Monday, October 23, 2017

Military Swagger

We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served.

- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

This week's featured posts are "The Billie Jean Republicans" -- picture a GOP senator backed by a chorus of corporate donors, denying their responsibility for Trump -- and something a little more serious: "Niger, the Condolence Controversy, and Why the Founders Feared a Professional Military".

In case "Billie Jean" has you trying to remember the Sift's previous poetic posts, they're: "Donnie in the Room" (based on "Casey at the Bat") and "Fatherly Advice to Eric and Don Jr." (based on "If").

This week everybody was talking about the Niger operation, and the distracting controversy it launched

Mostly this is covered in one of the featured posts. But John Kelly has turned into his own issue. Vox' Dara Lind compares his attitude to Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men.

But it’s not just that Kelly doesn’t respect the way that politics works within Washington — the time it takes to make a congressional deal, the way that embarrassing statements can get leaked to eager reporters. He actively thinks that they have America wrong, and that they will never understand it in the way those who serve it will.

Charles Pierce sees Kelly's lying defense of Trump as

a terribly sad moment. Everything and everybody this president* touches goes bad from the inside out.

Matt Yglesias had another depressing thought.

Kelly’s performance today should be a wakeup call to anyone who still thinks there are “adults in the room” who’ll save us.

Occasionally the media speculates that Kelly will get tired of his thankless job and quit. I predict a different scenario: At some point Trump will have wrung all the credibility out of Kelly, and then he'll toss the general away.


There's one more part of Kelly's remarks I can't let go by:

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.

Kelly and I grew up in the same era. (He's six years older.) So I can testify that he is totally full of crap on this. Women of our mothers' generation were shown superficial respect -- holding doors for them, etc. -- as long as they lived narrowly scripted lives of service to men. But a woman was not honored if she spoke out in public, or entered the workplace, or sought an advanced degree, or decided not to get married, or did anything else outside the script. Quite the opposite.

and rebukes to Trump without naming him

George W. Bush spoke Thursday in New York. He addressed threats to democracy and said that "when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy." (In case you don't recognize it, that's a reference to the presidential oath to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution.)

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

He also contradicted Trump's claim that the Russia story is "fake news".

America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy, it’s conducted across a range of social media platforms.

He also said "white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed."

In a speech accepting the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center last Monday, John McCain said:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.

As much as I approve of Republicans giving other Republicans permission to criticize Trump, though, the country needs a lot more from Republican leaders. How do they propose to limit the damage being done by this unfit president, or to remove him?

and healthcare

It looks like the Murray-Alexander bill on healthcare -- the bipartisan one that tries to fix some of the damage Trump has been doing to the health insurance markets -- will get a vote in the Senate. It still seems unlikely to get a vote in the House, and no one -- including Mitch McConnell -- knows what Trump would be willing to sign.


More proof that Trump has no ideas for improving American healthcare: In an appearance with the Greek prime minister Tuesday, Trump took questions. He was asked "What is your healthcare plan, sir?"

He responded with a long ramble justifying what he had just done (cancel CSR payments that reimburse insurance companies for losses on cheap policies to the working poor), criticized insurance companies, pronounced ObamaCare dead, said something about block grants to the states, predicted that he would have the votes to repeal ObamaCare after Congress got done with tax reform, called Democrats "obstructionists" who "have no good policies", bragged about how many judges he has appointed (while criticizing Democrats for slowing down Senate approval of nominees), and denounced insurance-premium increases under ObamaCare.

The reporter followed up: "So is Graham-Cassidy still the plan, sir?" And Trump said: "Yeah, essentially that would be the plan. Yes, block grants."

He has a two-word-answer grasp of the subject, which he hides under mountains of meaningless self-serving verbiage. How should Americans who aren't rich get the care they need and pay for it? He has no idea.

but I eventually got around to looking at the Values Voters Summit

It was last week's news, but I fall behind sometimes.

Trump: "As long as we have pride in our country, confidence in our future, and faith in our God, then America will prevail." The phrase "our God" bothers me. That didn't just pop out of his mouth. This was a scripted teleprompter speech, so the words were chosen. He could have said "faith in God", which would already be controversial in a few ways. But instead he said "faith in our God".

Does America have a national god who is different from the gods of other countries or of the Universe? What about citizens of the United States who don't don't worship the American God? Do they count as "us", as Americans? Is Trump their president too?


I haven't been the only one writing song lyrics. Roy Moore's speech included new lyrics that almost fit the tune of "America the Beautiful", outlining all the ways that today's America seems ugly and evil to him, and calling down God's judgment on us.

Moore and his audience are white instead of black, and the sins he charges against America (abortion, drug abuse, abandoning the death penalty) are different than the ones Rev. Jeremiah Wright focused on (slavery, herding Native Americans onto reservations, putting Japanese Americans into detention camps during World War II, funneling black youth into low-paying jobs or prison rather than educating them). But otherwise, how is this different from the "God damn America" sermon Wright got pilloried for?

and you also might be interested in ...

The Senate moved Congress one step closer to tax reform. It passed a budget resolution that would make a Republican tax-cut bill eligible for reconciliation, letting it pass the Senate with 50 votes plus Vice President Pence. Now they just need to figure out what goes into that bill.


The Trump/Russia legal-fee issue just got weirder. For months, the RNC and the Trump campaign have been paying the legal bills of the President and of Donald Trump Jr., but no one else. Now, Trump says he will use up to $430,000 of his own money to pay legal bills for White House staff and campaign aides. So they'd better say what they're told to say, right?


Fort Worth Weekly uses two local Christian seminaries to illustrate the diversity of American Christianity. If "Christian" means just one thing to you, you might find this enlightening.


After five years at the American Chemical Council, Nancy Beck became a primary EPA decision-maker on toxic chemicals. What could go wrong?

and let's close with something terrestrial

No, it isn't a starship, it's a manta ray. The shot is from the Nature Conservancy's 2017 photo contest. It's not even the winner.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Self-awareness

Jeb Bush ran for president on the theory that tax cuts would generate 4 percent economic growth. Marco Rubio argued that Barack Obama was deliberately trying to damage the United States. Ed Gillespie claims that sanctuary cities that don’t even exist are responsible for the rise of a violent international criminal organization. The same congressional Republicans who swore for years that growing debt was the biggest threat to the country are lining up behind a budget that will authorize more than $1 trillion in new borrowing to finance tax cuts for the rich. The difference between these guys and the new crop of kooks — between a respected colleague like Bob Corker and a feared soon-to-be-colleague like Marsha Blackburn — as I understand it, is that the establishment politicians are aware that they are lying.

 - Matt Yglesias "Establishment Republicans mystified by their base should look at Ed Gillespie’s campaign"

This week's featured post is "Taking Hostages".

This week everybody was talking about Trump's moves to wreck things

I cover his threats to DACA, the Iran deal, and ObamaCare in the featured post. Increasingly, Trump is realizing that even having Republican majorities in Congress doesn't allow him to run over Democrats. So now he's trying to get their cooperation by taking hostages.

and we also paid attention to that other abuser of women, Harvey Weinstein

Before this week, I'm pretty sure I could have sat next to Harvey Weinstein on an airplane without recognizing him. I remember seeing the Weinstein Company logo in film credits, but I couldn't tell you which movies they were. So I've been amazed at how much coverage his sexual abuse scandal is getting. To me, Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump, and Roger Ailes were public figures, but Weinstein is just another rich dude.

Actually, Ailes is probably comparable: a guy who's powerful within his industry, but most people wouldn't recognize on the street. (I just happen follow political journalism much more closely than I follow movies, so Fox News seems like a bigger deal to me than the Weinstein Company.) Like Roger Ailes' story, Weinstein's is driven largely by the star-power of his accusers: Gywneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie for Weinstein, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson for Ailes.

It appears Weinstein has been doing this for a long time, but once accusations reached a critical mass, the response was swift. His company has fired him, the Motion Picture Academy expelled him, and I hope no one takes seriously the idea that some sort of therapy will qualify him for a comeback. (Personally, I don't believe predatory behavior is treatable. Predators have more motivation to pretend to reform than to actually reform.) If there's enough evidence for a criminal conviction, I hope prosecutors go for it.

What makes Weinstein's story different from Trump, O'Reilly, and Ailes is that his political connections are liberal rather than conservative. Conservative media has tried to make a hypocrisy story out of that: See, liberals abuse women too.

I will note the major difference: It has been the liberal media (the NYT and The New Yorker) that has been leading the charge to break this story. And (unlike Ailes) Weinstein isn't being defended (except by Woody Allen; they should start a club). Kellyanne Conway has tried to make a thing out of the fact that five whole days passed before Hillary Clinton spoke out against Weinstein. But Trump actively defended both Ailes and O'Reilly, and to my knowledge still hasn't condemned them. And Conway herself defended Trump after more than a dozen women accused him of sexual assault, and he confessed on tape.


The one upside of this story is the attention it has drawn to situations that are not rape in the clearest sense -- not a guy forcing sex on a woman who is unmistakably refusing -- but where differences in status and power make refusal problematic, situations where ambiguous behavior will be interpreted in the man's favor, up until the point where it will be assumed by many that the woman consented by not objecting. Even if no physical force is involved, the man has to know that the woman is giving in rather than participating.

Kate Manne's article at Huffington Post, for example, rambles but also covers a lot of ground -- through novels, TV shows, journal articles, and her own memories of an abusive piano teacher during a time when she dreamed of a professional career. The experience "tainted playing the piano for me". Likewise, some of the Weinstein accusations come from women who gave up their dream of being actresses. Who can guess how many women have abandoned ambitions as a vague not-quite-intended response to harassment that they didn't feel in a position to report at the time?

and Puerto Rico

Tuesday, AP reported that 10 people have been diagnosed with leptospirosis, a disease you get by drinking water contaminated by animal urine. Four deaths have been attributed to this disease, which is both preventable and treatable.

When he was in Puerto Rico, Trump bragged about the low death totals, then only 16. The official count is now higher, and is probably still too low.

At Vox, we decided to compare what the government has been saying with other reports of deaths from the ground. We searched Google News for reports of deaths in English and Spanish media from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. We found reports of a total of 81 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the hurricane. Of those, 45 were the deaths certified by the government. The remaining 36 deaths were confirmed by local public officials or funeral directors, according to the reports. We also found another 450 reported deaths, most of causes still unknown, and reports of at least 69 people still missing.

The estimates of how many people are without power change daily, but have been running in the 70-90% range.


I've been saying since before the Inauguration that Trump (like the alt-Right in general) distinguishes between Americans and real Americans. Real Americans (also sometimes referred to as "the American People"; I talked here about what it means to be "a people") are English-speaking white Christians.

If you're really adamant about two out of three, that might be enough for you to count as "real", but just being white or Christian or speaking English as your first language isn't. (For the Dreamers, even two out of three isn't enough.) So Puerto Ricans, who (though often Catholic) are mostly brown-skinned Spanish-speakers, don't qualify as real Americans, no matter what their passports say. That's why the America-First President can tweet so blithely about abandoning them in their hour of need. The thought of how much money the U.S. is spending to help them, which never came up in presidential rhetoric after the Texas and Florida hurricanes, is never far from his mind. He also worries about whether they are doing enough to help themselves, another idea that didn't come up in Harvey or Irma relief. It is as if he considers Puerto Rico disaster relief to be foreign aid.


Rachel Maddow has been making the Navy hospital ship Comfort a symbol of the relief effort's mismanagement. It's in Puerto Rico, but as of Thursday, only 8 of its 1000 beds were occupied.

and the California fires

As of Friday, the Tubbs fire in the Santa Rosa area had destroyed more than 5,000 buildings, most of them homes. And that's just one of the still-raging fires.

As with the hurricanes, climate change is sitting in the background of this story. The usual caveats apply: There's always been a wildfire season in California, so you can't look at any particular fire and say that climate change caused it. But ...

As the climate changes, extremes in seasonal conditions are exacerbated, [University of California Professor LeRoy] Westerling says. Climate change affects wildfires from two directions at different times of the year: Winters become wetter and shorter, while summers become hotter and last longer.

"Climate change is kind of turning up the dial on everything," Westerling said. "Dry periods become more extreme. Wet periods become more extreme."

One thing I didn't understand before: Both sides of that process promote wildfires. The wet winters cause more vegetation to grow, which dries out in the summer and becomes fuel for the fires.


If you missed it the first time around, now is a good time to watch this episode of Years of Living Dangerously. It tells two stories about deforestation: Harrison Ford is in Indonesia, and Arnold Schwarzenegger talks to the people who fight wildfires in the American West.


From a friend whose home in Santa Rosa is within blocks of the total-loss zone:

Ronald Reagan famously said: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help you'."

Ronald Reagan was a fucking moron.

Rugged individualism just doesn't cut it when you're in the path of a hurricane or a major fire.

but we need to watch the Russia/Trump/social media story

Most of the talk about the Trump/Russia investigation centers on the hacks of Democratic emails and the process by which they got leaked to the press. But ultimately Russia's social media strategy may turn out to be more important.

The Internet Research Agency employ hundreds of so-called “trolls” who post pro-Kremlin content, much of it fake or discredited, under the guise of phony social media accounts that posed as American or European residents, according to lawmakers and researchers.

Facebook announced last month it had unearthed $100,000 in spending by the Internet Research Agency and, under pressure from lawmakers, has pledged to be more transparent about how its ads are purchased and targeted.

Google has found tens of thousands spent by a different Russian group on its ads, and Microsoft is still looking into the issue. There have also been reports of Russian Twitter-bots who manipulated which stories were "trending". A number of those Facebook ads targeted Wisconsin and Michigan.

Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages, sources said.

This is far from conclusive evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, but it does suggest some American involvement: Somebody working with the Russians had a very deep, granular understanding of the American electorate.


Larry Kim reports on how easy it is to set yourself up as a fake-news mogul. He created a web site, spent $50 on Facebook ads, and reached 4,645 conservative-leaning people in Pennsylvania, generating 44 likes and 27 shares. Imagine what could be done with an army of trolls and hundreds of thousands to spend. If you build a bunch of sites all referencing each other's fake-news stories, you could create your own bubble.

and you also might be interested in ...

The NYT covers research into why wolves are different from dogs. The theory: wolf puppies learn the difference between "us" and "them" very early, before their eyes and ears are working yet, entirely by scent. Dog puppies stay open to socialization longer, and learn to recognize familiar humans by sight and sound. The reporter is only partly convinced, but really enjoys the chance to play with wolf puppies.


The WaPo predicts that someday 2017 will be seen as "the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine". The big reasons: China, Tesla, and GM.


Minister Carl Gregg discusses the question of how to deal with honest people who live in a world of alternative facts. Based a book called The Cynic and the Fool by Tad DeLay, he recommends starting with "motivational interviewing" rather than direct contradiction. "Why do you believe that?" rather than "That's not true!"


Last week, Senator Corker described the White House as "an adult daycare center". This week, Politico and The Washington Post explained how the daycare workers do their jobs. Mainly, when the Toddler-in-Chief is about to do something bad or dangerous, they distract him until his attention wanders somewhere else. (I picture them jingling a set of car keys.) And when he's behaving, they tell him again and again what a good boy he is.


The nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality doesn't think carbon dioxide should count as a pollutant.


Since the election, I've been thinking that liberals need to explain things we used to take for granted, and explicitly argue against ideas that used to be off the table. (I've done that with articles against white pride and nationalism.) Economics blogger Noah Smith apparently feels the same way: He explained in September why an American white ethnostate would be a bad idea, not just for the non-whites who would be either driven out or subordinated, but for the whites themselves.

Two main arguments: An all-white USA would have a crappy economy, not just because talented non-whites wouldn't want to come (or stay) here, but because a lot of talented whites would leave (in the same way that many non-Jewish scientists left Hitler's Germany). And the harsh policies necessary to get rid of American non-whites would leave us with corrupt and tyrannical institutions, staffed by people who were willing to do nasty things. In spite of our ethnic homogeneity, we'd have a low level of public trust for generations.

The nation that currently most resembles a white ethnic Trumpistan, in Smith's opinion, is Ukraine: nearly all-white, dominated by agriculture and heavy industry -- and with a GDP per capita about 1/6th of the U.S.


This week's most head-scratching story is that the Department of the Interior flies a special flag to mark when Secretary Zinke is in the building. Buckingham Palace has long flown a flag to mark when the monarch is in residence. In the U.S. the tradition goes back to the Navy in 1866; the ship carrying the fleet commander would fly a special flag. In the early 20th century, cabinet-level flags became a fad of sorts, but went out of style because they were considered "pretentious".

Chris Lu, deputy Labor secretary under Obama, said: "If we had a secretarial flag at the Obama Labor Department, we never bothered to locate it or use it."

There's a theme building in a variety of Trump administration scandals and controversies: High government office is about self-glorification, not public service.

and let's close with something humbling

This one chart shows all the known cognitive biases. Human minds, it turns out, are kind of kludgy.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bipartisan Concerns

He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation. ... Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.

- Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), discussing President Trump yesterday

This week's featured post is "Misunderstood Things: 10-9-2017", where I discuss gun deaths and tax simplification.

This week everybody was talking about guns

The more we find out about Stephen Paddock, the more he looks like a white guy with a lot of guns. No one has uncovered a political or religious agenda behind the Las Vegas massacre. He just wanted to kill a lot of people and had the means to do it.


In The Atlantic, David Frum lays out "The Rules of the Gun Debate". He's pointing to the formulaic nature of the debate, in which anything likely to change either the frequency of mass killings or the number of gun deaths each year is eliminated before the discussion starts. Fundamentally, he says, the United States has too many guns that move around too freely.

a society is in a much better position to stop shooting deaths when it can tightly regulate the buying and carrying of weapons long before they are ever used to murder anybody. In all but a half dozen American states, it would be perfectly legal for people like the Charlie Hebdo killers to walk to the very front door of their targets with their rifles slung over their shoulders, lawful responsible gun owners to the very second before they opened fire on massed innocents.

... in an America where guns were viewed as they are in Australia or Canada, the project of moving two dozen of them into a hotel suite would likely be detected somewhere along the way. The person moving those guns would find himself in trouble—not for murder—but for some petty gun infraction. His weapons might be confiscated, or he himself sent to prison for some months. His plan would be interrupted very likely without anyone ever imagining what had been contemplated. Mass shootings so seldom happen in other countries not because they have developed carefully crafted policies against shootings, but because they have instituted broad policies to restrict guns.

He also points to a cultural change we need to prevent the much-more-frequent suicides, accidents, and fatal escalations of ordinary disputes:

Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are endangering themselves and their loved ones.

I'm wondering if we need some anti-gun commercials similar to the ones that have been made to de-glamorize smoking. Nothing about statistics or laws, just a guy proudly showing his friends his vast gun collection, but rather than impressing them, he has creeped them out.


The gun control debate seems muted this time, with advocates having a hopeless tone in their voices. I don't know how many times I've heard someone say, "If Sandy Hook didn't change anything ..."

Still, things that can't go on forever don't. The potential destructiveness of individuals keeps going up, and with it the size of mass killings. It stunned the nation in 1966 when a sniper killed 14 strangers in Texas. This time 58 died and more than 500 were injured. If nothing changes, someday it will be 100 dead, then a thousand. Is there really no point at which something changes?


Las Vegas isn't the biggest mass killing in U.S. history, but you probably didn't hear about the others in school, because the victims were black or Native American and the killers were white.

and Iran

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump is planning to decertify the deal the Obama administration negotiated to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be fulfilling its obligations under the agreement, but Trump is expected to say in a speech Thursday that the agreement is "not in the national interest". Congress would then have 60 days to reimpose the sanctions the agreement relaxed, which would probably scuttle the whole thing, ticking off a bunch of our allies. Iran would then be free to construct a nuclear weapon as fast as it could.

Try as I might, I can't see an achievable goal here. The reason the Obama sanctions were so crippling for Iran was that all the major players backed them. (The agreement in question isn't just between us and the Iranians. The UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany are also involved, and none of them are expressing regrets.) If we unilaterally screw up the agreement and go back to sanctions, we're unlikely to get a similar level of cooperation. So with less pressure on the Iranians this time, why will they give us more concessions?

I suppose Trump might be imagining that the Iranians will capitulate in the face of his resolve and negotiating skills, but seriously, where is the evidence for that view? And why would they offer any new concessions, when they know Trump reneges on deals and could just come back for more concessions later? (As I pointed out when the deal was first announced, there's a Munich analogy to be made here, but we're in the Germany role.)

Or maybe he thinks the Iranian public will rise up and overthrow their government if we put enough pressure on their economy, but I don't think that's how it works. People tend to rally around their government when foreign powers try to dominate it. Hardliners will argue that they tried to settle peaceably with the Americans, but Trump has no interest in anything but Iran's surrender. Iranian democracy activists will look like traitorous American agents.

Neither of those upbeat possibilities is anywhere near as likely as this one: Iran will go full speed towards a nuclear weapon and dare us to either accept it or start a war. (Remember: Iran is three times the size of Iraq.)


Another example of Trump's if-you-demand-it-they-will-fold approach is the renegotiation of NAFTA, which doesn't appear to be going very well. So far the Trump administration's demands are short on specifics, and it's not clear he has the backing in Congress to approve whatever changes he might get.

As the son of an Illinois farmer (now deceased), I keep wondering when heartland farmers will notice how consistently Trump is selling them out on trade. Mexico may run a trade surplus with us in general, but it imports a lot of corn and soybeans. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump pulled out of had debatable effects in general, but it would have been great for farm exports.


Speaking of reneging on deals and making big demands, Trump has released his conditions for giving legal status to the Dreamers currently protected by the Obama DACA program that Trump is ending. It includes stuff that the outline-of-a-deal he agreed to with Democratic leaders explicitly ruled out, like building his wall. As president, he continues to deal with everybody the way he dealt with subcontractors in his real estate business or students at Trump U: No deal is ever complete; there's always another opportunity to cheat people.

and Trump's visit to Puerto Rico

Univision radio host Jay Fonseca and Puerto Rican lawyer Leo Aldridge had this reaction:

We were waiting for a Marshall Plan, something announcing the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. What we got was more congratulations for his own administration. Instead of showing compassion for the most vulnerable, he went to visit the richest areas of the island.

They warn that many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island for the mainland -- which they can do freely, since they're U.S. citizens. This could change the politics of the states they move to, since they can vote as soon as they establish residency, just like any other Americans who move to a new state.

The NYT suggests Florida could see a shift: Puerto Ricans were already passing Cubans as the largest Hispanic ethnic group in the state, and the current crisis might bring 100,000 more. Like Latinos in general, Puerto Ricans in the 50 states haven't been voting in their full numbers. But Trump's disrespect might motivate them.


BTW: Does anyone doubt that Puerto Rico would have been a state long ago if its people were white and spoke English as their first language?


Plenty of people noted how weird and self-centered Trump was in Puerto Rico. But by now, that's not really news. Maybe instead we should be reminding ourselves how our leaders used to act, so that Trump doesn't become a new model for our lowered expectations. (If you want a list of all the ways Trump has changed presidential behavior for the worse, the NYT has one.)

For example, this was candidate Obama visiting the town where I grew up during the 2008 Mississippi River floods. It's hard to imagine Trump, either before or after the election, just pitching in and talking to other volunteers about the disaster, rather than about himself, his popularity, or how great he is.

The point, of course, isn't that Obama's sandbags made some huge difference. (Who knows how many he actually filled before the cameras were turned off and he went to his next campaign event?) The point is that American leaders should model good citizenship, and demonstrate that no one is too important to pitch in.

Similarly, after the softball-practice shooting that wounded Congressman Steve Scalise, Vice President Pence donated blood. Who knows where Pence's pint actually went? But whether his blood type matched any of the victims or not, he responded to a tragedy by modeling public-spirited behavior.

and his other feuds

During the Obama administration, there was a certain amount of comparatively dignified back-and-forth between the President and Republican leaders like John Boehner. You expect that kind of thing in any democracy, as the leaders of different parties disagree with each other and jockey for public support.

What's different this time is the vitriol between Trump and his own party, and sometimes his own people. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is currently in the doghouse for calling Trump "a moron" in front of witnesses in July, maybe with an extra expletive attached. Tillerson pointedly refused to deny making the comment, and there was considerable discussion this week of how long Tillerson and Trump will be able to stand working together.

(My own opinion is that Tillerson's security clearance should be revoked, which would make it impossible for him to continue as Secretary of State. If he blurts out that Trump is a moron, how can we trust him not to reveal other sensitive information?)


And then there was this weekend's exchange between Trump and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, which resulted Saturday in Corker referring to the White House as an "adult daycare center" and charging that Trump's tweets indicated that "Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."

This isn't like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity railing against Obama. They had no responsibilities, but were just trying to appeal to an audience of partisans who hated Obama from the moment they saw him. Quite the opposite, these are officials publicly allied with Trump, who have tried to work with him and can't.

BTW, if Tillerson has to be replaced, the nominee will have to be cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Corker.

James Fallows has advice for Corker:

He could urge his colleagues toward the next step through their stages-of-tragedy relationship with Trump. Stage one was carping and dismissal during the first half of 2016, when he was an entertaining long-shot . Stage two was Vichy-regime acquiescence to him during the campaign. Stage three was “support” early this year, toward the goal of the Gorsuch confirmation and the hope of a tax-cut bill. Now we see the inklings of stage four, with the dawning awareness of what Corker spelled out: that they have empowered something genuinely dangerous. It’s time for Corker to act on that knowledge, and his colleagues too.


Trump sent Mike Pence to Indianapolis to keep his NFL feud bubbling. Pence made a big show of leaving the Colts/49ers game when some players kneeled for the national anthem.

The whole idea that kneeling "disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem" (as Pence tweeted) is absurd. I can't think of any other situation where kneeling is a form of disrespect: Are Catholics disrespecting the altars in their churches? Are guys who kneel to propose disrespecting their girlfriends?

No, the protest isn't about respect for the flag, it's about racism. That's why it upsets people.

Remember: there was no reason for the president to get involved in this controversy to begin with, and he only drew more attention to it. Trump came into the controversy to once again reassure racists that he's on their side. Apparently he thinks that position is working for him, so he wants to keep the feud going.

and church and state

The administration loosened the guidelines for when businesses can refuse to offer their female employees contraception coverage on religious grounds. Also this week, Attorney General Sessions issued a memo changing government policy on "religious liberty", which in many cases will trump anti-discrimination laws.

This all fits in with my prior conviction: None of it is about actual religious liberty. It's about special rights for certain popular varieties of Christianity. You can see that in the immediate focus on contraception, which started out as a Catholic issue and was picked up by some Protestants. Why is this -- and sexuality in general -- the government's central "religious liberty" focus, rather than situations where government policy impacts vegetarians or pacifists or environmentalists? Those can be religious positions too, but who in the administration cares about them?

I felt the same way about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.

Given that this principle will produce complete anarchy if generally applied, it won’t be generally applied. Contrary to Alito’s assertion, judges will have to decide whether the chains of moral logic people assert are reasonable or not. ... In practice, a belief will seem reasonable if a judge agrees with it. That’s what happened in this case: Five male Catholic judges ruled that Catholic moral principles trump women’s rights. Three Jews and a female Catholic disagreed.

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Jacob Levy calls for reconstructing American libertarianism as if black liberty mattered.

Not to put too fine a point on it, those who proclaim their commitment to freedom have all too often assessed threats to freedom as if those facing  African-Americans don’t count — as if black liberty does not matter.

And so, America is the freest nation on Earth -- if you ignore the mass incarceration of black men, or the large number of them who get killed by police.

Think about the different ways that market liberals and libertarians talk about “welfare” from how they talk about other kinds of government redistribution. There’s no talk of the culture of dependence among farmers, although they receive far more government aid per capita than do the urban poor. Libertarians absolutely and clearly oppose corporate welfare, but they don’t do so in the paternalistic language that corporate welfare recipients are morally hurt by being on the dole. The white welfare state of the 1930s-60s that channeled government support for, e.g., housing, urban development, and higher education through segregated institutions has a way of disappearing from the historical memory; the degrees earned and homes bought get remembered as hard work contributing to the American dream. But too many libertarians and their market-oriented allies among postwar conservatives treated the more racially inclusive welfare state of the 1960s and 70s as different in kind. ... [O]nce the imagined typical welfare recipient was a black mother, welfare became a matter not just of economic or constitutional concern but of moral panic about parasites, fraud, and the long-term collapse of self-reliance.

... And the conviction that freedom of speech is mostly threatened by “political correctness” in American life, that saying racist things is a brave stand against censorship, that calling what someone else says “racist” is pretty much like censoring them—these are important facts about American political discourse today.


I love this comic strip at Splinter News. A guy in the present is anti-Black-Lives-Matter, but claims he's not a racist, and that he would totally have supported Martin Luther King in the 1950s. A fairy gives him his back-to-the-future wish, where an anti-MLK guy repeats the same arguments he'd been making against BLM. Convinced, he now is against MLK too, but believes he'd totally be an abolitionist if he were back in the 1800s. Here's one panel:


Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) got caught in a major episode of hypocrisy this week. Tuesday, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette released text messages in which Murphy's mistress took him to task for his public anti-abortion stance, when he had suggested she get an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Wednesday, he announced he would not be running for re-election in 2018. Thursday, he resigned from Congress.

If you're pro-choice, you probably read this with a sense of vindication: Not even anti-abortion congressmen really believe the rhetoric they spout. But I wonder if voters on the other side interpret the story differently: The fact that even a pro-life congressman would want to kill his unborn child just shows the importance of making abortion illegal; personal conviction is not enough to keep us on the straight and narrow when temptation pressures us to sin. A parallel might be the alcoholic who favors prohibition: "I want a law getting rid of alcohol, because if the stuff is available, I know I'll drink it."


For a year or so I've been telling people to read Misbehaving, Richard Thaler's entertaining biography of himself and his field (behavioral economics). Well, he just won the Nobel Prize.


The administration is continuing to sabotage ObamaCare.

and let's close by getting medieval

Maybe you already know how to walk like an Egyptian without falling down like a domino, but can you walk like it's 999?

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Right Way to Protest

It's wrong to do it in the streets.
It's wrong to do it in the tweets.
You cannot do it on the field.
You cannot do it if you've kneeled.
And don't do it if you're rich
You ungrateful son of a bitch.
Because there's one thing that's a fact:
You cannot protest, if you're black.

- Trevor Noah (9-25-2017)

This week's featured post is about the latest tax-reform proposal: "Just What We Needed: More Inequality, Bigger Deficits".

This morning everybody is talking about the Las Vegas shooting

As I've often said, a one-person weekly blog is poorly equipped to handle breaking news. CNN is reporting at least 50 killed and 400 injured. Apparently, Sunday evening a gunman on the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel fired automatic weapons fired down on an outdoor county music concert. So far I have heard very little about the shooter or what his motives might be.

General advice: Avoid jumping to conclusions. Early reports are often wrong and have to be corrected later.

through the week everyone has been talking about Puerto Rico

It's a disturbing testimony on news-in-the-age-of-Trump that it's much easier to find articles about the war of words between Trump and San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz than about the current state of things in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria was a category-4 storm when it hit Puerto Rico on September 20. The energy grid, which had already been damaged by the previous Hurricane Irma, went completely offline and is still not functioning on most of the island. Aid made it to the port of San Juan fairly quickly, but got bogged down there. Just over a week after landfall, CNN reported:

At least 10,000 containers of supplies -- including food, water and medicine -- were sitting Thursday at the San Juan port, said Jose Ayala, the Crowley shipping company's vice president in Puerto Rico. Part of the reason for the distribution backlog is that only 20% of truck drivers have reported back to work since Hurricane Maria swept through, according to a representative for Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. On top of that, a diesel fuel shortage and a tangle of blocked roads mean the distribution of supplies is extremely challenging. Even contacting drivers is a problem because cell towers are still down.

In many parts of the island, food and water are running out faster than aid is arriving. Many Puerto Ricans who rely on prescription medication are having a hard time getting it. Hospitals and nursing homes are mostly relying on local generators, which they don't always have fuel for.

Many have contrasted the federal response to this predicted disaster on a U.S. territory, the home of 3.4 million American citizens, with how the U.S. handled the unexpected earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The Washington Post:

Within two days [of the earthquake], the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

... By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.


As always, Trump's main concern seems to be taking credit for success and dodging blame for failure. Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke pushed the administration line:

I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.

That set off Mayor Cruz:

Well maybe from where she's standing it's a good news story. When you're drinking from a creek, it's not a good news story. When you don't have food for a baby, it's not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from buildings -- I'm sorry, that really upsets me and frustrates me.

And then Trump got involved. Not in solving the problems, of course, but by tweeting that Mayor Cruz had been "told by Democrats to be nasty to Trump". She and other Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them".

Any compassionate human being -- even one who honestly felt blamed for things that weren't his fault -- would cut some slack for a local leader in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. Not Trump. He also went after reporters on the ground, who showed the world what Puerto Ricans are going through.

Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to 'get Trump'.

Vox' Matt Yglesias sees the problem as lack of planning and an unwillingness to admit mistakes.

A president who was focused on his job could have asked in advance what the plan was for a hurricane strike on Puerto Rico. He would have discovered that since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, FEMA is the default lead agency but it’s the US military that has the ships and helicopters that would be needed to get supplies into the interior of a wrecked island. And he could have worked something out. Instead, he didn’t get worked up about Puerto Rico until more than a week after the storm hit when he saw the mayor of San Juan lambasting him on television. He lashed out with his usual playbook — one that will only make things worse.

... Trump doesn’t know much about governing. But he is very good at channeling every discussion into the same handful of culture war tropes. Shifting the discussion in this direction rather than adopting a tone of humility will, of course, only make substantive recovery more difficult by polarizing the topic in Congress and among the public.

Josh Marshall frames the tweets against San Juan's mayor and Trump's statements attacking NFL players as two examples of "The Primary Text of Trumpism".

Every conflict quickly boils down [to] honorable and white soldiers, police and first responders versus non-white ingrates, complainers and protestors. In fact, the very actions of the latter group dishonors and assaults the sacrifices and purity of the first. ...

The core and essence of Trumpism is a racist morality play. It plays out again and again, just with a different troupe of actors in each town.

and Tom Price

The travel-expense scandal that had enveloped the HHS Secretary last week only got worse this week, until he resigned Friday. (In his five months in office, the taxpayers spent more than $1 million on private and military aircraft for Price's trips.) Trump clearly hopes this issue is behind him now, but Price seems to be only the most extreme example of this administration's tendency to waste public money pampering top officials. The Atlantic summarizes:

[EPA Director Scott] Pruitt spent more than $800,000 for an around-the-clock security detail in his first three months in office alone, nearly double the cost for his predecessor. This week, The Washington Post revealed that the EPA is spending $25,000 to construct a soundproof privacy booth for Pruitt, who has faced a slew of leaks as he battles unhappy employees at the agency. He has also accrued thousands of dollars in costs for private and military jet flights, including travel between Washington and his home state of Oklahoma.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is another frequent private flyer, including chartering a plane from an oil-and-gas company for a flight from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana for $12,000 this summer. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is under investigation for a flight in a government plane that included viewing the solar eclipse from Fort Knox, Kentucky. That flight became public when his wife, Louise Linton, posted an Instagram photo of herself alighting from the plane, and then sniped at a commenter. She later apologized. Mnuchin also requested the use of a government plane for his honeymoon, though Treasury later decided against it.

And where did all these people get the idea that spending public money on yourself is OK? From the top. Trump not only spends vastly more on himself and his family than previous presidents, a chunk of that money goes straight into his own pocket. Not only do his private clubs in Florida and New Jersey gain valuable publicity and prestige from presidential visits nearly every weekend (sometimes with foreign leaders in tow), but his government entourage and security team has to follow him, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

Always costly in manpower and equipment, the president's jaunts to Mar-a-Lago are estimated to cost at least $3 million each, based on a General Accountability Office estimate for similar travel by former President Obama. The Secret Service has spent some $60,000 on golf cart rentals alone this year to protect Trump at both Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster.

The Washington Post reports that

The Trump [International] Hotel [in Washington] is the most blatant example of how Trump is selling the presidency. No ordinary luxury hotel in a city that boasts more than a few, the Trump Hotel is where foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, White House staff, Cabinet officials, Trump confidants, Republican fundraisers, elected officials, religious leaders and assorted sycophants gather — to see and be seen, to rub elbows with the powerful, to possibly catch a glimpse of the president himself, and, most crucially, to patronize the hotel owned by the most powerful person in the world.

And one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Trump tax plan looks to be Trump himself.

and the Republican tax plan

See the featured post: "Just What We Needed: More Inequality, Bigger Deficits".

and Roy Moore

who beat incumbent Senator Luther Strange in Alabama's Republican primary runoff 55%-45%. Establishment Republicans around the country are freaking out, and Steve Bannon is considering which sitting Republican senators he wants to launch primary challenges against.

However, it's not clear how national the Moore/Strange race really was. Local/personal issues came into play as well.

  • Strange had been appointed to the seat by now-disgraced ex-Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions became attorney general just a few months ago, so he's not comparable to a senator who has been elected before and served out one or more full terms.
  • Some shady circumstances surrounded Strange's appointment. At the time Strange was Alabama's attorney general, and was widely believed to have been investigating Bentley for the scandal that eventually caused him to resign. Appointing Strange put Bentley in line to appoint a new AG, so the whole thing just smelled like a corrupt manipulation. An ethical AG would have turned the appointment down.
  • Strange is a former lobbyist, a fact Moore used to great effect in their debate.

In short, Strange was tailor-made to be caricatured as one of the dreaded Swamp Creatures of Washington. A primary race against the other GOP senators said to be on Bannon's list (Dean Heller, Jeff Flake, Roger Wicker) might be different.


Religious-right Republicans are often described as "theocrats" who want to put the Bible above the Constitution. Roy Moore really is that way. It's not hyperbole.


An early poll makes the general-election race look surprisingly competitive, given that we're talking about Alabama: Moore leads Democrat Doug Jones 51%-44%. However, we've been here before. Self-respecting Republicans like to toy with the idea that they won't vote for the thoroughly objectionable candidate their party has nominated, but in the end they almost all do.

The special election to serve out the remainder of the Senate term Jeff Sessions was elected to in 2014 will be held December 12.


The standard narrative of the Republican insurgent, which Bannon is now packaging for his own purposes, is that grassroots conservatives are always being betrayed: They elect people to do what they want -- repeal ObamaCare, ban abortion, balance the budget (while cutting taxes), deport all the undocumented immigrants, make our military so strong that other nations stop challenging us, etc. --  but then Washington corrupts them and those things don't get done.

But Josh Marshall coined the term nonsense debt to describe another narrative for the same set of facts: Any politician who wins by promoting nonsensical views and raising impossible expectations is going to suffer under an unfulfillable obligation after taking office.

He came back to that theme after Moore's victory, arguing that "the base" vs. "the establishment" is a meaningless distinction. The GOP is in

an infinite loop of inflammatory and engaging promises, claims and demands which are mostly entirely unrealizable, creating a permanent cycle of establishmentism and grassroots’ betrayal which continues spinning forward even as the players in each category change.

and the NFL

For much of the country and almost all of his base, Trump has succeeded in hijacking the NFL-protest story. It's not about police misconduct or Black Lives Matter any more; it's about the flag and the anthem. The next time someone whitesplains what the players are doing and why, tell them that we don't have to speculate, because the original protesters have explained their motives very well.

More excellent commentary on the protest comes from Nick Wright of the FS1 sports-news show First Things First. He points out that making the protests about the anthem is like claiming that people who march in the streets are protesting against traffic. And he offers this thought experiment to test whether you're really against the method of protest, or really just against the issue: What if players were kneeling to protest how poorly the U.S. has been treating its veterans? Would you be equally repelled by that? Or is the real problem that they're protesting racism?

Finally, the Seuss-like poem at the top is the conclusion of an excellent Daily Show segment where Trevor Noah addresses the question: When is the right time for black people to protest?

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There's an interesting debate going on about what white supremacist should mean: Do we reserve the term for people like Richard Spencer, who explicitly yearn for the U.S. to become a white ethnostate? Or does it extend to Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, whose vision of America is clearly one where whites continue to dominate, even if they don't say so in so many words.

Trevor Noah was getting at this distinction with regard to the usage of racism. He contrasted Trump's claim that some of the whites chanting Nazi slogans in Charlottesville were "very fine people" with calling black football players who take a knee "sons of bitches".

I don't know if Trump is racist, but I do know he definitely prefers white people to black people. I can say that with confidence.


When Trump imposed a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, one of the reasons we were told protesters were over-reacting was that it was temporary: just 90 days. Well, now it's permanent. He also cut in half the number of refugees the U.S. can accept. The Supreme Court is set to reconsider the ban as soon as both sides rewrite their briefs in response to the changes.


Mexico is reaching the outer reaches of government privatization: Private security guards are replacing the police, but only for those who can afford it. The NYT paints a scary picture.


Two independence referenda: The Kurdish provinces of Iraq voted 93% for independence. The Catalonians also voted for independence from Spain. Both national governments oppose the independence movements, so it's not clear where things go from here. Of the two, Kurdish independence is more complex, because neighboring Turkey and Iran also have large Kurdish minorities.

and let's close with something awe-inspiring

National Geographic's photography competitions are always amazing. Here's a set of 51 photos, including this vision of solitary contemplation over Morraine Lake in Canada's Banff National Park. (All Canadian national parks currently offer free admission, in celebration of Canada's 150th birthday.)

Monday, September 25, 2017

False Choices

Flexibility with reduced funding is a false choice. I will not pit seniors, children, families, the mentally ill, the critically ill, hospitals, care providers, or any other Nevadan against each other because of cuts to Nevada’s health-care delivery system proposed by the Graham-Cassidy amendment.

- Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada)

This week's featured post is "Nationalism Reconsidered" and "Why Republicans Can't Stop Trying to Repeal ObamaCare".

This week everybody was talking about yet another last-ditch attempt to repeal ObamaCare

which appears to be failing, just like the others did. Sadly, even this is probably not the end, as I explain in the second featured post.

Like previous attempts, the Graham-Cassidy bill contains nothing to attract Democrats and so can afford to lose only three Republican senators. Rand Paul declared against it first, because it retained too much of the spending in ObamaCare, even if it did redirect it through the states. John McCain declared against it Friday, saying that he couldn't vote for it without more information, like a complete CBO analysis, which would not be available in time for the vote. Susan Collins seems to be waiting for what little analysis the CBO will provide, but finds it "very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill." Lisa Murkowski hasn't committed herself, but she'd have a hard time squaring a yes vote with the principles she has laid out. Even Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are said to be against the bill "in its current form", which probably means their votes are available for the right concessions, with the risk that those concessions might alienate some other senators.

So it's not completely dead yet, but Graham-Cassidy has to roll a long series of sevens to pass.

Midnight Saturday is the deadline for passage, which sounds like a bad-movie plot device rather than a real rule, but that actually seems to be how things shake out. [Skip this if you're already bored: In a nutshell, the reason has to do with an arcane process for avoiding filibusters, known as reconciliation. To be eligible for reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority (50 senators plus the vice president) rather than the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, a bill has to meet a long list of conditions, one of which is that it has to match up with reconciliation instructions in the current fiscal year's budget resolution. Fiscal 2017 ends on September 30, so the budget resolution's reconciliation instructions expire then.]

[Keep skipping: So why not roll the reconciliation instructions from FY2017's budget resolution over into FY2018's? That runs into another rule that also sounds like a plot device: There are limits on how many reconciliation instructions a budget resolution can contain, and FY2018's are already reserved for tax reform. (Or at least that's how it looks at the moment; Orrin Hatch is looking for a way to do both.) So at midnight on Saturday, the ObamaCare-repeal coach becomes a pumpkin, the horses turn back into mice, but for some reason the slipper is still glass -- stop asking so many questions.]


You expect Democrats in Congress and former Obama administration officials (including Obama himself) to make the case against this bill. But the strongest opposition voice has turned out to be someone you wouldn't usually expect: late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Kimmel first spoke out about healthcare when in May when he told the story of his newborn son's heart problem, repeatedly choking up as he did so.

A week later Kimmel came back to the topic, and had an on-air conversation with Senator Cassidy, who had just started talking about "the Jimmy Kimmel test", which he summarized like this: "Would a child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life?"

Cassidy sounded great in that interview. But if he thought Kimmel wasn't going to check whether he followed up on those good words, he found out differently Tuesday:

I know you guys are going to find this hard to believe, but a few months ago after my son had open-heart surgery (which was something I spoke about on the air) a politician, a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, was on my show, and he wasn't very honest. ... This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Cassidy responded by lamenting that Kimmel "does not understand" his bill. Kimmel played that clip the next night, characterizing it as playing "the all-comedians-are-dummies card". He then asked Cassidy which part of the bill he doesn't understand, and listed all the objectionable things the bill does. And the back-and-forth continued Thursday as well.

The wonderful thing about this whole series is the way Kimmel has flipped conservatives' favorite script. They love to portray liberals as out-of-touch Washington insiders dishonestly condescending to concerned American parents. Now that's what Senator Cassidy and Senator Graham doing.

and the NFL

No, not the games, the players' response to Trump. Everything in the world is about Trump now.

It started Friday in Alabama at a rally for GOP Senator Luther Strange (who seems to be losing a primary battle with the truly strange Roy Moore), where we found out what Donald Trump thinks about free expression:

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired."?

This, of course, is an insult directed at former Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who last season began protesting against police brutality and racial inequality by quietly and respectfully kneeling during the national anthem. Many players (Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, for example) had expressed respect for the protest, but only a few (Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks comes to mind) had participated themselves.

Until yesterday. Seeing the President of the United States call their colleagues a "sons of bitches" (for doing something that hurts no one, and that offended people can just look away from) made players take a stand ... or a knee. Not all players and not all teams responded the same way, but in every game in the country (and one in London), players did something, often with the support of the team's owners. Some players joined the kneeling protest, while others simply protested Trump's attempt to turn players against each other by locking arms. Some teams resisted being divided by staying in the locker room until the anthem was over. The WaPo's Jerry Brewer summed up:

The prevailing statement was rather simple, at least for people who have the decency to resist acting like Trump and labeling an athlete protesting police brutality and [in]equality a “son of a bitch.” It was about having concern for the person next to you and showing that unity doesn’t require shaming others to think the way you do.

A few of my reactions:

  • It's disturbing the way that Trump has stepped out of the usual bounds of politics and taken over the entire national conversation. Back in 2011, Hank Williams Jr. got fired by Monday Night Football for ranting about President Obama, but that was all him; Obama never engaged with the controversy. For eight years, you could escape Obama by watching football. But today, where can you put your attention and be confident of escaping Trump?
  • This event is a lesson in what usually happens when a president talks tough: His fans cheer, but whatever problem they think he's solving just gets worse. (Far from being intimidated, more players are kneeling.) The people who cheer Trump's North Korea rhetoric should think about this.
  • If only Trump got this outraged by people waving swastikas. Maybe if black athletes would start doing that, he'd finally denounce it with some real feeling.
  • Here's the saddest thing about this story: The issues that motivated Kaepernick to begin with are playing out in St. Louis right now, but the country isn't paying attention.

Lest basketball players feel left out, Trump insulted them too. Traditionally, championship teams visit the White House, and everybody has a feel-good photo op. But Trump's appeals to racism have made that ceremony problematic for black athletes like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. It's a real dilemma: politicize a tradition that used to be purely ceremonial, or normalize a president who is squishy on the KKK?

Athletes have turned down the White House before, for a variety of reasons, and presidents have never made a big deal about it. But Trump did, tweeting that he was "disinviting" Curry. Like Kaepernick, Curry enjoyed a wave of social-media support from his fellow players, including LeBron James, who tweeted at Trump: "Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up." All-star guard Chris Paul added something about the NFL controversy: "I doubt he's man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face."


Sports TV anchors -- at least black ones -- haven't escaped either. After ESPN's Jamele Hill called Trump a "white supremacist" on her personal Twitter account, the White House called for her to be fired. ESPN basically told her not to do it again.

An aside: Hill's show, SportsCenter's flagship 6 o'clock slot, is an interesting cultural phenomenon. For years, a typical sports-TV segment featured white guys talking about black guys. SC6's two black hosts, Hill and Michael Smith, break that mold. And Hill isn't just eye candy, or a Mom moderating between outspoken men; she's a sharp sports fan with a mind of her own. (Hill and Smith banter and bicker like a married couple that feels secure about the strength of their relationship.) Smith describes the criticism the show sometimes gets for being too black, and too full of young urban cultural references that older whites may not understand:

This election was about taking the country back from people like us, right? And now, it’s like, "Dammit, I got to come home and watch these two?!” That may not be what you want on SportsCenter. OK. That’s fair. Watch Fox.

and Trump's UN Speech

My threshold of embarrassment for my country has gone up considerably since Inauguration Day, but Trump's speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday did the trick. Apparently it did for White House chief of staff John Kelly too. (Based on this picture, I'm guessing Melania cleans Kelly's clock at White House poker games.)

In many ways it was the kind of speech a heavy-handed liberal script writer (Aaron Sorkin, maybe) would put in Trump's mouth, full of unintentional ironies. For example, he denounced "rogue regimes" that "threaten other nations". And a bit later he was threatening to unleash "the most destructive weapons known to humanity" against another nation:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

but meanwhile, back at the swamp ...

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price wants to cut government spending on your healthcare, but not on himself. In particular, he prefers to travel by private plane rather than take commercial flights, even though they are vastly more expensive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

Price's excuses for the extravagance don't hold water. The article says that Obama's HHS secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, took commercial flights. Price claims he uses privates jets "only when commercial travel is not feasible", but Politico found that "many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic". (D.C. to Philadelphia was one of them.) An HHS spokesperson said Price took private jets because commercial flights are "unreliable" and once caused him to miss important an meeting.

But the flight in question — to a two-day industry conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Southern California — didn't get off the ground on a day when storms virtually shut down air traffic in the Washington region, preventing even private jets from getting out.

None of this should be surprising, because we've known all along that Price has low ethical standards. The Senate knew when it confirmed him that when he was in Congress, Price bought stock in pharmaceutical companies while sponsoring legislation that would benefit those companies.

Saturday, Price announced that he would stop taking tax-payer funded private jets until a review is completed.


Price's excesses shouldn't be confused with those of fellow cabinet member Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth: half a billion), who requested a military plane to take him and his wife on their European honeymoon, and took an expensive government-funded private flight to visit Fort Knox, for reasons no one has been able to explain, at precisely the time of the eclipse.

Nor with those of EPA Director Scott Pruitt, whose "business" trips keep taking him home to Oklahoma, where he is rumored to be planning to run for governor. Pruitt is also diverting resources from environmental protection to his own security.

Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock personal security detail, which demands triple the manpower of his predecessors at the Environmental Protection Agency, has prompted officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes. ... Pruitt’s protective detail is the rare area of the EPA that is growing even as the Trump administration seeks a 31 percent cut to the agency’s budget.

Here's a security idea: Maybe Pruitt would face fewer threats if he actually started trying to protect the environment.


Associated Press has been unsuccessfully investigating what happened to the whopping $107 million Trump raised for his inaugural celebration. Obama's inauguration was bigger in almost every sense, but cost only $50 million, a sum many at the time already considered outrageous. Trump had pledged that any left-over money would go to charity ... but we've heard that before.

During the campaign, the WaPo's David Fahrenthold investigated Trump's (lack of) donations to charity:

[Trump] spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public — even nationally televised — promises to give his own money away. It was, in large part, a facade. ...

Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given — or had claimed other people’s giving as his own. ...

Trump promised to give away the proceeds of Trump University. He promised to donate the salary he earned from “The Apprentice.” He promised to give personal donations to the charities chosen by contestants on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He promised to donate $250,000 to a charity helping Israeli soldiers and veterans.

Together, those pledges would have increased Trump’s lifetime giving by millions of dollars. But The Post has been unable to verify that he followed through on any of them. Instead, The Post found that his personal giving has almost disappeared entirely in recent years.

Rachel Maddow has also been looking into the inaugural-money story and getting no-commented. On Thursday, she interviewed Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who told her:

The source of funds has to be disclosed after the inauguration, but how that money gets spent is anyone's guess -- no rules, no regulations. Quite frankly, it could even go into the pocket of Donald Trump.

Holman also addressed the fact that the Russia-related legal expenses of both Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are being paid by either the RNC or Trump's re-election fund. Paying for the president seemed legal to him, but Trump Jr. (who had no official role in the campaign) raised issues.

Maddow has been wondering about the mounting legal expenses for administration figures who aren't rich, like Mike Pence and Sean Spicer. The RNC and the re-election fund aren't paying for them.

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One of the under-appreciated aspects of the Russia/Trump story is how Russian operatives used social media to spread fake news against Clinton and to boost Trump. The Daily Beast describes one Russian-sponsored Facebook page that actively organized face-to-face pro-Trump rallies in Florida.

Facebook agreed to turn over to Congress thousands of pro-Trump and anti-Hillary ads that alleged Russian agents spent $100K distributing. NBC reports:

A Facebook employee said Wednesday that there were unspecified connections between the divisive ads and a well-known Russian "troll factory" in St. Petersburg that publishes comments on social media.


Black Lives Matter protesters went to a pro-Trump rally and were actually given a chance to speak. It went well. Seriously.


Paul Manafort was offering private briefings to a Russian oligarch while he was Trump campaign chairman.

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