Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Charting the Trump Economy

Center for American Progress summarizes The Trump Economy in One Chart.

Trump’s economic agenda has been relentlessly aimed at helping big corporations, the wealthy, and Trump himself at the expense of the rest of us—and it’s succeeding wildly.

New numbers show that for Americans, real wages are stagnant and even declining because consumer prices (costs for everyday spending) are rising. Americans are losing purchasing power: “A separate report released Friday (Aug. 10) showed average hourly earnings were flat in July, and average weekly earnings fell 0.2%”

At the same time, big corporations are stuffing their pockets thanks to Trump & Co.’s December tax scam, and making sure not one drop trickles down.

Profits vs. wages
Trumponomics in one chart

‘I don’t understand why the Democrats are not pounding on this chart every single day’ is the headline of a Daily Kos piece (authored by “Aldous J Pennyfarthing ”). This piece has more commentary and another revealing chart.

Donald Trump said the Republican tax bill would boost the average family’s disposable income by $4,000.

Donald Trump said wealthy people like him would lose big after the bill was passed.

Donald Trump says a lot of things. Hardly any of them are true.

And here’s the stark proof that, when it comes to the Republican tax scam, Trump’s critics were right, while Trump was just wanking off to an ‘80s pin-up of the Laffer curve … [See first chart.]

… it is quite the chart. It’s so eye-opening, in fact, it prompted equities analyst and Bloomberg Television contributor Barry Ritholtz to state: “I don’t understand why the Democrats are not pounding on this chart every single day from now until the midterm election.”

Productivity vs. wages
More Trumponomics in action

Coincidentally, the [first] chart looks eerily similar to a graph that shows a sharp divergence between wages and productivity since Ronald Reagan made the world safe for greedy assholes again: [Second chart]

Democrats, feel free to use any and all of these. Voters really need to see them over and over and over again until November 6 — and beyond.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

'A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion'

Why is Trump alienating our European allies?
Why did Trump support Brexit?
Why did the Republican party remove a plank advocating helping the Ukraine?
Why was a Trump server communicating with the Russian Alfa Bank?
Why has the top leadership of the FBI all (but one) been fired?
Why has Trump failed to execute the congress-approved sanctions on Russia?
Why was, and is, Trump having secret meetings with Putin?
Why has Manafort clammed up? Is he afraid for his life?
Why does Trump charge the free press as “enemy of the people”?
Why did Russia, Putin really, interfere with the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Clinton?
Why is Trump ignoring his intelligence community’s conclusions about 2016? And 2018?

Is there a coherent explanation that ties these questions together?

Yes. As I blogged back in July, “There are just too many … pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.”

Yesterday (Aug. 13th), at Blog for Arizona, Michael Bryan asked What if Trump Really is a Russian Dupe? The motivation for that question is this Daily Intelligencer piece by Jonathan Chait, Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler? A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion.

The above list of questions is a small sample of the ground covered by Chait. Below are teasers from the beginning of Chait’s essay.

The media has treated the notion that Russia has personally compromised the president of the United States as something close to a kook theory. A minority of analysts, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have promoted aggressively exculpatory interpretations of the known facts, in which every suspicious piece of evidence turns out to have a surprisingly innocent explanation. And it is possible, though unlikely, that every trail between Trump Tower and the Kremlin extends no farther than its point of current visibility.

What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect. After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered — scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information — has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?

Chait is on the right path. Consider three pieces of evidence, each explained by a unique “surprisingly innocent explanation.”

Evidence A is explained by W
Evidence B is explained by X
Evidence C is explained by Y

Then consider a simpler explanation of A, B, and C:

Evidence A is explained by Z
Evidence B is explained by Z
Evidence C is explained by Z

According to the principles of explanatory coherence, we should prefer the second case because of the explanatory breadth of Theory Z. The British Psychological Society asserts that “The criterion of explanatory breadth is the most important criterion for choosing the best explanation. It captures the idea that a theory is more explanatorily coherent than its rivals if it explains a greater range of facts.”

And that is what Chait aspired to in his essay.

Consider this one required reading. Set aside a half hour or so. Be prepared to be scared.

What's in your wallet? Not so much from the GOP tax cut if you are a wage earner.

Ask not for whom the closing bell tolls. If you are a working wage earner, it does not toll for thee.

The NY Times Editorial Board poses a question about Republican promises and performance: You Know Who the Tax Cuts Helped? Rich People.

When Republicans were pitching a massive tax cut for corporations and wealthy families last year, they promised voters many benefits: increased investment, higher wages and a tax cut that pays for itself. The tax plan, congressional leaders said, would turbocharge the American economy and provide a much-needed helping hand to working-class families.

“Most people, half the people in this country, live paycheck to paycheck, so there’s a lot of economic anxiety,” the House speaker, Paul Ryan, told The Times in November. “And I think just one of the key solutions is faster economic growth, more jobs. And I think the best thing we could do to deliver that is tax reform.”

So, more than six months since President Trump signed the tax cut into law, is it delivering on the promises Mr. Ryan and other leaders made?

Here are snippets providing evidence for an answer to that question. The short answer is NO!

The most notable outcome of the tax law is one that few Republicans talked about: Companies are buying back their own stock — a lot of it. Stock buybacks are expected to reach a record $1 trillion this year. After Congress reduced the top federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, businesses are flush with cash. Lawmakers also let companies repatriate foreign earnings that they have been amassing at a rate of 15.5 percent for cash and 8 percent for other assets.

By spending a big chunk of their tax windfall on buying back shares, businesses are boosting demand for and, thus, the price of their stock. It is no wonder then that the S&P 500 stock index is trading near its high.

Everyone in Washington knew companies would do the buy-back thing. The last time there was a tax cut, that’s what companies did. Well, maybe everyone except for Republicans knew what to expect.

But those buybacks do nothing for workers’ wages.

The idea that the tax cuts were going to line workers’ pockets was always a mirage. Most people will enjoy only a modest and temporary tax cut — families earning $25,000 or less will save on average just $60 on their federal tax this year, and those making between $48,600 and $86,100 will save $930, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Families in the top 1 percent, on the other hand, will save an average of $51,140.

The Times presents graphical evidence that spending on buybacks resulted in flat-lined investment and actual decline of real wages.

And we are experiencing a massive increase in national debt to pay for the corporate tax give-aways.

“Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said. This statement was absurd when Mr. Mnuchin made it, but it looks even more ridiculous now. The deficit and the federal debt are growing — and at a stunning pace. In the current fiscal year, the federal government will spend $912 billion more than it collects in revenue, an increase of 39 percent from the 2017 fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Thanks to the tax cut, the government will take in about 1 percent less in the 2018 fiscal year than it did the year before. Corporate tax revenue is plummeting — the C.B.O. predicts a drop of 27 percent this year. At the same time, the federal government will spend nearly 5 percent more, due, in large part, to Mr. Trump’s insistence on more defense spending.

Over the coming decades, the federal debt could nearly triple as a share of the gross domestic product if Congress makes the Trump tax cut and spending increase permanent, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Lawmakers have talked about extending the cuts in last year’s law beyond the next 10 years — something they did with some of the cuts passed during the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to do that,” the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said in April.

The evidence presented here leads me to paraphrase McConnell: I don’t know why you WOULD want to do that.

One thing we now know for certain (although we have known it for some time already) is that the GOP is the party of tax gifts for the rich and deficit spending that will be born on the backs of workers like a cross of orange hair.

Today, many Republicans seem to realize that the tax cut has become a political liability, which is why they aren’t talking about it ahead of the November election. Even they realize that it doesn’t do any of what they promised.

Economic injustice

We should view this tax policy as a major contributor to the rising income and wealth inequalities. Not since just before the Great Depression has the 1% controlled this much wealth—what that means writes Leslie Salzillo at Daily Kos.

Via MarketWatch, a news group considered to be one of the most prominent in today’s financial industry, Karl Paul reports that in the last 20–30 years, the disparity between the rich and more as grown more than it did right before the devastating Great Depression. Paul adds:

“In 2015, ‘the top 1% of Americans made 26.3 times as much income as the bottom 99 percent — an increase from 2013, when they earned 25.3 times as much, according to a recent study released by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank.’”

That means to become part of the 1% elite, a family needs to have an average annual income of over $420k with some states having a higher bar. “The top 1% took home more than 22% of al income in 2015—the highest share since the peak of 23.9%—just before the 1928 Great Depression.”

Paul mentions that in early August, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became the richest person of today when his wealth surpassed $150 billion. To break that down, one would have to make $1 million dollars 150,000 times. Bezos fortune and those of the richest in Silicon Valley and Hollywood affects the country. The 1% grew faster than the bottom 99% in 43 states.

“Meanwhile, the median net worth of Americans currently hovers at $68,828 per household. One in five Americans says savings and less than 40% of Americans say they have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit or car repair.”

“The EPI — a liberal nonprofit associated with the labor movement — recommends returning bargaining power to U.S. workers, increasing political participation by all citizens, and boosting public investments in child care, education, housing and health care. ‘Such policies will help prevent the wealthiest few from appropriating more than their fair share of the nation’s expanding economic pie,” Sommeiller said..”

So, where does this lead? Could there be another Great Depression? It seems if things don’t change, a real financial catastrophe for the rich could happen any day affecting the poor even worse. How do we remedy the problem? Perhaps one way would be by getting rid of the current illegitimate so-called president and his complicit and corrupt administration and Republican-led Congress. Not giving billions in tax breaks to the ultra rich and corporations, and having those billions of over at least 10 major taxes benefits, job cuts, and write-offs (via Mother Jones)—be distributed to the poor instead—might help. Imagine how the economy could change for the better if the poor could afford to buy more.

It’s hard to say if change will happen unless any time soon unless, as the EPI says, there is an increase in political participation by all citizens: unless less country’s Resistance grows.

11-year old hacks election website in less than 10 minutes. That and Illustrated Gnus for the week.

From 538’s significant digits email:
11 years old
Last week, at the hacking convention DEFCON, 11-year-old Emmett Brewer hacked into a replica of Florida’s election website, changing its voting results. It took him less than 10 minutes. … [PBS]

Will the Russians offer him a contract?

IQ

Here are a few more of the themes in this week’s Mournday Mourning’s Illustrated Gnus from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • GOP’s Trumpcare costs nearly nothing, whacks preexisting conditions
  • Melania’s melody: chain migration works … for my family
  • Trump chooses space force as a distraction: no cyber corps, no free press, no collusion, …
  • GOP enters Blue Wave surfing contest. Bookmakers taking bets on a 7% loss in November.
  • Trump blames California for wild fires. Actually, he blamed the trees but, you see, the trees are in California, so …

Monday, August 13, 2018

The real story on David Garcia's book, 'School Choice'

New Book by David Garcia, Arizona Candidate for Governor, is a Blueprint to Dismantle Public Education was posted to Blog for Arizona on August 9th by Larry Bodine. I read that review with a sense of disquiet. For one thing, Bodine’s quotes and comments run 180 degrees opposite to what Garcia has publicly stated in his plan for Arizona education. For another, the overall tone seemed more like a political hit piece rather than a dispassionate review of a scholarly work. As such, Bodine’s post was bound to elicit more emotional reactions than reasoned policy analyses.

Sure enough, “Disturbing book by Garcia against public education” was the title of a quick reaction. And, sure enough, it spawned emotionally charged to-and-fro.

In my estimation, what is disturbing is that title. Therefore I was glad to see that someone who knows about educational policy issues read the book and wrote an informed review of it.

Also from Blog for Arizona, Bob Lord posted David Safier, Former BfAZ blogger: Bodine Depiction of Garcia Book “Wrong”.

If there were a hall of fame for Blog for Arizona writers, David Safier certainly would occupy a premier space. David wrote over 3,000 posts here before moving on to his current gig at Tucson Weekly’s The Range. His posts here covered many topics, but mainly on his passion, education policy. His posts always were thoughtful.

After reading Larry Bodine’s hit piece on David Garcia’s book, “School Choice,” David reviewed the book himself and wrote his own piece at The Range, A Review of David Garcia’s Book, “School Choice”.

Here’s Safier’s take:

BODINE’S DEPICTION OF THE BOOK IS, IN A WORD, WRONG.

In other words, David agreed with Brahm Resnik’s characterization of Bodine’s piece as a “gross distortion.”

Safier went a bit further than Resnik:

Of the people who have had a chance to read the book and comment on it in the media, I probably have the most experience reading education books. I have amassed a significant number of postgraduate units in the field, and I’ve continued reading education works, ranging from blog posts to articles to books, on a daily basis. Though I have expressed my support for Garcia, I also know how to read these kinds of texts for content and possible political leanings without letting my personal opinions interfere.

What Garcia has written is a book on the history of school choice beginning in colonial days and continuing through 2017. It is meant to be an objective overview of the subject, and it succeeds in that regard. If I had never heard of David Garcia and read this book, I wouldn’t know his personal opinions on the subject. Though it is written for general consumption, it would be a valuable book to assign in any college course on the history of education, from Education 101 through graduate school.

Safier also noted that Maria Polletta at The Arizona Republic has reviewed Garcia’s book, and sees Bodine’s hit piece the same way he and Resnik do.

In my previous post regarding the Bodine hit piece, I was wrong about something as well. I suggested there that Blog for Arizona might owe Garcia an apology, and asked readers to comment. Mike Bryan appropriately corrected me in the comment section:

This blog does not owe anyone an apology. The author will do what conscience dictates, but the blog is merely a forum, not a monolith.

Well put, Mike.

But, you see, Mike missed something as well. The author, Larry Bodine, actually already had done what his conscience dictated. Upon seeing my post, Mr. Bodine reposted his hit piece, in order to enhance it’s visibility in relation to my post. That’s called doubling down. It’s something Trump often does after a clear mistake.

But perhaps after reading David Safier’s column Mr. Bodine will have a change of heart.

Here’s hoping.

FYI, here is some of Safier’s review:

… the book focuses mainly on private schools (specifically private school vouchers), charter schools and district schools. Garcia looks at them from a number of angles and includes the major arguments for and against all three types of schools. Anyone who wants to say Garcia is pro-voucher can cherrypick passages where he paraphrases pro-voucher arguments. But someone else can just as easily portray him as anti-voucher by cherrypicking other passages where he paraphrases anti-voucher arguments. He does the same thing with school choice research. He attempts to cover the main conclusions derived from all the serious research on the topic without picking favorites. (FYI, he comes to the conclusion that the differences between the achievement of students in the three types of schools, as measured by standardized tests, is minimal, and varies depending on grade level, subject, and the year the research was done.)

Bodine’s blog post claims that voucher and charter school advocates can use Garcia’s book as a tip sheet on how to set up voucher programs, and how to make pro-voucher arguments. I suppose he’s right. People reading the book for ideas supporting school choice can find arguments in their favor. But it would be a tedious process. Why bother when there are far easier ways to find material in favor of vouchers and charter schools? Just go to the Goldwater Institute, which has written elaborate voucher recipes listing all the ingredients and how to put them together. So have any number of privatization/“education reform” organizations and think tanks whose work is readily available. For legislators looking to enact school privatization legislation, ALEC has already written it. Just add the name of your state to their cookie-cutter bills and present them during the next legislative session. Readers of Garcia’s book with an agenda would have to dig through all kinds of material which would be extraneous to what they were looking for, and read lots of counter arguments to their positions.

Before forming an opinion (or voting), get informed. Read the rest of Safier’s review of Garcia’s book.

Safier says he voted for Garcia. Your Scriber voted for Steve Farley. Regardless, I completely agree with Safier’s conclusion:

Writers and political campaigns go after candidates all the time. That’s the name of the game. But attacks on Garcia based a gross misrepresentation of the contents of his book is dirty politics pure and simple. Democrats should leave that to the Republicans. They’re already sharpening their knives for whoever wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The bad news and good news about cyber threats to our electric grid

Quote of the Day: “We’ll be living with cyber threats to the grid for the rest of our lives.” - Maggie Koerth-Baker, a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Hacking The Electric Grid Is Damned Hard and that competes for Quote of the Day #2: “Our electric infrastructure is chock-full of both redundancies and regional variations — two things that impede widespread sabotage.”

Koerth-Baker interviewed two experts on cybersecurity as it pertains to our power grid: Bill Lawrence, “vice president and chief security officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the regulatory authority that sets and enforces technological standards for utility companies across the continent.” and “Candace Suh-Lee, who leads a cybersecurity research team at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit research and development lab."

It helps that the North American electric grid is both diverse in its engineering and redundant in its design. For instance, the Ukrainian attacks are often cited as evidence that hundreds of thousands of Americans could suddenly find themselves in the dark because of hackers. But Lawrence considers the Ukrainian grid a lot easier to infiltrate than the North American one. That’s because Ukraine’s infrastructure is more homogeneous, the result of electrification happening under the standardizing eye of the former Soviet Union, he told me. The North American grid, in contrast, began as a patchwork of unconnected electric islands, each designed and built by companies that weren’t coordinating with one another. Even today, he said, the enforceable standards set by NERC don’t tell you exactly what to buy or how to build. “So taking down one utility and going right next door and doing the same thing to that neighboring utility would be an extremely difficult challenge,” he said.

Meanwhile, the electric grid already contains a lot of redundancies that are built in to prevent blackouts caused by common problems like broken tree limbs or heat waves — and those redundancies would also help to prevent a successful cyberattack from affecting a large number of people. Suh-Lee pointed to an August 2003 blackout that turned the lights off on 50 million people on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada. “When we analyzed it, there was about 17 different things lined up that went wrong. Then it happened,” she said. Hackers wouldn’t necessarily have control over all the things that would have to go wrong to create a blackout like that.

In contrast, Suh-Lee said, scenarios that sound like they should lead to major blackouts … haven’t. Take the 2013 Metcalf incident, where snipers physically attacked 17 electric transformers in Silicon Valley. Surrounding neighborhoods temporarily lost power, but despite huge energy demand in the region, “the big users weren’t even aware Metcalf had happened,” she said.

“Difficult isn’t the same as impossible, Suh-Lee” said. “That’s why there’s a lot of effort going into research, monitoring and preparation for cyberattacks.” But that “preparation doesn’t mean we’ll eventually solve this problem, either.”

So, even in spite of the lack of leadership on cybersecurity from the White House, we might be OK. Come to think of it, that judgment might be true of lots of things.

The questions we might want to ask SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh ...

… will be asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono. Joan McCarter at the Daily Kos reports The Senate’s quietest rock star has some very tough questions for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Quietly and determinedly, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii has become one of the fiercest voices among the still too-small cadre of women senators. She’s doing it in the nomination hearings of all five of the committees she sits on, starting with these questions.

“Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?”

“Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?”

Hirono started asking the questions—which she will also pose to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—seven months ago. She spoke with Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery about how the Me Too movement has forced the issue into “a legitimate area of inquiry” for those who would serve in the highest levels of government. It’s particularly true given the man who is nominating them, a serial abuser and assaulter. She’s asked that question of nearly 100 nominees, according to HuffPo’s count, putting the nominees on the spot often in front of their spouses and children.

Awkward for them, perhaps, but for Hirono? “Not anymore,” she told Bendery. “The questions have never been asked before. And why is that? Because it would take a woman to ask questions like that, I would say.” She’s doing it because she knew there was “every potential” for her colleagues in the Senate to entirely ignore the Me Too movement roiling around them.

Those questions will have extra resonance when posed to Kavanaugh, for while he hasn’t been accused of abusing his power by any women, he clerked for and has remained close to former U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, who retired last year after 15 women accused him of sexual harassment. Kavanaugh was there, working with Kozinski, during some of the alleged incidents. What did Kavanaugh know while he was there? What did he do in response? Another former clerk, law professor turned romance novelist Courtney Milan, says Kavanaugh had to know because of his close working relationship with the judge. “They worked together on hiring. Kozinski regularly used belittling and demeaning language in hiring with us as his clerks. I cannot attest to whether he used it in Kennedy screening, but it would surprise me if he didn’t.” (The “Kennedy screening” refers to Kozinski’s being basically a feeder of clerks to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.)

I think it’s a legitimate area of inquiry,“ Hirono said, answering whether she will ask this again in the Judiciary Committee hearing with Kavanaugh. ”It’s something that will get asked." She’s preparing herself well, with binders full of the documents that Republicans have so far deigned to release and copious notes and questions drawn from them. She also has serious questions for him about his hostility toward women’s reproductive rights, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental rules protecting clean air and water.

Hirono is going to be laser-focused on Kavanaugh, even though it’s highly unlikely Republicans will break ranks because, she says, “some battles […] are worth fighting, regardless of the outcomes. […] I’m hopeful the people in our country will realize these judges who are appointed for life are going to make decisions that affect their life every single day―and that this is the lasting legacy of Trump.” These hard questions will also put Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who have staked a good part of their careers on standing up for women’s rights, in the position of having to answer for themselves and their constituents.

An article in The New York Review of Books provides a broader list of Ten Questions Brett Kavanaugh Must Answer. ( The author, David Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center.)

… [because] Trump expressly vowed as a candidate to appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wade, it is incumbent upon the Senate to pose probing questions to Kavanaugh—and to require him to provide meaningful answers, not artful dodges. Nominees all too often avoid answering questions about their views by simply describing existing Supreme Court doctrine and then insisting they cannot say how they would vote on any particular matter that might come before them. But in speeches and writings while a judge, Kavanaugh has repeatedly expressed his own views on many matters that might come before him, including whether presidents should be subject to civil and criminal lawsuits; if he could express his views there, he should not be permitted to avoid expressing them on other topics in the Senate confirmation hearing.

Here, then, are ten questions I suggest the senators ask Kavanaugh. These questions avoid asking about any specific case, and seek the nominee’s own views, not a description of Supreme Court law. Senators will have to be insistent about getting responses, however, if the hearings are to have any value.

Scriber’s picks are
(1) “Are you committed to interpreting the Constitution as it was understood at the time it was written, or do you agree that its meaning evolves over time through Supreme Court interpretations?”
(4) “You have defended a robust conception of executive power. Recently, the Supreme Court said that its decision upholding the internment of Japanese Americans on the basis of race and national origin was wrong. Can you name other historical examples where you believe presidents acted unconstitutionally in the name of national security? Should the courts have rejected presidential assertions of national security in those cases, and on what basis?”
and (10) “President Trump has nominated you to the career opportunity of your lifetime. If presented with a case involving his personal interests, what standard will you use in deciding whether to recuse yourself from the case?”

I reason that much or all of disputes over civil rights (including reproductive choice, marriage choice, gender equality, contraception, and abortion) flow from how one regards (1). The other two picks, (4) and (10), address executive powers which will, I predict, be front and center as the Mueller investigation gets closer to Trump, his associates, and his family.

After the break, read the full list of questions and (lightly edited by Scriber) author’s comments.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

UPDATES to 'The Grifters' redux - NY Rep. Collins suspends re-election bid

UPDATE #1: Chris Collins calls insider trading charges “meritless”. A Congressman, a Financial Deal and an Intricate Web of Conflicts.

In his statement, Mr. Collins called the insider trading charges “meritless” and vowed to fight them to have his “good name cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reported other initial reactions from Collins: Despite arrest, Republican congressman expects to win re-election.

Given [the] details, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chris Collins has been charged with, among other things, insider trading. What is surprising is that the New York Republican insists he’s innocent and expects to be re-elected in three months, while out on bail.

Indeed, watching Collins yesterday was a dizzying experience. In the morning, he surrendered to the FBI. In the afternoon, the congressman pleaded not guilty and issued a statement that read, “Because my focus is to defeat these charges in Court, after today, I will not address any issues related to Innate Immunotherapeutics outside of the courtroom.” Soon after, Collins announced he’d host a press conference, at which he said he looked forward “to being fully vindicated and exonerated.”

Oops. I guess not.

UPDATE #2: The New York Times reports that Representative Chris Collins Suspends Bid for Re-election After Insider Trading Charges

Days after federal prosecutors charged him with insider trading, Representative Chris Collins announced on Saturday that he was abandoning his re-election bid amid worries that his legal troubles could make vulnerable his otherwise solidly Republican district in western New York.

How exactly the suspension of Mr. Collins’s campaign would play out was not immediately clear, as the process to get off the ballot can be onerous in New York, and Mr. Collins did not say how he would remove himself.

Mr. Collins, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald J. Trump for president in 2016, had initially vowed to stay on the ballot this fall but said on Saturday that he had decided it was “in the best interests” of his district, “the Republican Party and President Trump’s agenda” to suspend his bid.

Federal prosecutors have charged Mr. Collins with using his seat on the board of a small Australia-based drug company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, to tip off his son and others that the company had failed a critical scientific trial before that information was made public.

Friday, August 10, 2018

'The Grifters' redux

The Insiders

We learn from 538’s significant digits email over the last couple of mornings about goings on in DC (District of Crooks).

$570,900 in avoided losses
Christopher Collins, a Republican Congressman from New York, was arrested yesterday and charged with insider trading. According to the indictment, he learned a drug trial had failed thanks to his position on a biotech company board. He is said to have traded on the information, avoiding $570,900 in losses, while his son and another defendant did the same, avoiding $768,000 in losses. “We are confident he will be completely vindicated and exonerated,” Collins’s attorneys said. [AP]

Of course, they said that. Lawyers are paid to say such things. It does not mean that they are correct. In this case, quite the contrary.

What does a scandal cost a politician? 538 has the answer.

9-point scandals
In light of the arrest of Chris Collins, the Republican U.S. House member from New York, on charges of insider trading, my colleague Nate Silver looked into how much “scandals” hurt incumbents running for re-election. Quite a bit, it turns out. Since 1998, “scandal-plagued” incumbents won re-election by an average of 21.5 points, but this was compared to a projected margin of victory of 30.5 points. Scandals, therefore, cost about 9 points. [FiveThirtyEight]

The Grifters

In related news, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been signed as the star of a remake of the 1990 movie The Grifters. Aw, OK. Not really. But Dan Alexander at Forbes reports on how New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting. Here are tidbits.

… Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: “He’s a pathological liar.”

In addition to a common disregard for the truth:

… his billionaire status was not lost on another person obsessed with his net worth. Donald Trump termed Ross a “legendary Wall Street genius” and named him to his cabinet. “In these particular positions,” Trump explained to a crowd of supporters, “I just don’t want a poor person.”

In a presidential cabinet plagued by ethical problems, it can be easy to forget about Wilbur Ross. Most of the attention tends to center around obvious abuses, like Scott Pruitt getting a $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office or Tom Price wasting $341,000 on jet travel. But while Ross’ antics are more complicated, they involve far more money.

On November 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn document, attesting that he had divested all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The commerce secretary in fact still owned somewhere between $10 and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month later, banking at least $1.2 million more than he would have if he sold in May, when he initially promised to divest. By falsely claiming he gotten rid of the shares earlier, Ross also put himself in legal jeopardy, since it is a crime to lie to federal officials. Representatives for Ross, a sophisticated investor, claimed the commerce secretary did not lie but instead failed to realize he owned the shares.

Sure he did. A remake of The Grifters would be fun to watch.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Who's got the money in the AZ primary

The simple fact is that when it comes to political contests money talks and walks. If you don’t have it, you are unlikely to win the contest. True, there are exceptions. Consider the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cruz. But she is the exception. Thus who has got money, and who does not, is a question of interest as we approach the primary and general elections in 2018.

AZBlueMeanie has done the research for us and reports a snapshot of the finances of US House and US Senate candidates in Arizona in Who is winning the ‘money race’ so far in Arizona’s congressional and senate races? You probably know, or can guess, the answer. Here are results for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Flake and CD2 House.

US Senate

Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is leading Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally in the money race. McSally, however, has and will be the beneficiary of copious amounts of “dark money” spending by outside conservative groups desperately trying to retain this Arizona Senate seat for the GOP. This may be one of the most competitive, and one of the ugliest Senate races in the country this fall. Rep. Sinema has one of the rare opportunities this election cycle for a Democrat to pick up a Senate seat. Whatever you may think about Rep. Sinema, the die is cast and this is a must-win election. I can’t bear the thought of six more years of Martha McSally. Let’s send her packing!

CD 2

Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally is running for the Senate. Former Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who previously represented District 1, is the Democratic Party’s “anointed” candidate for this open seat. She has attracted party insider money as a result. Dr. Matt Heinz, who previously was the Democratic candidate in CD 2, nevertheless is raising enough money to be competitive with the likely Republican Party nominee, Lea Marquez Peterson. If Heinz manages to win over Kirkpatrick the Democratic primary, the Democratic Party money will gravitate to him because CD 2 is a competitive seat and a likely Democratic Party pickup this November. The Democratic Party really wants this seat back and will spend whatever it takes to win.

BTW, when it comes to ugly, the CD2 race is competitive. Commenter Liza observes:

Ann Kirkpatrick has been posting on her Facebook page, nothing controversial, just benign stuff about canvassing, getting out the vote, etc…

AK is deleting comments, but she doesn’t delete the weird comments made by wingnuts. She deletes comments made by people who don’t like her especially her negative campaigning against Matt Heinz.

I wonder if this is predictive of how she will respond to CD2 constituents if elected in November.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten five glossy, glitzy mailers from AK attacking Heinz. For me, it’s a total turn-off. Billy does not have the money but he does have my vote.

Creating the Dunning-Kruger generations, Part 2

Knowing what we don’t know

To introduce the Dunning-Kruger effect, here is John Cleese (of Monty Python fame).

I was reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect by Daily Kos contributor “Shockwave” who reported on Trump’s base mindset/cult and the Dunning-Kruger effect. The effect can be visualized in this simple graph.

Dunning-Kruger effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect:
If you don’t know much
you think you know more than you do.

Bear in mind as you read on that the effect afflicts us all. Why? Because we are all not experts in everything. In those domains in which we are not experts, we will tend to overestimate our expertise.

The Dunning-Kruger President

Writing in The Cut Jessica Pressler names Donald Trump, the Dunning-Kruger President.

Ever since Donald J. Trump was elected president, David Dunning’s phone has been ringing off the hook. Dunning, a social psychologist, is one of the lead authors of “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology based on the results of a study he and a student, Justin Kruger, conducted at Cornell in 1999. As the title suggests, what they found was the existence of a cognitive bias in which the less able people are, the more likely they are to overestimate their abilities. Or as Dunning put it recently over the phone from the University of Michigan, where he now teaches: “People don’t know what they don’t know.”

The Dunning-Kruger effect, as it came to be known, was an immediate hit with armchair psychologists: Everyone knows someone they could diagnose as too dumb to even know it. …

… “During the campaign, Trump made a number of statements that didn’t seem well-considered,” Dunning says, citing Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban, his apparent unfamiliarity with the nuclear triad, and the time he suggested United States creditors “take a haircut” on Treasury bonds without seeming to understand the role of said bonds in the world economy. “It seemed, especially in contrast with Hillary Clinton, that this was one of the least prepared candidates in my lifetime, but also the most confident candidate. It seemed like the most public example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, or something that looked like the Dunning-Kruger effect, that I’d ever seen.”

Dunning was confident enough in this assessment that back in May he weighed in with a piece for Politico [see below], suggesting that not only was Trump a manifestation of the effect but that support for him was grounded in similar ignorance. “They might like some of what they hear from Trump,” he wrote, of Trump voters. “But they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.”

Of course, as the results of the election revealed, Trump supporters weren’t the only ones “suffering from Dunning-Kruger,” as goes the social-media j’accuse. As it turns out, we were all the deluded simpletons.

[Some of] what we know about the Dunning-Kruger effect

Dunning has more to say about the research on the Dunning-Kruger effect especially as it applies to Trump and his supporters. Back in 2016, before the election, David Dunning wrote about The Psychological Quirk That Explains Why You Love Donald Trump. The popularity of the GOP front-runner can be explained by the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Here are quick takes on the supporting research.

Psychological research suggests that people, in general, suffer from what has become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They have little insight about the cracks and holes in their expertise. In studies in my research lab, people with severe gaps in knowledge and expertise typically fail to recognize how little they know and how badly they perform. To sum it up, the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task. This includes political judgment.

We have found this pattern in logical reasoning, grammar, emotional intelligence, financial literacy, numeracy, firearm care and safety, debate skill, and college coursework. Others have found a similar lack of insight among poor chess players, unskilled medical lab technicians, medical students unsuccessfully completing an obstetrics/gynecology rotation, and people failing a test on performing CPR.

In voters, lack of expertise would be lamentable but perhaps not so worrisome if people had some sense of how imperfect their civic knowledge is. If they did, they could repair it. But the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests something different. It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.

… the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.

Trump himself also exemplifies this exact pattern, showing how the Dunning-Kruger Effect can lead to what seems an indomitable sense of certainty. …

On top of all that, Shockwave cited the alternet.org story A Neuroscientist Explains How Trump Supporters Are Easily Hoodwinked Because of This One Psychological Problem (Bobby Azarian/Raw Story). Those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation. So the effect is really engaged when it comes to politics.

Creating the next Dunning-Kruger generation

The disturbing possibility that motivated these posts begins with this observation from Dunning:

… the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.

The lead photo in Part 1 of this series led me to wonder if children who attend Trump’s rallies were learning to be overly confident in what they think they know. Might they be in a perpetual environment of “false data, facts and theories”? Unfortunately, after a few hours on Google Scholar (and other searches), I could not get a fix on a body of research that might confirm (or disconfirm) my suspicion. If you know of relevant research, please let me know (at wsmaki@gmail.com).

So, anyway, here is my conjecture. Instead of “voters” in that passage, substitute “Trump voters’ children.” To be sure watching children ape their parents shouting “lock her up” with heretofore unimaginable vehemence is horrifying, but think about what else these kids might be learning that will dispose them during their lifetimes to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Filling their heads with “false data, facts and theories” might render them especially unable to accurately evaluate what misinformation is fed to them and thus leave them believing that they know more than they do.

The Dunning-Kruger President

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A morality play - three and a half presidents

This letter to the editor (by Deb Klumpp, Oro Valley) in this morning’s Daily Star caught my attention. It reads in part:

Letter: If Obama had behaved like Trump

What if President Obama had conducted himself, personally and professionally, like Donald Trump? What if Obama had cozied up to Putin, knowing Russia meddled in our elections, and then put on a performance like we witnessed in Helsinki? What if Obama unabashedly admitted paying off sexual partners, after first denying the affairs? Can you imagine the outrage, scathing criticism and calls for impeachment that would have erupted from Republicans? Yet they remain mostly silent — committed to coddling and protecting this treasonous, inept man who is destroying our democracy.

The leading question occasionally pops up in speculative comments on Trump’s morality (or lack thereof). The thing is, we will never know what Republicans might have done because Obama never did conduct himself in the mentioned ways. However, we can go back in history and ask whether another Democratic president would have behaved in those ways - and ask whether Republicans remained silent.

The president in question is Bill Clinton. The Republicans of those days certainly did not remain silent. Instead they pushed through articles of impeachment and ran a trial in the Senate. Apparently the criticism applied in that case by the GOP does not apply to one of their own. Today the Republican-controlled congress is mostly silent, as the author writes, “committed to coddling and protecting this treasonous, inept man who is destroying our democracy.”

We can also go back in time and ask what a currently potential president had to say about Clinton and has to say about Trump. This is important to ask because Vice President Mike Pence is potentially the president should Trump leave office in one way or another. Pence had lots to say about Clinton’s behaviors but little if anything to say in objection to Trump’s behaviors. The Huffington Post reports. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

These Old Mike Pence Columns On How A President Should Behave Have Not Aged Well. “If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet.”

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Mike Pence penned two opinion columns calling for former President Bill Clinton to quit or be removed from office.

But the current vice president’s moralistic writings from the late ’90s and early 2000s, which CNN unearthed from the Wayback Machine internet archive on Monday, have not aged well.

Pence’s preachy prose on how presidents should behave, in particular, seems irreconcilable with the conduct of President Donald Trump.

Mike Pence Show

In the above column, titled “The Two Schools Of Thought On Clinton” that was posted on the now-deleted website for Pence’s Indiana talk radio show, Pence argued the office of president required its incumbent to be of the highest integrity.

Pence wrote:

If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet. Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous. Throughout our history, we have seen the presidency as the repository of all of our highest hopes and ideals and values. To demand less is to do an injustice to the blood that bought our freedoms.

In another column on his congressional campaign website, titled “Why Clinton Must Resign Or Be Impeached,” Pence condemned Clinton’s affair with college intern Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent attempts to lie about it.

Pence concluded:

Our leaders must either act to restore the luster and dignity of the institution of the Presidency or we can be certain that this is only the beginning of an even more difficult time for our land.

It’s unclear whether Pence still believes what he wrote in his old essays. Trump is accused of multiple extramarital affairs and coverups with hush money payments. And he was recorded bragging about sexually assaulting women.

To get a better, if rather nauseating view, see The Atlantic story on God’s Plan for Mike Pence. Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?

No man can serve two masters, the Bible teaches, but Mike Pence is giving it his all. …

In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless. When Trump comes under fire for describing white nationalists as “very fine people,” Pence is there to assure the world that he is actually a man of great decency. When Trump needs someone to fly across the country to an NFL game so he can walk out in protest of national-anthem kneelers, Pence heads for Air Force Two.

… in early 2015, Pence stumbled into a culture-war debacle that would come to define his governorship. At the urging of conservative-Christian leaders in Indiana, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed religious business owners to deny services to gay customers in certain circumstances. Pence signed it into law in a closed-press ceremony at the statehouse, surrounded by nuns, monks, and right-wing lobbyists. A photo of the signing was released, and all hell broke loose. Corporate leaders threatened to stop adding jobs in Indiana, and national organizations began pulling scheduled conventions from the state. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, put out a statement suggesting that the law might imperil “future events.” The Indianapolis Star ran a rare front-page editorial under an all-caps headline: “FIX THIS NOW.”

After seven chaotic days, Pence caved and signed a revised version of the religious-freedom bill—but by then it was too late. His approval ratings were in free fall, Democrats were raising money to defeat him in the next gubernatorial election, and the political obituaries were being written. Things looked grimmer for Pence, and the religious right, than they ever had before.

Deliverance manifested itself to Mike Pence on the back nine of Donald Trump’s golf course in New Jersey. …

True to form, Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you. Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.

Pence has so far showed absolute deference to the president — and as a result he has become one of the most influential figures in the White House, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities and an unprecedented level of autonomy. But for all his aw-shucks modesty, Pence is a man who believes heaven and Earth have conspired to place him a heartbeat—or an impeachment vote—away from the presidency.

And when will Pence ascend to Trump’s throne? "It’s not a matter of when Republicans are ready to turn on Trump. It’s about when they decide they’re ready for President Pence.”

Facebook wants your bank account - will you let them have it?

Here is one item making news from 538’s significant digits email this morning.

+4.45 percent on the day
Facebook stock, which was still hurting from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and took a further historic nosedive in value last month, recovered somewhat on the news that the company had … asked large American banks to “share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances.” Capitalism, boy, I dunno. [The Wall Street Journal]

That got my attention in a kind of WTF way. Why would Facebook’s stock valuation increase based on what looks like a risky proposition for account holders in America’s banks?

Here is the answer as provided by Judd Legum at popular.info.

Facebook data monster wants to eat your bank account info

Facebook isn’t satisfied with how much it knows about you; now it’s after your bank balance.

“The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The news comes after the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm that worked with the Trump campaign, accessed “87 million Facebook users without their consent.”

At least one bank “pulled away from talks due to privacy concerns.”

Facebook’s story

Facebook says it is going to use the bank data to power chatbots, not advertising. According to the company, linking your bank account data with Facebook would allow you to use Facebook Messenger to check your balance. A Facebook spokeswoman described the program as “completely opt-in.”

Why Facebook’s stock price went up

To ordinary people, the Wall Street Journal report seemed like an exposé of shady business practices.

Investors, however, celebrated the report. Facebook’s stock, which had been slumping, surged over 4%.

It’s important to understand why. Facebook is in the business of collecting as much data about you as possible and then turning that data into cash. If it comes up with an idea to get more information about its users, that makes it a better company.

Maybe Facebook wouldn’t initially allow advertisers to target users based on this information, but Facebook will figure out a way to make money from the new program. Investors understand this and drove the stock price up.

It comes down to trust

Linking your banking account to Facebook could theoretically be innocuous. But to believe that, you have to trust the company to both protect the data and not use it beyond the initial stated purpose.

Facebook’s recent conduct has not engendered trust. That’s why many people online are reacting poorly to the idea.

Scriber is one of those. As Mike Wallace used to say, “Oh, come on.” Would you hand over your financial information to Facebook? Really? Instead, why not hand it over to a Russian troll farm. Your call.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Creating the Dunning-Kruger generations, Part 1

Scriber thinks the adult Trumpists of this generation, themselves prone to the Dunning-Kruger syndrome, are raising the next Dunning-Kruger generation. The parents are modeling, and the kids are learning, how to not know what they don’t know. Let’s track that process by looking at the behaviors of kids and their parents at Trump rallies.

Damon Winter, staff photographer at the New York Times documents The Children at the Trump Rallies. What is it like to see young people exposed to so much anger? Heartbreaking, says a Times photographer.

During the last few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the fall of 2016, I found myself seeking out increasingly tender and empathetic photographs of his supporters. Maybe it was the long weeks away from my own son that softened my eye and drew me toward parents and their children at Mr. Trump’s rallies. It’d been a long journey covering the campaign, and I remember being exhausted by the anger I experienced. The crowds took Mr. Trump’s lead and directed their hatred at me and my colleagues from the press, event after event, day after day, and, eventually, it took a toll.

In those final weeks, I remember being heartbroken that children were exposed to this anger, were learning from it and participating in it. I knew those parents loved their children just as I do mine, and that common bond was my reminder of their humanity and my own. I was searching for a way to connect in an environment that felt so toxic and violently polarized.

Kids angry at rally
"Lock her up" scream the children at a Trump rally

One of the most poignant photos from that time was of a boy, dressed as a fledgling Trump, in the front row of a rally with his father in Grand Junction, Colo., just two weeks before the election. Together, they chanted, “Lock her up, lock her up!” The father beamed with pride. Vitriol sputtered from his son Jaden’s mouth.

Nearly 19 months after Mr. Trump took office, I photographed my first Make America Great Again rally on Thursday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. It felt eerily familiar. The staging, the music, the lighting, the faces in the crowd, the metal cage that confined the press, and even the wording of the opening announcement urging supporters not to hurt any protesters, were all the same. The journalists I had befriended on the campaign were all there. The jarring difference in this all-too-familiar setting was that “president” now preceded the former candidate’s name.

As before, I was drawn to the children, but this time through the lens of 19 months of the Trump administration. The people in that arena supported the actions of a sitting president, not just the musings of a candidate. In that time, the anger I experienced on the trail had taken shape with real-world consequences. The chants of “Build the wall” in 2016 were realized in a haphazard zero-tolerance immigration policy that resulted in nearly 3,000 child separations in 2018.

That night, I photographed 10-year-old Gianna Musolino holding her father’s arm in the most tender and gentle embrace, her arms entwined around his, her head nestled in the soft bend of his elbow. There was no mistaking the comfort and protection she felt under his wing and the pride he felt in providing it.

I thought again about my son, as I have done so many times over these past few months, imagining with deep sadness what it would be like for him to be taken away from us and what it might do to him. How could any parent possibly support a president capable of this?

And, Scriber asks, how could any parent bring their children to this toxic environment in which:

  • The Make America Great Again rally in Pennsylvania on Thursday echoed the hostility of campaign events during Donald Trump’s run for president.
  • President Trump devoted most of his time at Thursday’s rally to denouncing the news media.
  • The hostility against the media at the rally was palpable.

Winter observed that “children were exposed to this anger, were learning from it and participating in it.” The kids, Scriber thinks, are also learning not to know what they don’t know. They are also learning from Faux News, via their parents, how to overestimate what little they do know. That in a nutshell is the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore the Dunning-Kruger syndrome in more detail.

Trump vs. Cohen - Who will win the Art of the Duel? That and more manufactured truth in the Illustrated Gnus.

Art of the duel
Trump's prediction come true?

Here are some of the memes and themes in the Mournday Mourning Illustrated Gnus from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • Trump takes aim at “fake news” media, hires hit man Rudy G.
  • Social media giants will remove politically deceptive accounts. @realDonaldTrump is at the top of the list.
  • GOP wants to restore credibility in 2018 election. Hint: seal Trump’s lips.
  • Farmers discover that Trump’s BS does not grow crops.
  • Christians still supporting Trump receive new 10 commandments. V. Thou shalt ignore hush money paid to porn stars and playmates.
  • Iran looks forward to new negotiations - same deal as given to NK?
  • Trump to voters: “What the hell do you have to lose?”
  • Voters to Trump: No raise in years - Health costs doubled.
  • Which of these is most likely to argue 3-D guns are protected under the 2nd amendment? Trump, terrorists, NRA?
  • Commandments for Christians who still support Trump: VII - Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

When it comes to Democratic messaging, it's (still) the economy, stupid

You might think that’s crazy. And you would have some grounds for that view. Trump trumpets the good things about the economy - unemployment down, tax cuts in every wallet, etc. But there are powerful indicators that voters are still concerned about what is not looking up for them. Ask common folk “what’s in your wallet” and they express worries about flat wages, increasing health care costs, and higher cost of living. The short of it is that when you conflate those issues with Trump policies (e.g., toward big corporate tax breaks), then Trump’s ratings, and those of the GOP generally, tank. That leaves a huge opportunity for Democrats. In 2018 the Republicans cannot survive the scrutiny of their own economic failures.

Trump brags and bullshits about the growth in GDP. But all that fluff masks what is really happening in our economy. John Cassidy (The New Yorker) reveals The Hidden Danger for Donald Trump in the Economy’s Growth Spurt.

Going into the midterm elections, a higher rate of growth is obviously a positive thing for the political party in power, although history suggests that it won’t necessarily be enough to preserve the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Consider what happened in 2014. Despite annualized G.D.P. growth of 5.1 per cent in the second quarter, Republicans took control of the Senate from Democrats and enlarged their majority in the House. A big problem for Republicans this year is that, so far, the pickup in G.D.P. growth hasn’t led to a rise in wages. When you take into account price inflation, hourly and weekly earnings are basically unchanged from this time last year. The biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s and the G.O.P.’s policies have been owners of capital—investors and senior corporate executives who have used the savings from the tax bill to buy back more of their companies’ stocks.

… Outside of a few redoubts of supply-side economics, such as the White House, the consensus among economists is that the effects of the stimulus will be strictly temporary, and that, once it fades, over-all economic growth will slow sharply. In the latest quarterly survey by the National Association for Business Economics, two-thirds of the economists surveyed saw the next recession starting by the end of 2020.

Such pessimism seems warranted given Trump’s policies. In The Nation, Nomi Prins writes about how These 5 Trump Policies Are Leading Us Toward Economic Chaos. The question is not if but when.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, entropy is “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” With that in mind, perhaps the best way to predict President Trump’s next action is just to focus on the path of greatest entropy and take it from there.

Let me do just that, while exploring five key economic sallies of the Trump White House since he took office and the bleakness and chaos that may lie ahead as the damage to the economy and our financial future comes into greater focus.

Below are selections from each policy discussed by Prins.

(1) CONTINUOUS BANKING DEREGULATION

… Kathy Kraninger, a former Homeland Security official tapped by Trump to run the entity [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] , has no experience in banking or consumer protection. His selection follows perfectly in the path of current interim head Mick Mulvaney (also the head of the Office of Management and Budget). All you need to know about him is that he once derided the organization as a “sick, sad” joke. As its director, he’s tried to choke the life out of it by defunding it. [Scriber: Think X/antiX.]

… still-evolving deregulatory actions reflect the way Trump’s anti-establishment election campaign has turned into a full-scale program aimed at increasing the wealth and power of the financial elites, while decreasing their responsibility to us. Don’t expect a financial future along such lines to look pretty. Think entropy.

(2) TENSIONS RISE IN THE AUTO WARS

… the Center for Automotive Research has reported that a 25 percent tariff on autos and auto parts (something the president has threatened but not yet followed through upon against the European Union, Canada, and Mexico) could reduce the number of domestic vehicle sales by up to two million units and might wipe out more than 714,000 jobs here. Declining demand for cars, whose prices could rise between $455 and $6,875, depending on the type of tariff, in the face of a Trump vehicle tax, would hurt American and foreign manufacturers operating in the United States who employ significant numbers of American workers.

(3) THE POPULIST TYRANNY OF THE TRUMP TAX CUTS

President Trump has been particularly happy about his marquee corporate tax “reform” bill, assuring his base that it will provide jobs and growth to American workers, while putting lots of money in their pockets. What it’s actually done, however, is cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, providing corporations with tons of extra cash. Their predictable reaction has not been to create jobs and raise wages, but to divert that bonanza to their own coffers via share buybacks in which they purchase their own stock. That provides shareholders with bigger, more valuable pieces of a company, while boosting earnings and CEO bonuses.

… For the average American worker … wages have not increased. Indeed, between the first and second quarters of 2018 real wages dropped by 1.8 percent after the tax cuts were made into law. Trump hasn’t touted that or what it implies about our entropic future.

(4) TRADE WARS, CURRENCY WARS, AND THE CONFLICTS TO COME

Just this morning China announced more retaliatory tariffs on US goods. Where this one stops, no one knows.

… China has launched more than 100 new business projects in Brazil alone, usurping what was once a US market, investing a record $54 billion in that country. It is also preparing to increase its commitments not just to Brazil, but to Russia, India, China, and South Africa (known collectively as the BRICS countries), investing $14.7 billion in South Africa ahead of an upcoming BRICS summit there. In other words, Donald Trump is lending a disruptively useful hand to the creation of an economic world in which the United States will no longer be as central an entity.

As, I suspect, he promised his BFF Vladimir Putin.

(5) FIGHTING THE FED

President Trump’s belligerence has centered around his belief that the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet has been victimized by the rest of the world. Now, that feeling has been extended to the Federal Reserve where he recently lashed out against its chairman (and his own appointee) Jerome Powell.

WHEN ENTROPY WINS, THE WORLD LOSES

What we are witnessing is the start of the entropy wars, which will, in turn, hasten the unwinding of the American global experiment. Each arbitrary bit of presidential pique, each tweet and insult, is a predecessor to yet more possible economic upheavals and displacements, ever messier and harder to clean up. Trump’s America could easily morph into a worldwide catch–22. The more trust is destabilized, the greater the economic distress. The weaker the economy, the more disruptable it becomes by the Great Disrupter himself. And so the Trump spiral spins onward, circling down an economic drain of his own making.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) asks Will the ‘Trump economy’ save the GOP? and answers Here’s the Democratic strategy to prevent that.

It has become an article of faith among Republicans and some pundits: If only President Trump would stop with the racism and cruelty (as with family separations), the authoritarian assaults on the press and on the Mueller probe, and the panting embraces of Vladimir Putin, Republicans could bask in the glorious “Trump economy” and stave off big losses this fall.

In this telling, if the election were about only the economy, Republicans would still face stiff headwinds but might at least weather them to the degree needed to hold the House. Friday morning, the monthly jobs report showed the unemployment rate ticking down to 3.9 percent, which would seem to support that notion.

But Democrats have reached a very different conclusion. They believe they can actually win the argument over the economy in a way that advantages them in the midterms. Indeed, they think it’s imperative they break through to the voters with an economic argument if they are going to win at all.

This reading of the midterms is laid out in a new polling memo from the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA. You should always treat partisan polls with skepticism, but this memo — which was first reported by Axios — also suggests that Democrats face a serious challenge in this regard as well: It warns that the information environment could make it harder for them to communicate that argument. The onus is on candidates to do something about this, and succeeding is anything but assured.

Here is the poll cited by Sargent:New Poll & Messaging Guidance: Russia, Immigration and Trade War Sticking to Trump. And here are some results cited by Sargent.

Priorities USA surveyed 1,000 presidential-year voters and people who recently registered to vote and found:

  • Voters are evenly divided on Trump’s economic policies in general, with 41 percent viewing them favorably and 41 percent viewing them unfavorably.

However, on some of the specifics, Trump fares worse:

  • By 56–31, voters say they have an unfavorable reaction to what they’ve been hearing about Trump’s trade policies and his developing trade war with China and Europe.

  • Only 33 percent view the Trump/GOP tax law favorably, while 21 percent are neutral and 38 percent view it unfavorably.

  • By 47–22, voters say things are getting worse rather than better in terms of wages keeping pace with the cost of living.

  • 64 percent say the cost of health care is getting worse.

… Democrats face two major challenges. … The first is the difficulty of puncturing their message about the economy through the din of press coverage of other matters, especially child separations and the Russia probe and Trump’s reaction to it. … a crucial ingredient [is] that their message about the economy get heard. “Unlike Russia and immigration, voters won’t hear about this as much in the press,” the memo concludes, “meaning Democrats must continue to carry the message in paid media and on the campaign trail.”

The second big challenge Democrats face is that it isn’t clear voters will necessarily base their choices on personal perceptions of the economy, rather than on general perceptions of it. A recent Post-Schar School poll found that 57 percent of voters rate the economy as good or excellent, including 58 percent in battleground districts.

Thus, the imperative for Democrats is to get voters to base their choice instead on their personal experience of the economy, as well as on specific Republican policies that would slash the safety net, particularly on health care (an area where Democrats are stronger). Of course, many Democrats are already trying to do this. As Margot Sanger-Katz reports, Democratic candidates around the country are stressing health care, crucially by asking audiences how many of them suffer from preexisting conditions, thus personalizing the issue, which is essential.

So when you see Democratic candidates trying to stress voters’ personal experience of the economy and the health-care system, and highlighting specific Trump/GOP policies on both fronts, this memo helps shed light on the thinking behind it.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

AZ Gov candidates spar. One has government experience, another brags about lack thereof.

Candidates for Governor
Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls
Kelly Fryer, Steve Farley and David Garcia
debate Tuesday night.
(Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The three Democratic candidates for AZ Governor squared off in a forum Tuesday night. Dem gubernatorial candidates make pitch in debate reports Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required, but reprinted in the Thursday Daily Star). The candidates are State Senator Steve Farley, ASU Professor David Garcia, and Southern Arizona YWCA exec Kelly Fryer.

The candidates’ positions on various topics can be found in that Daily Star report on Arizona’s 3 Democrats for governor spar over immigration, ed taxes, experience. Here are the closing points.

Farley cited his 12 years as a state legislator, saying he has the “experience and understanding” to head state government and his ability to work with Republicans.

In pitching for votes, Garcia cited being a fourth-generation Arizonan and someone who does not take special interest money. “My story is Arizona’s story,” he said.

And Fryer said it is that lack of experience in government that best qualifies her to deal with the state’s problems. “The last thing we need is another politician who promises to fix it,” she said.

Upon reading Fryer’s comment (italics added), Mr. and Mrs. Scriber began giggling uncontrollably.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A tale of two theories about Trump's failure of leadership in cyber security for 2018

It was predictable. Having largely gotten away with interfering in the 2016 election (and helping Trump win the presidency), Russia is at it again. Also predictable, Trump appears totally uninterested in protecting our 2018 election from the same kinds of malicious attacks.

The front page story carried by the Daily Star (Tuesday, July 31st) reports that Facebook finds ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt elections. And the Star also reports Trump criticized for not leading effort to secure elections

I don’t usually indulge in typographical hyperbole, but in this case of our commander-in-chief not taking action, I must ask: WHY THE F*** NOT?

Trump “led” his first national security meeting that is reported to last a mere half an hour and that produced nothing of substance - not even a statement declaring cyber security to be a national priority.

Lacking leadership to focus our energies on securing our elections, we are left with efforts by subordinate agencies like NSA and DHS to act and with efforts by private entities like Facebook and Microsoft to take up the national security slack. So again, I ask where is Trump’s leadership?

OK, I hear you say, “Scriber, how can you be so naive?” Hey, I respond, let me have a little hope, a modicum of optimism. At least until Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) proposes Two theories on why Trump won’t harden our election machinery.

Why is Trump so uninterested in — and Republicans so passive about — the threat to election security? We have a couple of theories.

One theory is that Trump simply hates the topic of Russian interference (so his Republican allies hate it, too). Time and again, he has sided with Putin in denying that interference occurred, only to be forced to retreat (usually via a spokesperson). Rightly or not, Trump thinks that the involvement of Russia in the 2016 election on his behalf, if widely accepted, would undercut his victory in 2016 and delegitimize his presidency. If he takes the problem seriously now, the public will be more and more convinced of Russia’s role. This is the “Trump cannot bring himself to believe” theory.

The other possibility is that Trump actively wants the help from the Kremlin. He likes the bot farms, the disinformation in social media (which he and his aides have been known to pick up and echo) and, most of all, WikiLeaks. Why would he try to shut any of that down, or expose his BFF Putin’s election interference operation? (Goodness knows what he and Putin actually discussed in Helsinki on this topic.) He might not be publicly calling for Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton’s emails, as he did the day Russian hacking of the DNC began (according to the indictment of Russian hackers in the special counsel’s investigation), but in essence, he has agreed to remain asleep at the wheel.

That’s the collusion theory; Trump is an active participant in bringing harm to America.

We do not at this point know which is correct, but if Trump knows that the Russian interference is continuing and is deliberately foot-dragging, he’s simply continuing a pattern of, yes, collusion — or a conspiracy, if you will — that involves taking something of value from a foreign national. In plain terms, this would be a grotesque betrayal of American democracy, a vivid example of Russia First policy.

He and aides should consider that if one or both houses of Congress flip to the Democrats, they will no doubt conduct an exhaustive inquiry as to what Trump did or did not do to protect our elections. Evidence of deliberate neglect would be stunning and ample grounds for impeachment.

Perhaps sensing the fallout if the latter theory is correct, Trump Tells Sessions to ‘Stop This Rigged Witch Hunt Right Now’ (reported by the NY Times).

President Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday [August 1st] to end the special counsel investigation, an extraordinary appeal to the nation’s top law enforcement official to end an inquiry directly into the president.

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!

The order immediately raised questions from some lawyers about whether it was an attempt to obstruct justice. The special counsel, appointed last year to oversee the government’s Russia investigation, is already looking into some of the president’s previous Twitter posts and public statements to determine whether they were intended to obstruct the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any ties to the Trump campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers quickly moved to contain the fallout, saying it was not an order to a member of his cabinet, but merely an opinion. An hour and a half after the tweet was posted, Mr. Trump’s lawyers contacted a reporter for The New York Times. In a subsequent telephone conversation, one of his lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, dismissed the obstruction of justice concerns, calling it a “bizarre and novel theory of obstruction by tweet,” adding that it was “idiotic.”

Presidents typically do not weigh in on active Justice Department investigations, but Mr. Trump has been outspoken about his anger and frustration with the Russia inquiry. Mr. Trump has also said that he never would have made Mr. Sessions his attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from the inquiry.

Urging Mr. Sessions to end the inquiry was unprecedented and amounted to Mr. Trump asking Mr. Sessions to “subvert the law,” said Matthew S. Axelrod, a longtime prosecutor who served in top roles in the Obama Justice Department.

“What he’s saying here is that there’s no one who ought to be able to investigate his actions and, if necessary, hold him accountable for those actions,” Mr. Axelrod said.

Mr. Axelrod said this request of Mr. Sessions was part of a larger pattern — one in which Mr. Trump attacked the integrity of the special counsel, attacked the press and attacked the courts, “all institutions designed to provide checks on executive authority and executive overreach,” he said.

So, to recap. We have a foreign power mucking about in our politics and threatening our infrastructure. We have a president who by any theory is doing nothing to protect the country and its institutions. And now Trump continues his active interference with ongoing Justice Department investigations of the attacks on our 2016 election.

Have a good day!