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Amazing Job

[ 65 ] May 24, 2017 |

The Franco of Fifth Avenue heaps praise on one of his leadership models:

In a phone call from the White House late last month, U.S. President Donald Trump heaped praise on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the world’s most murderous heads of state, for doing what Trump called an “unbelievable job” in his war on drugs. Trump offered an unqualified endorsement of Duterte’s bloody extermination campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, which has included open calls for extrajudicial murders and promises of pardons and immunity for the killers.

“You are a good man,” Trump told Duterte, according to an official transcript of the April 29 call produced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and obtained by The Intercept. “Keep up the good work,” Trump told Duterte. “You are doing an amazing job.”

Trump began the call by telling Duterte, “You don’t sleep much, you’re just like me,” before quickly pivoting to the strongman’s drug war.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the beginning of their call, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Well, with civil rights hero Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General I’m sure this mindset won’t be relevant to federal policy in any way!

All presidents cut deals they perceive to be in the national interest with bad leaders, of course. Trump heaping praise on various despots sua sponte is another matter.


A promising sign

[ 63 ] May 24, 2017 |

In a race for a New York State Assembly seat, Christine Pellegrino, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate last summer, racked up a 16-point win in a very heavily Republican Long Island district that had never before elected a Democrat:

Democrat Christine Pellegrino defeated Conservative Tom Gargiulo on Tuesday in the 9th Assembly District special election as the progressive and union-backed candidate pulled off an upset victory for the heavily Republican seat.

“This is a thunderbolt of resistance,” said Pellegrino, who becomes the first Democrat to hold the Assembly seat. “This is for all the supporters and voters who understand a strong progressive agenda is the way forward in New York.”

With all precincts reporting, Pellegrino won 58 percent of the vote to Gargiulo’s 42 percent, according to Suffolk and Nassau boards of election results posted Tuesday night . . .
While Republicans hold a 13-point registration advantage in the district, progressive activists hoped to capitalize on opposition to Trump by turning out motivated Democrats in the election, Long Island’s first since November.

The win will have little bearing on the makeup of the Assembly, where Democrats hold a comfortable majority, but progressive leaders believed it was a harbinger of a Democratic wave.

“Bold populism that puts working families’ issues front and center. This is how we win in Trump country,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, Tuesday night. “This is the lesson for Democrats around the country.


Vilest Propaganda

[ 54 ] May 23, 2017 |

Now this is some horrible propaganda. Is it anti-communist propaganda from the 50s? No. Is it some awful ISIS video? No. It is Sean Hannity talking about whatever? No.

It’s far worse.

This is a 1951 video about the Heinz distribution network, spreading its vile ketchup across this once great nation, now awash is gooey overly sweet processed tomatoes. I would urge you not to watch this horror, lest you be more mortified than you are about the turtles below.

And incidentally, in the spirit of National Turtle Day, there is a shot of boxes of Heinz Turtle Soup in there too.

World Turtle Day

[ 41 ] May 23, 2017 |

It’s World Turtle Day. So it’s time to revisit this 1947 Life article about the harvesting of turtles for food. Sweet dreams!

Later in the article, despite the horrors of this picture, there are recipes for turtle soup.

….In case you weren’t horrified enough, check out the first part of this 1937 Chevrolet produced video, about two men going to get their turtle soup in the ocean and catching a sea turtle so big, it can only be brought to their house on top of a Chevy. Plus the end of this series of short series is the legendary cat boxing film that makes the turtle stuff seem pretty tame. Ah, 1937, what a time to be alive.

And yes, I am spending my evening looking up historical turtle soup items. What of it?

Great Moments In Responsibility Evasion

[ 168 ] May 23, 2017 |

Ariel Edwards-Levy has a good roundup of a new study demonstrating that the media’s coverage of the campaign was abominably bad unless you think Clinton’s email server was more important than every substantive issue put together and made her as or more unfit than Trump:

The phrase “But her emails!” has become a sarcastic rallying cry among many liberals who bemoan the attention dedicated last year to questions over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Their perception ― that the focus on Clinton’s emails overshadowed the rest of her campaign ― is backed by data, according to an analysis recently released by researchers at Gallup, Georgetown University, and the University of Michigan. The results don’t directly address the share of media coverage focused on Clinton’s emails, or the degree to which it hurt her standing, but they make it clear that much of what the public remembered hearing about her was focused on the controversy.

“Email-related scandals clearly dominated recalled words about Clinton. This is true for almost every week of the campaign,” the authors concluded in a presentation given Saturday during a panel on election surveys. “There was no similarly common theme for Trump, whose multiple scandals produced a changing, and perhaps more easily overcome, narrative during the campaign.”

The study also shows that negative coverage of Clinton’s emails completely drowned all other coverage right before the election.

Surprisingly, this has even gotten coverage at CNN:

This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election. I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election.

Wow! Who would write this at CNN of all places?

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

Wow! So I assume this is a resignation letter?

But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.

After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.

Hillary Clinton should have used the One Conveniently Unspecified Magic Trick she could have used to get hacks like me to stop writing obsessively about her email server, but she Didn’t. Even. Try. So while the media’s coverage priorities put Trump in the White House, the media cannot be held accountable because they don’t really have a choice. It’s a nice racket.

The Path to Universal Healthcare I: Let’s Clarify Our Terms

[ 268 ] May 23, 2017 |

The United States, as is well known, spends much more money to provide effective access to health care to fewer people than other comparable liberal democracies. This is an urgent moral issue. The Affordable Care Act was a major step in the right direction but is also not a satisfactory end point for health care reform. The energy surrounding “single payer” is therefore both justified and generally a good thing. But, in part because health care is — who knew? — complicated and in part because for some people invoking “single payer” are saying “the neoliberal Democrat Party sucks because neoliberalism” rather than thinking through a strategy for getting universal coverage through James Madison’s sausage factory, there’s a lot of sloppiness and conceptual confusion surrounding the discussion. Before discussing the political and policy barriers to universal health care, it’s worth making some distinctions.

Let’s start here. There is a strange tendency to use “Medicare for all” and “single payer” interchageably. But unless Medicare was very substantially altered, “Medicare for all” would not actually be “single payer”:

Medicare provides protection against the costs of many health care services, but traditional Medicare has relatively high deductibles and cost-sharing requirements and places no limit on beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket spending. Moreover, traditional Medicare does not pay for some services vital to older people and those with disabilities, including long-term services and supports, dental services, eyeglasses, and hearing aids.

In light of Medicare’s benefit gaps and cost-sharing requirements, most beneficiaries in traditional Medicare have some form of supplemental coverage to help cover cost-sharing expenses required for Medicare-covered services (Figure 12). Other beneficiaries—30 percent in 2014—are covered under Medicare Advantage plans. However, 14 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries had no supplemental coverage in 2010, including a disproportionate share of beneficiaries under age 65 with disabilities, the near poor (those with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000), and black beneficiaries.

Medicare for all would actually be more like a European hybrid system. This is not necessarily a criticism. Indeed, as I have argued I think this is actually a much more viable path to comprehensive health coverage in the United States than true single payer or nationalized medicine:

Many liberal democracies, including Switzerland, France and Germany, have achieved true universal coverage with hybrid public/private models. The Netherlands actually changed its single-payer system to a hybrid system in 2006. When compared to single-payer Canada, the hybrid models in general rank better in quality and efficiency and are as or more equitable. And like single-payer, they deliver better results for far less money than the US spends.

Particularly given that there’s no way that single-payer would be as cheap in the US as it is in Canada, single payer is probably less desirable than the hybrid model even if we ignore the former’s political unfeasibility.

But Sanders and Clinton are right that, in the long term, something at least approaching European-style universal healthcare is possible. Many countries have built excellent healthcare systems out of better versions of the ACA model: expanded (and in the case of Medicaid, improved) public insurance combined with better-regulated and subsidized private markets. Progress can be made towards this incrementally, as Clinton has proposed; it can be done in another big statute but it doesn’t have to be.

If we’re going to get to universal coverage, though, liberals need to get beyond conflating “single payer” and “European-style healthcare.” (And I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone.) Universal health coverage is a case in which Sanders’s idealism and Clinton’s realism can in fact end up in the same place.

Whether “Medicare for all” is the best hybrid approach is debatable. Michael Sparer makes a good case for building off Medicaid rather than Medicare. But I’m not sure we have to decide ex ante, particularly since the path to universal coverage is much more likely to be gradual expansions of both Medicare and Medicaid while individual private insurance is more heavily subsidized.

The key point is that, whatever the most useful shorthand for politicians trying to win elections, when we’re thinking about health care policy we really need to stop conflating “universal health coverage” with “single payer.” It’s not wise to close off viable paths is advance, particularly since there’s not really any reason to think that single payer models are inherently better than hybrid ones at providing equitable coverage. This is particularly true given the formidable political obstacles that still exist, but we’ll return to that in the next post.

Clarence Thomas’s Fatalism on Race In America

[ 53 ] May 23, 2017 |

In the wake of Clarence Thomas being the swing vote in yesterday’s case holding North Carolina’s racial gerrymanders unconstitutional, I have a piece in the New Republic about his jurisprudence on race:

In part because he rarely speaks at oral argument, there was a common perception that Thomas is just a clone of the late Antonin Scalia. This assumption—which, in some cases, carried the odor of racist condescension—is profoundly wrong. “What [Thomas] has done on the Court,” wrote Mark Tushnet, now a professor at Harvard Law School, in his 2005 book A Court Divided, “is certainly more interesting and more distinctive than what Scalia has done and, I think, has a greater chance of making an enduring contribution to constitutional law.” Thomas and the recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens are the two most idiosyncratic Supreme Court justices of the last 40 years, the most likely to stake out a unique position on a particular issue.

Thomas’s approach is particularly visible in cases involving race. Typical Republican nominees like Chief Justice John Roberts and Antonin Scalia combine a belief in formal colorblindness with the view that racism is no longer a major problem in American society. This willful optimism reached the point of self-parody with Roberts’s 2013 opinion gutting a section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get approval from federal authorities for any changes to election law. Roberts held that because the Voting Rights Act had been so effective in addressing race discrimination in voting, Congress no longer had the power to enact its most important enforcement mechanism.

Thomas also generally believes in formal colorblindness, but for very different reasons rooted in (sometimes explicit) black nationalism. Thomas believes that the state should be race-neutral not because he has any illusions that racism has ended in the United States, but because he believes that color-blindness is the best that African-Americans can reasonably expect from the state.

Thomas’s fatalism can be seen even in opinions where he ends up in the same position as his conservative colleagues. His 2003 dissent from the Court’s opinion upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program is a powerful argument even if, like me, you ultimately disagree with the bottom line. Beginning by quoting Frederick Douglass, he makes a subtle, complex argument with pointed discussions about the fallacious assumptions that predominantly black institutions must be inferior; the dubious necessity of the state maintaining an elite law school; the disgrace of legacy admissions preferences; and the false “merit” reflected by standardized tests. Even if one ultimately finds it unpersuasive, it’s certainly not the boilerplate defense of American “meritocracy” that underlies Republican arguments against affirmative action.

British and American Media Digital Frontpages on Manchester Attack

[ 66 ] May 23, 2017 |

Living here in the UK, this is the closest I have ever physically been to a terrorist attack. I’ve never visited Manchester and so much of Europe still feels like a far away imaginary place to me. It is hard to comprehend the level and the proximity of the violence and I think it will take time for me to truly process it and offer any kind of perspective on what’s happening.

While I wait for more information and observe the reactions around me, I am following the images coming out of digital news. These screenshots were taken at roughly 2pm London time on May 23rd, the afternoon after the attack. There are some interesting differences. See if you can spot them.

BBC News

The Guardian

The Guardian is actually leading with a number of images, some photos of identified victims and first responder images, that rotate automatically within the top box.

Much more disturbing image is chosen for the lede.

Thanks for focusing in on the real star of the show, MSNBC. ‘preciate it.

New York Times

The Manchester attack is the first and only full story on the page. The other half of the page is a rotating box of the latest opinion pieces and a chronological list of stories published in other sections.

Washington Post

Like the NYT set up, the front page of WaPo shares about equal space horizontally with a story about Trump asking intelligence chiefs to deny collusion with Russia, but the Manchester story gets a lot more vertical space. Unlike the NYT set up though, the space designated has an editorial slant to it that has less to do with the user interface.


If anyone knows of a better way to take quality screenshots of digital front pages, be sure to let me know. And watch this space for more analysis of the way media coverage unfolds.

What’s worse than a drink called the Pill Cosby?

[ 155 ] May 23, 2017 |

Some background – A local restaurant/bar/clothing store briefly had a drink called the Pill Cosby. One of the business’ owners claimed that it was meant in part to raise awareness. And boy did it ever! Possibly not in the way they wanted. However, trolling on the subject of rape in exchange for a great deal of attention could well have been the goal. At any rate, the owners took it off the menu and apologized.

The whole thing was obnoxious and it was hard to imagine who or what could make it worse.

The answer of course is Nick Gillespie at Reason, with a sock full of False Equivalencies.

Making things worse : libertarians :: bouncing : Tiggers.

In questionable taste? Certainly. But is offering the drink actually participating in “rape culture,” as various Twitter folks aver, or is it something else altogether, as the operators of the business suggest? Or maybe it’s neither—maybe it’s just tasteless joke that is neither particularly offensive nor edifying. Does everything need to have a higher value in order to justify its existence? I hope not.

Because he’d be fucked if higher value were the standard for existence.

Libertarian follow-up question:


Is this an example of disciplining via market forces and/or voice (as opposed to exit or loyalty, in the parlance of Albert O. Hirschman)? Or is it simply the latest sign of political correctness and identity politics stamping out anything that anyone can find objectionable?

OK, already that’s two questions. But it was a lot to load into one rhetorical designed to help people who think Gillespie is clever figure out that potential consumers objecting to a menu item that makes light of rape can’t be a legitimate use of the Free Market because Reason.

He could have stopped there. But he hadn’t yet displayed the gibbertarian’s full range of idiocy with a final False Equivalency x Gotcha hybrid.

And will the next casualty be “the Marvin Gaye,” a drink whose name is at the bottom of the menu in the picture of the drink above and to the right? Gaye came to an ugly and sad end, shot to death by his own father even as his career was reviving in the mid-1980s.

Because there’s no difference between a punny drink that makes reference to a man accused of doing bad things to other people – complete with pill capsule garnish in case a Reason fan needs help getting the joke – and a drink that bears the name a man who had a bad thing done to him. Touché, M. Gillespie!

The Party of Ideas (TM)

[ 70 ] May 23, 2017 |

We’ve already discussed the absolutely savage cuts in the budget the resulted from populism beating neoliberalism. In addition to a thorough analysis of those, Dylan Mathews observes that there’s also the classic GOP crackpot magical thinking:

In the budget, Trump assumes that real GDP growth will reach 3 percent by 2020 and then stay there. In a press call, OMB Director Mulvaney castigated the Obama administration and the Congressional Budget Office for projecting 1.9 percent growth for the indefinite future.

“I think it’s sad that the previous administration was willing to admit they couldn’t get more than 1.9 percent,” Mulvaney told reporters. “I think it’s sad that the CBO assumes the same thing. That assumes a pessimism about America and its people and its country.”

What it actually assumes is that the US is an aging country, that we will not have enough immigrants to keep pace with older Americans leaving the workforce, and that there is a global slowdown in productivity across all rich countries. If the Trump administration were open to increasing immigration flows, that would be one thing. But their immigration crackdown actually makes this problem worse. As former Obama chief economist Jason Furman noted in a piece for Vox, the median estimate from both the CBO and the Fed’s Open Market Committee is 1.8 percent; private forecasters are a bit more optimistic at 2.2 percent. No one thinks 3 percent is plausible, and there’s no tax reform in the world so awesome as to close that gap.

Higher growth leads to higher tax receipts, which helps the Trump administration claim that their budget balances. In a memorandum, they estimate deficits under their budget assuming that growth continues at its current level rather than rocketing up to 3 percent. They find that in 2027, the deficit would reach $1.34 trillion. With their optimistic economic assumptions, they found that there would be a surplus. So Trump’s team is getting well over $1 trillion per year in new money to play with by making up overly optimistic growth numbers.

It gets worse, though. They’re double-counting those numbers. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that the tax reform plan the administration is pushing will be “deficit-neutral” only after you take into account their effect on economic growth. So he’s effectively using that growth to pay for tax cuts. But as the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s Greg Leiserson notes, he then turns around and uses the growth to also pay for deficit reduction in the budget.

This is an area, of course, where Trump is no more of a bullshitter than the average Republican. Jeb! promised 4% growth — WHY DOES TRUMP LACK CONFIDENCE IN THE AMERICAN PEOPLE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? The whole party is just a racket justifying the most upward redistribution of wealth that can pass Congress, justified with asinine back-of-a-cocktail-napkin crap.

The Obstruction of Justice Du Jour

[ 86 ] May 22, 2017 |

Another day, another scoop:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.


[ 46 ] May 22, 2017 |

As you’ve probably heard, at least 19 people were killed by a nail bomb at a concert tonight. Our thoughts to the victims, their families, and the city.

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