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"

So...

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?

Um...

Uh...

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'.

Lessons?

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...

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

With the path of Irma, here's something Caribbean.  Joseph Spence borrowed heavily from American blues, which I love, of course.  This one is a play on an old standard.  "Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend," From Good Morning, Mr. Walker.  You can find the American version under titles like "A True Friend Is Hard To Find," and many other variations on that theme.  Sort of fits in with the theme of backstabbing that I've been covering.  I thought about using "Out On The Rolling Sea," but that seemed a little on-the-nose...  Still, everyone should listen to Joseph Spence.


Monday, September 11, 2017

The myth of candidate agency

As discussion of Clinton's book and self-reflection (or, according to critics, lack thereof) continues, it is worth taking the time to consider the perspective of quantitative political science-- i.e., the perspective nobody wants to hear or read.  (Hi, my very few readers!)  I will acknowledge that I have only read the snippets of the book that have made the rounds in the commentariat.  I have no intention of reading the whole thing.  I have more important things to read, and more fun things to read.  I'm more interested in the discussion surrounding the book.  So, here goes...

Everybody likes to think that we have some agency over our lives.  In many senses, we do.  If you want a prosperous life, the standard advice applies.  Those who study, go to college, save and invest, etc., do OK.  Those who major in fields with a real prospect do even better.  Sorry, but a degree in art history just doesn't get you as much as a degree in math, and if you expect otherwise, there is something wrong with your expectations, not the world.  (Political science is somewhere in the middle...)  The worse your starting point, the harder it is.  If you come from a poor background with a broken family in which nobody had ever attended college, the harder it is to pull yourself up, but if you start out from a rich family, you have to try to wind up poor.  Still, even if you start out poor, you have at least some agency.  Having agency doesn't mean your life is awesome or that the world is fair.  It means you have the ability to take action to improve things.

The Equifax hack is another of those events that challenges our sense of agency.  You can find yourself victimized, having done nothing wrong.  Maybe you shred every document, properly monitor your credit, etc., but those fuckwits at Equifax can't manage their computer system.  Still, you have some options.  You can place a freeze on your credit to prevent future identity theft, and watch your credit card statements closely.  If they already got to your social security number and opened an account in your name, well, that fucking sucks, but the sooner you act, the sooner you can get things back on track.  You have agency.  You may be in a shitty position thanks to the toxic combination of incompetence and some subhuman* pieces of fucking shit around the world, but you can act to pull yourself out of that shitty situation.  It will take time, and be miserable, and maybe costly, but you can take action.  Having agency doesn't mean your life is good.  It just means you can take actions to improve your situation.

And then there are candidates for public office.  Do they have any agency at all?  I mean that seriously.  I reference the Alan Abramowitz "Time for a Change" forecasting model, and others like it on a regular basis here, and those models predict election results on the basis of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything that any candidate actually does on the campaign trail.  The Abramowitz model uses GDP growth in the second quarter of the election year, the sitting president's popularity (that would have been Obama in 2016), and a variable for whether or not one party has already won two terms in a row.  Abramowitz has also been playing around with incorporating partisan polarization to reduce the range of vote shares we might observe, but the point is that nowhere in the model does it factor in things like whether or not Clinton should have told Trump to "back off, creep" during that debate, nor whether or not she should have handled any other specific situation differently.

Candidates tell themselves that they have the capacity to influence election outcomes through their tactics, self-presentation, advertisements, debate performances, etc.  Journalists play along because they need to tell narratives.  The narrative of a simple statistical model is something that only a political scientist could find fascinating.  Yet, we have remarkably little evidence of the relevance of the day-to-day shit about which candidates, journalists and, well, Politico-readers obsess.

Who did have agency during the 2016 campaign?  I'm still skeptical that the Russian interference actually moved votes directly, even though campaign collusion is a serious issue, but the poll numbers were pretty clear that Comey's late announcement did move votes.  Comey had agency.  So to speak.  Comey took action, and those actions influenced the course of the election, more than any other single actor.  And yet, in the end, the Abramowitz model predicted a GOP victory because there was tepid economic growth after two Democratic victories.  That leaned GOP.

Clinton is going back over everything in the campaign, asking herself whether or not there was something she could have done differently.  Psychologically, that is understandable.  Democrats are pissed at her.  That is understandable, but misplaced.  Journalists took the bait.  Of course they did.  That's what they do.

But, I might as well do this again.

A) DDRRDDRRDRRRDDRRDDR
B) DDRRDDRRDDRRDDRRDDR

Sequence A is the actual sequence of presidential election results from 1944 through 2016.  Sequence B is what would be necessary for DDRRDDRR all the way through.  How many letters are different between Sequence A and Sequence B?  One.  1980.  Reagan won, making it an R.  Had it been a D, leaving everything else the same, the sequences would be identical.

One year is the difference between Sequence A and Sequence B.  What could Clinton have done differently to win in 2016?  That's the wrong question.  It presumes that candidates have agency.  You have agency over your own life.  Candidates have very little agency within the electoral process, at least when it comes to presidential general elections.



*Considering how low my opinion of humanity is, this is quite a statement.

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

Yup, more storm-themed music.  Charley Patton, "Devil Sent The Rain Blues."  As usual with the classics, I recommend the JSP boxed set, and this cut is actually from the JSP boxed set, Complete Recordings 1929-1934.  The set also has some interesting recordings from other artists like Henry Sims, Walter Hawkins, Willie Brown, and even some obscure Son House recordings.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Movement on Obamacare repeal? Or not...

Amid all of the other news, you may have missed that John McCain, who killed the GOP's "repeal-and-replace" efforts in the Senate a little over a month ago with his surprise vote against "skinny repeal," has decided to back the one remaining proposal that has been floating around in the background.

Yes, that's right.  There's one more bill.  It is being written by Bill Cassidy, and McCain's rentboy, Lindsey Graham.  A month ago, I wrote about the bill, and the difficulties that it would face here.  The big one?  Lamar Alexander has opened up bipartisan negotiations to patch up some of the holes in Obamacare, and parallel legislative tracks with one bill trying to kill Obamacare and the other process trying to fix it... that ain't gonna work.

So, the basic math is as follows.  If Collins and Murkowski are still no votes on Graham-Cassidy (which they probably would be), but McCain switches, and everyone else stays yes, then Graham-Cassidy could pass.  Would everyone else in the Senate GOP caucus stay yes?  Probably.  There's the question of Dean Heller and Shelley Moore Capito, but in the end, they caved, so you'd have to figure they cave again.  Graham-Cassidy isn't finished yet, so once finished, it might run into problems with the parliamentarian.  The parliamentarian could, once again, rule provisions of the bill ineligible for "budget reconciliation" under the Byrd rule if those provisions aren't budgetary.  That would make the bill subject to the filibuster, in which case the 60-vote threshold would apply, and the GOP wouldn't have the votes to pass it.  The parliamentarian ruled that the previous bills-- other than "skinny repeal"-- had provisions that violated the Byrd rule.  If that were to happen with Graham-Cassidy, the GOP would be fucked yet again.  There's also the problem that the clock is ticking on the "reconciliation" instructions, meaning that if they don't get this thing done in time, they can't dodge the filibuster.  Of course, there's always starting over with new reconciliation instructions, but that's a pain in the ass...  In theory, though, McCain's switch could make Graham-Cassidy a reality.

The real problem now is that as long as the Senate is actually working on bipartisan fixes, nobody working on those fixes can also work on Graham-Cassidy, and nobody working on Graham-Cassidy can work on fixes.  It's a good faith-bad faith thing.  Anyone working seriously on Graham-Cassidy is not attempting to patch up the holes in Obamacare, and anyone working seriously on Lamar Alexander's process has already given up on Graham-Cassidy.

The fact that Lamar Alexander started his process means he wrote off Graham-Cassidy as a joke from the get-go.  That's worth considering.  So, from McCain's perspective, why bother?

I... don't know.  Maybe it's throwing a bone to a friend, so to speak.  Maybe it's trying to get back on conservatives' good side.  Maybe he's just being McCain.  It's hard to tell why McCain does anything he does.  The important thing to keep in mind, though, is that while McCain's endorsement of Graham-Cassidy makes it a mathematical possibility, it isn't just the upcoming expiration of reconciliation instructions that puts that bill in jeopardy.  It's Lamar Alexander's decision to start working on bipartisan fixes to Obamacare.

Bipartisanship on the debt ceiling, bipartisanship on Obamacare... Is it me, or are we seeing a bizarre level of bipartisanship right now?  I gotta think about that...

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

More storm music.  The title track from Blue Highway's Midnight Storm album.  There are two truly great dobro players in the world today.  There's Jerry Douglas, and there's the dobro player in this band-- Rob Ickes.  He has some great solo works too.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Congressional retirements and 2018 forecasting

You may (or may not) have noticed the interesting news that a bunch of "moderate" Republican legislators have recently announced their retirement, like Charlie Dent.  In my actual, paying gig (the peer-reviewed writing process) I write about House elections, and for those of us in that realm, this is... maaaaybe big news.

OK, let's start with the fact that I put "moderate" in quote marks.  Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are moderates.  If you look up Dent's NOMINATE score (an ideology score based on voting patterns) from the last session of Congress, it was .242 on the -1 to +1 scale, with positive scores being conservative.  He is to the left of his party, but significantly to the right of Collins.  So, keep that in mind.

Anyway, what do these retirements mean?  Well...

Here's the deal.  Midterm elections favor the party out of the White House, barring something weird, like 9/11 boosting the president's popularity (creating the weirdness of 2002), or Congress impeaching the president over a blowjob (creating the weirdness of 1998).  Otherwise, the Democrats should be expected to gain seats in Congress.  The question is, how many?  That's... not easy to tell.  A couple of factors:

1)  The president's popularity matters.  Trump is very unpopular.  Historically so.  He loves bigness, so maybe that should comfort him!  Gallup has had him below 40% for a while, and it is hard to see him going above 40, without some external event.  Even with a war, it takes the other party's consent for a rally effect, as I have written before, so that presages badness for the GOP.

2)  The economy matters, but who the fuck knows where the economy will be?  If you know, please tell me so that I can plan my investments accordingly.  Also, I won't believe you if you tell me that you do know, so never mind.

3)  The map matters.  The House map intrinsically favors the GOP.  Now, I know you are thinking about the boogeyman of "gerrymandering!"  (Hard-g, people!).  Not quite.  Most of that is actually the simple fact that Democrats cluster in cities, making it so that you have to chop up cities in crazy ways in order to break down the Republican demographic advantage.  There are lots of factors that go into drawing district lines, and I'll be writing more about this as the Supreme Court case works its way through, but the House map does favor the GOP, mostly because Democrats just cluster in cities.  That makes it hard for the GOP to lose the House.  The Senate... that varies from year to year because only a third of the Senate is up in any given year.  2018 is the same set of seats that were up in 2012.  That's the same set of seats that were up in 2006.  Those were big years for the Democrats.  That's the map.  That means the Democrats are on defense, not offense.  It will be hard for the Democrats to pick up more seats in the Senate, given the map.

Anyway, that's a short list of the factors.  Now, incumbents are strategic.  Long ago, Gary Jacobson and Sam Kernell wrote a nice, little book, now out of print, called Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections.  One of the observations in it was the idea that, when expecting a wave election, incumbents of one party might retire strategically rather than face a loss or a term in the minority, thereby opening up seats.  Incumbents very rarely lose, though.  This can sort of create a self-fulfilling prophesy.  There are problems with the argument if carried too far, and the model didn't really work to explain the biggest waves (1994, 2006, 2010), but the core observation is worth considering.

Incumbents win, depending on the year, 95% of the time or so in House elections.  The worst year for House incumbents?  2010.  Only 85% of House incumbents retained their seats.  Horrible odds, right?  There's no such thing as an anti-incumbent year.  Period.  Anyone who ever tells you that this year will be a bad year for incumbents doesn't understand the electoral process, no matter the year.  But, some years, incumbents of one party might get nervous.  Particularly the moderates.  They might retire strategically, thinking that it is better than losing, if they think it will be a bad year for their party.  Particularly if their president is... historically unpopular.

On the other hand, the map really does favor the GOP, so I wouldn't put too much stock in these retirements.  Could the Dems take the House, Senate or both?  Maybe, but right now, Trump's approval rating alone isn't necessarily enough.  Not with the map as it is.  Right now, we are just seeing a couple of actions that may or may not be "leading indicators," in economic terms.  Keep watching, but don't over-interpret them.

It is worth reading Dent's comments on why he retired, though...  He didn't talk about elections so much, although with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Dave Reichert also retiring, that's where my thoughts go.

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

More hurricanes, more storm-themed music.  Joe Ely, "A Flood On Our Hands," from Streets of Sin.  Incidentally, I used Ray Wylie Hubbard last Tuesday as a cheat with his Texas anthem, and Joe Ely is from a related Texas cohort.  You can trace connections between them through musicians like pedal steel guitarist, Lloyd Maines (who has a more famous daughter, about whom I don't give a rat's ass).  Anyway, for all the bullshit chest-puffery, a lot of the best country music really does come from Texas.  Just never admit that to a Texan.  The last thing they need is more to feed their already massive egos about Texas.  Anyway, here's Joe Ely.  Sadly, no Lloyd Maines on this one.


Friday, September 8, 2017

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

When you think of Duke Ellington, you probably think of swing.  He could do so much more.  Here he is playing some serious bop with Charles Mingus and Max Roach.  The title track from Money Jungle.


What we are learning about Trump from the debt ceiling deal

There are a few things to note about Trump's approach to the debt ceiling and his deal with Congress, some of which may be surprising, and some of which should simply be reminders of what we already knew.

1)  Trump was never a full "tea partier."  Trump won the nomination in 2016 by trying to appeal to the people we used to call the "tea party."  He was, after all, the leader of the "birther" movement for years, and the tea party was largely a reaction to Obama personally rather than a movement built around any specific policy.  In the 2012 American National Election Studies Survey, we asked respondents about whether they supported or opposed the "tea party," and whether or not they thought Obama was born in the US.  Among those who "strongly opposed" the tea party, 83.2% said that Obama was "definitely" born in the US.  Among those who "strongly supported" the tea party, that figure was only 12.5%.  The tea party was also the force in Congress behind opposing debt ceiling increases.  As always, you can play around with the data yourselves here.  Trump was always about the "identity politics," not the policy, though.  He never had any coherent understanding of policy or ideology.  So, should we really be surprised that he shows no fidelity to tea party ideology on non-racial policy?  No.

2)  Throughout the primary and general election campaigns, one of the themes that many of us political scientists addressed was that figuring out how to talk about Trump's ideology was difficult.  With former Members of Congress, we have their voting records.  That gives us cool things like NOMINATE scores, computed by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, and available at Voteview.com.  Clinton was a Senator, and her voting record showed her to be pretty far left, as one would expect.  Trump?  As I kept pointing out throughout the campaign, you could put together a record of past statements that made him look left of Sanders.  Why?  He's incoherent.  He doesn't know anything, or believe in anything other than his own greatness.  He'll take whatever position is convenient at the time.  That makes placing him on a left-right spectrum impossible.  That's what worried the conservative "neverTrumpers," and, well, here we are.

3)  One of Trump's distinguishing characteristics is that he is highly erratic.  That's a bad thing for someone with ultimate say over the disposition of our nukes.  Frankly, I was quite worried about what it implied for the disposition of our debt ceiling.  The thing about being erratic, though, is that an erratic person will sometimes stumble on being right.  If you decide what to do by guessing randomly, your chances may suck, but you might guess right.  On the debt ceiling, this wasn't guesswork.  Trump's advisors did their job, and Trump actually listened to them.  And then... he went further and... talked sense.  Trump is now advocating eliminating the debt ceiling entirely.  Even Obama wasn't pushing that.  Granted, once debt ceiling showdowns started for him, he was facing a GOP Congress that he knew wouldn't do it, so he may just not have bothered, and Trump probably can't get it done for that very same reason, but...  Trump is right.  (Damn, I still hate typing that.)  The debt ceiling is objectively stupid.  Every single aspect of fiscal policy would be better if we got rid of it, and nobody has ever made an even remotely logical argument in defense of keeping it.  Every argument in its defense boils down to something about how it serves as some sort of reminder about debt.  Yeah, like we need one of those, 'cuz nobody would ever talk about national debt without those debt ceiling crises...  Yeah, fuckin' bullshit.  The reason it doesn't happen is that the same cowards who are afraid to vote to raise the debt ceiling are afraid to vote to eliminate it.  For the same reason.  It just sounds bad because people don't understand what the debt ceiling is.  By now, Trump probably does.  And doesn't want to deal with this shit anymore.  The erratic guy has stumbled on the right answer.  With erratic people, that can happen.

4)  Republicans are now reminded of why they should never have trusted Trump.  Realistically, he kind of saved them from a disaster.  A debt ceiling breach is a bad thing.  They probably could have finalized a deal, but this way, they definitely have three months to work out the next one.  Why?  Trump got bored and lazy, and took an easier deal, but Trump did stab Ryan and McConnell in the backs, and he doesn't want to play Republican games with the debt ceiling.  On policy, this wasn't a big deal.  The process is the important thing.  Trump is a backstabber.  What, did you forget that?  Who ever trusts this fuckin' guy?  Oh, right, those fuckin' idiot yokels who attended "Trump University"...

5)  That's a lesson for the Democrats too.  There are plenty of reports about how Trump was basking in positive media coverage of the deal (because the only thing that matters to Trump is media coverage), demonstrating that if Trump really wants "wins," the solution is simple.  Work with the Democrats.  In the history of Congress, there have been a few great Speakers of the House.  Reed, if you know your history.  Cannon is a tough one, given that he got sacked in 1910 in one of the more famous incidents in congressional history.  Pelosi didn't change the institution of the House to the same degree, so she can't really be compared to, say, Reed, but in terms of brutal effectiveness, holy shit, was she up there.  Pelosi is, in my opinion, the smartest legislative leader in modern history.  At least as good as LBJ, whose legend is overblown.  She can deliver.  If Trump wants to get stuff done, he could just continue to throw the GOP overboard and work with the Democrats.  However, that would require the Democrats to trust him.  See 4.  As in, C4.  Get it?  That's a strategy that will blow up in the Democrats' faces when Trump stabs them in the back.  Frog and scorpion-- it's in his nature.

6)  The real obstacle to 5 is the Russia investigation.  Trump blew up at McConnell and the rest of the GOP congressional leadership because he didn't think they were protecting him from Mueller and the Russia investigation.  Do you really think Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will protect him from Mueller?  Nope.  Trump working with the Democrats?  It can't last.

The basic lesson from all of this is that we can never know what Trump will do in any one situation.  Every once in a while, he may stumble on the right thing.  If he can actually pull off a total repeal of the debt ceiling... I will call that a major legislative accomplishment, as well as a courageous and praiseworthy course of action by Trump.  I'll hate doing it, but I'll do it.  Still, the real lesson is that you can never predict what an erratic person will do.  That's why you don't trust them.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The bizarre politics of the debt ceiling and Trump's deal with the Democrats

Just when we didn't think that the politics of the debt ceiling could get any weirder...

OK, quick reminder.  (Sorry, but I gotta do this.  Skip this paragraph if you remember what the debt ceiling is, and don't need a refresher).  Congress requires the Treasury to disburse more money than it allows the IRS to collect.  They make up the difference by selling bonds, but Congress places a statutory limit on the value of the bonds that the Treasury can sell.  If we hit that limit-- the "debt ceiling"-- it is mathematically necessary that at least one law gets broken.  Either not all of the money that Congress has required to be disbursed gets disbursed, the IRS has to collect more money than they are allowed to collect, or the Treasury has to sell more bonds than they are allowed to sell.  All of those options are illegal.  The least illegal thing to do is to not pay everyone.  That's illegal and economically stupid.  The solution?  Easy.  Raise the damned debt ceiling.  No other country is stupid enough to have one anyway.  OK, that's out of the way.

Now, Trump has actually been... kind of smart about this.  Excuse me while I gulp a bunch of my coffee to remove the taste of bile from my mouth.

That was not a good flavor combination, just in case you were curious.  Tasted like Starbucks!

Anyway, Trump's people have explained to him that if the debt ceiling doesn't get raised, disaster happens, and he takes the blame, so quite reasonably, he wants to attach a debt ceiling increase to a popular bill.  First, he wanted it attached to the VA bill.  Congress didn't do that, so he got pissed.  He was... right.  (And there's that bile flavor again...)  Then, he got on board with attaching the debt ceiling increase to Hurricane Harvey aid.  Democrats were amenable, along with a few months postponement of a government shutdown.  Deal!

And Ryan and McConnell got pissed.

Fascinating.  Why?  Here's what gets me on this.  The proposal just raises the debt ceiling for a few months.  Ryan and McConnell supposedly got pissed because they want a debt ceiling increase through 2018.

OK, we can see why.  GOP leaders hate dealing with this.  It was the debt ceiling that brought down Boehner.  Why?  He kept having to cave to Obama without concessions on the debt ceiling, bringing bills to the floor of the House with mainly Democratic support, and that got the most extreme wing of his caucus upset.  So, they sacked Boehner.  (I still love typing that).  Of course, Boehner did the right thing.  And, Ryan was reluctant to take the job after the sacking.  As part of the deal to get Ryan, Boehner had to raise the debt ceiling one last time through the 2016 election to save Ryan from having to do it.  Ryan doesn't want to go through this any more times than he absolutely has to.  A short-term increase means Ryan has to do this again.  He doesn't want to bring a debt ceiling increase to the floor now with Democratic support (that's what did in Boehner), and he doesn't want to have to worry about the debt ceiling again in December.

Here's the thing, though.  If Ryan and McConnell actually want to raise the debt ceiling through 2018 so that they don't have to worry about this again until after the midterm election, there is an answer, and the Hurricane Harvey deal doesn't preclude it.  They could... pass a separate bill that raises the debt ceiling through the entirety of 2018.  What stops them?  In the House, the Freedom Caucus, but they oppose everything anyway.  Ryan and McConnell are constrained by years of demagoguery on the debt ceiling such that they don't feel like they can raise the debt ceiling without enough of a gimmick.  They thought that they could have used the Harvey relief thing as a gimmick to work through 2018, but hadn't figured out the details, and the Democrats moved first.  Maybe, given enough time, Ryan and McConnell could have found that gimmick.  Then again, maybe not.

Still, their anger is both understandable and amusing.  A debt ceiling increase through 2018 is preferable.  Why?  The debt ceiling must be raised.  Period.  In that sense, the Democrats screwed Ryan and McConnell.  Then again, there is no guarantee that Ryan and McConnell would have actually figured out the gimmick to put through a debt ceiling increase through 2018.  They don't exactly have a sparkling record of success.  So, the Democrats moved first, and if Ryan and McConnell really want the debt ceiling raised through 2018, they could put a "clean debt ceiling increase" on the floor, meaning one that raises the debt ceiling without conditions, and the entire Democratic caucus of the House and Senate will vote yes.  A few Republicans will too.  The debt ceiling will be raised, and the GOP won't have to worry about it again until 2018 or later, if Ryan and McConnell so choose.

Why don't they do it?  Because Ryan will get Boehnered if he does.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hillary Clinton still holds a grudge against Bernie Sanders...

I can't resist this one...

My interpretation of the 2016 election is pretty clear, and stated repeatedly on this blog.  James Comey's announcement of the "re-opened investigation" moved the polls enough to hand the White House to Trump, in an environment that naturally favored the GOP by the forecasting model I generally prefer:  Alan Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model, which predicts presidential elections using GDP growth in the second quarter of the election year, the incumbent president's popularity regardless of whether or not he is actually a candidate, and whether or not one party has already won two terms in a row (a third term is a rarity).  That model favored the GOP.  Trump was an historically weak candidate, tilting things towards the Democrats, but Comey tilted them back to where they "should" have been.  And then got fired, with the initial excuse being that Trump didn't like how hard he was on Clinton.

And now, we have Clinton's book, indicating that she is still pissed at Sanders, and holding a grudge about the fact that Sanders could attack her, and she couldn't hit back because she knew she would win the primary, and would need the precious, little snowflakes who looked at Sanders as he-who-walks-on-bongwater.  As it turns out, there's political science here!

Helmut Norpoth!  There's a name that sounds like a Trump-supporter, right?  Anywho, while my favorite presidential election forecasting model is the Abramowitz model, Norpoth has a competing model based on the contentiousness of the primary.  Whoever has a more contentious primary should be at a disadvantage.  And, in 2016, Norpoth's model predicted... Trump.  And he published it in the October 2016 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics.  Here's an ungated link.

Now, Helmut brags about the success of his model, but he does incorporate the "pendulum," which is the Abramowitz observation, and frankly, all of these models work pretty well, or they wouldn't keep getting published.  They only really conflict in the very close elections, like 2016.  (Or, wait, did you think it was some sort of "landslide?"  Where would you have gotten that idea?)  Also, Abramowitz's model called 2016 correctly too.  Although, to be fair, good ole' Alan lost faith in his own model in 2016.

Regardless, if Hillary wants to hold a grudge against Bernie for helping Trump, she can cite Helmut Norpoth.

That said, as much as I fuckin' hate Bernie Sanders, his goo-goo* nonsense, his economic illiteracy, and plenty more, Helmut Norpoth's model has never stood up to the other predictive models, as far as I'm concerned.  We have a limited data set, and multiple, competing models explain the limited data set in comparable ways, while I just don't see the "causal mechanism."  You may have seen surveys about Sanders voters defecting to Trump, but did you also notice the surveys about Cruz/Rubio/other GOP candidates' voters defecting to Clinton?  It works both ways, and in similar proportions.  Sanders deluded himself for longer in the process because Democrats use different rules for allocating delegates, allowing Sanders and his drugged-out supporters to delude themselves for longer about whether or not the idiot socialist actually had a chance.  (He never did.  Not once.  Ever.)  That meant more focus on Sanders and his supporters than on the more diffuse non-Trump Republicans.  And, that kind of thing is consistent from year-to-year.

As far as my critique of the Norpoth model goes, when it really matters is in a year with an incumbent on the ballot, where the incumbent faces no real competition most of the time, and there is a real contested primary on the other side.  Combine that with the fact that incumbent presidents rarely lose and you have some illusory effects in the Norpoth model.

That said, 2016 was close.  In a close election, anything can affect the outcome.  In a close election, everything matters, in which case nothing matters because everything is random noise, except the big stuff.  What was big?  The Democrats had won two terms in a row.  That was big.  What else was big?  Not Trump's hands, certainly.  James Comey's announcement.  That was big.  How do we know?  The polls moved.  Big...ly.  Sanders?  Eh...  He's an obnoxious, self-righteous fool who doesn't understand a single thing about politics or public policy, but I doubt he mattered much, in the scheme of things.  If he had acted more like Ted Kennedy after he challenged Carter, and failed to endorse Clinton, maybe then one could make a case, but Sanders did eventually endorse and campaign for Clinton.  So, I just don't see it, as much of a tool as Sanders is.




*Derisive term for one who thinks that "good-government" reforms, like campaign finance reform, will fix everything.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Six months and the future of DACA

Well, that was an interesting move by Trump.  He'll end DACA in six months rather than immediately, and say it's Congress's job to do something.  The old, impending deadline to force action scenario, right?

Let's take yet another trip down memory lane.  The year was 2011.  Republicans had just taken control of the House of Representatives, and were insisting that they wouldn't "raise the debt ceiling" without a "dollar-for-dollar" reduction in spending as part of the deal.  The problem was that they couldn't find enough dollars by which to reduce spending.  Why?  Most spending is either defense, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or bond payments.  Unless you are willing to cut one of those, significantly, you are kind of fucked if your goal is to reduce the deficit dramatically.

The "solution?"  (Note the sarcastic quote marks).  Congress passed, and Obama signed the 2011 Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling, and reduced spending, but also created the "supercommittee," whose job was to find a set of deficit-reduction measures to get the budget the rest of the way to that dollar-for-dollar deal.  Whatever deal the supercommittee worked out would be fast-tracked through the legislative process.

And...  what if... just what if that supercommittee failed to agree to more deficit reduction measures?  A set of automatic deficit reduction measures called, "sequestration," would go into effect.  The cuts under sequestration were intended to be as stupid as possible.  Half in domestic spending to piss off the Democrats, and half in military spending to piss off the Republicans.  It was a looming threat, to force Congress to come up with less stupid deficit reduction measures.

So... what happened?  You know what happened.  Exactly what everyone knew would happen at the time.  (Or at least, what smart people knew would happen at the time).  Democrats insisted that the deficit reduction measures couldn't be all spending cuts, and Republicans insisted on no tax increases, so the supercommittee didn't agree to anything, and sequestration went into effect.

Some of the sequestration cuts have been clawed back, but my basic point is that, when you give Congress a deadline and say, "act, or a bad thing will happen," unless it is total disaster, like a debt ceiling breach... they aren't going to act.  We know this.

Trump is telling Congress that he wants some legislation rather than executive action vaguely, kinda related to DACA in some unspecified way.  Yeah, bullshit, I know.  That's not my point today.  My point is that nothing will happen.  Nothing.  The House of Representatives operates on a principle that nothing opposed by a majority of the majority party receives a floor vote, unless following that rule leads to something like a debt ceiling breach, or some other disaster.  We call this "negative agenda control."  Sorry, I forgot to say, "buzzword alert."  Anyway, ending DACA doesn't create a nationwide economic disaster, whatever you think of it in ideological terms.  And, while there are real questions about what did happen to Eric Cantor when he lost a primary to David Brat, the fact that the story people tell is one of immigration reform means that Paul Ryan won't risk allowing a floor vote on anything.

Santayana was wrong.  Whether you study the history of the supercommittee or not, we are going to repeat it.

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

I now realize that I should have used this last week, when Hurricane Harvey was still a bigger story, and perhaps more importantly (if you listen carefully), the day after I used "Texas Flood" in the Monday blues series.  Plenty of Texans consider Texas to be, basically, its own country because of the ever-famous Texas shoulder-chip.  So, I might as well use something Texan for the Tuesday series, and if I do, what would be a good Texas national anthem?  Yellow Rose of Texas?  Too pedestrian.  This one has a more proper (i.e. belligerent) attitude, except that it is a little too self-aware for the real deal.  Regardless, it would have worked great as a follow-up to "Texas Flood."  If Texas is its own place, though, I'll cheat and use it for the Tuesday series since I don't know squat about Korean music.  Here's Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Screw You, We're From Texas," from Growl.

Incidentally, Hubbard is the guy who actually wrote a minor country hit for Jerry Jeff Walker in the 70's called, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother."  In other words, Ray Wylie Hubbard is awesome.  And good for either the Saturday or Tuesday series, thanks to the bullshit Texas shoulder-chip!  (Am I allowed to be an asshole about that stuff again yet?)

Monday, September 4, 2017

What everybody is getting wrong about North Korea right now

Yes, North Korea tested another bomb.

Calm down.  Long term, there are reasons to be scared shitless, but this isn't the time to run for the commode.  As Trump started making his own little Charlottesville disaster, I posted this about how the distraction would allow him to divert his attention away from North Korea, and let the situation calm down.  Immediately afterwards, North Korea de-escalated, and I posted this little prognosticating victory dance.

So... what's the deal with North Korea's test?  The deal is what they didn't do.  Remember what the threat was a few weeks ago?  The threat was to shoot a missile at Guam.  They didn't a few weeks ago, and they didn't over the weekend.  They tested a bomb.  This serves two purposes.  First, it makes North Korea look like they are still confronting the US, but second, it does so without actually doing anything.  There is no attack.

North Korea will. not. attack. first.  Period.  (Was that enough periods?)  Why not?  Because Kim Jong Un would like to, 'ya know, not die.  North Korea has nuclear weapons as a deterrent, not as a first strike weapon.  By having them, they are safe from first strike... by any sane actor, because the consequence of a first strike on North Korea is retaliation by nuclear attack.  You get nukes, you get a free pass.  Economic sanctions?  Maybe.  Probably, even, depending on what else you do, but you won't get attacked.  (Again, by sane actors...)  Nukes don't give you the capacity to launch unprovoked attacks, though.  That's why it is important to pay more attention to what North Korea didn't do-- anything related to Guam.

I told you so.

However...  Notice that the rhetoric now isn't so much about "fire" or "fury?"  Sure, we get a bit of generic stuff about military options, but at least Trump is now just threatening things like a trade war with China if they do business with North Korea.  Cutting off trade with China is... not going to happen.  But neither is a North Korean attack on Guam.

I told you so.  Drama queens with nukes...

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

There are so many classic blues cuts that I could have used for Labor Day, but I decided to go weird and modern.  This is still basically blues, though.  I use enough classic blues in this series anyway.  Gary Lucas graduated from Yale, but decided it would be more fun to play guitar for Captain Beefheart than to get a more traditional, high-paying job.  As should be obvious from any of the musical posts, the weirdos will always appeal to me.  Here's "Hard Werken Fucked Over Man," from Skeleton at the Feast.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Presidents as sources of comfort and solace

One of the often-made observations about the Presidency is that people often expect office-holders to serve both formal roles in setting and implementing policy, and informal roles in times of tragedy or crisis, providing solace or comfort to those who have suffered or lost family and friends.  Presidents have both formal and ceremonial roles, in contrast to, for example, the British system, in which the royalty is now relegated to serving ceremonial roles, leaving the actual governance to real governing offices.  That is a gross oversimplication of British politics, but it gets at some interesting issues in American politics today.

Does anyone remember the title of "America's Mayor?"  That would be Rudy Giuliani.  He was Mayor of New York on 9/11.  And he never let anyone forget it.  Basically, he just didn't shit his pants, and managed to help rather than hinder the clean-up and rescue efforts, while staying calm on camera.  That's something, though.  It wasn't enough to get him elected President, nor even a cabinet position in Trump's administration, but damned if Rudy didn't try, and the result was one of Joe Biden's best lines during the 2008 campaign, and an all-time classic in the genre of the "grammar-burn."  A Rudy Giuliani sentence has three components:  a noun, a verb, and 9/11.

Presidents, though, aren't at the ground-level organizing anything.  All they can do is try to make a speech, and hope that the people they appointed to the relevant agencies do their jobs.  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, George W. Bush was hurt at least as much by the incompetence of his appointee to FEMA, Michael Brown, as by anything else.  Speechifying in these moments is of questionable value.  Speeches don't organize rescue or clean-up efforts, and they don't bring back the dead.  They don't push Congress to authorize new funding nor anything else, if we apply the scholarly works of George Edwards.  They just make a few people say, "gee, that was a nice speech."

The Gulf Coast continues to deal with the aftermath of Harvey, and may have more coming.  Donald Trump is... not well-suited to giving comfort or solace.  Mostly, he just insults people over Twitter.  The storyline I keep reading is a question of whether or not Trump will successfully comfort people.

I doubt it.  So what?  Let's put this in microeconomic terms.  Of how much value is a comforting speech from a president?  When we look for ways to construct utility functions, we look for ways to convert from one unit to another.  How would we convert from units of "comfort" to units that are more measurable, like dollars?  After all, one president can be more comforting than another, and I'm curious how much utility value we place on that by first converting to monetary value since that may allow for conversion to utility.  Obama speechified better than Trump, and he was better at the whole, "comforting" thing.  Trump is the kind of guy who might try to comfort a woman to "move on her like a bitch," but that doesn't count.  No, I'm actually asking, from the perspective of the Hurricane Harvey victims, how much aid money would they sacrifice for a more comforting speech?

If the answer is "zero," which I suspect, then we should probably get over this nonsense about looking to presidents for comfort or solace.  Microeconomic utilitarianism has the value of cutting through the bullshit here.

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

Storms are such an easy musical theme that I can't let up on this one.  Tim O'Brien, "Edge of the Storm," from Rock In My Shoe.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Congress, money and Hurricane Harvey

Insurance is gambling.  When you buy insurance (if it is voluntary), you are betting that you will receive more than the company will pay, or at least that you might receive far more than you pay in case of a disaster.  The company, if they are voluntarily selling you a policy, is betting that you will pay more than they will.  This gets screwed up with regulations.  So, for example, Obamacare regulations make it so that insurance companies can't deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.  If you have a heart condition, the insurance company knows it will have to pay more than you do, so you are a bad financial deal.  They're just fucked, though.  That's the law now.  They just have to hope they get enough from the healthy people now required to buy insurance on the other end to cover you (see the other part of the "voluntary" thing).  The gambling model works better when you look at things like life insurance.  You know you are going to die, but it is a question of when.  If you buy it when you are relatively young, the insurance company is looking at your life expectancy and recognizing that you are probably a chump.

Then, there is stuff like flood insurance.  If you live in a flood-prone area, you can't get it.  Why not?  Because floods happen in flood-prone areas.  Hurricanes happen on the Gulf Coast.  It's sort of like a pre-existing condition.  In the absence of that insurance, we've got government financial transfers.

We can think of financial transfers in terms of how concentrated or disbursed the costs are, and how concentrated or disbursed the benefits are.  Disaster money disburses the costs and concentrates the benefits.  Normally, that kind of policy goes through easily.  But, normally that kind of thing slips through the process through earmarks, or through the tax code, and that's why the tax code is bloated. Disaster relief money tends to be complicated, though, by regional conflicts, the fact that it is all done in the open, and current tensions within the GOP.

It will happen, but like everything else in the current Republican Congress, it will be unnecessarily dramatic.

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

OK, still with the theme.  Joe Maphis, "Hurricane."  From Fire On The Strings.  Mostly, he was just bragging about how fast he could play, but whatever...


Friday, September 1, 2017

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

OK, sometimes I stick with the obvious.  John Coltrane, "After the Rain," from Impressions.


The Republican dilemma on taxes

As I keep writing, the Republicans won't do tax reform.  They will pass tax cuts.  Tax reform means simplifying the tax code.  The tax code is long and complicated because of deductions and loopholes that have been put into it, year after year, mostly as electoral ploys by legislators appealing to minor constituencies so that reelection-seeking legislators can "claim credit" for helping their constituents (see:  David Mayhew's Congress: The Electoral Connection).  As I have written before, there is a technocratic case for simplifying the code by eliminating those loopholes and reducing the tax rate to shift business expenditures away from exploitation of the tax code, for example.  But, that won't happen because tax reform is hard, and involves making tradeoffs.  Each closed loophole alienates a constituency.  An organized, frequently business-oriented constituency.  In other words, people that the current Republican Party won't be willing to alienate.  Tax reform won't happen.  They'll just cut taxes.  It's all they care about doing, and all that unites the party.

The dilemma is the constraint imposed by "the Byrd rule."  The Byrd rule limits the application of budget reconciliation rules in the Senate, which allows the majority to bypass the filibuster and do everything on a majority vote rather than the 60 vote threshold for cloture.  The Byrd rule requires that budget reconciliation bills either remain deficit-neutral (or reduce the deficit), or increase the deficit for no more than 10 years.  True tax reform would obviously meet this requirement.  It would be deficit-neutral.

Tax cuts?  If you are deep into Arthur Laffter territory, you can tell yourself you'll be fine, and if you are way over on that curve, like at the 95% tax rate territory, you probably will be, but... we're not.  So, Republicans can either pass some small tax cuts that are offset by whatever small spending cuts they can find and stomach, keeping in mind that the majority of spending is either defense, Social Security, Medicare, and bond payments, or they can pass some big tax cuts that expire in 10 years.

The last time they did tax cuts was in 2001.  They went for option B.

So, they'll go option B again, right?  Well...  Here's the thing.  Democrats could have clawed back a whole lot more of the 2001 tax cuts than they did.  Why?  The cuts were set to expire in January, 2011.  Democrats were in power in 2010.  They wanted to keep the "middle class" tax cuts (yeah, that fuckin' term...), but they were stupid, and waited until after the 2010 election to start negotiating with the Republicans on how to handle the expiring tax cuts rather than just doing it on their own when they had the power, thereby giving the GOP a lot of leverage.  The Dems decided to extend all cuts for two years, giving the GOP a total victory for two years, and then two years later, they went way higher than they wanted for the income that kept the Bush tax cuts.  They could have acted when they had more power and done whatever the hell they wanted on taxes, though.

If the GOP goes for big tax cuts that expire in 10 years, they are counting on Democrats to either not be in power in 10 years, or to make those same mistakes again.  Maybe they will.  Then again, maybe the GOP will prefer to lock in smaller cuts made permanent in a deficit-neutral bill.

Personally, I'd bet on big cuts.  There is no way to know who will be in power ten years later, and even if Democrats did have power ten years later, the chances of them doing the kinds of stupid things that they did in the 2009-10 session are pretty high.  That's just how the Democrats operate.  So, yes, it would be a gamble, but have you noticed the GOP playing it safe lately?