelosi and Schumer saying there was a deal and Trump saying no?



I'm really not sure here.

Two possibilities present themselves.  A)  Trump was just trying to keep some sort of friendly vibe going, and in the process, made it seem, unintentionally, like he was going along with Pelosi and Schumer.  The political equivalent of a flirt leading someone on, unintentionally.  B)  Trump said one thing behind closed doors, let Pelosi make an announcement, and then stabbed her in the back in order to try to get back on conservatives' good side.

The trouble is, I could actually see either of these being true.  Trump wants to be liked.  Desperately.  He may very well have spent that dinner cozying up to Pelosi and Schumer without thinking about anything he said, and consequently, made semi-promises that he wouldn't have made had he been thinking.  That's perfectly consistent with Trump's "please like me" pathology.  Then again, there's B.  Right after the debt ceiling deal, I warned about Trump's untrustworthiness being an obstacle to future deal-making with Pelosi and Schumer, and here we are.  Is that what happened, or was he just trying to be overly-friendly during dinner without thinking about what he was saying?

We don't have a recording of what happened, and even if we did, trying to understand the motives of a guy who is a) not very smart, and b) the most dishonest person in political history may be a fool's errand.  Still, the likelihood of a debt ceiling-like deal on DACA is very low.  Ryan can't allow it to reach a floor vote in the House, particularly not after the debt ceiling.  Then add to that the fact that Trump keeps going back and forth about whether or not wall-funding must be a part of any given bill and the whole thing is just Trump-ian chaos.

What's going on with DACA?  As with anything Trump-related, chaos.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Single-payer healthcare won't happen

Right now, there is a strange level of buzz around the Democratic Party starting to coalesce around single-payer healthcare.  It won't happen, or at least, it won't happen any time in the remotely near future.

Who is pushing this little pipe dream?  None other than one of my favorite punching bags... Bernie Sanders!  Let's all take a moment to remember the idiocy of his campaign platform from 2016.  Yes, he seriously pushed this nonsense:  pass a constitutional amendment allowing Congress to restrict campaign spending in order to over-ride Citizens United, and then everything will fall into place.  Single-payer, equality for everyone... kumbaya, my lord, kumbaya!  Do you believe that the only reason Ted Cruz opposes single-payer healthcare is that he is bought off by big-whatever?  No?  Congratulations.  You are smarter than Bernie Sanders.

And that makes my point for me.  Some history...

Democrats got Obamacare passed in 2010 after pushing for something like universal healthcare for half a century.  Truman started it.  Yup, Truman.  He got bupkis.  Democrats kept pushing, and while they got Medicare for the old folks, and Medicaid for the poorest with a lot of state control under LBJ, that left big gaps.  The closest they really came was when Nixon offered a deal for a relatively expansive employer mandate in 1971.  Ted Kennedy turned that deal down, thinking he could do better.  Ted Kennedy later claimed it was one of his worst mistakes.  I guess murdering a woman in a drunk driving accident should rank up there too, but hey, who's counting?

Anyway, after '71, it wasn't until 1993 that the Democrats really got another shot.  That... didn't work out, but the Clintons took some inspiration from Nixon's '71 offer as a starting point.  Of course, the GOP by then was having none of it.  (If you have read John Gilmour's Strategic Disagreement, this should sound like "pursuit and avoidance"...)  So, they turned to a little shop called the Heritage Foundation to cook up a new plan.  That plan was built around an individual mandate to buy health insurance, with subsidies for those who couldn't afford it, and some regulations, and blah, blah, blah.  Democrats weren't having it, but a Massachusetts Governor took it and ran, and then...

In 2008, the election gave the Democrats the White House, House, and Senate, and after Arlen Specter switched parties, they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, allowing them just enough votes to do something.  They started with the Heritage Foundation/Republican Massachusetts plan.  First, they added a "public option," and then immediately got rid of that to pacify the moderate wing of the party, and even then, they barely passed it.

That took half a century, and even then, the Democrats wound up passing the GOP's last offer, or at least something based on it.

Single-payer ain't happenin'.


1)  Democrats need unified government to do anything.  That's rare.  They had two years under Clinton, and couldn't manage it.  They had two years under Obama, and only barely managed Obamacare.  Those were 14 years apart.

2)  The House map is a "yuge" obstacle here.

3)  Senate rules are a "yuge" obstacle, unless the Dems were to go nuclear.

4)  Some Democrats talk big, but tend to get scared when they start to see the public backlash.  They couldn't keep it together in '93 and '94.  The 2010 election was the biggest landslide election in modern history.  For the GOP.  And Obamacare was relatively modest compared to anything like moving towards single-payer.

5)  Obamacare worked, legislatively, by getting buy-in from the healthcare industry.  Single-payer cuts out the insurance industry.  As ugly as the Obamacare fight was, this would be orders of magnitude uglier.  See 4... as in, C4.  Kaboom.

Trump is unpopular.  If the economy tanks, or something like that, Democrats have a chance at unified government in 2020.  Or maybe 2024.  Long-term strategy, though... there is something to the notion of trying to move a verboten policy into the realm of the conceivable if you want to implement it.

In practical terms, though, single-payer is a very hard slog, and the idiot trying to lead the campaign is so fucking stupid that he thinks the only reason we don't have it is the campaign finance system.  With him leading the legislative push, it is absolutely doomed.

We've seen what happens when stupid people attempt to manage the legislative process of healthcare reform.  Whatever you think of Obamacare, single-payer, the pre-Obamacare status quo, or whatever, the notion that Citizens United is the obstacle to single-payer is moronic.  That notion is also Bernie's core belief.  He campaigned on it.  If he is the driving force behind any push for further reforms, they are as doomed as the silly, little games we keep seeing from the GOP on healthcare reform.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bannon's comments: What if Trump hadn't fired Comey?

So, Steve Bannon now says that firing Comey was the worst blunder in modern political history.  Let's put this in social science terms.  What is Trump's position now, and what would it be had he not fired Comey?  This is what we call the "counterfactual."  As in, counter to fact.  (Also known as "bullshit").

Right now, Trump is personally under investigation by Robert Mueller.  A part of that investigation is the Comey firing.  There are two interpretations of the Comey firing, given the Holt interview and what we know.  First, Trump was trying to shut down any FBI investigation into anything Russia-related.  That would be clear, indisputable obstruction of justice.  Impeachable, and a federal crime.  Given Comey's description of his meetings with Trump, this is the most plausible interpretation of the firing.  Of course, I'd really like to see the original firing letter, which Mueller now has...

The second interpretation has to do with the content of the official Comey firing letter, once we read between the lines.  Trump referenced Comey's statements to Trump, in private, that Trump was not, at the time of the statements, personally under investigation.  Trump repeatedly tried to pressure Comey into making public statements that Trump was not personally under investigation.  Comey refused because a) the FBI doesn't make statements about who isn't under investigation, and b) if he did, it would then become his obligation to make a new statement if Trump were to come under investigation personally (as he now is, according to leaks).  Does that count as obstruction?  That's more questionable.

Here's the thing, though.  That second interpretation is the most favorable interpretation of the Comey firing for Trump, and it is based on the premise that all Trump wanted was a public statement that he wasn't personally under investigation.  However, the firing of Comey led directly to Mueller's appointment, which led directly to Mueller investigating Trump personally, which meant that what Trump wanted Comey to say was longer true.

What if Trump had left Comey alone?  Would Trump have come under investigation personally?  We don't know.

So, Trump firing Comey was either straight-up obstruction of justice, or led directly to the negation of the thing he was trying to get a public confirmation of.

On the other hand, what if Trump hadn't fired Comey?  Well... that's a much harder question.  Given what we now know of Comey's opinion of Trump (that he's a fuckin' liar, that Comey needed to keep notes any time there was a meeting, and that he didn't want to be left alone with the creep), he didn't look like he was backing off.  He had Flynn in his sights, and may not have stopped at that fuckin' foreign agent.  Yes, he is formally registered now as a foreign agent, so I'm not casting aspersions here.  He is a fucking foreign agent.  Legally.  Comey could have kept going and found out about all of the other shit with Kushner, Don Jr. and all of the other Russia-compromised members of Trump's inner circle.  He could have started digging into Trump's personal finances, which is what really terrifies Trump.

All of that is speculation, though.  We are comparing speculation about what Comey might have done with what Mueller has done and is doing, traceable to the Comey firing.  Mueller was put in place as a direct consequence of the Comey firing.

Of course, the bigger question is what the consequences of this will be, and I've already put my cards on the table for this.  Nothin'.  There will be no consequences.  Trump's approval rating, by Gallup's assessment, is below 40%, and it won't go higher because Trump is the platonic ideal of "douchebag," but it also won't go lower because his party won't abandon him.  Yes, every once in a while, someone will peel off and criticize him, but we've seen what happens whenever Trump gets Trump-y.

Remember when pussy-grabbing was supposed to be the end of him?  The entire party criticized him.  For a couple of days, and then they fell back in line.  And that has played out, over and over again.  Charlottesville.  Remember how that was a turning point, supposedly?  Trump defended white supremacists.  I put my cards on the table for that, too.  I said it wouldn't be any different from pussy-grabbing, or any of Trump's other despicableness.  Well, it has been a month, and Trump's daily tracking over at Gallup hasn't budged.  Yeah, Corker criticized Trump, and now Corker is talking about retiring.

At some point, Mueller will put out a report.  It won't matter what is in it.  There could be a video of Trump agreeing to hand the nuclear codes to Putin.  It wouldn't matter.  The Republican Party will defend Trump.  Why?  The party has an electoral bomb strapped to it, and it has a dead-man trigger wired to Trump.  Trump goes down, and the party goes down.  They will give him, at worst, a couple of days of mild criticism, and then defend him no matter what he does because otherwise, they face 1974.

The lesson the GOP learned from Watergate is this:  defend the president, no matter what.  As I have said, Trump complained that his party isn't defending him strongly enough, which is bullshit.  They are shielding him from any consequences, and they will continue to do so.  They can't get any significant legislation passed, and they can't get his approval ratings up, but Trump will not suffer any real consequences from firing Comey.  His party won't let him.

So, really, was it that bad a mistake?  I mentioned yesterday that if you are born rich, it is really hard to fail.  Trump was born really, really rich, and he continues to be surrounded by people who won't let him fail, no matter how stupidly he behaves.  Must be nice...