Category Archives: Morning tease

The Monday Morning Teaser

As Calvin once said to Hobbes, “The days are just packed.”

It’s been another week where, by Monday morning, everything I thought was so important on Tuesday and Wednesday (like the debate over the Google anti-diversity memo, whose author was being fired as I was posting last week’s Sift) seems like it happened a long time ago. Even North Korea, which on Friday looked like a plausible site for Armageddon to begin, is barely denting the headlines this morning. I imagine a reader thinking: “Why are you still going on about all that?”

Today — or rather this morning; Trump has advertised a big news conference for later today, so who knows what we’ll be buzzing about by this afternoon — it’s the alt-Right violence in Charlottesville, and Trump’s lack of reaction to it.

In short, reasonable commentary is tough these days. By the time you research something well enough to know what you’re talking about, it’s ancient history.

Enough complaining. What caught my attention this week was the Higgins memo, the one that got its author fired from the National Security Council, and seems to be part of the McMaster vs. Bannon power struggle happening inside the White House. Rich Higgins is part of the Bannon faction, and the memo is — I might as well be blunt about it — insane. All the resistance to the Trump administration, it turns out, arises from a multi-decade conspiracy to destroy America by “cultural Marxists”, who have infected not just the media, but both major parties, big corporations, and the Islamists as well. I’ll bet you didn’t realize you were “inter-operating seamlessly on a narrative level” with the Muslim Brotherhood and several international organizations whose names I had to look up. Now you know.

This doesn’t seem to be the work of One Crazy Guy. It’s a point of view that has a following both on right-wing web sites and inside the White House. In particular, the Donald Trumps Sr. and Jr. both seem to be open to it. (The President reportedly was upset to discover that Higgins had been fired.) So this week’s featured post, “The Battles Within the White House Are Even Crazier Than You Think”, fleshes out the cultural Marxist conspiracy theory and how much it explains about the more rabid sort of Trump supporter. It should be out around 9 EDT.

In the weekly summary I’ll discuss (but mostly link to other people’s discussions of) Charlottesville, Google, North Korea, and some other ancient history happened days and days ago, before closing with a Queen parody that spoils the first six seasons of Game of Thrones. Lots of work still to do there, but I’ll try to have it out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week I’m focusing on two related stories: Congressional Republicans are beginning to distance themselves from the White House, and Trump is shoring up the support of his base by tossing them red meat like cutting legal immigration in half and going after affirmative action programs at universities. I see these two developments as intimately related, but the details of how each one is happening are separate, so I’ll cover them in two featured posts.

The increasing distance between Trump and Congress will be in “Was TrumpCare’s Failure a Turning Point?” and Trump’s rabble rousing in “Returning to the Well of White Resentment”. They both still need some work, so I’m not sure exactly when they’ll appear.

The weekly summary should short this week, though I still have some links to collect. I’ll cover some racial issues, like the controversy over P&G’s video “The Talk”, the NAACP’s travel advisory for Missouri, and the NFL’s blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick. Naturally, there were more developments in the Russia investigation. A Vatican journal put out a condemnation of the American Catholic leadership’s political alliance with right-wing Protestantism. And I’ll close with a cleverly designed chapel that looks to me like a metaphor for religion itself.

Things will probably come out slowly today, but I expect to have everything out at least by 1 EDT.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Well, that week happened.

Since Trump’s inauguration, most of us have gotten used to much higher level of background craziness than America has seen in our lifetimes. A lot of ridiculous statements and absurd proposals just kind of bounce off my ears now, the way a hard rain bounces off a sidewalk. Even as we warn each other not to “normalize” Trump, we do get inured to him and his circus after a while.

And then you have a week like this one. McCain’s middle-of-the-night vote to shoot down the latest version of ObamaCare repeal made great drama, but only if your suspension-of-disbelief had already processed that a major piece of legislation could be kept secret until two hours before the voting started, and that senators could beg for guarantees that the bill they were about to vote for wouldn’t become law.

Oh, and when was the last time the Boy Scouts had to apologize for exposing their boys to the President of the United States? (Hint: never.)

The White House Communications Director — the guy who’s supposed to keep everybody else on message — made anatomically impossible on-the-record suggestions about another major White House staffer, and both of them are going to work this morning. (Forget that C. J. would never have said something like that about Leo. Hamilton would never have said something like that about Burr.) Trump spent a bunch of the week humiliating his own attorney general. Police departments are putting out statements reassuring the public that they don’t do the things the President just told them to do. And when the Commander in Chief announced a new policy over Twitter, the Pentagon acted like he was just some drunk guy ranting in a bar. Orrin Effing Hatch stepped up to defend transgender soldiers against Trump.

That’s the kind of week it was. Oh, and by the way, North Korea tested a missile that could hit Chicago, or maybe Boston if it was having a good day. You may not have noticed that with all the other stuff going on. (Trump responded by criticizing China, which acted like he was just some drunk guy ranting in a bar.)

In this environment, there’s a certain amount of absurdity involved in continuing to discuss public issues as if they were serious things, even though they are serious things. But I think we have to continue doing it, or at least trying.

So this week I attempt to keep on keeping on by asking: What if Congress made a serious attempt to fix ObamaCare? It’s not “imploding” or in a “death spiral” as Republicans keep claiming, but it’s also not working as well as it was supposed to for certain people, particularly in rural areas. What can or should be done about that? I’ll try to have that posted by 9 EDT, or 10 at the latest.

This week I was uninspired by the misunderstandings I ran into, so I decided not to put out a “Three Misunderstandings” piece. The series will continue, but I don’t want my weekly deadline to force it to continue at a lower quality. Expect more misunderstandings soon, but not today.

The weekly summary … did I mention it was a crazy week? I’ll try to cover all that and post something before noon.


The Monday Morning Teaser

Don Jr. suddenly becoming a center of scandalous attention made me wonder: What kind of life wisdom does someone like Trump try to pass on to his children? And then I thought of Kipling’s classic poem “If” … and I knew what I had to do.

If you can duck the blame when all about you
have seen with their own eyes that it was you;

… and so on for four stanzas. You may remember my “Casey at the Bat” parody “Donnie in the Room” about TrumpCare — it’s like that.

Anyway, that’s the featured post this week: “Fatherly Advice to Eric and Don Jr.”, which should post around 9 EDT. Like Kipling, I’m focusing on the boys; probably he gave slightly different advice to Ivanka. Maybe some other time. (BTW: I have a hunch this one could go viral. You could help it along by sharing it on social media.)

The week’s three misunderstood things are: why counting people is a partisan issue, the economic impact of environmental regulations, and what happened to the coal-mining jobs. That should appear between 10 and 11.

The weekly summary covers the once-again apparent demise of TrumpCare, the possibility that Trump would rather have a constitutional crisis than an investigation of his finances, John McCain’s brain cancer, Trump setting up to break the Iran nuclear deal, Poland takes a pause on its road to autocracy, and Trump appoints two more people to undermine government science, before closing with Stephen Colbert getting how-to-be-an-oligarch lessons from Mikhail Prokhorov. That should post before noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I spent my week off on an island with 300 Unitarians and a featured speaker from NASA, so several NASA tidbits will be sprinkled through the weekly summary, closing with the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.

Several people who read this blog have noticed that I immerse myself in the news each week and yet don’t seem to be depressed, so they imagine I must have some secret reason to believe everything eventually turns out OK. Unfortunately, I had no rose-colored crystal ball to show them. (In my considered opinion, things might turn out OK or they might not. The bill for that precious insight is in the mail.) But I will share what keeps me going — it’s also not drugs — in the featured post “Getting Through This”. It should be out around 10 or so EDT.

Before that, I’ll continue the feature I started last time with three more misunderstood things: healthcare costs, the “Biblical” view on abortion, and sanctuary cities. That should be out between 8 and 9.

The obvious thing to cover in the weekly summary is Trump Jr.’s attempt to collude with the Russian government in helping his father become president. Also, where the Senate is on ObamaCare repeal, why the proposed NASA budget cuts are more sinister than the (comparatively small) top-line cut would imply, the giant new iceberg, and a few other things. Let’s predict that for 11 or 12.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week I’m introducing something that might become a regular feature, called “Three Misunderstood Things”. The idea is to take three stories in the news, and to explain as concisely as I can some aspect of the story that is widely misunderstood. I’m testing it out this week by discussing misunderstandings of (1) the case (which goes to the Supreme Court in the fall) of the baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, (2) why Mitch McConnell can’t just skip over ObamaCare repeal and move on to tax reform, and (3) how much we know about the minimum wage’s effect on jobs. I’m thinking that should be out around 10 EDT.

Before that, say 9, I’ll have the featured post out: “Yes, TrumpCare Will Kill People”. I’ve believed this for a long time, but haven’t been saying it because I didn’t feel like I could defend the link between being uninsured and dying: Some studies seemed to establish such a link, while others denied it. But recently a study-of-studies came out and removed my doubt.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover: the Senate going home for the holiday without voting on TrumpCare, the first clear link between Russian hackers and the Trump campaign, parts of the Muslim Ban going into effect, Trump’s voter suppression commission starting its work, and Trump’s attempt to distract us all from that news with outrageously offensive tweets. I’ll try to get that out around 11.

The Monday Morning Teaser

For a month or two I’ve been expressing skepticism about the different messages Democrats might adopt in 2018, without offering an alternative I believe in. (Last week, I was skeptical about the progressive message.) This week I’m finally going to stick my neck out.

The two main message proposals I’ve been hearing are (1) to go hard against Trump as an individual, all but making the election a referendum on impeachment, and (2) to push a positive progressive agenda full of very specific proposals: single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage, and so on.

The strategy I’m going to promote later this morning is that the 2018 campaign has to be negative and has to make use of Trump’s personal unpopularity, but the target has to be the whole conservative movement, not Trump personally. Through both Republican and Democratic administrations, we’ve been in the Reagan Era for nearly 40 years, and the result has been to destroy the American middle class. Trump may be a uniquely annoying individual, but his policies have been doctrinaire conservatism. The healthcare proposal, which would throw millions of the working poor off of Medicaid to give yet another tax cut to the very wealthy, is typical.

Individual candidates will want to supplement that denunciation with specific positive proposals tailored to their own districts, but the national message has to be negative: It’s time for the conservative era to be over.

The article will be called “Turn the Page”, and it builds on the “political time” theory of how change happens in America: You have to destroy the old regime and delegitimize its dominant ideas before you can start a new era. I’ll project it posting around 10 EDT.

The weekly summary discusses the Senate healthcare bill (which finally de-cloaked like a Klingon warbird ready to attack the working poor), the Georgia special election, the latest on the Russia investigation, and a number of recent articles worth looking at: the Democrats’ “religion problem”, climate change’s effect on Florida’s coral reefs and the tourism industry of the Keys, and the collapse of small-town retail. It should be out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

For a long time, I’ve been pointing to conservative violence and conservative violent rhetoric. So it was a shock to hear that someone I probably would have agreed with on a lot of issues had gone to the park where the Republican congressional baseball team was practicing and started shooting.

Public shootings should be wake-up calls, and so I spent a big chunk of this week thinking about what people like me need to wake up to. As usual, I think conservatives went overboard in their responses, acting as if violence were a purely liberal problem they have nothing to learn from. I don’t see any reason to give in to that view, and yet I don’t want to dodge the issue with the kind of yeah-but-the-other-side-is-worse response that we hear far too often from both sides. I still think the other side is worse, but so what? That doesn’t absolve us from working on our piece of the problem.

The result of that meditation is this week’s first featured post, “Political Violence is Our Issue Too”. It should be out shortly.

The other thing that caught my attention this week was the Virginia gubernatorial primary, which was supposed to be a neck-and-neck battle for the future of the Democratic Party between an establishment candidate endorsed by all the top Virginia Democrats and an upstart progressive supported by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The establishment candidate won easily.

That outcome cemented a set of doubts that has been growing in my mind for some while: I keep hearing the argument that the progressive revolution has all the youth and the energy and is the wave of the future, and that the out-of-touch centrist establishment just needs to get out of the way. But I wonder: When is all that youth and energy going to start translating into votes?

Not being all that young myself, I’ve lived through a lot of liberal crusades. From McGovern to Nader to Kucinich, I keep running into the delusion that the Left is far more popular than it actually is. So with regard to today’s progressive movement, I’m in a prove-it-to-me mood. Somebody’s going to have to win something, preferably something the establishment can’t win, before I’m going to take all this rhetoric seriously.

I think about the Tea Party, and about Trump, who I regard as their candidate. Nobody got out of the way to make room for them. They took over the Republican Party by winning elections. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable test. Anyway, much more of that argument will appear at around 10 EDT in the second featured post “Why I’m Still Skeptical about the Progressive Revolution”.

Look for the weekly summary to be out about noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

In my continuing effort not to get swallowed completely by the Trump/Russia scandal (which seems overdue for a name, like Watergate or Teapot Dome), I’m continuing to read what’s-going-on-with-the-economy books. This week I want to tell you about The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent of The Economist. This can be read as a where-are-the-jobs-of-the-future book, which I’ve reviewed several of in the last few years. But I was more interested in Avent’s explanation of the recent increase in inequality: Technological and geo-political change has made social capital the decisive factor of production. And since few of us really understand social capital and our culture has no shared understanding of who should own it, the wealthy have been free to usurp all its benefits.

I’ll put that insight into the context of Rousseau’s and Thomas Paine’s writings on inequality, as well as one of my own favorite talks “Who Owns the World?” That’s the very reduced version of my review of the book, which will appear by 9 a.m. EDT as “Social Capital and Inequality”.

Of course the weekly summary will return to Trump/Russia, and in particular James Comey’s testimony last Thursday. There’s also the British election to discuss (reminding you that last week I passed on Nate Silver’s observation that anything could still happen). I didn’t really have to cover all the fascinating discussions that spin out of the Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn’t resist. A bunch of other things make it into the short notes, and I call special attention to Mitch McConnell’s attempt to sneak ObamaCare repeal past the public without hearings, before closing with a video reviewing the entire history of the world in less than 20 minutes.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The big story this week was Trump announcing that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. It was amazing (in a bad way) to listen to his speech, because the gist of it was so divorced from actual reality: In one sentence, he described the agreement as both “nonbinding” (true) and “draconian” (false).

However, the explanation of why this was such a bad move suffered from a similar problem, especially in the eyes of low-information voters: If the agreement is nonbinding, why is it such a big deal? How can a bunch of nations stating their good intentions be so important that disavowing it has apocalyptic consequences? That disconnect, plus an inclination to distrust “liberal experts” anyway, made the criticism of Trump’s action ring false among people who are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

What is needed, I decided, is not a deep legal analysis of the agreement, or a review of the evidence for climate change, or a description of the horrors that a few more degrees of global average heat could unleash. What we really need is a simple example from everyday life that illuminates what the Paris Agreement is and does.

I happen to have one handy. I just got done serving on the committee that organizes my church’s annual pledge drive. Like Paris, the pledge drive is voluntary, nonbinding, and vitally important to the survival of the church. The parallels actually run pretty deep. If you want to get technical, they’re both devices for building trust among a large number of individual decision-makers in the presence of a free-rider problem.

So that’s this week’s featured post: “The Paris Agreement is like my church’s pledge drive.” It should be out before 9 EDT. The weekly summary links to a bunch of other commentary on Paris, reviews the week’s progress on the Russia investigation, covers polls on both the Georgia special election and UK parliamentary election, and discusses the Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher blunders, plus a few other things, before closing with the best news I’ve heard in some while: Animaniacs is coming back. That should be out by 11 or so.