I Could Just Copy Stuff From Twitter

Hey, that’s what I’m doing!

From a gang of tweeters:

Trump didn’t extend unemployment benefits yesterday. He told states to set up a “lost wages assistance program” in coordination with FEMA, DHS and DOL and it’s gonna be a dang mess.

It also seems, like, illegal.

But a real shame if people think this is going to pay them next week.

The memorandum is in plain English and you can see that this is insanely complicated. Obvious, key context: states have already failed utterly to implement simpler policies in timely fashion.

As I’ve said elsewhere, people need to READ the text of executive orders. It’s a publicity stunt to make people think he’s DOING something. The texts clearly show all he is doing is pointing his finger at some cabinet member and saying “Look into this.”

Trump actually thought he upgraded & modernized our entire nuclear arsenal in a few months in 2017 because of an Executive Order:

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Agreed, but the publicity stunt only works if you have an accomplice in the mainstream media that will just pipeline it into the ether.

Because he’s the “president” they have to cover him and he counts on people just looking at the pictures.

 

Let the Pigs Fly!

The president issued some executive orders yesterday at one of his country clubs while being protected at great expense by the Secret Service. The people who write headlines gave us stuff like this from the widely-printed Associated Press:

President Txxxx moves to authorize more unemployment pay and a payroll tax deferral for coronavirus relief

The nation would have been so much better served if there had been headlines like this (I grant you it’s rather long) written by a Republican political consultant:

If you actually needed more proof that the Republican Party was a non-serious party with no interest in governing, Txxxx signing meaningless executive orders he doesn’t understand at a golf club he’s using to scam more taxpayer dollars is pretty much the perfect trifecta.

After almost four years, reporters still write as though this is a normal president doing things that presidents normally do. So we are told that “Txxxx directs Post Office to employ flying pigs in cost-cutting measure” as if Txxxx has the authority to do such a thing and it’s actually going to happen. He gets his headline and appears to be doing something significant. That’s all that matters to him. It’s good publicity.

As time passes, there will be articles analyzing what the president actually did or didn’t do. By then, he will have moved on to his next performance piece. It will turn out, however, that the Post Office, run by one of his cronies, did spend time and money trying to get pigs to fly but, damn it, somehow failed.

We do have Twitter, however. From Paul Krugman:

I don’t know if anyone else has said this, but payroll tax cuts are the hydroxychloroquine of economic policy. They won’t do anything to solve the employment crisis, but will have dangerous side effects.

Yet Txxxx remains obsessed with them as a cure. We’ve lost millions of jobs, not because employers lack incentives to hire, but because many activities, like bars, indoor dining, inessential travel, elective medical care have been put on hold because of the risk of contagion.

Letting employers keep money they were supposed to be paying into Social Security and Medicare — no good reason to believe they’ll pass the savings on to workers — does nothing to remedy this problem.

It will, however, undermine the finances of programs that are absolutely crucial to the lives of older Americans. If you measure the quality of policy ideas on a scale of 1 to 10, this is a minus 5 or worse.

Even Senate Republicans consider this a terrible idea. So where’s Txxxx getting it from? The immediate answer seems to be Stephen Moore, whose previous greatest hits include predicting that tax cuts would create a Kansas economic miracle [Note: Kansas fell apart after severe tax cuts].

Just a word about the other Txxxx “policy”, on unemployment benefits. He is NOT proposing to extend supplemental benefits. He’s calling for a new program, without Congressional authorization, that states are supposed to set up and provide with matching funds.

Two realities here: 1. The administrative capacity of state unemployment offices is stretched to the limit — it took months to provide expanded benefits, and some people never got them. They’re in no position to add a new program.

2. States are also broke because of coronavirus revenue losses and expenses. Even if they could reprogram their COBOL-driven computers fast enough, they wouldn’t have the money.

So this is policy by reality TV: an attempt to pretend that Txxxx is doing something, while providing no real relief. The fact is that Txxxx and those around him don’t know how to do policy.

But they do know how to get publicity.

In spades.

As if pigs began to fly.

There Is No “Congress”

It is true that the Constitution of the United States of America created a legislature. Its principal function is to make laws. It comprises the legislative branch of the federal government, the other two branches being the executive and the judicial.

The authors of the Constitution called this legislative branch “Congress”. They also divided this “Congress” into two parts.

Article I, Section 1:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

When a law or a change to a law is proposed, the Senate and the House of Representatives must both endorse the proposal in order for it to become official, i.e. “the law of the land”. (The Executive branch, embodied by a “President”, also gets to participate in the process. Sometimes the Judicial branch does too.)

So far, so good.

The Constitution nowhere mentions political parties, but it only took a few years for a “two-party system” to develop.

The Founding Fathers did not originally intend for American politics to be partisan. . . .  Alexander Hamilton and James Madison . . . wrote specifically about the dangers of domestic political factions. In addition, the first president, George Washington, was not a member of any political party . . . Furthermore, he hoped that political parties would not be formed, fearing conflict and stagnation . . .

Nevertheless, the beginnings of the American two-party system merged from his immediate circle of advisers. Hamilton and Madison . . .  ended up being the core leaders in this emerging party system. It was the split camps of Federalists, given rise with Hamilton as a leader, and Democratic-Republicans, with Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the helm . . . that created the environment in which partisanship, once distasteful, came to being [Wikipedia].

How does the two-party system affect Congress? If the majority in both the Senate and the House belong to the same party, it doesn’t make that much difference. If, say, the Racoon Party has the majority in both houses, there is general agreement on which laws to adopt (since senators serve for six years and representatives only serve for two, the members of the two houses sometimes have different priorities even when they belong to the same party).

But what if the Racoons are the majority in the Senate and the Otters are the majority in the House? Or the other way around? It is more difficult for the two majorities to agree on what the country’s laws should be. Sometimes it’s almost impossible.

Since 1857, when the Republicans joined the Democrats as one of America’s two major parties, there have been eighty-two sessions of Congress. By my count, the same party has controlled both houses of Congress sixty-six times, leaving sixteen sessions in which Congress has been divided. We are living through one of those sixteen sessions now, since the Democrats control the House and the Republicans control the Senate.

As we would expect, with two different parties in charge, things are not going well.

For example, the Democrat-led House agreed on legislation in May, almost three months ago, in order to deal with the suffering and disruption caused by Covid-19. Among other things, House Bill 6800 (unfortunately called “The Heroes Act”) would extend the $600 weekly increase in unemployment insurance, make another round of direct payments (up to $6,000 for a family), provide $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service and increase aid to state and local governments.

The Republican-led Senate has not taken a vote on the House’s bill. Nor has the Senate proposed its own version of legislation to address the same issues (which would then be subject to negotiation with the House). The result is that the $600 increase in unemployment insurance agreed to earlier this year has lapsed. A moratorium on housing evictions is also ending.

So the country is in quite a pickle.

Now here’s what motivated me to express myself today. It’s a headline in The Washington Post.

Congress deeply unpopular again as gridlock on coronavirus relief has real-life consequences

Here’s one from USA Today.

Congress leaves town without a coronavirus stimulus deal, allowing $600 unemployment benefit to end

Here’s a classic example of the problem from an experienced New York Times reporter:

A conservative Republican House member profanely accosts a Democratic congresswoman as she strides up the Capitol steps to do her job during multiple national calamities.

With expanded jobless benefits supporting tens of millions of fearful Americans about to expire and a pandemic raging, Senate Republicans and the [Republican] White House cannot agree among themselves about how to respond, let alone begin to bargain with Democrats.

In a private party session, arch-conservative Republicans ambush their top female leader and demand her ouster over political and policy differences.

And that’s just the past few days.

By nearly any measure, Congress is a toxic mess . . .

Jonathan Chait is a columnist for New York Magazine. He referred to the problem twice in the past month:

If I could change one thing about political coverage, it would be the practice of attributing actions by one party to “Congress” [June 27].

The single worst practice in political journalism is attributing decisions by one party to “Congress” [July 26].

I’d make it “actions or inaction by one party”, but he made a very good point.

My suggestion is that when two different parties are in charge of Congress, people who write about politics for a living should make an effort to specify which party in which house is doing (or not doing) something. That would help readers understand where the dysfunction usually lies (hint: it’s not the Democratic side).

Since my suggesting this will have no effect, I’ll alternatively suggest that when we readers see references to Congress in times like this, we keep in mind that Congress has two parts and that one of those parts (same hint) is totally screwed up.

In fact, in times like this, “Congress” doesn’t really exist.

A Few Brief and Blunt Answers

Christiane Amanpour is a journalist at CNN. Donald McNeil Jr. is a science writer for The New York Times. She asks him questions about the virus. He gives informed yet blunt answers.

Three minutes on how our federal government screwed this up.

Less than three minutes on our testing shortfall (Warning: our president says words during the first thirty seconds, so be careful).

Even less on the difference between medicine and public health (Mr. McNeil doesn’t discuss how the president and his minions sabotaged our preparedness by cutting budgets and firing qualified people; it would have been good to hear McNeil speak bluntly about that).

Update:

The Times issued a statement saying Mr. McNeil “went too far in expressing his personal views”. His editors discussed the issue with him and reminded him that “his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions”. There are some things corporate journalists are not supposed to say in public, even though they say such things in private and what they say is true. 

Experts Urge Caution?

From the NY Times:

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

After the president’s comments, searches soared for cleaning products like colored laundry detergent capsules, or Tide Pods, leading the Washington State emergency management division to tell people, “don’t eat tide pods or inject yourself with any kind of disinfectant.”

The maker of the disinfectants Lysol and Dettol also issued a statement on Friday warning against the improper use of their products.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the company said. The words “under no circumstance” were highlighted in bold.

Unquote.

Times editors want to be so balanced and calm in their headlines that they put this under:

Trump extols the powers of sunlight and household disinfectants. Experts urge caution. 

A reasonable alternative would have been:

Trump extols the powers of sunlight and household disinfectants. Experts and normal people cite injury and likely death.

Update:

A member of the cult said the president was merely being “inquisitive”, but would anybody outside the cult disagree that the president of the United States should not be bringing up absurd, extremely dangerous treatments on national TV, unless it’s to strongly warn the public against them? It’s not a subject to be “inquisitive” about, certainly not in public. He made it seem plausible and nobody there disagreed.

Meanwhile: 

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The owners of The Onion saw the phrase “some experts” and decided to close up shop, finally accepting that they can’t compete.

Update #2:

It took them several hours, but they finally offered a correction. The comments are excellent.

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