Call or Fold

The American people are ill-served when our leaders put forward unfounded allegations of voter fraud. To put it in terms that a former casino operator should understand: There comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold.

FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub

This week’s featured post is “How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?

This week everybody was talking about a change in immigration policy

If the courts don’t block the proposed change in immigration rules, people who come here with nothing — as a lot of the ancestors of current Americans did — will have trouble getting in, trouble staying, and trouble becoming citizens.

Monday, acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli announced the change:

Our rule generally prevents aliens, who are likely to become a public charge, from coming to the United States or remaining here and getting a green card. … Under the rule, a public charge is now defined as an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period. … Once this rule is implemented and effective on October 15th, USCIS Career Immigration Services Officers — what we call ISOs — will generally consider an alien’s current and past receipt of the designated public benefits while in the United States as a negative factor when examining applications.

CNN gives some context:

Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income. But it only counted cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. …

[Advocates for immigrants] said [the new rule] would penalize even hard-working immigrants who only need a small bit of temporary assistance from the government.

The Washington Post elaborates:

[The new criteria] will skew the process in favor of the highly skilled, high-income immigrants President Trump covets. Since its first days, the Trump administration has been seeking ways to weed out immigrants the president sees as undesirable, including those who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits.

Wealth, education, age and English-language skills will take on greater importance in the process of obtaining a green card, which is the main hurdle in the path to full U.S. citizenship.

WaPo’s Eugene Robinson creates a hypothetical example:

Say you’re an immigrant from Mexico who came here legally to join family members who are already permanent residents or citizens. Say you’re working a full-time minimum-wage job, plus odd jobs nights and weekends. You are a productive member of society. You are paying payroll taxes, sales taxes, vehicle registration fees and other government levies. Still, as hard as you work, you can’t make ends meet.

You may be legally entitled to health care through Medicaid. You may be entitled to food assistance through the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. You may be entitled to housing assistance. But according to the new Trump administration rule — set to take effect in two months — if you use any of these programs, you might forfeit the opportunity to ever obtain a green card making you a permanent resident. That means you also forfeit the chance of ever becoming a citizen.

And Max Boot makes it personal:

I am certain that my family — my grandmother, mother and myself — had a credit score of zero when we arrived in 1976. There were no credit cards in the Soviet Union, and we didn’t have any money. We survived initially on handouts from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), whose help to more recent arrivals triggered the ire of the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue gunman. Luckily, my mother already spoke English, so she soon found a job. But my grandmother spoke only Russian and she was already retired. She got by with help from my family and her Supplemental Security Income and Medicare benefits. My family is far from rich, but we have been productive and repaid in taxes many times over the benefits my grandmother received — just as we repaid the aid from HIAS.

But if Trump had been in office then, I wonder whether my grandmother would have been barred entry or deported back to the U.S.S.R., where she had no one to take care of her? For that matter, I wonder whether any of us would have been allowed to come here given our unconscionable lack of a credit rating?

Here’s a factor anyone should be able to appreciate: In this era of super-bugs, when antibiotics are starting to lose their effectiveness, we shouldn’t be making people afraid to see a doctor. The most likely place for a really nasty plague to get started is among a group of people who either can’t afford healthcare or avoid it for some other reason. So discouraging people from signing up for Medicaid is a bad idea for all of us.

During an interview Tuesday morning with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Cuccinelli rewrote the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

MARTIN: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’ words etched on the Statue of Liberty – give me your tired, your poor – are also part of the American ethos?

CUCCINELLI: They certainly are – give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge. That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge law was passed – very interesting timing.

Clarifying Tuesday evening to CNN’s Erin Burnett, Cuccinelli said that Lazarus’ poem had European immigrants in mind.

Of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class, and it was written one year after the first federal public charge rule was written.

At best, he was denying that the poem’s “give me … your poor” refers to people who lack money, rather than just those who weren’t born into the aristocracy. At worst, he was dog-whistling to white supremacists. (Among white supremacists who are trying to sound respectable, “European” has become a less obviously racist way of saying “white”.)

Trevor Noah has figured out the true target of Trump’s hard line on immigration: He wants to deport Melania.

and two members of Congress who won’t be going to Israel

Vice summarizes:

  • First, [Rep. Rashida] Tlaib and her colleague in the House, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar were scheduled to visit Israel. They’re both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes boycotting Israel in protest of its human rights abuses against Palestinians.
  • But after some prodding from President Donald Trump, Israel barred the lawmakers from entering the country on Thursday. “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” the president tweeted.
  • The move sparked widespread outrage. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was upset with the decision.
  • Friday morning, Israel said it would allow Tlaib to enter the country for a humanitarian visit so long as she didn’t promote protests during the trip. “This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote of her grandmother in a letter. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

But after thinking about it, Tlaib changed her mind:

When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.

So then the deal was off and she isn’t going.

Always classy, Trump closed with this gratuitous insult:

The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!

He probably thought he had gotten the last word, but he didn’t reckon with Tlaib’s grandmother:

Ninety-year-old Muftia Tlaib, sitting in her garden in the village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, was not impressed. “Trump tells me I should be happy Rashida is not coming,” she said. “May God ruin him.”

The issue here is a bit bigger than Tlaib, her grandmother, Trump, and Netanyahu. Thomas Friedman comments:

Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.

Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.

and the inverted yield curve

In general, the longer you want to borrow someone’s money, the higher the interest rate they will charge you. This seems as if it ought to be a natural law. After all, the two main common-sense justifications for charging interest are

  • the borrower gets to consume now while the lender delays his or her consumption,
  • and the lender is taking the risk that the borrower may not repay, or that by the time repayment happens, the currency the loan is measured in might have lost value.

Both of those considerations get weightier with time: The longer I have to delay my consumption the more I want to get paid for it, and the more time that passes before repayment, the more things can happen to interfere with it.

If you have one particular borrower — the US government, say — who owes money on a bunch of different time scales, you can plot out a “yield curve”: the interest rate on bonds that come due in 1 year, in 2 years, 10 years, 30 years, and so on. Given the discussion above, you’d expect the yield curve to slope upwards: longer maturities correspond to higher interest rates. And most of the time that’s true.

Wednesday, though, the interest rate on the 10-year US bond fell below the 2-year rate for the first time since 2007. That created an “inverted yield curve”, i.e., one that slopes downward, not upward.

For investors, an inverted yield curve is like birds migrating in the wrong direction or the jungle going silent at a time when it usually chatters: It’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. (You might take a clue from the “since 2007” above. The economy got pretty ugly in 2008.) So the inversion touched off a fast 800-point loss in the Dow Jones average.

The panic is partly superstitious and partly legitimate. (Superstition matters in the stock market because traders are always trying to guess what other traders might do. So while of course I’m not superstitious myself, those other traders …) Here’s the legitimate part: Think about why some investor might be willing to accept a lower interest rate on a 10-year loan than a 2-year loan. And the answer is: He’s worried that when the 2-year loan comes due, interest rates might be lower than they are now.

Imagine, for example, that you could earn 2% on a 2-year loan but only 1.5% on a 10-year. (The actual inversion is much smaller than this, but I’m trying to keep the numbers simple.) So you invest $1,000 at 2% and get $20 per year in interest rather than the $15 you’d get on the 10-year loan. But then at the end of two years, you get your $1,000 back, and now an 8-year loan will only get you 1%. Then you’d say, “Damn, I wish I’d taken the 1.5%, because then I’d get $15 a year for the next eight years rather than $10.”

So an inverted yield curve reflects the market’s expectation that interest rates are likely to go down. Falling interest rates, in turn, mainly happen during recessions. (In December, 2008, short-term interest rates in the US were .25%.) So the inverted yield curve is predicting a recession.

The inverted yield curve is happening at the same time as another anomalous event: European government bonds are paying negative interest rates. Irish Times reports:

[O]ddities now abound. Danish lender Jyske Bank last week issued a 10-year mortgage bond at an interest rate of -0.5 per cent, meaning homeowners are being paid to borrow. Meanwhile, Swiss bank UBS is planning to charge its super-rich clients for holding on to cash.

So a lot of stock traders are just plain spooked, and I can’t say I blame them.

Another source of anxiety: Germany may already be in recession. A recession is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Germany has reported one.

But here’s an interesting spin on that: Countries where the workforce is shrinking (Germany is one), can simultaneously have a shrinking GDP and rising (or stable) incomes for individuals. Is it really fair to call that a recession? As populations stabilize in more and more countries, perhaps our targets for economic growth need to be adjusted.

That point is particularly significant for the United States. If Trump gets his way and immigration goes way down, but the birth rate stays low, GDP growth targets in the 3-4% range become unreasonable.

and Trump supporters

From the WaPo article “‘He gets it.’ Evangelicals aren’t turned off by Trump’s first term“:

While they cheer Trump’s many efforts to chip away at LGBT rights, they are much more concerned with protecting their own right to maintain their opposition. They want to be able to teach their values without interference — some churchgoers fretted about school textbooks that refer to transgender identities without condemnation and about gay couples showing up in TV commercials every time they try to watch a show with their children.

This attitude explains a lot: Conservative Christians have pushed their boundaries out so far that it’s impossible for other people to live their lives without “interfering” with them. The old adage was: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.” But Evangelicals don’t look at things that way. In order to be “free”, they have to control the textbooks the rest of us use and the TV the rest of us watch.

It’s a kind of freedom that not everybody can have. Just them.

Another long thoughtful WaPo article about evangelical Trump supporters concluded with this:

Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelical politics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

A number of articles talk about how tired Trump supporters are of being called racists. The Atlantic quotes a 50-year-old woman at a Trump rally in Cincinnati:

“I’m sick to death of it. I have 13 grandchildren—13,” she continued. “Four of them are biracial, black and white; another two of them are black and white; and another two of them are Singapore and white. You think I’m a racist? I go and I give them kids kisses like nobody’s business.”

This is a response I’ve run into fairly often in reading interviews: I can’t be racist because I have non-whites in my family (just like Trump can’t be anti-Semitic because of Jared and Ivanka). It’s an amped-up version of the some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish line that people would use when I was young.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks this is a get-out-of-racism-free card. The fact that you can make exceptions for people who are very close to you doesn’t mean that you don’t have prejudices. The essence of being close to someone is that you see that person as an individual, rather than as an example of a type. Your bigotry against the type may be completely untouched by your love for the individual.

A few facts about Trump’s speech to Shell petrochemical workers at a new plastics plant near Pittsburgh on Tuesday:

  • It was an official presidential event, with Trump’s expenses paid by taxpayers, even though he gave a campaign speech. He ran down Democrats in general and “Pocahontas” [Elizabeth Warren] and “Sleepy Joe” [Biden] in particular. He told the union workers to vote their leaders out if they didn’t support his re-election. That sort of campaigning at taxpayer expense is illegal. “In a free and open democracy, the government doesn’t use taxpayer resources to keep itself in power,” [Jordan] Libowitz [of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] told Vox. “That’s what authoritarian dictatorships do.”
  • He lied about how well he’s doing in the polls, and “joked” about calling off the 2020 elections and going on to serve a 3rd and 4th term.
  • He falsely took credit for the new plastics plant’s existence. The commitment to build it was made during the Obama administration.
  • CNN’s David Dale listed a number of other false or bizarre claims.
  • Esquire’s Jack Holmes claims one of the lies — that he’s responsible for the Veteran’s Choice program Obama signed into law in 2014 — was told for the 80th time.
  • The workers would have lost that week’s overtime pay if they hadn’t attended, and they were instructed not to protest.

Elaborating a bit on the first point, official events are things like ribbon-cuttings. Past presidents have used them in a general image-building sort of way: They give upbeat remarks about how well the country is doing, lay out their vision for the future, make generically patriotic remarks, and so on. If they stray into campaigning — asking for support, running down their opponents, etc. — their campaign or political party is supposed to reimburse the government for the trip’s expenses. Trump hasn’t done that.

A subsequent Trump rally in Manchester had its own batch of lies, including the claim that he would have won New Hampshire in 2016 if not for voter fraud. This drew a response from Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub, who wrote the president a letter.

Trump has made these claims before, and Weintraub has asked him to give his evidence to the FEC so that the alleged fraud can be investigated. But Trump has never responded, and has never provided any evidence in any forum.

The American people are ill-served when our leaders put forward unfounded allegations of voter fraud. To put it in terms that a former casino operator should understand: There comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold.

but I wrote about guns

The featured post is my attempt to rewrite the Second Amendment, and to explain why we need to rewrite it.

Meanwhile, various Democratic candidates put out their own gun plans: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and others. It remains to be seen what (if anything) the Senate will vote on when the congressional recess ends after Labor Day.

and you also might be interested in …

The New York City medical examiner has officially concluded that Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself. So of course all conspiracy theories immediately dried up (in some alternate universe).

Anyway, however he died, here’s hoping a full investigation tells the story of what he did, who helped him do it, and who went along for the ride. Democrats, Republicans — I don’t care.

A prison worker drove a truck into a crowd of Never Again Action protesters outside a private prison where ICE is holding immigrants. The crowd then surrounded the truck until prison guards pepper-sprayed them. The driver wasn’t arrested, but did later resign.

According to NOAA, July was the hottest month ever.

Nine of the 10 hottest Julys have occurred since 2005—with the last five years ranking as the five hottest. Last month was also the 43rd consecutive July and 415th consecutive month with above-average global temperatures.

Think about that: It’s been 34 years since the Earth has had a cool month.

The United Methodist denomination may split over LGBTQ issues.

Here’s how big a propaganda victory Kim Jong Un believes he got from his meetings with Trump: He put their picture on a postage stamp.

I refuse to waste my attention on Trump’s fantasy of buying Greenland. I liked Amy Klobuchar’s tweet:

The difference between Donald Trump and Greenland? Greenland is not for sale.

Trump has taken a stand as an anti-anti-fascist.

and let’s close with something portentous

Brexit is written in the clouds:

I want to point out what this portent signifies: The way for Britain to leave the EU is without Northern Ireland.

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  • Nancy Minter  On August 19, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    “And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?” They are not only predicting an apocalypse, they’re doing all they can to bring it about. They may succeed, but no one is getting raptured an Jesus isn’t coming.

  • alandesmet  On August 19, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    I’m struck by how mediocre the stamp photo of Kim and Trump is. North Korea can afford nuclear weapons research and cyber warfare, but doesn’t have anyone who can wrangle Photoshop? I guess they have a history of not

  • Anonymous  On August 19, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    Correction: the indefatigable reporter with a “mission to fact-check every word Donald Trump utters as president” is Daniel Dale, not David.

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On August 19, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    The important point on Greenland is that the place only has increasing value as global warming makes navigation and mineral extraction there easier. So its an admission that Trump thinks global warming is real.

  • Abby  On August 19, 2019 at 11:53 pm

    Mitt Romney’s immigrant dad was poor when he arrived in the U.S., and was on welfare.

  • Guest  On August 20, 2019 at 9:20 am

    The title “world’s biggest/most important podcast” may seem like damning with faint praise to many, but Bernie’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience the other week already has as much or more views on YouTube alone than the democratic debates did on CNN. It’s a must watch, especially if you only know Bernie through corporate media. The comments are are very inspiring, especially for YouTube standards! Puts meat behind the years of polling showing him as the best performer among independents, undecideds, disillusioned Trump voters, etc.

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