Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Brief Comment on the Repeal to Date

If I didn't know better, I would think the Freedom Caucus is intentionally making unacceptable demand in order to sink the repeal.  Sort of like Ted Cruz.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Republican Healthcare Debate as I See It

This is how I see the current Republican debate over the new healthcare bill between the leadership and the Freedom Caucus.

Freedom Caucus:  We demand that you strip 20 million people of their health insurance immediately!

Leadership:  I know our bill only strips 10 million of their insurance, but stripping all 20 million carries to much political fallout.  By applying the gradual squeeze, you can strip more people of their insurance in the long run without taking as much blame.

Freedom Caucus:  Any plan that doesn't strip 20 million people of their insurance immediately won't get my support.

Donald Trump's Flying Circus Collides with Reality in Hopes of Bringing it Down

So, speaking of the Kremlinology of Trump tweets, his latest outburst appears to have been inspired by Breitbart News.  Over the weekend he proclaimed President Obama to have wiretapped him.  Mainstream outlets duly reported the story, while making clear that there was no evidence for it whatever.  Now he has his staff scrambling for some sort of evidence to support his views.

In the meantime, Paul Ryan has finally come up with a replacement for Obamacare and is having an increasingly difficult time concealing the large numbers of people it will strip of their health insurance.  It will get even harder if this thing actually passes.

In the meantime, my boss is a Republican.  Donald Trump was certainly not his first choice to be President, but he is one of the Republicans who believes that so long as you cut taxes and gut regulations, nothing else really matters.  Over the weekend I was really dreading facing him arguing that yes, Obama really did wiretap Trump's phones (he has defended Flynn and Sessions talking to the Russian ambassador) or defending the Ryan plan (he has denounced Obamacare as an outrage and when I pointed out that simply repealing it will strip millions of their health insurance, dismissed that as not a serious problem since university hospitals would take care of them).  But instead I got radio silence, at least so far.

Still, I need to start preparing for what I will day to him as a Trump supports, and this blog is as good a place as any to practice.

For the Russian meetings: 

Suppose you are running for President and want to improve relations with Russia.  You think it deteriorating relations with Russia are not altogether the Russians' fault and that Russia is a valuable ally in fighting ISIS.  That is not an unreasonable viewpoint.  It might work out or it might not, but it isn't crazy.  But it does go against the Washington Consensus enough that none of the foreign policy establishment will join your team.  You have to get unconventional foreign policy advisers.  Many of these advisers have extensive ties to Russia.  Russia being what it is, many of their ties are to pretty sleazy people.  And, if truth be known, some of your advisers are pretty sleazy in their own right.  (I am thinking about Paul Manafort in particular).  

Then Russia starts hacking the Democrats and releasing their e-mails in the manner calculated to cause maximum damage.  And because your people have extensive ties to Russia, they are having extensive contacts with high-ranking Russian officials, including some in the intelligence services,  while the hacks are going on.  No one has proven that there is any connection between those things.  But you have to be sensitive to appearances.  What do you do if the Russians are actively trying to sway the election in your favor.  As a matter of basic political common sense, you warn your people to refrain from all contact with the Russians for fear of creating an appearance of collusion even if none actually exists.  And if they absolutely cannot avoid contacting the Russians, they should disclose and scrupulously document every move so as to avoid any sort of suspicion.

And if you say that Trump was a political neophyte surrounded by neophytes who didn't know better, I answer that Jeff Sessions is no political neophyte.  He, at least, should know better.

On healthcare:

You criticize Obamacare for the high deductibles that make insurance worthless unless you have a serious illness or injury.  And I agree, I have had that problem with it too. But that is a basic tradeoff that is inherent to the insurance industry.  To premiums affordable, you have to have high deductibles. To offer lots of coverage, you have to have high premiums.  And while government can step in and avoid this tradeoff by offering a subsidy to buy insurance, that costs the taxpayers money.  It really is that simple.  There is no getting away from the tradeoff between high premiums, low deductibles, or high taxes.  Its is simple arithmetic.  And arithmetic doesn't go away just because there is a Republican in the White House.

But let's focus on what is important.  At least Donald Trump never sent State Department e-mails on a private server.

A Realistic Kremlinology of Trump Tweets

During the Cold War, figuring out Soviet motives was one of the most important projects for politicians and pundits, the the Soviet government was profoundly opaque and mysterious, so there arose a new field of study known as Kremlinology, which sought to understand the machinations taking place in the Kremlin but the subtle signals that were visible to the public, such as seating arrangements.  How useful these speculations were is the subject of much debate.  The term is sometimes applied to any attempt to understand a secretive organization or process.  Some people have applied a sort of Kremlinology to Trump tweets.

Kevin Drum has a fine self-mocking example here trying to understand the subtle distinctions between "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @ NBCNews and many more)  is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.  SICK!" and "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @ NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"  He follows it with a rather humorous attempt to figure out what subtle shades of meaning Trump is seeking to convey with these fine distinctions.  Likewise, when Trump tweeted, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" a huge wave of speculation ensued.  Was he trying to bait his enemies into burning flags to provoke outrage against them?  Was he trying to distract from whatever real story was brewing at the time?  Or, as Saturday Night Live put it, does Trump tweet to distract people from unwelcome stories or does he do it "because my brain is bad."

Thus far all evidence points to the "brain is bad" theory.  The trouble with the distraction theory is that there is always real news going on out there, rarely favorable to Trump, and he is always tweeting something nutty.  If there is any particular correlation between these things, I have yet to see the evidence of it.  As for subtle maneuvering, we are talking about a man who is not quite so subtle as your average steam calliope, so I think we can rule that out.

Nonetheless, there does turn out to be a useful Kremlinology of Trump tweets.  They are rarely original thoughts or based on any inside information.  (Which is good, I guess.  At least it means he isn't making things up out of whole cloth or revealing anything classified).  Rather, most of these bizarre tweets are responses to something he saw on TV or read in the news.  The real Kremlinology, then is to search through the news sources to see which one formed the basis for the tweet.

For instance, the flag burning tweets appears to have been a reaction to a news story on Fox about a flag being burned. His claims that he only lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal immigrants voting appears to have come from Infowars.  When he posted a tweet denouncing Vanity Fair, it soon transpired that the magazine had run an unfavorable review of his restaurant.  When he tweeted about crime in Chicago and threatened to send in the feds, some of his opponents speculated on whether the Mayor of Chicago had criticized him, or what message he was trying to send to supporters.  However, the source quickly turned out to be a Fox News report -- Trump's own (inaccurate) statistics were borrowed directly from Fox.  And when he astonished many by quoting the highbrow blog Lawfare, it soon transpired that he was simply (mis)quoting a comment on it by Morning Joe.  Indeed, the timing of Trump's tweets is usually shortly after the show he is citing.*

This is important not just as a mental game, but because it tells us where That Man in the White House gets his news from.  And this is significant because he forms his world views from what he sees in the news.  And, as others have comments, who controls what Trump watches can control him.

But let's focus on what is important.  At least Donald Trump never sent State Department e-mails on a private server.

______________________________________
*Another significant bit of Kremlinology on Trump tweets: Close Trump watchers observe whether the tweet was from Trump's personal Android phone versus his staff's phone.  Unsurprisingly, the unhinged tweets invariably come from Trump himself, while the attempts to put hinges back on come from his staff.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Stronger is Not Better

This article seems like so much common sense to me, but apparently some people have to be told the obvious.  The article explains that while moderate protests might win people over, extreme measures invariably create hostility.  They offer instances of actual research that support this obvious phenomenon.  Study participants were more likely to support an animal rights group that marched and protested that one that broke into animal labs.  Black Lives Matter protests that advocated violence against police lost support among black and white viewers alike.  And anti-Trump protesters who blocked traffic and blocked Trump supporters from attending a rally created a backlash of support for Trump among liberals and conservatives alike.

To which I can only say, well, duh!  But apparently this obvious tendency is not so obvious to hardcore activists, who assume that more is always better.  I have seen signs of this on my side. Somewhere I saw an article lamenting that the more extreme, attention-getting measures like blocking traffic merely created hostility, so what can we do.  (Um, maybe not block traffic?)  Others have expressed outrage at Republican state legislatures enacting tough measures against protesters who block traffic.  And accused them of attempting to criminalize protest.  No, they are trying to impose perfectly reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions to limit the disruption caused by protests.  Ditto Trump prosecutors taking tough measures against Inauguration Day rioters.  Taking tough measures against this sort of disruptive behavior will serve to discourage it and limit our side to peaceable and lawful activity.  We should thank Republicans for their help here.

On a more personal level, I recall my aunt (an old hippie from the sixties) expressing pride in her daughter who has joined Black Lives Matter and took part in blocking traffic in the Bay Area.  I pointed out that blocking traffic will not make people love you.  She said that if you want to get people's attention, what alternatives are there.  She also said that many people have expressed understanding and said that the inconvenience is worthwhile for a worthy cause.  I was too taken by surprise to have a good response, but looking back on it, I should have said that there is nothing to stop Black Lives Matter protesters from getting a permit and marching on the sidewalk or in the park according to the terms it allows.  That will get plenty of attention, without making enemies.  And if people were willing to accept traffic blockages in the interest of a worthy cause -- well, that's the Bay Area for you.  It is not typical.

And to me the most surprising part of the article is not that extreme measure create hostility, but the strange blindness on the part of many activists to something so obvious:
The problem is, the extreme protesters didn’t realize this would happen. When Willer and his co-authors surveyed people about the causes they believe in and what they would be willing to do for the cause, the truest believers were willing to go to the most extreme lengths—and they thought the tactics would help gin up support.
“It can be really difficult to take the perspective of a bystander who has not yet joined a movement, when you’re interacting mostly with other activists,” Willer said.
 Head -- wall -- bang!

I suppose I should think of Bill Ayers, the 1960's terrorist who supported Obama for president.  Asked about his terrorist past, Ayers explained that he was strongly opposed to the Vietnam war, but peaceful protests were not stopping it, so he decided to resort to stronger measures.  He still seemed to think that "stronger" measures were both justified and effective and, in fact, that the stronger the measure the more effective.  And I just wanted to scream at him, "Seriously, dude!  You couldn't convince people to oppose the war by marching and protesting, so you figured that throwing a few bombs would make them see the error of their ways?!?!  What were you thinking?!?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Running Government Like a Business

Lots of people voted for Donald Trump because they saw government as dysfunctional and wanted to see Trump run government "like a business."  This is a frequent fantasy about businessmen candidates.

There are a number of problems with running government like a business, most of which amount to that the two are not the same.  A business's goal is to make money.  Most of its decisions are about how best to achieve that goal and do not need to take ideology or complex public policy tradeoffs into account.  Businesses do not have an independent legislature or judicial system.  Their objectives are a whole lot more nebulous.  And so forth.

Nonetheless, in at least one thing running a government and running a business are similar.  They have somewhat similar demands of administrative competence.  Consider, then, how many right-wingers want to run to see government run and ask if you want to see those principles applied to a business.

The business recognizes that success means pleasing their customers. (OK).  The business also recognizes that most customers are not experts in their product and do not usually choose the product after careful deliberation, thorough weighing of the facts, and consultation of experts to guide them. Most customers choose their product on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuitions without extended investigation.

The leaders of the business therefore decide that in order to show solidarity with customers and properly relate to them, business leaders should do the same thing.  They should shun all expertise in the product as "out of touch" and "elitist."  They should refrain from careful deliberation and thorough weighing of the fact for fear of being "inauthentic."  They should shun all experts and tout ignorance as proof of virtue.  they should make all decisions on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuition and avoid any extended investigation of -- well, anything.

So, based on these principles and the need for fresh blood, they select a new CEO, one with no experience in the field whatever, no knowledge of it, and no interest in learning anything about it. Their new CEO not only knows nothing about their field of business and has neither the desire nor the ability to learn it, he deliberately sets out to "drain the swamp" of anyone who does have any knowledge or experience.  He dismisses not only knowledge and expertise, but even facts and evidence as "out of touch" and "elitist" and insists on eschewing them altogether from the decision making process.

Instead of doing anything so "elitist" and "inauthentic" as learning anything, the new CEO makes a fetish of being "strong," "decisive" and "principled."  Being "strong" and "decisive" means making decisions as quickly as possible, with as little input and preparation as possible, based solely on impulse.  Being "principled" means taking these decisions as far as possible while shunning all nuance and detail-work.  In government, that means making a travel ban take effect immediately without consulting anyone who might know anything about the details of implementation, and without any exceptions, such as current green card holders or translators for the US army.  In business, I suppose, it would mean that if you decide, say, that Atlantic City casinos are the wave of the future, building as many casinos as possible with as little foresight and advance planning as possible, while liquidating all other assets because spreading your risks shows a lack of "principle."

And anyone wanting to run government like a business and also making a fetish of "strong" leadership that ignores the experts and goes with the gut -- consider just how long a business run on those lines would last.

Would I Rule Anything Out about Trump and Flynn?

In my last post I said that so far as Trump and Flynn nothing could be ruled out.  This was based on ruling out a lot of things such as the possibility that the might be Russian spies, only to find that it wasn't as crazy as it seemed at first glance.  So nothing can be ruled out about those two.  Nothing whatever?  Well, if someone proposed the theory that Trump and Flynn were actually shape-shifting lizard people from outer space attempting to masquerade as actual human beings but not doing a very good job, I suppose I would dismiss that out of hand.  Although I must admit that it would explain a lot.