Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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

Hmmm...  Brexit or the chaos in France?  Fuck it.  Both.  Here's Pierre Bensusan, "The Welsh Arrow," from Intuit.


Monday, December 10, 2018

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

Let's head down to New Orleans for today.  There are plenty of versions of this one, but here's a classic.  Dr. John, "Big Chief," from Dr. John's Gumbo.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

House Democrats and further adventures in poetic stupidity

Time for a history lesson.  Remember when the Democratic Party was the party of the South?  You probably don't remember it, but you might.  Anyway, there was a time in which only Democrats could get elected from the South.  It had a little something to do with the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Them Southerners hold a grudge for a long time.  I guess they really loved having slaves, or something...  Anyway, that created a peculiar dynamic.  The safest incumbents in Congress, during that period of Democratic dominance, were the Southerners.  There was also a 40-year stretch during which the Democrats had a majority in the House of Representatives, partly because they had such a grip on the South, although the Southern Democrats were, shall we say, different from Northern Democrats.  So, during the period from 1954 through 1994, the Democrats had an unbroken streak of control of the House of Representatives, but as time went on, the party changed.  In the mid-20th Century, you had a bunch of Southerners, who were moderate-to-conservative, and wildly at odds with the Northerners on race, and you had the increasingly liberal Northerners, who were pro-civil rights.  Things fall apart.  The center/re cannot hold.

Yes?  No?

Anyway, as mere anarchy was loosed upon the party, that brought pressure to change the rules.  When the Democrats' 40-year streak started, there was a formal party rule on how it selected committee chairs.  The most senior Democrat on any committee automatically became chair, whenever they had the majority.   Guess who got to chair the most important committees?

That's right.  Southerners.  Why?  They were the most senior.  They never lost.  Get elected as a Democrat from the South, and you were safe because from the Civil War through much of the 20th Century, being a Republican in the South was like being a dark-skinned person at a Trump rally.  So, racist shitbag Southerners chaired the most important committees.  Seniority.  It was an actual, formal rule.

As the composition of the party began to change, with more Northern liberals and relatively fewer Southerners, the party got ever more frustrated by this.  Why?  All it took was one recalcitrant Southern committee chair refusing to move on a bill, and the bill was dead, and the formal rules of the chamber meant that these cranky, creepy old motherfuckers were automatically the chairs of their committees.  By the 1970s, the tension in the party between the Northern liberals and the Southerners brought about a bunch of formal rule changes.  Lots of 'em.  The most important, for our purposes here, is that the seniority rules were relaxed, and three committee chairs were sacked to make examples for the rest.  Stop stopping our bills, motherfuckers!  Otherwise, musical chairs, and when the music stops, you're on your ass!

Two good books here:  David Rohde's Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House, and my old grad school advisor, Nelson Polsby's How Congress Evolves.

A few quick points about this.  First, there was a real ideological dispute here.  Liberals versus conservatives within the party, with the latter blocking bills proposed by the former, affecting policy outcomes.  Second, one of the important functions of committees is that they play an informational role.  A properly composed Congress will divide up responsibilities, and you get specialization because everyone can't know everything about everything.  The seniority rule, as operating, wasn't serving that.  It was just serving as an ideological distortion.  Good book on informational roles for committees:  Keith Krehbiel's Information and Legislative Organization.

Anyway, part of the result is that this centralized power in the party leadership.  Party leaders can influence who chairs committees, and since seniority doesn't guarantee chairmanships, chairs must be responsive to party leaders.  That was actually kind of the point.  The Southerners were countermanding the influence of the more liberal Democratic leadership.

Now, fast-forward to 1994 and the beginning of the end of Congress, when mere anarchy truly is loosed upon the institution.  As the centre fails to hold and polarization takes root, what happens?  The worst is full of passionate intensity*.  His name is Newton Leroy Gingrich.  What kind of blood-dimmed tide sweeps across Congress when he becomes Speaker?  Lots.  More kinds than references I can make in a blog post, and that's a fuckload!  Anyway, in terms of rule changes, the rough beast that slouched towards** Bethlehem to be born was as follows.  Two decades earlier, the Democrats relaxed the seniority rules such that the most senior member of the committee (of the majority party) wasn't automatically chair.  He, with the gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun, instituted term limits for committee chairs.  Under the new rules created by Republicans in 1995, committee chairs would only serve for six years, maximum.  After that, well...

OK, now that's just fucking stupid, but was also part of a pattern for Newton.  He hollowed out committee resources so that they couldn't do research, and basically tried to centralize all power for himself.  This is where you really start cutting into the informational role of committees.

Term limits are fucking stupid.  There are few ideas in politics as idiotic as term limits.  Any position in politics is a job.  OK, so no matter how well you have done your job, we're throwing you out-- firing you-- and replacing you with someone of less experience, just fuckin' 'cuz.  Yeah, I wrote about this.

This makes sense, how?!  Back in '94, the Republicans were on a term limits kick.  A bunch of those numbskulls actually took pledges that they were only going to serve, say, three or four terms total in Congress.  I have a couple of favorites.  Going into the 1994 election, the Speaker was Tom Foley.  His challenger was George Nethercutt.  A group called US Term Limits, pushing for a nationwide limit on House terms, backed Nethercutt, who took a 3-term pledge to step down after six years, no matter what.  Nethercutt beat Foley!  He beat the sitting Speaker!  Holy shit, right?!  Then... six years came around.  And... he didn't step down.  US Term Limits tried to take Nethercutt out and failed.

Then, there was Scott McInnis.  Dude took a four-term pledge in '92, and then broke it after saying that he just didn't get that there were actually benefits to seniority in Congress!  Even after mere anarchy got loosed, you still needed seniority to get transferred to the best committees, etc., and this useless fuckwit didn't know it!

Anyway, experience matters.  Knowledge matters.  Go figure that I, a professor, would write something like this.  Hell, I'm giving you references to books by scholars like Nelson Polsby, David Rohde, Keith Krehbiel, and weaving the post together with William Butler Yeats.  Yeah, I'm an elitist snob, and proud of it.  Term limits are fundamentally anti-intellectual.  They are based on the notion that the people who do better work are the ones with less experience, and less knowledge.  This isn't about an ideological struggle between Northern liberals and Southern conservatives over civil rights.

It's just a matter of whether or not you think knowledge and expertise matter.  Term limits are fucking stupid.

Which brings me to the tea party-fication of the Democratic Party.  Nancy Pelosi has almost certainly locked in the Speakership, but there are two more things going on right now, which both betray the utter stupidity of her opponents, and the growing idiocy of the House Democratic caucus.  First, as part of the pressure on her during her campaign to become Speaker again, twits like Seth Moulton had been demanding a timeline for when she steps down.  This isn't about formal term limits, but it speaks to the general point of demanding that the best and most experienced person step down and let someone less qualified take over.

There is no other context in which anyone who even pretends to have a brain argues for this kind of shit.  If someone is doing a good job, keep that person on the job.  Fire them if they are doing a bad job.  Period.

More importantly, though, what is now being debated in the House Democratic caucus is whether or not they adopt the same stupid rules the GOP has on committee chairs.  It didn't really become an issue for the Democrats during their reign from 2007-2011 because with only four years, a six-year limit would have been moot.  Now, though, Pelosi's opponents really are sounding just as idiotic as that proto-Trump, Newton Leroy Gingrich.  Term limits for committee chairs.  Yes, Pelosi's opponents are pushing for the same stupid shit that the proto-Trump used to tear down the institution under his ill-fated reign.

[Facepalm]

Why?  Here's what they don't have.  A policy-based, outcome-based argument.  In the 1970s, the reforms that the Democrats instituted were a response to Southerners blocking Northern-backed legislation.  That isn't what motivates Pelosi's opponents.  They don't have an ideological dispute in any policy area.  Remember that letter of opposition to her Speakership?  It was all bullshit.  There is no formal seniority rule.  If any of the younger members work their asses off and show that they have what Pelosi has, she'd pick them to chair a committee.  She's a pragmatist.

There are two elements to this.  One is that some of the Democratic teabaggers want to skip the hard work, and they think that term-limiting chairs will give them a faster track to a chair.  The other set, somewhat more innocently-- let's call them the best who lack conviction, or innocence to be drowned, or something-- just think that everything in politics should be done with some kind of childish, taking-turns thing.  As opposed to, you know, actually having people with knowledge and skill accomplish anything.

Maybe Pelosi should just create a bunch of bullshit new committees for them, mint up some "I'm a winner" trophies, put gold stars on their precious, little foreheads and take them out for ice cream.  That won't deal with the lazy bums who just want a fast track to chairmanships without having to put in the kind of work that she did, but it would solve some of her problems.

Term limits.  There really aren't many ideas in politics dumber than this.  The fact that it is catching on in the Democratic Party, among Pelosi's opponents, tells you a lot about what's really happening.

Vexing.  Nightmarish.  OK, that's enough poetry for today.


*You know, I just start writing these things, and I never know how much mileage I'm going to get out of a reference until it plays out.  Writing is weird that way.

**People have gotten on my case about "towards" in the past.  "Toward" is more common in modern American usage, but both are technically correct.  Yeats used "towards."  Fuckin' Yeats, motherfuckers!  I'm fine writing "towards" any time I like.

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

From their self-titled album together, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, "Bye Bye Baby Blues."


Saturday, December 8, 2018

On Michael Flynn: How "stupidity" has been redefined right before our eyes

This week has been filled with so much Mueller news that trying to analyze it all in a weekend post just wouldn't be practical.  Instead, I'm going to handle this a little differently.  On March 1, 2017, I had a little fun with Trump's attempt to give himself an early grade for his nascent Presidency.  Guess what grade he decided to give himself, if you don't remember.  It's Trump.  Me?  I posted this.  It's fun to look back at what you have written, nearly two years past.  Does anyone even remember Andy Puzder anymore?  What is important, though, is Michael Flynn.  When I wrote that post, I gave Trump an F for his Presidency, in March of 2017, for his appointment of Michael Flynn alone.

Let's go through what has happened, in very brief form, because of that appointment.  Flynn had to be fired.  He went up in flames like tissue paper soaked in kerosene.  James Comey, as Director of the FBI, wouldn't back off because of Flynn's Russia connections, despite Trump's attempts to obstruct justice.  Trump fired Comey.  That led to the appointment of Mueller, the charges against some schlub named Papadopoulos, but more importantly, Manafort, Gates, Cohen... Flynn, and ongoing investigations into Trump himself and other members of his inner circle.  None of this would be happening if Trump hadn't been so fucking stupid as to appoint Flynn as NSA, against the advice of the Feds, who told Trump that Flynn was compromised before the appointment was made.  Also, Flynn was clearly a crackpot anyway, but... that's why Trump liked him, which is kind of a major problem in and of itself, but also not the real point here.

So basically, when I gave Trump an F for his appointment of Flynn back on March 1, 2017, I was probably being too lenient.  Trump should have been kicked out of school on the basis of clearly fraudulent test scores because no one even marginally literate would have handed in an assignment like that.  He just shouldn't have been admitted in the first place.  Dude.  What the fuck?!

(Side note:  He brags all the time about having graduated from Wharton, but you know he didn't get into Wharton, right?  He transferred from Fordham after Daddy bought his way in because he couldn't get into Penn out of high school.)

And now, we learn that while Manafort has violated his agreement with Mueller by lying (and sharing information with Donny) in order to try to weasel his way to a pardon...

Flynn?  Oh, Donny.  Wow, did you fuck up with that guy.  Beyond what I ever could have imagined.  Mueller is advising no jail time?  Nothin'?  Squat?  Zilch?  Nada?  O... K... then.  Dumbest.  Appointment.  Ever.

And here's where I admit fault.  My assessments of Flynn's position were based on the notion that he'd be safe because Trump would just pardon him.  He'd keep his mouth shut, get pardoned, and be fine.  Manafort double-crossed Mueller, trying to fake cooperation while still feeding information to Trump, but Flynn is Henry Hill?  OK.  Didn't see that coming.

I was wrong, and rather than bury that in the hope that anyone forgets it, I'm going to shine a light on it, and assess where I went wrong here.  Intellectual honesty is a thing.

Mueller offered Flynn certainty.  Trump's potential pardon was an uncertain thing.  Flynn, strangely enough, acted rationally.  (Crazy people often don't).  Here's how I think it played out, given our current lack of information about what, specifically, Flynn gave Mueller.

Mueller couldn't go after Flynn first.  You start at lower levels, and work your way up.  This is a mob prosecution.  You get lower level people to flip on higher level people, and trap the higher level people into flipping on The Don.  So to speak.  Mueller got Papadopoulos, and whoever else early on.  He built up whatever he needed to have a rock-solid case against Flynn, which wasn't that hard because... holy shit, is Flynn guilty.  The thing is, most of what Flynn provably did is lower-level stuff rather than treason.  Once Mueller had enough to guarantee conviction under any circumstance short of lunatic on the jury (which... happens), he went to Flynn and said something like the following:

"Look, Mr. Hill, give me everything you have, and I'll advise no prison time.  Repeat, no prison time.  You serve no jail time at all, if you roll over completely.  Or, here's what you did, and here's your prison sentence.  You can go away, and hope for a presidential pardon, and maybe Trump grants it, and maybe he doesn't, but my way is safer.  You never see the inside of a jail cell, and never have to sit around waiting for Trump to make that call.  How much do you trust him, and how much do you trust me?"

Trump is a lying, backstabbing shitbag who doesn't care about anyone other than himself.  Would he have granted that pardon?  Eventually, probably.  Let Flynn get convicted, wait some period of time, let Fox News build the drum beat of right-wing rage, do some campaign-style rallies, and then, maybe after the 2020 election, pardon the guy.  Maybe before, but there would have been a high likelihood of some prison time, and the possibility of Trump stabbing him in the back because he's Trump.  He's a sociopath.  Don't put your fate in the hands of a sociopath if you don't have to.

Mueller was offering no jail time.  And here's the difference with Manafort.  Manafort did so much that Mueller couldn't promise him that.  So, Manafort tried a double-cross, got caught lying to Mueller, is losing his deal, and who knows what happens with him now?  Flynn, though?

I didn't see him flipping on Trump, but I didn't see the no-jail-time offer.  That's what's critical here.  Trump has a pardon to offer, but with Trump, there's always uncertainty because he is disloyal, sleazy and batshit crazy.  And even if he weren't, you wait for the pardon until the opportune moment.  Mueller just had more to offer because Flynn's crimes versus the information he had meant the better deal came from flipping.

It is worth remembering, though, that everything that is tearing apart Trump's administration goes back to the appointment of Michael Flynn as NSA.  I think it may have been the single dumbest thing any president has ever done.  Ever.

Flynn was compromised, and Trump knew it.  He was told not to make Flynn NSA.  He did it anyway.  He fired Flynn, only after it became too embarrassing.  Then, he fired Comey for investigating Flynn, and other Russia-related matters, leading to the appointment of Mueller, who then gets Flynn, himself, to flip on Trump.

Gaze in horror as "stupidity" is redefined, right before our very eyes!

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

Mark Knopfler may be a Brit, but Emmylou Harris is American.  Also, she rules in every way imaginable.  Here they are with "Rollin' On," from All the Roadrunning.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

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

It's funny how presidents get remembered.  A trio of songs that stood the test of time about FDR.  First up, some hillbilly blues by Jimmie Tarlton.  "Administration Blues," from Steel Guitar Rag.  Then, Big Joe Williams with "President Roosevelt," from Shake Your Boogie.  Finally, something vaguely, kinda well-known.  Ry Cooder's "FDR In Trinidad," from Into the Purple Valley.  All recorded well after FDR's death.






Sunday, December 2, 2018

What mattered in Congress last week: Nancy Pelosi, rule changes and stupidity

The big news out of the House is that, yes, the Democratic Party has formally nominated Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.  There were a bunch of no votes in the caucus, and in principle, they could still try to block her when it gets to the "real" vote on the floor of the House, but that looks unlikely.  Pelosi picked off her major opposition, one by one, and like I said, she did it by offering them whatever they needed.  Pelosi is the one person in the Democratic caucus who knows what she's doing.  Strange to say, but few Democrats in D.C. seem overly concerned that the Minority Leader in the Senate is a useless idiot.  Chuck Schumer can't find his ass with both hands and a flashlight, but Pelosi is the one who faces opposition as party leader...  Twits.

Anyway, Pelosi still has some work to do here, but the big thing to understand is that part of the deal she may cut to get the Speaker's gavel is really weird, stupid for the Democratic Party to allow, and demonstrative of how blinkered the Problem Creators caucus really is.  Yes, I'm just calling them that.  You don't get the "Solvers" moniker if all you do is create problems.

Here's how Congress traditionally works.  When a bill is introduced, if you want to have a say re-writing the bill, you either have to be on a committee with jurisdiction so that you can participate in "mark-up," which is the amending process when it happens in committee, or you have to convince the Rules Committee to let your amendment get a floor vote.  The Rules Committee is arguably the most important committee in the House of Representatives.  They determine which amendments get a vote, the order of votes, and all that technical shit.  They run the show.  The Speaker, via the party's steering committee, determines who sits on the Rules Committee, effectively.  And the Speaker can just block legislation from getting a floor vote altogether.  So, the Speaker and the Rules Committee, in combination with each other, have a fuckload of power to stop whatever you want from getting a vote.

Why?  The short version is that a lot of stupid shit gets introduced into Congress by the posturing dipshits who get elected to Congress.  There needs to be some mechanism to prevent everything from getting clogged like a toilet on Thanksgiving.  This is it.

That's the short, and scatological version.  Congress 101:  An Unmutual Primer.

The result, though, is that the majority party has a lot of power.  The minority party can't really get any legislation, or even amendments through for a vote.  And here's where the rule change proposals come in.  Seth Moulton and the other anti-Pelosi Democrats don't want the majority party to have this kind of power.  Why not?  Uh...

Anyway, the big, new rule changes are mostly about forcing floor votes over a potential speaker's objection.  The Problem Creators want to be able to force a floor vote for bills with more than 290 cosponsors, and force votes for amendments with at least 20 Democratic and 20 Republican cosponsors.  There's more, but this gives you an idea of what these people want.

First, how big would these concessions be?  Let's go through them.  In order for the 290 threshold issue to matter, you'd need there to be a bill supported, and indeed, cosponsored by 290 Representatives and opposed by Nancy Pelosi.  Finding a bill cosponsored by 290 is hard.  Finding a substantively important bill with 290 cosponsors is really, really hard.  Why?  Because the parties are very, very polarized.  If you have a bill with 290 cosponsors, that doesn't mean you have a bill that's "good, common sense, blah, fucking, blah, whatthefuckever…"  It means you have a yay-for-symbolic-bullshit bill.  Let's all say nice shit about Bush 41 'cuz the motherfucker's dead, or something like that.  And Pelosi wouldn't care.  This provision gives up power, yes, but how much?  In a polarized era?  Not much.  That 290 threshold is high.  The threshold for a discharge petition is 218.  Do the math.  Discharge petitions never work, and the threshold for that is 218.  Moulton and his band of fuckwits want a provision to force a floor vote with 290 cosponsors?  OK, buddy.  Good luck with that.  Pelosi will still kick your worthless, little ass, pound you into the dirt, stomp on your face, and laugh at your tears without breaking a sweat.

Then, there's the amendment stuff.  20 and 20.  Here's the thing about amendments.  You can play endless games with amendments.  I've got an amendment to counter your amendment.  You know who decides the order of votes?  The Rules Committee.  Or, cancel the fucking bill if the amendments are looking ugly for the majority party.  This one is worse for the majority party because the threshold is lower, but it puts pressure on the Rules Committee to find work-arounds.  This is going to depend a lot on contextual factors, how the agreement itself is written, the badassery of whoever chairs the Rules Committee to figure out the work-arounds...  It is hard to comment at this point, but I see a lot of potential shenanigans here.

And of course, none of this matters right now.  The House can't pass any legislation.  Control of Congress is split.  I suppose Moulton and his nincompoop caucus could attempt to use some of these rule changes to cave completely to the GOP as they fulfill their lifelong dreams of wearing Republican gimp suits while Zed and Maynard whip them, but the GOP can't get their shit together to write any legislation either, so none of this really matters.  Nothing is going to happen.  This is all for show and stupidity.

And here's the kicker.  Does anyone seriously believe that Speaker Kevin McCarthy, or Steve Scalise, or Louis Gohmert or Sean Hannity*, or whoever would make any attempt to preserve these rule changes allowing Democrats to affect the legislative agenda once the GOP retakes the House?  Remember that the basic geographic contours of the country bias the House towards the GOP.  Democrats cluster in cities, and Republicans are more spread out.  That's a natural partisan gerrymander.  In order to undo that, Democrats have to get crazy and creative with their lines, and it takes a partisan tide to give the House to the Democrats.  They just won the House in November because the President is remarkably unpopular.  That won't last.  The last time the Democrats got the House, they held it for four years.  Since 1994, the Democrats have only held the House for four years.  They took the House in the 2006 election when Dubya was at a low point in popularity because of the Iraq War, and kept it in 2008 as the economy was tanking.  That's what it takes for the Democrats to win the House.  Otherwise, the GOP wins the House.

Do you think they're going to let the Democrats have any say on the legislative agenda?  If so, I've got a bridge to sell you.  Also, I'd like to offer you my services handling your patents.  Really!  I'm not a phony, like the acting Attorney General!  I shall make you wealthy by giving you a worldwide patent!  It's the bestest deal ever!  Gimme your money if you actually trust the GOP to keep these rules, you fucking moulton moron!  What am I saying?!  I'm a real, authentic professor!  I should start a University!  A real one!  Not like Trump University!  It'll be totally legit!  Gimme, gimme, gimme!  I'm, like, totally not a scam artist!

What happens now?  Nancy Pelosi gets the gavel.  Legislatively?  Nothing.  They have revealed their "agenda," such as it is.  Mostly, some goo-goo type stuff.  It won't matter because they can't pass it through the Senate, and Trump won't sign anything.  They want to force the release of presidential tax returns, force disclosure of "dark money" sources, and stuff like that.  As anti-goo-goo as I am, even I'm on board with disclosure, and since I'm on record here, all I'll say is... they might as well demand unicorns too.  This ain't happenin'.  What will happen?  The GOP will try to use whatever new rules are still being negotiated to embarrass the Democrats, and Pelosi in particular.  But, Pelosi is smarter than everyone else in the House put together, so they'll probably fail.  With a less-skilled Speaker, they might succeed.  These rule changes won't lead to policy changes because of polarization and split control, and they won't survive a change to Republican control of the House.

The Problem Creators caucus?  They are just fools.


*The Constitution doesn't actually require the Speaker to be a sitting member of the House, so why not?  Is it actually any crazier than anything else happening these days?

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

Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, "Everything Changed," from Ionia.  Yeah, I just used something from this very album, but whatever.  Great band, great album, and it works thematically for today.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

George H.W. Bush: In which I speak ill of the dead by discussing supply-side economics

I come to bury George H.W. Bush, not to praise him.

Really?  No?  Come on.  Shakespeare, people.  Anyway, Americans, and probably normal humans, have this thing.  Someone dies, and you say nice things about that person.  I, however, am me.  Now, my standards have been lowered since Donald Trump became the center of the universe.  All you have to do is not be the most despicable thing in history, and you're better than the current president.  Yay, you!  However, I still have some standards, and while everyone else is bemoaning the death of Bush the Elder, I'm going to start typing and trying to figure out how to turn that "Bush the Elder" line into a reference to Pliny the Elder.

Come on, people.  Classics!

Let's start with a phrase I hate.  There are lots of phrases I hate.  One, in particular, comes to mind in reference to George Herbert Walker Bush.  "Fiscal conservative."  Don't ever use it around me.  It doesn't mean a fucking thing.  To conserve-- to save.  To be cautious.  Fiscal.  In reference to money.  Take the terms at face value, and you arrive at the conclusion that a "fiscal conservative" is a person whose approach to the budget is to be cautious with spending, and/or attempt to balance the budget.  You might draw some analogy between household budgets and the federal budget, but you are a moron if you do.  No household can either set its own income (the tax rate), nor print its own money.  Legally, anyway.*  Nor does a government have, as its primary concern, maximizing its surplus.  Stupid, stupid analogy used by people who just aren't thinking this through.  Anyway, though, if you just take the phrase at face value, you might arrive at the conclusion that a "fiscal conservative" is someone who wants to restrict spending and balance the budget.

Such creatures used to exist in the Republican Party.  One of them went by the name of Bob Dole, before he started leering creepily at pop tarts and hawking certain pills.  As his eventual running mate in 1996 said of him, he never met a tax he didn't hike.  However, by 1996, Dole had decided that taxes were EEEEEVIL!!!!, and he ran his campaign on a flat tax proposal, slashing rates across the board to 17%.  What would that do to deficits?  Raise them, of course.  Unless you are just a denialist, like his running mate, Jack Kemp.  And... the entire Republican Party right now.

What happened to turn Bob Dole, and the entire Republican Party into a group of people who can't do basic arithmetic?

George Herbert Walker Bush.

OK, there were other people involved, but I'm burying Bush the Elder today, so let's throw some dirt on that motherfucker's grave.  Why?  Because I still like math, and I still hate bullshit, and just because you're dead doesn't mean you didn't do what you done did.  (That was even more fun to write than you think).

Those other people?  Arthur Laffer.  The father of supply-side economics.  It goes something like this.  How much revenue will the government take in at a zero percent tax rate?  Bupkis.  Why?  Any number multiplied by bupkis is bupkis.  OK, here's where it gets fun.  Suppose the tax rate is 100%.  Whatever money you make, the IRS takes ALL of it.  How much revenue will the government get?  Still bupkis!  Why?  Nobody works.  There's no point.  If your take-home pay is zero percent, then why work?  Everything shuts down at 100% tax rates, so the government's total revenue is bupkis.

So, the government's revenue at 0% tax rate is 0, and the government's revenue at 100% tax rate is 0.  Cool, right?  That means somewhere between a 0% tax rate and a 100% tax rate is a tax rate that maximizes revenue.  Start at 0%, and then go up.  Government revenue first goes up, then goes back down to zero.

That's the Laffer Curve.  And mathematically, it has to be true!  Arthur Laffer is right.

Yes, Arthur Laffer is right.

In the most basic, abstract way.

But, where is the peak?  Where is government revenue maximized?  If you are on the left side of the curve, then you increase revenue by raising taxes.  If you are on the right side of the curve, you increase revenue by cutting taxes because the tax rate is so high as to be confiscatory.  At a 95% tax rate, you aren't at 100%, but the tax rate is still so high that you can probably get more revenue by cutting taxes to a less confiscatory rate.  Whether you raise revenue by raising taxes or cutting taxes depends on where you are on the curve relative to the peak.  At what point does the tax rate get so high that it is confiscatory to the point that you would raise revenue by cutting the tax rate?

Here's the problem for Laffer.  You can't derive that from first principles.  You can make some educated guesses, and you can try to measure it, but it isn't something that follows logically from the math.

However, if you just fuckin' hate taxes because you're an Ayn Rand cultist, or some fuckin' shit like that, then a) get some better taste in books because that twit couldn't write her way out of a paper bag, b) she was a sociopath, c) she didn't understand economics, but d) you'll make some interesting assumptions about where you are on the Laffer Curve.  You'll latch onto any justification to cut taxes.  The assertion that a tax cut will raise revenue will sound awesome to you, so you'll just assert, sans evidence, that we must be on the right-hand side of the Laffer Curve, implying that a tax cut will raise revenue.  Hell, let's just chop off the left-hand side altogether.

Fuck it.  It's just way easier to say that cutting taxes raises revenue by spurring economic growth.  Is that what the Laffer Curve actually says?  No, but seeing through that line of bullshit requires understanding math and concept, and these morons aren't even trying to do that.  This is all about ex post facto rationalizations for tax cuts among people who just want their fuckin' tax cuts NOW NOW NOW.  The Laffer Curve actually says that if you are on the left-hand side of the curve, you raise revenue by raising taxes, and nobody in the supply-side camp will ever even acknowledge the possibility of a tax increase raising revenue, at least among the politicians.  The economists get cagier, but they're economists, so...

Anyway, that's supply-side economics.  At its core, there is a correct idea that is easily exploited in bad faith by people who just want to cut taxes for the sake of cutting taxes.  And I write this as someone who isn't opposed to tax cuts, as a general rule.  Do it right, at the right time, and I'm on-board.  Bad faith, though, pisses me off.  And that brings me to our stabbing victim, Caesar.

I ain't praisin' him.  You see, it took some time for the cancer of full-blown supply-siderism to metastasize in the Republican Party.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan and Herbie both ran for the Republican nomination for president.  Reagan, of course, fully embraced supply-siderism, and since he was a moron, he had no qualms about swallowing the doctrine fully.  Tax cuts increase revenue!  It wasn't that the tax rate was past the maximizing point on the curve, or anything like that.  The left-hand side of the curve just didn't exist for the Reaganites.  You know who called bullshit?  George Herbert Walker Bush.  He was a... I hate to say it... "fiscal conservative," based on how you would interpret the phrase if you had no preconceptions.  He was what we now call a "deficit hawk."  He didn't like deficits.  Why not?  Not the point.  There are actually times when deficits are fine, according to Keynesian economics, but Bush the Elder was a deficit hawk who thought Laffer was full of shit, and that Reagan was full of shit.  Because they were full of shit.  Bush called them on it.

Then, Reagan won the nomination, offered Bush the VP slot, and told him to get with the program, on taxes and other issues.  Like a good, little automaton, Bushie did.  And so begins the GOP's total abandonment of mathematics or any pretense to intellectual honesty.  Nice goin', Georgie-poo!

Fast-forward to 1988, and I could write about how horrible his racist campaign against Michael Dukakis was, and how that set the groundwork for what Trump does, but that would be getting off-track.  Bush was not a good person.  Instead, let's keep this focused on his complete abandonment of principles and the basic tenets of arithmetic in favor of bullshit.  In 1988, Bush's campaign is remembered largely for one phrase-- "Read my lips:  No new taxes."  The perfect demonstration of his Stepford-ification.  Principles?  What principles?  The GOP had gone full-Laffer, so Bush gave up his commitment to the tenets of arithmetic.

And then... 1990 came along.  You see, the problem when you try to ignore math is that eventually, math wins.  There were a set of budgetary rules in effect.  Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.  Basically, when the deficit got too big, across-the-board spending cuts would go into effect.  "Sequestration."  Does that word sound familiar?  We'll return to it.  Democrats held both houses of Congress, and said that taxes had to go up to avoid sequestration under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.  Bush looked at the sequestration, and decided he'd rather break his no-new-taxes pledge than watch sequestration go into effect.  So, he did.  Math.

And then he lost his reelection campaign in 1992.  Why?  Ask a political scientist (hi!), and many of us will tell you that it was a combination of factors like the fact that the GOP had won three terms in a row, lingering concerns over a recession (which had actually ended long before the election), and possibly some spoiler effects from Perot, but mostly, that three-term penalty thing was hard to get around.  Ask a Republican today, and they'll tell you it was because Bush broke his no-new-taxes pledge.  Perhaps more than anything else, Bush's loss in 1992 solidified the Republican dogma of opposition to taxes, in the context of his 1988 pledge.

Which he had no business making.  He knew it was bullshit, and it grabbed him in the ass.  Oh, should I not use that phrase for the sexual harasser?  You know about that, right?  Bury, don't praise.

The next time the GOP faced the prospect of sequestration was after the passage of the 2011 Budget Control Act.  The Act created a "supercommittee" to propose deficit reduction measures, and if they failed, sequestration would go into effect.  Predictably, the supercommittee failed because the Democrats insisted that a non-zero proportion of the measures consist of tax increases, and the Republicans insisted on zero tax increases.  The Republicans decided that sequestration was preferable to tax increases.  Read their lips.  No more George H.W. Bushes.

Right now, the Republican Party is fully in the grips of supply-siderism and vehemently opposed to the notion of actually performing a task called "math."  Or, fine.  "Maths," for any of you across the pond.  If I'm doing Shakespeare today, I throw the Brits some spelling.  Anyway, the GOP has lately insisted on having the Congressional Budget Office use "dynamic scoring" to reduce the cost estimates of their tax cuts, but regardless, they uniformly insist that tax cuts always pay for themselves.  It is fascinating how little backlash there has been to Trump for his tax increases (tariffs), and the willingness of the GOP to include some tax increases in their 2018 bill, but on net, they're still a tax-cuts-for-the-sake-of-tax-cuts party, and math is verboten.  The deficit is irrelevant to the party, and everyone in it, and yes, they were all full of shit when they were whining about the deficit during Obama's Presidency.

Part of the reason is George H.W. Bush.  He knew supply-side economics was bunk.  He went along with it anyway for the sake of his own advancement.  When it bit him in the ass, that very fact was central to the hardening of the GOP's line against taxes.  Now, it's impossible to find a Republican who will even acknowledge the possibility that raising taxes will ever raise revenue, even though that means disregarding the substance of Laffer.  That's precisely the kind of anti-intellectual bullshit that gives you Donald Trump.

Someone needs to stand up for math.  Or... maths.  Whatever.  Otherwise, you get Donald Trump, who will just say that he's great at math because his uncle was a professor at MIT.  I wish that were a joke.  It's only a joke in the existential sense.

So now I circle back to the phrase, "fiscal conservatism."  What does it mean?  Every single Republican politician supports tax cuts without specifying the spending cuts to balance them out under the premise that tax cuts always pay for themselves, since the left-hand side of the Laffer Curve doesn't exist.  That's the set of policies advocated by those who call themselves, "fiscally conservative."  Increasing the deficit with tax cuts unbalanced by spending cuts.  That's not quite what they say, but I don't give a flying fuck what they say.  I care what they do.  There are no more deficit hawks in the GOP.  Remember "Liddle" Bob Corker, and his cave on the deficit-increasing tax bill?  Jeff Flake?  There are zero deficit hawks in the Republican Party.  Those who describe themselves as "fiscally conservative" aren't actually concerned with reducing the deficit.  They just want to cut taxes.  That's why I hate the term.

So, I'll end this post with two names.  George Wallace and Lester Maddox.  Lester Maddox was a Governor of Georgia who was a true believer in segregation.  Vile, racist sack of shit.  Probably less famous than George Wallace, the long-time governor of Alabama.  Here's the thing about Wallace, though.  He wasn't as much of a true believer.  He was a con artist.  He stirred up racist sentiment because that's what the racist voters of Alabama wanted, and Wallace wanted power.  He did things he knew to be wrong for the sake of power.

Who was worse-- Maddox or Wallace?  Meditate on that, or, like... something.

Supply-side economics is bullshit.  If you are on the right-hand side of the Laffer Curve, you raise revenue by cutting taxes, but the entire GOP decided, long ago, that the left-hand side of the curve doesn't even exist.  Even by Laffer's standards, that's bullshit.  Some tea-bagging idiot like Louis Gohmert?  He doesn't know shit from shinola.  He believes that tax cuts raise revenue always and forever, but he also believes he's being monitored by the Feds for something...  Gohmert is an idiot, but at least he's a true believer.

George H.W. Bush helped supply-siderism metastasize in the Republican Party, even though he knew it was bullshit.  Call him the George Wallace of bad economic ideas.

Fuck that.  He ran his 1988 campaign on Willie Horton, and even Lee Atwater eventually apologized for that.  Just call the old bastard George Wallace.


*I suppose you can start your own cryptocurrency, and hope people are dumb enough to buy it even though stores won't accept it!  Come to think of it, that keeps happening...

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

I just can't stay away from the Drive-By Truckers.  "Three Great Alabama Icons," from Southern Rock Opera."  If you don't know anything about George Wallace, Patterson Hood will at least give you the Cliff's Notes version, in a sort of spoken word performance.  I just love this band.

Friday, November 30, 2018

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

Buddy Emmons is best known for country music because he played a pedal steel guitar, but this one is straight-up jazz.  "Gonna Build A Tower Mountain," from Steel Guitar Jazz.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Of course Cindy Hyde-Smith won

It's Mississippi.  Here's some bonus Nina Simone for Wednesday.  Still appropriate, and Nina still rules. "Mississippi Goddam."  That "too slow" chant?  She was singing that in this live session from 1965.  God damn, Mississippi!


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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

I was looking for their Northsea Jazz Festival version, but found this one.  The Rosenberg Trio, "Spain."  In honor of the Brexit/Gibraltar thing, obviously.  Live at the Northsea Jazz Festival is great, though.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Brief comment on Ohio state taxes and bitcoin. Also, bullshit.

Yesterday, I posted a rant about Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, and bitcoin.  I reminded you of a few things, and my general point about the fact that you can't pay your taxes in bitcoin.  Aaaaand…

If you live in Ohio, you may know the name, Josh Mandel.  He is a twerp.  He is also the Treasurer for the State of Ohio.  According to a piece reported yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, he is setting in motion a plan to let Ohioans pay state taxes in... bitcoin.

OK, quick review.  My argument all along is that if you can't pay your taxes in bitcoin, it can't catch on because there are unnecessary transaction costs when people have to convert everything back and forth between dollars and bitcoin.  Hence, it is useless.  And, no sane government would let anyone pay taxes in a currency it doesn't control.  See my comments in the "Bitcoin is bullshit" series on Greece, and the other disasters for countries that don't control their own currency.

What's the deal?  Is Josh Mandel just completely blinkered?

Yes, but that's not exactly relevant here.  No state controls its own currency anyway.  Ohio doesn't have Ohio dollars, and Ohio can't set monetary policy, so Ohio has no vested policy interest in the dollar, per se.  Anyone who knows jack shit about economics has an interest in preserving the concept of monetary policy, but Ohio doesn't control the dollar any more than it controls bitcoin, so what's the difference?

In principle, Mandel could fuck over anyone dumb enough to pull this with fees.  If he were smarter, he'd use a system that lets him set an exchange rate rather than what he's doing, too, but like I said, Mandel is an idiot.

Remember, though, that there are federal taxes.  Every transaction still has transaction costs, even in Ohio.  Mandel's move doesn't change that.  It's just a stupid stunt for a state to accept an additional currency it doesn't control on top of the primary currency it doesn't control.  Show me a nation, which controls its own currency, accepting tax payments in bitcoin, and I'll show you a country run by someone even dumber than Josh Mandel.

Please... nobody explain to Donald what bitcoin is.

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

Chris Whitley, "Bordertown."  The original version is from Living With The Law, but I'm going with the bluesier version from Weed, on which he re-recorded some of his best.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, and why bitcoin is still bullshit

Let's take a bit of a break from politics this morning.  How's your stomach?  I can't handle any Trump today.  My digestive system is still recovering from excessive food.

So let's talk about another quintessentially American activity.  Over-spending.  Did you go to a store on Friday?  Physical or otherwise?  Are you planning to spend some money at any web retailers tomorrow?  The term "Black Friday," of course, comes from the fact that so many retailers make enough of their yearly profits on the day after Thanksgiving that it is the day that puts them "in the black" for the year.  Holiday shopping, bargain-hunting for ourselves, and such.  We're weird.  I don't go to stores.  I hate stores.  I'll admit to buying a few things that I had been waiting to go on sale from a carefully curated list, but if even I shop on Black Friday and Cyber-Monday, it's a thing.  What did I get?  Not tellin'.

Now, here's the question.  If you went to a store on Friday, did any of them turn you away for lack of bitcoin?  Did any of them say, we don't accept dollars here?  For any of the stores you plan to visit on-line tomorrow, are they going to demand payment in bitcoin, and decline your transactions otherwise?

No.

Because bitcoin is still bullshit.

I had some fun with this a while back, and wrote a series called "Bitcoin is bullshit."  Here's the wrap-up post, which gives you the executive summary.  It also has the links to every individual post, if you want to read the whole series, and haven't.  Bitcoin is still bullshit.

First, what has happened to bitcoin since that wrap-up post?  I wrote that back in January.  Wanna see what market prices are for bitcoin now?  CNBC now lists cryptocurrency market prices.  Why?  Because people want to know.  Hell, even I want to know, just to point and laugh at the idiots buying bitcoin.  Short version:  bitcoin has been crashing.  Hard.  It fell below $4,000.  This after a peak of near $20,000.

Bitcoin is stupid, in a way that is perfectly suited to a post between Black Friday and Cyber-Monday.  You can't do anything with it except sell it to other people who hope to sell it to other people who...  You can't fucking buy anything with it except the credulity of fools who let themselves get taken in with pyramid schemes like bitcoin.  And that's my point for the morning.  Bitcoin crashed hard leading up to Black Friday/Cyber-Monday in a perfect display of consumer principles because it is a currency that you can't use to buy anything, and as I argued in the very first post in the series, even when the price of bitcoin was rising, that very rise made it useless as currency because nobody who held bitcoin would be acting rationally by spending it.  A currency needs to have stable value to be useful as currency.  Bitcoin is not, never was, and may never be stable.  That makes it useless as currency, and since it cannot have any other use, it is completely useless.  There are arguments to be made about the potential uses of blockchain for purposes other than cryptocurrency, but bitcoin itself?  Useless.

Observe-- are you using it?  Do you expect to use it?  Would a store accept it as payment when it lost a quarter of its value over the last week?  Keep in mind that the last question is about a phenomenon that happens semi-regularly with this idiotic thing that has no reason for existing.

And that brings me to my next point.  Inflation.  Bitcoin-bugs pose their cryptocurrency as a solution to inflation, but losing 25% of its value in a week?  That's called inflation, folks!  A fuckload of it!  The price of goods, in bitcoin, just went way up.  You know how people whined about the Fed when they increased the money supply and inflation and blah, fucking, blah?  Hyper-inflation was right around the corner, right?  Bitcoin can't inflate because the supply is constrained and yadda-yadda-yadda.  This is the kind of crap you get from bitcoin-bugs.  In a little place I like to call "reality," though, bitcoin is experiencing a shit-ton of inflation.  Because bitcoin is bullshit.  The US dollar?  Stable.  Why?  Monetary policy.  Oh, and our Dipshit in Chief is pissed at Steve Mnuchin for pushing Jerome Powell, but appointing Powell is about the only sane thing Trump has ever done as President.  OK, he should have reappointed Yellen, but at least he didn't appoint Taylor, or some wack-job.  Point being, monetary policy works.  Bitcoin doesn't.  Otherwise, bitcoin wouldn't lose a quarter of its value in a week.  That's more inflation than I want in my currency, thank you very much.

This ain't hard, folks.  You get paid in dollars because your employer gets paid in dollars.  In order to pay for anything in bitcoin, you would have to pay transaction costs to convert your dollars to bitcoin, and there is no reason for you to do that if the merchant accepts dollars, as all merchants must do if they pay their taxes, because they have to pay their taxes in dollars.  The government doesn't, and never will accept tax payments in anything other than dollars.  So, they're going to take dollars for whatever you buy, making a conversion to bitcoin a stupid, pointless and costly conversion for all involved.  So it is, and so it always shall be, unless the state collapses anyway, in which case we're just fucked regardless of any debates over cryptocurrency.  Countries where people use currencies other than that issued by their own government are basically failed states.  In The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson wrote from the perspective of 1995, and posited that the development of the internet would conceal financial transactions from tax collectors, and thereby bring about the fall of nation-states.  Not quite.  Instead, the necessity of preserving nation-states will prevent the rise of cryptocurrencies because the government can and will continue to audit banks and other financial records.

Or, you could go convert a bunch of your dollars to bitcoin and try to spend them tomorrow on those Cyber-Monday sales.  Good luck with that, Homer.


Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass (or at least Appalachian music), you hate America

This one doesn't really fit conventional, modern conceptions of genre.  Dock Boggs was an Appalachian musician whose voice was, shall we say, not something that modern ears are accustomed to hearing.  His banjo technique is something that echoes throughout both blues and bluegrass, and the song has been covered by plenty of musicians across genre boundaries.  Was Dock a blues musician?  Country?  Whatever.  He was an Appalachian musician, and that's where the roots of bluegrass are, so I'm using him today.  Also, it fits today's theme.  Dock Boggs, "Country Blues."


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Why Pelosi continues to pick off her opposition among House Democrats

It looks like things are going according to plan, for Pelosi anyway.  When I last commented on the House Democratic leadership situation, I noted that the letter signed by Pelosi opponents demonstrated the fundamental problem, and indeed, the fundamental stupidity of the Pelosi opposition.  They don't have a case to make against her.  The letter itself didn't challenge anything about what Pelosi has done as either Minority Leader or during her term as Speaker.  Why not?  Because she is one of the all-time best.

What has happened since then?  Most notably, Marcia Fudge has decided not to challenge Pelosi.  Pelosi handled it in classic Pelosi fashion.  Remember that Fudge never really had a case against Pelosi, and the only reason anyone would pick Fudge over Pelosi was identity politics.  It was a silly stunt.  So, Pelosi promised Fudge a subcommittee overseeing and attempting to rein in voter suppression across the states, which has occurred with increasing frequency since the Shelby County Supreme Court decision.  Fudge will Chair the subcommittee.  Nobody who takes issues of race seriously has a real case against Pelosi on policy.  Pelosi demonstrates that, Fudge gets something in the deal that needs to happen anyway because the subcommittee ought to exist, and Fudge backs a Speaker who serves her policy interests without a needless challenge.

So, remember what I was saying about challenges to Pelosi?  This fits what I was telling you.  My description of the anti-Pelosi Democratic factions was that they consisted of left-wing posturers, "moderate" posturers, and people who just want to talk about change for the sake of change.  The first two categories are just looking for ways to send signals, and that makes them bribable.  What Pelosi did with Fudge?  Political bribery.  And the cool thing about it is that it's a bribe that Pelosi was happy to give!  That's what makes Pelosi such a brilliant politician.  She didn't give up anything.  She didn't even do anything that would piss off anyone else in the Democratic caucus.

Oh, and those idiots who want to bring in a new leader just for the sake of newness?  They can't win without a challenger, and by taking Fudge out of contention, she threw them for a loop.

Nancy Pelosi is a fucking badass.  This is how it's done, folks.  Find something Fudge wants that costs you nothing and that nobody in the caucus opposes, give it to her, take your opponent out of the contest in the bargain, and that's how you win.

Who is left?  The Problem Creators Caucus.  I know, they call themselves the "Problem Solvers Caucus," but if you tell me to call you, "Your Majesty," you can go fuck yourself.  I wouldn't even call real royalty that.  We fought a fuckin' war to get away from royalty.  They don't solve problems.  They create problems.  Up is not down, black is not white, and "moderates" don't deserve respect.  See my most recent rant.  Mostly, what I think of "moderates" is what I think of Susan "dupeshit" Collins.  Democrats have their own cadre of useless idiots.  The Problem Creators.

Right now, a group of them says that they won't vote for Pelosi unless she backs a set of rule changes that will weaken majority party agenda control.  OK, now that's just stupid.  I wouldn't expect anything less from the Problem Creators, but it's a fundamental misunderstanding of a) how the House must operate, b) the strategic position of the Democratic Party, and c) the current state of the Republican Party.

a)  The House simply cannot handle what would happen if you didn't have a mechanism to block consideration of bills.  There are too many bills introduced, which are basically bullshit bills introduced by legislators who just want to tell someone, "hey, look what I did!"  That mechanism, structurally, must be majoritarian.  So, the majority party controls who gets consideration.  The controls change over time based on party unity, but there needs to be control.  Otherwise, the House would be overwhelmed by bullshit bills.

b)  There is no point having the House if rules are changed in such a way as to let the GOP bring bills to the floor.  OK, there's the possibility of oversight, but that ain't goin' nowhere, so what are these idiots trying to accomplish?  That brings me to...

c)  The idea that anything can be accomplished by talking to the party of Donald Trump, represented in the House by people like Steve King, Louis Gohmert and Greg Gianforte, fundamentally misses who these people are.  To borrow a line from another Speaker of old, Thomas Reed, every time they speak, they subtract from the sum total of all human knowledge.  And the Problem Creators want to spend more time talking to them.  Personally, I like knowledge, I want more of it, and I don't see any value in talking to people like Louis Gohmert, except the entertainment value of listening to the crazy shit that comes out of his inbred mouth.  Nor do I see any value in engagement with those who kowtow to Donald Trump.  That includes not just Gohmert, but every single member of the House Republican delegation.  Why would anyone in the Democratic Party want to empower them?  Fuck empowerment.  Empower this!  By "this," I mean Nancy Pelosi.  (You didn't think I was doing a "grabby" thing there, did you?  See what Trump has done to your mind?)

What will the Problem Creators do?  Mostly, they will probably back down.  Higgins has already backed down.  Moderates are intrinsically cowardly* critters.  Pelosi bribed him with an infrastructure spending proposal.  Again, nothing she opposes because Pelosi knows how this stuff works.  And that leads to a general point about Pelosi.

Why is Pelosi so good at this?  One of the arguments I made in my latest book, Incremental Polarization, is that party influence can come in two varieties:  preference-deviating influence, and preference-preserving influence.  Yes, that's ultra-pretentious terminology, but hey.  I'm an academic, and when I'm publishing the, like, serious shit, I go for the pretentious verbiage.  Academic presses like it.  More importantly, peer review eats that shit up.

Anywho (another word I don't use in stuff I put up for peer review), when parties are pressuring a legislator to do something that conflicts with his sincere, personal policy preferences, that's what I call "preference-deviating influence."  When they pressure legislators to do something that fits with their personal policy preferences, but that they have electoral reasons not to do, that's what I call "preference-preserving influence."  So, if I have electoral incentives to vote no on an unpopular bill that I personally like, and the party puts pressure on me to vote yes, that's preference-preserving influence.  But, if they tell me to vote no on a bill that I like, that's preference-deviating influence.  My basic argument is that preference-deviating influence doesn't work that well.  It is difficult to pull off, and ultimately self-defeating because you make too many enemies in the process.  The most effective party leaders are the ones who focus on preference-preserving influence.  The ones who unify a party that is being pulled in different directions by incentives to send stupid signals to stupid voters who don't get what's going on.

That's Pelosi.  That's the Democratic Party.  And that's what's going on right now.  Pelosi has a bunch of posturing phonies and whiny, little cry-babies trying to figure out how to send some stupid signals to voters who aren't really paying close attention anyway.  And she doesn't want to give up anything.  So, she is bribing people with stuff that she is happy to provide anyway.  Even with Higgins, she gave him something that she was happy to offer-- a promise on infrastructure spending.

Now, think of the contrast.  Think of how hard this is.  Does anyone seriously think that anyone not named Nancy Pelosi has the brains to handle this caucus?  Who?  Seth Moulton?  No.  None of these people know how the game is played.  Nancy Pelosi does.  Democratic Representatives not named "Nancy Pelosi" should be seen and not heard.  Would it be nice if there were some deep well of talent to take over after she leaves?  Yeah, probably.  But there isn't.  She's it.  She's also the best.  And she'll probably keep picking off the holdouts with the same techniques she has used so far.


*Minor note.  I detest the American practice of labeling every contemptible act as "cowardly."  I use the word only when it is specifically appropriate.  The general practice of defining cowardice as a vice, all vice as interlinked, and hence all vice as cowardly just annoys the crap out of me.  Cowardice is a distinct absence of courage.  Higgins doesn't have the courage of his convictions.  He said he would oppose Pelosi, but carrying out his threat would have been costly, and he wasn't willing to pay those costs.  That is cowardice.  Not every act you hate is cowardice.  Don't pull that shit.  It is intellectually and morally lazy to label every act you dislike as "cowardice."  Yes, this is prompted by something, but I'm not getting into it.

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

Arlen Roth with Bill Kirchen, "Games People Play," from Toolin' Around at Woodstock.  This one was a session with Levon Helm at his studio.  Yeah, that's the guy from The Band.  Bill Kirchen, if you know your country-rock history, was the guitarist from Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen, and Arlen is just a total badass.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Day music

A couple of gems for today.  The greatest dobro player of all time-- Jerry Douglas, with "Ride the Wild Turkey," from Slide Rule.  Then, the greatest... um... something.  Anyway, one of my heroes.  Frank Zappa, with "Lonesome Electric Turkey," from Fillmore East- June 1971.




Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Brief comments on the new anti-Pelosi letter

In case you have missed this, here's the story at Roll Call.  Will Pelosi become Speaker again?  Betting at PredictIt still has shares trading at 84 cents on the dollar as of this morning.  Here's the quick-and-dirty.  The letter signatories still don't have either a) a case to make against Pelosi herself, or b) an alternative, given that Fudge hasn't even made a formal decision to challenge her.

At least when the teabaggers removed Boehner, they had a case to make against him.  It was a stupid case, but it was a case.  They thought that he wasn't confrontational enough, and that a more aggressive approach would yield more.  They thought he was a sell-out because they didn't understand institutional constraints, and they didn't like the fact that they weren't getting the results they expected.  It was an uninformed case, but it was a policy-based case.

What have we learned?  The anti-Pelosi Democrats are dumber than the Tea Party.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you... the Democratic Party.

Previous post on Pelosi versus Fudge.

Previous post on Democratic leadership contests.

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

I'm not feeling news-inspired this morning.  Here's an Egberto Gismonti concert.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Recounts Redux: Does this "democracy" stuff actually work?

With all things recount-related, I will refer readers to Rick Hasen, and recommend that you keep close tabs on ElectionLawBlog.  Once upon a time, in a previous academic specialty, vote-counting, voting technology, and all of that fell more in my wheelhouse, but these days, I depend more on Rick for my news on this stuff.  Some of the posts there get picked up by major sites, as you see, and in particular, this one at Slate is important.  Rather than trying to summarize or give my specific take on everything Florida and Georgia related, though, I'm going to make some more general points that overlap more with some observations derived from my own research here.

First, though, Georgia is a mess, and Florida is Florida.  Florida is what banana republics and half-assed pseudo-democracies around the world laugh at and point to as a way to say, "don't look at us!  Get your own house in order!"  In my douche-y, hipster way, I proudly proclaim my disinterest in television, but there is a good show right now.  It's called The Good Place.  If you don't know it, I won't spoil anything for you, because it takes a lot of weird turns, but there was a great scene in a recent episode in which a very wealthy woman tries to marry a sleazy idiot from Jacksonville, Florida, amid many jokes about the idiocy of Florida.  Her goal is to transfer money to him.  The banker says that he is supposed to trip a silent alarm if anyone from Florida even enters the bank.

Florida.

Anyway, the Florida and Georgia elections were a mess, and so were the recounts.  Read Rick Hasen for the details.

Now, so what?  Here's the sort-of so-what.  How confident are you that, for example, Kemp won fair in square, or that Scott or DeSantis won fair in square?

I'm going to rephrase the question.  What does it take to get the wrong result, on the basis of screwy vote counts?  There are four components:  bad election administration, human error at the level of the voter, error at the level of the vote count, and closeness of the election.  Let's go through them, shall we?

Bad election administration.  Remember how people from Florida aren't allowed into banks in that show, The Good Place?  They also shouldn't be allowed to run elections.  Nor, obviously, should anyone running for office be allowed to run the election for their own campaign, but Kemp's a shitbag.  There are a lot of elements to bad election administration, such as bad ballot design, inability to manage polling places, and basically, anything that Florida ever does.  Some bad administration is intentional, like closing polling places in predominantly African-American areas to make voting difficult, purging voting rolls, etc., but that's malicious election administration rather than stupid election administration.  Different forms of badness.

Next, one of the biggest problems with the act of voting is that it is performed by these pesky, little apes known as "humans."  I dislike these things.  They're always doing stupid things like listening to bad music instead of jazz, bleating about "sports," and voting for pussy-grabbing con men.  And many of them bathe with insufficient frequency.  They should keep their paws off me.  Filling out a ballot is not actually that difficult.  Even a badly designed ballot isn't that hard, if you pay even the slightest amount of attention, but most humans are remarkably stupid.  Insert George Carlin quote here.  No, you annoying, little human, when you put a mark in the box with an arrow from Pat Buchanan's name, you are voting for Pat Buchanan, not Al Gore.  And now, ManBearPig is rampaging around the country.  Apologize to Al Gore.  Damned humans.  (Does anyone keep up with South Park anymore?  See?  More tv references!  I'm like, connected to pop culture, or something.)

Then there's the issue of human error in vote-counting.  For some reason, a lot of people have this notion that a human hand recount of ballots is more trustworthy than a machine count.  Have you seen this country's math test scores?  Or hell, the debt levels of our population?  These people can't fucking add.  Have you ever counted a large sum by hand?  You will get different counts because you will make errors.  Humans make mistakes.  When I add up points from exams, I add up the points for each exam three times to make sure I get the same total each time because I am terrified of making a mistake and getting caught on it by a student.  That would suck.  Machines will have variation based on, for example, whether or not the optical scan counts an incompletely-filled oval every time, but human hand recounts are not consistent either.  Why do people trust hand recounts?  I... don't get it.

I am being somewhat flippant here because there is logic to conducting a count under multiple methods and if a count comes out with the same winner every time, you can be more confident that you have the real winner.  It's when they come out differently that you should worry, but people's trust in a hand recount just doesn't make sense once you understand the rate of human error in stuff like this.

Finally, electoral closeness.  And this is where all of these observations interact with stuff I have written before.  None of this really matters except when elections are close.  Florida, for example, always has bad election administration.  People are always stupid, and make mistakes at the polling place.  There are always counting errors.  You just never notice, except when elections are close.

Competitive elections, defined for my purposes in this blog post as elections in which the candidates' vote totals are close,* are elections in which all of the above factors interact to make it so that you can easily get the wrong result.  Goo-goos ["good government" types] love competitive elections, but they want elections to get the right winner.  Contradiction!  Anyone arguing for more competitive elections is arguing for precisely the conditions that make wrong outcomes more likely, and that make this kind of stupid shit more likely.

On the other hand, think about congressional elections.  Think about drawing districts in such a way that you have a bunch of homogeneously Democratic districts, and a bunch of homogeneously Republican districts.  You'll still have shitty election administration, shitty ballot design, idiots going to the polling place, not following instructions, making mistakes, leading to counting errors, both human and machine, and none of that will lead to outcome errors.  The right people will win.  Democratic constituencies will be represented by Democrats, Republican constituencies will be represented by Republicans, and these kinds of narrow effects just won't matter because they won't be big enough to swing outcomes.

Close elections?  That's why we have these problems.  And to be blunt, that's part of why Florida has these problems.  Florida is a close state.  How many stupid people are there, proportionately, in Mississippi?  Come on.  Mississippi is way dumber than Florida.  Those people can't fucking read.  Florida has cities, and people in cities know how to read.  Yeah, I'm stereotyping, but fuck off.  What's Cindy Hyde-Smith gonna do?  Come and lynch me?  Zing!  The difference?  No Democrat has a chance in Mississippi.  So, whatever problems occur won't affect outcomes.  You can have shitty ballot designs, shitty election administration, vote counting errors, and all of that.  It could be worse than Florida, and it just wouldn't matter because they're going to elect strange fruit-enthusiasts like Cindy Hyde-Smith regardless.

Sick of election administration problems, ballot counting issues, and all of that?  Competitive elections are a big part of the problem.


*In my first book, Hiring and Firing Public Officials: Rethinking the Purpose of Elections, I wrote about how absurdly many definitions there are of the term, "competitive election."

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

One more for Roy Clark.  "Bluegrass Breakdown," with Buck Trent, from Banjo Bandits.  Rest in peace, Roy.  Please remember him for more than Hee Haw.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Nancy Pelosi versus Marcia Fudge

Welcome back for weekend posting at The Unmutual Political Blog!  Gather 'round, y'all, for t'is story time.  And unnecessary contraction time.  'Cuz.

Buckle up.  This is gonna be a particularly unmutual post!

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I had a coffee conversation with a colleague and fellow Congress-watcher before the election, and among the topics about which we schmoozed was the Nancy Pelosi conflict roiling the Democratic caucus within the House of Representatives.  The obvious question-- one of them, anyway-- was who the anti-Pelosi forces would find, if they wouldn't support her.  There was simply a dearth of candidates, as I had been noting here.

But wait, one of us said!  I have an idea!  The perfect candidate!  She's got all the right qualities of leadership!  Marcia!  MARCIA MARCIA MARCIA!  Marcia Fudge.  The perfect candidate, because, um...

Oh, I'm just fucking with you.  That didn't happen.  We both came to the conclusion that the Democrats didn't have anybody.  You know what makes this funnier?  We both work in Marcia Fudge's district!  No joke!  That's right, folks, Case Western Reserve University is in MARCIA, MARCIA, MARCIA's district.  OK, I'm being extra asshole-ish here, because I'm me, but there's a point here.  I'm a Congress scholar.  I study Congress for a living.  They actually pay me for it.  I write about this.  I just wrote a bleedin' book about Congress.




And I work in Marcia Fudge's district, and neither I nor my Congress-watchin', Ph.D.-havin' colleague thought, "hey!  Marcia Fudge would be a real, solid alternative to Nancy Pelosi!"

So, little thing called "Fenno's Paradox."  This is the observation named for Richard Fenno, perhaps the greatest Congress-watcher of them all.  Most of us hate Congress, but like our own Members of Congress.  I've met Fudge a couple of times, and unlike a lot of the jackasses in Congress, she seems to keep her nose clean.  She can carry on an intelligent conversation, and I kinda like her.  For me, that's saying something.  After all, I basically dislike humanity.  Remember-- me:  misanthrope.  But...  Oh, the buts.

When I wrote my summary of the Democratic Party's leadership issues, I danced around the issue of identity politics because I was trying to avoid it.  OK.  No more.

White men.  We are a minority of the population.  Whites are technically a majority, but that'll end soon.  (Yay!)  Women, for reasons that biologists are better suited to explain than I am, are just over 50% of the population.  Do the math, and white men are really a minority.  We are a statistically advantaged minority, but a minority nonetheless.  White privilege is a thing.  A misunderstood thing, both by whites and many civil rights advocates, but it is a thing.  What if it weren't?  What if we had a completely meritocratic, race-blind, gender/sex/whatever-blind society?  At any level, in any institution, white men would hold a minority of positions.  Women would hold just over 50%.  One might argue that self-selection could occur, and blah, blah, blah, but there's bad shit goin' on right now, OK?  Let's just acknowledge that.  The probability of any specific demographic getting a position would be that demographic's proportion of the population.  The fact that it isn't is what strongly suggests a problem.

Compare the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.  The former had a problem on the Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings because they're all a bunch of white men who wanted to berate a rape victim.  These two things are related.  And, in order to do what they wanted to do, they needed to bring in a mercenary woman to ask all of the questions for them when Christine Blasey Ford was testifying because they were cowardly, little chickenshits who didn't want to let the optics of the hearings reveal the objective truth.  Also, if you are paying attention to current committee assignments in the Senate, McConnell is trying to get women onto the Judiciary Committee to prevent stuff like that from happening again.  He can't.  They don't want those seats.  He's trying to pressure Blackburn to accept a seat there, and maybe she'll take it, but none of the GOP women, few though they are, will accept those seats.

What happens if you throw out demographic concerns and just let talent rise to the top?  Who's the most talented Representative in the House?  Nancy Pelosi.  None of you likely remember how she got to the top of the party, but here's the short version.  Leadership PACs.  (I actually wrote my doctoral dissertation on those semi-outdated things).  When Dick Gephardt stepped down as Democratic leader in the House, the contest was between Pelosi and Steny Hoyer.  They both raised money through their Leadership PACs and distributed it to the close contests to help the party win seats.  They also raised money for the DCCC.  Pelosi blew Hoyer out of the water.  Then, she found his mangled corpse on the beach, stomped on it, tore it to shreds with her teeth, defecated on it, lit it on fire, doused the fire with napalm, dropped a thermonuclear warhead on the napalm fire and told everyone watching, "OK, motherfuckers, who's on my side, and who wants what Steny just got, 'cuz I'm giving that to the Republicans!  FREEDOM!!!!"  But that last bit without the anti-semitic, drunken rants at cops.

Did any of them care that Pelosi was a woman and that Hoyer was a man?  Maybe, but they cared more about color.  Specifically, green, and the skill it took to raise it.  And the fact that she's way smarter.  And then she did the job.  Better than pretty much anyone in modern history.  As much as I praise John Boehner, to be blunt, even when he was Speaker, he needed Pelosi to govern because his caucus of asylum escapees constantly needed Democrats to do the job for them.  Every time there was a government shutdown, debt ceiling or something like that, Pelosi came to Boehner's rescue.  So, yeah, I praise Boehner a lot, but even he couldn't do the job without Nancy Pelosi.

I couldn't even begin to list everything impressive in her legislative CV.  Go through the list of legislative accomplishments from Obama's term (Obamacare, stimulus, Dodd-Frank, Lilly Ledbetter… take your pick), add in every non-collapse from the last six years of Obama's term that happened because Pelosi pulled Boehner's ass out of the fire, and if you think she's connected to elections, balance out 2010 and '14 with 2006 and the new majority in 2018, and holy fucking shit is she awesome!

And she didn't get the job because she is a woman.  She's just badassery personified.  The reason she walks on water is not that she has supernatural powers.  She's treading on the dead bodies of vanquished foes, tossed carelessly into the water.  Try that, Jesus!

On the other hand, Marcia Fudge is... um... uh... A nice person.  I like her.  I think she's one of the smarter ones too.  Um... uh...  If this sounds like comparing the star of the local jazz scene to Nina Simone, maybe you're getting my point.  OK, you're alright, but can I go listen to Nina sing and play Sinnerman?  She's Nina Simone!  (Way more badass than Ella!)

Fudge has never held high leadership positions.  Her list of major legislative accomplishments versus Nancy Pelosi's?  No contest.  You put their CVs up against each other, colorblind, and no sane person would even consider Marcia Fudge.  And I like Marcia Fudge.  And I'm a misanthrope.  I've got the spirit of Richard Fenno standing over my shoulder telling me to check my biases, but I do like her.  I'm just looking at her CV, comparing it to Nancy Pelosi's as a professional Congress-scholar and saying, "seriously?!"

Right now, there is a hunger in the Democratic Party for an African-American woman in a formal, governmental leadership position with institutional power.  Statistically, were it not for racism and misogyny, that would have happened by now, and the fact that it hasn't tells us something.  Kamala Harris is an interesting point of comparison here.  You may notice that, as a general rule, I am rather dismissive of the lefty flavor of the day politician.  I pretty much think Ocasio-Cortez is as much of a fool as Sanders, and she bugs me just as much.  On the other hand, you may have noticed that my descriptions of Kamala Harris are a little more... swoony.  It's all about badassery, and she has that.  You see, I like smarts.  The reason I dismiss Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez and other lefty heroes is that they don't impress me as smart.  Harris is smart.  And cool.  Most importantly, she has a distinctive skill-- reducing her opponents to quivering masses of terror under the withering scorn of her skilled interrogation.  Think back to what she did to little Jeffy Sessions during his confirmation hearings.  Oh, it was glorious.  Whatever else could be said about a potential Harris nomination in 2020, tell me you wouldn't want to see her rip into Donny on a debate stage.  Remember that moment when the creepy perv walked up behind Clinton?  And she did nothing?  She wrote about wanting to say something, but...  Dream, and fantasize about what Harris would do to that little shit.

That's why I think the elevation of Harris's stature makes sense.  She has a thing.  Coolness and badassery.  Two things.  And an almost fanatical devotion to The Pope.  And one can see how this leads to the idea of nominating her in 2020.  Are her traits of appeal the kinds of traits that would make one a good president?  I'd like a president who can keep her cool.  If you are a computer programmer with a bad temper... so what?  As long as your code works, you're just another maladjusted computer programmer.  Trump's inability to keep his cool is a problem for the job.  You see what I'm getting at here.

Dismissing candidates for jobs on the basis of race or gender is stupid.  Think about the long history of racism and misogyny.  Who is the greatest historical genius about whom we know?  Ask a mathematician and they'll probably say, Isaac Newton.  A reasonable choice all-around.  Dude was scary-smart.  But, do you think it is an accident that the name is that of a white dude?  How much genius has been thrown out by racism and misogyny?  Think about slavery.  How many geniuses, smarter than anyone you've ever met, were tortured and murdered, probably because they weren't compliant?  Geniuses and compliance don't always go together.  And even if they hadn't been murdered, their genius still would have gone ignored.  The injustice of slavery itself is the greater offense, but it is worth pointing out, as a much lesser observation, the loss to the world of ignoring the talent of people deemed lesser because of bigotry.  Assess people by their skills and talents, and the world benefits.  Unless you want a world without modern medicine, etc.

Letting talent dictate outcome is how the Democratic Party got Nancy Pelosi.  The Republican Party has never had a woman, or African-American rise so high in the ranks.  Unless you count Sarah Palin, or maybe Joan Quigley, who was that fucking astrologer that Ronald Reagan turned to for advice...  Not joking this time.  I wish I were.

And here we are.  The Democratic Party is currently trying to decide whether or not to throw out perhaps the greatest Speaker of the modern era.  When Jim Wright was ousted as Speaker, it was because of ethics scandals.  Those ethics scandals were forced to the forefront by, ironically, Newt Gingrich, who was eventually forced out amid his own ethics scandals.  After Gingrich, the GOP was going to install Bob Livingston, who had to step down after Larry Flynt's "bounty" on GOP infidelity during the Clinton impeachment mess turned up dirt on him.  Even with John Boehner, there were at least semi-sincere disagreements between him and the Tea Party, even though the teabaggers were a bunch of idiots about their demands.  They thought that they could get Obama to cave and repeal Obamacare if they just shut down the government and breached the debt ceiling.  Stupid?  Hell yes, but there was a real disagreement there, and it led to Boehner's downfall because the Tea Party didn't understand why Boehner wasn't getting the policies the Tea Party thought he should have been able to get.  Yes, that was about policy outcomes, and the Tea Party's beliefs about what they should have been.  They were idiots, but it was about policy.

Look, Marcia Fudge is untested.  She could turn out to be great.  She is nice and smart, but she is untested.  Pelosi has run the toughest gauntlets that the GOP has ever devised, and she has proven herself the toughest badass around.

If the Democrats throw out Nancy Pelosi, in favor of Marcia Fudge, it will be because of pure demographics, and it will be a more foolish move than the sacking of John Boehner.  I write this as an unapologetic fan of John Boehner, who puts him on a pedestal near Pelosi's.