Friday, January 18, 2019

Scriber takes a break

Hi all. Your Scriber is on vacation for a few days. I’ll get back to regular posts next week. Cheers!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Be careful what you wish for - impeachment might trade an idiocracy for a theocracy.

Dana Milbank (Washington Post) tells us why AG nominee William Barr might want the AG job in Why would William Barr take this job? The answer should alarm Trump. The short answer is that Barr might be a protector of the rule of law and of the Mueller investigation. But I digress. In the confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee we have evidence that our law makers, and Barr, understand that Trump is not the best and brightest.

And the chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), usually a Trump loyalist, seemed to be trolling the president.

Asked whether then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — a source of Trump’s fury — Barr replied: “I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself.”

“I agree,” Graham added, before poking fun at Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity. “President Trump is a one-pager kind of guy,” he said.

“I suspect he is,” Barr concurred.

There was laughter in the hearing room at Trump’s expense.

Although the Senators would not dare utter the word, Trump’s tenure really is an idiocracy - my word.

But let’s put that on hold for a moment. What if Trump is successfully impeached and leaves office. Who takes his place? You know the answer: VP Mike Pence. He is an evangelical and so is his wife Karen. She is the focus of recent reports about her teaching job at a Christian school that bans LGBTQ students and requires a moral pledge from its teachers. (And, look, I am not being misogynistic here. If Pence gets the presidency his wife becomes first lady, and that is not exactly apolitical.)

Jen Hayden at Daily Kos has a short version: Karen Pence begins teaching at a Virginia school that bans LGBTQ students and employees.

Karen Pence, mother wife of Vice President Mike Pence, started a new job this week: a part-time gig as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in Virginia, where she previously taught for 12 years. The private Christian school explicitly bans LGBTQ students and employees in the employment application that each staff member must sign and affirm.

It reads:

I understand that the term “marriage” has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture and that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other and that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity is engaged in outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Further, I will maintain a lifestyle based on biblical standards of moral conduct. Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.

Remember that these hypocrites work next to and support someone who has repeatedly cheated on his current and former wives, and violates nearly every ethical and moral code we live by, but hey—you do you, Karen Pence.

One can only imagine what a painful, toxic place this kind of school would be for students who may be struggling with their own sexual identities.

Naw, no need. I suspect rather few such students would end up for any length of time in that school.

But this reporting does beg for evidence of the claimed hypocrisy. It comes from another story at CNN, Karen and Mike Pence’s astonishing moral hypocrisy by Clay Cane (h/t Sherry Moreau)

For all their professed beliefs, Pence, and his wife, show unwavering support for a man who has been married three times, divorced twice, has had five children with three women and who has been accused of (though denies) paying a porn star and a Playboy model hundreds of thousands of dollars to conceal affairs he’d had with them.

The hypocrisy here, and indeed from white evangelical Trump supporters, is astonishing. As of April, white evangelical support for Trump was at an all-time high: 75%. Disturbingly, as he left the White House, President Barack Obama enjoyed the favorable view of only 24% of white evangelicals.

Obama, a man who had no sex scandals, was never accused of sexual harassment, had two children with the same woman, couldn’t crack 25% white evangelicals. Of course, race is a huge reason, but Hillary Clinton only received 16% of the white evangelical vote.

For white evangelicals, it appears to be Trump over country – and Karen Pence is a glowing example.

It comes down to this: If the Pences love their God so much, then they would not sit in a White House with a man who shows no moral compass and said he never asks for forgiveness. They would be on the White House lawn, with the King James Bible in hand, disavowing a President who is a horrible representation for our children.

Do Karen and Mike Pence (who, incidentally, supports conversion therapy) not see LGBTQ people as humans deserving the same respect and rights as anyone? It’s easy to imagine, based on his pronouncements in the past, that if he could, Vice President Pence would create a sweeping policy to annihilate the progress of all LGBTQ communities — progress that, to be clear, resonates in every community.

The LGBTQ community is Republican, Democrat, black, white, undocumented, documented and has members in red and blue states.

Mike and Karen Pence, where is your Jesus?

So there you have it. Impeaching Trump risks trading the Trumpian idiocracy for a Pencian theocracy. Be careful what you ask for.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

With shutdown Trump shoots America. Russia celebrates.

Read on to find out which part of the title is fact and which is fiction.

Trump accepted shutdown mantle. Voters agree.

There are two take-aways from the bloomberg.com report Trump Took Responsibility for the Shutdown, and Voters Say It’s His.

Polls: Half of Americans fault him, one-third blame Democrats
In past shutdowns, a president’s opponent blamed by public

How’s that for doing things differently.

President Donald Trump said a month ago that he’d gladly take the blame for a government shutdown over his proposed border wall. Polls show he’s getting it.

(In that iconic meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump promised not to blame Democrats. Guess what - he lied.)

Trump didn’t help himself by embracing the responsibility for the looming shutdown on Dec. 11 during an acrimonious Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” he said. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

Congressional Republicans were stunned. “‘I own it’? Really?” former Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado, who lost his seat in the November midterm elections, said the following day. "Do you really want to own this? Don’t you want to put it on their lap? Really!?”

Republicans fail History 101

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” said the philosopher George Santayana. The bloomberg.com report provides the evidence that Republicans are repeating the past.

In October 2013, a government shutdown occurred after the Republican-led House refused to include funding for Obamacare in spending legislation; they relented in 16 days. A CNN poll that month showed that 52 percent blamed Republicans in Congress, while 34 percent blamed President Barack Obama.

In November 1995, the first of two shutdowns occurred after the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans demanded steep domestic spending cuts opposed by President Bill Clinton. A CNN survey found that 49 percent blamed Republican leaders, while 26 percent blamed Clinton.

Now, reports bloomberg, “Six surveys taken since the partial government closure began last month tell a consistent story – half or more Americans believe Trump and his party are responsible for the shutdown, while one-third or fewer point the finger at Democrats.”

Trump shoots America in the foot

Snopes.com rated this one as true. “On 23 January 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump caused controversy when he stated the following during a campaign rally in Iowa: I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Now he’s holed up in the White House waiting for some one, any one, to do something about his self-inflicted looming economic contraction. Not just a slow-down. A real reversal in economic growth. He’s sitting in the White House shooting America and claiming that he will not lose voters.

Shutdown’s Economic Damage Starts to Pile Up, Threatening an End to Growth reports the New York Times.

The partial government shutdown is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated, the White House acknowledged on Tuesday, as President Trump’s economists doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost each week the standoff with Democrats continues.

The revised estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers show that the shutdown, now in its fourth week, is beginning to have real economic consequences. The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction.

To blunt the shutdown’s effects, the administration on Tuesday called tens of thousands of employees back to work, without pay, to process tax returns, ensure flight safety and inspect food and drugs. But some people involved in the shutdown discussions in the White House have privately said they anticipate that Mr. Trump will grow anxious about the economic impact in the coming days, accelerating an end to the stalemate. Others close to the president believe Mr. Trump has leverage and are encouraging him to stand by his demands.

Is that intransigence working?

Mr. Trump has demanded that Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, include $5.7 billion for a border wall in any measure to fund the government. Democrats have refused and, along with some Republicans, have tried to persuade the president to reopen the government and negotiate border security afterward. The House has passed several bills to fund parts of the government, including the Internal Revenue Service, that are not related to border security. Senate Republicans have declined to schedule votes on those bills.

On Tuesday, in an effort to try to splinter the Democrats’ opposition, the White House invited several House Democrats from districts Mr. Trump won to discuss a path forward. None showed up.

In the meantime, federal workers are taking a big hit and the misery is likely to spread to the general populace. See my post from yesterday for a summary of the damage Trump is doing. So far, congressional Republicans are just fine with that.

Would you believe that Mitch McConnell was heard to say “What, me worry?”

Our man from Moscow in the White House

Scriber has a nagging feeling that the shutdown is just the latest item on Putin’s wish list that Trump is checking off. There is evidence.

Rachel Maddow reported that Alarm rises as Trump behavior aligns with Putin’s fondest wishes.

Rachel Maddow looks at mounting evidence of Donald Trump policy inclinations lining up with the wildest anti-American, anti-Western dreams of Vladimir Putin as Donald Trump reportedly tries to obscure his personal interactions with Putin.

If you got this far, you will know that none of this is fiction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Trump's shutdown and the wall - garbage in, garbage out.

Trump's garbage
Garbage in, garbage out

There is an old saying in computer science: ’ garbage in, garbage out describes the concept that flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or “garbage”. The principle also applies more generally to all analysis and logic, in that arguments are unsound if their premises are flawed.’

So it is with respect to the White House. If you put a deeply flawed person IN a position of authority, you get garbled nonsense being spewed OUT. In 2016, Americans elected the most incompetent petulant narcissist in history. In 2019, he is forcing the people to suffer for his own campaign promise that is founded on nothing more than a campaign slogan: “Build the wall.” You see? Garbage in, garbage out.

Sher Watts Spooner, a Daily Kos Community writer, documents how The human costs of the Trump shutdown will affect all of us. Coming soon to your nation, your community, your income, you personally: bad sh!t inflicted by Trump’s temper tantrum - and we should acknowledge, abetted by the Congressional Republicans. In the latter regard, it’s become so bad that we have a Senator (Lindsey Graham) goading the president to take the legally, constitutionally, politically precarious autocratic action of declaring a national emergency.

Watts Spooner lists the various consequences of Trump’s shutdown.

… The worst-off, of course, are those employees who won’t get paid and are genuinely fearful about their ability to make a rent or mortgage payment. They’re worried about how they’ll afford groceries in the coming weeks to feed their families. They wonder where they’ll find the money for school fees. …

Would you believe that Trump’s idiocracy infected the US Coast Guard evidenced by “its online tip sheet suggesting that employees hold yard sales or babysit to make ends meet.”

Those who don’t depend on the government for a paycheck might not realize how cutting off government services when employees aren’t around can affect all of us. Whether it’s curtailing a visit to a national park, waiting in a long line to board a plane, or worrying whether the food you buy at the grocery store is safe, this Trump shutdown is starting to mean inconveniences and hardships for many Americans.

The Center for American Progress issued an analysis that put the amount of missed paychecks at $2 billion every two weeks. That’s a lot of money to remove from the economy, even for a short time.

Moreover, Trump’s shutdown is, or soon will be, affecting the majority of Americans.

Here are just a few of the ways the shutdown is causing inconveniences and creating dangers for the U.S. population:

Food safety. The Food and Drug Administration oversees about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply. With workers furloughed, the FDA “has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities,” according to a story in the Washington Post. The FDA typically conducts about 160 inspections a week, and a third of those are done at high-risk facilities.

The safety net. Poor Americans count on government assistance for a variety of services, and those services are getting cut off. Whether it’s nutrition programs, housing subsidies, or low-interest housing loans through the government doesn’t matter; many are on hold.

Fear of flying. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration must show up for work, even when they don’t receive a paycheck. But many of those who screen travelers at the nation’s airports have been calling in sick. Some are threatening to resign all together—or already have done so. … It’s one thing to be bothered by the inconvenience of long lines at airports when there aren’t enough TSA agents to process travelers. It’s a more serious safety concern when there are personnel shortages in air traffic control towers.

Data not found. The loss of data collection might not cause any personal hardships now, but the lack of such data will hurt us all in the long run. Pew Research has a compilation of all the agencies that have stopped collecting and supplying data, “affecting everyone from investors and farmers to researchers and journalists.” Those include the Census Bureau, statistical offices in the Agriculture Department, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and more.

The Center for American Progress did a breakdown of how the shutdown is affecting seven states—seven states where Republican senators face re-election in 2020.

One of these is Arizona where:

Seven thousand and three hundred federal employees in Arizona, over half of whom work for the Interior Department, are either furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown. The Interior Department includes workers who support the state’s 24 national parks, monuments, and trails in addition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The 300,000 indigenous Americans living in Arizona are uniquely harmed by the shutdown, thanks to its impact on the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has said she does “not think there’s ever a time when it’s appropriate to shut down the government over any demand.” Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has not publicly broken from Trump and McConnell, and did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Another of those states is Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader who has gone AWOL, effectively by his disappearance turning over control of the Senate to Trump.

Spooner concludes:

… [McConnell] shows no sign of budging and refuses to let senators vote on the House-passed bill to fund the government. You know—the same bill that passed on a voice vote in the Senate back in December.

“More than 6,000 federal government employees in Kentucky are furloughed or working without pay,” says a Center for American Progress report on the shutdown.

What do you say, Mitch? How much are you willing to screw over your constituents just to appease the big baby in the White House?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Mournday Mourning Madness (Trump) and Mythology (GOP)

Today let’s start with some definitions.

Wall defined:
Verb
Make someone very irritated or angry.
‘Chuck and Nancy are driving Trump up the wall’

National Emergency
Noun
A term typically used by politicians to express irony.
‘Donald Trump at the border’

Trump's wall
Dig under it, drive around it, fly over it

Now more Illustrated Gnus from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • Trump: “Why doesn’t anybody believe me?” Toon: “Because you are the boy who cried wolf.”
  • Trump declares national emergency, requisitions paper towels from Puerto Rico.
  • A logical progression: concrete blocks, steel slats, chicken wire, picket fence, speed bump, legos.
  • What Trump is not considering: concrete wall, steel wall, padded cell.
  • Trump’s progression: The Art of the Deal, The Art of the Steal, The Art of the Heel.
  • The lesson Trump learned from Truman: The buck stops everywhere else.
  • What American taxpayers could get for the $5.7 billion: 58,853,290,105 legos.
  • What else American taxpayers could get for the $5.7 billion: A monthly paycheck for 1,954,062 TSA employees.
Trump's wall

A fool's impulse drives America to the brink

shutdown
Noun
A means of building a wall. Typically used to prevent government workers from working and/or being paid.
Also: A fool’s impulse.

Wall
Noun
Something that can be dug under, driven around, and flown over. A monument to the stupidity of [one] man.

General George Patton had it right. Here are quotes swiped from military-quotes.com.

“Pacifists would do well to study the Siegfried and Maginot Lines, remembering that these defenses were forced; that Troy fell; that the walls of Hadrian succumbed; that the Great Wall of China was futile; and that, by the same token, the mighty seas which are alleged to defend us can also be circumvented by a resolute and ingenious opponent. In war, the only sure defense is offense, and the efficiency of offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it.”

“Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man”

Michael Gerson (Washington Post) elaborates: Trump is turning a budget crisis into a constitutional crisis — all for a fool’s impulse. (h/t Daily Star which reprinted Gerson’s column this morning)

So far: President Trump has announced a crisis that isn’t actually a crisis — requiring a wall that is not really a wall, funded by Mexican pesos that are really U.S. tax dollars — to keep out murderous migrants who are (as a whole) less violent than native-born Americans, leading to congressional negotiations that involve no actual negotiations, resulting in a government shutdown undertaken on the advice of radio personalities, defended in an Oval Office address that consisted of alarmism, prejudice, falsehood and other material caught in the P-trap of senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s mind.

One conservative claimed that Trump finally looked “presidential.” Actually, we are seeing the federal government — Trump supporters and opponents — trying to explain and respond to an impulsive, emotive, selfish, irresponsible and fundamentally irrational force at its center. It is like the immune system responding to a virus it has never seen before and cannot defend against. Trump walks in and out of meetings, repeating scraps of his stump speech, unpredictable to his staff, unconcerned about the pressure on his allies, contemptuous toward congressional opponents and with no apparent end game except their total surrender.

This is a case study in failed and erratic leadership. The shutdown happened because the president — under pressure from partisan media — reneged on a commitment to sign a spending bill the Senate had passed and that the House was ready to pass. Then, during an Oval Office meeting with the Democratic leaders, he said he would gladly own a shutdown, presumably because he figured it would look good on TV. Trump apparently did this without talking to congressional Republicans or his own staff. Congressional Republicans and his own staff were then forced to defend Trump’s impulse as a strategy. But this has proved difficult, because Republicans have no leverage. So now the whole GOP is left pretending there is an emergency at the border, and that a multiyear construction project is somehow the best way to deal with an emergency.

This is the Republican legislator’s lot in the Trump era — trying to provide ex post facto justifications for absurd presidential choices. The border “crisis” did not break because of some tragedy caused by a porous southern border. It did not result from some serious determination of national security priorities. The whole GOP strategy, and all the arguments they are using, are really backfill for an intemperate choice made by a president in response to media coverage. It is a dynamic we’ve seen again and again. Trump announced a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because, well, for the hell of it. Then the whole government had to backfill a policy and process to fit his wrongheaded announcement. Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on the spur of the moment, perhaps to assert himself against the influence of his now-departed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Then, the whole defense and national-security establishment has to scramble to backfill the details of coherent policy (which they still haven’t really done).

On the issue of border security, it has fallen to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to provide justification for the irrational. And this has turned a serious public servant into a font of deception and bad faith. She warns darkly about a terrorist threat crossing our southern border, though both the size and details of that threat are too “sensitive” to release. “I am sure all Americans,” she explains, “would agree that one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many.”

So, we know that the number of terrorists intercepted at the southern border is equal to or greater than one. What we don’t know is how this terrorist threat compares with other dangers and vulnerabilities that require funding as well. I have spoken to many counterterrorism experts about domestic radicalization, and foreign intelligence gathering, and drones and special operations, and financial investigation and disruption. I have never met an expert who mentioned the construction of a physical barrier with Mexico as an urgent priority in the fight against global terrorism. Some benefit in this area may be a highly attenuated byproduct of a wall. But if the goal is fighting terrorism, the first dollar would not go to a wall. Or probably the billionth dollar. The argument is deceptive to its core.

But security arguments would certainly be at the core of Trump’s justification for declaring a national emergency and building the wall with U.S. troops — if he makes that choice. Then, the ignorance, arrogance and stubbornness of one man would turn a budget crisis into a constitutional crisis — and turn Republican defenders into abettors of creeping authoritarianism. All to justify a fool’s impulse.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How the media became Donald Trump's apprentice

This morning, Frank Bruni, columnist at the New York Times, asks Will the Media Be Trump’s Accomplice Again in 2020?, adding We have a second chance. Let’s not blow it. Bruni reports on some of the media’s biases and failures during the 2016 election thus becoming complicit in the election of Trump. It’s fairly lengthy. Here are some highlights.

"The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” the former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who has covered more than half a century of presidential elections, told me. And what we did last time was emphasize the sound and the fury, because Trump provided both in lavish measure.

“When you cover this as spectacle,” Rather said, “what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.” Spectacle is his m├ętier. He’s indisputably spectacular. And even if it’s a ghastly spectacle and presented that way, it still lets him control the narrative. …

I asked Rather what he was most struck by in the 2016 campaign, and he instantly mentioned Trump’s horrific implication, in public remarks that August, that gun enthusiasts could rid themselves of a Clinton presidency by assassinating her.

I’d almost forgotten it. So many lesser shocks so quickly overwrote it. Rather wasn’t surprised. “It got to the point where it was one outrage after another, and we just moved on each time,” he said. Instead, we should hold on to the most outrageous, unconscionable moments. We should pause there awhile. We can’t privilege the incremental over what should be the enduring. It lets Trump off the hook.

The real story of Trump isn’t his amorality and outrageousness. It’s Americans’ receptiveness to that. It’s the fact that, according to polls, most voters in November 2016 deemed him dishonest and indecent, yet plenty of them cast their ballots for him anyway.

You might recognize this as one of the themes I’ve blogged about - the real story of 2016 being Trump’s followers. Another is the false equivalence sought by the media when it came to reporting on Trump’s habitual lying.

Through the first half of 2016, as Trump racked up victories in the Republican primaries, he commanded much more coverage than any other candidate from either party, and it was evenly balanced between positive and negative appraisals — unlike the coverage of Clinton, which remained mostly negative.

Only during their general-election face-off in the latter half of 2016 did Trump and Clinton confront equivalent tides of naysaying. “On topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone,” Patterson wrote.

Regarding their fitness for office, they were treated identically? In retrospect, that’s madness. It should have been in real time, too. But we fell prey to a habit that can’t be repeated when we compare the new crop of Democratic challengers to Trump and to one another. We interpreted fairness as a similarly apportioned mix of complimentary and derogatory stories about each contender, no matter how different one contender’s qualifications, accomplishments and liabilities were from another’s. If we were going to pile on Trump, we had to pile on Clinton — or, rather, keep piling on her.

That would be the “false equivalence” I mentioned above. In spite of a lopsided percentage of false claims (70% false for Trump, 70% true for Clinton), for each false claim by Trump, the media sought a false claim made by Clinton thereby implying a 50–50 equivalence.

During the election I took issue with such reporting. For example, on Friday, September 23, 2016, I posted Journalism in the age of Trumpiness: A tale of two narcissists. Think of my post as a listing of lots of things the media must not repeat in this new election cycle. The full text of the post is reprinted in full below (sans links to cited sources, with some added emphases).
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
Edward R. Murrow? Walter Cronkite? Dan Rather? Bill Moyers? Two are dead and the others are not exactly competing in the same arena as CNN, Fox, and the other main networks. I know, there are good people doing solid investigative reporting, for example, Rachel Maddow, and our own John Dougherty. But, with apologies, they are not playing in the same league of audience share as the big networks mentioned above. That means that truth gets transformed into truthiness and ultimately replaced by Trumpiness. This state of affairs has not escaped notice among media critics.

So, you listen to me. Listen to me: Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth… Go to God! Go to your gurus! Go to yourselves! Because that’s the only place you’re ever going to find any real truth. Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch).

You’re television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You’re madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. -Max Shumacher (played by William Holden).

Those are harsh words from the 1976 academy award winning movie, Network.

The great journalist Edward R. Murrow put it more succinctly but no less critically. He predicted accurately how the media is complicit in spreading misinformation: “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.” That rapid distribution likely amplifies the conference of referential validity. Hasher, Goldstein, and Toppino (1977) showed that “repetition of a plausible statement increases a person’s belief in the referential validity or truth of that statement.” The media’s 24x7 barrage of untruths, partial truths, and lack of context thus distorts the informational environment of the audience.

The media’s consistent search for “balance” is another way in which the media distorts the truth. For example, the reporting in 2016 has been portraying the political world as 50–50 when in fact is it 70–30 (70% truth from Clinton and 70% lies from Trump). Regardless of the base frequency of true and false statements, the media, finding one falsehood for one candidate, will seek evidence for another falsehood spoken by the other candidate. That leads to the illusion that both candidates are similar in their treatment of truth.

At least from my limited vista, some in the media are finally waking up to the fact that the media has been a willing partner with Donald Trump. Eric Alterman exposes the media’s attempt to make Trump appear “normal.”

Harry Enten of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com titled a recent post “The More ‘Normal’ Trump Can Make This Race, the Better His Chances.” This is obviously true, and hence every effort by the media to treat Donald Trump as a “normal” presidential candidate brings us closer to the potential destruction of our democracy. And yet we can see it taking place at virtually every level of our media.

Silver recently estimated Trump’s chances of victory at about one in three. Remember, we are talking about a psychopathic narcissist whose alt-right agenda offers so many threats to the well-being of our country and the world, they defy simple enumeration or categorization. Even Republican political professionals are amazed. Scott Reed, chief strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce — who also managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, among others — finds it “really quite amazing that after the Trump adventure this is still a competitive race.”

The media deserve a good deal of blame here, not only because of the billions of dollars’ worth of free airtime television networks have given to Trump but also because of their insistence — against all evidence — that he is someone other than the person he clearly presents himself to be.

Paul Waldman at the Washington Post charges the media with “journalistic malpractice” and predicts “History will not be kind to the mainstream media.”

And just this morning the Daily Star ran an editorial by Harvard Professor Thomas Patterson, If Clinton loses, blame the media.

If Hillary Clinton loses the presidential election in November, we will know the reason. The email controversy did her candidacy in. But it needed a helping hand — and the news media readily supplied that.

Patterson provides evidence for the media’s drumbeat negative slant on Clinton from his analyses of media content. For example,

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1 percent of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4 percent of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71 percent negative to 29 percent positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle the Islamic State.

Patterson then concludes:

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, who tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

Perhaps most seriously is Brian Beutler’s conclusion that the “false balance” coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is all about the press’s self-interest. And that pairs one narcissist (the press) with another (Trump). Changing the mores of an institution the size of the conglomeration of modern news networks would be a monumental effort.

Judging from the recent polls, we seem to be a country on the verge of making a horrible mistake, aided and abetted by the mainstream media - electing a man characterized by his connections to the mob, Moscow, and madness. Will the press forgive his violation of campaign finance laws if he does assume the presidency? Will they finally expose his alleged tax evasion? If not, then what?

Has America come to this, a welcoming of a narcissistic bully as the representative of our national ideals? If so, the blame will fall heavily on the modern media. I’ll then end with another quote by Edward R. Murrow because it too is an apt message to America. Good night, and good luck.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The shutdown is proving that Trump is once again screwing the workers he does not respect

On June 11, 2016, well before the Republican national convention in late July, I wrote about the accumulation of evidence that Donald “Deadbeat” Trump does not pay his bills ….

… at least not some of them. There are damning investigations appearing in national news outlets about the thousands of bills Trump’s companies did not pay. They contract for the work, refuse to pay or offer a fraction of what is owed, drag the small contractors into costly legal actions, and the small guys get burned.

As just one example of that evidence, Paul Waldman (Washington Post) cited a USA Today report:

On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.

Following up, on June 12, 2016, I wrote in my series the Daily Trumpeter: Deadbeat Donald and the serial bankruptcies in Atlantic City how Trump “was raking in millions even while his companies and casinos were going belly up …”. I asked:

Given the history of bad business practices, why would anyone want to inflict this this selfish, shallow man on our great country? Why would anyone want to “bet on his business acumen” and follow his investors into national bankruptcy?

The answer appears to be “about 35% of the American voters” and “over 80% of the Republicans.”

In spite of the evidence that Trump was a deadbeat, if not also a crook, the convention inflicted Trump on America. The voting results were: Trump (NY): 1,725 (69.78%), Cruz (TX): 484 (19.58%), Kasich (OH): 125 (5.06%), Rubio (FL): 123 (4.98%), Carson (FL): 7 (0.28%), Bush (FL): 3 (0.12%), Paul (KY): 2 (0.08%), .Abstention 3 (0.12%)

Has anything changed since? Naw. John Nichols (The Nation) writes that Trump Got Rich by Screwing Over Workers—Of Course He’s Doing It Again as President. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed.”

The biggest lie ever told in American politics is the claim that Donald Trump cares about working people.

He never has. He never will.

As a bankruptcy-prone business mogul, Trump has always financed his lavish lifestyle at the expense of the workers and contractors he screwed over. Now he is doing the same thing as president, having engineered a government shutdown that on Friday denied 800,000 federal employees their paychecks.

"Cheating, scamming, and ripping off workers is a Donald Trump tradition that goes back decades. Federal workers are just Trump’s latest victims,” says Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers and employees of federal contractors are suffering the same fate because of the Trump shutdown.”

This shutdown, says Paul Shearon, the president of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, is “completely unnecessary.”

“The real problem is that President Trump has shut himself down and he’s refusing to do his job as chief executive,” says Shearon, whose union represents judges in US immigration courts, scientists, engineers and technical workers at NASA, and highly skilled workers at the EPA and NOAA.

The human cost is severe for federal workers who, as American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. says, have take home pay of about $500 a week and in many case “struggle to make ends meet even without a missed paycheck.” Yet Trump is “holding employees’ paychecks hostage over demands for a border wall.”

Trump presumes that unpaid federal workers can just “make adjustments,” while claiming that he “can relate” to the difficult circumstance he has imposed upon them.

This, says Weissman, “is pretty rich coming from a six-time bankrupt real estate mogul who inherited his daddy’s fortune. Working families who are living paycheck to paycheck and can no longer afford to pay for rent, groceries and medical bills because of Trump’s reckless shutdown have every right to be furious at the president’s oblivious and patronizing remarks.”

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

That was a lie.

And, as I wrote back in June, the evidence was clear and public that this guy was a pathological liar and a cheat.

As Weissman says, Trump has as president “betrayed workers at every turn.”

“From rolling back health, safety and wage protections to misleading coal miners to tax giveaways for billionaires and big corporations that left most Americans with a pittance,” he explains, “it should be obvious by now that Trump holds working people beneath contempt.

Hell, it was obvious before the convention at least by June in 2016.

Just last week I wrote how Trump shutdown the government, harming our citizens, because ‘most people aren’t worthy of respect’.

You want to know why this is happening? It comes down to respect for our citizens - or, rather, lack thereof. Remember what King Donald said a while back, as I posted back in November.

Here is my response from a December 2017 post in this blog.

Back in October 2016 I picked up on a NY Times report and posted on this telling quote: Donald Trump: “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”

… What Drives Donald Trump? Fear of Losing Status, Tapes Show.
The New York Times obtained “Recordings of Donald J. Trump [that] reveal a man who is fixated on his own celebrity, anxious about losing his status and contemptuous of those who fall from grace.”

The Times reported:

Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

I concluded: “All people are worthy of respect until and unless proven otherwise. Trump proves otherwise on every day of his life.”

His decision to shut down the government and thereby to inflict harm on the American people proves that conclusion to be spot on.

So if you want to know why Trump pursues his political aims at the expense of even those who voted for him, there you have it. He has no respect for his follow humans. And thus he is incapable of giving a shit about them and their misery he has caused - then and now.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Trump is running out of options and time. For the wall, Pelosi utters magic word - NO. Having no pay check is 'inconvenient'.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham referred to missing a pay check as - get this - ‘inconvenient’. That kind of attitude feeds the impasse over the shutdown vs. “the wall”.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) asks “what exactly would it take? What would a borderline-desperate president put on the table to sway Democrats?” He proposes an answer to the question What is Trump prepared to offer in exchange for a border wall?.

As of yesterday, the White House’s position was plainly absurd: if Democrats agreed to finance a border wall, Trump would end the shutdown. Since the government has to re-open anyway, and that’s a priority for both parties, it obviously can’t be the basis for a credible deal.

… a debt-ceiling increase and higher domestic spending caps. Of course, raising the debt limit falls into the same category as re-opening government – it’s a bipartisan priority that has to happen – though higher domestic spending caps is at least a step in the right direction.

I’ve seen some talk about offering DACA protections to Dreamers in exchange for a wall, but Trump has already rejected this offer in the recent past, and besides, at least for now, those DACA protections already exist.

It’s why Republicans will have to think much bigger. What if Trump offered some combination of a universal background check system on gun purchases, dramatically expanded voting rights, and new health care protections? Would Dems be tempted to write a check for the border?

I don’t know. Maybe the president should try it and see what happens.

The question may come down to whether Dems in Congress can stomach the thought of spending $5,700,000,000 in service of Trump’s vanity - on a made-up campaign slogan.

Look. This not rocket science - but rocket science might be the key to unraveling this Gordian Knot. Could Trump just redefine “wall” as a virtual wall replete with the most technologically advanced detectors? How about supplementing that with some more personnel? And then brag about the biggest, most advanced high-tech wall ever? And throw some red meat to his base - like complain how the Dems kept the narrative on concrete vs. steel while all along Trump wanted to think in more modern terms? (That would be a lie, but what the heck, right?) Trump is the consummate con man. If anyone can sell this, it’s Donald J. Trump.

I’m not the only one to see the possibilities of redefining “the wall” as a virtual wall. Yesterday, in her noon-time segment on MSNBC, Katy Tur interviewed border Congressman Vicente Gonzalez (D, Texas). He is pushing for an immediate end to the shutdown and subsequent dialog about the best way to secure our border. He spoke strongly in favor of a virtual wall using modern military detection devices. See the full interview here.

I fear, having suggested what I think is obvious, that a different solution might be at hand, and one that invites more human suffering and incurs a constitutional cost.

Now the White House Considers Using Storm Aid Funds as a Way to Pay for the Border Wall.

President Trump traveled to the border on Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California to build a border barrier, perhaps under an emergency declaration.

The administration appeared to be looking into … using extraordinary emergency powers to get around Congress in funding the wall. Among the options, the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether it can divert for wall construction $13.9 billion allocated last year after devastating hurricanes and wildfires, according to congressional and Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the possibility.

The president is allowed to divert unspent money from projects under a national emergency. But a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential discussions, questioned the legality of using Army Corps funding, saying it would be subject to restrictions under the Stafford Act, which governs disaster relief. The official said the process was as much a political exercise intended to threaten projects Democrats valued as a pragmatic one.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) cautions that a Raging, weakened Trump is running out of options.

Trump may very well declare a national emergency to build the wall. But new reporting indicates that even if he does, it’s not even remotely clear how much of his wall he’d get from it. As Charlie Savage details in a must-read piece, there are multiple legal obstacles standing in his way. It isn’t just that the presidential declaration itself would face a legal challenge that would go all the way to the Supreme Court; it would also face multiple lawsuits from landowners along the border. [Those are beginning.]

As one legal expert puts it to Savage: “We’re going to be in 2020 before this is resolved.” It very well might get blocked by then, but even if Trump did prevail on all these fronts, it’s unclear how much wall he’d have time to add before his reelection campaign, if any. And of course, he might lose, which would mean a Democratic president would halt the project.

Still, the act of declaring of a national emergency to force the wall issue would itself likely drive his supporters into a state of delirium. Which, for Trump, would be the real point of it. This is also the real point of threatening to do it.

… The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports that even some Republicans believe Trump’s position is weakening, and they have discerned a flaw in his strategy. These Republicans point out that behind the scenes, the administration is taking steps to mitigate the impact of the shutdown on real people, such as keeping tax refunds and food stamps flowing, which they say illustrates that the shutdown is rebounding on Trump.

As one GOP strategist puts it: “Republicans have pulled a gun and taken themselves hostage. When you’re mitigating the negative impacts against yourself, you have a political problem.”

Meanwhile, Politico reports that even people in the White House believe this dynamic is unlikely to change, because they recognize that Democrats have zero incentive to give him his way.

And Nancy Pelosi has no problem uttering the magic word: Pelosi knows the magic word for beating Trump: ‘No’.

Trump plays Groucho Marx
Trump gets the magic word

In the 1950s comedian Groucho Marx had a successful career in a radio and later TV game show, You Bet Your Life. From pmwiki, slightly adapted to comport with current events:

In our modernized version Donald Trump would say “Build the wall”, causing a toy duck to descend from the ceiling to bring a sign containing the “secret word”: “NO”. Trump sometimes behaves in such a way as to encourage the secret word to come up.

Self-Deprecation was often used by Groucho in response to his introduction. Adapted to the present, the script reads:
Announcer Mike Pence: And now, here he is — the one, the only…
Senate Republican audience: Trump!
Trump: Is that bum still in town? Oh, that’s me!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Senate Republicans unite behind Trump on shutdown. Public opinion is a different matter, running 2 to 1 against Trump.

Usually I am 100% in agreement with Rachel Maddow’s blog author, Steve Benen. But on the matter of “cracks” in the Republican front defending the Trump-way-or-no-way, I have to take exception. In this post-oval-office-speech post (As shutdown drags on, more cracks emerge in the Republicans’ wall), Benen said:

Schumer and Pelosi effectively extended an invitation to more Republicans to get on board with their obvious solution that would end the shutdown. Unfortunately for Trump, a growing number of GOP members are accepting that invitation.

Part of the problem for the president and his team is in the House, where Republican agita is clearly growing. In fact, Politico reported this week, “Several dozen House Republicans might cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, spurring the White House into a dramatic effort to stem potential GOP defections.”

But the breakdown in Republican unity is even more acute in the Senate, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in endorsing the House’s bipartisan fix. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) yesterday inched closer to the sane camp.

Really? Have we lost our memory of what Collins and Murkowski did when the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination came to a vote? My feeling was that it would not take much to get these two back in the Trumpian line-up. One commenter, reacting to Benen’s post, agreed with my sense that so-called Moderate Republicans are creatures of mythology. “Butch3919441” commented: “Can we please not fall for the act by Collins again? She’ll put on her concerned conservative face, rush in front of the cameras to vacuum up all the airtime she can, and then vote however McConnell tells her. Look at her votes on health care and the tax bill. She’s a coward and a liar.”

Sure enough. A little jaw-boning from Trump was all that it took. Trump took lunch with Senate Republicans, reports the NY Times at which he talked unity and dismissed any deal with the Dems about DACA and just about everything else.

… After his lunch with Senate Republicans, Mr. Trump declared that the party was “totally unified,” even if he faced some questions about “strategy.”

Leading up to it, though, the number of Republicans uneasy about the president’s tactics appeared to be growing. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia and the chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, had warned on Tuesday that she could potentially support reopening the government as talks continued on border security — the Democratic position.

I mean, I think I could live with that,” Ms. Capito said. She said she expected pressure from federal employees and voters in her state would only mount the longer the impasse drags on. “I’ve expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is, so that pressure’s going to build,” she said.

Ms. Murkowski had vowed to confront the president on the shutdown’s effect on her state. She and other moderate Republicans entered the lunch confident that senators were coalescing around the idea that the government should be reopened, but they left disappointed, convinced that for now, the party would follow Mr. Trump perilously further into a shutdown with an uncertain end.

A handful of them, including Ms. Murkowski and Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and James Lankford of Oklahoma, pressed Mr. Trump on the mounting burden on federal workers and related industries in their states. His response was consistent.

“I was able to raise the issues that I have with using a shutdown,” Ms. Murkowski said. “He listened and urged that we all stick together.”

We’ve heard that before, right?

Trump also met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It did not go well reports the NY Times: Trump Storms Out of White House Meeting With Democrats on Shutdown.

President Trump stormed out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not fund a border wall even if he agreed to reopen the government, escalating a confrontation that has shuttered large portions of the government for 19 days and counting.

Stunned Democrats emerged from the meeting in the White House Situation Room declaring that the president had thrown a “temper tantrum” and slammed his hands on the table before leaving with an abrupt “bye-bye.” Republicans disputed the hand slam and blamed Democratic intransigence for prolonging the standoff.

When the meeting was over, talks to reopen the government appeared to be in disarray. The contentious, brief and futile session underscored an impasse that is looking each day like an insurmountable gulf between the two sides. Mr. Trump will visit the border on Thursday in McAllen, Tex., leaving little hope of a resolution for a shutdown that will tie the longest in the nation’s history on Friday.

“It wasn’t even a high-stakes negotiation; it was a petulant president of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi said as she returned to the Capitol. “A person who would say, ‘I’ll keep government shut down for weeks, months or years unless I get my way.’”

Any other president would have taken the opportunity afforded by the Tuesday night broadcast from the Oval Office to try for some resolution. But not Trump. His speech was more notable for what he did not say. John Cassidy (New Yorker) says Trump’s Speech Was a Big Non-Event.

What was all that about? Nothing much, it turns out. After all the buildup, Donald Trump’s televised address from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, the first of his Administration, was a dud. He didn’t unveil any new proposals to end the government shutdown. He didn’t offer up any meaningful new arguments for his border wall. And he didn’t declare a national emergency in an effort to circumvent opposition from congressional Democrats, which he’d been openly talking about in the previous few days.

Instead, he read a highly misleading ten-minute stump speech in which he sought to portray the wall, or a steel barrier, as a solution to a humanitarian crisis on the border rather than what it is and has been all along: the holy grail of a nativist political movement that he has nurtured and cultivated ever since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower. …

To change the narrative, he would have needed to do something much more dramatic. For instance, he could have resurrected the idea of linking border-wall funding to providing a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers; that would have given the Democrats something to consider, anyway. At the opposite extreme, he could have gone ahead and declared a national emergency, stating his intention to divert money from the Pentagon for the steel fence. The first option would have involved standing up to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, who would be screaming “Amnesty!” The second option would have plunged Trump into yet another legal battle, and even some Republicans in the Senate might have objected.

He chose to go in neither of these directions. Consequently, he is now in the same tight spot as before—a slightly tighter one, in fact. Every day, the impact of the shutdown broadens: later this week, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss their first paycheck of 2019. At some point, public anger is sure to mount. And since Trump claimed ownership of this entire thing before it started, much of that anger seems likely to be directed at him.

So far Cassidy’s observation about public sentiment is holding true. A growing number of Americans blame Trump for shutdown: Reuters-Ipsos poll.

The national opinion poll, which ran from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, found that 51 percent of adults believe Trump “deserves most of the blame” for the shutdown, which entered its 18th day on Tuesday. That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from Dec. 21 to 25.

Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll. Those percentages are mostly unchanged from the previous poll.

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, conducted as the partial government shutdown reached its third week, reveals the scope of Trump’s challenge. A minority of voters agree with Trump’s description of a crisis of illegal immigration at the southern border. There’s only tepid support for the wall he wants to build there. Voters are opposed to shutting down the government to extract the funds for the wall’s construction — and more blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown than Democrats.

Nearly half of voters, 47 percent, say Trump is mostly to blame for the shutdown, the poll shows, while another 5 percent point the finger at congressional Republicans. But just a third, 33 percent, blame Democrats in Congress.

CNN reports that The majority of Americans are against Trump on the wall and the shutdown.

The average of polls taken since the shutdown began indicate that Americans are blaming Republicans for the shutdown. In the average, about 50% think Trump is most to blame, 35% think congressional Democrats are most to blame and about 5% think congressional Republicans are most to blame.

When you combine all the numbers together, about 55% blame Republicans (either Trump or congressional Republicans) and about just 35% blame Democrats for the shutdown.

It’s getting worse for Trump, 538 reports. Trump Has Lost Ground In The Shutdown Blame Game.

Polls conducted in the first few days of the shutdown showed that between 43 percent and 47 percent of Americans blamed Trump most for the shutdown, while about a third blamed congressional Democrats. Polling data had been pretty scarce thereafter, but this week a handful of new polls gave us an updated view of who Americans think is responsible. (We’re looking only at data from pollsters who have conducted two surveys since the shutdown started — one just after it began and one after the new year. This makes for nice apples-to-apples comparisons.)

The two YouGov polls found a 4-point increase in those blaming Trump. There was a 4-point increase among registered voters who most blamed Trump in the two Morning Consult polls. And surveys from Reuters/Ipsos also found a 4-point increase.

As for where Democrats stand in the blame-game, Morning Consult found a 2-point increase in those who blame them the most between their two polls, while Ipsos/Reuters found a 1-point drop and YouGov found a 3-point drop.

538 concludes that “the shutdown appears to be hurting Trump. His job approval rating has edged down in the past three weeks — a trend that lines up almost perfectly on the calendar with the shutdown.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers a not-so-radical proposal for a progressive tax rate system

Here’s another feature from Judd Legum: Redefining “radical”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Congressman from New York, was interviewed on Sunday on 60 Minutes. During the interview, Anderson Cooper pressed her on how she would pay for an ambitious proposal, called the “Green New Deal,” that aims to end fossil fuel use in America quickly.

Ocasio-Cortez suggested taxing income over $10 million at 60 to 70%. Cooper described that as a “radical agenda.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: You know, it — you look at our tax rates back in the ’60s and when you have a progressive tax rate system. Your tax rate, you know, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 maybe ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops — on your 10 millionth dollar — sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn’t mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.

Anderson Cooper: What you are talking about, just big picture, is a radical agenda — compared to the way politics is done right now.

Cooper’s response reveals how our national political conversation is profoundly skewed. The current economic structure — one where most wealth flows to the top — is assumed to be moderate and reasonable. Any meaningful deviation from the status quo is considered “radical.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

And as a matter of fact, it had not been that way until Republicans, starting with Ronald Reagan, began giving out tax breaks to their wealthy donors. Legum continues.

From 1932 to 1980, the top tax rate in the United States exceeded 60%. In 1980, the top marginal rate was 70%.

Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is more moderate than the actual system of taxation in the United States in 1980. At that time, in today’s dollars, all income over $658,213 was taxed at 70%. Ocasio-Cortez is proposing returning to the 70% rate but only for income over $10 million.

As of 2016, “approximately 16,000 Americans earned more than $10 million each,” representing “fewer than 0.05 percent of all U.S. households.” Very few people would be impacted by Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, which would raise about $720 billion over the first ten years.

Compare Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion to the tax plan enacted into law by Trump and the Republicans in December 2017. That legislation reduced the corporate tax rate to 21%. That’s lower than the corporate tax rate has been since 1939.

Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal, as Paul Krugman notes, is grounded in research by Nobel laureate Peter Diamond. A study by Diamond and another economist, Emmanuel Saez, concluded that the optimal top marginal tax rate was 73%. Diamond and Saez’s work is based on the marginal utility of an extra dollar for multi-millionaires. They argue that an additional dollar for the obscenely wealthy has very little value. This makes intuitive sense. If someone makes $20 million per year, an additional $1000 will not have a meaningful impact on their life.

Therefore, Diamond and Saez argue, the rate should be set at whatever could generate the highest tax receipts. That’s how they arrived at 73%. Other economists, like former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, think it should be higher. Romer argues for a top rate of 80%.

Republicans insist on lowering the top rate — Trump’s legislation in 2017 lowered it from 39.6% to 37% – claiming that a lower top rate will create more economic growth. No serious research supports this because it’s not true. Data over the last 60 years shows no correlation between a lower top rate and higher growth.

America’s current policy is based on an economic theory that has been disproven by data. Deviations from that policy, based on work from top economists, is considered “radical.”

There is a well-financed army of politicians and lobbyists who promote ideas that benefit the very rich as if they benefit everyone. After Ocasio-Cortez’s interview, they went on the attack.

Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA), a member of the House Republican leadership, said Ocasio-Cortez’s plan was to “[t]ake away 70% of your income and give it to leftist fantasy programs.”

This, of course, is not what Ocasio-Cortez was suggesting. The rate would only apply to income over $10 million, which means it would not impact 99.95% of Americans. Even someone who earned $11 million, for example, would only pay a 70% rate on their final $1 million.

Grover Norquist, who is paid handsomely by the very wealthy to advocate for lower taxes, piled on, comparing Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to slavery.

In a subsequent tweet, Norquist said he didn’t believe a 70% rate would apply only to the rich. Norquist, however, is paid not to understand ideas like this.

The Washington Post also reported that “Ocasio-Cortez wants higher taxes on very rich Americans.” They went to work on the proposal and reported Here’s how much money that could raise. With the help of tax experts, we produced some back-of-the-envelope estimates.

Here are the top level figures.

(1) $720 billion/decade: Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion for nearly doubling taxes on people earning more than $10 million.
(2) $3 trillion/decade: A wealth tax on the top 1 percent similar to those in Europe
(3) $3 trillion/decade: Doubling income taxes on the top 1 percent

Check out the numbers supporting each estimate by the Post’s tax experts.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Full transcript of Trump's speech, Democratic and Republican reactions, and fact checks.

Scriber: I had predicted that Trump would use this occasion to announce a “national emergency” and a raid on the Defense department’s funds and personnel to build “the wall.” True, he defended the wall and the shutdown. And he blamed Democrats for all that. But he stopped short of the more egregious possibilities that were bruited about in the media in recent days.

Here are full transcripts, via the New York Times’ reporting, of Trump’s speech and various reactions to it. Following the responses from Democratic leaders (Pelosi and Schumer), I’ve appended some of the fact-checking results; several more claims are examined by the Times and found to be lacking in context. All that is reprinted here without the usual block quotes. My few comments are in italics.

By way of preview, all this boils down to two conflicting positions. Trump (and many - but not all - Republicans) are conflating funding for “the wall” with ending Trump’s government shutdown. The Democrats want a bill funding government and ending the shutdown separate from border security issues - including “the wall.”

Full Transcripts: Trump’s Speech on Immigration and the Democratic Response

President Trump delivered an address to the nation on Tuesday night from the Oval Office to make a broad-based public push for border wall funding.

After his speech, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leaders, delivered a response from Capitol Hill.

[Read our live analysis and fact checks of the remarks here.]

The following are transcripts of both Mr. Trump’s speech and the Democratic rebuttal, as prepared by The New York Times.

The President’s Speech

PRESIDENT TRUMP: My fellow Americans, tonight I’m speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.

Every day, Customs and Border Protection agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country. America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.

It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone. Ninety percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.

In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.

This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul. Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs. One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.

This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end. My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers. It’s a tremendous problem.

Our proposal was developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. These are the resources they have requested to properly perform their mission and keep America safe. In fact, safer than ever before.

The proposal from homeland security includes cutting edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and many other things. We have requested more agents, immigration judges to process the sharp rise of unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy.

Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support. Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home.

Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.

The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year. Vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.

Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president.

Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation.

The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security. My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation, but the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.

This situation could be solved in a 45 minute meeting. I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.

Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.

America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien, just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country. Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders.

In California, an air force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS–13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.

Over the last several years I have met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I have held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief stricken fathers. So sad, so terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices, and the sadness gripping their souls. How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?

To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken. To every member of Congress: pass a bill that ends this crisis. To every citizen, call Congress, and tell them to finally, after all of these decades, secure our border.

This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve. When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do so help me god.

Thank you and good night.

The Democratic Response

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Good evening.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak directly to the American people tonight about how we can end this shutdown and meet the needs of the American people. Sadly much of what we heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts.

The fact is on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions. But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills which would reopen government over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall, a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for.

The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people, and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, many of them veterans.

He promised to keep the government shutdown for months or years, no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong. The fact is, we all agree we need to secure our borders while honoring our values. We can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry. We can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation. We can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border. We can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.

The fact is, the women and children at the border are not a security threat. They are a humanitarian challenge, a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened. And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage and stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.

Thank you. Leader Schumer.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER: Thank you, Speaker Pelosi.

My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only. The president of the United States, having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill, has shut down the government.

American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down. Hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.

Tonight, and throughout this debate and throughout his presidency, president trump has appealed to fear, not facts. Division, not unity. Make no mistake, Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.

So, how do we untangle this mess? Well, there’s an obvious solution. Separate the shutdown from arguments over border security. There is bipartisan legislation supported by Democrats and Republicans to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue.

There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need.

Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.

My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government and continue to work through disagreements over policy. We can secure our border without an ineffective, expensive wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security.

The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30 foot wall. So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President, reopen the government, and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.

Thank you.

Fact Checks and Background

Here’s what the president said, and how it stacks up against the facts.

Scriber: I’m listing two claims judged to be false. Several others were judged to be either misleading or lacking context.

“The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.”

False.

Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in funding for border security measures like enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing. They do not support Mr. Trump’s border wall.

At a meeting with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer in December, Mr. Trump took responsibility for the partial government shutdown.

“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” he said.

— Linda Qiu

"The wall will also be paid for, indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”

False.

First, the revised North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, has yet to pass in Congress. Any economic benefits from the agreement, if it passes, will most likely come in the form of lower tariffs for American companies or higher wages for American workers.

This is different from Mr. Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico would finance the wall.

— Alan Rappeport

Other reactions

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that he had never seen Mr. Trump behave in such a presidential manner. And he issued a dire warning to Mr. Trump’s base.

“If we undercut the president, that’s the end of his presidency and the end of our party,” Mr. Graham said.

… it was perhaps Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat, who most succinctly summed up his party’s response: “We are not paying a $5 billion ransom note for your medieval border wall,” he tweeted, with a castle emoji. “And nothing you just said will change that cold, hard reality.”

Scriber: Those above indicate how far apart the two sides remain. More reactions are in the Fact checks and background.

Trump did not invoke national emergency as was predicted - just blamed Dems for shutdown

As I write this, it is early afternoon on January 8th, 2019. In about five hours (9 PM Eastern) President Trump will have commandeered the entire news broadcasting enterprise - ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN and even Fox and MSNBC - to speak to the nation about the manufactured “crisis” on the southern border. My public sources are guessing that he will invoke a “national emergency” power (citing earlier legal authority or not) and direct funds to be diverted from the Defense Department to construction of a steel wall. Scriber thinks (with concurrence by Judd Legum at popular.info) that the broadcast suckers the news networks into reporting fake news while trying not to report fake news. Thus the networks will be reporting Trump’s dishonesty and delusional ramblings in real time without fact checking. To quote Trump: “We’ll see what happens.” Below are amplifying snippets.

UPDATE (Jan. 9th, 2018, 6:30 AM: Trump did not, as I predicted, declare a “ national emergency” and did not raid the Defense Department’s resources. See the accompanying post this morning with full transcripts of Trump’s speech, Democratic and Republican responses to it, and fact-checking all of that.

John Cassidy of the New Yorker asks Is Donald Trump About to Declare a National Emergency at the Border? Robert Costa and Phillip Rucker of the Washington Post think so. They have predictions about what Trump will say tonight in his televised address. Trump aides lay foundation for emergency order to build wall, saying border is in ‘crisis’

Let me try to stitch these two sources together.

[Costa/.Rucker]: Trump administration officials made an urgent case Monday that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has reached a crisis level, laying the groundwork for President Trump to possibly declare a national emergency that would empower him to construct a border wall without congressional approval.

Cassidy: It seems increasingly likely … that Trump is going to use Tuesday night’s Oval Office address either to invoke an emergency, which would immediately plunge him into another legal and constitutional battle, or to formalize his threat to act if the Democrats don’t give in to his demands very quickly. Either way, he appears set to escalate the fight over the border wall in dramatic fashion …

[Costa/Rucker]:With the federal government partially shut down amid his stalemate with Congress, Trump will attempt to bolster the administration’s position Tuesday by delivering a prime-time televised address to the nation from the Oval Office — the first of his presidency. He will then travel Thursday to visit the nation’s southern border.

[Costa/Rucker]: Vexed by Democrats’ refusal to yield to his demand for $5.7 billion for wall funding, Trump increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way for him to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior administration officials.

[Costa/Rucker]: Although Trump has made “no decision” about a declaration, Pence said, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office are working to determine the president’s options and prepare for any possible legal obstacles.

Cassidy: Democrats are already getting prepared. “We would certainly oppose any attempt by the President to make himself a king and a tyrant by saying that he can appropriate money without Congress,” Jerry Nadler, the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Monday, during a visit to a Customs and Border Protection Agency detention center in Alamogordo, New Mexico. “That is perhaps the most dangerous thing he is talking about since he became President.”

Cassidy: … he is surely aware where things are heading. “In a private meeting with aides at Camp David on Sunday, Mr. Trump said he wanted them to come up with a resolution without him appearing to have capitulated to Democrats,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. The story added that “White House officials disputed that account and said the president didn’t make such a statement.”

Cassidy: Whether he did or he didn’t say such a thing, Trump clearly needs an exit strategy, and he may believe he has found one. On Twitter, Eric Columbus, a Washington lawyer with experience in the Obama Administration and with the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointed out that if Trump declares a national emergency, he might be able to obtain some money for his wall even as the matter is litigated, which would enable him to “re-open the government while saving face—and if he later loses in court he’ll have a new scapegoat.” As a description of Trump’s strategizing, this sounded plausible. We’ll find out on Tuesday night if he goes through with it.

“A mutiny in progress”

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) anticipates that An ‘emergency’ power grab would only add to Trump’s problems.

Of course, there is no emergency, or even a crisis. The building of a wall would have no effect whatsoever on asylum seekers who present themselves at the border (or the steel slats). There is little doubt that courts would intervene to halt his effort to displace Congress’s appropriation power. Trump would lose and possibly receive a tongue-lashing from one or more federal courts (as happened when he tried to unilaterally change the asylum rules).

That’s not the worst of it, however. He has blamed courts in the past when his unconstitutional schemes have failed. Worse for Trump is that it will do nothing to slow the mutiny in progress — and perhaps accelerate it.

Politico reports:

The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a Democratic bill designed to fund the IRS and several other agencies, the first of four bills Democrats hope will peel off Trump’s GOP support in the House. … A senior House GOP aide said [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy and his top lieutenants believe 15 to 25 Republicans will vote with Democrats this week, possibly even more.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will press ahead whether or not Trump declares an emergency. The prospect of a humiliating defeat, a rebuff from his own party, should frighten Trump. Once the aura of authority is pricked, Trump’s power over his party will deflate. From then on, he will find it hard to hold his troops in line for much of anything else.

Indeed, a power grab to supplant Congress might be just the thing to push Republicans in the Senate over the edge and to convince even normally sympathetic House Republicans that Trump has gone too far.

Trump has another problem: If he tries to divert $5 billion from the defense budget, he might see massive resistance and more resignations from top military officials. Trump, you should remember, is looking to abscond with precious resources dedicated to national security. His military will object; Democrats (and maybe some Republicans) will rightly claim that he is not fulfilling his obligations as commander in chief.

In short, Trump’s stubbornness and shortsightedness, his determination to play only to his base when he faces popular opposition, and a Democratic House under the leadership of a skilled politician (who simply tells Trump “no” over and over) might be his downfall. …