Be Best

Americans should expect far more from a president than merely that he not be provably a criminal.

George Conway

This week’s featured post is “Mueller By Gaslight“.

This week everybody was talking about the Mueller Report

which none of us have been allowed to read. So the advantage at this point goes to people who are comfortable making bold claims about things they know nothing about. Has there ever been a situation so tailor-made for Donald Trump?

In the featured post, I realize that I can’t wait until I know what I’m talking about, because then Trump and his people own the field, a position that they have been abusing mightily this last week. So I say what I can.

In general, I find myself agreeing with Matt Yglesias:

I continue to be confused as to why republicans are working so hard to suppress the contents of a report that exonerates Trump and utterly discredits Dems + the media.

and ObamaCare

After spending a bunch of the mid-term campaign denying that they wanted to take health insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions, the Trump administration is back to trying to take health insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions.

This week, his Justice Department filed a legal brief arguing that a judge should find Obamacare unconstitutional — a decision that would turn the insurance markets back into the Wild West and eliminate Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans. By at least one estimate, a full repeal could cost 20 million Americans their health care coverage.

But rather than deal with that reality, the Trump administration retreated into fantasy.

President Donald Trump has insisted his party “will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’” and said things like, “if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that’s far better than Obamacare.”

He’s been talking about this mysterious plan since his campaign, and during that time no single detail of it has ever leaked out. I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s because there are no details to leak. Trump has never in his entire life had two consecutive thoughts about healthcare.

The basic outline of the plan Republicans want goes like this:

  • It covers everybody.
  • It doesn’t force healthy people to pay for sick people’s coverage.
  • It costs less money.
  • It provides better care.
  • It doesn’t raise taxes.
  • It doesn’t lower the profits of drug companies, insurance companies, or hospitals

There is no such plan, but as long as you don’t nail down any details, you don’t have to admit that.

and the border

In the latest manufactured crisis, Trump is threatening to close the border with Mexico this week (cutting off trade worth $612 billion last year) because of “the mother of all caravans“, which the Mexican interior secretary says is forming in Honduras. (Honduras knows nothing about it, and immigration activists call the story a hoax.)

I recommend reading this morning’s Washington Post article on this, which captures the atmosphere of surrealism. Both Trump and Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney say closing the border is a real threat. “I’m not playing games,” Trump said Friday. On a Sunday interview show, Mulvaney said that only “something dramatic” could persuade Trump not to close the border. However,

Administration officials have offered no details about the president’s intentions, and border control officials have received no instructions to prepare for a shutdown, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. Implementing such an order would require time to notify Congress and labor unions representing Border Patrol agents and customs officers, the official said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military, which has about 5,300 troops in the border region, has not received such orders either.

It’s not clear that Trump has any idea what “closing the border” even means. Factories on both sides of the border will close for lack of parts, just to name one consequence. You also might want to stock up on avocados.

Even if the mother of all caravans were forming, it would constitute a conspiracy to do something legal: ask for asylum in the United States. Trump actually admits this is legal, but does it in his usual backhanded way:

“We have the most laughed-at immigration laws of anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump said to reporters as he and [resigning SBA Director Linda] McMahon sat in the ornate front room of the club. “They’re the Democrats’ laws, and I got stuck with them.”

The implication here is that the laws of the United States can be separated into Democratic and Republican laws, and that Trump’s oath to “faithfully execute the laws” doesn’t apply to Democratic laws. I can only imagine the heads that would have exploded if President Obama had ever made such a claim.

Another part of Trump’s threat is to cancel assistance to the countries the refugees come from: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. (A Fox News chyron proclaimed “Trump cuts aid to three Mexican countries“.) As anyone should be able to imagine, cutting aid to these countries will make conditions worse there, and motivate more people to try to leave for the United States.

I can’t decide whether that plan is stupid or diabolical. Maybe Trump understands that cutting aid will produce more refugees for him to demonize.

The House failed to override Trump’s veto of the bipartisan Congressional resolution to revoke the state of emergency Trump proclaimed in order to build his wall. Only 14 Republicans were willing to defend Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.

USA Today reports that there is indeed a surge of immigrants coming across the southern border: about 100,000 in March, “the highest monthly total in over a decade”.

Think about that: “over a decade” probably puts us in the Bush administration, when some people were concerned about immigration, but hardly anybody thought it constituted an emergency. We have seen these kinds of numbers before, and dealt with them without attacking the constitutional separation of powers.

Around 90 percent of those – or 90,000 – crossed the border between legal ports of entry. The vast majority of those crossing between ports of entry turn themselves into Border Patrol agents, seeking asylum.

Turning yourself in and requesting asylum is the appropriate legal process. So this is not an “invasion” or a wave of criminal activity. The article makes one more observation: Trump’s Wall would be useless to stop asylum-seekers, because in many places it will sit back from the actual border.

A wall would go up on levees about a mile from the winding Rio Grande, which is the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrants will just have to cross the river to be in U.S. territory and seek asylum, [McAllen Mayor Jim Darling] said.

and the administration’s proposed budget

If you were looking for something to watch on TV and came across a movie that IMDB told you was about billionaire politicians conspiring to kill the Special Olympics, you’d know right away that this was not high drama. No serious director would allow his or her villains to be so cartoonish.

But that’s the movie we were living in for a few days this week. The proposed Trump budget cut the Department of Education budget by $7 billion, and achieved $18 million of that total by zeroing out the federal contribution to the Special Olympics. That’s just the highlight of broad cuts in special education generally.

To defend those cuts to Congress, Trump sent out yet another billionaire, Education Secretary Betsy Devos. For reasons I can’t put my finger on, DeVos always makes me think of Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter movies. Apparently I’m not the only one to see the resemblance; this photo-pairing is going around on social media.

But Rep. Mark Pocan wasn’t having it. His largely futile effort to get any kind of straight answer out of DeVos is worth watching.

After considerable public outcry, Trump announced that Special Olympics wouldn’t be cut. (But the broader cuts to special education and education in general stand.) DeVos (whose budget request has defunded Special Olympics three years in a row) then issued this statement:

I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye-to-eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.

Which raises the question: Who did she fight behind the scenes with? If it’s not her, then who is the mysterious Special-Olympics-hating villain within the Trump administration?

Similarly, Trump promised a crowd of his supporters in Michigan that he will get full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration program, which his budget proposes to cut by 90%.

Trump also called for decimating funds for the program in 2017 and 2018, but funding was saved both years by Congress, which would likely do so in the next budget as well. President Barack Obama supported funding for the program each year since it was established in 2010. Yet Trump tried to portray himself at the Midwestern rally as the savior of the program.

It’s not new that politicians promise to back some program and then end up cutting it later. But I can’t recall a situation — let alone so many situations simultaneously — where a politician promised to defend something at the exact same time that he was in the process of slashing it. We’ve never seen this kind of disinformation campaign in America before.

and you also might be interested in …

When I first heard the idea that Joe Biden might run for president in this cycle, I prepared myself for a Me-Too moment. Not because I think Biden is unusually suspect in this area, but just because he’s a man from an era with different standards of behavior. I doubted that he had grabbed anybody by the pussy, as certain other politicians of his generation have bragged about doing, but I found it hard to believe he hadn’t patted somebody’s butt in the wrong way at some time or another.

So Friday, Lucy Flores published her account of a rally in 2014 when Biden was supporting her run for lieutenant governor of Nevada. As the speakers are lining up to go on stage, Biden is standing behind her. He puts his hands on her shoulders and kisses the back of her head.

To me that sounds more grandfatherly than predatory — a sort of “Go get ’em, girl” encouragement — but I wasn’t there, and either way it’s not appropriate either for 2014 or for today. Flores says she found the experience “demeaning and disrespectful”, which is entirely her judgment to make.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of this kind of thing. Whether he intends disrespect or not, Biden tends to be touchy-feely in a way that used to be accepted, but isn’t any more. That problem interacts badly with at least one of his other problems: the resentment some women still feel about his treatment of Anita Hill when he was chairing Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination hearings.

I continue to think that this presidential cycle will take many twists and turns before it gets wherever it’s going. Being on top of the polls right now counts for very little.

According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who identify their religious tradition as “no religion” is now 23.1%, or slightly larger than either Evangelical Christians or Catholics. And yet, do you ever hear pundits speculate about how people of no religion might react to some public issue?

I think it’s important to understand that the so-called Nones are not necessarily agnostics or atheists. They may have spiritual intuitions or practices. They may pray to someone or something. And they might admire religious leaders like Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama. They just don’t identify with any of the publicly recognized faiths. I suspect many would agree with what Thomas Paine wrote in The Rights of Man.

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

The relative stability of Catholicism masks a lot of churn, I think. If we just looked at native-born Americans, the Catholic line in the graph might fall off the way that the mainline Christian line does. But a constant inflow of Catholic immigrants hides that decline.

While we’re looking at graphs, here’s one that has me shaking my head. Americans are having less sex. Partly that’s caused by the population getting older. But another major factor is the unusual number of celibate 20-somethings.

In particular, since 2009 celibacy has been disproportionately rising among young men.

The article cites three possible factors:

  • The percentage of young men in the workforce has declined, and unemployed men have a hard time attracting partners.
  • A lot of 20-something men are living with their parents, which is just not an attractive situation.
  • “There are a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago. Streaming video, social media, console games, everything else.”

I’m not buying the first explanation, because the graph doesn’t seem to follow the economy. The third factor strikes me as weak. I mean, TV has improved in recent decades, but it’s not that good. (A social media post I can’t find now reproduces the graph above, draws an arrow at the turning point and captions it “Fallout 3 released”.) Living with parents … maybe. (I mean, there are still cars.) I don’t feel like the article has really gotten to the bottom of this mystery.

Conservatives have started to notice that their beliefs don’t track with the Bible. Solution? Re-translate the Bible to make it fit.

OK, we’ve gotten used to the idea that Trump appoints ignorant and incompetent people to high office. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the Betsy DeVos clip I referenced above.) For the most part, Republicans have been OK with that, because large chunks of the government don’t matter to them. So if Ben Carson knows zip about public housing, well, who cares about public housing anyway? Scott Pruitt and his successor Andrew Wheeler aren’t interested in protecting the environment, but from a Republican point of view that’s just fine.

In two years, Trump nominated more judges rated “unqualified” by the ABA than the last four presidents put together; but conservative judges don’t need to know the law, they just need who they’re for and against: for the rich, corporations, and fundamentalist Christians, against workers, the poor, non-whites who want to vote, and LGBTQ people. You don’t need to go to Harvard Law to learn that.

But now we’re seeing that obliviousness challenged. Trump has nominated Stephen Moore to a position that even Republicans have to think matters: the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

Moore is not an economist; he is a booster. His career includes neither major academic posts nor practical experience in banking. Instead, he has lived entirely inside the world of right-wing policy think tanks: the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and so on. He promotes the snake-oil notion that taxes should always be lower, and that cutting tax rates will produce more revenue because of the growth that the lower rates will stimulate. That claim flies in the face of all evidence, but boosters don’t face either peer review or angry stockholders, so they can be wrong again and again without consequences.

The Fed, on the other hand, is one of the most consequential institutions our system has: It defines what money means. What money is and why it has value is one of the High Mysteries of Economics, and the Fed Board of Governors is the priesthood whose rituals manage that mystery. Is the Republican Senate really willing to let somebody like Stephen Moore screw around with that?

The session in which the Pennsylvania legislature would swear in its first Muslim woman began with prayer: State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz mentioned Jesus 13 times, including “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord”. She also thanked God that President Trump “stands by Israel”.

A reporter spoke to her afterward and tweeted:

“That’s how I pray everyday.” When asked to respond to Dems calling for an apology she says “Oh no, I don’t apologize ever for praying”

In case you’re ever in a position to open some public meeting, I want to point out the difference between an invocation and a prayer. An invocation calls people together, reminds them of the values they share, and challenges them to put aside ego as they take up their public responsibilities. For example:

We gather together here today intent on doing good work.

We seek to represent fairly and well, those who have given us this task. May our efforts be blessed with insight, guided by understanding and wisdom.

We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us strength to act honestly and well in all matters before us.

On the other hand, a public prayer is a moment when believers in a particular god collectively address that god. The more sectarian your prayer is, the greater its expression of your group’s supremacy. “We own this room,” it announces.

And so, ironically, even as Borowicz was supporting Israel, she was telling Pennsylvania’s Jewish legislators that they don’t really belong. What was objectionable in her prayer wasn’t the Christianity, it was the expression of Christian supremacy in the legislature.

The original Brexit deadline passed on Friday, but Parliament still doesn’t have a plan. The deadline has been pushed off to April 12.

A new Banksy was unveiled in time to mark the occasion:

and let’s close with an unusual sporting event

This year’s ACC Tournament Baby Race featured an amazing comeback.

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  • Creigh Gordon  On April 1, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    What money is and what gives it value is no mystery (ask AOC). Money is what the Government says is money, and what gives it value is that you need it–under threat of force, if it comes to that–to pay your taxes. Money is, in other words, what we use to keep track of negotiable Government-issued tax credits.

  • Eric L  On April 1, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    The Atlantic ran a more in-depth investigation into why young people are having less sex:

    It’s a long read but interesting. Culprits include porn, online dating, changing social norms, and millennials being anxious and inhibited and dependent on their parents.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On April 1, 2019 at 6:36 pm

      The points the article discusses probably do have an effect. But it didn’t touch on the possibility that metoo and the continual emphasis on the importance of consent are having. I suspect that in the past, many women felt pressured into having sex, either because the man bought them dinner, or because it was easier to give in than get into an argument, or, as I’ve heard, to get out of a man’s apartment safely without being beaten. With growing awareness of rape culture, more men are consciously avoiding creating these scenarios.

      • Eric L  On April 2, 2019 at 9:29 am

        Could be a factor but I’m skeptical that it’s a big one. For starters the trend seems to start around 2008 which is early for #metoo. Another is at least when it comes to rape it’s a small number of men who rape a larger number of women, so it’s hard to believe a change in nonconsensual sex would affect so many men while having a small effect on women.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On April 2, 2019 at 12:57 pm

        I’m not talking about overt rape so much as uncomfortable situations where women acquesce to sex when they would prefer to not have any. I think it’s easier today for women to say “no” than it was in the past.

      • Eric L  On April 2, 2019 at 2:17 pm

        I understand there’s more of that, but do the dynamics of smaller number of men targeting a larger number of women reverse for uncomfortable kinda-but-not-overtly coercive situations? If the difference is women can say no now, why such a small change for women when the change for men is so large?

        The article discusses changes in norms around asking people out. For example:

        “According to a November 2017 Economist/YouGov poll, 17 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 now believe that a man inviting a woman out for a drink “always” or “usually” constitutes sexual harassment. (Among older groups, much smaller percentages believe this.)”

        If people aren’t willing to initiate in ways they would have a decade ago, this change seems large enough to explain the observed drop, and because men have been initiating more it makes sense that they would be more affected by changes in norms around initiation.

        That isn’t to say there is one and only one cause, but “men aren’t seeking out sex they previously would have” fits the data better than “women are turning down sex they previously would have acquiesced to”.

  • Amy Pemberton  On April 1, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    Actually, the Republicans have released their healthcare plan, in a few different versions. There have been variations on the details but I think I understand the broad outlines:

    mumble, mumble CHOICE
    argle-bargle TAX CUT
    flimmity flammity TORT REFORM

    I think that pretty much covers it.

    • Anonymous  On April 1, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      Amy, thank you for the laugh! Yup, those are the broad outlines!


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