Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Republican tax bill and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky

Story time!  Gather 'round!

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

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

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

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

Anywho, policy actions have consequences.  Sometimes.

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

Still, the odds of passage are very high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Drama Club

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

The deficit-whiners

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

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

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

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

The moderates

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

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

John McCain

Without two other objectors, he doesn't matter.

The big picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Could the Republicans really fail on taxes? Really?!

As the Republicans move towards floor action in the Senate on their tax bill, I must admit a degree of puzzlement over the state of the debate right now.  Will they pass something?  I still have a hard time seeing how they fail completely.  Yes, I had a little fun at their expense yesterday, but the basic point to which I keep returning is that tax cuts unify the party like nothing else.  So, under what scenarios could the GOP really fail?  Remember the basic mechanics.  They can lose two votes.  Any more and the whole thing goes down.  I still have a hard time seeing how three Republican Senators oppose this thing.  Let's go through what I keep reading.

The moderates

There are two-- Collins and Murkowski.  They opposed the GOP on healthcare, but both have been far more squishy on the tax bill, particularly Murkowski.  Hell, Murkowski is now saying she supports repealing the individual mandate, even though she voted against "skinny repeal."  Both Collins and Murkowski were basically written off as no votes throughout the negotiations on healthcare.  That's not happening now.  Why?  Because it isn't the case now.  Offer them tax cuts and... they're still Republicans.  Collins could vote no.  Murkowski is really, truly on the fence.  That's different from healthcare, and that puts the GOP in a stronger position by far.

The "deficit hawks"

Maybe you have heard of these people.  I am really sick of this term.  There is no such thing as a Republican "deficit hawk" anymore.  Long ago, Republicans used to care about the deficit.  They used to care about the following mathematical expression:  Revenue - Expenditures.  If Revenue - Expenditures < 0, then you're in deficit territory, and there are two ways to address it:  cut spending or raise taxes.  A "deficit hawk" wants to reverse the direction of that "<" thingie.  Remember Bob Dole?  Once upon a time, he was a "deficit hawk."  He was willing to raise taxes if it meant switching a "<" into a ">".  A dude named Jack Kemp, who really hated taxes, said that Dole "never met a tax he didn't hike."  But, Poppy Bush lost the 1992 election after breaking his "no new taxes" pledge, everyone in the GOP freaked the fuck out and decided that if you raise any tax, your dick will fall off, and when Dole ran for President in 1996, he made Jack Kemp his running mate.  Dole didn't want his dick to fall off, so he adopted a "flat tax" proposal as his platform, lost, and then started hawking Viagra on tv while leering at Brittany Spears, because that wasn't creepy back then.  Oh, wait... That was creepy, you disgusting old fucker...

Anyway, the point is that even Bob Dole stopped giving a rat's ass about deficits.  There are no Republican deficit hawks.  They don't exist.  Ain't no such thing.  Yeah, Corker and a few others are making noises, but like I keep saying, I won't believe it until I see a no vote.

I haven't seen a Republican actually care about deficits since before the Clinton administration.  They make noises about it, mainly when the President has a "D" after his name.  A couple of them are making noises about it now.

The burden of evidence is on them to convince me that they aren't completely full of shit.  I am currently ignoring Bob Corker.  Hell, I'll even call him, "Liddle Bob," sucking up the pain of typing the "d," because I have so little respect for his newfound posturing.

If he opposes this plan because it raises the deficit, I'll re-evaluate.  Right now, if Trump wants to make fun of him on this, Corker deserves it.  Bullshit posturing, until demonstrated otherwise.

The Drama Club

During the healthcare debate, I dubbed Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson "The Drama Club," because they kept pulling the, "this isn't conservative enough for me!" act, and saying, "I can't vote for this! I'm too pure and full of pain and angst!"  Drama queens.  Of course, none of them actually would have killed a bill that would have passed.  The point was that if a bill was dead anyway, they hated it all along.  They wanted to get as many concessions as possible, and the ideal is to be the one Republican who votes against a bill that passes.  That way, you win on policy while posturing as the one, truest, purest conservative.  Right now, Ron Johnson is the most dramatic of the drama queens, having said he won't vote for the bill.  Bullshit.  McConnell will give him something and he'll cave if his vote will be the determining vote.  That conditional statement is the key.  Johnson won't vote yes if it won't matter because he has to preen and posture.  Drama club bylaws.  At some point soon, the other members of the club will start making some demands, but Johnson has taken up all of the oxygen, so, ya' know, good on him.

The point about the Drama Club is that they are all, um... hyper-constipated.  The problem is that there are four of them.  The GOP can only lose two votes.  They have a bit of a coordination problem.  If all four preen and posture, then any one who "defects," in game theory terms, loses by supporting a doomed bill and looking like a cuckservative.  So, all four posturing against the bill is an "equilibrium," in game theory terms.

Equilibrium conditions for the Drama Club, and the coordination problem among them, depend on the rest of the caucus.  If, for example, both Collins and Murkowski are no votes, then the whole club needs to get on board and stop their melodramatics.  The thing is, that's actually easier than if, say, Collins votes no, and one clubber gets to defect and vote no with Collins, because then Paul, Cruz and Lee get pissed off that Johnson called dibs on the no vote.  Internecine warfare in the Drama Club!  Oh, this could get fun, and that could sink the bill!

John McCain

Yup.  Who knows what he'll do?  He voted no on the Bush tax cuts, he voted no on "skinny repeal," and he has been quiet so far.  What will he do?  No clue here.

McCain may be the hardest to get because McConnell has nothing to offer him, and he has no principles whatsoever.  He's just a fickle thing who likes to mess with people, in order to preen for the press once in a while.  He got some great press when he did so on "skinny repeal," and it had been years since that happened.  What will he do?  Who knows?

Collins?  A hard get.  Murkowski, though, can be bought off.  McConnell is throwing everything at her.  She is on board with an individual mandate repeal, and on board with the concept of the tax cuts.  Everything else is in the details, so... why would she vote no?  Eh... The deficit hawks?  No such thing.  They're all full of shit.  The Drama Club?  That's a coordination problem to solve, but a solvable one.  At the end of the day, if McCain and Collins are voting no, and everyone else is voting yes, then by holding together after getting concessions, the Drama Club get their tax cuts.  They all vote yes.

So, there are pressure points here.  This could fail.  I still see passage, eventually, as likely.  Of course, this will be hard work for McConnell because nothing is easy in the Senate, but I don't see any insurmountable obstacles here.

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

I... got nothin' today, theme-wise.  I would go with something Burmese, if I knew anything about Burmese music, but I don't.  I haven't made this blog searchable for music until relatively recently, so I can't be certain, but I don't think I have used this guy before, so, what the hell.  Here's Czech mandolinist, Radim Zenkl, joined by Joel Lindheimer on charango.  Yes, that's a real instrument.  The album is Strings & Wings, consisting of duets with a variety of musicians on different instruments.  Lots of great bluegrass players on it-- Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Mike Marshall... Radim Zenkl is good enough to attract that caliber of musician.  But, he also plays with musicians across a variety of styles around the world.  Great stuff.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tax time in the Senate? What if Republicans lose again?

Supposedly, Mitch McConnell plans to advance the Republicans' tax plan to the Senate floor this week.  In case you haven't noticed, the party hasn't had a whole lot of winnin' so far since the 2016 election.  (Um, what's the deal with that, Donny-boy?  Oh, right.  You're a lying idiot and a con artist.)  Their "repeal-and-replace" plans kept going bust, and they haven't been able to do anything else except confirm Neil "The Plagiarist" Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, thereby undercutting me any time I tell students that they shouldn't plagiarize.  No, I'm never getting over that.

Anyway, I have argued that the GOP has a much better chance of passing a tax bill than they had of passing a healthcare bill, but let's be blunt here.  These people aren't very good at much of anything.  Mitch McConnell is a very smart legislative tactician, but he is surrounded by creatures who challenge our basic notions of sentience.  Years ago, Bobby Jindal said that the GOP needed to "stop being the stupid party."  Instead, they quadrupled down on "stupid," and have squandered the first year of their unified government.

They really could screw this up.  And that leads to a statement that has been circulating around from Rep. Chris Collins saying that his "donors" have insisted that the GOP pass a tax bill, or he can't ever call them again for money.

Did this conversation happen?  Quite possibly.  Don't misinterpret it, though.  To knee-jerk lefties, this means that the GOP doesn't really believe in its tax plan, or that they are just bought off by monied interests, or something like that.  Plutocracy!  Bull-fucking-shit.

One of the long-running findings in studies of campaign finance is that donations are made from interest groups to like-minded legislators.  However, there is a great paper by Janet Box-Steffensmeier and Tobin Grant called "All In A Day's Work:  The Financial Rewards of Legislative Effectiveness,"  Legislative Studies Quarterly (Volume 24, No. 4, pages 511-523).  If you get shit done, you get money.  Why?  Donors want like-minded people in office, but useless people are, by definition, useless.  If you fuck up, then fuck you.  Get out.  You're done.  Donors want people in office who can actually accomplish something.  Now, Box-Steffensmeier and Grant didn't put it in those terms, because they were writing for a proper journal, but I can say whatever shit I want over my morning coffee.

So, what happens if the GOP fails?  Again?  It may really be that the money dries up because... what the fuck good are these fucking nitwits?

And... um... yeah.  They pretty much suck, don't they?  They can't do shit.  They can stop the Democrats from doing anything, but accomplishing anything for conservatives?  Nope.  They fucking suck at that because they suck at everything.

Of course, they might actually pass something despite themselves.  I still think the odds favor them on a tax bill.  At the end of the day, they are Republicans.  Mitch McConnell will stick a bill in front of their faces that cuts corporate taxes.  Whatever else it does will be irrelevant to the GOP because... did I mention tax cuts?

But if the GOP can't pass a fucking tax cut during unified government, then I can't think of a better demonstration of the uselessness of the party.  Chris Collins's donors may have said what he claims.  Box-Steffensmeier and Grant's research is what matters here.

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

Steve James, "Born to Lose," from Boom Chang.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Joe Barton and the politics of dick-pics

Italian governments are notoriously unstable.  Keep reading.  I'll get to Barton.

Anyway, Italy has weird politics.  Their government is based around PR (proportional representation), so they have a fuckload of parties.  This is because of what we call "Duverger's law."  If you have a "plurality rule" system, everything reduces to two main parties because minor parties don't have a chance of winning.  So, all but the dumbest people (see: Stein, Jill) join a major party to have a chance of winning.  In PR, the proportion of seats a party gets in the legislature is the proportion of the vote that it gets.  Then, forming a "government," meaning selecting a Prime Minister, a cabinet, etc., requires a majority vote within the Parliament (PR systems also tend to be "parliamentary," meaning that the executive is chosen by the legislature).  That requires a coalition among squabbling, fractious parties.

In Italy, there has been a long tradition of those coalitions forming, and then breaking down.  When those coalitions break down, the government "collapses."  And that used to happen very fast.

There is a set of statistical models often used in medicine called "survival" models, or, "duration" models.  Basically, how long until an event happens?  As in, how long until you die?  Does that get extended when you take a new drug?  The first use of this type of model in political science was a 1984 article by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla called, "The Political Reliability of Italian Governments," in the American Political Science Review (Vol. 78, No. 2, pages 318-337).  Cioffi-Revilla used a fancy statistical model to estimate time to Italian government collapse, and what caused variation.  Cool, right?

And how funny is it that Italian governments were unstable enough to allow this?

So... Joe Barton.  Dick-pics.  Remember Anthony Weiner?  Or, Chris Lee?  The times, they are a-changin'.  Not that I'm a Dylan fan, as I have ranted before.  They really are a-changin', though.  There will come a point at which we will be able to do survival analysis of the careers of Members of Congress with revealed dick-pics.

I look forward to that time.  Either that, or survival analysis until dick-pics are revealed.  Or... something like that.  Right now, the samples just aren't... big enough.  Not that I'm casting aspersions.  We'll get there, though.

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

Um... Hey Joe!  Where you goin' with that... um... "gun" in your hand?

I can't resist this for today.  Jerry Douglas is the greatest dobro player of all time, and Tim O'Brien may be my favorite singer.  Great song, too.  This is actually from Jerry's 1992 album, Slide Rule.  For whatever reason, this was what popped up on youtube for that version.  There are some live versions too, but if you want to know what the album cut sounds like, here it is.  Slide Rule is one of Jerry's better albums.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Reading the tea leaves on Trump and Flynn

As you may have read, Flynn's people aren't talking to Trump's people anymore.

What does that mean?

Um...  Stop trying to guess.  It means that Flynn's lawyers have finally started acting like, ya' know, lawyers.  Here's the thing.  Flynn committed a fuckload of crimes.  He was working on behalf of the Turkish government as an "unregistered foreign agent," for starters, and that's before we get into his many connections with Russia, the high likelihood that he was involved with the collusion we now know to have taken place, the fact that he repeatedly perjured himself regarding Russia, his violations of the Logan Act...  Yeah, there's a lot on Flynn.  Trump was warned, before naming him National Security Advisor, that the guy was susceptible to blackmail because there was so much on him.

What does the news mean?  Any lawyer will tell you that, if you are facing this many charges, you need to shut the fuck up.

For Flynn, though, his get-out-of-the-federal-penitentiary-free card is a Trump pardon.  The problems are twofold.  First, if Flynn actually coordinates with Trump on that... whole different realm of trouble.  Second, the timing.  Flynn might have to serve a little time before that pardon comes, Scooter Libby-style.  (Technically, Libby got a commutation rather than a pardon, which pissed Cheney off, but Dick can go fuck himself on that).

Speculation is being bandied about that Flynn has flipped on Donny-boy.  I doubt it, but there would be no way to tell.  My favorite term is appropriate once again:  observational equivalence.  Two models each generate the same prediction.  If Flynn flips, his lawyers stop talking to Trump's people.  If they just wise(guy) up and decide that they'll drag this out and wait for a pardon which will probably come if Flynn stays quiet and gets convicted after a lengthy trial... same deal.

What does it mean that Flynn's people and Trump's people have stopped talking?  We can't tell.  Observational equivalence strikes again.

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

Redd Volkaert, "We Need To Talk," from Reddhead.

Friday, November 24, 2017

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

I just can't resist this one.  More Charles Mingus.  This time, "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am," from Oh Yeah.  Because... well... reasons.

How Donald Trump assesses guilt and innocence

This was rather interesting.  The other day, Trump insisted that Roy Moore must be innocent of all allegations against him because he continues to deny any charges made against him.

Amazingly enough, he posed the same defense for Vladimir Putin.  He cannot have ordered any meddling in the 2016 election because he continues to protest his innocence.

You see, guilty people admit their guilt.  Always and every time!  If you just keep asking them, every guilty person will eventually admit their guilty, so you know a person must be innocent if that person just continues to deny any wrongdoing!  Who needs any fancy interrogation, forensics, or any of that stuff?  Just keep asking, "did you do it?"  Eventually, all guilty people will crack under the insurmountable pressure to admit guilt when posed with that simple, four-word question.  Roy Moore, Vladimir Putin... They must be innocent or they would have cracked by now.  Donald Trump has solved the age-old problem of how to interrogate suspects.  Any day now, the FBI, CIA, and all police departments will be adopting the Donald Trump interrogation technique, and it will become admissible in any court.

Al Franken?  See, now, he admitted it.  Guilty.  Charlie Rose?  Same deal.

Hillary Clinton?  Obviously, Trump must think she is innocent of everything because she has never admitted guilt for anything, right?

Anyway, this model does serve a purpose.  Trump should be considered innocent of accusations because he protests his innocence.  There is a startling level of consistency here for Trump (except for that HRC thing), but at its core, this is basic authoritarianism.

I haven't written much about authoritarianism here, and I probably should do so more.  Legal procedures exist in order to standardize the application of the law so that everyone is subject to the same rules.

Yeah, that doesn't happen, but that's the theory.

Truth needs to matter.  At the core of what we call "the authoritarian personality," though, is willingness to defer to authority based on valuing strength.  Whoever is perceived as strong is perceived as right.  This goes back to a controversial book called, um... The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford.  The research itself had a lot of flaws, but the concepts have aged well, in a lot of ways.

The critical point for today is that, for those of an authoritarian persuasion, truth is whatever is asserted by whoever is perceived as strong because they'll defer to Dear Leader.  Why can Trump get away with lying brazenly?  To be blunt, the same reason that every other demagog in history could.  The brazenness is what sells it to those of an authoritarian bent.

You have to be stupid authoritarian to believe that Roy Moore is innocent, with all of the accusations against him.  You have to be stupid authoritarian to believe that Vladimir Putin didn't order hackers and trolls to meddle in the 2016 election to put Trump in the White House.

Trump has been accused of sexual assault by a dozen women and bragged on tape of his ability to "grab them by the pussy" and get away with it.  You have to be stupid authoritarian to believe that he didn't actually do it.

There is plenty of irony here, in that Trump is such a pathetic weakling.  He has the thinnest skin of any politician ever, yet he preens as though he is the paragon of strength because he talks petty shit about people.  To borrow and paraphrase from Mike Cooley, he's a loud-mouthed punk.  I've scraped tougher off my shoe.  Yet, a bunch of idiots authoritarians decided to give him nuclear weapons.  Great.

Anyway... have you read that Flynn's lawyers aren't talking to Trump's lawyers anymore?

I wonder what Trump will say about that?  What will you have to be to believe him?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving: On being the bigger troll

Last year, for Thanksgiving, I posted my Unmutual Thanksgiving Day thoughts on how to get through the weirdest of American holidays.  We eat Ben Franklin's beloved animal, celebrate a dinner with the people on whom American forbearers eventually turned, overindulge, and then retailers attempt to earn a disproportionate share of their earnings for the year.  (Sorry, that's the economist in me.  Occasionally, I try to beat that back into submission.)  Amid all of this, we have weird conversations that frequently turn awkward.  My advice?

Summed up:  be the bigger troll.  There is a high likelihood that someone at your Thanksgiving dinner will be an asshole.  (Hi!)  Worse yet, there is a high likelihood that someone will be a particular variety of asshole that sullies humanity with some combination of stupidity, racism, misogyny, or otherwise noxious views that make you want to say or do something you shouldn't.

As I said last year, arguing is pointless.  See Nyhan, Brendan (way more publications than anyone at that stage of his career should have-- dude's a badass).  People with incorrect beliefs just dig in when confronted with facts.  And vile moral beliefs?  Don't bother.  To borrow a great phrase from Neal Stephenson's The Rise and Fall of DODO, for these people, new ideas have "the weight of mist."  So, don't waste your breath.

Provoke them instead.  Mess with them.  You have a relative who thinks that Roy Moore is being set up, and all those women are liars?  That's right!  Lying jezebels shouldn't ever be allowed to testify in a court 'cuz they're all liars!  And hey!  Age of consent?!  Let's really bring back that bible!  Polygamy and child marriage!   YEEEEEHAWWW!  Isaac and Rebecca, anyone?  And hey, Jacob had to marry Leah and Rachel because Laban tricked him, and who the hell even cared about consent?!  What did informed consent have to do with marriage anyway?!  Those jezebels are a bunch of liars, trying to stop Roy Moore from bringing back the bible, and all hail the bible!  YEEEEHAWWW!

Oh, you can have so much fun if you stop trying to argue with these idiots, and just troll them.  Move past that Mary and Joseph crap and get to the creepier stuff.  Now, it does require actually knowing what's in the bible, but that's the beauty of it.  These idiots mostly don't!  That's what makes trolling them so fun and easy!  So, do a little studying, and go to town tonight!  Whatever jackass relatives you have, figure out what their buttons are, and instead of arguing with them, press those buttons!  Be the bigger troll!

And, as always, the Drive-By Truckers...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The future of the Census and my co-author, Tom Brunell

I don't have a great deal to say about this yet, but I may at some point.

Donald Trump might pick a friend and co-author of mine to head the Census-- Tom Brunell.  Brunell and I published a paper together in Electoral Studies, "Ideological Representation and Competitive Congressional Elections," arguing that noncompetitive elections produce better representation.  Brunell and I are basically the only two people around who think that competitive elections are bad for democracy.  I published an article on this in 2005 in the Journal of Theoretical Politics using game theory, and eventually, Brunell put out a book on the topic.

Brunell is rumored to be up for a big job with the Census.  I... wonder.

If Trump's people care primarily about loyalty, they'll... research him.  They'll look at his associations, McCarthy-style.  They'll see me on his cv.  They'll read this blog.  And they'll deny him the job because nobody with such unsavory associations would be trustworthy.

I wonder if the shit I say about Trump will cost Brunell the job...

I can see traffic to this blog, and there was a weird spike right before I saw the news about Tom Brunell...  I kinda wonder...

Nah....  couldn't be....

The thing is, this sounds like total fucking bullshit.  A ridiculous conspiracy theory.  I'm writing something that sounds as absurd as the idea of a president whose campaign collaborated with the Russians to interfere with the election, and who is being blackmailed by the Russian President, and that could never even be considered, right?  Right?

Anyway, I'll have more to say if Brunell gets the job.  He's a good guy.  And contrary to what the goo-goos tell you, he's right about redistricting.  More to come, if this is as ludicrous as it sounds.

'Cuz, this is just a bunch of malarky, right?  Right?

Updating the chances of an individual mandate repeal: Murkowski Edition

Since Republicans decided to include an individual mandate repeal in their Senate bill, I've thought it likely that an individual mandate repeal will happen.  I still think it will happen.

When last we left off, Lisa Murkowski started getting the tiniest bit squeamish about it, and I posted this, saying the chances of a repeal dropped "a bit."  Why?  Short version:  Murkowski recognized the stupidity of double-sabotage of the insurance markets.  The pre-Obamacare system was one with little government regulation for those under 65.  If you couldn't afford health insurance, and weren't eligible for Medicaid, tough shit.  Are you OK with that?  That's an ideological choice based on your beliefs about the proper role of government and how much Robin Hood-ism you are willing to accept.  Tell insurance companies that they have to sell plans to sick people, but that the healthy people don't have to buy plans, thereby guaranteeing adverse selection?  That's just fucking stupid.  Not just regular-person "stupid."  We're talking Donald Trump-stupid (did you read about how H.R. McMaster said that he had the intelligence of a "kindergartner," and is a "dope?").  Add to that Trump's elimination of the cost-sharing subsidies, and you've got double-sabotage.  Murkowski didn't like the idea of double-sabotage, and on Sunday, I wrote about how Murkowski wanted Alexander-Murray to pass as a condition to support a repeal of the individual mandate in the tax bill.

Note:  she didn't outright oppose the repeal of the individual mandate, so I called her out for her bullshit squishiness.  She voted against "skinny repeal" last summer, but she was clearly weakening.  So, she could be manipulated in a variety of ways, and her vote wasn't essential.  So, as I wrote on Sunday, the chances of an individual mandate repeal only dropped "a bit."

Well, Murkowski is back on board fully with an individual mandate repeal.  She wrote this op-ed saying she supports repealing the individual mandate.  Um... hey, Lisa!  You voted against doing that last summer, you little, fuckin' twerp!

"Moderates"...  Fuck this fucking cult of "moderates."  They don't deserve your respect.  They aren't thoughtful.  They aren't principled people carefully weighing options in a complex policy environment.  They are twits who vacillate because they don't know what they are doing.  Murkowski's unique political circumstances make her immune to bullying from GOP leadership, and I scoffed at the idea that she could be pressured to vote for a repeal scheme.  And she didn't.  McConnell, though, is smart.  Smarter than Murkowski.  So, he's going to manipulate her instead.  Nice, Mitch.  This is why you are Majority Leader.

Anyway, Murkowski basically says she wants to get rid of the individual mandate, and pass something like Alexander-Murray, which restores the cost-sharing subsidies, which give money to the insurance companies that get adverse risk pools (sick customers).  As I have also written, Alexander-Murray probably won't pass.  McConnell might tell Murkowski, "don't worry.  We'll pass Alexander-Murray!"  But, he's a fuckin' liar.  Alexander-Murray is probably dead.  They'll pull a bait-and-switch to get Murkowski's vote.  They don't give a fuck what Lisa wants.  They'll lie to her because it's easier and more effective than bullying her.

And it looks like it'll work.  Wow.  What a moron.  Or, to stick with the Looney Tunes theme from a few days ago, what a maroon!  Idjit.  You're making me very angry, Lisa.

Anyway, Murkowski won't stop the individual mandate repeal.

Three GOP Senators voted against "skinny repeal"-- Collins, McCain and Murkowski.  Murkowski will bend on its inclusion in the GOP tax bill.  That only leaves two opponents of "skinny repeal."  If McConnell loses Collins and McCain, he can still pass a tax bill.

Collins is still squeamish about an individual mandate repeal, but who cares about her?  Not McConnell.  She's a hard vote anyway.  McCain is hard to predict.  His opposition to "skinny repeal," if you believe what he said, was never about the substance.  It was supposedly about process.  The GOP is following the same process with the whole tax bill, in which case the inclusion or exclusion of the individual mandate repeal shouldn't matter.  If he's consistent, he'll vote no regardless of the substance, so why worry about what McCain thinks?

What happens to the individual mandate?  I have a hard time seeing how it survives.  There are two Senators left who voted against "skinny repeal" who have yet to take a firm position-- Collins and McCain.  Collins doesn't matter, and McCain is... McCain.  Even if McConnell loses both, though, the bill passes.  I'd bet Collins opposes it, but she's irrelevant at this point.

The individual mandate could survive if the whole bill fails.  That could still happen!  These people are fucking morons!  That's why they made Trump their leader.  Short of that, though, how does the individual mandate repeal get taken out of the bill?  I don't see it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Reassessing Roy Moore's chances

Right now, if you look at the polling in the Alabama Senate race, RealClearPolitics has it at basically a tie, with Jones holding an average of a .2 point lead.  The betting markets have flipped back to giving the edge to Moore, though, with shares of Moore's victory trading at $0.63 at PredictIt.

I think the betting markets are right here.  This isn't a tie.

The last time I wrote about this, I suggested that things were leaning towards the GOP expelling Moore should he win.  I don't even think that's the case anymore.  The reason, in both cases?

Al Franken.  We can throw in people like Glenn Thrush, Charlie Rose, and every other shitbag out there, but Franken is the big one.

Two things are happening here.  If the focus is on people other than Moore, then Alabamans aren't thinking about the fact that one of their candidates is a fucking child molester.  Everything reverts to party identification, and Roy Moore wins.  Second, Al Franken, by not resigning, takes away the moral standing of Democrats to argue against Moore.  Realistically, that isn't completely the case.  There's a difference between armed robbery and murder.  They are both violent crimes, but one is worse.  Roy Moore is a child molester.  He's worse.  But, until the Democrats clean house, Franken muddies the waters, and that's all Republicans need.  It's Alabama.  Moore is a Republican.

Then, there's the question of whether the Senate GOP will really expel him.  I thought there was a high likelihood of that happening... before the Franken story broke.  If Franken doesn't resign, I don't see Moore being expelled.  Franken has signaled that he won't resign.  If he won't resign, which GOP Senators will support leaving Franken in place while expelling Moore?


You see my point.

There is a lot of value to having this shit start to come out.  Sexual harassment is real and rampant.  It is worth keeping in mind that it is possible that some of these stories might be false (remember Duke), but when you have this many stories about the same guy, the likelihood that they are all false is low.  That's the point.  However, the fact that so much is coming out now...


That's protecting Roy Moore.  It means he can hide among the muck.

It sucks to write that, but at least I can end the post with this.

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

Obviously, Zimbabwean music today.  Here's Oliver Mtukudzi's "Dzoka Uyamwe."  I have this track on Tuku Music, but whatever...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Republicans are trying to raise a bunch of taxes. Where's Grover Norquist?

I wrote a bunch of posts a while back on the difference between true tax reform and simple tax cuts.  The Republican plan is... something else.  It is a partial simplification, meaning that some nominal rates come down in exchange for the reduction/elimination of certain deductions and credits, but the result is not a fantastically simple code, and the rates that any individual pays after the plan goes into effect change a lot.  Some groups' rates go up, and others' rates go down.

That's actually what has to happen with any real tax reform.  The tax code right now is insanely complicated.  Simplifying the tax code, by definition, means lowering the nominal rates in exchange for reducing or eliminating the credits and deductions.  The people who benefit from the existing code are the ones who get the credits and deductions.  Take away the credits and deductions, and even the lower nominal rates mean higher overall payments to the IRS for some people.  That's the short version, but tax reform is all about tradeoffs.  Someone's true tax rate goes up, in exchange for someone else's true rate going down.

On the basis of that, I didn't think the Republicans would do anything like real tax reform.  I thought they'd just go for a simple set of tax cuts because... why bother imposing costs on anyone?  Pass a budget resolution giving themselves the authority to increase the deficit for 10 years without any Democratic votes, cut some rates, include some spending cuts to allow a few tax cuts to remain permanent, and Bob's your uncle.  There's a Republican plan.  Doing anything else would mean someone's taxes go up.

Enter Grover Norquist.  Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and the guy who goes around asking every Republican in the country to sign a pledge indicating that they will never, under pain of execution of their puppies, raise any taxes ever.  The Norquist pledge has been a big deal in Republican politics for a loooooong time.  And yet... with a Republican tax plan making the rounds that includes a bunch of peoples' taxes going up... Norquist doesn't seem to be a factor.  What's the deal?  Possibilities to consider.

1)  Maybe Norquist was more a product of his times than a driver of politics.  After Poppy Bush broke his "no new taxes" pledge, the GOP reacted, and Norquist was a part of that reaction, but a symptom rather than a cause.

2)  Maybe when Obama got the GOP to break the Norquist pledge during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, he broke Norquist!  When the Bush tax cuts expired in 2011 (and then again in 2013 after they were extended for two more years), Norquist tried to push the GOP to insist that all of Bush's tax cuts were retained.  Obama negotiated a $400K cutoff.  The cutoff itself was pointless because anybody making more than that does it through capital gains rather than salary, and capital gains are taxed separately anyway, but maybe all it took was breaking the pledge once and suffering no consequences.

3)  Maybe the GOP is simply willing to prioritize some tax cuts over Norquist's pledge.  The plan is really about the corporate tax cuts.  Norquist is a straight-up ideological purist.  He, and others, thought that there was real alignment between his goals and the Republican Party, but the Republican Party may actually have more of an ability to prioritize than I thought, or than Norquist thought.  This is basically the Chamber of Commerce versus the ideological purists, and the Chamber of Commerce is winning.  Bigger tax cuts for the corporations under reconciliation rules require raising some taxes on individuals, and if that's what it takes for the Chamber of Commerce to win the intra-party fight, then so be it.  The Chamber of Commerce-- or at least that mentality-- has more sway within the GOP than many of us thought.  Is this about conflict between groups?  Conflict between principles?  Who knows?  I'm not going to fall back on that bullshit about Republicans just being bought off.  Lazy argumentation, irreconcilable with political science research.  Regardless, perhaps corporate tax cuts just matter more to them than the ideological principle.  Who knew?

4)  This ain't over yet.  The bill could still fail, or be modified.

With healthcare, I marveled/gawked that the GOP chose the hardest path:  a "repeal-and-replace" scheme rather than simply passing a bunch of piecemeal, small-bore bills that would allow them to declare victory repeatedly.  They're... doing it again.  They have a better chance this time, for many reasons, but where the fuck is Grover Norquist?

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

A twofer today.  I referenced a couple of blues artists in Friday's rant, so here's Hazmat Modine (the band led by that dirtbag, Wade Schuman), with "Man Trouble"* from Bahamut, and B.B. King's "Worry, Worry," from Live at the Regal, with that... worrying monologue at around 4:36.  Wade Schuman treats women terribly, but this is great, experimental blues.  Are you going to listen?  B.B. King's attitude towards domestic violence was... dated at best.  Do you still listen?  That album is considered among the best in blues history.

*That would be you, Wade.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lisa Murkowski, the individual mandate, and the Senate tax bill

So far, I have been relatively bullish on the chances that the GOP will repeal the individual mandate in their tax bill.  I just didn't see who, within the GOP, would stop them.  When McConnell brought "skinny repeal" up for a vote, three Senators voted no:  Collins, Murkowski and McCain, and yet none of them have expressed the same kind of opposition to the inclusion of "skinny repeal" in the tax bill.

Well, Lisa Murkowski is moving in that direction.  She's not enough to stop them, but this is important to note.

Remember those cost-sharing subsidies?  The ones Trump cut off in order to sabotage the individual insurance markets?  When an insurance company gets and adverse risk pool, they are supposed to get a subsidy to compensate them.  But, the idiots who wrote the actual text of Obamacare didn't properly appropriate the money.  Obama himself cut the insurance companies the checks anyway.  For a while, Trump did, and then a few weeks back, he stopped because he was throwing a temper tantrum over the fact that he didn't get to "repeal Obamacare."  This is sabotage.  If the companies with adverse risk pools don't get those checks, they either have to pull out of the markets, raise premiums, or something like that.  That's the point of Trump cutting off the subsidies.

As soon as he did it, Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray started working on a fix to Obamacare to restore the cost-sharing subsidies, to prevent Trump from engaging in this act of sabotage because... even Trump's own party recognizes that this is stupid, destructive, and likely to cause havoc which may backfire and hurt the GOP.

However, bipartisanship is verboten in the Republican Party right now, so shortly after Alexander and Murray started working on their plan, Orrin Hatch started working on a partisan plan, at which point I declared Alexander-Murray "probably dead."

And when was the last time Alexander-Murray got any oxygen?

Now, though, the GOP is trying to kill the individual mandate, which is another way to sabotage the individual markets.  If the healthy people don't buy insurance, then the only ones who do will be the sick people, and if the insurance companies are required to sell to them because the GOP repeals the mandate but not the regulations, either premiums skyrocket, or the whole thing collapses because the insurance companies just won't participate.  Add that to the fact that Trump cut off the cost-sharing subsidies, and you've got big(ger) trouble.

You know who recognizes this?

Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski is now saying that she doesn't want to consider a repeal of the individual mandate without addressing the cost-sharing subsidies with something like Alexander-Murray.

A few points.

1)  Murkowski is open to repealing the mandate, conditional on restoring the cost-sharing subsidies.  She isn't opposed to repealing the mandate.  Her position changed.  Why?  Maybe this is just another example of hostage-taking being successful.  Trump actually shot a hostage, and it worked.  Within the GOP, at least.  That means the GOP might pull this off.  (John Boehner called Jim Jordan a "legislative terrorist."  Now, we've got Trump...)

2)  Murkowski prefers Alexander-Murray to Hatch.  Alexander-Murray is far less likely to pass than Hatch's plan.  Why?  The GOP won't stand for bipartisanship.  Can Murkowski be convinced that Hatch is an acceptable substitute?  If so, then this is just sturm und drang.

3)  What about sequence?  If McConnell, Ryan and Trump promise Murkowski that they will pass either Alexander-Murray, Hatch or something like that after the tax bill, will she vote for the tax bill?  She'd be an idiot to trust them, but she might do it anyway.

4)  This may be how McConnell loses Murkowski.  McConnell can lose two votes.  The most likely two to lose are Murkowski and Collins.

5)  Dropping "skinny repeal" from the tax bill would mean they have to scale back the tax cuts.  (Eliminating the mandate allows the GOP to reduce subsidy payments).  This pits Murkowski and Collins against the Drama Club (Cruz, Paul, Lee and Johnson).  In any normal party, Collins and Murkowski would win this fight because they are the center of the chamber.  This is the Republican Party, though.

What happens now?  The odds of the individual mandate being repealed just dropped a bit.  However, Murkowski's vote isn't essential, and she isn't fighting very hard...

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

I'm still on the theme from Friday's rant.  Here's Tut Taylor's signature tune from Friar Tut, "Southern Filibuster."  Tut Taylor was one of the great dobro players, most famous for his work with John Hartford and occasional work with the Kentucky Colonels.  Instead of using Scruggs-style fingerpicks, he flatpicked the dobro.  It sounded great anyway.

Southern filibuster.  This is an instrumental tune.  No words.  It's a joke.  Get it?  In 1971, Tut recorded this, after years of southerners filibustering civil rights legislation.  The filibuster meant having southern Senators talk civil rights legislation to death.  Yes, there were other filibusters, but that was the main use at the time.

So... here's Tut, playing and not saying a word.  It's a joke.  Is it funny, or is it too dismissive of the damage done by actual southern filibusters?

Today, an old, southern, white guy making a joke like that?  No way.

What do we do with this?  Tut was a great musician.  Was he actually racist?  I don't really know.  What did he truly think of Strom Thurmond's 24-hour filibuster?  I don't really know.

All we have is the title of this tune.  It is crass at best.

Are you going to click on it and listen?  It's great music.  Do we just say that Tut was a product of his time, and not conditioned to think about this stuff?  Might he really have been hardcore racist?  Maybe!

At best, this is a crass joke, dismissive of the actual damage done by the real southern filibusters.

It's still an instrumental tune, and if you didn't know the title, and just loved bluegrass, it would bring a smile to your face.

And Tut played on one of the greatest bluegrass albums of all time-- John Hartford's Aereo-Plain.  If you don't listen to this, do you stop listening to Tut's solo recordings entirely?  Do you stop listening to John Hartford?

Yeah, "Southern Filibuster."  Real funny, Tut.  I bet all of those "black friends" you supposedly had laughed really hard at it.

And yet, it's great music.

I hope nobody is turning to me for answers on this shit.  Like I said on Friday, I'm just some asshole, ranting at the void.  Here's Tut.  He was somewhere between "racist" and "oblivious."  I have no way to determine where he was on that scale.  Your mileage may vary.  Wow, that was a longer wind-up than usual for a simple music post.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Roy Moore may help the GOP pass a tax bill... by being a lousy candidate

As of this morning, the RealClearPolitics polling average in the Alabama Senate special election puts Doug Jones ahead by 0.2 points.  That's including the latest poll by Gravis, with Jones up by 5, and Fox, with Jones up by 8.

PredictIt currently has the betting at essentially a tie.

What will happen in Alabama?  Right now, it is very hard to say.  Once that latest story came out, with a particularly violent attack by Moore, it actually became conceivable that Alabama would vote for a Democrat.  And don't get your self-righteous hackles up about that.  As I wrote last weekend, it makes moral sense for a true social conservative to vote for Moore, and if you're being honest, you could find a circumstance in which you'd vote for a child molester too, so shut the fuck up about it, you hypocrite, you.

Anyway, what will happen?  I don't know.  And neither do Senate Republicans.  And that helps them with their tax bill.  Here's how.  Their legislative strategy essentially relies on the legislative equivalent of Looney Tunes physics.

Whenever Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, he keeps running until he looks down.  Once he notices that there isn't any ground beneath his feet, he falls.


If you are facing a chasm, run really fast, and don't look down.  You might make it to the other side.  As long as you run really fast, and don't look down.  (And live in a cartoon.  Please don't try this.)

Slow down, and you fall.  Look down, notice that there isn't any ground, and you fall.

The Republican legislative approach since January has been to write the legislation in secret, unveil it at the last moment, call for a vote as fast as possible, and hope that nobody either looks at the text or polls about the legislation.  Why?  The text is always poorly thought-out, and constructed only to cobble together a coalition based on the objections individual legislators have offered, with no study about the consequences of the policies themselves.  The policies themselves are also quite unpopular.  Cutting healthcare benefits is unpopular.  Raising individual taxes by cutting tax deductions in order to cut corporate taxes is unpopular.  What effects would these policies have?


The entire process, both for "repeal-and-replace" and for taxes, has been a caricature of the manner in which Republicans described the passage of Obamacare.  In fact, Obamacare went through months and months and months of hearings, revisions, amendments, etc., and the GOP isn't doing that for anything, but they spent years telling themselves, along with everyone else, that the Democrats wrote the bill in secret and then passed it at lightning speed, so they figured they'd do that.

And they think that it is the only way that they can pass anything.  The Wile E. Coyote method.  Run really fast and don't look down.

On healthcare, they went splat.  A bunch of times.  Like Wile E. Coyote, they're trying again.  (No, ACME did not design the budget reconciliation process, but maybe I'll start drawing analogies between Elizabeth MacDonough and the Roadrunner!).

The thing is... their basic premise might be right.  Legislatin' ain't runnin'.  If you don't give people time to think, they really will do stupid shit, and if that is our analog to "not falling," then Majority Leader W.E. Coyote might be onto something here.

Speed is of the essence.  The worst thing that the GOP can do is slow down.  If they slow down, one of two things can happen to the Senate on the tax bill.  They will either a) decide that the whole thing is dangerous because raising middle class taxes (which the bill does for some middle class voters) in order to cut corporate taxes will backfire, or b) descend into irreconcilable bickering and never pass anything.

The solution?  Speed.  Don't stop, don't think, don't talk, just VOTE NOW NOW NOW!

This has been the GOP's overall strategy all along, and you can see why.

The slimmer the margin in the Senate, the more important speed becomes.  Right now, McConnell can lose two votes.  Ignore Ron Johnson.  He's just being dramatic.  I've ranted about the "Drama Club" before, and I'll do it again.  He won't be the guy to kill a tax cut.  He'll be happy to vote against a bill that will die anyway, and he'd love to be the one Republican posturing against a tax cut that passes, saying it wasn't conservative enough, but he won't kill the bill.

Regardless, McConnell can lose two votes.  He has a puzzle to solve.  He'll have Republican Senators jockeying to be the no votes.  Collins and Murkowski might want to vote no sincerely.  Then there are the Drama Clubbers (Paul, Cruz, Johnson, Lee), who will want to posture.  Then, there's McCain and his flights of fancy.  Remember, he was a lousy pilot, which was how he wound up a POW...  Corker will have to be reminded that he's still a Republican, and they only care about deficits when the president has a "D" after his name.

So, the party plays a game of musical chairs.  They go around in circles, and when the music stops, everyone rushes for those two chairs.  Two Republican Senators can sit down.  The rest are losers.  They have to vote yes.  Unless they decide they don't want to play anymore, and they blow up the game, knock over the chairs and start vandalizing the room like a bunch of fucking toddlers.

But, the longer those Senators argue about who is going to get to sit down, the more difficult it gets.  The more they will argue about arranging the chairs, why aren't the chairs padded, what the music selection should be, when the music should be stopped, when is recess, and blah, blah, fucking blah.  Eventually, one of them will shit their pants, a fight will break out, and the game becomes moot.

McConnell needs an excuse to stop the music and call for a vote before everything goes all to hell.

Roy Moore may give him that.  The weaker he looks, the more precarious the GOP's Senate margin gets.  Right now, it is 52-48.  If that goes down to 51-49, they can only lose one vote.  The game gets that much harder, and only one Republican will get to vote no!  McConnell can't let that happen.  He needs to call for a vote before the Senate margin gets to 51-49.

We don't have an official timeline for a Senate vote, and it is movable.  Right now, the plan is sometime after Thanksgiving.  McConnell won't call for a vote unless he has the votes.  Here's the thing, though.  The more scared the caucus gets, the more important speed gets.

That helps McConnell!  If the Senate GOP gets scared that they need to pass something before Luther Strange is replaced by Doug Jones, then they'll vote sooner.  They'll rush the vote, which is exactly what McConnell wants!

Speed is the basis of the Republican strategy.  Moore's weakness makes speed that much more important.  Roy Moore helps the GOP on taxes.

What happens?  If the Senate Republicans are really nervous, they will wait until after the election, and see how it goes.  If Jones wins, they'll cobble together something and vote immediately.  And this should bring to mind Obamacare!  Remember when Ted Kennedy died?  The Senate passed a version before his death, then Scott Brown won a special election to replace him, so the House had to pass the Senate's unamended bill...  If the Senate rushes a vote because Jones is about to be seated, then passes a bill, 51-50 with Pence breaking a tie, the House might have to suck it up and pass whatever the Senate passed to avoid a conference committee, even though the Freedom Caucus will want to go through their usual histrionics.  That'll be fun!

What's next?  We'll see.

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

After yesterday's rant, today's choice was obvious.  Merle Haggard, "Okie from Muskogee."  For the record, though, Merle Haggard did smoke marijuana (proximity to Willie Nelson?), and snort cocaine.

Friday, November 17, 2017

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

Given today's rant, I had to go with Charles Mingus.  Here's "Better Git It In Your Soul," from Mingus Ah Um.  Mingus was a shitbag.  I'm still going to listen to his music.

On politics, art, comedy and sexual harassment/assault

This is going to be a ramble.  Fair warning.

Donald Trump is a serial sexual predator.  Roy Moore is a serial sexual predator who preys on underage girls.  Vile behavior crosses all lines.  The entertainment industry is currently trying to deal with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and let's be real here, plenty of other people who take advantage of their power, which is what this is really about.  And of course, the lines between politics and entertainment are no longer clear.  See: Trump, Donald.

See, also:  Franken, Al.  The left-wing hero/comedian/politician is, apparently, pretty vile to women too.  Are you shocked?  Why?  Did you assume that a liberal wouldn't do that?  Did you assume that you could tell from his personality?  Really?  Are you, what, psychic, or something?

Give people power, and they will abuse their power.  It seems to me there's an old saying about that, if only I could remember how it goes.  And you can't tell who will and who won't abuse their power.  Not from their politics, not from their work history, not from their demeanor...  Yup, Al Franken.  Him too.

You may have noticed that I'm kind of obsessed with music.  Relatively obscure music, generally.  Just this week, before Al Franken was outed as a piece of shit, I was checking for any recent projects from a band called "Hazmat Modine."  They are a sort of experimental blues band that draws from a wide range of musical traditions, from jazz to klezmer to Tuvan throat-singing (they invite a Mongolian group, Huun-Huur-Tu, to participate in their recordings).  I told you, my taste in music is odd.  The group is led by a harmonica player named Wade Schuman.  Not seeing anything recent from Hazmat Modine, I started looking around for recent projects by Schuman, who is just a generally interesting musician.  I stumbled across a story about a New York Academy of Art faculty member-- a painter-- involved in some sexual harassment allegations.  Same guy?  I was looking for a harmonica player, not a painter.  Is this individual just some artistic polyglot?  (In addition to being pondscum?)

Yup.  Same guy.  I wasn't even aware of his day job as the Chair of the Painting Department at the New York Academy of Art.  Talented guy.

Also, a total fucking douchebag.  Fuck you, Wade, and fuck you, New York Academy of Art for helping to cover up his shit, which is what academic institutions do.  Actually, it is what institutions in general do.  They help people in power.  Power=power.  The reflexive property.  It means scumbags get away with doing vile shit.

Last weekend, I posed the question of what a sincere, socially conservative voter should do in the case of a Roy Moore vs. Doug Jones election.  Really, maybe they should vote for Moore.  Now, how should a liberal look at Al Franken, either his political or entertainment careers?  Can you watch The Usual Suspects, knowing what you know about Kevin Spacey?  (I never watched "House of Cards") Can I listen to Hazmat Modine?  (Your taste in music has to be pretty out-there to like their music, but... my taste in music is pretty far out-there).

This is a question far more familiar to conservatives in any entertainment context because, let's be blunt here, entertainment does generally skew liberal in ways that you don't even notice if you are liberal.  It is either so ubiquitous, or so subtle that it just becomes part of the background, and no, conservatives aren't making that up.  Why?  Short version:  artists are generally lefties (hence the surprise that some people have when people in the arts community turn out to be sexual predators, as though politics would have anything to do with personal morality...).

Music is easy for me because it is the entertainment that I know best.  Ted Cruz took flak for some bullshit a while back when he said that he switched to country exclusively after 9/11 based on politics, but here's a serious question.  If you actually know music history, how many anti-war rock songs can you list, off the top of your head?  The more classic rock you know, the longer the list will be, but if you know rock history, the list should be pretty long.  (The length of your list will depend on how generally knowledgable you are).

How many songs about war can you list that are, if not pro-war, then at least accepting of war?  In rock?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Now, let's turn to country.

Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee" rejected the burning of draft cards.  He wasn't glorifying dropping napalm on Vietnam, but culturally, country provided an entertainment genre that didn't put conservatives in the position of listening to lyrics with which they didn't agreed.

"Okie from Muskogee," or John Lennon's "Imagine."  If you are a conservative, which is more politically comfortable?

Country isn't just "Okie from Muskogee."  My Saturday music series is... snarky.  (Yes, me, snarky.)  Even the title is snarky.  I am participating in what Neal Stephenson might call the "apostropocalypse" by reducing America to 'mer'ca.  Why?  I'm an elitist snob.  I also love country music, though, and there is a wide range within the genre.

Anyway, there is value to having your values challenged, but... people don't like that.  They try to minimize their "cognitive dissonance."  Is there a difference between listening to someone advocate a political position that you find repellant, and listening to a person you find repellant?  That depends on whether or not you judge the person by the views expressed.  To the extent that you do, then no, there's no difference.

Would you listen to the best musician ever play a song with neo-nazi lyrics?  I... wouldn't.  I love music, but fuck no.

Will I still listen to Hazmat Modine?  Um, yeah, I probably will.

I've been listening the Charles Mingus for decades, even knowing what a shitbag he was.  Charles Mingus was one of the great geniuses in the history of jazz, not just as a virtuoso bass player, but as a composer and bandleader.  He was also a violent nutjob, who would go so far as to physically assault people, either audience members or his own band members.  Mingus was scum.  Genius scum, but scum nevertheless.  That said, I don't think I can go the rest of my life without listening to Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Mingus Ah Um, or, or, or... he just recorded so many of the best albums in jazz history that yeah, he was reprehensible, but I'm going to listen to those albums anyway.

OK, you say, that's different from sexual assault, domestic violence, and that whole category of stuff.  Has the musical world excommunicated James Brown?  Does anyone remember Chuck Berry's legal issues?

Here's a little aside made by B.B. King during "Worry, Worry," from Live at the Regal, often considered his best album (although I prefer Live in Cook County Jail).  Regarding domestic violence he says, "don't go upside her head.  That don't do but one thing.  That make her a little smarter.  She won't let you catch her the next time."  The problem with domestic violence, according to B.B., wasn't that it was morally wrong.  It would just backfire.  Yeah, nice...  Do we just say, "eh, that was 1965?"

And then there's Lewis Carroll.

At some point in your life, if you don't already, you will take some important medication.  If you found out that the research for that drug was conducted by a rapist, child molester or other shitbag, would you stop taking it?

No, you wouldn't.  Don't even try telling me you would.

Have you read Alice In Wonderland?  Or otherwise enjoyed some adaptation of it?  Have you ever clicked on one of those Mingus clips I regularly post?  Or ever listened to any post-Mingus jazz?

Have you ever listened to rock & roll?  That all comes from that shitbag, Chuck Berry.  He went to prison for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines to have sex with her.  And every time you listen to rock & roll, you are enjoying the fruits of a child molester, because it all comes from Chuck Berry.

Al Franken, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Wade Schuman...  Fuck all these people.  What do you do, now that you know what shitbags they are?

Fuck if I know.  I'm just some asshole, ranting at the void.  I'm a misanthrope who likes music.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The return of "skinny repeal" and the normalization of craziness

I'm going to come back to this, but for now, I'll just explain what is happening.

The Senate GOP has decided to include the repeal of the individual mandate in its tax bill.  Last summer, McConnell proposed "skinny repeal," which was a simple repeal of the individual mandate.  There are plenty of ways to design healthcare systems that are intellectually defensible on differing ideological grounds.  Government intervention through regulation and taxation has costs and benefits.  How you weigh those costs and benefits is a matter of ideology.


Some systems, though, are objectively, indisputably stupid.  Requiring health insurance companies to sell plans to people who are sick and have expensive healthcare needs without requiring healthy people to buy into the system... is objectively, indisputably stupid.

And as of last summer, even Republicans knew that.

When Mitch McConnell proposed a simple repeal of the "individual mandate" last July, it wasn't under the premise that the proposal would become law.  He did so claiming that passing his proposal would send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee, and while the Senate couldn't come up with a bill that they found agreeable, a House-Senate conference committee would be up to the task.

This was... batshit fucking crazy.  On many levels.  First, McConnell was proposing a bill that every Democrat, and many Republicans knew would be horrible policy.  The individual mandate was, after all, the Heritage Foundation's idea, and as recently as 2009, during the Obamacare debates, Chuck Grassley was basically arguing in favor of the mandate!

Take away the individual mandate, while leaving the Obamacare regulations on pre-existing conditions, and you have a system that is completely, totally indefensible.

And you know who knew that?  The GOP.  Last summer.  That little, fucking twerp, Lindsey Graham, gave a press conference with some of his buddies saying that "skinny repeal" was terrible policy, and he needed an assurance that it would never go into law!

Think about that.  He understood how stupid the bill was, and wanted an assurance that the House wouldn't pass it, as a condition for him voting yes.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) put it best.  "Nuclear grade bonkers."

The point of the bill was for it to not become policy!  Keep that in mind.  It was a proposal intended to move the process to the House-Senate conference committee under the ridiculous premise that they would do what the Senate itself had been unable to do-- come up with a palatable bill.

Skinny repeal failed because Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and by surprise, John McCain, said no.

Everyone else in the GOP, including that twit, Lindsey Graham, was OK with this plan!  The plan that said, "let's pass a bill we know is stupid in order to move things to a House-Senate conference committee, which we hope will come up with a non-batshit bill."

OK, got that?

Where are we now?

Now, that same caucus has decided to take the bill, which they knew was batshit crazy, stupid policy, and not intended to become law, and include it as a provision in their tax bill.  Intended to become law.

As I wrote yesterday, I think there is a better-than-50% chance this happens now.  And that's terrifying, on multiple levels.  Not just on a policy-level, because we know that this is stupid policy.  Lindsey Graham knows that this is stupid policy.  Or, he did last summer, anyway.

What is more terrifying here is the demonstration of how batshit craziness gets normalized.  An idea goes from unthinkable, and just a crazy gimmick to... included in a tax bill with a damned good chance of passage in just a few months.

And where are the voices against this in the GOP?  As I said yesterday, even Susan Collins isn't taking a hard line on this.  She made some squishy comments about how including the healthcare provision might make things "controversial," but don't count on her either to support an amendment to strip the provision, or oppose the whole bill.

The idea of "skinny repeal" has gone from crazy gimmick intended to get things to conference, to real policy in just a matter of months.

This is hard to wrap your brain around.  Politics have been getting exponentially more crazy, so it is hard to remember that even just a few months ago, some of what we are now seeing was considered beyond the pale, but remember that "skinny repeal" was not intended to become policy.  McConnell tried to assure his caucus that it wouldn't.  Graham demanded such an assurance because he thought it was so fucking stupid.

Now... we just shrug at the idea that the GOP would vote to repeal the individual mandate without touching the regulations on pre-existing conditions.  Craziness is being normalized at an alarming rate.

A conservative Senator opposes the tax bill?!

Ron Johnson (R-Drama Club) claimed yesterday that he opposed the current version of the tax bill making its way through the Senate.  Traditionally, we denote a legislator's party and constituency with a parenthetical statement including a party designator, followed by a hyphen, followed by the state the legislator represents.  I am listing Johnson as (R-Drama Club) because back when the Senate was debating its "repeal-and-replace" proposals, Johnson, along with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, insisted on performing a kind of conservative, performance art theater.  It traditionally goes as follows:

I can't vote for this!  It's not conservative enough!  You're a sellout and I'm more pure than you!  Give me concessions or I'll vote no, and support your primary challenger!
OK, that was a concession, and it wasn't really enough, but I'll grudgingly accept it on the condition that you give me more later!  You're still not conservative enough, you cuckservative, you!  I'm still angry and nobody will ever be more conservative than me!

There is another script with an alternate ending.  It goes as follows:

I can't vote for this!  It's not conservative enough!  You're a sellout and I'm more pure than you!  Give me concessions or I'll vote no, and support your primary challenger!
That bill failed because it wasn't conservative enough and I opposed it all along because I'm a true conservative and you're not, you sellout cuckservative!

It's... tiresome.  And annoying.  At the end of the process, those little drama club twerps weren't going to be the ones who killed "repeal-and-replace."  They just wanted to posture.  It's all theater for them.  If a bill can pass, they go through their theatrics, just like the House Freedom Caucus, to get as many concessions as possible before bill passage.  If the bill fails, they hated it all along because it wasn't conservative enough.  They weren't going to be the ones who killed the bill, though.

Right now, the tax bill is in an uncertain stage.  Rand Paul voted no on the budget resolution.  Pure posturing.  The resolution passed with 51 votes.  He wouldn't have been the one to bring it down to 49, but he was happy to be the one GOP vote against the resolution.  Now, Ron Johnson wants in on that posturing action.  Neither will kill a tax cut.  This is the drama club doing its drama club thing.  That's it.  That's all.  Stop listening to these little twerps.  They derive their power, such as it is, from people paying attention to them.  So...

Could the bill fail?  Sure.  It might!  The GOP is incompetent and in shambles, and part of this strategy is that if the bill is destined to fail, there is great drama to be had in having opposed it all along, but Ron Johnson won't be the guy to kill it.  Neither will Rand Paul.

Any day now, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee should be looking for ways to get in on the drama.  Unless they forgot to pay their Drama Club dues.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Skinny repeal is back, and it will probably pass

Yes, that's right, "skinny repeal" is back.  I've been warning that the GOP won't give up.  (Rather a lot, actually, but that post was just the first to come up in a search for some key words).

Remember "skinny repeal?"  As a last-ditch effort to "repeal Obamacare," Mitch McConnell proposed the following totally batshit crazy idea-- repeal the individual mandate alone, then go to House-Senate conference and hope that the House-Senate conference committee would come up with a decent bill because everyone knew that just repealing the individual mandate alone would be totally batshit fucking crazy.  Why?  Take away the mandate requiring healthy people to get insurance and you make the pool of customers getting insurance sicker and more expensive to cover, and insurance is a low-margin business.  McConnell had to assure everyone in the Senate that it would never actually pass-- the whole point was just to get to conference where the real bill would be written.  But, Paul Ryan said he might just pass "skinny repeal," hand the thing over to Trump for a signature, and send the individual markets into a death spiral because the people buying insurance in the individual markets would be the sicker people.

As batshit crazy as "skinny repeal" was, as soon as McConnell proposed it, I posted this, back in July.  Every other version of Republicans' "repeal-and-replace" plans was unlikely to pass, for a variety of reasons.  Skinny repeal?  I thought that one could pass.  And it nearly did.

The only reason it didn't?  John McCain's surprise last-minute decision to vote no.  Collins and Murkowski were no votes all along, for everything, but McConnell was counting on that, and ignoring them.  He could lose two votes, and he just wrote them off.  McCain?  McConnell assumed he had McCain, and so did everyone else.  When McCain voted no on skinny repeal, casting the 51st no vote, it was shocking.  To just about everyone.  That was it.  That was how close the GOP came to passing McConnell's batshit crazy "skinny repeal" scheme.

It's back.  The Senate GOP is including it in their tax bill.  Nothing else about healthcare-- just a repeal of the individual mandate.  That's "skinny repeal," and it is just as completely batshit fucking crazy as doing it in one separate bill.  But nobody is opposing it anymore!  Even Collins, who voted no on skinny repeal, is only getting squeamish about it because she says it might make things "controversial!"  (Remind me again why we are supposed to put "moderates" up on a pedestal?)

This is Legislation 101.  If you have a provision that can't pass on its own, you attach it to a bill that can pass, and force opponents of the provision who support the overall bill to make a choice:  sink the whole bill, which they support, or accept the provision they don't like.  It looks like Collins is leaning towards accepting "skinny repeal."  If she's on-board, so's Murkowski.  McCain?  Probably him too.  Skinny repeal passes.

Once skinny repeal is written into the bill, there are two ways skinny repeal fails-- an amendment passes to strip the provision from the bill, or the whole bill fails.

Could an amendment pass?  You might think so.  If Collins, Murkowski and McCain voted no on skinny repeal, then if they were consistent, they'd vote for an amendment to strip "skinny repeal" from the bill (presumably introduced by a Democrat), and McConnell has limited capacity to block floor amendments, unlike in the House.  Would they actually do so?  It doesn't sound like it.  Why not?  Um...  I'm not sure I have an answer, except that they aren't consistent.  People often aren't.  This should, though, serve as a warning that the kinds of spatial models with which I deal have a major problem because an amendment to strip skinny repeal from the tax bill and a floor vote on skinny repeal would be the same damned thing, and anyone voting differently is... not being consistent!

Then, there's the possibility that the GOP could just fail.  They haven't accomplished anything so far, legislatively!  Will they fail again?  I doubt it.  Right now, McConnell can lose two votes.  Rand Paul is doing his dramatic posturing thing, but he won't be the guy to kill a tax cut.  Bob Corker is saying he won't increase the deficit, but he's probably full of shit.  At the end of the day, he's a conservative, and that means he loves him some tax cuts.  McCain can be ornery, but you can never count on him to maintain his spine.  Flake might flake.  Collins and Murkowski are squishy.  They voiced real opposition on healthcare from the beginning, and haven't done anything comparable on taxes so far, and if Collins isn't taking a stand on the reintroduction of skinny repeal now, she probably won't later.  She's been cowed.  At the end of the day, she's a Republican, and if you offer her a tax cut, she'll take it.  Ditto, Murkowski.

Could any one of these people vote no?  Sure.  Two?  Maybe.  Three?  Unlikely.

The complication, of course, is that Alabama Senate race.  Roy Moore could lose to Doug Jones.  But, if that happens, McConnell schedules an immediate vote so that he locks in Luther Strange's vote before having to seat Jones, and he's still operating with a 52-member caucus rather than a 51-member caucus.

Skinny repeal is back.  When McConnell introduced it, I had a hard time seeing how it failed (McCain's move really was a shock to everyone).  Now, I have a really hard time seeing how it fails.  It is absolutely batshit fucking crazy, and totally irresponsible.  Completely nuts.  PredictIt has an individual mandate repeal by the end of 2017 trading at $0.28 as of this morning.  Factoring in the likelihood of the tax bill being pushed into 2018, sure.  Why not?  But, I'd put the overall chances over 50%.  How high?  Eh... noticeably over 50%.  Watch me be weaselly.