Friday, March 31, 2017

Listen: Nunes and Flynn and Russia, oh my!

The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA), has been in the news a lot.  So has Mike Flynn, the former general who was briefly the National Security Advisor.  And unfortunately, there's way too much speculation accompanying most articles about both of these figures, so it's hard to know what's going on and how important it is.  Here's what we know, as best I can figure out.

If you don't have time to read this, here's my bottom line:

1. The House investigation of the Russian connections is a farce, and the Republican in charge has been exposed as working to help justify the president's unhinged accusations by deceiving to the press and public.  Seriously, this isn't being exaggerated: Nunes went way too far to help Trump.

2. Mike Flynn's request for immunity might indicate he did something wrong or knows someone who did, or not -- we just don't know.  Don't believe anyone's unfounded speculation.

Here we go:

Russia and Trump: background

To start with, it's been fairly well-established that Russian hacking teams tried to intervene in the 2016 election.  Every American intelligence service has endorsed a report to that effect.  A hacking group called "Fancy Bear" used a fairly simple phishing attack on a bunch of American politicians and staffers (both Republicans and Democrats) and then publicly released much of what they found.  And the way they released these hacked emails seemed designed to do maximum damage to the Democrats.

However, there is also a concern on the part of many Democrats (and some Republicans) that the Russian intervention went even further, and may have included some coordination with the Trump campaign.  Even if there were not some circumstantial evidence to this effect, such as longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone bragging about his connections to WikiLeaks (where the Russian hacks were released) or the fact that the solitary change that the Trump campaign made to the Republican platform was extremely friendly to Russia, the behavior of the Trump campaign itself probably would have invited scrutiny.  Numerous people on the Trump campaign and in the administration have been weirdly sympathetic to Russian interests.  An exhaustive listing is probably beyond my scope here, but there are several advisors and key staffers who have worked on behalf of Russian interests.  The two key ones are (1) Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, was once a lobbyist in Europe and America on behalf of the Putin goverrnment, and (2) Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who gave paid speeches for Russian state media and seems to have gone behind the back of the Obama administration after the election to speak with the Russian ambassador about new policy (a revelation once denied by the White House, but that led to Flynn's resignation when discovered).

Nunes

Okay!  So naturally, there was a lot of outcry over all of that nonsense.  The FBI Director, James Comey, confirmed publicly that the FBI is investigating Trump campaign staff and the administration That's pretty huge news, and there's no other way to spin it... it's never a good thing when the FBI is investigating White House staff or campaign officials.  There's no certainty they'll find anything, remember! -- but it's not good that they feel there's reason to take a look.

More than that, Congress feels obligated to investigate.  And both Democrats and Republicans have said they are looking into Russian interference in the election -- and also that they are investigating Trump's tweeted accusation that President Obama "wiretapped Trump Tower" before the election.  Unfortunately, it looks like not everyone wants to actually find the truth.

There doesn't seem to be any problem in the Senate.  The Democrat and Republican on the relevant intelligence committee are holding hearings, cooperating, and looking into it.  It's a very good sign that this Senate investigation isn't leaking or fighting -- it means everyone feels earnestly invested in a real search for the truth.

The House is another matter.  It's beginning to look like Devin Nunes (R-CA) is actively trying to hinder the investigation.  And that's a big deal.

Right now, the major event centers around something Nunes did more than a week ago: the mysterious night of the 21st.  Nunes was in an Uber when he got a call from a mysterious source, he says, and he diverted to the White House to meet with this person.  That's a strange thing to do, since he has an office in the Capitol and there's a secure room there, but Nunes said he needed special access to computer networks there at the White House.

Nunes then went to the president and briefed him on what he'd seen.  That's a very strange thing to do, since Nunes is supposed to be leading an investigation into the activities of the president's staff and he hadn't even shown these new documents to his own committee.  Indeed, it's the sort of thing that should disqualify him from leading that investigation, since it indicates that he is more interested in protecting a fellow Republican than finding the truth.

Nunes then went on to hold a press conference and announce that he'd just been shown secret information about how Trump officials were swept up in surveillance of other figures (known as "incidental" surveillance).  He refused to give any details or really be clear at all -- he seemed to be trying to be unclear, in fact -- but overall seemed to imply that the president had been correct in his accusation of wiretapping by Obama.

Well, we now know that this whole thing seems to have been artifice -- play-acting.  Nunes' secret sources were two White House officials.  Nunes directly lied to at least one reporter, Eli Lake, to try to hide that fact, and otherwise was clearly putting on a show for everyone else.  The real reason he had to rush to the White House was not any sort of secure computer connection, but because his sources were Trump officials -- Trump officials who appear to be disclosing extremely classified material in order to try to justify their boss' lunatic claims.

All of this happens at the same time that Nunes has canceled all hearings this past week, including that of former Acting Attorney-General Sally Yates -- who has said she will be giving pretty significant testimony.

No one, not even most Republican officials, can really now say that they expect Nunes to conduct a full and fair investigation.  Nunes is trying to protect Trump and the Trump administration, and cannot credibly claim to be working to discover the truth.  I am not exaggerating the evidence or circumstances: his behavior is bizarre and suspicious, and he has disqualified himself and the results of any report he might produce.

Flynn

Tangentially related to this is the fact that Mike Flynn has now offered to testify to relevant committees, as long as he is granted immunity.  That means that he could not be convicted of a crime based on anything he said during his testimony.

That sounds terrible, but frankly, it doesn't mean much.  It is extremely common for anyone going to testify at these sorts of hearings to ask for immunity, out of fear that a mistake or small misdeed to which they admit while under oath could then be used against them.  If you remember, some of those people who testified about Hillary Clinton's email server or the Benghazi incident were also granted immunity.

In other words, the Flynn request (which so far no one has granted) doesn't really give us much new information.  He might have big bombshells that implicate others; he might be afraid of prosecution and is trying to get out ahead of it; he might have nothing and just wants to clear his name.  This isn't television, and the situation is not analogous to a small-time criminal offering to turn on another criminal.  Many innocent people have been perfectly justified in asking for immunity before testifying before Congress, and it does not indicate anything -- or even hint at anything.

At this point, incidentally, no one has taken up Flynn on his offer.  He does not have immunity.

So again, to sum up:

1. The House investigation of the Russian connections is a farce.

2. Mike Flynn's request for immunity tells us nothing.

And that's what you need to know, as far as I know.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Do: thank (or scold) your representatives about their healthcare stance.

Obamacare is alive and Trumpcare is dead.  Let's thank some people.

The war's not over, of course.  Some Republicans are responding to conservative pressure by pretending to return to healthcare.  But we're in good shape for three reasons: (1) there's no sign that this is actually serious -- no one has changed their position and there's no bill under consideration, (2) everything I said yesterday is still true about the obstacles they'd face if they tried again, and (3) there's a ton of things that they need to urgently address right now, like the SCOTUS nomination and a looming budget deadline.

We won a major battle, publicly and gloriously, and we should thank (or scold) our representatives.  They deserve it, and it will harden their resolve for the next fight.

If you live in the Berkshires, it's pretty easy to figure out whether your representatives deserve your thanks or your scorn.

BERKSHIRE COUNTY
THANK Senator Edward J. Markey:  413-785-4610
THANK Senator Elizabeth Warren: 202-224-4543
THANK Representative Richard Neal: 202-225-5601

BENNINGTON COUNTY
THANK Senator Bernard Sanders:  802-862-0697
THANK Senator Pat Leahy: 202-224-4242
THANK Representative Peter Welch: 202-225-4115

RENSSELAER COUNTY:
THANK Senator Charles E. Schumer:  518-431-4070
THANK Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  202-224-4451
SCOLD Representative John Faso:  202-225-5614 (author of the Buffalo Bribe, no less!)

If you live elsewhere, it's almost as easy.  First, find your representatives.  If you're represented by a Democrat, thank them: Democrats were united from top to bottom against the AHCA.  If you're represented by a Republican, scold them unless they're one of these thirty-three representatives:

    AL-5     Mo Brooks
    AR-1     Rick Crawford
    AZ-4     Paul Gosar
    AZ-5     Andy Biggs
    FL-3     Ted Yoho
    FL-8     Bill Posey
    FL-27     Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
    IA-1     Rod Blum
    IA-3     David Young
    ID-1     Raúl R. Labrador
    KY-4     Thomas Massie
    MI-3     Justin Amash
    NC-3     Walter B. Jones
    NC-11     Mark Meadows
    NC-13     Ted Budd
    NJ-2     Frank A. LoBiondo
    NJ-4     Christopher H. Smith
    NJ-7     Leonard Lance
    NJ-11     Rodney Frelinghuysen
    NV-2     Mark Amodei
    NY-11     Dan Donovan
    NY-24     John Katko
    OH-4     Jim Jordan
    OH-14     David Joyce
    PA-8     Brian Fitzpatrick
    PA-15     Charlie Dent
    TX-1     Louie Gohmert
    TX-14     Randy Weber
    VA-1     Rob Wittman
    VA-5     Tom Garrett
    VA-7     Dave Brat
    VA-10     Barbara Comstock
    WA-3     Jaime Herrera Beutler

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Listen: might they try again on healthcare -- is Obamacare safe?

Even though a lot of people are happy about the death of Trumpcare/Ryancare/Affordable Health Care Act, many of them are still afraid that the Republicans will soon try again.  This is a reasonable fear, since (a) they have promised to repeal Obamacare for seven years, and (b) they just suffered a humiliating and very public defeat on that very issue.

So what are the chances of that, and what are the chances of success if they do try again?

It's true that they could try again.  The GOP tried to enact healthcare reform first, after all, because it was going to make tax reform a lot easier; they could use a trillion dollars of healthcare funding to pay for some big, permanent tax cuts.  Why is that?  Well, thanks to the rules of the Senate, Congress essentially has these options on tax reform:
  • Option A: Repeal Obamacare and use the savings to pay for permanent tax cuts with Republican votes.
  • Option B: Don't repeal Obamacare and pass some temporary (ten-year) tax cuts with Republican votes.
  • Option C: Enact bipartisan tax reform with Democrats.
The Republicans really wanted to avoid Option C, because it means they would have to compromise.  They also don't really like Option B, since they don't want the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.  If you remember, Obama only kept the parts of the Bush tax cuts that applied to the lower and middle classes.  The GOP wants to avoid that, so Option A was very much their preferred choice.

Given this set of facts, then, Republicans may indeed want to return to Option A, despite their first failure.  The president says he wants to move on, of course, and GOP leaders are uncertain about a second attempt, but that doesn't mean they can't all change their mind.  And given their other options, they might do so.

But a few things stand in their way.

First and most importantly, the facts of healthcare are no different now than they were a month ago, when I wrote that Obamacare will be fine.  Obamacare's most important benefits are still really popular, and the unpopular mandate is still the best way to pay for them.  Republican voters benefit enormously from Obamacare and many of them know it, and any replacement that doesn't at least approximate Obamacare's level of coverage is going to be unpopular.  There is no magical bill out there that will do all the good things without any of the bad things (if there is such a bill, we should pass it immediately!).

Further, there is no prospective bill that will make Republican legislators happy.  Rand Paul's bill can't pass (moderates hate it).  The Cassidy-Collins bill can't pass (extremists hate it).  A simple repeal can't pass (the sane hate it).  Right now, Republicans don't have any viable path forward.  Someone might propose one soon, but it doesn't yet exist.

The clock is ticking, too.  Congress doesn't really work that much, and they've wasted weeks on the AHCA -- and got brutally criticized for their haste, to boot.  They won't be able to rush and railroad through a second attempt, which means the process would have the potential to consume months of Congressional effort.  It took nine months to pass the ACA... does anyone believe that Republicans have the stomach for that, after this AHCA debacle?

And finally, the loud pronouncements that "Obamacare is the law of the land" were heard by everyone.  The Kansas legislature is now in the process of approving Medicaid expansion under the ACA and five other states (North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota) are likely to join them.  Even more importantly for Obamacare, if unfortunate for some citizens, numerous states are not expanding Medicaid, including states like Virginia and Texas.  That makes it very complicated to change the system -- if all states had expanded Medicaid, a uniform solution could perhaps be found.  But when some big conservative states have declined to do so, it's harder.

Republican legislators have every incentive to put on a show of reform, but very little incentive to actually repeal Obamacare. And right now, even the show doesn't seem very convincing.

The bottom line is this: Republicans can try again, but right now there is little chance that they will succeed.

Read: the right's reaction to the AHCA failure.

What is the right saying about the failure to pass the AHCA?  Below is a selection of stories.  I have tried to make them representative of the overall trend.

Jim Jamitis at RedState says that Trump is mostly to blame, although it's embarrassing for everyone:
There is probably no avid Trump supporter who did not attempt to win him votes with some variation on the idea that he’s not a professional politician. What the AHCA battle revealed is that in the sense of actually understanding and promoting policy, Trump is indeed not a politician. He lacks the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to do the technical aspects of the job effectively. However when it comes to the self serving ambition and ruthlessness we associate with professional politicians, Trump excels. He is very much a politician, just not a very good one.

Leon Wolf at The Blaze says that the process reveals that Speaker Ryan was just trying to crush the power of the Freedom Caucus:
Now, in Ryan’s mind, he has a scapegoat for the GOP’s failure to pass a “repeal” bill, and if he can hoodwink Trump (who is popular in the deeply conservative districts the Freedom Caucus represents) into supporting primary challenges from docile Chamber of Commerce-types against Freedom Caucus members, then it’s a win-win, as far as he is concerned. And it appears, at the very least, that he has succeeded in convincing the media and the president that House conservatives are to blame.
In other words, House conservatives were not given a choice — they could either publicly support an unpopular bill or publicly repudiate the wishes a president who is popular with their voting base. Moderates and liberals, on the other hand, were let off scot-free.

Scott Adams of Dilbert says that it's all a brilliant ploy to make Trump look incompetent rather than evil, and thereby lower the guard of liberals.  Seriously, that's what he says!
With the failure of the Ryan healthcare bill, the illusion of Trump-is-Hitler has been fully replaced with Trump-is-incompetent meme. Look for the new meme to dominate the news, probably through the summer. By year end, you will see a second turn, from incompetent to “Competent, but we don’t like it.” ...
No one wants an incompetent president, but calling the other side a bunch of bumblers is routine politics. We just went from an extraordinary risk (Trump=Hitler) to ordinary politics (The other side=incompetent). Ordinary politics won’t spark a revolution or make you punch a coworker. This is a good day for all of us. It just doesn’t look that way because the news is distracting you with the healthcare issue, which is also important, but a full level down in importance from electing Hitler (in your mind).

Veronique du Rugy at National Review says that everyone is to blame, but that the most important thing is that it was an incredibly bad bill:
[B]y focusing on the politics of who is to blame, the policy dimension of the bill’s failure is mostly ignored. Maybe that’s not all that surprising since Speaker Ryan, who has a reputation of being a policy guy, delivered a bill that was driven by politics and got a lot of the policy wrong. But let’s face it, as Klein mentioned in his article, the bill just wasn’t a good bill. It wasn’t a conservative or a free-market bill, either. Sure it had some merits — which isn’t saying much considering that Republicans had been supposedly working on this for seven years — but overall it had serious and lethal problems. As such, the blame should fall on those who put out a bad bill not on those who prevented it from going through the House.

Virgil at Breitbart says that the president wasn't really much of a supporter to begin with, and that this experience is similar to the early days of the Reagan presidency:
In fact, the President had often expressed skepticism about AHCA, as well as the strategy of leading off 2017 with Obamacare repeal.  As Trump said as recently as March 15, “The Republicans, frankly, are putting themselves in a very bad position.  I tell this to [Health and Human Services Secretary] Tom Price all the time.”  That is, the Republicans would be better off leaving Obamacare alone, letting it collapse on its own—without getting GOP fingerprints on it.  And in fact, on Friday afternoon, Trump told at least one reporter that he would revert to that stance; that is, let the Democrats, who voted for Obamacare in the first place, “own” the legislation.
Indeed, it’s quite possible that the GOP missed a bullet by not enacting AHCA.  On Friday the 24th, a shudder went through Republican ranks when Breitbart’s Neil Munro reported on a new Democratic poll, purporting to show that when voters heard the details of the AHCA as it would have played out in the months and years ahead, they shifted 34 points in their assessment, from mild approval to sharp disapproval.  To be sure, it was a partisan Democratic poll, but still, we might ask ourselves: Have we heard anybody, really, saying anything good about the legislation?  So with a political albatross around its neck, what would it have been like for the GOP in the 2018 midterms?

The hardcore Trump subreddit The_Donald doesn't talk about the AHCA very much.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Listen: what might be next on the agenda.

President Trump and his administration are keenly aware of public perception.  They have been focusing on knocking down as many of his promises as possible, and doing so in the most dramatic way.  Given the frequency with which Team Trump has mentioned the idea of the "first one hundred days" -- the mythical time during which every president is supposed to emulate FDR and revolutionize the country -- it seems clear that they want to look strong when they hit that marker.

Unfortunately for their hopes, it's been sixty-seven days, and the Trump presidency doesn't have much to boast about.

Sure, they can fool some supporters (and maybe even fool themselves) with the flashy executive orders.  But almost all of those orders have been promotional: declaring intentions rather than taking action.  An order declaring, in a confused sort of way, that two existing regulations must be eliminated for every new regulation... well, that doesn't actually accomplish anything, does it?

The only executive orders that would have had really dramatic impact were the Muslim ban orders, and courts have blocked both of them.  Even if they're eventually carried out, months after Trump's first attempt, they're not going to offer much satisfaction.

No, it seems as though a lot of Trumpian hopes were pinned on the Obamacare repeal.  Eliminating much of Obamacare would have been a deeply symbolic victory.  Instead, it became a humiliating failure that played out before the eyes of the nation in slow motion.  The "policy wonk" Speaker created a bill that everyone loathed, including almost every conservative all.  The "closer" President couldn't get a deal done with his own party, much less anyone serious.

At this point, the major achievements of the Trump administration include nominating a SCOTUS justice, the repeal of some regulations, and some minor executive orders.  Along the way, their efforts have been hampered by continual scandals and mis-steps, comical lies, and bizarre behavior.

I promise you, they will want to do something big in the next month.  They have 33 days left in the "first hundred days," and they want something in the history books. The obvious place to look for predictions is Trump's "Contract with the American Voter," a document to which he's adhered closely.  It is explicitly his plan for the first one hundred days, and there's a lot left undone.  However, many of these promises are (frankly) bonkers, and unlikely to ever occur.  There's simply no point in declaring China a "currency manipulator," for example, or for crashing the economy by withdrawing from NAFTA.  So what might happen?

Legislative.  Congress has devoted a lot of time and energy into Obamacare repeal, and that means there's not much time left to draft, debate, and pass bills on anything else (especially with the Easter recess).  If they want to get something done in Congress in the next month, the smart thing to do is introduce existing language from previous bills or think tanks.  In fact, the smart thing is to introduce several new bills in different committees, and see which ones get traction or opposition.  Leadership has stated they want to move on to tax reform, but that will take time... far more time than they have right now, especially since no one agrees on the possible reforms.

Why that's hard: Again, there's only 33 days left.  And there's a week-long recess included in that period.  If they started immediately, they probably still don't have time to pass anything.  Bills must be marked up by committees, debated on the floor, and passed by both houses of Congress... there just isn't time.

Executive.  There are a few major steps that Trump could still take from his list of priorities.  He could use existing spending authority to send a large aid package to Flint, Michigan.  He could get some form of new wall built along the Mexican border, even just a section of it, and do a ribbon-cutting.  He could start canceling or altering visas again in a more targeted fashion (such as by canceling H1-B employment visas), or impose some sort of loyalty test for new citizens.  These actions would make a splash and might seem "big" enough to satiate a president hungry for recognition.

Why that's hard: Without a budget in place, Trump has already done most of the flashy things that he can do unilaterally.  Certainly he can still do a lot of damage day-to-day, but in terms of weighty things that he can promote, the well is running dry.  He'll need to find some new ideas.

Bipartisanship.  After the nasty fight with his own party over healthcare, President Trump has resumed the idea of reaching out to Democrats for votes.  Specifically, infrastructure and prescription drug prices are two points that he has in common with the Democratic mainstream.  If he were to reach out and make a big show of working with Democrats on one of those issues, he would stand a good chance of bypassing his own party's hard-liners.

Why that's hard: For the past couple of months, the Trump administration has delighted in being pointlessly cruel and divisive.  Democrats are going to be loathe to openly support the administration, since their base will hate it.  That's the problem with burning bridges with open hostility... it makes it a lot harder to work with people on the other side of the river.  And of course, conservative Republicans will not be happy if the president attempts to make them irrelevant -- they'll have every reason to try to kill such a bill.

Diplomacy.  There's an avenue of executive action that the Trump administration has mostly neglected: diplomacy.  A significant diplomatic deal -- on something, anything -- could provide a desperately-needed victory.

Why that's hard:  They haven't even begun the necessary efforts to make something like that happen, and they have almost no time left to do so.


In conclusion, then, by far the easiest avenue for Trump to find some significant victories in the next 33 days lies in the avenue of executive action.  While there are a lot of obstacles to making any immediate and significant changes in these areas, thanks to regulatory processes and funding challenges, the president has proven thus far that he has a hard time working with others.  Flashy executive actions allow his team full control and require no compromising.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Listen: the cavalry isn't coming -- and that's good news.

"President Trump will resign," says someone, confidently.  "The press or the FBI will uncover something too big and he'll have to."

"No, he'll be impeached," says someone else, smiling and shaking their head.  "Congress isn't going to want him around forever."

These people are waiting for the cavalry: the mounted troops thundering onto the battlefield to join us, sweeping the president from office.  In this vision, the FBI's investigation eventually shows that President Trump is acting under orders from Russia's Vladimir Putin.  Or some newspaper's exposé reveals that the president's top aides plan to give clandestine support to neo-Nazis.  Or Congress is shocked at some foul deed and votes to impeach President Trump, ejecting him from office.

I don't blame these optimists for hoping for the FBI, the press, or Congress to rescue them.  But it's probably not going to happen.  Donald J. Trump will be our president for the next four years.  There's no cavalry on the way to save us.  But here's the thing: that's good news.

Why isn't the FBI going to save us?  Well, first of all, it's really unlikely that the Trump campaign engaged in the sort of misdeeds that would lead to the president's indictment and conviction.  I'm not underestimating their incompetence or skullduggery, but rather, I'm looking at it from the other side: Russia.

If I'm a Russian oligarch, there's a clear upside to throwing the U.S. presidential campaign into chaos and badly weakening the likely winner, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  But very few people, including my own Russian analysts, think Trump can really win.  By the best estimates, he has maybe a 30% chance of victory.  I am not going to risk a catastrophic international incident by directly working with Trump -- not with chances like that!  Instead, I just try to muddy the waters as much as possible, using asymmetric methods that allow me to expend few resources to achieve maximum gain.  My hacker teams cost -- what, a few million rubles?  That's a cheap price to pay for a good chance of causing damage, and there's very little risk to myself.  Why would I screw up a good thing by trusting an incompetent and reckless long-shot like Trump?

At absolute best, the Russia investigation will reveal an infiltration throughout the Trump campaign of Russophiles, plus an eager willingness on behalf of the campaign to capitalize on Russian hacking efforts.  And we already know those things are true.  The president already openly praises Putin, and he once stood at a podium and requested further hacking help.

His covert misdeeds can't possibly eclipse his overt ones.  The FBI isn't going to save us.

Why isn't the press going to save us?  Because that would require him resigning.  And there's a single dominant reason why no number of editorials or investigations is going to pressure Trump into resigning: Trump has no shame.  I don't mean this in a pejorative sense, but rather quite literally: he does not appear to feel shame when publicly exposed.  He becomes angry and defensive, he lies and blusters, and he happily deflects -- but he shows no evidence that he actually feels shame.

You cannot shame someone who refuses to take responsibility, who views reality as flexible, or who always responds by going on the attack.  The president was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, and weeks of public fury barely managed to elicit a brief, rote, and insincere apology.

One must be capable of grace before they can be threatened by disgrace.  The press isn't going to save us.

Why isn't Congress going to save us?  Congress has a majority of Republicans, and it will likely retain that majority until 2020.  And Republicans will not impeach a Republican president.  I would love it if this weren't true, but tribalism is unbelievably fierce.  Even after these disastrous first couple of months, for example, Trump retains the loyalty of virtually the entire Republican party -- both voters and politicians.  His approval numbers have gotten steadily worse as independents and undecided voters have turned away... but Trump's tribe has not yet deserted him.  It will take many months or years before that happens.  In terms of pure showmanship, after all, there are still a number of cards he can play, as I talk about in this post (particularly prescient, if I do say so myself).  And he has already shown with the Muslim ban that he is perfectly willing to do cruel and inane things if he believes it will please his base.  Until such a time as Trump's unpopularity with the Republican base begins to hurt the bulk of Republican politicians, who represent safely red seats, they will not desert him.

Even if the 2018 elections deliver a Democratic majority in the House (which is possible, though not easy) or a Democratic majority in the Senate (incredibly difficult), there probably won't be enough votes to impeach without some sort of smoking gun that directly implicates the president.

The red tribe will protect its own.  Congress isn't going to save us.

So don't look to the FBI.  Don't look to the press.  Don't look to Congress.  They're not the cavalry, and they're not going to save us.  But here's the good news:

We are going to save ourselves.  The cavalry is already here, and it is you.


You're going to rescue us.  You're going to register people to vote.  You're going to call your representatives.  You're going to demand town halls and show up to them -- and if your representative won't hold a town hall, you're going to go to their office or their fundraiser.  You're going to seek out the truth, reading the news and thinking about the issues.  You are going to march and protest.

You want the FBI or the press or Congress to save you?  They work for you.

We don't need to wait for heroes to show up.  I was at the Women's March on Washington.  I saw heroes.  I have gone to Greylock Together and other activist meetings.  I saw heroes.  I have worked on voter registration drives.  I saw heroes.

This past week, we saved Obamacare.  Countless rallies across the country put pressure on representatives of every ilk.  Democratic congresspeople and senators held the line because they knew they had the support -- the insistent support of their supporters.  Moderate Republicans were made to fear their constituents, those who angrily crowded their town halls to tell about how Obamacare saved their lives.  Even extreme Republicans were forcibly made aware of the dangerous consequences of a terrible repeal bill.  We were assisted by Trump's ham-handed attempts at negotiation, general incompetence among GOP leaders, and pressure from interest groups, but politicians respond to voters above all else.

There are more fights in the future.  Victories beget victories.  We can keep it up.  We can call and write and march and protest.

You shouldn't wait for heroes to ride in and save the day.  We are the heroes.  You are the hero.

You can save the day.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Listen: what the hell just happened with Obamacare repeal?

Simply put, the Republicans lost.

There's no trick or subterfuge here.  There's no clever ploy or bargaining happening.  Based on everything we know now, the Republicans tried to write a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare and they failed so badly that they couldn't even get it past the first vote in the House.

And they gave up.  The Speaker of the House and the President have both confirmed that they're "moving on from healthcare."

The freshly-elected Republican President could not get a bill that his party had been seeking for seven years -- a bill that he'd vowed would be superb and easy -- through a Congress stacked with Republican majorities in both houses.

To start with, the bill was bad.  I have been over this, but repealing Obamacare was always going to be very difficult, and this bill in particular was awful.  The hard-line House Freedom Caucus among the Republicans in the House hated it, egged on by some key senators, since it left key components of Obamacare in place.  And a lot of moderates hated it because it was inconceivably cruel and incompetently designed.

The GOP knew this was going to be a nasty fight, since not a single Democrat was going to help them.  (And by the way, if you are represented by a Democrat, they deserve your praise and thanks today!)  Republicans tried to railroad it through as quickly as possible.  Committee markup took place in marathon 18-hour sessions and the Senate was set to debate and vote on the bill during a single week.

But it soon became clear that they didn't have the votes, as informal counts showed over the past couple of weeks.  Angry constituents (take a bow, everyone!) called and wrote and showed up at fundraisers.  The CBO score was crushingly bad.  Every single interest group hated it (except big business).

This version of the bill was dead.  Everyone knew it, really.  It wasn't getting past the Senate, not like this.  But they couldn't just give up -- or even worse, try to pass the bill and fail!  A failed vote would force all of those moderates to take a hard vote -- put their opinion on their record, ready-made for attacks ads by an opponent! -- but without any benefit.

It now seems clear that the plan was to pass it, though, and hope that the Senate passed their own version, and then just try to get a compromise done somehow.  They just needed to get something through the House, even if it was a mess.

There were only two possible remedies.

First, they amended the bill.  They made it more cruel, stripping out the provisions that required essential benefits (meaning that insurers would be able to eliminate maternity benefits or addiction treatment, for example).  They threw in a few legislative bribes to special interests, like the Buffalo Bribe for upstate New York Republicans.  They did whatever they could to get it through.

Second, they brought in the administration.  Donald J. Trump, the great dealmaker.  He would twist arms, threaten and snarl, make promises to sweeten the deal.  Who would dare cross this man, the guy who commanded rallies of hundreds of thousands?  The guy who could famously make even the hardest deals happen?

They got, instead, failure.  Cataclysmic failure.

The amendments made things worse, not better, as the changes scared away even more moderates and failed to win over the hard-liners.  And, as it turns out, Trump didn't really have any tricks up his sleeve... his "hard sell" was just to insist that it was a great bill and to hint that he would remember those who opposed him.

They didn't have the votes.  The Speaker wanted to pull it and wait.  But Trump insisted on a vote... he wanted to know exactly who would dare vote "against him."

All day today, the House worked through voting procedures (a big bill like this requires a lot of little votes beforehand).  And all day, the news got worse.  The scheduled vote was at 3:30, and finally, the Speaker went to the White House and told Trump the bad news.  And presumably, told him that it was utterly idiotic to actually hold the vote.  Why put this horrorshow on the record?

Trump agreed.  They pulled the bill.  And they're moving on.  It's dead.

“ObamaCare will remain the law of the land until it’s replaced," the Speaker said. "We’re going to be living with ObamaCare for the foreseeable future."

This is a historic defeat.  No president has ever, to my knowledge, been handed a public and humiliating defeat on one of their key promises in their first hundred days.

You can stop holding your breath.  No tricks, no plots, no ploys.  This one seems to be over.

Celebrate.  Thank your reps.  Make plans for the next battle.

And maybe make a doctor's appointment -- it's your right.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Listen: what is the healthcare fight looking like?

Where does the national battle over healthcare stand, right now?  Well, it's looking pretty good.  Don't get complacent, but we might be able to do this.

First, a review of the situation.  Then, a discussion of how it could play out.

A month ago, I put myself out on a limb and said that I thought that Obamacare would be fine -- either the law itself or its principle (the newly-established idea that ensuring healthcare for everyone is part of a government's responsibility).  My reasoning was based on the notion that, despite its own imperfections and the concerted sabotage of the Republican party, the law has actually worked fairly well: the uninsured rate is lower than it has ever been, healthcare costs have increased at a slower pace than any time since the seventies, medical bankruptcies have plummeted like a rock, and a large number of young people have been nudged into the markets to help balance out the newly-covered sick people.

Obviously, I couldn't be certain.  After all, the country just elected a Republican president with majorities in the Senate and the House, all of whom had sworn up-and-down that they were going to repeal Obamacare.  The idea that it is a "disaster" has become a point of faith on the right, no more subject to the arbitration of reality than any other theological matter.  It was entirely possible that the GOP could try to push through a simple repeal bill, shoving it through Congress before momentum could really build against it.

Then the Republicans announced their bill -- one that is unconstitutional, impractical, and almost universally despised -- and I felt a lot better.  Within a few days, the bill was denounced by every major conservative organization, every single liberal organization, almost every major medical association, almost every insurer (except the one seeking government approval for a merger), every far-right media outlet, and so on.  There's only one major group in favor of the bill, as far as I am aware: the Chamber of Commerce.  Since then, the Congressional Budget Office estimates for the uninsured under Trumpcare went on to reveal truly shocking numbers.

So here we are.  The administration and GOP leaders have managed to get the bill through three committees, and now they're getting ready for a floor vote to pass it in the House.  If they can pass it there, then (1) the Senate will pass their own version, (2) the two bodies will send delegations to work out a joint compromise version, (3) that version gets another vote in both the House and Senate, and (4) the president gets a chance to sign it.

The problem for the president is that they don't appear to have the votes for the House vote, much less the Senate.  The bill keeps some entitlement funds -- money for the poor or old to get insurance -- and so a lot of conservatives hate it.  But it slashes others in an idiotic way, so a lot of moderates hate it.  And while leadership says they are certain they have the votes and the president has been threatening holdouts, every count I can find suggests that this bill can't pass tomorrow: NYT, Vox, Washington Post, NPR.

Remember that many times a legislator who says they are "leaning towards no" are just being strategic: they want something.  Maybe they want some money for their re-election campaign, and so they're holding out for leadership's promise to send some NRCC or PAC funds their way.  Maybe they want a change to the bill that shows their power or helps their constituents, like the Buffalo Bribe amendment added yesterday for upstate Republican representatives.  Or maybe they just want to make headlines in a big show.  There are a lot of carrots to persuade the uncertain.

There are also a lot of sticks to punish the recalcitrant.  Leadership can suggest that they will withhold support in the future, send money elsewhere, or even (at the most extreme) encourage a primary opponent.

So the whip numbers can definitely change on the bill.  But it seems as though every single one of these methods has been used... to no avail.  With something like fifty hold-outs, you can't bribe them all.  You can't effectively threaten to withhold money or support -- we're only in the second month of the term, and you'll need their vote later.  And you can't threaten to primary someone from the right for being too conservative.

In other words, they can't even get to the Senate at this point.  Things can change on this -- they can change very quickly indeed! -- but it doesn't look good for this bill.

I don't know what they do now.  They can try to amend it a second time to make it more acceptable to conservatives without losing moderates, but that's very difficult.  They can send it to the floor for a vote, hoping that the pressure of accountability will hold sway, but that's risking a big embarrassment.

Trump certainly doesn't seem to know what to do.  Remember my prediction about his purported evil genius and this bill?
The CBO score was announced today.  It's devastating... the CBO estimates that 12 million Americans will lose health insurance by next year, and 24 million would lose health insurance within eight years.  If Trump now reveals his own secretly-developed plan, vastly superior and treacherously persuasive... then you might have a case.  But if the current iteration of Trumpcare just spins around, getting hacked up and amended and going nowhere, or Trump just decides to cut his losses and tells them to try again (rather than introducing his own bill)...
The bill is getting hacked up and amended, and right now it doesn't seem like it's going anywhere.  No brilliantly malevolent secret Trump plan has been announced -- there isn't one.  He's got nothing.

And without some sort of evil genius, right now it doesn't look like this bill is going anywhere.  Do your part to help ensure it dies.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Do: contact your senators and urge them to protect the Budget Control Act.

Donald Trump's budget proposal is out.  I'm not going to dwell at length on the proposal.  Suffice to say that it completely eliminates funding for numerous important programs and slashes funding for serious priorities so that it can shovel more money at the military.  Detailed exposition can be found here.

It's important to remember, however, that this budget is a request. The executive branch has no power to actually pass a budget -- the legislative branch is the one that gets to appropriate and spend money.  Congress has the power of the purse.

Ordinarily, that might not mean much to Democrats.  They're in the minority in both houses, and budgets are very explicitly exempt from a filibuster in the Senate through the reconciliation process.  Just like with the budget resolution passed in the first weeks of this administration, Republicans would ordinarily have the power to write any budget that they please -- with Democrats left powerless in the process.

But: the Budget Control Act still exists.

You might vaguely remember this bill from 2011.  Unable to pass a budget, Congress and the President tried to set up some artificial motivation in the form of this bill, which provided that if they failed to pass a budget then a device known as "sequestration" would occur, automatically and perpetually limiting domestic and military spending.  The idea was that this threat would force all parties involved to cooperate and get a budget done.  But they didn't, and the sequester came to pass, and so now there's a statutory cap on the maximum amount of money that can be devoted to either domestic or military spending.  And that's still in force -- military funding is already at its maximum level allowed by law.

So for this budget or anything like it to pass -- any budget with increased military spending -- the Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes.  We must deny those votes.

We don't want Democrats to do a short-term deal and lose their only bargaining tool for next year.  If they remove the sequester this year in exchange for some domestic funding, then we only delay the problem by a year.

Any deal must protect arts funding and environmental protection for the long term.  Failing that, we want no deal and no budget -- in the absence of a budget, then last year's budget will remain in effect.

Call your senators and tell them you want them to protect the arts, the environment, and diplomacy.  No short-term deals: either preserve our nation's real priorities for the long term, or filibuster any proposed Republican budget.

BERKSHIRE COUNTY
Senator Edward J. Markey:  413-785-4610
Senator Elizabeth Warren: 202-224-4543

BENNINGTON COUNTY
Senator Bernard Sanders:  802-862-0697
Senator Pat Leahy: 202-224-4242

RENSSELAER COUNTY:
Senator Charles E. Schumer:  518-431-4070
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  202-224-4451

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Do: engage in some craftivism by sending a postcard to the president tomorrow (3/15).

Stuck inside?  Sounds like a great day to make something!

Tomorrow is the Ides of Trump, March 15th.  Millions of people will be sending postcards to the White House on that day.  Make your own today so that you can join in!  There's only one rule: no violence, no threats of violence, and no insinuation of violence.

Here's the address for the White House:
  The President (for now)
  1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
  Washington, DC 20500

I already made mine:



Join in!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Listen: Trump is not an evil genius.

Trump's not some Machiavellian mastermind, playing us all like a fiddle.  I'm sorry, but he's just not.

I can see where it's coming from. I mean, Trump went from being a punchline to winning the nomination of the Republican party -- and then he went on to win the general election.  A lot of his supporters and some of his opponents say that this all played out according to his plan (or Steve Bannon's plan) and that it proves he is manipulating everyone.

The president's use of Twitter adds to the perception of his genius,  He has no qualms about outright lies or sudden reversals, nor does he have any discipline.  He'll tweet inflammatory falsehoods in the middle of the publicity campaign for his own initiative.  He'll make outlandish promises that have no hope of fulfillment.  And yet... well, he won the primary and the election, right?  Even though that seemed crazy, too?

I'll admit that it's possible.  But so far, the White House has launched two major efforts to actually effect change.  I'm not talking about signing deregulation, nominating people, or pumping out public-relations executive orders.  I'm talking about two actual things that they've pushed to get done: the Muslim ban and Trumpcare.  And at the end of this post, I'll show you an easy test to investigate the truth.

Before we get to those, though, let's review a few of the different brilliant strategies that Trump might be using, hypothetically (as described by the Thirty-Six Stratagems of traditional Chinese warfare):

  • Cross the sea without the emperor's knowledge.  An obvious feint: you indicate one goal, but actually intend another.
  • Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang.  Appear to be taking the long and difficult road while secretly striking quickly from another direction.
  • Watch the fires burning across the river.  Wait for all other players to exhaust themselves.
  • Stomp the grass to scare the snake.  Do something flamboyant but pointless so that your enemies reveal themselves.
  • Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem.  Bait the enemy, then trade them some nonsense for a valuable gain.
  • Feign madness but keep your balance.  Hiding behind the mask of a fool can make your enemy underestimate you.

There are more possibilities, but these are good examples.  So then, how do we know that the Muslim ban and Trumpcare aren't just masterful fulfillment of one of these stratagems?  Perhaps Trump always wanted the "revised" Muslim ban that he announced last week, and the first ban was just "tossing out a brick to get a jade gem" -- exhausting the opposition without actually relinquishing anything of value?

Here's a pretty good thought experiment: if Trump had announced the revised Muslim ban in his first week, and never issued the first (rescinded) order, what would have happened?

Well, I think it's pretty clear that a lot of liberals would have been outraged.  It is still a reprehensible and idiotic thing to do, even if the slight changes in the revision (no longer banning legal visa holders, for one) make it slightly less abhorrent.  But you wouldn't have had news stories about infants being blocked from a lifesaving surgery, families torn apart by the disruption, Iraqi interpreters being betrayed, and so on.  Trump wouldn't have burned through so much goodwill from conservatives who could see the insanity of the move but were too scared to denounce him.  And you almost certainly wouldn't have seen multiple courts strike down the order with scornful language.

Compare that reality with our own.  Given the chance to choose, why would Trump ever choose our own -- the world in which he massively bungled a key policy and was forced to withdraw it?

His enemies are stronger and emboldened.  Nor did he flush out any new enemies, either within or without the administration.  He didn't sneak through some other policy while we were distracted.  He didn't win a single new ally.  What could he possibly have gained from his hamhanded and ignorant fumbling of a key campaign promise that wouldn't have been better achieved from a competent and careful fulfillment of that promise?

Trump didn't bungle the Muslim ban because it was part of some clever plan.  He bungled the Muslim ban because he's a bungler.

In the same way, consider Trumpcare.  Now, it seems obvious to me what happened, first of all.  The president never had a healthcare plan, ever.  He just blustered with vague tripe about how it would cover everyone at a lower cost, but he never actually had anything in mind.  Unable to admit that gap, but equally unable to announce a plan that didn't exist, Trump just endorsed the plan put forward into the vacuum by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).  And the backlash has surprised him, either because he counted on Ryan to do a good job or because he thought the weight of his own popularity would carry it through.

But let's consider an alternative reality.  Let's imagine that this was all orchestrated by Trump, instead.  What would be the purpose?  He has weakened and fractured his own party, sure, but he's put himself on the side of the GOP leadership and against the elderly, Medicaid recipients, and anyone who can do basic math.  Virtually every major group of import has denounced the plan on the left, right, and center: FreedomWorks, the AMA, most major insurers, the AARP, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute... even Breitbart News hates the plan!  The bill has no allies and countless enemies, and it doesn't appear to have the votes to pass the House, much less the Senate.

Maybe I haven't convinced you, and you're still afraid of a genius Trump playing 12-dimensional chess.  (By the way, it's also dangerous to have an impulsive child as president, so don't rest on your laurels even if you do believe me.)  Here's a test.  There's a way this could work for Trump -- a way he might be trying to "cross the sea without the emperor's knowledge."

The CBO score was announced today.  It's devastating... the CBO estimates that 12 million Americans will lose health insurance by next year, and 24 million would lose health insurance within eight years.  If Trump now reveals his own secretly-developed plan, vastly superior and treacherously persuasive... then you might have a case.  But if the current iteration of Trumpcare just spins around, getting hacked up and amended and going nowhere, or Trump just decides to cut his losses and tells them to try again (rather than introducing his own bill)...

Let that be the test.  Fight this abhorrent bill and keep an eye on it.  I think you'll find that when it comes to the idea of Trump as an evil genius, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Listen: Obamacare Lite is going nowhere.

This bill is going nowhere.  And there's a lot of reasons why.

It's unconstitutional.
That's not a word I throw around a lot, but fortunately we only recently received guidance about this fact.  See, a bunch of Republicans sued the Obama administration over Obamacare, arguing that the mandate (which requires everyone to have some form of coverage) was unconstitutional.  The argument was that the government cannot compel you to purchase any product.  And the Supreme Court agreed -- the GOP won that fight!  Of course, it doesn't matter because they went on to hold that the Obamacare mandate was still okay, since it was a tax.  The reasoning was that the government can use tax incentives or penalties to encourage all sorts of behavior, and that's well-established, so therefore they can use a tax penalty to encourage people to buy insurance.

But of course, Republicans hate the mandate in Obamacare.  The problem is that the mandate is what makes the current system work... you can't just force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and put a cap on their rates, since then only sick people will bother to get insurance (and then insurance companies would go out of business, since they'd always be paying out more than they took in).  So you have to compel people to maintain coverage a different way.  In this bill, they would compel coverage by requiring an insurance company to charge 30% more for insurance for new enrollees.

Right off the bat, it's obvious why this won't work.  If I get seriously ill, then even with a 30% increase, the premiums for insurance are probably going to be cheaper than paying out of pocket.  There's no reason for the young and healthy to buy insurance!

But more to the point, the very suit that the Republicans brought established in black and white why this isn't allowed.  SCOTUS, while upholding the mandate as a tax, specifically said that it was only constitutional because it was a tax... that is, the IRS collects it and the government keeps it:
[T]he shared responsibility payment may for constitutional purposes be considered a tax. The payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance; the payment is not limited to willful violations, as penalties for unlawful acts often are; and the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation. Cf. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U. S. 20–37. None of this is to say that payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance. But the mandate need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Affordable Care Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS. And Congress’s choice of language—stating that individuals “shall” obtain insurance or pay a “penalty”—does not require reading §5000A as punishing unlawful conduct. It may also be read as imposing a tax on those who go without insurance. See New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144–174. Pp. 35–40.
It's really hard to see how the Republican alternative, which requires people to buy insurance or else pay the insurance company a fee, passes muster under this standard.  Everyone is required to purchase a service or else they have to pay more for that service?  At the very least, this will be a hugely contentious bit.

And that's leaving aside the fact that...

It won't work.
As I already mentioned, one of the central features of this bill is unworkable.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

A big healthcare bill is hard.  You need as many people as possible to get insurance, because all the healthy, young people subsidize the care of sick, old people.  A cancer victim's premiums are going to be much less than the cost of their treatment, and a healthy person's premiums are going to be somewhat more than the cost of their treatment -- ten healthy people pay for the cancer victim's care (plus a little profit for the company).

To make this happen, you need carrots and sticks.  You need carrots to bribe the insurance companies to give everyone affordable coverage, even the sick and old.  You need sticks to force all the young and healthy people to buy coverage, even if they don't need it at the moment.  If you don't succeed, then either (a) sick people overwhelm the system since no healthy people balance them out, or (b) sick people don't get coverage and die.

This bill doesn't have enough carrots and sticks.  The mandate was already pretty weak, and the 30% penalty is much weaker.  Young and healthy people, even more than right now, have no reason to buy coverage.  And so it falls apart right away, which is why...

It has no champions.
There's no natural group that's going to be happy about this bill.  Insurance companies aren't going to like it because they're not idiots: they know that it's impossible to cover pre-existing conditions unless there's a big stick to force healthy people to buy coverage, too.  Older people aren't going to like it, since the bill will raise the cost of their insurance since it allows insurance companies to charge them a maximum of quintuple the premium of a young person (as opposed to Obamacare, which allows only triple the premium).  The poor aren't going to like it, since it block-grants Medicaid and will gradually reduce its funding.  The retired aren't going to like it, since it guts the taxes that are currently paying for Medicare.  Conservatives aren't going to like it, since it still has a stick (a wimpy one) that they oppose out of principle.  And liberals... well, we loathe it.

Who's going to fight for this bill?

The reaction from the left has been predictable, but even on the right... it's not good.  They're calling it "Obamacare Lite."  I love that label, and I'm going to use it.

The rabid Reddit supporters at The_Donald hate the bill and are blaming it on the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (because you never criticize the king, only his foolish advisors)  Sample threads:
The conservative Cato Institute's article is more cordial and more brutal:  The House GOP Leadership’s Health Care Bill Is ObamaCare-Lite — Or Worse  Libertarian Reason agrees: The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal Bill Is Here. Is This Just Obamacare Lite?
And senators and representatives of all stripes are coming out against parts of the bill or the whole thing.  The appearance that it is a doomed mess encourages others to score points off of it, exacerbating the problem.

So overall...

This bill is going nowhere unless it changes dramatically, and it's hard to imagine any version that could pass.

Do: call to save Obamacare.

Last night, the GOP revealed their secret bill to replace Obamacare.  One of the big jokes on the Hill has been that they've literally kept it under lock and key (even from Republican senators) because they were afraid of the reaction, and sure enough: it's horrible.  It slashes taxes on the wealthy, adds a tax break for pharma CEOs, block-grants Medicaid so that its funding gradually shrinks, defunds Planned Parenthood, and replaces the mandate with an ineffectual penalty.  This bill is not only morally repulsive, it would seriously damage the entire industry for no purpose.

There are two things you can do to fight this bill.  And we do need to fight it.

First, call your own representatives and make it clear that you want them to oppose this with every breath in their bodies.  We don't want them to negotiate a better deal: on this issue, any bipartisan cover or cooperation is unacceptable.

BERKSHIRE COUNTY
Senator Edward J. Markey:  413-785-4610
Senator Elizabeth Warren: 202-224-4543
Representative Richard Neal: 202-225-5601

BENNINGTON COUNTY
Senator Bernard Sanders:  802-862-0697
Senator Pat Leahy: 202-224-4242
Representative Peter Welch: 202-225-4115

RENSSELAER COUNTY:
Senator Charles E. Schumer:  518-431-4070
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  202-224-4451
Representative John Faso:  202-225-5614

Second, you can call members of the House Freedom Caucus and praise them for opposing "Obamacare Lite."  They have different reasons for opposing it than we do, of course, but you can truthfully say, "I am not a constituent, but I love liberty, and I want to thank __________ for standing up to the establishment and refusing to pass Obamacare Lite."  You probably do not want to elaborate or tell them anything else!

Select members of the House Freedom Caucus:
Mark Meadows: (202) 225-6401
Justin Amash: (202) 225-3831
Trent Franks: (202) 225-4576
Jim Jordan: (202) 225-2676
Raúl Labrador: (202) 225-6611
Mark Sanford: (202) 225-3176
Ted Yoho: (202) 225-5744

We're going to fight this, and we're going to win.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Listen: Trump is rapidly running out of cards to play.

Imagine that you are President Trump.  You have made a series of ludicrous promises about healthcare, taxes, foreign policy, and so on.  Now you need to fulfill them.  But you have a problem: most of these promises are extremely difficult, many of them are contradictory, and some of them are just plain impossible.

You promised huge tax cuts, more funding for the military, better healthcare, and a big infrastructure bill -- all at the same time.  You promised that ISIS would be quickly wiped out, that China would be brought to heel with tariffs, and that you would renegotiate NAFTA and the Iran deal.  You promised that the American economy's rate of growth would double and the budget would be balanced and the deficit would be eliminated.

But right now, you're not making great headway on... well, any of these things.  You've fulfilled a lot of the other promises, like slashing the EPA, saying the magical words "radical Islamic terrorism," ordering that regulations should be eliminated, and undoing some Obama orders.  Everything you could do unilaterally from your desk, you've done.  (Even those didn't go very smoothly, honestly, and the damned leakers and journalists won't stop hounding your administration.)

So now what do you do?

Well, you have a few tactics:

1.  Big presidential speech.  Mouth some of the usual pablum and recommit to your major promises.  The more bipartisan and welcoming, the better -- a mild change in tone will be seen as a revelation.  Status: Done.  It went well, but it's done.  You can maybe do it a few more times, but not anytime soon.

2.  Attack your former rival.  You won the election partly because your opponent was widely disliked, particularly among your base, so you can get some additional mileage by attacking her some more.  Status: Done.  It's been months since the election, and you're more than a month into your presidency.  If you keep this up, then it starts to look pathetic.

3.  Blame it on your predecessor.  This is a time-honored tradition for presidents, and it's one tradition you can get on board with.  Status: Done.  You can milk this one for a while, but even in the extreme version (where a secret Obama shadow government is preventing you from getting anything done) it's hard to spin this.  How is Obama stopping you from proposing a healthcare bill, after all?

4.  Denounce the opposition.  Unfortunately, your party has control of the whole government, but that doesn't mean you can't baselessly attack the opposing party anyway.  In some mysterious way, they are still to blame for everything.  Status: Pending.  The Democrats are motivated to play up their own opposition, so this is ready to go.  The next time one of them brags about some maneuver or vote, single them out and say that they're standing in your way.

5.  Distracting attacks.  You are already pretty outrageous, but you can crank it up and create some distractions.  There are a whole host of foils out there on the left who will be happy for the attention.  Status: Pending.  There are a lot of good targets.  A majority of the country opposes you, and some of those people are dumb.  They'll get violent at a protest or attack someone in a crude way.  Or some prominent figure will say something offensive.  Or... well, you can just seize on any old shred of a thing, really.  It's not very effective since it's obvious, but it will fill the air.

6. More symbolism.  You can get a lot of mileage out of declaring you're going to do things, and people will keep believing you for a long time.  And after that, illusory milestones of progress -- reports or meetings or the like -- will also take you some of the way. Status: Pending.  You can raise a hullabaloo over all sorts of meaningless symbolic gestures.

7. Claim victories.  Over the course of any presidency, there will be significant achievements in war or diplomacy.  Mosul or Raqqa will fall to some combination of Russian or Syrian or Iraqi or Turkish forces, perhaps.  A show of pageantry will go a long way to putting on an appearance of success.  Status: Pending.  You have no control over when this happens, and -- as many presidents have found out -- your ability to trumpet real successes of this nature only goes so far.

Eventually, though, you're going to run out of distractions.  It's impossible to disguise the fact that you haven't signed a single major piece of legislation.  It's impossible to disguise the fact that you are failing to achieve the objective metrics you insisted were possible (4% growth, sharply decreased U6 unemployment rate, lower premiums and deductibles, etc).  It's impossible to disguise the fact that the world is less safe than when you began your term.  The country -- and some of your persuadable voters -- will recognize that they've been conned.

This isn't certain, of course.  It's possible that you actually succeed in some or all of these enormous goals, in defiance of every expert on both sides of the aisle.  It's possible that America is far to the right of the Laffer curve, and that massive tax cuts will unleash a pent-up economy, accelerated by slashing every possible regulation without significant negative consequences.  Incredible increases in the tax base (helped by the hard-nosed renegotiation of previous trade deals that revived manufacturing and mining and employed millions more workers) allow you to pay for everything you promised.

But both things cannot be true.

Eventually, you must either defy every expectation and every expert and even mathematics itself... or else you will be exposed.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Do: Call your representatives and tell them you want them to demand Jeff Sessions' resignation.

I don't call for a whole lot of mass calling, but today is the day to do it.

Last night, it was revealed that the new Attorney-General, former senator Jeff Sessions, lied under oath.  Asked during his confirmation hearings by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) what he would do if he found out that the Trump campaign had any contact with Russian officials, Sessions answered, “I’m not aware of any of those activities.  I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Even more plainly, when asked in writing by Sen. Leahy (D-VT), “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?," Sessions replied with a simple and complete, "No."

At this point, the Justice Department and White House have both confirmed that Sessions did, however, meet twice with the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak while advising the campaign.  The current defense seems confused; Sessions himself said, "I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false," while his spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores seems to be separating Sessions into two people, saying that it was Sessions the senator who met with Kislyak, not Sessions the Trump supporter: "He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee."

Finally: the White House has admitted, however and most damningly, that Sessions and Kislyak may have discussed the election, although they characterized any such discussion as "superficial."

A lawyerly sort of defense could be made for Sessions, muddying the matter by saying that he was being asked about collusion or perhaps about official campaign interactions, or something similar.  But there is no other possible way to interpret this, taken as a whole, than as an attempt to mislead the Senate and the public.  If he'd disclosed this at the time, it would have been a minor hiccup in a confirmation that was already certain, so his decision is all the more insane.

Many Congresspeople have already called for Sessions to recuse himself, and now those cries will increase tenfold, but that's not enough.  We should demand his resignation.  Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Elijah Cummings have already called for Sessions to resign, as has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  Ask your representatives to officially join them.  The DC lines are overburdened, so call your legislator's local numbers.

Here are a couple of numbers, and you can find others here.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA): 413-785-4610
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA1): 413-442-0946