Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Response to The Price of Price

Though he did not discuss healthcare and entitlement policies frequently, Trump insisted several times that he would protect programs serving vulnerable Americans. 
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump said last year ...
How many Trumpists will suffer buyer’s remorse, once they realize their hero is hiring Georgia Congressman Tom Price, a guy who wants to get rid of all that, to be his Health and Human Services secretary, in charge of running all that?

And by the way, why does everyone assume that Trump voters were on Obamacare when they voted, and will now lose their coverage? I always assumed they weren’t, and, therefore, won’t.

Who’s right? I don’t know. Maybe none of us do, probably because the so-called “Lying Media” never seemed to ask Trump supporters for a show of hands of those on Obamacare. And nor did anyone, at least that I know of, ask Trump if he even believed in universal healthcare, or whether those 20-million folks will lose coverage when he replaces Obamacare, or if he planned on “replacing” Obamacare with a Medicare-like single-payer program.

I suspect one reason nobody asked him any of that was because they saw no point, since everyone assumed he wasn’t going to win anyway.

And so millions of Americans lost their jobs to the George Bush economy, even as billionaires got even richer from it, and in response, Americans elect a billionaire for president, and he hires other billionaires to run the country. The reasoning? I guess it's that all these rich people were so successful in keeping our share of the recovery gains, we should hire them to, what, do the same on our behalf? I mean, it's not that they need the work!

Which is to say that, Trump or no Trump, Republican politicians will continue to know exactly how to exploit America’s blind spots. Take, for example, the case of Tom Price:
Price, like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), advocates replacing the government-provided Medicare health plan with a program that provides seniors with a voucher to purchase private health coverage. 
This system, which supporters call premium support, saves the federal government money by gradually shifting costs onto beneficiaries, independent budget analyses have shown.
So apparently, the plan is to save federal government healthcare money by gradually not spending any of it! What a stroke of genius!
Price also advocates a new system of block grants to states that would sharply cut federal aid for Medicaid, which primarily serves poor Americans.
So as I understand this, instead of us paying for your medical bills, we give you a coupon worth a couple of thousand dollars you can use to pay any medical bills that might come up — and, by the way, although healthcare costs would probably increase, the vouchers would not, so as years go by, this program would eventually just go poof!

And the reason I say “would” instead of “will” is that, like George Bush Jr's assuming his reelection victory gave him a mandate to “privatize" Social Security (which he tried to soft-pedal by, mid-stream, substituting the term “ownership society” for “privatize”), and just as Americans rejected his plan in droves, they will likely do the same if Price tries that trick with Medicare.

At some point, Bush realized that the public, 77% of whom just last year said that Medicare is a “very important” program, sees the word “privatize”, in reference to public programs, as another word for “abolish” — as well they should! — and I’m pretty sure present-day Republicans are about to learn that same lesson.

As for "block grants" to states to replace Medicaid — in which the feds say to the states, “Here, take this money! Go buy yourself something nice!” — about two-thirds in that same 2015 poll said they value Medicaid for the needy, too, so I hope Price and Ryan (and, indeed, Trump, if he goes along with their ideas) get their heads handed to them.

And if not, and all American public healthcare, including Medicare, bites the dust? Then we all might as well just move to Costa Rica, where it will no longer matter that our Medicare can’t be used anyway.

I really don’t understand the appeal of all this “populism” stuff — which, when you think about it, is just a lynch mob impersonating democracy. Maybe we are now entering an era in which Americans finally learn why you shouldn’t send away for all that seemingly-cool garbage they see on late-night TV, after which maybe we can go back to trusting our government to the professionals who know how to do it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Response to Ask No Questions

(See: Just Above Sunset: Ask No Questions)

Frank Bruni reports on Trump’s visit to the New York Times editorial board:
The Trump who visited The Times was purged of any zeal to investigate Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation, willing to hear out the scientists on global warming, skeptical of waterboarding and unhesitant to disavow white nationalists. He never mentioned the border wall.
Oh, snap! The guy’s not even in office yet, and he’s backtracking on his campaign vows already? This can’t be good.

I suppose there are some Democrats who actually look forward to making deals with him on those issues that we seem to agree on — such as, say, infrastructure programs — and I myself would be tempted, given that some of these things might never get done if we don’t do them with Trump, since the Republicans we’ve been working with for the last several years are so hard-assed that they refuse to allow Democrats take a part in any solutions because they refuse to allow them any credit.

There are a few reasons to be wary.

One is that we'll need to look closely at these programs that we supposedly agree on, to make sure we’re all on the same page. Here’s a warning from Obama aide Ronald A. Klain in the Washington Post:
As the White House official responsible for overseeing implementation of President Obama’s massive infrastructure initiative, the 2009 Recovery Act, I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan: Don’t do it. It’s a trap.
Trump’s so-called infrastructure plan is apparently not what it pretends to be:
First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. 
The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. 
There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.
The problem is, the things the country needs done — "municipal water-system overhauls, repairs of existing roads, replacement of bridges that do not charge tolls” — are not the kinds of things that investors like to work on, which are projects they can later monetize, such as toll roads and toll bridges. Add to that, contractors are guaranteed a “10 percent pretax profit margin,” and then a tax break on top of that, a windfall on doing the stuff that was probably going to be done anyway even without the incentives.

And once you remember that one main reason for these projects is to create new jobs, which spends new money, and Trump’s plan doesn’t, you have to wonder if Trump even understands our nation's problems in the first place.

So we find ourselves back at the original question: Do we cooperate with this guy in hopes of at least getting some things done that need to be done, or do we freeze him out, like his party did to ours for the last eight years?

I still don’t know a good answer to that — I suppose it may depend on what deals he offers, once he’s president — but I can think of one other good reason to simply ignore any impression that he’s flipping to our side, and that is that, during the campaign, he’s already destroyed the process of how we pick our leaders, and we don’t want to encourage future candidates to demogogue their way into the White House — by making false promises to the peanut gallery, and then breaking them all once they get into office.

Yes, we want stuff done that we think needs to be done, but we also believe in self-government. Governing achieved through tricking the public into voting for you so you can do whatever you want is no better than governing by dictatorship, with some strongman telling the people what they will get, whether they like it or not.

Whether we choose to cooperate with him or not, assuming he’s actually pivoted to policies that are good for America, is almost beside the point, since he’s already screwed up the country, diverting away from its original promise, and toward something it wasn’t meant to be.

Is this the new thing that replaces democracy? Some populist conman or other taking advantage of a fed-up populous, tricking his way into power by posturing and telling them all exactly what they want to hear?

If Trumpism is the wave of the future, then I want my country back.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Response to Carrying On

(See: Just Above Sunset: Carrying On)

“Not My President”? Ha! I only wish that were true! Of course he’s my president! But that’s precisely the problem, isn’t it?

For the past week and a half, all my dreams at night have seemed to follow a similar pattern. Something big and sinister has happened — the whole world has changed into something resembling the plot of that 2013 movie, The Purge, in which "The New Founding Fathers of America" are voted into office following economic collapse, and then put through a Constitutional Amendment that sanctions a 12-hour period once every year in which all crimes are legal — and so my family and I are looking for some way of sealing up the house before the bad guys get here. For some reason, I always wake up before they arrive. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t happened quite yet.

What I remember thinking just before drifting off to sleep early Wednesday morning, just after learning that my country has been taken over by a true confederacy of dunces, was, “Oh, great! First, Henry, my cat, dies — and now this!”

In a posting two days later in his blog, Paul Krugman wrote, "I myself spent a large part of the Day After avoiding the news, doing personal things, basically taking a vacation in my own head.” Same here, except that my brain-snooze lasted until just now. I haven’t written any comments since that day largely because there wasn’t anything to say that you yourself weren’t already thinking.

But the first thing that needs to be said is to all those who have been whining about us Hillary-supporters pretending that this election wasn’t just another election like any other, and that it’s time get over it:
“Oh, yeah? Tell it to Jesus!"
We’re not pretending! You didn’t just elect another Ronald Reagan, after which we can all calm down and try to work together! This wasn’t even like electing Richard Nixon, or, for that matter, Barry Goldwater!

This was more like putting Al Capone in the White House, simply because he is an "outsider” who, although without relevant experience, was a “successful businessman” of sorts who knew how to “shake things up”! Yeah, I know, you guys like him because he’s a tough guy who knows how to make people do what he wants — but, you argue, that can be a good thing, right? I mean, isn’t that what the world needs right now — some “non-politician" who says what he means and means what he says?

As a matter of fact, no! No, it’s not.

Think of it this way:

The country has been chugging along relatively nicely, with a recovering economy doing much better than those other countries who have been following the same “austerity” route favored by our own Republicans, and with record-low unemployment, and with a highly-experienced Democratic candidate not ashamed to promise more of the same — but also a Republican party, which has spent several decades doing nothing but falling to pieces and arguing with itself, not to mention lying and then repeating the lies ad-infinitum, Frank Luntz style, getting people to think that the country is, in fact, in terrible shape, and that the Democratic candidate (who actually had earned high praise from all sides for the jobs she did as Senator and Secretary of State) has been herself lying about one thing or another, such as her emails or something that happened in Benghazi, and that she’s been getting rich in some non-existent pay-for-play scheme with her family charity, that you just can’t trust her for reasons that are hard to articulate — and so, lo and behold, who (or what) do the Republicans name as their nominee?

Some low-life slug who, in any other election year, wouldn’t get a second look, but who lucked out in choosing a year to run in which the Republican selectorate had tired of all the regular-looking candidates and decided to give a shot to some lounge-lizard doing a fairly faithful Andrew “Dice” Clay impersonation.

But while there may be some who think that putting outsider Donald Trump in the White House is just a case of Americans finally giving a well-deserved comeuppance to all those incompetent politicians in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike, I see it as the Republicans continuing their downward spiral that started back in the election of Ronald Reagan — or maybe even to Richard Nixon and Watergate, which started out, promisingly enough, in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation in solving a national problem, but then the Republicans quickly devolving into shame and resentment and a thirst for revenge, not unlike the way the Russians have felt since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And so, no, Trump does not really represent a “new leaf” for the Republicans, he really represents the natural continuation of the Republican collapse, calling for a return to imaginary happier times when America was feared throughout the world, just as Putin seems to do for the return to the glory days of the Soviets.

I actually do understand what President Obama is telling us about giving the guy a chance, but the big dilemma facing the Democratic opposition right now is, do we take the high road by cooperating with the jerks, all in the name of maybe getting some of the things done that we both agree need to get done? Or doesn't that just legitimize the behavior of any future asshole presidential-wannabes?

After all, shouldn't Republicans be punished for shutting down Obama, and isn’t the best way to do that to do to them what they did to us when Obama took office? And first and foremost, shouldn’t we refuse to confirm any Republican Supreme Court nominee unless it’s Merrick Garland, the one Obama picked in the first place?

“We’re going to confirm the president’s nominee one way or the other. And there’s an easy way and there’s a hard way,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “They just need to accept that reality.” 
“The Democrats will not succeed in filibustering a Supreme Court nominee,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Cornyn’s Texas colleague. “We are going to confirm President Trump’s conservative Supreme Court justices.” 
Both Senate leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have been mum on the topic. But the debate over whether the supermajority requirement for Supreme Court nominations will disappear is raging in the Democratic and Republican caucuses. 
Democrats start from a position of weakness — but with pent-up rage over how McConnell treated President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, who was nominated in February but never got a hearing.
The trick for the Democrats would be to block discussion of any other presidential appointment with a filibuster, and that assumes that GOP leaders would need more than 60 votes to squash the maneuver. But the trick for the Republicans would be to change the rules to a simple majority vote instead of a supermajority, effectively getting rid of the filibuster.

This, of course, would take away just about any power of a minority party to do anything in government, something the Republicans say is the Democrats fault, tracing it back to 2013, when the Democrats, in frustration over the Republicans blocking essentially every Obama appointment to the lower courts, invoked the “nuclear option”:
"I've sat on the Judiciary (Committee) for 20 years and it has never, ever been like this. You reach a point where your frustration just overwhelms and things have to change," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had previously opposed efforts to change filibuster rules but voted with Reid on Thursday. "I think the level of frustration on the Democratic side has just reached the point where it's worth the risk."
But Republicans back then warned of the danger in changing the rule:
Republicans warned that it would not only tear apart cross-party relationships in the Senate, but it will come back to haunt Democrats if they return to the minority. "You will no doubt come to regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned Democrats. … 
President Obama and Vice President Biden, both former senators, applauded Reid's decision. "A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to re-fight the result of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, we can't let it become normal," Obama said Thursday.
But obstructing Obama on everything continued to be the norm, and now, with the Democrats being about as far into the minority as a party can get, the shoe is on the other foot. 

But there is still hope:
Under current rules, it’s tremendously difficult for a party to push through controversial legislation with such a small majority. The vast majority of bills and Supreme Court appointments still require 60 votes to beat a filibuster, meaning at least eight Democrats would have to be won over to get any of these through — a tall order indeed. 
Then all other presidential appointments and “budget reconciliation” bills require at least 50 votes to let Vice President Mike Pence break the tie and move them forward. This could be done with purely Republican votes, but it would be no picnic. If the Democrats remain united in resistance, it would only take three Republican defectors to kill any controversial bill or appointment. That’s not much room for error. ... 
And, yes, Republicans might well calculate that Trump’s success is what’s best for their party as a whole and therefore their own political futures. It’s also certainly possible that they’ll eliminate what’s left of the filibuster, either for Supreme Court appointments, legislation, or both, making Democratic resistance irrelevant. 
But the future is uncertain, and we don’t know whether this will happen just yet. As of now, the Senate is the chamber best positioned to resist a Trump presidency — if its members so choose. The main question going forward is whether enough of them will make that choice, and the answer will be enormously consequential for how Trump’s administration plays out.
It’s weird to think how the whole world can change on a dime. Two weeks ago, we were confidently speculating on what our new Senate majority might do to help advance President Clinton’s agenda, and now, we’re just trying to figure out how to do anything at all to keep her out of jail.

And it's not just her! Soon, we may all be working on keeping ourselves out of jail.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Response to The Expected Unexpected

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Expected Unexpected)

And to (hopefully) finish up on the subject of those damned emails, we need to remember that Donald Trump is both just a bit of a dim bulb, as well as a bit of a liar.

Here’s some of what he’s been saying:
“You can’t review 650,000 emails in eight days,” Trump said Sunday in an appearance at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater. “You can’t do it folks. Hillary Clinton is guilty.”
First of all, I’ve heard that 650,000 number was probably made up; I don’t think anybody really counted them.

But second of all, when Hillary Clinton turned over all her work-related emails, plus some that were possibly work-related, they totaled about 30,000 (and printed out, came to about 55,000 pages.) What was left — her personal emails — were said to total about 33,000.

That’s makes a total of about 63,000 of Hillary's emails  which leaves, what, 687,000 emails of Anthony Weiner’s weeny? I'd think that would cut down the task by a lot.

But for argument’s sake, let’s agree with that 650,000 number. So the main question remains, "How could the FBI check through 650,000 emails in eight days?"

Shortly after Trump’s comment, a big Trump supporter who’s name is being mentioned for a possible cabinet position, General Michael Flynn, tweeted this out:
"IMPOSSIBLE: There R 691,200 seconds in 8 days. DIR Comey has thoroughly reviewed 650,000 emails in 8 days? An email / second? IMPOSSIBLE RT”
Meanwhile, geeks all over the internet had great fun with the idea that the task should take anybody eight days.

In fact, back in the days when I was doing amateur computer programing — using Apple Basic, sort of a hobbyist computer language — I’m pretty sure I could have written the code for the job and had the answers for you before noon the next day.

Come to think of it, when I googled “650,000 emails” just now, Google's response page came back immediately and was topped with this: "About 9,040,000 results (0.57 seconds)”, which should give everybody a clue to how fast computers can go these days. Hey, I knew this, and I’m older than Donald!

But if Trump and his gang won’t take it from all the geeks and would rather run it by a well-established expert in this field:
How easy would it be to cull out the duplicate emails? Outspoken journalist Jeff Jarvis posed that question to Snowden in a tweet, and got a quick response: 
Jeff Jarvis "Hey @Snowden, for context, how long would it take the NSA to dedupe 650k emails?” 
Edward Snowden "Drop non-responsive To:/CC:/BCC:, hash both sets, then subtract those that match. Old laptops could do it in minutes-to-hours.”
But there’s one more thing that Trump keeps repeating about the damned emails that he probably should be corrected on:
“The rank-and-file special agents at the FBI won’t let her get away with her terrible crimes, including the deletion of her 33,000 emails after receiving a congressional subpoena.”
No, actually, she didn’t do that … or at the very least, probably she didn't.

This is from a partial timeline from Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, back in March of 2015:
Feb. 1, 2013: Clinton steps down as secretary of state. … 
Summer, 2014: State Department officials responding to a request for documents from the House Select Committee on Benghazi realize there are no records to or from an official State Department e-mail account for Clinton. ... 
December 2014: In response to a request from the State Department, Clinton provides 50,000 pages of printed e-mails. The Department provides 900 pages related to Benghazi to the House committee in February.
By  the way, note that this was by “request” from the State Department, not by “subpoena” from Congress.

Elsewhere, we learn that she turned all that stuff over on December 5th of 2014, and ordered her copies be deleted from the server shortly after that.

On March 2nd, 2015, the New York Times ran a story that revealed she had been using a server in her house. Two days later, the Benghazi House Select Committee issued their subpoena, although by that time, everything had theoretically already been deleted.

Or was it? This is where things get sticky.

The Clintons assigned staffer Cheryl Mills to oversee these operations, which were performed by an outside contractor, Platte River Networks (PRN), in Denver. At this point in the story, we pick up the timeline from 
• March 4, 2015 – Hillary receives subpoena from House Select Committee on Benghazi instructing her to preserve and deliver all emails from her personal servers  
• March 25, 2015 – Undisclosed PRN Staff Member has a conference call with “President Clinton’s Staff”  
• March 25 – 31, 2015 – Undisclosed PRN Staff Member has “oh shit” moment and realizes he forgot to wipe Hillary’s email archive from the PRN server back in December…which he promptly does using BleachBit despite later admitting he "was aware of the existence of the preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton's e-mail data on the PRN server."  
• June 2016 – FBI discovers that Undisclosed PRN Staff Member forgot to erase 940 emails from the gmail account he created to help with the PRN server upload

So as Tyler Durden of puts it:
[T]he Undisclosed PRN Staff Member is the only person responsible for the deletion as Mills, Hillary, President Clinton's Office were all blissfully unaware of the actions of their rogue IT guy of Platte River Networks in Denver, Colorado.
So did Hillary, as Trump claims, delete 33,000 emails after receiving a Congressional subpoena? Obviously not. But did she have anything to do with making that undisclosed PRN staffer have an “Oh, shit” moment, at which time he/she did it themselves?

For that, you have to talk to the FBI, who investigated all this, but for whatever reason — perhaps because they had reason to believe it was an innocent mistake — the FBI decided not to prosecute anyone for this.

And why hasn't the Clinton campaign been calling Trump a liar on this?

Hey, do the math! Given the fact that talking about this only drives her numbers down, the campaign didn’t even want to crow in public about how the FBI pretty much totally closed her email case down  which was much easier to do than have to try to explain some “oh shit” moment in Denver, Colorado.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Response to All Sorts of Worries

(See: Just Above Sunset: All Sorts of Worries)

The odd thing about Trumpism is, just as there’s this naive suspicion that we could completely do away with terrorism if only we could somehow capture enough of those “radical Islamic terrorists” and just sit them down calmly and reason with them — maybe somehow convince them that only some phony evil lesser god who was satirizing the main God would urge you chop off heads or burn people alive, and would then reward you with virgins in the afterlife! — one is tempted to think maybe the same could be done with our so-called “Trumpian Republican base”.

If we could only capture them and deprogram them, like they used to do with cult members back in the 1970s; maybe get them to tell you what’s really on their minds and disabuse them of all of it.

But neither conversion is likely, especially the latter one, according to John Cassidy of The New Yorker:
To quote Benjamin Disraeli, the nineteenth-century British statesman, we now have “two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.” 
Disraeli was writing about the rapidly industrializing England of the eighteen-forties, and the two nations he referred to were the rich and the poor. … 
The polls say that just less than forty per cent of voters in America have a favorable opinion of Trump. Whatever their views of him as an individual, they like what he stands for: nationalism, nativism, and hostility toward what they consider a self-serving √©lite that looks down on them. 
In addition to these confirmed Trump supporters, there are a number of other folks — moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, mainly — who may harbor serious reservations about Trump personally, but who may also be willing to vote for him to keep Clinton out of the White House.
Whenever I hear some Republican say something like, “Yes, Donald Trump is absolutely despicable in every way possible, and I don’t like anything about him, but I’m voting for him anyway, because we just can’t allow Hillary Clinton in the White House", I’m always reminded of that conversation in the movie, “The Princess Bride”, between Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin):
[Vizzini has just cut the rope that The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up] 
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
In other words, about half the voters in this country use language differently than my half — specifically, when they use the word “despicable”, they don’t seem to mean anything approaching what the rest of us mean.

This means they could actually tolerate a president who is a liar, a cheat, a bully, a conman, a misogynist, an imbecile, and someone dangerously in the tank for his nation’s enemies; a tax-dodger, an alleged child-rapist, an actual crook, and a whole parcel of other nasty personal attributes that I’m not mentioning, but for sure, one out-and-out, straight-up asshole — over a woman of whom they get a nagging hunch may lie to us about how she uses email.

Hell, for all we know at this point, Hillary will be the one in the group who will constantly overuse “Reply All”!

And who amongst us doesn’t absolutely hate that?