Yes, It’s Your Doom and Gloom Roundup, But Maybe With Light at the End of the Tunnel

Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Sufferings of the World” (1836):

In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. 

You tell ’em, Art.

Craig Unger, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat”, The New Republic:

A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money…. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics….

By 2004, to the outside world, it appeared that Trump was back on top after his failures in Atlantic City. That January, flush with the appearance of success, Trump launched his newly burnished brand into another medium.

[The Apprentice] instantly revived his career. “The Apprentice turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” … Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observe in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable”….

Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

I sometimes wonder how many of the millions of people who watched The Apprentice for years and years voted for this “poor person’s idea of a rich person” and whether DT’s shady business deals will ever catch up with him.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting sure sounds like a Russian intelligence operation”, The Washington Post:

….everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election….

Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.

So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.

Paul Krugman, “Takers and Fakers”, The New York Times

… throughout the whole campaign against Obamacare, Republicans have been lying about their intentions.

Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own…. Specifically:

1. Health care, even the most essential care, is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t get insurance because you have a preexisting condition, because your income isn’t high enough, or both, too bad.

2. People who manage to get insurance through government aid, whether Medicaid, subsidies, or regulation and mandates that force healthy people to buy into a common risk pool, are “takers” exploiting the wealth creators, aka the rich.

3. Even for those who have insurance, it covers too much. Deductibles and co-pays should be much higher, to give people “skin in the game”…

4. All of this applies to seniors as well as younger people. Medicare as we know it should be abolished, replaced with a voucher system that can be used to help pay for private policies – and funding will be steadily cut below currently projected levels, pushing people into high-deductible, high-copay private policies.

This is … what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine … because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture….

But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers. They’ve denounced Obamacare policies for having excessively high deductibles, when higher deductibles are at the core of their ideas about cost control. And they’ve accused Obamacare of raiding Medicare, a program they’ve been trying to kill since 1995.

In other words, their whole political strategy has been based on lies – not shading the truth, not spinning, but pretending to want exactly the opposite of what they actually want.

And this strategy was wildly successful, right up to the moment when Republicans finally got a chance to put their money – or actually your money – where their mouths were. The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.

As Krugman writes elsewhere:

… everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that the [Republican] bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; and more [doctors, nurses, state governors, voters]. 

And yet, it still might become law this month. Why?

Jennifer Rubin, “The GOP’s Moral Rot Is the Problem, Not Donald Trump”, The Washington Post:

… for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, … elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party … with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House….

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity….the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code”. 

Helen Keller, Optimism: An Essay (1903):

The test of all beliefs is their practical effects in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. Schopenhauer is an enemy to the race. Even if he earnestly believed that this is the most wretched of possible worlds, he should not promulgate a doctrine which robs men of the incentive to fight with circumstance.

All right, Helen, the good news is that a Republican senator is recovering from surgery and won’t be in Washington this coming week. His vote would be needed to move the Republican bill forward, so the vote has been delayed, giving the opposition more time to terminate this horror show with extreme prejudice.

If You’re Looking for One Factor That Explains the 2016 Election

The Voter Study Group has been studying the same 8,000 American voters since before the 2012 election. It’s “the nation’s largest, longest political focus group”. They released their findings on the 2016 election last month. 

From The Seattle Times:

The story we’ve told ourselves — that working-class whites flocked to [DT] due to job worries or free trade or economic populism — is basically wrong….

They did flock to [him]. But the reason they did so in enough numbers for [him] to win [the Electoral College] wasn’t anxiety about the economy. It was anxiety about Mexicans, Muslims and blacks.

Here’s how [the Study Group] put it in academese: “What stands out most, however, is the attitudes that became more strongly related to the vote in 2016: attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people, and feelings toward Muslims,” writes George Washington Univ. professor John Sides. He notes that the media focused on less-educated whites, but negative racial attitudes fueled by Trump were a big motivator for college-educated whites, too.

A substantial share of Trump voters “appeared to embrace a conception of American identity predicated on birthplace and especially Christian faith,” Sides found.

This is the drum [Univ. of Washington professor Christopher Parker] has been banging for years. His 2013 book on the Tea Party, Change They Can’t Believe In … used survey data to show it was not a small government movement as advertised. It was more about America being stolen from “real Americans” — a reaction triggered by the election of President Obama.

“I’ve got three words for you: scared white people,” Parker says. “Every period of racial progress in this country is followed by a period of retrenchment. That’s what the 2016 election was about, and it was plain as it was happening.” [Note: Professor Parker was one of the few who predicted DT would win.]

To be clear: Neither Parker, nor the latest research, is saying that Trump voters are all racists. Most voting is simply party-line no matter who is running. What they’re saying is that worries about the economy, free trade and the rest were no more important in 2016 than in previous elections, but [racial and ethnic] resentment spiked.

This chart from the Voter Study Group tells the story:

figure4_sides_e4aabc39aab12644609701bbacdff252

What a Concerned Person Might Do

It’s Monday afternoon and the resistance is heating up. There’s going to be a big demonstration in Washington on Wednesday. A human chain around the Capitol Building has been mentioned.

Meanwhile:

legumspiro

calls

Senators love hearing from people who live in their states. They also love hearing from nice people who claim to live in their states. Such people could try calling Senators through the main Senate switchboard at (202) 224-2131. But it’s often easier to get through to a Senator’s local office, in states like, for instance, Maine, Arkansas and Ohio (see list above).

Emails don’t have as much impact, but Senators also love getting them, especially from people who live in their states (or claim to). You can tell because their contact pages usually refer to the Senators by their first names. So it’s “Contact Jeff” or “Contact Susan”.

If a person wanted to send a nice but not quite accurate email to a Senator, despite not living in the Senator’s state, a person could:

Find a city in that state.

Bring up the map for that city.

Look for a part of town where affluent people probably live (usually somewhere on the outskirts where the streets are curvy or there are lakes or a country club nearby).

Identify a pleasant street name.

Use Zillow to find a nice house on that street. (Zillow will provide the Zip Code too!)

Look for a local business, school or church and save the phone number.

Find the Senator’s contact page. (They all look like Jeff’s.)

Then a person could enter some personal data, specifying a name of their choice, an address on that nice street with a street number of their choice, the Zip Code that Zillow provided, and maybe a phone number with the relevant area code and prefix.

Unfortunately, a person would also have to enter an email address, possibly twice, so it’s good if a person has  an innocuous email address that can be used to receive garbage emails. (I have one; maybe a person should have one too.)

After that, all a person would have to do is maybe select a topic (something like “Health”), possibly type in a subject (like “Senate Health Care Bill”) and then enter a polite plea to vote No on an upcoming piece of abominable legislation that relates to health insurance.

Perhaps something like this, but using a person’s own words: 

Dear Sen. XXX: Please vote No on the Senate Health Care Bill. You know in your heart that it’s a bad bill. It will harm the people of <XXX’s state>. Reporters say that moderate Republicans always give in to the GOP leadership at the last moment. Don’t let that happen, no matter what they promise. We are counting on you. Sincerely yours, <the name that a person chose to use>

I’m not recommending this, of course, because, as President Nixon famously pointed out, “it would be wrong”. But given the stakes (many people will unnecessarily suffer and die if this legislation passes), a concerned person might do it anyway.

 

What People Need to Know About Medicaid

Please share this 20-minute video, even with Americans who hate politics. It might reach people in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio or West Virginia who will call their relatively sane Republican Senators and demand that they vote No on the Better Healthcare Reconciliation Act, also known as the Senate healthcare bill or Trumpcare. We need to stop this abomination now.

I Did the Reading, So Now I’m Sharing

I read too many articles on the internet about politics. Instead of having one subscription to a high-quality newspaper that used to land on our driveway every morning, I now subscribe to three quality newspapers that I read online. I also visit a number of websites that offer interesting political news and commentary. All you need to give them is your time (although that, of course, is more precious than your money).

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t spend so much time reading about politics, but I want to understand what the hell is going on, i.e., why America is so screwed up. And after I read something, I sometimes feel the need to share. This reading and sharing might be a big waste of time, but it feels like something I should do.  

This explains why I read three long-ish articles in the past few days that I’m now going to mention and very briefly describe. Then I’m going to share a funny video. And then I’m going to share a little good news for a change.

The first article I read was “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology”. The title isn’t quite accurate, because epistemology is the philosophical theory or study of knowledge. The title should really be something like “Trump and the Rise of Right-Wing Propaganda as a Source of Supposed News for Millions of Americans and the Ill Effects Thereof”. Another title might be “Here’s Why Our Country Is So Screwed Up: Many Americans Don’t Trust the Only Institutions We Have That Do a Fairly Decent Job of Describing Reality, and Is There Anything We Can Do About It?”. I recommend reading the whole thing, which isn’t really seven million words long, despite what the author says.

A link in that article led me to a 2016, pre-election article called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism”. It’s about people with authoritarian personalities, and how they aren’t necessarily bigots or stupid, but how they tend to be afraid of strangers and change, and when they’re especially afraid, they look for “strong” leaders who will protect them by building walls, putting people in jail and blowing things up. There are more of these authoritarians than you might expect and they’re the strongest supporters of the current President, for obvious reasons (“I alone can fix it”).

An interesting point is that the social scientists cited in the article don’t identify people with authoritarian tendencies by asking them about politics. They ask them about child-rearing, posing questions like these:

  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

Authoritarians tend to answer these questions differently than the rest of us. Furthermore, they supposedly tell the truth when asked about raising children, which they might not do if asked about politics.

Another point made in the article is that many people have authoritarian tendencies, but those tendencies only come into play when these potential authoritarians are sufficiently scared, and sufficiently scared by people whom they think are dangerous in some way, either dangerous to their physical persons or to their preferred way of life. 

The importance of the fear factor leads to the third article, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics”. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing, because it was too depressing. It was written two years ago by a former Republican and is mostly historical. It describes the undoing of the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine, the rise of right-wing talk radio and the amazing success of Fox News, the result being that your authoritarian cousin and your potentially authoritarian plumber are convinced that liberals, scientists, the “mainstream media” and other lowlifes are out to destroy America. That makes your cousin and your plumber very angry and/or very, very afraid. 

So here’s the funny video: Randy Rainbow singing “Covfefe: The Broadway Medley”! If nothing else, watching it will mean that, for four glorious minutes, you won’t be reading about politics on the internet. 

I’ve watched this video many times, because, aside from the pleasure of watching and listening to Mr. Rainbow, and hearing those wonderful melodies again, if you do anything for four minutes, over and over again, it does add up. 

Lastly, the good news:  “Nevada Is Considering a Revolutionary Healthcare Experiment”. The Nevada legislature has passed a bill that would allow anyone in the state who doesn’t have health insurance to buy in to the state’s Medicaid program. Details need to be worked out and the Governor might not sign the bill, but it’s an encouraging sign that America might turn the corner one day.

“Covfefe, I just met a girl named Covfefe…”

A Few Choice Paragraphs

From “God and the Don” (CNN):

Two days before his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump greeted a pair of visitors at his office in Trump Tower.

As a swarm of reporters waited in the gilded lobby, the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Queens, and the Rev. Scott Black Johnston, the senior pastor of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, arrived to pray with the next president….

It was clear that Trump was still preoccupied with his November victory, and pleased with his performance with one constituency in particular.

“I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” Trump interjected in the middle of the conversation… 

They gently reminded Trump that neither of them was an evangelical.

“Well, what are you then?” Trump asked.

They explained they were mainline Protestants, the same Christian tradition in which Trump, a self-described Presbyterian, was raised and claims membership. Like many mainline pastors, they told the President-elect, they lead diverse congregations.

Trump nodded along, then posed another question to the two men: “But you’re all Christians?”

“Yes, we’re all Christians.”

From “Why Are Republicans Getting So Little Done? Because Their Agenda Is Deeply Unpopular” (The Washington Post):

Is there anything — anything — on the agenda of the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress that enjoys the support of the majority of the public?

… The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds that an incredible 84 percent of Americans say that it’s important that any replacement of the Affordable Care Act maintains the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. Even 71 percent of Republicans said so. Which is a problem for the GOP, because rolling back the Medicaid expansion is the centerpiece of the Republican repeal plan….so that they can fund a large tax cut that mostly goes to the wealthy.

The Senate is right now tying itself in knots trying to figure out how to pass something that satisfies the GOP’s conservative principles but that the public won’t despise, and it may be slowly realizing that this is impossible. “I don’t see a comprehensive health-care plan this year,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday, and he’s probably right.

Let’s move on to taxes. At yesterday’s speech announcing his pullout from the Paris climate agreement, President Trump made this little digression:

“Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised. The Republicans are working very, very hard. We’d love to have support from the Democrats, but we may have to go it alone. But it’s going very well.”

It was certainly interesting to hear that the tax bill is moving along in Congress, because there is no tax bill, neither moving along, standing still or spinning in circles. The administration has produced nothing more than a one-page list of bullet points on taxes, and congressional Republicans haven’t written a bill, either. There have been no hearings, no committee votes, nothing. This is one of those moments when it’s hard to figure out if Trump is lying or genuinely doesn’t realize what’s going on; earlier this week he tweeted:

Yet nothing has been submitted, nothing is moving along and nothing is ahead of schedule.

[Republicans] know that whatever bill they come up with is going to be hammered by Democrats for being an enormous giveaway to the wealthy. They could solve that problem by not making it an enormous giveaway to the wealthy, but then what would be the point?…

Are there other Republican initiatives that the public is behind? If there are, they’re awfully hard to find…. 

The deep unpopularity of this agenda goes a long way toward explaining why Congress has gotten almost nothing done this year… All Republicans feel nervous these days … That’s enough to make a lawmaker skittish about doing anything that might make the voters even more disgusted. So the legislative process gets dragged out for longer and longer.

Congressional Republicans complain that all the drama and scandals in the White House suck the air out of Washington… But the real problem is that the public just doesn’t want to buy what they’re selling.

From “I Can’t Stop Laughing at the Trump Administration. That’s Not a Good Thing” (The Washington Post):

Rex Tillerson has given zero indication that he knows how to run the State Department. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross made clueless comments about Saudi Arabia that left the impression of him as a doddering fool. As secretary of homeland security, John F. Kelly keeps saying things designed to scare the hell out of people rather than make them feel more secure. He seems to have fallen victim to the worst pathologies of the Bush administration….. National security adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn seem to be focused far more on pleasing the president than offering cogent advice…. Jared Kushner? Please.

The rest of the White House staff is busy trying to be more absurd propagandists than Kim Jong Un’s flacks. So far, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are the only foreign policy hands who have managed to retain their dignity, and that’s mostly because what they say contradicts Trump….

Then there’s the president himself. Just a glance at the decision-making process he used on withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord makes it clear how manifestly unfit he is to do his job….he’s getting played left and right….It’s hard to overstate just how badly Trump has navigated the global stage. The Chinese and Saudis have figured out how to buy him off with a couple billion dollars and some flattery. There is zero evidence of any appreciable policy gains. U.S. leadership is being constantly questioned…. Outside of the Persian Gulf, Trump’s approach has done nothing but alienate allies and bolster potential rivals….

Heck, I could be on Twitter all day and only pay partial attention to briefings and still do a better job than the current clown show.

Finally, from “Trump’s Pathological Obsession with Being Laughed At” (The Week):

If you’ve been paying any attention at all over the last couple of years, you know this is a topic he returns to again and again. Search Trump’s Twitter feed and you’ll find that who’s laughing at whom is an obsession for him, with the United States usually the target of the laughter. “The world is laughing at us.” China is “laughing at USA!” Iran is “laughing at Kerry & Obama!” “ISIS & all others laughing!” “Mexican leadership has been laughing at us for many years.” “Everybody is laughing at Jeb Bush.” “Putin is laughing at Obama.” “OPEC is laughing at how stupid we are.” “Dopey, nobody is laughing at me!” I could go on (and on, and on), but I’ll spare you.

This is nothing new for Trump; he’s been talking about us being laughed at for his entire career in public life. In his first major foray into politics in 1987, he spent nearly $100,000 to buy full-page ads … lamenting the fact that America helped defend countries like Japan without getting enough in return (sound familiar?). The last line of the ad was, “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.” 

It is Trump’s gift to future biographers that he makes so little attempt to hide his psychological issues, but the desire to avoid being laughed at truly stands out. Perhaps there was some childhood trauma that led to this obsession, a schoolyard incident in which a bully pulled down Donny’s short pants to the guffaws of the other tots (particularly the girls!). It would be only fitting if Trump, the world’s foremost avatar of anxious masculinity, lived in terror of women’s laughter, but he seems concerned with everyone’s laughter, whether it comes from people or governments. As much as he cares about winning and getting the better of someone, defeat is marked by the ultimate humiliation of being laughed at.

Yet ironically, no president in history has ever been laughed at as much as Trump….

The Death of Maggie Roche

Oh, hell. Maggie Roche of the folk rock vocal group, the Roches, died of cancer on January 21, 2017. She was 65.

I didn’t see that before. Maybe there was too much other news that day. Actually, there was. It was the day of the big Women’s March and the day after a certain presidential inauguration.

The New York Times printed a nice obituary, which includes remarks from her sister: 

She was … too sensitive and shy for this world, but brimming with life, love, and talent…. She was smart, wickedly funny, and authentic — not a false bone in her body — a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.

“Speak” is one of her songs. She wrote the words and music:

The time has come for me to speak
Uh oh the time has come
And while the silence picks on me
I pray to not be dumb

So I am hunting for the words
Just wait til I find some
I need some syllables do you
Know where to get them from

When I am in my house alone
My speeches take a week
But from my lips when you are near
A sound will seldom leak.

There’s that feeling when someone younger than you dies and you think, well, after all, she was X years old.

Death is the ultimate form of escapism. The internet has nothing on death.