Friday, March 31, 2017

What's the matter with New York?

Dr. Krugman has written that column about West Virginia that everybody needs to write once in a while, that or the one about Kentucky, or maybe Pennsylvania or Ohio, or there's Kansas. What's the matter with Kansas? asked Thomas Frank back in 2004. Why do those people keep voting for the party that wants to starve and punish them? Why do they vote against their own interests?

And West Virginia's a pretty poignant case, on the one hand because of that emotional fixation with jobs in the coal industry, where jobs have been declining catastrophically in the state since 1948! It's been almost 70 years since coal mining had a future in West Virginia, not because of environmental policy, but because of automation, after the companies gave up digging for it in favor of just slicing it off the tops of the mountains. This is a defunct parrot, folks. And Donald Trump keeps getting them to applaud by saying he's bringing it back.

Via West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. Note how productivity starts a very steep deline around 2000; that's not George W. Bush's fault, it's because all the good stuff is gone ("Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away," as the song says), and what's left is a lot harder to get out of the ground, as the price continues to drop because it has to, to keep up the dropping prices of other fuels that burn cleaner or don't burn at all.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Update on deaths of despair

Christophe Dessaigne, "Hour of Despair", 2012, via Midnight-Artwork.

In 2015, two Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, startled the world with the information that there was a group of Americans for whom life was getting shorter, unlike any demographic more or less anywhere in decades, in their paper "Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century", which found that mortality among white Americans ages 45-54 was rising, mostly due to mental health issues and somatic pain, with drug and alcohol abuse and suicide (I touched on it here), or what they've been calling "deaths of despair".

Since then we've learned somewhat more about the situation, notably that it's especially women, not men, who are dying too early, counter to the facile stereotype according to which the whole thing is a tragic outcome of that rust belt problem of men without college degrees losing factory jobs as the economy changes from manufacturing to services, but that the places where the deaths are occurring are the same as the places where the Trump vote dominates, relatively rural, racially homogeneous regions in a state of economic decline, as if voting for Trump were just another kind of suicidal behavior, an expression of nihilistic despair—but the people who are dying aren't significantly voting for Trump, or at all; the Trump voters are people who live in the same places but are rather better off, older and the owners of small businesses, marked less by economic anxiety than animus against the black Americans and Latino immigrants who aren't even there.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Douthat just sayin, on the ACA

It's Propaganda Wednesday for Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("Is Obamacare a Lifesaver?"), out to let us know we shouldn't be too triumphant over the prospect of living with the Affordable Care Act "for the foreseeable future", as Ryan has said:

now that every G.O.P. policy person who ever championed a replacement plan is out wandering in sackcloth and ashes, wailing, “The liberals were right about my party, the liberals were right about my party,” beneath a harsh uncaring heaven … now, in these hours of right-wing self-abnegation, it’s worth raising once again the most counterintuitive and frequently scoffed-at point that conservatives have made about Obamacare:
It probably isn’t saving many lives.
Note how he stacks the argument in advance by calling it a "point" rather than "a basically unfounded assertion". And the weakness of restricting the issue to that of "saving many lives" (it doesn't mean anything if it improves the quality of life of millions? it doesn't matter if it only saves a relative few? how many lives would be worth the trouble?). And the hedge of "probably", which has no technical meaning here (how would you calculate the probability?) but is merely a way of saying, "Well, who knows?" Just sayin, as usual. But just sayin in italics, so we'll know it's serious all the same.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Brooks's 1.6 cents on tax policy

In 2005 dollars.

A 2% raise for you and me, a 13% raise for the Emperor and his pals, and under Senate rules they must find either someplace to steal the money from or some Democrats' votes. Via Center for Tax Policy.

Shorter former New York Times columnist David Brooks, "Can Elephants Learn from Failure?" March 28 2017:
One of the reasons that the Republican proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed was the problem that it was a terrible bill that nobody liked, taking benefits from tens of millions of vulnerable people and giving tax breaks to the wealthy few. If Republicans are able to learn from their mistakes, they will not do this again with the upcoming tax bill, but instead take money from tens of millions of financially strapped people in the form of a consumption tax and give tax breaks to the corporations that provide the income of the wealthy few, which will totally increase economic dynamism and growth, according to research by economists that has apparently been published, though I don't have time to tell you where.
He doesn't get around to the point about how all the voters are going to love this one, either.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Problem Solvers updates

Tongue in cheek, last October (I believe he was explaining that it was "not harmful" for Trump not to have paid any taxes for two decades; yes, I heard that he paid some in 2005, no, that doesn't answer all my question). Via Proud Democrat.

A couple of notes to tack on to Saturday's post on the failure of the Ryan tax cut health care initiative:

First, just that I can't help bragging about it when Dr. Krugman looks like he's channeling me two days later:

One important answer would be to spend a bit more money. Obamacare has turned out to be remarkably cheap; the Congressional Budget Office now projects its cost to be about a third lower than it originally expected, around 0.7 percent of G.D.P. In fact, it’s probably too cheap. A report from the nonpartisan Urban Institute argues that the A.C.A. is “essentially underfunded,” and would work much better — in particular, it could offer policies with much lower deductibles — if it provided somewhat more generous subsidies....

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Make America Kampuchea

Can't find credits for this image of Phnom Penh in 1976.

For the past month or so Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, has been serving up a series of "immodest proposals"

floating genuinely radical visions of how policy makers might respond to our order’s slippage toward something worse than stagnation. These will not be ideas that I find entirely convincing, they will not be fully fleshed-out, and I will disavow responsibility if they’re ever put into disastrous practice.
Which is kind of the ultimate in "just sayin". If you like it, I'll gladly take credit for it, but if you don't, remember I said it wasn't serious at the outset.

But then the first one was just a laundry list sounding an awful lot like a marriage between the Trump campaign at its most "populist" and the "Reformy Con" agenda to which Douthat himself sometimes likes to suggest he adheres, with tax expenditures for everybody, a kind of WPA for the middle-aged, massive deficits, and little bits of gratuitous Douthat nastiness so you don't think he's turned into a Reagan liberal:

Handout or protection racket?


Blogfriend Ten Bears comments on yesterday morning's post:
They're beaten. Like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act is now the "law of the land" and we will indeed be "living with it for the foreseeable future."
A government handout to the insurance industry.
An industry that, notes commenter Tom Riker, "insures millions of people. That includes the Medicaid expansion, helping millions more. That stabilizes the finances of rural hospitals..." And that employs something like 530,000 people, which is a lot of people to throw out of work at one blow in a revolutionary change in the management of the economy. And 40-odd percent of which is nonprofit companies. The ACA contains mechanisms to increase the nonprofit side but Republicans in Congress gutted them, as I tell you all the time.

The for-profit companies don't regard it as much of a handout, either, because of the caps it puts on profits. Eighty cents out of every dollar they take in in premiums must be paid out in claims, thanks to the ACA (that's the minimum medical loss ratio), 85 cents in the large group market that ensures most of us with jobs (and all the overhead has to be paid out of what's left over, before anything gets to the shareholders), and thanks to the list of ten essential health benefits they're no longer allowed to sell the kind of "skinny" plan designed to never pay out any claims at all. They especially don't like the exchanges of the individual market, which is why they're pulling out of them or trying to create monopolies, county by county.

It's not so much a handout as protection money, where the insurers are the gangsters running the street of health care and can fuck you up if you try to do something in their territory. And they don't seem to think it's enough.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prove it to me, Problem Solvers!

Authentic criticism via deathandtaxes.

Then there was Congressman Tom Reed, Republican from Western New York, known from Horseheads to Ithaca as Problem-Solvin' Tom (see below), and one of those guys who was talked into backing the awful Ryan bill by the special upstate New York provision or Is There Any Way We Can Get Upstate New York Reps to Vote for This Turkey Amendment in which they proposed to put Medicaid, which is funded in New York by county property taxes, on the state government instead, except for New York City, whose residents would thus continue to pay the highest property taxes (by far) in the state while financing Medicaid for the rural areas (where they'd be getting enormous property tax cuts) through income tax, of which city residents also pay far more, to the tune of some $2.3 billion (even as the state government would keep refusing to pay the city the $4.3 billion it has owed us for more than a decade since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity judgment holding that Albany was violating city residents' constitutional rights by their unequal funding of education).

Friday, March 24, 2017

To th' crack of doom

Image via

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("The Trump Elite. Like the Old Elite, But Worse!") provides an interesting deconstruction of the concept of legislative verticality:

Legislation can be crafted bottom up or top down. In bottom up you ask, What problems do voters have and how can they be addressed. In top down, you ask, What problems do elite politicians have and how can they be addressed?
The "you" there being not the you and I who are reading the column—we're just eavesdroppers—but the legislation-crafters; it's "bottom up" when they see themselves as the elite deciding what the voters need, and "top down" when they regard themselves as the servants of the elite trying to figure out what their masters need. Where in the conventional picture we think of the elite as the "top" of a social pyramid and the masses as its support, Brooks has turned this picture upside down, with the elite at the bottom holding the structure up like Atlas supporting the sky, and the masses idling cheerfully above, which is a decent analogy for the classically conservative view, when you think about it.

And the legislators scurrying around the lower floors, depending on whether they themselves identify as elite or not, which is a Brooksian novelty, and one he might like to rethink—seems to me he'd be compelled to say liberal legislators regard themselves as the elite at the very bottom earnestly caring for the whole population, and conservative ones as the gentlemen-in-waiting on the ground floor keeping the true elite or 0.01% secure, as it sleeps like Smaug in the cellar, with its subterranean treasure.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fish in the Ocean of Story

Julia Zanes, Fish in the Ocean of Story II, 2008.
The way things have been going this week, anything anybody says is likely to be outdated about five minutes after you hit "publish", but I have a couple of things that might work out, riffing off Marcy Wheeler/Emptywheel—first, a post on Rep. Adam Schiff's remarkable narrative which impressed me so much on Monday—maybe I'll get to Rep. Devin Nunes later on.

On Schiff, she's skeptical about what she calls a "temporal feint" in the story, or "fudging the timeline". Respectfully—I think she's the smartest person over there on the edges of the Forest of Greenwald, and she certainly knows many things I don't, but this is narratology—she's poking at holes that really aren't there in the
passage which — if it were accurate — would be a tight little presentation of quid pro quo tied to the change of platform at the July 18-21, 2016 RNC. But it’s not.
This is the central sequence of July:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Old Trump pops off

Wunschmädchen: Iréne Theorin as Kellyanne Conway and Thomas Mayer as President Trump in Andreas Kriegenburg's July 2012 staging of Die Walküre for the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, via Likely Impossibilities.
Poor old Rex, patiently bearing the cross God and Mrs. Tillerson gave him, as reported with tons of literary color commentary by Erin McBride for Independent Journal Review, whose editors apparently don't believe in cutting, or possibly don't exist, but innocently revealing, as has been widely noted this morning, that he doesn't really want his new job:
So why, then, did he want the gig?
“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job.” He paused to let that sink in.
A beat or two passed before an aide piped up to ask him why he said yes.
“My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Passover without Jews

The Four Sons. From An Amsterdam Haggadah, 1695, via University of Chicago.
Just three years ago, former New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a Passover column in which he managed not to mention the story of the first 18 chapters of Exodus, the biblical narrative of the Hebrews' escape from slavery in Egypt that is central to this key Jewish holiday—instead he made it about the rest of the book, in which God gives Moses the Law, which is celebrated on a completely different holiday later in the year, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks.

Today he makes up for it with a Passover column (a couple of weeks early, it begins April 10) in which he manages to discusss Exodus without mentioning Passover ("The Unifying American Story"), or Jews at all, let alone Egyptians, like the Trump administration celebrating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 without mentioning Jews. It's a very remarkable performance:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Note on the Narratology

From Dino Felluga, "Introduction to Narratology"
The conventional wisdom on our side seems to be that the climax of today's House Intelligence Committee hearing was FBI director James Comey acknowledging, as he has seemed so unwilling to do for such a long time, that the FBI and other agencies are indeed conducting an investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, including with reference to the question whether anybody from the Trump campaign was personally involved in it.

But to me it came before that, in the opening statement by Rep. Schiff, laying out with such clarity what the public evidence consists of, and why the committee investigation has to take place: especially where he shows how documents from the Steele dossier compiled last summer essentially prophesied the events that would take place in the fall:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sonnet: On Reading. By President Donald J. Trump

Photo by Steve Round, via RSPB.

What do we mean when we say the words of President Donald Trump should be taken seriously, but not literally? I mean, I don't actually say it, but if I did, would I mean anything?

I'd like to stipulate one possibility, that we have a word for language that is to be understood seriously but not literally, and that word is "poetry". When Shelley addresses a skylark with the words, "Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert!" we don't assume that Shelley is too stupid to realize that a skylark is not a bird, or that he's lying about it.

We see that we're reading a poem, and we look for the words to be doing something other than merely meaning what they say; in this case, that there's something uncannily unphysical about the bird singing, so high up in the air he'd practically be in Heaven, if Shelley believed in Heaven; so high he can't be seen, as if he weren't a bird, hot little bundle of muscle tissue and feathers, but truly disembodied:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
    Bird thou never wert,
   That from Heaven, or near it,
    Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
And speaking of profuse strains of unpremeditated art...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Roll over, Beethoven

You've got company.

These are so raw and happy and unproduced you might find them disturbing. RIP Chuck.

Annals of derp: When Obama's approach to HUD budget was the same as Trump's, except for a couple of details

Facepalm photo by Robert Sikora.
It's Jim "Crème" DeMint's house propaganda organ, the Heritage Foundation Daily $ignal, wondering why Trump gets criticized for doing exactly the same crap that President Obama did:
The president’s budget called for slashing funding for a block grant program primarily because it was difficult to determine whether it was getting the desired results.
That was President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. It justified the $3.7 billion cut in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program by asserting:

What part of "deconstruction of the administrative state" don't you understand, Brooksy?

Age of Wonders 3, just right for Yale Professors of Grand Strategy, screenshot.
Former New York Times columnist David Brooks (his formerness may not be obvious as he continues to drool down the Times pages twice a week, but the evidence remains) has the hottest of hot takes on Emperor Trump's endorsement of the Ryan tax cut health care bill and the "skinny budget" proposal the White House released yesterday. He thinks he sees a pattern in the devastating cuts proposed in more or less everything constructive the government does, and it's that working-class hero Stephen Bannon has lost all his influence on the Emperor ("Let Bannon Be Bannon!"):

[Bannon's] governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.
Because instead of doing what Brooks heard the No True Conservative say he was going to do, sticking it to the "hedge-fund guys" taxwise, insuring everybody, and mounting that trillion-dollar infrastructure plan ("Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda—the trade and immigration parts—but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy"), Trump seems to have signed on to the most reactionary agenda you can imagine, as if—as if he were some kind of Republican!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Make Ireland Great Again—Bring Back the Druids

St. Patrick (in halo) reclines on a hillock, while the beasts of the vision he is having frolic underneath. Wauchier de Denain, Lives of the Saints, Paris, 2nd quarter of the 13th century; British Library, Royal MS 20 D. vi, f. 213, via University of Notre Dame.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Political hypochondriacs: Optimism report

Roller Coaster, by gechalx/DeviantArt. Nowhere to go but up! What's that you say?

It's so weird how we live now, like political hypochondriacs, constantly checking the national temperature for clues to how sick we are.

And that goes for Team Optimist as well as the despairing. I'm really pumped because yesterday was a Good Day, where Dutch voters decisively rejected fascism, I think, and Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu and Judge Theodore Chuang in Greenbelt, Maryland both concluded in separate cases that President Trump's "travel order" is meant as the fulfillment of his often repeated campaign promises of a "complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering this country until our country's representatives can figure out just what in the hell is going on."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fine-tuning our consensus

Matt Shuham at Talking Points Memo:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Wednesday that he was confident that Republicans’ proposal would pass the House of Representatives, though he hedged that Republican members of Congress were “fine-tuning our consensus" on the bill.

Doing better than "repeal and replace", anyhow

Dissection at University of Montpellier, from the Chirurgia Magna of Guy de Chauliac, 1363, via BBC.

This, from Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times—is big news for Obamacare fans, or ought to be:
Moda Health, a small Oregon health insurer, just won a $214-million judgment against the federal government. Normally that wouldn’t be worth reporting, except that in awarding Moda the money, the federal judge in the case dismantled the most cynical attack on the Affordable Care Act that congressional Republicans had devised.
The cynical attack is, of course, the attempt to defund the "risk corridors" with which insurers under the ACA were supposed to be reinsured against unexpected losses in the first years of the program, before the risks of a new market were clearly understood, just as had been successfully done with Medicare Part D in 2006.

House Republicans snuck a rider into a 2014 budget bill stipulating that risk corridor payments to insurance companies could only come out of the profits of insurers that had made more successful bets, not out of general government funds, saying they were preventing a "bailout", in the more or less explicit hope of strangling the program in its infancy; as Senator Marco Rubio (who claimed, probably falsely, to be the originator and leader of the effort) later said:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cheap shot

Snow Day, Pi Day

Ray with James Taylor

Country pie with a bit of BWV 1051

And BWV 1051 itself, with real gambas (but an ad between movts. 2 and 3, sorry, but it's such a lovely performance, all the other ones sound like mud)

The Eggs Benedict Option

Wendy Goodfriend's Springtime Eggs Benedict with Asparagus, Ham, and Quick Lemony Hollandaise Sauce on Meyer Lemon–Rosemary Toast, via KQED San Francisco. I've used this gag before and I'm sure I'm not the only one but what the hell.
Shorter former New York Times columnist David Brooks, "The Benedict Option", March 14 2017:
The most important religious book of the decade is The Benedict Option by my friend Rod Dreher, which argues that we are entering a new Dark Age, as the struggle over gay rights drives Christian merchants out of business, threatens the tax exemptions and accreditations of Christian schools and colleges, and threatens to blacklist Orthodox Christians and Jews from many professions and corporations. The L.G.B.T. armies have won the culture war, and the only option for the faithful is to follow the example of St. Benedict of Nursia, who organized monastic communities around Europe as the Roman Empire collapsed in the sixth century, and withdraw from the wider society into scattered settlements in which the fires of doctrinal purity can continue to burn. But that's only because he hates the gay, unlike me. I think we should adopt Orthodox Pluralism, in which each of us surrenders to some orthodoxy that will overthrow the obsessions of the self and put one's life in contact with a transcendent ideal, while staying friendly with those who disagree with us.
I guess that's why it's the most important religious book of the decade even though the decade has almost four years to go and even though, as Brooks makes clear, it presents an absurdly false view of the current state of the world, pushes a preposterous proposal that the author obviously has no intention of carrying out, and is based on the stoking of irrational fears of our fellow human beings to arouse hatred and paranoia. It's really important because it enables Brooks to display what a wonderful person he is, with his tolerant magnanimity, being infinitely superior to Dreher but loving and respecting him all the same.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Even if there was a point in doing it

There were progressives who didn't know how to spell in the Progressive Era too. Nasty, but let's live with it. Undated William Jennings Bryan campaign print, via The American Yawp.

Zack Beauchamp for Vox
 criticizing Bernie Sanders and others:
Sanders had a simple answer. Democrats, he said, needed to field candidates who would unapologetically promise that they would be willing “to stand up with the working class of this country and ... take on big-money interests.”
Democrats, in other words, would only be able to defeat Trump and others like him if they adopted an anti-corporate, unabashedly left-wing policy agenda. The answer to Trump’s right-wing populism, Sanders argued, was for the left to develop a populism of its own.
I think Sanders was being (and continues to be) pretty simple-minded too, not least because he tested the hypothesis out so thoroughly last year, and as we know he couldn't even capture the Democratic party.

But Beauchamp is trying to draw a moral out of this that is completely wrong, when he goes on to say,

Coping strategies for tweet risk

Grift Mill: the paper mill "De Grift" in Wapenveld-Berghuizer, Netherlands. in an undated postcard via

Business plan (Elizabeth Williamson, New York Times):

For a fee, Corey Lewandowski, President Trump’s pugilistic former campaign manager, and Barry Bennett, a former Trump senior adviser, will protect you from “tweet risk” — what happens to the stock price and reputation of your company when the president tells his 26 million Twitter followers that you’re killing factory jobs or refusing to sell Ivanka Trump handbags.
“If he’s gonna come after you, there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” Mr. Bennett said of Avenue Strategies, the firm he and Mr. Lewandowski opened in offices overlooking Mr. Trump’s White House bedroom window. “But if you want to figure out how to win in this environment, we can help you.”
They'll advise you on how to “call Jared Kushner and tell him you’re gonna build a new factory,” or get the Emperor to “fly somewhere, cut a ribbon, and high-five 200 employees,” which “drives optimism, and it drives his power.” Yes, for a fee they'll help you out in your effort to make Trump more powerful, and maybe get a cut of some of the profits. Those rightwing grift mills never stop grinding.

Mr. Lewandowski, who declined to be interviewed, has called any suggestion that he’s cashing in “absolutely disgusting.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Health Care Sunday

Alexander Sharpe Ross (1908-90), "A Visit from the Doctor", undated. Via.
Because I'm not going to get anything else posted, it's just been that kind of day:

Why did the White House deny Trump got the idea from watching TV?

Maybe because he didn't. But then...

Couch Potato–in-Chief: Image via Daily Beast

As the drama of yesterday's US attorney firings progressed, one of the things you had to keep thinking about was the firings of eight US attorneys by George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales in 2006, for their refusal to join in the prosecution of fake "voter fraud" cases at the urging of the Department of Justice and vile worm Hans von Spakovsky.

OK, it wasn't at all the same thing—this week's massacre is at the beginning of a presidential term, when it's normal for all the working US attorneys to leave, and half of them have already done so. The odd thing is that the Trump administration is so peremptory and almost violent in ordering them out, not only not allowing them to wrap up the cases they're currently working on and waiting until they have successors lined up, which would be the normal procedure since the Clinton administration, but demanding that they vacate the physical office space by the end of the working day.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I blame Obama

Elisabeth Geertruida Wassenbergh (1729-81), The Doctor's Visit.
Shorter David Brooks ("The Republican Health Care Crackup"), March 9 2017:
The Republican health care bill could signal the crackup of the old order of American politics, the end of everything since 1974. I blame Obama, who pigheadedly insisted on having his own health care bill instead of doing what I wanted him to do. If he'd just left well enough alone, the Republicans wouldn't have to do one now.
See, according to the former New York Times columnist (I'm going to keep calling him that even if it turns out he's not really leaving), the time for thinking about universal health care was in 1974, when Nixon proposed it (in the hope of persuading Democrats not to impeach him), or as Brooks puts it, censoring the Nixon name for some purpose of his own,

Friday, March 10, 2017

Reason to write jokes for conservatives:

They'll pay for anything that makes them feel smart.

How we bankrupted Starbucks by spending money in there all day. Via.
Supplement to Steve M's piece on Amazon no. 1 bestseller "Reasons to Vote for Democrats", which many Republicans mysteriously believe is getting bought up by Democrats eager to know the answer, only to find out all the pages are blank. "Blast it, Eleanor, we've been snookered!" Like Steve, I don't think it's Democrats who are buying it:

Bad enough to fail

Victorian children. Via.
Dr. Krugman:

Given the rhetoric Republicans have used over the past seven years to attack health reform, you might have expected them to do away with the whole structure of the Affordable Care Act — deregulate, de-subsidize and let the magic of the free market do its thing. This would have been devastating for the 20 million Americans who gained coverage thanks to the act, but at least it would have been ideologically consistent.
But Republican leaders weren’t willing to bite that bullet. What they came up with instead was a dog’s breakfast that conservatives are, with some justice, calling Obamacare 2.0. But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s a half-baked plan that accepts the logic and broad outline of the Affordable Care Act while catastrophically weakening key provisions. If enacted, the bill would almost surely lead to a death spiral of soaring premiums and collapsing coverage. Which makes you wonder, what’s the point?
Hey, maybe that's the point! To furnish us with what they call a teachable moment—to demonstrate the truth of the sacred conservative axiom that government interference with the provision of health care is bound to lead to disaster.

Thanks for clarifying

From Segundo de Chomón, Voyage sur Jupiter (1909). Via rebloggy.
Have you been bemused by this new preoccupation on the part of the Trumpies and the WikiLeaks and some of the irredentist Berners, zooming in on the CIA's apparent ability, as revealed in the latest document dump, to make an electronic intrusion into your digital porn stash look as if you were being intruded upon by Russians?

Not that I doubt the CIA might well be able to do something like that for some particular purpose, but I think these guys are telling a story they don't quite mean to tell about the 2016 election.

Where it was actually CIA spooks who stole all those emails from the Democratic National Committee and turned them over to the WikiLeaks, making it look—not necessarily to the savvy hands of WikiLeaks, but to some future American investigators, I guess—as if they were agents of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, so that when Hillary Clinton inevitably lost the election, the CIA and the other 16 intelligence agencies trying to understand what had happened would think the Russians were to blame! Instead of figuring out that they'd done it themselves.

Of course they wouldn't suspect themselves, because they had no idea they were determined to defeat Hillary Clinton and put Donald Trump into the White House—everybody kept telling them it was the other way around. Nurse, they're having a narratological emergency on the fifth floor, for God's sake get me some continuity!

I'm glad Trump and WikiLeaks have been able to straighten us out on this, though, and expose the CIA for the terrible thing that they've done, if that's what happened, or I would be glad, if I felt a little more straightened out than I do.

More on the CIA dump in this useful piece from Zeynep Tufekci (the revelations aren't that big, and the main thing techies learn is that Signal and WhatsApp are rather stronger against hacking than was realized).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why the Treasury?

The Vanity Fair post doesn't say this, but what else would it mean? When Trump takes the trouble to think coherently, he's always thinking about Trump. And it's not much different from the way his avatar Silvio Berlusconi worked, driving legislation to benefit his companies and protect himself from criminal prosecution and lawsuits. Keeping his tax returns secret is now the administration's central goal.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Waiting for *Le Pivot*

Stephen Colbert and Patrick Stewart did a lovely thing last week with "Waiting for Godot's Obamacare Replacement", above, but then the Obamacare Replacement actually showed up, and, like even the worst fart, seems to be already dissipating. What really corresponds to the hopelessness of absent meaning in Samuel Beckett's great play is the fantasy of the Trumpian pivot, the moment where our president begins displaying a capacity to hold a political office beyond the ability to read aloud in public for an hour without taking his pants off or barking like a seal, for which our Washington press has been hankering, miraculously without hanging themselves yet, for a year or more.

And it works better in French (En Attendant le Pivot).

Monsignor Ross Douthat, who I once cast as Estragon in a production of Godot (former New York Times columnist David Brooks was the ebullient Vladimir), is still gaming it out ("Why Republicans Can't Do Health Care"):

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Romantic Regime Change: Bye-bye, Brooksy

SCOOP! I'm not even kidding.

According to David Brooks's Facebook page, he doesn't work at the New York Times any more. (Also, there's Jordan's Episcopal summer camp, the only other job he's proud to have held.)

You're saying, "He hasn't worked at the New York Times for years," I know. Still, you don't change your FB profile for nothing. His most recent update, and the only one since he put up his new profile picture (to include Snyder) on November 22, is from February 6, and it's a Bruce Springsteen video covering Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell". For whatever it's worth.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cheap shots: Daily Caller trying to terrorize us

This movie exists! Though it was a pretty pathetic flop. I bet it's great. It's an adaptation originally by Arthur Miller of Henrik Ibsen's great play, in which McQueen's character is a scientist who exposes the bourgeoisie of a Norwegian town profiting from water pollution. making him the enemy of the title. Let's all be #EnemiesOfThePeople.

The citation is from AP story in USA Today.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Most Unkindest Cut

The real reason the emperor had such a meltdown Friday morning over the recusal of Attorney General Sessions, per
Trump angry and frustrated at staff over Sessions fallout for stealing his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress. “Nobody has seen him that upset,” one source said, adding the feeling was the communications team allowed the Sessions news, which the administration deemed a nonstory, to overtake the narrative. (CNN)
It distracted the media from their job of talking about how great Trump was on Tuesday night. Unforgivable!

Image via Head of State/Kos.
Then there's this sublime line from CNN, quoted by Atrios:
Trump is upset because he doesn't believe he is getting the credit he thinks he deserves for his time in office so far because of self-inflicted wounds and missteps, the source said. An informed presidential ally outside government but close to the President said Trump was really angry about having a "mini disaster" a week. The President's mood is adding to tremendous pressure inside the West Wing and aides have been seen in tears in recent days at multiple meetings.
His "time in office so far", all 42 days, is getting spoiled by "self-inflicted wounds" so naturally he's furious at everybody except himself.


With new improved ending (h/t Jordan for making me revise it)

Charles Boyer as Stephen Bannon snatches the President's Daily Briefing out of the dainty hands of Ingrid Bergman as Donald J. Trump in the classic thriller. Via uafairbanks
Or not exactly, the Ingrid Bergman character was a sweet and deserving lady, not a violent emperor, but you know what I mean. Struggling through the trees of yesterday's long post, I wasn't clear what kind of forest we were contemplating, but I see now that it belongs to this family of stories.

Everybody gaslights Emperor Trump in one way or another, in fact. It's the only way you can live with him, he doesn't have garden-variety human relationships. You have to whisper him into modeling some kind of simulacrum of a relationship that you can work with.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emperor Donald Gets Scared

Classic, via TheWrap.
So sometime yesterday morning, before flying off to Orlando at 10:30 for his gig at St. Andrews Catholic School, the Emperor apparently "went ballistic" with his senior staff in the Oval Office over the recusal of attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III from any investigations of relations between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and agents of or with the Russian government—he didn't think Sessions should have done it, and the recusal only "emboldened his enemies". In the course of the tantrum he disinvited Bannon and Priebus from the weekend at Palm Beach, or they "volunteered" to stay in Washington and work, and then he went out to the South Lawn and climbed into Marine One with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and disappeared.

Also, at some point or another after around 5:00 yesterday evening and before 6:00 this morning he seems to have been reading stories from Breitbart News in the little pile of Trump-themed printouts Ms. Hicks supplies him with so he doesn't have to use a computer, and the Emperor went nuts by around 6:30 this morning:

That was from a Breitbart story pointing out (fairly enough, I guess) that it wasn't Trump who originally invited Ambassador Kislyak to the Republican National Convention—

Friday, March 3, 2017

Tiens, v'là une Marine

Not another secret Muslim (in the shahadi the thumb is not supposed to stick out like that). Photo by Reuters via Independent.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("Can Populism Take Paris?"), has a crush on the sweetheart of European neo-fascism, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Maybe you could call her an angular Reese Witherspoon type:

Le Pen’s pessimism about mass migration may be too dark, but it’s a needed corrective to Merkelism, and much more reasonable in the European context than Trump’s overhyped warnings about refugees. Her brief against the follies of the euro is almost inarguably true (for reasons that you can about read about on Vox, not Breitbart). Her party platform overall suggests what Trumpism would look like if it were more coherent — and, for that matter, more responsible, since she’s actively tried to distance her movement from the sort of toxic bigotry that Trump’s campaign saw advantages in winking at.
That last bit is so Ross. He too specializes in non-toxic bigotry. Le Pen was prosecuted in 2015 on not at all toxic charges of
“incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs”, for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War. 
The charges were dropped, but at the moment she's under investigation by French authorities for tweeting pictures of ISIS executions, including that of the journalist James Foley, which violates a French law against the publication of violent images, and that seems more serious (she could get three years and a €75,000 fine). The European Parliament is likely to take away the immunity she enjoys as a member, as they did over the recent case in which she's been charged with defrauding the European Union by paying campaign employees out of EU funds for imaginary jobs, where French police raided the party headquarters last week and the European Parliament has demanded repayment of almost €340,000 (she won't pay, so they're docking her wages).