Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday morning blues: Blues picks for 2018

Blues is a weird genre.  Not just because I find myself using the singular form, even though it should probably be plural.  The blues are a weird genre?  I don't know.  One must ponder these things.  (What is a grammar pedant to do?)  What I mean is that some of the best blues around comes from non-Americans.  Australians, in particular.  However, since I do this "If you don't love __, you hate America" schtick, I'm trying to keep today's picks to Americans.  Still, I have some good ones for you.  First up, Damon Fowler's The Whiskey Bayou Session.  Good, swampy blues, and the kid can play guitar.  "Running Out of Time."

And, here are The Claudettes.  A fun one from Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in review: What have we learned from the second year of the social science quasi-experiment?

Before writing this post, I went back and looked at this post, which was my 2017 political wrap-up post.  I think it is still worth reading.  The short version is that Donald Trump is essentially a social science quasi-experiment, and stress test for the American political system.  He is a worst case scenario, allowing us to see what fails, and what holds up when you introduce a worst-case-scenario president into the system.  I was overly-pessimistic about the effects of repealing the individual mandate on the insurance markets, as were a lot of the scholars who study healthcare (I have one of the honchos in my department, and I was convinced by him), but other than that, I think the post holds up well, with the obvious observation that the stock market has gone crazy since then.  The economy, though?  Still quite good.  Foreign affairs?  I'll... get to that.  Rule of law?  More fucked than ever.  So, let's get this thing going.

What have we learned from 2018?  Well, what has happened since I wrote that last post on January 1?  Policy-wise, legislatively, not a lot.  I haven't commented on the criminal justice bill because I don't really have anything to say about it.  There are people whose lives are affected by it, and there are people to whom it matters, and sure.  Congress did something, but on the grand scale, this isn't world-historic stuff.  Congress hasn't done jack shit.  What has happened, politically, and what have we learned?

Let's start with what has started.  The trade war.  Yes, our President really is a mercantilist.  Such fools still walk the earth, centuries after they should have died out.  Not only has Donny begun imposing tariffs, he has done so in bizarre ways, claiming national security concerns about Canada.  Like we're living in fucking South Park, or something.  And the Republican Party, which supposedly exists for the sole purpose of opposing all taxes, has rolled over and shown Trump its belly, and then just... presented.  So now, we're in a trade war because Tariff Man!!! must have his TARIFFS!!!  And then he complains that Jerome Powell might turn him into Herbert Hoover.  Is anyone else imagining Santayana doing a facepalm?

What does this teach us?  Several things.  First, one of the problems with Trump is that he is such a fucking liar that it is frequently hard to know when he is actually telling us something he believes.  To the degree that it can be said he "believes" anything, given what a fucking liar he is.  There are people as dishonest as Trump, but nobody in the history of opposable thumbs has ever been more dishonest than Donald J. Trump.  So, can you disregard everything he says as necessarily false and insincere?  Apparently not.  He really did mean that trade war idiocy.  Go figure that the stuff he meant was the most idiotic and self-destructive stuff.  Fucking moron... (source:  Tillerson, Rex)  Where does the trade war go?  I have no idea.  Trade wars can escalate, they can de-escalate, and all sorts of crazy shit can happen.  They are stupid, and self-defeating, though.  Will Trump get anything good out of it?  No.

There's more to the trade war, though.  One of the things that I keep noting about this is how odd it is that nobody in the GOP seems to care that Trump is imposing TAXES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Are you paying any attention, Grover Norquist?  Where did you go?  Where did any of these tax-opponents go?  What's going on here?

What's going on is that we have learned something.  A couple of things, actually.  First, remember that stupid tax bill, which had more holes in it than Trump's Russia alibi?  Remember how it raised a bunch of taxes, and the hardcore anti-tax people didn't seem to give a flying fuck, and Grover Norquist was willing to give everyone a pass?  Here's what's going on in my assessment.  We have learned how much of the anti-tax rhetoric was nothing more than rhetoric.  "Tariffs" don't sound like taxes.  You know how Donny is too fucking stupid to understand that tariffs are actually taxes paid by Americans rather than foreign governments?  Because he is... say it with me... the dumbest motherfucker in the history of politics?  I'm coming around to the position that this is basically where the rest of the GOP is on "taxes."  It's time we start putting the word in quotation marks because the party just doesn't understand what those damned things are.  Tariffs are taxes.  A party that can't wrap its brain around that doesn't understand policy.  A party that can't understand such a basic concept is a party stupid enough to, oh, I don't know, make Donald J. Trump the President of the United States.

What else?  Some of the Republicans in Congress actually are free-traders, and you can hear that in their responses to the tariffs.  And you know what?  Congress could do something.  As I have written a bunch of times, Congress could, statutorily, revoke the president's authority to pull this shit.  Why don't they?  The other thing we have learned from this trade war.  Of course, this is something that I pointed out in my 2017-In-Review post.  The GOP is completely in Trump's thrall.  Even the ones who know how stupid and self-destructive the trade war is can't bring themselves to oppose him because they are all Trump's... well, they rolled over, showed their bellies, and presented.  Butters had a bottom one.  Is this new information?  No, but the trade war has laid it bare.

I'm spending a bunch of time reminding you of this because it is important, still going on in the background, and not getting enough attention.  It is easy for people to forget about this, with headlines devoted to other stuff.  Like small-scale but naked cruelty.  Child separations, for example.  Did we really learn anything from this?  Did anyone not already know that Trump is a raging psychopath and racist?  Did anyone not already know that he, Stephen Miller, and people like that get their rocks off by causing small-scale suffering for anyone with dark skin, especially children?  Did anyone not already see these people as cartoonishly villainous?  (Anyone who isn't, themselves, sociopathic?)

10,000 people die every day due to waterborne pathogens, and you never think about it.  We could do something about that, quite easily.  Malaria?  Netting.  This stuff is easy, but out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  This is why humanity sickens me.  Cheap displays of phony empathy from self-righteous windbags who just want to posture, and never actually think about what really needs to be done around the world... that's what we get in response to headlines instead of real action in response to mass death.  If anyone ever wants to know why I'm a misanthrope, that's it, right there.  Phony empathy versus sociopathy.  That's humanity.  In ole' Bill Shakespeare's nutshell.

Still, the family separations happened.  I consider them completely uninformative.  Sickening?  Yup.  Revealing?  Not in any way, because we already knew everything on display as they happened.  Will Americans learn any lesson from it, or do anything about it?  Fuck no.  This is America.  Posturing phonies on one side, and racist psychopaths on the other, with 10,000 people dying every day around the world from waterborne pathogens, ignored by everyone, while the climate spins inexorably towards a point at which human civilization will radically alter in some very unpleasant ways.  YEEEEHAW!

And where are we now?  A stupid shutdown, over a border wall that will never be built, that Mexico will never fund, because Trump is a liar, a con artist, and too stupid to know that he can't win this hand.  I won't rehash yesterday's post here, but the point is, what does this show us?  Well, Trump knows he can't fulfill his promise to make Mexico pay.  He isn't even trying.  He's just lying, and trying to shift the discussion, and get away with sticking us with the bill.  What do we learn?  Well, his stupidity isn't news, nor is his inability to tell when he can't win.  Nor is his dishonesty.  What is new and interesting is the fact that he got manipulated into the shutdown, arguably, by conservative media figures.  Until a bit before the shutdown, he sounded like he had backed off.  Then, he got excoriated by the conservative media, so he went back to demanding a shutdown, in typical Trumpian fashion, as stupidly as possible by saying that he wanted the blame.  Wow.  Dumbest motherfucker in political history.  We have a President who is at the whims, mercy and manipulability of the media.  That's... new.  And rather scary.

This really is a terrifying level of power for Fox News, conservative talk radio, and the other people who have Trump's attention.  The man doesn't have the capacity to think for himself, and he can be goaded into something as stupid and self-defeating as a shutdown.  What will the shutdown cost us, in the long-run?  Nothing.  Yeah, it sucks for the people who aren't getting a paycheck, but the bigger worry is what happens when Fox News demands that he go nuke Belgium because Steve Doocy had a bad Belgian waffle at IHOP.  Geneva's next, motherfucker!  John Bolton warned us about the UN!  We really do need to worry about the Axis of Stupidity.

And of course, we have to bring things around to Russia and the Mueller investigation.  What have we learned?  Well, Mueller runs a tight ship, so all we have really learned is what has come out in the indictments.  And there's more to come.  Look, I said back in my 2017 wrap-up post that nothing will ever get the GOP to turn on Trump, and I think I continue to be vindicated on that point at every turn.  They will never, under any circumstances, turn on Trump.  Stop asking about impeachment, the 25th Amendment, or any of that shit.  Ain't gonna happen, no way, no how.  Not one, single, solitary Republican at the congressional or Cabinet level will ever turn on Trump.

Until they're fired and/or indicted, at which point, they don't count.  Hi, boys!  How ya' doin' with those gymnastics exercises?

This is just an annual wrap-up post, and I couldn't even begin to cover all of the revelations we've had about Trump's criminality that have come out this year.  Remember how he got all his money by funneling it illegally from daddy without paying any taxes, and all of that business crap was bullshit?

Oh, who cares about that.  What we really want to know is what's going on with Russia, Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, Flynn, Manafort...

… Michael Cohen...

Let's just skip to Cohen because of the most recent news.  Cohen pled guilty to buying women's silence, for campaign purposes, and not reporting it.  That's a campaign finance violation, and you've got a mess of stuff there implicating Trump in some federal crimes.  In the federal paperwork.  And it's pretty damned solid.  And that's the minor, petty stuff.  It looks like Cohen's cell phone can be traced to Prague for that meeting with Russian spies, which was mentioned in the Steele dossier.  Cohen, and the Trump people have always said that Cohen has never, in his life, been to Prague, and tried to use that to discredit the Steele dossier.  If Cohen was there, that raises some big questions, like... what was he doing, and why lie?  The likely answer:  colluding like a colluder.  He was Trump's go-between with the Russians.  Most likely.  Could be business-related.  Could be blackmail.  Who the fuck knows?  Right now, it's a cell phone ping, but the ferocity of the lie makes it look like something really big was going on.  Like... Steele was onto something.  Add in the fact that Corsi and Stone were Trump's go-betweens with WikiLeaks, knowing full-well that the DNC emails were stolen by Russia, and if you still think Trump and his people are innocent of "criminal conspiracy," you are what Tillerson called Trump:  "a fucking moron."  Note the phrase, "criminal conspiracy," rather than, "collusion," because there isn't a federal crime called, "collusion."  Don't get bogged down in Trump's bullshit rhetoric.  Criminal conspiracy.  Cohen was in Prague exactly when Steele said.  If he kept lying about it for that long... why?  Probably for the same reason that Corsi and Stone were doing what they were doing.  And that's without getting into Manafort, Don Jr., or any of the other Russia-compromised actors in Trump's circle.  (Isn't that pretty much all of them?)

So, we know a lot more about how deep Trump's campaign ties to Russia went.

And none of this will matter.  The probability of an impeachment is absolute, mathematical zero.  The probability of Trump facing any criminal charges, ever, for anything, is an absolute, mathematical zero.  I keep writing about my general philosophy of a Bayesian approach to statistics.  That means you begin with a "prior" probability-- an assessment of the likelihood that a statement is true, given some baseline level of uncertainty.  Then, you update your level of certainty as new information becomes available.  You may notice that I am not updating my probability that Trump gets impeached or otherwise removed from office.  Why not?  For the same reason that I don't update my probabilistic assessment that 2+2=4.  It isn't a statement subject to uncertainty, so new information cannot affect my assessment of its likelihood of being true.  There is no mathematical chance at all, in the universe, for Trump to be impeached, or removed through the 25th Amendment.  He could strip naked and run screaming through the streets, with a tin foil hat on his head, ranting about how Mueller is using mind control rays because he is secretly the leader of the Lizard People, and everyone needs to burn their houses down and eat their own shit* to immunize themselves from Mueller's mind control rays.  Would that get the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment?  No.  Fox News and congressional Republicans would demand an investigation into whether or not Mueller really is a Lizard Person.  And everyone on Fox News would be wearing tin foil hats while issuing the demand.

So I return to the comments I made in my 2017 wrap-up post.  The crumbling rule of law.  As more and more evidence has been revealed about Trump's criminality, what has the GOP done?  It has circled the wagons ever more tightly around Trump.  Again, my point is not that the crumbling rule of law is something new to 2018, but rather that it is something that should have been known, but that has been laid bare by the events of 2018.  2018 was the year it should have become clear that the rule of law doesn't exist in the United States of America.

The law constrains politicians only to the degree that politicians allow it to constrain them in a collective way.  This is especially true at the level of the presidency.  Presidents can be removed through impeachment, but that requires a supermajority vote, and political dialog, according to conventional norms, requires most of punditry to treat any claim as at least semi-legitimate if an entire party makes it.  I'm going to go ahead and say that 2+2= 345 is wrong, and anyone who says otherwise, well, I'm not a eugenicist, but I do worry about Idiocracy.  May I interest you in some birth control?  However, political norms require us to say that if one party unifies around the 345 answer, we have to pretend like it isn't idiotic fucking bullshit, and that arithmetic is debatable.  This creates a hole in the concept of the rule of law.  Rule of law depends on bipartisan support for the enforcement of the law because of supermajority requirements.  If a party decides it wants to be immune from the law, all it has to do is to say, en masse, that its politicians are all innocent, no matter what the facts are.  By getting everyone to go along with this bullshit, they make the concept of the law a debatable proposition, and political norms then require everyone to treat 2+2 as potentially equaling 345.  Rule of law ceases to be possible, simply because one party decides it wants to be immune from it.  That party is the Republican Party.  They have decided that, no matter what information is revealed about Trump's criminality, he will lie, and they will support those lies, thereby allowing any criminality to go unpunished because the concept of the law becomes a partisan dispute.

This is a glitch in the system.  It comes from a combination of supermajoritarian requirements, political norms, and general stupidity.  Could we get rid of supermajoritarian requirements for impeachment?  No confidence votes on a bare majority?  It might not be a bad idea, even though it'll never, ever happen.  It would make things more fluid, but how much more chaotic can things get?  The problem of norms?  That's actually harder.  How do you deal with the problem that people assume, inappropriately, that any claim made by an entire party should be taken seriously?  I don't know, but that claim is no longer sustainable when a party goes as crazy as the GOP has.

I won't even pretend to know a fix here, but the basic point is that 2018 has made it truly apparent how flimsy the rule of law was.  Install the most crooked politician in history as president, and as long as his party decides that they are afraid of the electoral backlash that would come from nationwide acceptance of his guilt, they'll do anything to cover up and obfuscate his guilt, thereby undermining the concept of the rule of law.  The cowardice and cravenness of the congressional GOP as we have seen in 2018 has put a lot of this in perspective.

That may be the real story of 2018-- the immovability of Republican support for Trump, in the face of the worst corruption in American history, and what that means.  The end of any pretense to the rule of law.

*This would, at least, explain Doocy's bad Belgian waffle.

Sunday music: Bluegrass picks for 2018

Bluegrass.  Love it.  This one is another weird category, though.  So much modern bluegrass is just rehashing the old stuff, and while I love the old stuff... why bother?  Here are a couple of albums that stood out.  Are they really bluegrass anymore?  Who cares?

First up, not a lot here is true bluegrass, but I'm With Her is a "supergroup" consisting of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan and Sara Watkins.  Give me a choice, and I'd take a new Sarah Jarosz album, or a new Crooked Still album (O'Donovan's old band), but I can't knock this album.  Watkins is good too, at the risk of damning with faint praise, but the company here is daunting.  Here's "Game to Lose," from See You Around.

I think, though, if I have to pick one album, I'd go with Simon Chrisman & Wes Corbett's new duet album.  Banjo and dulcimer.  Weird combination, but it works.  Best bluegrass-esque album of the year, in my opinion.  I guess.  There's probably still something out there that I didn't hear, though.  Anyway, here's "Cape Ann."

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Game theory versus stupidity: How the shutdown ends

Yeah, this thing is still happening.  Who's up for some game theory?

We have a class of games that repeat themselves over an indefinite period of time.  Games like War of Attrition and Brinksmanship are the canonical games you get in a basic game theory class.  In each round, players either keep playing, or quit, and try to push the other player to quit.  How do you solve a game that can keep going indefinitely, though?

The solution is actually not that complicated.  If Player 1 would be willing to push the game further, either by absorbing more loss or by risking disaster, or whatever the structure of the game creates as the bad thing everyone wants to avoid, then if Player 2 is rational, Player 2 quits in round 1.  There is no reason for Player 2 to absorb any losses, or run any risk.  He'll lose anyway, so minimize the losses.  Or, to borrow a phrase from a wise, resurrected son named Joshua, "the only winning move is not to play."

Then again, have you noticed that I have been writing rather a lot about "stupidity" lately?

Donald J. Trump, Very Stable Genius.  Also, platonic ideal of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  We all know what he should have done, right?

So, let's apply the lesson of game theory.  This isn't quite an indefinitely repeated game.  There is an endpoint.  Let's call that endpoint, "November 3, 2020."  The shutdown won't last nearly that long, but game theory is all about bullshit hypotheticals, so let's play around with that.  It's Saturday morning, and I don't feel like doing any real work yet.  (Strange job.  The only winning move is a different career path-- one with actual weekends and vacations.)  What happens if this thing actually does last through to November 3, 2020?  Trump gets his worthless fucking ass kicked.  He would even lose to whatever pathetic, mealy-mouthed, lefty twit the Bernie people would want to nominate.  O'Rourke, or whothefuckever.  I hate to say, "Trump was right," but aren't you supposed to win before you run for president?  The stopped clock got it right on that one.

Anyway, if this actually did drag on to 2020, Trump loses.  Badly.  Remember Mondale?  Probably not.  Look him up.  He got his ass handed to him.  That'd happen.  Why?  Shutdowns are unpopular, and Trump told everyone to blame him like the "fucking moron" he is (source: Tillerson, Rex).  He would have been blamed anyway because he was the one making demands, but he told everyone to blame him.  Because he is bafflingly baffled.

Basic game theory.  He can't see this thing through 2020.

Nancy Pelosi?  (First, aren't you glad she's handling this, and not that mouth-breather, Seth Moulton?)  She'd love nothing more than to have Trump keep this up... but Trump can't... keep... it... up.  As my hero, Nancy Pelosi said, this is a manhood thing for him, and he's going to have trouble keeping his manhood... up.  Yes, he can turn on Fox News and have them fluff him, but that will only work for so long.  If Trump really does try to maintain the shutdown, Dems retake the White House.

So, what's Trump "thinking" in his, OK, we'll call it a "brain" for lack of a better term?  He's "thinking" this.  Someone has to cave.  As long as he never does, the Democrats must.  In a contest of douchebaggery, he can out-douchebag anyone.  Just say no until he wins.  It is simple-minded, and given his inability to think about anything beyond what his cultists say about him, one can understand how a short-sighted nincompoop might believe it.

Has this hold-my-breath-until-your-face-turns-blue bullshit ever worked?  Ever?  No.  Gingrich tried it in 1995-6.  Failed.  Ted Cruz forced the GOP to try it in 2013.  Failed.  There is precisely one strategic brain in the Republican Party right now.  It belongs to Mitch McConnell.  What did he say about the 2013 shutdown?  "There's no education in the second kick of a mule.  The first kick of a mule was when we shut the government down in the mid 1990s."  He knew it was fucking stupid in 2013.  (That's part of why he hates Ted Cruz-- for forcing his hand.  Then again, everyone hates Ted Cruz.)  McConnell knows it's fucking stupid now.

But this is where game theory meets stupidity.  Trump can't win.  If he keeps going, he loses.  Pelosi actually, truly cannot cave here.  Speakers have been stripped of their power and removed before.  It happened to Joe Cannon in 1910.  It happened to John Boehner!  The House Democrats, as I wrote recently, are getting dumber.  They are also moving left.  The second part will prevent them from letting her cave, even if she wanted to, and she doesn't, so the increasing stupidity of the House Democratic caucus won't push them to cave.  Stupidity doesn't always work towards stupid ends.  Pelosi knows how strong her hand is, and even if she didn't, her caucus would never let her cave.

Trump, on the other (tiny) hand?  He's going to be watching poll numbers, markets and other indicators, looking for a face-saving way to cave.  And Pelosi will be torn.  What's the strategy?  Give Trump a face-saving way to cave, or rub his arrogant, racist fucking face in it?  The latter strategy prolongs the shutdown.  Pelosi will probably take the former approach because the loss itself will be sufficiently stinging.  Combine that with the basic observation that presidents depend on their bargaining reputation, as Richard Neustadt taught us in Presidential Power, and Trump's blundering has neutered himself so thoroughly here that Pelosi has his balls in her desk drawer, shriveled though they are, available to pound with a hammer whenever it suits her fancy.  Trump really did fuck this up.

There is another possibility, and it must be mentioned because it increases pressure on Trump to cave before we get there.  Look, we aren't getting to the 2020 election under a shutdown for Trump's stupid, fucking wall, and Pelosi won't cave.  The disastrousness for the GOP if the shutdown continued through 2020 would be so bad that the Democrats might get congressional Republicans to vote for funding at a high enough level to override a Trump veto.  How likely is this, in precise, mathematical terms?  The mathematical expression cannot be written in Greek letters.  We didn't develop the terminology until the English language came along, giving us the mathematical expression, "not bloody."  However, the disastrousness of a two-year shutdown would be so bad for the GOP that there would be pressure.  Enough for some congressional Republicans to cut a deal with Pelosi, and override a Trump veto.  She'd give them something that would be called "border security" to cover their asses, and make it a whole thing, but there would come a point where that would be less damaging to the party than continuing the shutdown.

Trump can't let that happen.  It would reveal his impotence too clearly.  And Pelosi can't give him any money for his stupid, fucking wall.  That Mexico was supposed to fund, back when Trump loved to tell his idiotic, fucking lies about it, which only the dumbest, and most racist motherfuckers in the country were credulous enough to believe.

What does that mean?  It means that Trump will cave.  Pelosi will probably look for some way to let him cave while saving some face.  Something called "border security," or something.  No wall funding, though.  Will she give a bunch of press conferences about how weak Trump looked when he caved, and how funny it was to watch him crumble like a cookie?  No.  Not her style.

I'll say it, though.  I fuckin' hate that guy.

Saturday music: Country picks for 2018

My country music posts are not ironic.  I sincerely love country music.  It's great, and you should listen to it.  Just avoid the pop garbage, as with any other genre.  Really.  Listen.  It's good!

Anyway, continuing with the end-of-year stuff, here are some 2018 album picks.  First, a few caveats.  I still haven't gotten Malcolm Holcombe's new album, and that's probably a winner.  I'm also going to disqualify Jason Isbell because his album was a live release, and the tracks, while quite good, were all things available elsewhere in not-dissimilar versions.  Great stuff, but Jason doesn't get to dominate everything every year, particularly with the live release trick.  So, I'll just give you three picks for my favorites.

First up, I think my clear favorite for 2018 is Sarah Shook's Years.  Sarah kicks more ass than anyone else around.  Country should be badass, and nobody is more badass than Sarah Shook.  Here's "What It Takes."

It doesn't end there.  I'll give a couple more.  One of the most reliably great country bands today is The Black Lillies.  Borne of the ashes of Robinella & the CCString Band, Cruz Contreras (the "CC") never misses the mark.  Stranger To Me is the latest in a string of albums that prove him to be one of the best musicians on the country scene.  Here's "Ten Years."

Finally, this one might have topped my list, but for one thing.  Cahalen Morrison is as consistently great as anyone on the country scene.  Currently, though, he is but one member of Western Centuries.  Good stuff.  Their last album, Songs From The Deluge, was a winner, of course.  I'd rather just have a solo Cahalen album, but I'll take what I can get.  Here's "Warm Guns."

Friday, December 28, 2018

Friday music: Jazz picks for 2018

OK, it's the end of the year.  We aren't aflame.  The government is shut down, the stock market is going nuts, craziness abounds, but hey.  All things considered, things could be way worse right now.  And there's always great music, as long as you dig beneath the surface of the popular garbage.  So, it's the end of the year, and it's time for year-end lists and picks and stuff.  I won't claim to pick the best of anything because, for all I know, next week I'll find something better that just isn't on my radar today.  So, here's some good stuff that stood out from the crowd.

Jazz is tough.  The genre, as far as I'm concerned, peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, which is why so many of the clips I post are from the old guys.  They were just better.  And, here's the problem for 2018 album picks in jazz.  Jazz peaked in the '50s and 60s because of guys like Coltrane.  And this year, they dug up some Coltrane recordings from '63.  Classic quartet, with McCoy Tyner on piano.  Nothing recorded or released in 2018 can come close.  It's just not fair to anyone else.  But... it's Coltrane.  Best jazz album released in 2018?  I'm going to break that rule I just told you I was going to follow.  Coltrane's Both Directions At Once:  The Lost Album.

But, there was good music recorded and released in 2018 too.  Marcus Miller put out a pretty good one, reliable as he is.  However, for a real pick, I have to go with someone who is really only vaguely jazz.  Steve Tibbetts.  Tibbetts is one of my all-time favorites.  He gets called jazz because nobody knows what else to call his music, but who cares?  Great music is great music.  He's weird and brilliant and unlike anyone else.  He doesn't record enough.  This year, he put out Life Of.

We don't have Coltrane anymore, but we do have weirdo guitarist, Steve Tibbetts.  Here's some good music released in 2018.  I'm cheating here because the Coltrane was recorded in '63, and Tibbetts is... I don't know what he is, but people call him jazz, so let's go with that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Doing my part in the war on Christmas

I hate all good things.  Be miserable.  Watch, and be miserable.  In what has become an Unmutual Christmas tradition, I must remind everyone that the world is a terrible place where good things are always ruined.

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

OK, I can sort of make this work.  Jake Schepps is technically American, but he did an album of Bela Bartok pieces, and other assorted stuff.  Here's "Romanian Christmas Songs," from An Evening In The Village.  See?  I can take a break from the war on Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The rising tide of Democratic stupidity

I have been intending to write this post for some time now, but other things get in the way.  With a shift to weekend blogging, it doesn't take much...

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane.  Does anyone remember this moment?

That was back in 2013.  Then, they went ahead and nominated-- and elected-- the dumbest motherfucker in the history of politics as President of the United States.  Intelligence, I suppose, is relative.  Compared to the GOP right now, calling the Democrats, "the stupid party," is a bit of a stretch.  However, intelligence is vital in a political system.  I wrote yesterday about the shutdown, and the general dangers of stupidity.  I am an unabashed, elitist, intellectual snob, and I want smart people in power.  Giving stupid people power is dangerous, and the more stupid people there are, the greater the need becomes to have smart people around to check them.

And so, we come to the problem of stupidity in the Democratic Party.  Has the cancer of stupidity metastasized to produce a Trumpian tumor among the Democrats?  No, but the stupid people in the Democratic Party are becoming more prominent, and gaining power.  And this should scare us all.

When I wrote, Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train: The Causes And Consequences of Congressional Infamy, AKA, "the batshit paper," one of the empirical observations in the paper was that most of the prominent wackadoos in Congress were Republicans.  Why was that?  In some of the initial statistical models, the party effect went away when I "controlled for" ideology, meaning that mostly, what was going on was that the GOP was getting more ideologically extreme, and it was the ideological extremists who were going on cable news and saying crazy shit.  However, there was more to it than that.  Consider Michele Bachmann.  Oh, dear, sweet Michele, how I miss you!  She was famous.  Why?  She was all over the media, saying whatever came to her... sure, let's call it a mind.  It was glorious.  Even Louis Gohmert isn't quite as satisfying, but you know, I takes what I can gets [sic].  Back when I wrote that paper, though... where was Sheila Jackson Lee?  She made "my batshit list," but trying to find her on cable news?  There were Democrats who were just as bonkers as dear, sweet Michele, but they... didn't make it to the camera.  But when they did, they sounded like that lunatic shitbag, Alan Grayson.  Why didn't they show up on camera as much?

I kind of wondered if Nancy Pelosi had some sort of operation to keep the fuckwits from going on air...  Operation: Don't Embarrass The Party.  The GOP just couldn't manage it.  It wasn't something I could ever demonstrate empirically-- just some idle speculation.

Since then, though, some different kinds of Democrats have had the spotlight shine on them as they dance a distressing kind of dance.  One that demonstrates that they are about two beats short of a waltz.  I see no need to go on another "Bernie Sanders is a fool" rant again.  I've done enough of those.  Let's be clear, though.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  This woman is worthy of every bit as much ridicule as I levy on the worst teabaggers.  She knows nothing and has no desire to learn.  I shouldn't need to explain why "socialism" has been abandoned, and before anyone tells me about how her platform is really not-so-far-left, and is really practical and pragmatic and all that shit... No.  Just... no.

Whatever you think of the general, non-specific phrase, "Medicare-for-all," or something called a "Green New Deal," which doesn't have any actual policy in it...

Federal jobs guarantee.  Think about this.  For maybe five seconds, or so.  That's more than Ocasio-Cortez can manage, but just ponder the concept of implementing it.  For five fucking seconds.

How?  Ponder the fucking "how?"  You have people who either lack skills, live in the wrong places, lack transportation...  This is not a serious proposal from a serious person.

You know what is?  There used to be a thing called a "negative income tax."  Your income is below a certain level, and instead of paying taxes, you get money back to bring you up to a certain level.  You know who devised it and advocated it as a simplified system with broad social benefits?  Milton Motherfucking Friedman.  The right would never go for it anymore, and now we have this "universal basic income" thing, which is basically the same underlying concept, but here's the thing about the negative income tax...

It can be implemented.  Whatever you have to say about its benefits and drawbacks, it can be done.  Conservatives would now say that it creates too much of a "moral hazard," in policy jargon, and that's a debatable, legitimate point!  I don't want my money going to lazy fucks.  Do you?  The question becomes a legitimate one about how many people are just lazy fucks.  If a lot, don't do it.  If few, no problems.  Just implement it.  That's how policy debates should work.  Estimate the total number of lazy fucks versus down-on-their-luck people, make an assessment of how many lazy fucks you are willing to fund versus how much good you want to do for the truly down on their luck people, and you have a parent's brother with a nickname derived somehow from "Robert," in some bizarre linguistic thing that the Brits say.  What you don't have is an implementation problem, and that was a big part of Friedman's argument.

Ocasio-Cortez isn't smart enough to think about policy in those terms.

And she is being elevated to a stature in the Democratic Party such that she must be protected and coddled and put on some fucking pedestal and worshipped like Bernie Fucking Sanders, whom I hated all along too, partially because he also had no understanding of policy.

And Ocasio-Cortez isn't alone.  What the fuck is going on with Elizabeth Warren?  This is the woman liberals are supposed to worship as the intellectual?!  Have you seen her new proposal to destroy capitalism?  What the all-fucking-fuck?!  The "Accountable Capitalism Act."  What a bunch of anti-intellectual idiocy.  And the Democrats are going along with this shit.

OK, lesson time.  You probably don't understand what corporations really are, or why they exist.  Why?  Because you are bombarded with rhetorical bullshit from lefty twits who just need villains and don't understand a thing about economics.  Maybe, as the person who hates Trump more than anyone else on earth, save the women he has assaulted, I have enough "cred" to explain this to you.  Here's an attempt.

What happens when you start a business, or even non-profit organization?  What if there is a problem with the business?  It fails, for example.  Who owes the creditors the money?  YOU!  Also, most small businesses fail quickly, and most fail eventually.  It makes no sense to operate a business, then, knowing the risks to you, personally, if you can't insulate yourself from those risks.  You work for a business, you buy all of your stuff from a business, all of your economic interactions exist based on business... We kind of need that.  And if people act rationally, they shouldn't start businesses.  So, we have a legal structure that allows people to operate businesses and non-profit organizations such that if there is debt incurred by the business, that debt is owed by the business, not the person or people who found it.  So, you start a business, it fails and takes on more debt than income, and the creditors can't come after you personally.  If we didn't have such legal structures, you'd be stupid to start a business, and anyone who does start a business that is capable of taking advantage of this legal structure, and doesn't, is a fucking moron.  You put your own assets at risk with a high likelihood of losing them.  Without the ability to start businesses and not just lose everything, we wouldn't have a fucking economy.

That legal structure-- the thing that owes the creditors, and insulates debtors to allow business to exist in a rational world-- is called... a "corporation."

That's it.  That's all it is.  Whiny, little, liberals have gotten themselves into a tizzy about "corporations are people!"  Stupid linguistic games.  A corporation is a legal construct, without which an economy cannot function, and none of the Supreme Court decisions say what you think they say, least of all Citizens United.  (Quick demonstration:  is a superPAC a "corporation?"  No.  Then "corporations" don't get special rights under Citizens United.  The law doesn't say what you think it says.  I'm getting off-track, though.)

Anyway, that's the quick lesson on corporations.  So, what the hell is Warren saying about corporations?  She wants to pass a stupid, fucking law saying that corporations have special moral responsibilities because she thinks they have special legal rights because "corporations are people!"

Responsibilities that no human citizen person has.

And remember that an economy can't function without corporations.  Warren is caught up more in stupid linguistic games than in the substance of the laws on corporations.

Right now, we don't have a capitalist party.  The Republicans?  They are led by a mercantilist dipshit who is running a trade war while threatening individual businesses with federal retaliation when they make business decisions to maximize profit, if he doesn't like them!  Holy fucking shit!!!  The Democrats?  They're going from a party that just wanted higher taxes to fund a welfare system to I-don't-know-what-the-fuck.

If you understand what corporations are, the role they play in an economy, and the difference between their actual function and the stupid linguistic games people play, then you should be very afraid of this idiotic nonsense Elizabeth Warren is peddling.  She's supposed to be the smart one, and this is about as bad as Ocasio-Cortez.  If I start hearing this kind of crap from Kamala Harris... that's it, man.  Game over, man, game over.  (Don't do it, Kamala.  Please!)

The Bernie Sanders-ification of the party is rather scary, for anyone with a real education in economics.

And amid all of this, idiots from the left and the right in the House of Representatives tried to oust Nancy Pelosi.  The smartest, and most effective Speaker of the House in generations.  Here's where I give Ocasio-Cortez at least a little credit.  She's a leftist, and at least she recognized that her policy interest was served by voting for the left-most candidate.  Nobody emerged to challenge Pelosi formally, but she eventually backed Pelosi when it looked like a fight between Pelosi and that tool, Seth Moulton.  She may not know anything about policy details, but she is capable of knowing left from right.  However, the anti-Pelosi rebellion has resulted in what looks like the imposition of term limits on committee chairs, but that's going to be tested going forward.

This is the same stupid shit that Newt Fucking Gingrich did after 1994.  Yes, that's right, the rising tide of stupidity in the Democratic Party has pushed Nancy Pelosi to accept the same moronic nonsense that the GOP pulled as a condition for them allowing the only smart one in the party to hold the gavel.

These people are stupid, and getting dumber.  They are looking ever-more-teabaggeresque, throwing out any notion of policy seriousness and quite literally doing the same stupid shit that the GOP did to undermine its own congressional caucus.

And if you understand that capitalism is important, you should worry, because right now, there isn't a party defending capitalism.

Look, the Republican Party is led by Donald Trump.  In comparative assessments of intelligence... the Democrats could visit the traumatic brain injury ward at Walter Reed, pick someone at random, and find someone better-suited for the presidency.  They'd find someone with a higher level of cognitive performance, and someone who didn't dodge the fucking draft.  As long as the GOP is the Trump Party, they will never stop being, as Jindal put it, "the stupid party."  Comparatively, then, the Democrats will be... I can't say smart, but less stupid.  However, how can I put this... limbo, limbo, limb-BO!  Nope, that bar is so low the Democrats can't help but get over it.

The problem is that someone needs to be smart, and there's only so much Nancy Pelosi can do when she's fighting a rising tide in her own party.  John Boehner was driven out of his own party in similar circumstances.  Right now, I am envisioning the two of them, lounging on a beach together, having a sort of romance once Pelosi is ousted by useless fuckwits, as they watch the rest of us burn.  From a distance.  And laugh.

Any other Boehner-Pelosi 'shippers out there?

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

This one has some Celtic and Old-Timey flavors to it, but hey.  Tim was doing a thematic album.  Tim O'Brien, "The Tide Flows Into Miltown," from Two Journeys.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Of walls, shutdowns and other matters: Let's talk about stupidity

Yesterday, I had a little more fun than usual with my jazz post.  I got a little snarky.  Just a little.  We do, however, have a serious issue in this country with stupidity.

I don't mean "oops, I locked my keys in my car because I'm frazzled and having a chaotic day, so I call myself stupid," stupidity.  No, I mean, "wow, the airbag light in my car just flashed, so I think I'll test the airbag by driving as fast as possible into a brick wall," stupidity.

I mean STUPID with a capital S, and all the rest of those letters.  Darwin Award-worthy stupidity.

OK, so I write this pretentious, little blog.  In my real life, I'm, like, a political science professor.  They pay me to give lectures, write books, 'n shit.  Weird, right?  What kind of political scientist am I?  I am a game theorist.  Game theory is a subfield of economics, actually.  It is an application of "rational choice theory," in which we begin with the premise that individuals are "rational actors" who make decisions that maximize their utility based on their circumstances and expectations of what others will do, and some fucking shit about "equilibrium" and blah, fucking, blah.  You don't care about that.  The thing about game theory is, um, it doesn't tend to work all that well with stupid people.  Stupid people will do stupid things, and not maximize their utilities.

Days like today make me wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life.

Aside from drinking coffee and typing into the void...  At least coffee provides meaning, right?  See?  I'm not a nihilist.

So here we are.  The government is entering a "shutdown."  Meaning what?  Appropriations have run out.  Congress hasn't appropriated more money, with presidential approval, so federal workers can't be paid.  Furloughs.  Starting with the least-essential, people don't show up for work, and the longer it goes on, the more the cuts get to the bone, etc.  Read the more elaborate descriptions elsewhere.

Why is this happening?  Because Donald J. Trump is very, very stupid.

A few days ago, I wrote a brief comment about the Trump Foundation, and the fact that Trump is the most corrupt politician in American history, by far.  The easiest way to put his corruption in perspective is to think about how much you have forgotten, and how bad that stuff is.  However, his corruption is also so egregious that it can be easy to forget that he is also, as I have pointed out before in these specific terms, the dumbest motherfucker in political history.

A few brief reminders on shutdowns.  First, you "win" a shutdown by getting the other side to take the blame.  Donald Trump insisted that he wanted the blame in the meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Useless Dipshit.  On camera.  Dumbest motherfucker in political history.  Second, if you want to get something out of a shutdown, you need to be willing to deal.  Trump refuses to deal.  Dems offered wall funding for DACA a while back, and Trump said no, despite claiming he wanted DACA written into statutory law, and wall funding.  The whole point for Trump is to get something for nothing, which makes victory impossible.  You need to give the other side a way to agree, if you want to win.  And finally, timing.  When your side is about to lose a chamber of Congress is not when you have leverage.

So, why did this happen?  Basically, Fox News and the rest of the conservative media called Trump a pussy.  Remember that line from the 2016 campaign about how it would be a bad thing to have a president you can bait with a tweet?  To quote Buckaroo Banzai, wherever you go, there you are.  Here we are.

OK, so what happens?  Here are the theoretical possibilities:

1)  Trump caves.  He does this a lot.  Why?  Fox News and the conservative commentators are basically right.  Trump is just a loud-mouth who can't back anything up.

2)  McConnell uses "the nuclear option" to let the Senate pass "wall" funding without any Democratic votes.

3)  Senate Democrats cave and vote for Trump's stupid, fucking, bullshit "wall" funding.

Let's keep in mind that we are a couple of weeks away from a new House of Representatives.  That affects the dynamic here, and is part of why Trump is being so fucking stupid about this.  McConnell has indicated that he doesn't want to go Number 2.  Ever wonder about that look on his face?  He just doesn't want to go Number 2.  He has said so.

He has very little time to change his mind in a way that would matter because once Nancy Pelosi gets the gavel in the House, and a new Congress starts, it doesn't matter.  The House would have to pass Trump's stupid, fucking wall funding again, and that wouldn't happen.  So, McConnell holds it in for a couple more weeks to preserve what remains of the filibuster for when the Democrats get a majority in that chamber (he has his eye on the future, and fully intends to filibuster everything), because he doesn't give a shit about the wall.  See how that (metaphor) works?  Nuclear option, getting rid of the legislative filibuster, always and forever, just so that Trump can get a few scraps of a fake wall?  No.  McConnell won't do that.  There isn't enough to gain.  If he thought that the stakes were banning abortion entirely, now and forever, would he do it?  Maybe.  For a symbolic stunt like this?  No fucking way.  There's no payoff.  Mitch is smart.

That brings us to 1 and 3.  A battle of stupidity.  OK, so remember that the Senate Democrats are currently led by a gentleman to whom I refer as "Useless Dipshit."  Senator Useless Dipshit (D-NY).  I do not respect that man.  So, is it possible that enough Senate Democrats peel off and vote for Trump's stupid, fucking wall because the caucus is "led" by Useless Dipshit?  I doubt it.  I don't think even he can fuck this up.  I could be wrong, but even that guy isn't incompetent enough to snatch defeat from the jaws of this victory.  Of course, these are the Democrats we are discussing, so...

The issue is that Senators don't really need leaders that much.  Who might peel off?  Manchin?  Maybe.  McCaskill might have done it if she were sticking around, likewise Heitkamp, but having lost, they no longer have incentives to play nice with Donny.  This gets into a tricky area of research-- the retirement effect.  Legislators who retire, lose, whatever... their voting patterns don't tend to change that much after they no longer face electoral pressure.  But they do change a little.  If McCaskill or Heitkamp were sticking around, I'd say there was a slight chance of them flipping, but now?  That chance goes from low to zero.  That's what I mean by a little effect.

But even then, where would the GOP go?  There was no way they'd get to 60, regardless of how useless and shit-dipped the Democratic "leader" of the Senate is.  Not on a demand for wall funding with nothing in return, which Trump won't offer because the whole point is to show Fox News that he's not a pussy.  And if any of them did start getting twitchy, Nancy Pelosi would come in, and start kicking ass.  What power does she have in the Senate?  Formally, none, but she's just that badass.

That leaves 1.  Trump and Number 1.  It'll happen, on video, and Putin won't be able to suppress it.  Why?  Because McConnell won't abandon the filibuster for something that doesn't matter to him, and the GOP won't find enough Democrats to get to 60 when Trump demanded the blame for a shutdown.

Trump will cave.  He got baited into it.  Because he's fucking stupid.

It is that very same stupidity, combined with arrogance in a perfect Dunning-Kruger shitstorm that led to Mattis stepping down in a way that has terrified the world.

Yes, the President of the United States is stupid.  And that is why the government is in partial shutdown.  That is why the Secretary of Defense resigned in protest, in a way that set the world on edge.

Stupidity is dangerous.  Stupidity is why we are in a trade war, which is part of the reason the markets are in turmoil.  Stupidity has destroyed one of the two major political parties in the United States.  Stupidity is infecting the other party, too.  (I'm planning tomorrow's post on stupidity in the Democratic Party, but events may get in the way.  I've had something planned for a while...)

Fermi's Paradox.  How big is the universe?  How many opportunities are there for life to evolve?  How many opportunities are there for advanced civilizations to develop, given all of that?  Now, have we encountered any?  No.  No conspiratorial bullshit about alien abductions, or any of that on this blog.  Science only on The Unmutual Political Blog, as compelling as Lyndon LaRouche occasionally is.  Fermi's Paradox is the supposed mathematical contradiction between the number of advanced civilizations that can be estimated to exist in the universe and our inability to find them.

One possible answer to Fermi is that the intelligence required to develop technology that would make a civilization detectable would also allow a civilization to destroy itself.  What will it take for humanity to, if not wipe itself from the earth, set itself so far back as to be nothing more than some wisps of evanescent signals?  Blink and you miss them, on the grand, cosmic scale?  Climate change, antibiotic resistant bacteria... some fucking moron president who decides that if he doesn't nuke someone, Fox News will call him a pussy?

Yes, it's a gloom-and-doom post.  The shutdown is basically meaningless, in the scheme of things.  Trump will cave.  He is a pathetically stupid, little thing who will be forced to back down.  That frustration, though, will only grow as Nancy Pelosi takes the gavel of the House of Representatives.  James Mattis will no longer be in the Cabinet as any kind of a check on Trump's worst impulses.  One can legitimately ask whether or not we should stay involved in Syria.  I truly have no opinion on that, and while I know for a fact that Trump made the decision on impulse, with no thought whatsoever, I could make a logical case for what he did.

Stupidity, though, is real.  And a danger.  A few federal workers won't get a paycheck because little Donny Trump wants to show Fox News how bigly his hands are.  That's minor.  What is a big deal is the unfathomable stupidity that leads a person to make such a decision.

And he is the most powerful person in the world.

Given the structure of my music posts, I don't get to use one of my favorite musicians very often.  Here's some bonus music.  Richard Thompson with "Mr. Stupid."

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

This is somewhere between jazz and country.  It's an old country tune done by one of my favorite jazz musicians, Bill Frisell.  Still country, in my opinion, but whatever.  Great music is great music.  This one's for you, Mad Dog.  "Don't They Know It's The End Of The World," from Nashville.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday music (and ramblin'): If you don't love jazz, you hate America

I'm going somewhere with this.

Before I get to Friday jazz, I'd like to take a little time to tell you about an issue that I find both important and inspiring.  Appropriately enough for The Unmutual Political Blog, I'm going to start with science-fiction.  C.S. Friedman.  I find her books to be generally quite good, and frequently excellent.  My favorite?  This Alien Shore.  The premise is that, in the early days of faster-than-light travel, the effects are deleterious to humanity, and cause mutations.  The humans who arrive on the planet, Guerra, have mutations that affect their minds rather than their bodies.  They have what would be considered disorders of various kinds, by modern American standards.  However, they are also often savants.  One of the main characters is a Guerran who is a mathematical genius, but also clearly would be considered autistic by modern American definitions.  Guerrans just don't think in those terms.  Instead, their culture has developed an elaborate set of facial markings that inform each other about their natures so that everyone knows how to deal with everyone else.  Masada, the "autistic" character?  His markings would make it clear to other Guerrans why he reacts to them the way he does, and the most comfortable way to treat him.  Consequently, his genius goes to the benefit of Guerran society.

So now let's bring this around to jazz.  Some great jazz musicians are... less than inspiring as people.  Charles Mingus.  Douchebag.  Great musician, but douchebag.  Miles Davis.  Probably not quite as much of a douchebag, but still a douchebag, and arguably the greatest musical genius of the 20th Century.  Some, though, have inspiring stories.  There's always the tale of Django Reinhardt having two fingers on his fretting hand paralyzed in a caravan fire (he was a Manouche gypsy), and then using that "disability" as a motivator to develop the concept of lead guitar in a band because he couldn't play chords anymore for proper rhythm work.  But, Django was a Belgian, who played primarily in France, and I'm doing a jingoistic series, so no Django.  (Get it?)

Instead, let's take a moment to appreciate Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  Blind guy.  Hard to make your way as a blind man, a blind black man in mid-20th Century America.  Roland (he added the name, "Rahsaan," later in life) learned to play the horns.  Every horn.  Every fucking horn.  Then, he got bored, so he started messing around with them, and inventing new horns because music was too fucking easy for him.  Still too easy.  He wondered, "can I play two horns at once?"  Yes.  "Fuck it.  Three?"  Yeah, that too.  Three plus a nose flute?  Yes.

Have you ever seen one of those one-man-band rigs?  You know how they sound like a stupid joke?  Roland Kirk just sounded like a band.  And he could play any style.  Anything he wanted.  With soul.

Blind guy, messing around, because he needed to challenge himself.  What else was he going to do?  Drive a race-car?  That would be pretty fucking stupid, wouldn't it?  That would be like Masada, the "autistic" character from C.S. Friedman's This Alien Shore, trying to become a stage actor.  But more dangerous for all involved.

Of course, not everyone diagnosed "on the spectrum," as that horrible phrase goes, is also a savant, and not every blind person is a musical genius on Roland Kirk's level.  However, the concept of the Guerran society is that understanding who people are and what they can and cannot do, and treating people appropriately rather than expecting them to be something they are not, leads to better outcomes.  It was an interesting book.  And personally, I'd rather listen to Rahsaan play than get in a car with him behind the wheel.

Now, I warned you I was going somewhere.  That somewhere is little Donny Trump.  Developmentally disabled people, in the terminology that has come to be used in certain circles, present something of a challenge.  There are jobs and roles in society that they can perform, and jobs that are not appropriate for them.  President of the United States, for example, is not a job for a developmentally disabled person.  Such a person might, oh, I don't know, shut down the government over some stupid, fucking wall, which will never be built, which Mexico was theoretically supposed to fund, and so on, and so forth.  Right before Christmas.

Had little Donny been born on Guerra, what might have happened?  Who can say?  Perhaps he has hidden artistic talents that have never been cultivated.  Perhaps stagecraft really would have called, since that seems to be his natural inclination anyway.  Then again, not everyone on Guerra was necessarily a Masada-level savant anyway, if I recall correctly (admission:  it has been a while since I read it).  Regardless, my point is that we can take some lessons, both from C.S. Friedman and the history of jazz, and rethink the role of whatever gets called "disabilities."  The problem isn't necessarily whatever we label, "disabilities," but how society responds, or fails to respond to them.  Kio Masada-- disabled?  I think not.  Roland Kirk?  His artistic vision and virtuosity surpassed anything you or I can see.  What should happen with developmentally disabled people, like little Donny Trump?  I really can't say, other than this-- keep him away from the levers of power.  I think the Guerrans would agree.  There must be better, and more constructive roles they can play, which would be healthier for all involved.  Make a donation to some real charity (i.e., not the Trump Foundation), which helps challenged people like Donny lead productive lives.  Maybe it isn't just a sci-fi thing.

Wow, that's a long wind-up.  If you made it through that, you deserve some kick-ass jazz.  Here's Roland Kirk, "Serenade To A Cuckoo," from I Talk With The Spirits.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brief comment on the Trump Foundation

So, I guess the system has "ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  You know, if it's legitimate.  Or, illegitimate, or... you know what I'm saying here.

Anywho, I don't have all that much to say, except this:  remember when Donny used the Trump Foundation to make an illegal campaign contribution to Pamela Bondi in order to buy her off, and "shut that whole thing down," when that thing was an investigation into the Trump University scam?

I guess what I'm saying is that we always have to remember that Donald Trump's corruption is so far beyond anyone else in history that we can easily lose track of some really egregious shit.  Trump University, the bribe of Pamela Bondi... this all gets drowned out amid the rest of what the "Trump Foundation" did, which itself gets drowned out by Trump's bigger crimes, which have been going on since he scammed all of his money by funneling it from daddy, tax-free.  And that, too, has been buried by even bigger issues of corruption.

The best way to understand the depth of Trump's corruption is to think about how much you have forgotten because of the constant stream of new scandals.

If I told you, "remember the time Trump molested and murdered a 12-year-old girl," be honest.  You'd have to stop and think about it at this point...  I could be bullshitting, but you really might have forgotten!  (Now, are you Googling it?)

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

Pretty crazy shit in Hungary, right?  Here's Sandor Szabo, in a live performance.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Texas Obamacare ruling and the dangers of hypocritical, disingenuous bullshit: A tale of two Jonathans

This is not the post I intended for today.  I had planned to write about the rapid rise of stupidity in the Democratic Party, but events intervented [sic], and I'm calling that a word, since the sentence is about stupidity.  I feel like I've been banging my head against the wall for a while, and that word was the result.  More Obamacare challenges.  A Texas nutjob (redundant) judge has apparently bought into the nuttiest legal theory I have ever encountered, ruling every part of Obamacare still standing unconstitutional.  Look, I don't much care about Obamacare.  I do care about bullshit.  Bullshit will radically alter human civilization, via climate change, or more specifically, climate denialism, which prevents action on climate change.  Obamacare is a debatable policy.  What role should the government have in healthcare?  Should the government provide healthcare?  Blah, blah, blah.  That's just ideology, and I can see, and make a wide range of arguments.

Climate change?  Bigger stakes.  Or, you know, the end of the rule of law and western-style democracy, and all sorts of shit, all because we tolerate constant lying.  I don't particularly care about Obamacare.  I care about bullshit.  And this?  This is some fucking bullshit right here.  And that brings me to my first Jonathan.

Bernstein.  Jonathan Bernstein was a fellow Berkeley grad student in Political Science, and now a blogger at Bloomberg.  He was, actually, one of the early Political Science bloggers, and sort of helped get the ball rolling.  He curses rather less than yours truly, but he can be forgiven for that.  One of the points about which we disagree (there are several) is that Bernstein is indifferent to hypocrisy and disingenuousness.  I care intensely about these things.  In an academic setting, I'm fine with people playing devil's advocate.  Intellectual debate, and all.  Fine, fine, fine.  In politics, though?  We need good faith argumentation.  Why?  Because arguments need to stand for the totality of belief.  Any one argument must represent a full set of beliefs.  We can't actually have a complete debate about everything.  So, what we say about Issue 1 must be indicative, to the degree possible, of what we believe about other issues.  This may sound like I am requiring everyone to have Phil Converse-style constraint.  I'm not.  But, if people state a principle... a rule that they don't actually hold and follow, they are misleading.  Their bullshit and hypocrisy is misleading, and that's a problem.  And when you put bullshit rules into a legal system, problems ensue.  The Texas ruling on Obamacare is a great example of why I hate hypocritical, disingenuous bullshit.

So what the hell is going on here?  The short version is that Obamacare, as originally written, had three components.

A)  The individual mandate
B)  Subsidies
C)  Regulations

Republicans, hypocritical, disingenuous bullshit-peddlers that they are, decided to challenge the constitutionality of A.  Why?  Well, they had actually fucking invented it.  The Heritage Foundation invented it as the Republican counterproposal to what the GOP dubbed, "HillaryCare" back in the '90s, but A was the only part of Obamacare that polled badly, so they all decided to flip and say it was the most commie fucking thing ever as soon as a black dude with a D after his name put it in his bill.

In NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of A.  Then, Congress passed, and President Pussy-grabber signed a bill into law repealing only provision A.  (That stupid, fucking tax bill, riddled with so many holes that Trump doesn't know which one to grab.)

Enter a new lawsuit claiming that by repealing the constitutionally questioned provision, B and C automatically become unconstitutional, despite never having had their constitutionality in question on the substance.

What, what?!  What the all fucking fuck?!

That's right.  According to these very-stable-genius types, by repealing the constitutionally-questioned provision, which the Court upheld anyway, Congress made the provisions that were never constitutionally questioned automatically unconstitutional.

So, what part of the Constitution makes it unconstitutional for Congress to give subsidies to people to buy health insurance?  None.  These fuckwits aren't actually arguing that provisions B and C are unconstitutional, on the substance.  They are arguing that Congress turned them into unconstitutional provisions by repealing a provision that was already ruled constitutional in NFIB v. Sebelius.

This is beyond batshit crazy.  "Severability."  Can one part of the law be removed from the books without the whole law going?  This is an issue for courts, not Congress.  When the Supreme Court rules on a law, if it is not severable, then the unconstitutionality of one provision makes the whole law go down.  This is about the courts, not Congress.  It is an instruction about how the law responds if a provision is struck down by the courts.  What these fuckwits are arguing is that severability is a conceptual, metaphysical thing, such that when Congress actually, legislatively severed A from the law, they tried to violate some metaphysical truth that cannot be violated.  The constitutionality of B and C is so inextricably linked to the existence of A that even Congress can't determine severability.

These asshats don't even grasp what severability is.

To repeat, without any reference to Obamacare:  Three parts of a law:  A, B and C.  A is constitutionally questioned (not "questionable," but, "questioned"), whereas B and C are not.  Congress repeals A.  Does that automatically make B and C unconstitutional?

Only if you are the dumbest motherfucker in history (e.g. Donald Trump).  Why not?  See statement, "whereas B and C are not."  I gave you the answer!  What the fuck is wrong with these people?!

And now we come to the second Jonathan.  That'd be Adler.  Jonathan Adler is a fellow faculty member here at Case Western Reserve University.  He is a law professor, and a prominent libertarian.  He was also the scholarly leader of the anti-Obamacare movement.  How'd that happen?  Here's how it played out.

Adler is a very smart guy.  He is also, to be clear, libertarian rather than conservative.  His first reaction to Obamacare was: bad, but not unconstitutional.  He then got together with some fellow libertarians and they actively tried to talk themselves into the belief that it was unconstitutional.  This is the telling of Adler, from a talk that I attended on campus.  I prodded him on the point, but we'll get to that.

This is, bluntly speaking, the wrong way to go.  The term is, "motivated reasoning."  If you have ideological reasons to believe something, and try to talk yourself into that belief, you will succeed.  Even if it's bullshit, you will succeed, most of the time.  Why?  Because it'll be more comfortable that way.  You will reduce your cognitive dissonance, and most people will care more about reducing their cognitive dissonance than straight-forward assessments of correctness.

What's the right way to go?  If you find ideological comfort in a proposition... try to talk yourself out of it!  That's intellectual rigor.  That's what I do.  If you are intellectually comfortable, you aren't thinking.  Thinking should be difficult, uncomfortable, messy, ugly, and unlike the Hobbesian line that may be coming to your mind, it should be a long process.  If a belief gives you comfort, push hard on that belief to make sure you aren't just coddling your own little snowflake brain.

Sorry.  Rant.  Anyway, not surprisingly, Adler and company talked themselves into the belief that Congress doesn't have the power to tax unless they call it a tax, or some such whatever.  Here was his story, to explain why it was so vital for the Court to strike down the mandate-tax-thing.  Imagine some hermit, living out in the middle of nowhere, never interacting with anyone ever.  Now, technically, our hermit has no income and never interacts with the healthcare system, and hence has no legal liability to pay the mandate-tax-whatever and is unaffected by Obamacare.  But, Adler actually argued that because the law called it a mandate rather than a tax, the law called the hermit some kind of a scofflaw, which was horribly injurious to him.  To the hermit living out in the middle of nowhere, never interacting with anyone, much less the government.

Not kidding here.  This was the argument he made when pressed.

Do you feel sorry for this victim?  Do we need to adjust the legal system to make sure such hermits aren't injured by the "scofflaw" label (Adler's wording) imposed by calling the mandate a mandate rather than a tax?

Or do we take from this that perhaps, if an idea gives you ideological comfort, you should press against it rather than try to talk yourself into it.  Doing the latter can get you to make some rather silly arguments.

Now, why does this story retain its value to me?  Who cares if some of Jonathan Adler's arguments are weaker than others?  I'll be blunt here.  I'm intentionally picking on the weakest of his arguments, to make a point.  The point, though, is that there is danger in pushing yourself in this direction.  It leads to the kind of disingenuous bullshit that gave us the Texas ruling.

Where does Adler stand on that?  He called bullshit on the Texas judge and the whole lawsuit.  He isn't having any of this.  It's pretty damned hard to find any legal scholar who buys this nonsense because it is so fucking loony.  Republicans are demanding that the courts strike down, as unconstitutional, provisions that substantively don't violate any part of the Constitution based on a newfound doctrine of meta-unseverability.  Holy fucking shit is that stupid.

And disingenuous.  And hypocritical.  Because they would never accept this in any other context.  This is the result of a bunch of frothing-at-the-mouth dipshits who will do anything and accept any argument if it is anti-Obamacare.

Will this lawsuit succeed at the Supreme Court level?  I don't know.  I doubt Roberts will buy it, given what he did in NFIB v. Sebelius, but Ginsburg could drop dead at any moment.  Thomas and Alito are straight-up movement conservatives, meaning they don't have a shred of intellectual integrity, and anyone who trusts either Gorsuch or Kavanaugh to show integrity is a fool.  Conservatives can talk themselves into anything when it comes to arguments against Obamacare.

Remember, the whole law started at the Heritage Foundation, then a Republican governor signed it into law at a state level.  The GOP didn't decide it was commie-nazi shit until a black dude with a D after his name signed on.  Never doubt the modern GOP's capacity to talk itself into bullshit.

Like I said, I don't give a shit about Obamacare.  What's that I hear?  Whistling?  Ooooh, pretty gravestones.  This country and this planet have way bigger problems, and any debate over Obamacare is reduceable to ideology.  I am only concerned with questions that are not reduceable to ideology at this point.  Or rather, I am opposed to authoritarianism and such, and yes, that's ideology, but we've got bigger fish to fry, like not frying the fucking planet, not letting a psychopathic nutjob president press a button that would selectively fry parts of the planet, opposing the rise of authoritarianism, and so forth.  Obamacare?  Small fries.

However, the rise of disingenuous, hypocritical bullshit is deeply intertwined with the bigger challenges.  Once you start building a legal system based on the kinds of insane doctrines that the GOP is using here?  There ain't no more legal system.  Rule of law is already in pretty bad shape.  That, in the long run, is more important.

Bullshit has a destructive force like water.  You don't think it's doing much?  Take a look at the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Bullshit creates equivalent ugliness, through gradual erosion of truth.

Fuck Obamacare.  Worry about that.

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

Tony Furtado, "Crow Canyon," from Roll My Blues Away.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The bizarre politics of Trump's "wall"

Why the quote marks?  Ain't no wall, and there ain't never gonna be none.


One of my favorite aphorisms when discussing Trump is the old gem that, when chased by a bear, you don't have to be faster than the bear.  You just have to be faster than the guy next to you.  Similarly, if you are a con artist, you don't have to be smart, in any objective way.  You just have to be smarter than the mark.  Donald Trump is a con artist.  He is also a few violins short of an orchestra.  The conductor doesn't have a baton, if you know what I mean.  Dude ain't smart, and I like music analogies.  Anyway, can you be a successful con artist if you are stupid?  Sure.  You just need even dumber marks.  Insert George Carlin reference here.  How deficient are Trump's followers?  Roughly as deficient as the people who fell for the "Trump University" scam.  That's pretty fuckin' stupid.  And that brings me to "the wall."

One of Trump's central campaign promises was to build a wall across the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.  This was probably the dumbest campaign promise I have ever heard from a mainstream candidate.  Trump, bluntly, was a kook who should have been shunted out of the mainstream for being a kook, in which case this type of promise would have been normal for a non-mainstream candidate, but, well, here we are.  Anyway, this was lunacy.  There was never the slightest chance in Hel (let's go with the Norse here, cuz' I just read Gaiman's Norse Mythology) that any of this would come to fruition.  It was a con, and Trump's Nieto phone call demonstrated that he didn't even care about the wall.  It was all a con.  There was never going to be a wall, and Mexico was never going to pay.  The problem for Trump was that he locked himself into his own bullshit.

Somehow, though, a transition was made, and now, we are having a spat about whether or not the US taxpayers-- that'd be us-- are going to have to cough up money for that wall that Mexico was supposed to fund.  And Trump wants to shut down the government to make you and me pay for it.  (Yes, "me," not, "I."  Sorry, but it's time for a pedantic grammar rant.  Me is the direct object.  You don't use I, just because it comes after you.)

A few points.  First, the obvious point that others have raised is that you win a shutdown by getting the other side to take the blame, and Donald Trump, Very Stable Genius, went into that meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Useless Dipshit demanding the blame.  Huh?  I'll get to that.

My bigger point is... why aren't we talking about the fact that Trump is asking us, not Mexico to pay?  And that brings me back to the stupidity of Trump's marks.  Think, for a moment, about the plight of a Trump mark.  He told them he would make Mexico pay for a wall to keep the scary, brown people out of the country.  Now, he is threatening to shut the government down in order to make them-- the marks-- pay for the wall.

How does this work?  Some of them may want the shutdown for its own sake.  Remember, Trump is trying to take credit for the shutdown that will, inevitably occur at some point.  Trump never reaches around... for support from anyone other than his base.  He just tries to rally his base.  Some of that base is the same "shut down the government" teabagger crowd that seems to like at least the idea of government shutdowns, until it starts inconveniencing them, but that generally doesn't start happening until a couple of weeks into a shutdown anyway.  So, that checks!  Add the symbolism of the wall, an everything still checks here.

Here's how it plays out, then.  Trump forces a shutdown.  The shutdown plays well with the teabaggers who support him, partly because they like shutdowns.  Trump eventually has to cave, but as far as he's concerned, that just preserves the campaign issue of "the wall."  He gets to spend every day through 2020 ranting about how the Democrats are personally smuggling members of MS-13 into the country to rape white women, so vote for Trump or the white race will vanish from the face of the earth!  (You know, it's really hard to satirize someone as over-the-top as Trump...)

But what about the people who are in it, not for the shutdown, but for the wall?  The marks who were dumb enough to believe his campaign promises?  Well, in one sense, anyone that stupid can be fooled a second time.  Here.  Here's a shiny thing.  Now, haven't you forgotten all about that promise to make Mexico pay, you silly, little things?

This, of course, is the question.  Can the marks be made to turn on Trump by pointing out that he is now actively trying to stick them with the bill?  A few points.  First, they really do want the wall.  Would they pay for it themselves?  Well, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), and yeah, fuck Ohio, is proposing asking people to pay, voluntarily, for wall construction.

OK, motherfucker.  History lesson.  Ever hear of a document called the Articles of Confederation?  You motherfuckers are supposed to be big, ole' history buffs, all into the Revolution, 'n shit, right?  You know, the Constitution wasn't actually our first organizing document, right?  Those Articles.  They failed.  Why?  The feds assumed all Revolutionary War debt, and made tax payment by the states voluntary.  That's the short version.  It didn't fucking work.  That's why we have the Constitution, motherfucker.  It's a little thing called "the collective action problem."  Mancur Olson.  The Logic of Collective Action.  Learn it.  Know it.  Live it.

And it gets worse.  Davidson also proposed issuing some fucking cryptocurrency to pay for Trump's wall.  Oy.  Fucking.  Vey.  I already have a "Bitcoin is bullshit" series.  Do I have to start a "Wallcoin is bullshit" series?  I might.  I just might.  Bloody fucking hell.  Y'all know bitcoin has crashed, right?  And don't get me started on this new Cleveland thing on "blockchain"...

Anyway, this ain't happenin'.  Would some of Trump's marks kick in a few of their pennies and other assorted pocket detritus?  Sure.  What would that buy?  A brick of... something that wouldn't stop a brick of anything.  That ain't how this works.  Still, some might be willing to pay a bit.

Some, though, really wanted Mexico to pay, and the question that remains is whether or not they can be turned against the guy who conned them by having it pointed out that they got conned.  After all, once the "Trump University" scam became sufficiently obvious, many would either drift away or join the legal action against it.  How likely is that as Trump shuts down the government to force his own marks to pay for what he promised Mexico would fund, in blatant violation of his own promise?

Not likely.  They have too much invested, personally, in Trump.  Trump is now a full-blown personality cult, wrapped up in the previous most potent force in American politics-- partisanship.  That makes anything rationalizeable.  The problem goes back to good ole' Leon Festinger.

Excuse me while I go wash my hands for favorably citing a Sociologist.

Anywho, that's the dude who developed the concept of cognitive dissonance.  He was a co-author of When Prophesy Fails, which was the book that Festinger did with a few colleagues after they infiltrated an apocalypse cult to see how they would react after the predicted end of the world didn't occur.  Would they realize how duped they had been?  Nope.  They dug in further, because otherwise, it would be too big a change to their world views.  Whenever faced with inconsistent ideas, people look for a way to push one out of their heads, and usually follow the path of least resistance.  That doesn't mean being smart.  It often means the opposite.

Trump's marks right now are so wrapped up in the cult of personality around him that it will be easier for them to accept any line of bullshit that Trump feeds them-- no matter how stupid-- than to accept that they got duped.  He duped them with the dumbest line of shit in political history, and they are committed to him, body and mind.  He could show up to any of his marks' houses, rob them at gunpoint, rape their daughters in front of them, then burn down their houses, tell them it never happened, they didn't see what they thought they saw, and every one of those fucking idiots would believe him over their own eyes.  This is a cult.

Maybe we should be referencing Festinger over Campbell, Converse, Miller & Stokes.

Yes, it is bizarre in the extreme that Trump promised to make Mexico pay for a wall, and he is now insisting on taking personal credit for a shutdown to make the US taxpayers pay for it.  In a world in which facts exist, his own supporters would turn on him.

Welcome to bizarro world.  Countdown to the issuing of a Trumpcoin cryptocurrency to counteract the Fed, anyone?

At this point, I wouldn't put the odds of that at zero.

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

Luther Wright & The Wrongs, "Another Brick In The Wall," from, yes, an album-long cover of Pink Floyd's The Wall.  In country/western style.  So, so wrong.  I apologize for this.  Kind of.

Friday, December 14, 2018

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

John Coltrane, "Up 'Gainst The Wall," from Coltrane.  So many meanings today...  My plan is to write about "the wall" tomorrow, and some general issues of stupidity putting people up against the wall more metaphorically on Sunday.  Until then, here's something worthwhile.  Some Coltrane.

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.


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.