Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Explaining COVFEFE and MAGMA

Last night (Wednesday-Thursday) the twitterverse experienced the twitter equivalent of a cosmic big bang. It’s name is covfefe and was tweeted by Donald Trump. It ranks, now, right up there with MAGMA (Make America Great My Ass), Trump’s seismic campaign slogan.

Here I will lay out the facts courtesy of a time line provided by the NY Times in What’s a ‘Covfefe’? Trump Tweet Unites a Bewildered Nation. Then I turn to articulating the competing explanations for Trump’s tweet.

Just the facts

WASHINGTON — And on the 132nd day, just after midnight, President Trump had at last delivered the nation to something approaching unity — in bewilderment, if nothing else.

The state of our union was … covfefe.

The trouble began, as it so often does, on Twitter, in the early minutes of Wednesday morning. Mr. Trump had something to say. Kind of.

“Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” the Twitter post began, at 12:06 a.m., from @realDonaldTrump, the irrepressible internal monologue of his presidency.

And that was that.

A minute passed. Then another. Then five.

Surely he would delete the message.

Ten. Twenty. It was nearly 12:30 a.m.

Forty minutes. An hour. The questions mounted.

Had the president’s lawyers, so eager to curb his stream-of-consciousness missives, tackled the commander in chief under the cover of night?

Perhaps, some worried aloud, Mr. Trump had experienced a medical episode a quarter of the way through his 140 characters.

Or maybe he had simply gazed upon his work, paused and thought: “Yes. Nailed it.”

No one at the White House could immediately be reached for comment overnight.

“What if this is it,” asked Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker television critic, after just five minutes. “That is his final tweet & the rest of history stops.”

The explanations

Let’s formalize these attempts to understand covfefe in a set of competing hypotheses.

H0: This is the null hypothesis. It claims no change, business as usual. Trump just hit the wrong keys. He sits back and enjoys the media flap.

H1: This is the first alternative explanation. Trump was searching for a word and didn’t find it. This is symptomatic of early stage dementia.

H2: Trump, unbeknowst to his supporters, has been captured by a religious sect. He now speaks in tongues.

H3: Or, as Hillary Clinton thought, covfefe is a coded communication to Trump’s Russian handlers.

Take your pick. America has unleashed upon the world a serious plague.

Betsy DeVos fails in her role as SpellChecker-in-Chief.

Andy Borowitz, the New Yorker’s satirist, as usual, exposes the ridiculousness of this whole business.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning that his practice of sleeping only four hours a day was having no impact whatsoever on his ability to cljjryff.

Trump, who repeatedly touted his high energy level during the 2016 campaign, tweeted that, despite his gruelling Presidential schedule, he still had enormous reserves of stamina, which he called “stamgygygyggy.”

In the same tweetstorm, he lashed out at news reports questioning his fitness for office, denouncing them as “fakequez%(™.”

The White House said that, despite pleas from his legal team to delete his Twitter feed, Trump planned to continue tweeting, and that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would continue to spell-check his tweets.

And so it goes.

Trump's White House needs surgery not band aids

John Cassidy (New Yorker) deflates expectations that a White House shake-up will fix what ails the Trump administration. If the only cure is surgical removal of the head, a band aid will not suffice.

… To put it in business terms, the White House’s problem can’t be resolved by firing the marketing team and hiring some external consultants. The problem is the obvious shortcomings of the primary product, Donald J. Trump. Here are six of them: Six reasons why the Trump reset won’t work

1.He isn’t Presidential.
2. He has limited bandwidth.
3. He won’t (or can’t) stick to a message.
4. He won’t delegate real authority.
5. The Russian saga is now a morass.
6. He’s stuck with unpopular Republican policies.

I’ll expand on a couple of these themes with snippets.

The anti-president president

Trump couldn’t see [his recent] trip through without a blowup. When he got to Brussels, he berated his fellow nato leaders in public. Then he attacked the Germans, saying they were “bad, really bad” for exporting so many cars to the United States. After he arrived back home, this weekend, he quickly got back on Twitter and wailed away at his usual targets: the leakers, the media, and the Democrats. (For good measure, he also criticized Germany again.) It was almost as if he were sending a message to the members of his own staff who were suggesting that he might rein in his social-media presence.

Leaders need self control. That’s not in Trump’s behavioral skill set.

Limited bandwidth

Why … did Trump launch his diatribe against the Germans on the eve of the G7 summit? On top of coming across as a boorish guest, he displayed his ignorance on trade—one of his signature issues. Evidently, he was oblivious to the fact that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen have all set up factories in the United States, where they assemble many of the vehicles they sell here.

Was Trump briefed on the structure of the global auto industry before he spoke? It might not have made much difference. According to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post, his attention span is so short that intelligence briefers are encouraged to keep written presentations to a page and to include a lot of visual aids, such as maps, charts, and photographs. Reuters reported earlier this month that some National Security Council officials, when preparing materials for the President’s review, have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned.”

That’s the problem; it’s not a solution. Feeding mentions to Trump just plays to his pathological narcissism.

Republican baggage

When a President sees his popularity dip, the obvious response is to do something that voters like. But Trump has committed himself to two policy measures that are anything but popular: the House Republicans’ health-care-reform bill and a big tax cut for rich people and large corporations.

So far, there are no signs that he’s willing to do anything other than play the role of the devil in the Faustian deal with Ryan and McConnell.

Let me add one more reason why the band aid won’t work:

Number 7: John McCain

Blake Morlock (Tucson Sentinel) has some good advice for Trump: Look out, Donald: Straight Talk Express rumbling back to life. President about to pay a price for POW comment.

Sen. John McCain knows how to do political rumble. Morlock recounts how Dubya ran afoul of McCain in 2000 and the price that was paid.

Remember the right-wing hit on his family deployed by Bush supporters in 2000. McCain has an adopted daughter from Bangladesh and during the South Carolina primary someone sent out mailers saying she was a “black daughter born out of wedlock.”

Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove 10 years later was denying he had anything to do with it. swore it wasn’t him but McCain never bought that.

Who was the biggest critic of the Bush administration as the Iraq war unraveled? John McCain. Who was out there banging the drum against torture, when the Bush team said it was vital? John McCain. Who banged on the Bush team to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez? John McCain. Who voted against the Bush tax cut in 2001? John McCain. Who pushed campaign finance reform over the express objections by the Bush team? John McCain. Who backed climate change legislation (watered down as it may have been) that Bush opposed? John McCain.

Who did the Bush re-election team ask to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Republican Convention to vouch for the President during a tough re-election battle? John McCain.

Donald Trump’s presidency suffered a major blow months before it started. His longest-lasting self-inflicted wound may be the day he threw out the line "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Insulting McCain and all his fellow POW’s in the Hanoi Hilton was a whole new level of trash talking.

So, now …

Who holds Donald Trump’s domestic agenda in the palm of his hand? Arizona’s senior senator. McCain and Graham tend to vote as a team. To piss off one is to piss off the other. The Republicans hold the U.S. Senate by two seats. McCain and Graham say no, and every other Republican senator can dictate terms. That includes Trump haters like Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (perhaps next in line to be the Senate’s lone adult) and Maine’s Susan Collins.

And McCain is the first Republican to mention the Comey-Russia scandal in terms of Watergate. He obviously alone won’t provide enough votes for any possible removal from office but he can make Trump’s life more hell than it would otherwise be every step along the way.

"I prefer people who weren’t captured?” Oh, Donald Trump. I hope that testosterone-soaked moment was worth it. The Straight Talk Express is rumbling back to life and its tire tracks are about to be a familiar stain for White House stewards to presoak out of Trump’s too-large jacket.

McCain: Allies must remind America of its principles

McCain is on the road for “talks on security in the Asia-Pacific region” according to an AP report in this morning’s Daily Star: McCain urges Australia to stick with US despite Trump jitters. McCain essentially drove a wedge between Trump’s unpresidential treatment of our allies and the America that is going through “a rough period.”

SYDNEY — U.S. Sen. John McCain urged Australia on Tuesday not to abandon its alliance with America despite jitters over President Trump, saying the U.S. needs its allies more than ever to remind it of its principles.

McCain said he understands why the country’s allies have questioned its commitments to truth over falsehood and freedom over oppression. But he urged Australia to stick with the U.S. “to encourage us to stay true to who we are at our best and remind us always just how much is at stake.”

Whoa! We need our allies to bring us back to our principles? We can’t do that on our own? Apparently not so long as Trump is in the White House. It gets worse (for Trump).

"I realize that some of President Trump’s actions and statements have unsettled America’s friends. They have unsettled many Americans as well,” McCain said in a speech organized by the United States Studies Centre. “There is real debate under way now in my country about what kind of role America should play in the world and, frankly, I don’t know how this debate will play out. But I do believe — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here — that the future of the world will turn to a large extent on how this debate in America is resolved. That’s why I and others are fighting so hard to ensure that America stands by our allies and remains an active, principled leader in the world.”

Sometimes consequences take a while to play out. The consequences of "I prefer people who weren’t captured” are now becoming manifest. In the era of Trump some straight talk is refreshing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An Alien Among Allies

The Man from Moscow, aka US President Donald Trump, has returned from his first trip abroad as President. His behavior, intentional or not, is likely to reshape Europe and our alter our relationship with our NATO allies. Trump behaved less like an honored partner and more like a member of another, hostile alien undermining the alliance.

The Washington Post covers Trump’s trip in Alternately charming and boorish, Trump plays the role of a lifetime overseas.

Trump was charming and boorish. He was deferential to the berobed king of Saudi Arabia and Pope Francis, yet aggressively rude to his European colleagues, brushing aside a Balkan prime minister to get to his place lining up for a photo shoot at NATO. The French newspaper Le Monde admonished Trump for “verbal and physical brutality” toward NATO allies and said he “lectured them like children.”

In Europe, Trump’s badgering remarks on defense spending — during a NATO ceremony memorializing the joint alliance response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — left a bad taste. There was widespread disappointment at Trump’s failure to use the occasion to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the alliance’s joint defense pact, Article 5, although national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that “of course” Trump supports it.

Trump’s behavior, said Stefan Leifert of Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, was “a slap in the face of all other alliance members.”

Trump’s behavior toward our allies already has global consequences. Following Trump’s trip, Merkel says Europe can’t rely on ‘others.’ She means the U.S. reports the Washington Post on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reaction.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

It was the toughest review yet of Trump’s trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington’s closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.

Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, told a packed beer hall rally in Munich that the days when her continent could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.”

The remarks were a clear repudiation of Trump’s troubled few days with European leaders, even as Merkel held back from mentioning the U.S. president by name. On Thursday, Trump had harsh words for German trade behind closed doors. Hours later, he blasted European leaders at NATO for failing to spend enough on defense, while holding back from offering an unconditional guarantee for European security. Then, at the Group of Seven summit of leaders of major world economies on Friday and Saturday, he refused to endorse the Paris agreement on combating climate change, punting a decision until this week.

The NY Times picked up the story in how Merkel, After Discordant G–7 Meeting, Is Looking Past Trump.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe’s most influential leader, has concluded, after three days of trans-Atlantic meetings, that the United States of President Trump is not the reliable partner her country and the Continent have automatically depended on in the past.

Ms. Merkel’s strong comments were a potentially seismic shift in trans-Atlantic relations. With the United States less willing to intervene overseas, Germany is becoming an increasingly dominant power in a partnership with France.

“This seems to be the end of an era, one in which the United States led and Europe followed,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a former United States envoy to NATO who is now the director of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Today, the United States is heading into a direction on key issues that seems diametrically opposite of where Europe is heading. Merkel’s comments are an acknowledgment of that new reality.”

Ms. Merkel’s emphasis on the need of Europe to stand up for its own interests comes after Mr. Trump declined to publicly endorse NATO’s doctrine of collective defense or to agree to common European positions on global trade, dealing with Russian aggression or mitigating the effects of climate change.

“We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans,” Ms. Merkel said.

If they do not, a fractured Europe lies bare to the Russian bear, susceptible to being picked off one country at a time by Trump’s friend in Moscow.

The Post provided an unfortunate image of the United States’ new role as follower.

… in picturesque Taormina, at the Group of Seven summit on the rocky Sicilian coast, Trump struggled to look interested during long meetings with allies in a room decorated with the flags of other countries. As the other G–7 leaders strolled the streets of this ancient fortress town, Trump followed along in a golf cart.

Trump’s behavior certainly was not that of the leader of the democratic West. The next question is which foreign power, really, Trump is following. That question, it seems to me, should motivate an independent investigation into the connections between Trump, his associates, and now his family. That investigation should shed light on Trump’s trip in which he refused to reaffirm ties to our friends while implicitly endorsing ties to our enemies.

Arizona Corporation Commission: A sack of scoundrels

Here is what the Arizona state constitution says about the powers of the Arizona Corporation Commission (Article 15, emphasis added).
4. Power to inspect and investigate
Section 4. The corporation commission, and the several members thereof, shall have power to inspect and investigate the property, books, papers, business, methods, and affairs of any corporation whose stock shall be offered for sale to the public and of any public service corporation doing business within the state, and for the purpose of the commission, and of the several members thereof, shall have the power of a court of general jurisdiction to enforce the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena, attachment, and punishment, which said power shall extend throughout the state. Said commission shall have power to take testimony under commission or deposition either within or without the state.
I remind you that Scriber is not a lawyer so a constitutional expert, perhaps like AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona, might (or might not) take exception to what I have to say.
I read the part in bold as empowering individual members of the ACC to compel, via subpoena, any “public service corporation” to produce evidence of its behaviors. That is what Commissioner Bob Burns is trying to do with respect to Arizona Public Service and its parent company. The issue is what APS did to influence the election of members of the Commission that has jurisdiction over APS.
The other interpretation, championed by attorneys for APS, holds the the “several members” reference in Section 4 means that only the entire Commission, or at least a majority of members, can issue subpoenas.
This division of legal opinion has been reported in several places. My source this morning is Howard Fischer’s May 26 report in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) that Scoundrels’ aside, Burns has no right to APS records, lawyer says.
The attorney for the state’s largest electric utility said the fact that Bob Burns may think the other members of the Arizona Corporation Commission are “scoundrels” does not give him the right to issue his own subpoena for the company’s records.
Mary O’Grady told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Kiley on May 25 that Burns has no legal basis for issuing his own demand for the records of Arizona Public Service and parent company Pinnacle West Capital Corp. She said only the full commission has the power to make such a demand, particularly in the middle of its consideration of an APS rate hike case.
What that means, she argued, is that Burns needs to make his case for the subpoenas to his four colleagues and get at least two of them — creating a majority — to demand the records. O’Grady said only if and when APS and Pinnacle West were to refuse to comply, and only after the commission issues an order to compel disclosure, would it be proper for Kiley to intercede.
But Bill Richards, who is representing Burns, told the judge that’s not necessary. He contends the Arizona Constitution specifically gives each commissioner the right to demand documents of regulated utilities. And that, said Richards, trumps everything else.
Anyway, he suggested it would be improper to force Burns to actually ask the other commissioners to vote on his request.
Burns contends that APS may be the source of “dark money” spent to elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little in 2014, a contention the company will neither confirm nor deny.
APS did admit to spending money to elect the three Republican candidates this year: Andy Tobin, Boyd Dunn and Burns himself. But Burns said the money spent on his behalf was only because APS executives were far more scared of the possibility of Democrats getting elected.
What all that means, said Richards, is that the other commissioners may actually be legally disqualified from voting on anything involving APS. And that, he told Kiley, underscores the need for Burns to be able to act on his own — and for the judge to enforce the subpoenas.

Richards said Burns has a legitimate right to seek the documents to get answers to questions he has been asking.
“One is whether or not APS and its parent company have been setting their rate requests in a way to ensure that its customers will unknowingly be funding millions of dollars that the company uses to try and exert and create political influence over its designated regulator,” he told Kiley. Richards said that includes “questionable, perhaps even unlawful coordination between other commissioners and APS or their surrogates.”
“The fear that a regulated monopoly might nevertheless try and capture, through spending millions of dollars, a majority of the commissioners is one reason we respectfully submit that the framers of our constitution wisely granted … each elected commissioner the individual power to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, inspect corporate records,” he said.
That last paragraph sums it up. If the majority of members of the Arizona Corporation Corruption Commission are beholden to an entity regulated by the Commission, then the opportunities for redress seem limited. Burns should get his subpoena. If not, Arizona’s fourth branch of government is reduced to a sack of self-serving scoundrels.

Monday, May 29, 2017

On God, flags, and pledges

The Daily Star’s print edition has a full page ad from Jim Click, the head of Tucson’s automobile empire. He encourages everyone to fly the US flag on this Memorial Day. I won’t do that. I never have. Here’s why.

How many people who fly the flag outside of their residence actually served their country? How many members of Congress who wear those lapel pins served in the armed forces? The fact that I choose not to fly the flag does not diminish my patriotism. That I choose not to wear the lapel pin does not devalue my respect for those who have died or been injured in service of our country. You want to challenge my patriotism? I am a Vietnam Era Vet. I enlisted in the US Army and served for 3.5 years. How many years did you serve?

Another thing I don’t do is utter the words “under God.” Those two words are completely inconsistent with the rest of the Pledge of Allegiance. So before you recite the pledge, consider how “under God” squares with “liberty and justice for all.”

With those thoughts in mind, I found it interesting and appropriate on this day that the Daily Kos presents Ten True Facts Guaranteed to Short-Circuit Republican Brains By Richard Riis (2012/09/04). I here list the first two.

As a public service to those who find themselves inextricably cornered by aggressively ill-informed Republicans at work, on the train or at family gatherings, presented here are ten indisputably true facts that will seriously challenge a Republican’s worldview and probably blow a brain cell or two. At the very least, any one of these GOP-busters should stun and confuse them long enough for you to slip quietly away from a pointless debate and allow you to get on about your business.

  • The United States is not a Christian nation, and the Bible is not the cornerstone of our law.
  • Don’t take my word for it. Let these Founding Fathers speak for themselves:

    John Adams: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797)

    Thomas Jefferson: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” (Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814)

    James Madison: “The civil government … functions with complete success … by the total separation of the Church from the State.” (Writings, 8:432, 1819)

    George Washington: “If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” (Letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789)

    You can find a multitude of similar quotes from these men and most others who signed the Declaration of Independence and/or formulated the United States Constitution. These are hardly the words of men who believed that America should be a Christian nation governed by the Bible, as a disturbingly growing number of Republicans like to claim.

  • The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist.
  • The Pledge was written in 1892 for public school celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Its author was Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, Christian socialist and cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy. Christian socialism maintains, among other ideas, that capitalism is idolatrous and rooted in greed, and the underlying cause of much of the world’s social inequity. Definitely more “Occupy Wall Street” than “Grand Old Party” by anyone’s standard.

    Now read the Kos post for the other, really great, eight.

    BTW: Jim Click’s ad says “We invite everyone to visit our dealerships on Memorial Day, May 29th, to enjoy hot dogs and refreshments.”

    Illustrated news:Remembering the sick, the poor, the old, the young on this memorial day

    MAGA hat
    Best use for a MAGA hat
    Ryan care
    What Paul Ryan wants for you

    Good morning America. Here is a sample of AZBlueMeanie’s assortment of toons for this memorial day.

    Sunday, May 28, 2017

    State Sponsored Discrimination

    Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

    Some parents don’t know best. There. I said it. Let’s face it, some parents aren’t present, some are abusive, and some are drug addicts. Then there are those who are trying their damnedest to provide for their children but their minimum wage jobs (without benefits) just don’t pay enough to make ends meet. Bottom line is, not all parents know how, or care enough to provide, the best they can for their children. Where that is the case, or, when hard working parents need a little help, it is up to all of us in a civil society, to ensure all children are safe and that their basic needs are met. As education reformer John Dewey said over a century ago, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos evidently doesn’t agree. In recent testimony to Congress, no matter what question she was asked about how far states would be allowed to go in discriminating against certain types of students, she kept deflecting to “states rights” and “parental rights,” failing to say at any point in the testimony that she would ensure states receiving federal dollars would not discriminate. From watching her testimony, if she had been the Secretary of Education with Donald Trump as President back in the early 1960s, the Alabama National Guard would undoubtedly never have been called up to integrate the schools.

    This should surprise no one. After all, the entire school reform agenda is really about promoting survival of the fittest. Those who “have” and already do well, will be set up for even more success while those dealing with the challenges poverty presents, will continue to suffer. As far as Betsy DeVos is concerned, the U.S. Department of Education has no responsibility to protect students from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender identity. The hell with Brown vs. Board of Education, she will not step in to ensure states do the right thing for their students. As Jack Covey wrote recently to Diane Ravitch, to Betsy, “choice” is everything and parents should be able to send their children to a black-free, LGBT-free, or Muslim-free school on the taxpayer’s dime if they want to.

    Does that EVEN sound remotely like America to you? How can it be okay for our tax dollars to promote blatant discrimination? This is essentially state-sponsored discrimination. Yes, discrimination has always occurred via self-funded choice. The wealthy have always been able to keep their children away from the rest of us but, it was on their own dime. As it has always been with parents who stretched budgets to live in neighborhoods with the “best” school district as a way to ensure their child had the best chance.

    And despite some attempts to even out the inequity inherent in the system, it persists. Texas superintendent and public school advocate John Kuhn recently wrote about “a phenomenon called ‘inequitable equilibrium’ wherein states are forced by judges to adjust school spending to make it more fair but then, over time, without fail, the state legislatures pass new laws and find workarounds to return to socially acceptable maximum level of school funding inequity.” John goes on to write that, “Voters in centers of power and influence are able to ignore something as esoteric as inequity so long as it only affects relatively voiceless populations in inner cities, border towns, and fading farm towns.”

    Now though, we are saying that taxpayers must pay for the right for parents to segregate their children from those they consider less desirable. Today’s narrative is “the hell with ensuring all kids have equal opportunity, you only have to care about your kid and the taxpayer will help you.” Kuhn writes about “voting majorities in Texas primaries [who] nominate candidates who are religious but not moral, who play-act as righteous representatives of the people’s hearts and values but who, in the crucible of leadership, more and more of the time reveal themselves to be really pretty bad people who are effectively incapable of moral leadership.” John may be talking about Texan candidates and lawmakers, but I’ve seen plenty of the same at the Arizona Capitol. And when he writes that Texan voters “keep electing carnival show barkers who are better at sound bites than sane decisions,” you have to admit you can recognize how that applies to Arizona voters as well. I also find myself identifying with his statement that “Governance has devolved into something like pro wrestling, but it’s school children in underfunded schools who are getting hit with folding chairs.” Of course here in Arizona, I would add that “teachers are getting hit with those folded chairs too.”

    Then, as Kuhn points out, legislators require schools be graded with “uniform criteria while refusing to fund schools uniformly.” This system then ensure schools in poorer communities are branded as bad schools, driving down property values, making it harder to raise local funds for schools or attract new businesses or jobs. “Test-based school accountability combined with inequitable school funding” John says, “is state-sponsored sabotage of cities.”

    It is a sign of the times I am afraid, that it is acceptable to “pick on the little guy” and to “kick a guy when he is down.” It is acceptable for those in power to decide who “wins” and who “loses” and for our nation therefore to be moving toward a caste system where many will never ever have a shot at the American Dream no matter how hard they study and work.

    I’ve been streaming “The Handmaid’s Tale” and find it very disturbing. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It is a clear commentary on how accepting the previously unacceptable, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, can eventually result in horrific consequences no one would have ever believed could come to pass. Prior to the past year, it would never have crossed my mind that something like “The Handmaid’s Tale” could happen in America. Now, I’m not so sure.

    Martha McSally's War on Medicaid

    I’ll get back to that, but first here are some facts beginning with John Cassidy’s New Yorker report on The Republican’s War on Medicaid.

    Many Republican-run states have refused to accept Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, but some—including Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—have agreed to participate. Although the details differ from place to place, the common thread is that Republican governors and legislatures in these states have seized the opportunity get more of their citizens health-care coverage.

    At the national level, however, the Republican Party remains implacably opposed to Medicaid expansion. As the House Republicans’ health-care-reform bill, called the American Health Care Act, makes clear, the Party doesn’t merely want to roll back the Obamacare reforms; it wants to shrink the entire program, transferring it to the states and imposing tight caps on the payments they receive from the federal government.

    That is the blueprint for Medicaid laid out in the latest version of the A.H.C.A., which Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, and his colleagues voted through, earlier this month. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the A.H.C.A., which it released on Wednesday, the bill would reduce over-all federal spending on health care by about $1.1 trillion over ten years. Of that, eight hundred and thirty-four billion dollars—fully three-quarters of the savings—would come from cuts to Medicaid.

    What will repeal do to Arizonans?

    Here are the numbers from a fact-checking report by The Republic (azcentral.com) back in December, How many Arizonans would lose health coverage with an ‘Obamacare’ repeal?

    The most recent data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed 185,497 people in Arizona were enrolled in the marketplace as of Jan. 14. …

    Data from Arizona’s Medicaid provider, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), shows 397,802 adults had insurance through Medicaid because of the ACA expansion as of January.

    AHCCCS Deputy Director Beth Kohler said the expansion through ACA also added 73,224 children over age 6 to Medicaid.

    The total number of kids enrolled in KidsCare as of last month is 13,389, according to AHCCCS. KidsCare was not restored until Sept. 1, so not all eligible children have signed up for coverage. AHCCCS previously estimated 30,000 to 40,000 kids may sign up for KidsCare.

    Those three categories total 669,912, which is about 40,000 fewer than the Urban Institute’s figure.

    The Urban Institute’s researchers used their Health Insurance Policy Simulation Model to analyze the potential impacts of proposed health-care policy decisions based on the most recent data from the American Community Survey, which is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The number of adults and children who gained coverage under the act’s Medicaid expansion, plus the number of people who enrolled through the healthcare.gov marketplace and the number of children on KidsCare is about 40,000 fewer than Alliance for Healthcare Security’s 709,000 figure. It does not include thousands of KidsCare-eligible children who have not yet signed up for coverage, but it is more or less an accurate number.

    So the number of Arizonans at risk Is somewhere between 669,912 and 709,000.

    What effect will repeal have on what’s in your wallet?

    The Tax Policy Center reports on the effects of repealing ACA on taxes paid by families in various income brackets.

    On net, the ACA significantly increased average taxes on families in the top one percent of income, cut taxes on families in the bottom quintiles, and modestly increased taxes on the rest of families.[4] Repealing the ACA taxes in 2025 would provide an average tax cut of $46,000 to families in the top one percent, increasing their after-tax incomes by more than 2 percent (table 2). In contrast, average taxes for families in the bottom and second quintiles would increase by $90 and $170, respectively, reducing their after-tax incomes by at least .4 percent (table 3). Families in the middle quintile would receive an average tax cut of $240, increasing their after-tax incomes by .3 percent.

    Check the original report for links to references. The bottom line here is that the repeal of ACA, Ryan’s AHCA, is a boondoggle, a transfer of wealth to the already wealthy.

    What are the effects in Arizona’s CD2?

    The US House voted, barely, to repeal ACA with the AHCA, aka Ryan-Trump-care. What did our Representative, Martha McSally do? She voted along with the other rabid Republicans for repeal. In fact, her voting record is 100% Trump and puts her among the top 12 members of the US House voting consistsently for the Trump/Republican agenda and against the well-being of her constituents.

    According to numbers compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation and reported by Indivisible in its summary of Affordable Care Act data by congressional district, thousands of McSally’s constituents will be negatively affected by ACA repeal. The Number of People Enrolled in a Marketplace Plan is 19,100 and the Number of People Gaining Coverage From Medicaid Expansion is 28,507, so the Total Number At Risk Due to ACA Repeal in CD2 is 47,607.

    We then might well ask why McSally is voting against the well being of her constituents. And some Arizonan’s are asking exactly that question. Here’s a Letter to the Editor printed in this morning’s Daily Star titled “Where is McSally’s civility, compassion?”

    I appreciate C.J. Karamargin’s column, “The time for civility, respect and understanding is now.” The Tucson community soars when it is a true community, and the threat phoned in to Congresswoman McSally reflected the worse of ourselves and must be denounced. So thank you C.J. But I believe that our political leaders should also reflect the best of our community. CJ’s boss, Congresswoman McSally, cheered on her fellow Republicans to pass their new health care bill yelling ”Let’s get this f—ing thing done!” Not exactly a model of civility. The bill she championed would deny healthcare to millions of Americans, not exactly a paradigm of compassion either.
    Dr. David Sadker

    With a 100% Trump voting record I despair of civil discourse shifting McSally’s behavior. The only other civil, compassionate course of action for us is to use the ballot box to give her the boot in 2018. She should lose by 47,607 votes - the number of her constituents who will be harmed by ACA repeal.

    Friday, May 26, 2017

    Greg Gianforte wins Montana US House seat despite criminal charge

    From the FiveThirtyEight Significant Digits email Friday morning:

    7 points
    Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, who allegedly body-slammed a reporter for asking about the GOP health care repeal plan on Wednesday, won his election in Montana by about seven points and will now be Rep. Greg Gianforte, who allegedly body-slammed a reporter for asking about the GOP health care repeal plan. [FiveThirtyEight]

    That would be the same Gianforte charged with a crime, namely misdemeanor assault. Check out my post. Yesterday (Thursday), Montana GOP candidate for US House charged with assault on reporter.

    The Montana election should not be regarded as an indicator of much of anything. All this, including retraction of endorsements by the major Montana newspapers, happened at the last minute, literally on the eve of the election when most early ballots were already cast. More telling will be what happens to Gianforte in the 2018 election.

    Thursday, May 25, 2017

    Montana GOP candidate for US House charged with assault on reporter

    Last evening, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC reported on the assault by a GOP candidate on a reporter from The Guardian. Greg Gianforte, candidate for US House seat from Montana, was reported to have “body slammed” reporter Ben Jacobs and, according to Fox News, punched him as well.

    The NY Times reports that Greg Gianforte, Montana G.O.P. Candidate, Is Charged in Attack on Reporter, the charge now being misdemeanor assault. The state’s largest newspapers quickly retracted their endorsements of Gianforte. The Guardian reports that Newspapers ditch Republican charged with assaulting Guardian reporter. Snippets from The Guardian report follow.

    A Republican candidate for the US Congress has lost the support of three newspapers in his state after he was charged with the assault of a Guardian reporter who tried to ask him about his party’s healthcare plan.

    Greg Gianforte, who is running for Montana’s congressional seat in a special election to be held on Thursday, was charged with misdemeanour assault after Ben Jacobs made a complaint to police about the incident at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters on Wednesday.

    A witness account of the incident given by a Fox News reporter claims that, after Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, the candidate “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground” before punching him.

    Three of the state’s biggest papers, the Billings Gazette, the Missoulian and the Helena Independent Record announced they would be rescinding their endorsements of Gianforte after the incident.

    In a leader comment, the Billings Gazette’s editorial board said it was “at a loss for words”.

    It added: “While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte’s altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.

    “That’s why the Billings Gazette editorial board is also doing something without precedent: we’re rescinding our editorial endorsement of Greg Gianforte.”

    The Missoulian said it now believed “Gianforte should not represent Montana in the US House of Representatives”.

    It reminded readers how the Republican candidate had dodged questions about whether he would support a repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying he wanted to see a since-published impact assessment by the Congressional Budget Office.

    Jacobs had entered the room to confront Gianforte with the numbers, which showed that thousands of people in Montana would lose healthcare coverage, it said.

    “We will leave it to the legal system to determine [Gianforte’s] guilt or innocence,” the Missoulian said. “But there is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the US House of Representatives.

    “He showed Wednesday night that he lacks the experience, brains and abilities to effectively represent Montana in any elected office.”

    The Helena Independent Record said it was “sick and tired” of Gianforte’s attacks on the press. “In the past, he has encouraged his supporters to boycott certain newspapers, singled out a reporter in a room to point out that he was outnumbered, and even made a joke out of the notion of choking a news writer, and these are not things we can continue to brush off,” the newspaper said.

    “We take our endorsements seriously and retracting an endorsement even more seriously, but we cannot in good faith continue to support this candidate.”

    The three newspapers featured reports of the assault on the front page of Thursday’s papers. The Missoulian also announced it had rescinded its endorsement of Gianforte on the front page.

    Whether all this will make a difference to the election remains to be seen. The Times said that “Over half the estimated total ballots in the contest had been returned by Wednesday.”

    Republicans' budget hides a brutal moral vision with lies layered on more lies

    Budget decisions
    How much can I take from the poor
    and transfer to the rich?

    I know - the budget is Trump’s. But the Congress was set to dispose even before the President proposed.

    In the New Republic, Brian Beutler asks Will Republican Lies Catch Up to Them Before or After They Ruin People’s Lives? Beutler starts by providing a guide to Republican euphemisms. Snippets follow.

    The political durability of conservative economic doctrine owes a great deal to euphemisms. As the main exponents of that doctrine, Republicans seek to distribute income from the poor to the wealthy by gutting social programs and returning the savings to high-income earners through tax cuts. Euphemisms obscure the brutality of that underlying moral vision. The affluent, in the language of the right, are “job creators,” the poor are “dependents,” the central goal (reducing top marginal tax rates) is a “simplification,” the programs losing funding are being “reformed” or “saved,” and the purpose of this reordering, stripped of ideological valence, is “growth.”

    Trump distinguished himself from his Republican primary rivals by repeatedly promising not to cut any of the three largest social spending programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Trump’s first presidential budget breaks that promise quietly with respect to Social Security (by proposing to cut the program’s disability benefit) and outlandishly with respect to Medicaid (which it would essentially halve).

    … CNBC’s John Harwood pinned down Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on the Medicaid question.

    at briefing today, Mulvaney told me Trump promise not to touch Medicaid had been overridden by Trump promise to repeal/replace Obamacare https://t.co/WSafn6ighT
    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) May 23, 2017

    Quaint supply-side spin can’t resolve this contradiction. When Mulvaney said one Trump promise would override another, what he meant was Trump made two incompatible promises and will honor the one that does more harm to the poor and sick. But Mulvaney was not simply covering for the fact that Trump lied. He layered a lie of his own on top of Trump’s.

    It was clear during the campaign that Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific” was in tension with his promise not to cut Medicaid, because the Affordable Care Act included an expansion of Medicaid that many states, including GOP-led ones, have adopted. If Trump and Republicans were proposing now to simply phase out that expansion, Mulvaney’s claim that one promise had “overridden” another would match the facts. But Trump’s proposed Medicaid cuts, which assume both the enactment of AHCA and further cuts to Medicaid, go hundreds of billions of dollars beyond phasing out Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

    Even if Trump had not taken over the Republican Party, conservative shibboleths would be practically useless for the purposes of resolving the party’s contradictory promises to repeal the ACA without throwing millions off of their health insurance, and to leave people with pre-existing conditions vulnerable to discrimination by insurance companies. Republicans were only able to pass the AHCA in the House by deceiving themselves and their voters–in the face of widespread, cross-ideological criticism–about what the impact of the legislation would be. They cast votes on the bill, and then used it as the basis of Trump’s foundational governing blueprint, before the Congressional Budget Office could analyze its impacts on coverage and cost, and settle the dispute.

    When that analysis finally lands on Wednesday [apparently this Wednesday - May 24th - judging from the reporting by MSNBC over the noon hour], it will give form and scope to the lies Republicans told the public about what the bill would do—just as the CBO’s report on a previous, failed version of the AHCA did when it determined that the bill would cause 14 million people to lose their insurance immediately and leave 24 million uninsured over 10 years.

    But Ryan’s Raiders passed the AHCA atrocity anyway. Now …

    Assuming Republicans continue to pursue their agenda as the evidence of their deceptions grows, the question will be whether reality asserts itself before they can enact the AHCA and other priorities, or they beat reality to the punch and deal with the consequences later when the truth catches up to people.

    UPDATE: CBO confirms negative effects of Trumpcare

    Here are snippets from the NY Times alert, G.O.P. Health Bill Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured in a Decade.

    Here’s a number for you. $5,173 and change. That’s how much each of the 23 million uninsured would be contributing to deficit reduction. That’s the value Republicans place on a human life. Then there’s the issue of the sick and the poor not being able to afford insurance. Having a baby? Pay more. Need mental health services? Pay more. All that so that the young and healthy can skip insurance.

    WASHINGTON — A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would leave 14 million more people uninsured next year than under President Barack Obama’s health law — and 23 million more in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. Some of the nation’s sickest would pay much more for health care.

    Under the House bill, the number of uninsured would be slightly lower, but deficits would be somewhat higher, than the budget office estimated before Republican leaders made a series of changes to win enough votes for passage. Beneath the headline-grabbing numbers, those legislative tweaks would bring huge changes to the American health care system.

    In many states, insurance costs could soar for consumers who are sick or have pre-existing conditions, while premiums would fall for the healthy, the new estimate concludes.

    The forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another potential blow to efforts to undo Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Republican senators have said they will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, sounds uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.

    In states that obtain waivers from certain health insurance mandates, “premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,” the budget office said.

    In addition, it said, “out-of-pocket spending on maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services could increase by thousands of dollars.”

    Republicans in Congress generally focus more on reducing health costs than on expanding coverage. Their proposals will inevitably cover fewer people than the Affordable Care Act, they say, because they will not compel people to buy insurance.

    But critics zeroed in on a bifurcated health care system that the bill could create: Those who are sick, at risk of getting sick or nearing retirement would pay more, while those who are young and healthy would pay less. In states that obtain waivers from rules mandating essential health coverage at uniform rates, the legislation could put insurance economically out of reach for some sick consumers.

    “Unless you’re a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. “This report ought to be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican effort to sabotage our health care system.”

    The new report tends to validate criticism of the House Republican bill by AARP and other advocates for older Americans. “For older people with lower income, net premiums” — after tax credits — “would be much larger than under current law, on average,” the budget office said. As an example, it said, for a typical 64-year-old with an annual income of $26,500, the net premium in 2026 would average about $16,000 a year, compared with $1,700 under the Affordable Care Act.

    four horsemen
    The GOP health care plan

    The bill would reduce projected spending on Medicaid, the program for low-income people, by $834 billion over 10 years, and 14 million fewer people would be covered by Medicaid in 2026 — a reduction of about 17 percent from the enrollment expected under current law, the budget office said.

    In a separate report, the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said Wednesday that the House bill would cut taxes for high-income people by $230 billion over 10 years. The bill would repeal provisions of the Affordable Care Act that increased the payroll tax rate for many high-income taxpayers and imposed a surtax on their net investment income.

    That’s not so bad. Remember that “The House bill would reduce federal budget deficits by $119 billion over a decade …”. So the net effect on tax breaks for the rich would only cost us $110 billion.

    The GOPlins have gone on record waging a war against the poor, sick, elderly, and pregnant.

    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Hallelujah reprised: What I missed in Japan

    I missed a lot during my trip to Japan. SNL took a hit, so I am doing penance.

    The SNL cast, led by Alec Baldwin (in his role as Trump) and featuring Scarlett Johansen (as Ivanka complicit), was not shown in Japan - at least I could not get it on my data package. They did a credible version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as their cold start for their last performance of the season. I’ll make up for my missing version by the following.

    Earlier, after the stunning loss by HRC, KateMcKinnon sang a teary version. … the first post-election show began with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton playing the piano on the SNL main stage, singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This is the one to watch if you want to tear-up over the lost possibility of the first woman president of the US.

    Other artists have done it, for example, Judy Collins and Neil Diamond and Susan Boyle and by a priest at a wedding.

    But nothing beats the original song sung (well … spoken) by Cohen himself.

    Viral Video: Is the Trumps' Love on the Rocks?

    With apologies to Neil Diamond for his song, Love on the Rocks.

    … You left me alone here with nothing to hold
    Yesterday’s gone
    Now all I want is a smile

    Trump might not even get that. The slow motion video shows Donald reaching out only for Melania to flick away his hand. Here’s the video from USA Today: Melania Trump appears to swat the president’s hand away.

    First lady Melania Trump is accompanying President Trump on his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief.

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to hold his hand.

    A video of the two arriving in Israel on Monday has gone viral. As they walk down the tarmac, the president seems to reach out for his wife’s hand.

    She then appears to swat it away.

    “Appears”? USA Today has the actual footage as “Israeli newspaper Haaretz slowed down the moment”.

    Polls: AZ CD2 leans left while Congresswoman McSally falls right

    AZ Dems should be able to take back the CD2 House seat. McSally’s solid right-wing, 100%-Trump record does not reflect her constituents.

    The Republic (azcentral.com) reports that Arizona congresswoman’s GOP-leaning district is drifting leftward.

    U.S. Rep. Martha McSally’s hold on southern Arizona’s competitive congressional district may have loosened in recent weeks, three national political analysts say.

    Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan website that tracks political races, moved McSally’s seat Friday from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

    It was one of 19 such races nationally that Gonzales sees drifting leftward.

    Earlier this month, David Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report, and Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, reached similar conclusions for that race.

    McSally’s support for the deeply unpopular GOP health-care bill that passed the House earlier this month is expected to be an issue in the 2018 elections.

    A poll conducted earlier this month by a Democratically aligned firm found 53 percent disapprove of McSally’s job performance. Meanwhile, 40 percent approved of how she is doing, according to the poll by Public Policy Polling.

    A race to watch

    McSally won her second term in Washington last year by easily defeating Democrat Matt Heinz in a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won by nearly 5 percentage points over Republican President Donald Trump.

    “Arizona GOP Rep. Martha McSally took 57 percent in her Tucson district versus President Trump’s 44 percent,” Wasserman wrote. “However, like so many other relatively new Republicans, she has never had to run in a midterm in which voters will view their choice as a referendum on the party in the White House.”

    Kondik wrote that the McSally race remains one to watch next year.

    “Her district is competitive enough that she’ll have a hard time ever being completely secure, and if the health care bill does become a big issue next year, Democrats will assuredly be referring back to an anecdote about her role in its passage,” he said.

    Not surprisingly, R’s and D’s have different expectations about 2018. “McSally’s campaign manager, brushed aside expectations of a tighter race.”

    McSally’s district is among the nation’s most evenly divided between registered Democrats and registered Republicans. She won her first term by just 167 votes. She’s been one of the most prolific fundraisers among House members not holding a leadership role, while cultivating a reputation as a conscientious and moderate lawmaker.

    That’s the Magical Moderate McSally Makeover - different haircut, different spin, same right-wing agenda. “… McSally has solidly supported the Trump agenda in roll-call votes in the House, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.”

    The poll by Public Policy Polling found that 56 percent of respondents said they were less likely to vote for McSally when they were told she voted for the GOP health-care bill, which the firm characterized as throwing 24 million off their health coverage.

    That is drawn from an estimate of the effects of an earlier version of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office. An updated analysis of the bill is expected next week.

    Democrats are eager to make McSally answer for the health-care vote.

    “In the aftermath of Congresswoman McSally’s disastrous Repeal & Ripoff vote, avoidance of regular meetings with her constituents, and refusal to support an independent commission to investigate Russia’s meddling in our election, McSally is increasingly unlikely to win re-election,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    How much does it cost to swing a 110 billion dollar deal?

    On Same Weekend as Record-Breaking Arms Deal, Saudis Announced $100 Million Donation to Ivanka Fund, writes Jen Hayen (Daily Kos). Over the weekend, Jared Kushner was credited with negotiating a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis.

    There are three numbers to understand. $110,000,000,000 and $100,000,000 and 0.09%.

    The donations and the White House are not tied. Definitely not. No way! It is a total coincidence the $100 million dollar donation is being made the same weekend a $110 billion arms deal is announced. And never mind that Ivanka Trump is traveling to Saudi Arabia in her official capacity as an ‘Assistant to the President of the United States.’

    Let’s recall Donald Trump’s reaction when it came to the Saudis donating to the Clinton Foundation. From October 2016:

    When Chris Wallace asked Clinton about reports of conflicts of interest at the foundation, she responded, “I’m thrilled to talk about the Clinton Foundation because it is a world renowned charity and I’m so proud of the work that it does.”

    Trump shot in that it’s a “criminal enterprise.”

    “Saudi Arabia given $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries. You talk about women and women’s rights? These are people that push gays off business, off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money,” Trump said. "So I’d like to ask you right now why don’t you give back the money that you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly?

    Anyone out there want to defend Trump? Kushner? Or how about Ivanka? Or might you believe in coincidences? Or did it only cost the Saudis 0.09% of the 110 billion sales price to firm up the deal? As Trump himself said, it’s a “criminal enterprise.” Just speculating. Bigly.

    Getting less free for less

    Paul Krugman argues that “we’re getting less free as time goes by” in his NY Times column The Unfreeing of American Workers. He provides two examples.

    Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. … At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. … At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

    … there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

    Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

    But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

    Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

    But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

    You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

    And who are those “very people”?

    American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

    The thing is: these conservatives’ apparent goal is a two-class society: the serfs are the poor, the sick, the very young, the very old. Their masters are the moneyed class. And they achieve that goal by sucking the freedom from our society much as the Dementors in the Harry Potter series drained life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from everyone they touched.

    “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” -Dementor defined.

    I don’t recall J. K. Rowling mentioning a Dementor-in-Chief. But had she written the series after 2016 she might have included such a creature in her novels.

    Monday, May 22, 2017

    Washington, D. C: Donald's Coverups

    Nixon

    Your Scriber is on the train to Narita airport to catch a flight home. Then I ran into the toons from AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona). Now I’m rethinking this whole thing. We’ve got about 70 days left on our visa and lots of plastic.

    Nothing here

    Saturday, May 20, 2017

    What Trump on the ropes can do to the GOP - and the rest of us

    Don’t celebrate yet - Trump on the ropes is a dangerous animal

    Sasha Abramsky (The Nation) issues a serious warning that Trump Is a Cornered Megalomaniac—and That’s a Grave Danger to the Country He will likely resort to all the tricks of the demagogue as he fights for his survival.

    Now he is, to put it mildly, on the ropes. His policy priorities are in a shambles, the courts are blocking his immigration “reforms,” and day by day he is being subjected to a regimen of leaks that are the political equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.

    Men like Trump do not fade gently into their political night. Rather, with all nuance sacrificed in pursuit of their senescent need for the spotlight, they scrabble and scratch, lash out and fight. With no self-limiting or self-correcting moral gyroscope, they go down whatever paths they believe offer them the best chance of survival.

    We have to assume that Trump will, in desperation, at some point try to unleash his mob; that he will try to intimidate and harass into silence those who oppose him. We have to assume that he will try to manufacture—or exacerbate—international crises as a way of rallying on-the-fencers to his side. We also have to assume that, as he grows more unstable and more self-pitying, he will make more enemies on all sides—and that those enemies in turn will only fuel his fury.

    Yes, it’s a cause for celebration that this miserable, cruel man is on the ropes. But let’s not celebrate prematurely. There is much work to be done still to neutralize his demagogic hold over the country; and while that work is being done, we must stay more vigilant than ever against his increasingly destructive actions. He is a soulless, amoral thug, a con artist now fighting for his life. I do not doubt that, in the end, he will be destroyed—that all of those craven, fair-weather friends, those men and women in the GOP whom he embarrassed and humiliated, mocked and deliberately hurt throughout the primary process but who embraced him upon his electoral success, will turn on him as soon as they believe they can so do without destroying their own political careers. I do not doubt that he will be derided in the history books as an unmitigated catastrophe for the country. But while those fair-weather friends are still girding for their fight, and the historians are still whetting their pens, Trump, our wounded despot, remains a clear and present danger.

    And among those at risk are members of his own party. Read on.

    From the Right: Will Trump take down the GOP?

    Assuming that Trump will take the fall, what damage will he inflict on the way down? Even some influential conservatives anticipated serious damage to the Republican party - even before the election was done. For example:

    [Rick] Wilson, Republican consultant and writer [1, 2], had little patience for the idea that Trump might still turn it around. “He’s 70 years old. He’s a narcissistic sociopath. He’s not going to change,” he said. “There is no better version of Donald Trump, no mindful, serious, presidential version, only the reality-TV, con-man, pro-wrestling dipshit Donald Trump.”

    Here’s another, current example from the Washington Post’s Opinion pages.

    Erick Erickson, editor of The Resurgent (a “home for conservative activists”), makes a prediction about the Republican party: Here comes the GOP bloodbath. Here are snippets.

    Donald Trump was able to connect with voters with whom he had nothing in common largely because the Clinton campaign left a vacuum on the other side of the aisle, which Trump gladly filled. Nonetheless, throughout 2016 I maintained my opposition to Trump for three reasons, two of which are increasingly, worryingly relevant.

    First, I did not think Trump could beat Hillary Clinton. When it came to the popular vote, of course, he did not, but thanks to roughly 70,000 people in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, he won the presidency.

    Second, I thought that Trump, even if he won, would be deeply destructive to the national fabric and to the conservative ideas I support.

    Third, I strongly believed that Trump lacks moral character and that he sets a bad example both for my children and for people of faith. I repeatedly said throughout the campaign that if God wanted Trump in the White House, he would not need Christians to dirty themselves to make it happen.

    Unfortunately, while I was wrong about my first concern, I am increasingly worried about the latter two. Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters often told me that whether we liked Trump or not, we needed him to save the Supreme Court. My response remains that four years of Clinton appointing judges, while awful, would be nothing compared with a generational wipeout of the GOP. Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but the defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.

    A Republican reckoning is on the horizon. Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with a Republican Party unable to govern. And congressional Republicans increasingly find themselves in an impossible position: If they support the president, many Americans will believe they are neglecting their duty to hold him accountable. But if they do their duty, Trump’s core supporters will attack them as betrayers — and then run primary candidates against them.

    The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser — all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.

    Read more of the Washington Post opinion piece to get details of Erickson’s case that I left out.

    As I concluded back in March of 2016 [3], the demise of the GOP “is not a cause for celebration but rather a reason for concern. Recall what arose from the ashes of the Weimar Republic.”

    Friday, May 19, 2017

    The GOPlins' fealty to their unhinged master stops congressional oversight

    Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) asks (and answers) Will Republicans ever rein in Trump? Only when this happens.

    It bears repeating that the near-total GOP abdication of oversight is sorely testing our system on multiple fronts. Republicans are doing nothing to try to compel Trump to release his tax returns or otherwise be transparent about his business holdings, even as he advances a tax plan that could deliver him and his family an enormous windfall, and even as we do not even know how his other policies will impact those holdings. Nor are Republicans condemning Trump’s use of the nation’s diplomatic business to promote Mar-a-Lago and steer cash into his own pockets. On Russia, it’s perfectly plausible … that Republicans will try use the special counsel as an excuse to dial back meaningful oversight.

    Bottom line: There are no indications that Republicans are willing to compromise hopes of passing their agenda by treating Trump as the threat to our democracy that he truly represents. As James Fallows points out, it remains unclear whether Republicans will ever act “as if larger principles are at stake.” It appears they will do this only if the public backlash — fueled, perhaps, by Trump’s own further descent into unhinged authoritarianism — is severe enough to force them to.

    The GOPlins really don’t care about Trump’s use of the Presidency for self-enrichment. Said GOPlins are getting what they wanted from their deal with the devil. As long as they get theirs, they will do nothing to counter the “unhinged authoritarianism” that is doing real damage to the nation.

    As Tom Friedman wrote the other day, counting on a few good men and women to step up does not seem productive. We need millions to be politically active and to vote against Trump’s GOP lackeys.

    Not Ready to Make Nice - in Japan

    Today we were shopping at the Jupiter Tokyo store in the Matsue (Japan) rail station. This is a very sophisticated station with high end shopping and lots of good cafes (inc. Starbucks). The store was playing muzak. I heard the opening chords of a song that chilled me to the core and yet fired my heart. The song was Not Ready to Make Nice sung by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. (I’ve given you the link to a YouTube clip.)

    This little story is important for four reasons. First, in a personal frame, the song and its motivation happened when the Scribers were faculty members at Texas Tech University in Lubbock TX. Maines hails from Lubbock.

    Second, The Dixie Chicks were the hottest country act around. But Maines, from the stage of a European concert, unloaded on then President George Dubya Bush for his Iraq war that was based on what we would now call fake news.

    Country stations across the United States have pulled the Chicks from playlists following reports that lead singer Natalie Maines said in a concert in London earlier this week that she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

    Those remarks led to the demise of the Chicks as a star-line group - see, for example, Dixie Chicks pulled from air after bashing Bush, Saturday, March 15, 2003 Posted: 0045 GMT

    Third, the music industry retaliated by giving a Grammy to the Chicks for the album containing Not Ready to Make Nice and lots of other bitter-sweet songs, like _Bitter_End_, dirge for lost friends.

    Fourth, in hindsight we should have seen it coming. The Bushies were riding high and were getting away with everything. They got their war. And the Chick’s fans deserted them because they spoke the truth (and the Bushies lied). All that was the forerunner to the current split in America that was revealed by the election of a pathological liar who still commands support of those same people who ditched the Chicks.

    Thursday, May 18, 2017

    Washington is finally understanding that The Donald is delusional

    Republican consultant Rick Wilson in a Washington Post op-ed advises those around/under Trump If you work for Trump, it’s time to quit. After the Comey firing and the Russia intel leak, the I’m-taking-one-for-the-team ship has sailed.

    You already know you can’t save the president because he doesn’t want to be saved. You already know there’s not another, better version of Trump getting ready to show up. You’re smart. You’re loyal. You’re sniffing the wind like a gazelle, nose filled with the scents of predators. You don’t want to break from the pack too soon, but there’s greater risk in waiting too long.

    Greg Sargent at the Washington Post/Plum Line provides good reason for those Trumpists to bail in Trump is totally delusional about what’s happening to him right now.

    The appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the election puts the Trump presidency in substantially greater peril than it was in only 24 hours ago. But, remarkably enough, this did not even have to happen at all — it only happened because the unhinged behavior of President Trump himself made it happen.

    Yet it’s not clear that Trump’s less-than-vise-like grip on reality permits him to even grasp this.

    Trump took to twitter to complain about a “witch hunt.”

    But, despite Trump’s suggestion that he is being victimized by a witch hunt, and that a more adept PR strategy could minimize the damage, this is a situation entirely of Trump’s own making. And each of Trump’s actions leading up to this moment are rooted deep in Trump’s autocratic and authoritarian impulses; his total contempt for basic institutional processes; and his tendency, when his sense of grievance strikes, to slip into a delusional belief that he can overwhelm the institutional independence of his persecutors the way he might steamroll someone in a business deal.

    The point is not just that Trump’s actions are entirely to blame for the appointment of the special counsel. It’s also that there are no indications that Trump even understands this. And on top of that, these actions themselves — which simply did not have to happen — will now likely be probed by the special counsel, too.

    When will we know that the pack (as Wilson put it) is breaking from Trump? New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz has an idea in the latest Borowitz report.

    WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—House Speaker Paul Ryan has set a Google News alert to notify him of the instant that Donald Trump becomes unpopular enough to turn against, Ryan revealed on Thursday.

    The news alert, which Ryan said was set to the phrase “Trump approval rating falls below fifty per cent among Republican voters,” will inform the House Speaker of the precise moment “that I can bail on President Trump at no political cost to me,” Ryan explained.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    If Trump were a CEO he would be fired giving trade secrets to the competition ...

    … just one among multiple offenses against his company.

    I’ve been thinking about the apparent disparity between Trump’s supposed success as a businessman and his totally screwed up performance as our President. How could he succeed in business doing the things he has done to our nation. Thus I was primed by John Cassidy’s headline in the New Yorker, If Donald Trump were a CEO, he’d probably be fired today. I immediately thought in concrete terms. If Trump were CEO of Coca Cola and had a cozy relationship with its main competitor, Pepsico, would Trump now still be CEO?

    I started to write the story but then read Cassidy’s full article. So, with apologies to Cassidy, I’m going to translate his narrative into my Coca Cola and Pepsico story. Other than for changing names and some roles, the writing is Cassidy’s.

    Donald Trump has built his political career on his reputation as a successful businessman, so it seems fair to assess his recent performance as President as if he were a C.E.O. running Coca Cola. The report card isn’t pretty. Indeed, if Trump were the chief executive of a public company, the firm’s non-executive directors probably would have been huddled in a crisis meeting on Tuesday morning, deciding whether to issue him a pink slip.

    In such a corporate scenario, the board members would likely decide they had no choice but to oust Trump to protect the reputation of the company and prevent further damage. During the past week, he has twice messed up monumentally, doing grave harm to his own credibility and undermining the company’s reputation around the world. And these were just his latest mistakes. During his four months in the corner office, Trump has repeatedly shown that he is patently unsuited for the position he holds, and he has also demonstrated a chronic inability to change the way he operates.

    It was bad enough when, this time last week, he fired one of the company’s most senior compliance employees, James Comey, and then went on television and contradicted the official version of the dismissal, which his deputy, Mike Pence, and others had stated publicly. Not for the first time since Trump took over, the firm’s public-relations department was left scrambling, and Pence was sorely embarrassed. Trump’s subsequent outbursts on Twitter, in which he appeared to threaten Comey, only made a bad situation worse. The entire episode confirmed the impression that Trump puts his own interests, and his personal grievances, ahead of his duties to the company.

    But that wasn’t the nadir. On Monday we learned, courtesy of a blockbuster story in the Washington Post, of another big blunder on Trump’s part. The day after he canned Comey, Trump revealed some of Coca Cola’s trade secrets to senior executives from a key rival, Pepsico, which only last year did all it could to sabotage one of Coca Cola’s key product launches. Just how much damage Trump’s indiscretions have inflicted on the company isn’t yet known. But it’s clear that he was guilty of a serious breach of trust, and another stunning error of judgment.

    Since he was chosen as C.E.O., last November, it has been one thing after another. But, partly because stock in the company has risen despite it all, most of Coca Cola’s senior executives and big shareholders have until now stayed loyal to Trump. On Monday, however, there were signs of dissension in the ranks, with some people in the company registering alarm at what is going on at the top.

    “Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now, and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Bob Corker, who helps lead Coca Cola’s Tennessee division, said after the Washington Post story appeared. “The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating … a worrisome environment.” Susan Collins, a widely respected company veteran from the firm’s Maine office, told reporters, “Can we have a crisis-free day? That is all I am asking.”

    Perhaps the most worrying sign for Trump came from Coca Cola’s corporate headquarters, in Washington, D.C., where Paul Ryan, the company’s head of product development, who is widely regarded as a key Trump ally, expressed concern about the latest turn of events. While not referring to Trump directly, Ryan said in a statement that “protecting our company’s secrets is paramount.”

    That ends Scriber’s editing.

    So here is the question: Would the real Coca Cola company stand by a CEO who gave trade secrets to it’s main competitor?

    Cassidy winds up.

    To be sure, I am stretching the corporate analogy here—Ryan said “our country’s secrets,” not “our company’s secrets”—but it brings out an important point. Most major corporations wouldn’t put up with Trump-like behavior. They have well-established rules and procedures for dealing with a C.E.O. who has gone rogue. If a firm’s board of directors sees the boss acting erratically and seriously undermining the firm’s long-term interests, it can step in and find a replacement. (At the very least, it can issue a reprimand and launch an internal inquiry to find out what has gone wrong.)

    Politics doesn’t work like that, of course. More than sixty million Americans voted for Trump, and removing him from office would be a monumental undertaking. In light of Trump’s disclosures of classified information to Russia, some legal experts argued on Monday night that Congress could impeach him for violating his oath of office, in which he pledged to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States”—but that seems a long way off. Despite the latest statements from Ryan, Corker, and others, the G.O.P.’s leaders have come nowhere close to publicly supporting such a move.

    On Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter and sought to defend himself. He didn’t deny that he had given classified information to the Russians. Instead, he pointed out that, as President, he has the right to declassify secrets, which is true. He also said he did it for “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against isis & terrorism.”

    This wasn’t how the Washington Post framed the story: the newspaper reported that Trump, in his meeting last Wednesday with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, appeared to “be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat.” Quoting an unnamed U.S. official who had knowledge of the exchange, the story quoted Trump as saying, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” That is our President, and our C.E.O.

    In our respective narratives, Cassidy and I see Congress as the Board of Directors. But many of the Coca Cola Board has been bought out by Pepsico. The remainder are afraid of Trump or are acting to protect their own Board memberships. Thus we cannot count on the Board to do the things that are best for the company country.

    For more along those lines, consult Tom Friedman’s op-ed on what we shareholders must do in the absence of a responsible Board of Directors, It’s Chicken or Fish. Here are snippets.

    Since President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

    But we already know the answer: No.

    The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.

    It has not been without costs. Trump has made every person in his orbit look like either a “liar or a fool,” as David Axelrod put it. So call off the search. There will be no G.O.P. mutiny, even if Trump resembles Captain Queeg more each day.

    That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

    Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

    So I have two requests of my readers. As an exercise, convert Friedman’s paragraphs above into the Coca Cola vs. Pepsico narrative. Second, then behave as responsible shareholders and vote Trump and his sycophants out at the next shareholder meeting in 2018. Trump is not good for business, so give him the boot.

    Sunday, May 14, 2017

    Being Russian and connected to Trump is dangerous to your health

    Are you OK with coincidences? Try this one from bipartisanreport.com: Another Russian Connected To Trump Has Turned Up Dead – That’s 8 So Far.

    All of the Russians tied to President Donald Trump, according to the dossier that American intelligence agencies corroborated and a former British MI6 agent compiled, are dropping dead.

    Yet another Russian who was directly identified in the Donald Trump/Russia dossier have died under suspicious circumstances. Alex Oronov, the first of the list to be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Trump Hollywood, has now died. No details yet are available surrounding how he died, but it is reported that he was 69 years old and in good health.

    Oronov was a Russian/Ukrainian/American who allegedly arranged the meeting between the Trump and Putin administrations where Putin was ensured no action would be taken against Russia over Crimea. It has been suggested that these details are what arrived on National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn’s shortly before he resigned.

    This meeting is said to have taken place with a former Russian business partner of Trump’s, a Felix Sater. Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, and Andreii Artemenko, a pro-Russia Ukrainian, were also present according to some reports.

    All of those inadequately substantiated allegations aside, the death of this individual cannot be ignored as it seems to provide more weight to the above story.

    For more on the other deaths, see the bipartisanreport.com piece.

    This all sounds like it’s too crazy to be true, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t fake at all. These deaths are real, the circumstances are real, the only things that aren’t substantiated are the connections identified prior as allegations. But it certainly seems awfully coincidental that following the news breaking of this alleged meeting and these deals spelling ties, conspiracy and blackmail, that nearly every person involved has dropped dead.

    If our Congressional committees drag out the investigations of Trump’s Russian connections for long enough, all the leads will be gone. And, voila, there will be no substance to the allegation of Russian interference in our election - just as Trump has said all along.