Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dead Again, For Now

The current attempt by the GOP to repeal Obamacare appears to be heading to oblivion.  Via the Washington Post:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

Republicans, who have made rallying cries against President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity, may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

I wouldn’t break out the champagne just yet.  We’ve heard this death knell before.  Back in March Speaker Paul Ryan woefully predicted that Obamacare was here to stay “for the foreseeable future” only to have it rise zombie-like in May.  But at least now the majority of Americans who care about such things as insurance that covers pre-existing conditions and being able to live without bankrupting their future have seen what the Republicans want to do: give the rich people an enormous tax break and let the poor fend for themselves.

Three of the four senators who have announced their opposition to the bill said they were against it because it didn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare; they’d like to get back to the old way of doing healthcare, which was somewhere between the Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens view of the world.  At least Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) brought up the fact that it caused harm to poor people, so I guess she’s the lone voice out there for sanity, sparing the quavering and wavering from “moderates” in the party such as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who faces both real and imagined threats to his job and future, from having to take a stand this time.

So for now we can enjoy a little schadenfreude over Mitch McConnell’s much-vaunted ability to get things done and wait to see what they come up with next to try, for real this time, to knock millions of Americans off health insurance, close rural hospitals, deny coverage for pregnancy complications because having a baby is preventable (unless, of course, you get treated by Planned Parenthood), and let insurance companies deny claims because anything beyond leeches and chicken bones is experimental.

But keep those phone numbers handy.  It will be back.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Second Verse, Same As The First

David Anderson at Balloon Juice reviews the GOP’s latest version of their attempt to kill off the poor people.

The biggest and only important news is that there is fundamentally nothing different with Medicaid. It is still being destroyed. It won’t be destroyed as quickly in Louisiana in this version as it would have in the previous versions, but Medicaid will see a 25% reduction in federal funding by 2025 and 35% reduction in annual federal funding by 2036.

Everything else is a detail. There is an Alaska pay-off for more state stabilization funds. There is a provision for Florida.

There is the Cruz amendment.

Regarding the Cruz amendment, I just can’t deal with it. It is not exasperation, it is an incomprehension as to how this amendment actually works on any level without a fractured market. Maybe that is the entire point of the amendment.

The Cruz amendment would offer a bare-bones insurance plan with basically nothing to it as long as their was a plan available that had all the provisions of Obamacare: your choice.  It’s like going in to buy a car and being given the choice of a new convertible or a pair of roller skates.  Hey, they both have wheels and you’ll feel the wind in your hair, but best of all, freedom to choose!

This bill has as much chance of passing as the last one, so the only reason they’re trotting it out is so they can say they did and blame the Democrats for obstruction.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

That’s Your Excuse?

Speaker Paul Ryan says that Trump is too dumb to know what he’s doing, so give him a break already.

“The president is new at this,” Ryan said. “He’s new to government. And so he probably wasn’t steeped into the long going protocols that established the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses.”

When a reporter questioned why that’s an “acceptable excuse,” given that Trump has a staff and counsel that should have been informed, Ryan reiterated that Trump did not know what he was doing.

“He’s new at government,” Ryan said. “Therefore I think he is learning as he goes.”

He’s saying this about the man who claimed to be “very smart,” “I’ve got a great brain,” “I know more than … the generals,” but now he’s trying to give him cover because he’s too new and requires coaching?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Job Openings

Following up on what I noted the other day: working in the Trump White House is career suicide.

BuzzFeed News spoke with 20 Republican communicators and operatives, many of whom have worked on Capitol Hill and in presidential campaigns and some who have declined previous offers to join the Trump administration. Nearly all said they would be unwilling to accept an offer to replace [White House Communications Director Mike] Dubke.

“Hell no!” said one Republican — one of the most common types of response BuzzFeed News got from operatives. “That would be career suicide.”

Others brought a mix of dark humor.

“That’s like asking someone who just witnessed a horrific bungee jumping accident whether they would like to go next,” one Republican source responded in a text message.

“It would be only a few months on the job before tapping out the ‘I want to spend more time with family’ email,” another said.

One operative whose spouse works in the Trump administration dissolved into laughter upon being asked if they would want the role.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the source said between stifled laughs. “Oh, you’re being serious? Oh my god, I’m crying of laughter. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be his communications director?”

Even some responses that weren’t entirely terrible were still bad for the White House. “Coming on board now is a bit like taking over communications for the White Star Line after the Titanic has sunk,” a former George W. Bush staffer said. “I mean, no one is going to blame you and how much worse can it possibly get?”

Bomb disposal? Giving a bath to a bobcat?

The only upside is that you would be guaranteed a guest slot on Fox News.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This Is Special

Some reactions to the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special counsel.

Charles P. Pierce:

This administration is the worst thing to happen to D.C. cocktail hours since Prohibition. The end of business is no longer the end of business. It’s like being a volunteer fireman in hell. The best news is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took a good look at the dents in his reputation and appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI, to be a special counsel to oversee the DOJ in its investigation not only Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but also into “related matters.” Which means, well, everything.

If you want to know more about Mueller, then consult Dr. Google on the subject of “Stellar Wind.” That was the Bush Administration’s extra-constitutional surveillance follies. Mueller (along with James Comey, the Zelig of federal law enforcement) threatened to resign if the administration and its lawyers didn’t find a way to make Stellar Wind conform to constitutional norms. It’s important to remember that Mueller, at the time, was trying to find a way to rehabilitate the Bureau’s image after the intelligence community failed altogether on 9/11, but even Mueller found what the Bush NSA was doing was a long step over the line.

In short, if you were looking for someone with Washington street cred and a history of not being intimidated by people like presidents, even semi-competent ones, Mueller is as good as it gets. The administration’s toes just lost contact with the bottom of the pool.

Josh Marshall:

This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we’re likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we’re trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important ‘bad acts’ may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

People who committed crimes should be punished. Unquestionably. But the truest and deepest national interest is that the whole story be thoroughly investigated and the full story get a public airing. That is far more important to the health of the Republic and its safety than whether particular individuals spend time in prison. Again, it’s not either/or. But one is far more important than the other. A counter-intelligence probe or even a criminal investigation could wind up and the details and findings never be known. That can’t be allowed to happen. We need a fully empowered commission charged not with investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct but ascertaining, as far as possible, what happened and then bringing that information before the public.

That’s critical. This is an important step. Great that it happened. But the country can’t get past this without that full accounting.

digby:

He’s a good choice if only because he was FBI chief for a dozen years without a whole lot of drama. Presumably he’s well respected by the rank and file and both parties will be satisfied. If nothing else, the Republicans won’t be able to whine too much about it.

The best aspect of this is if Trump picks Joe Lieberman for FBI chief, as is rumored. Having a Mueller as special counsel will spare us having to put up with him using the Russia investigation to punish liberals for beating him in a primary.

Yes, he is that petty.

History has shown that when a special counsel is appointed, the investigation becomes real.  Money is going to be spent, staff is going to be hired, and there will be results.  It also means that no one knows where it will go.  The special counsel hired to look into Whitewater ended up with Monica Lewinsky, and an investigation into the money paid to the perpetrators of a third-rate burglary led to the resignation of a president.

So here we go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You’ve Been Served

If the purpose of firing James Comey was to put the kibosh on the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign, they missed a spot.

Via CNN:

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.

I suppose Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III could fire the federal prosecutors, but that might give people the wrong idea.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Short Takes

Former Acting A.G. Sally Yates warned Trump White House about Flynn.

So did President Obama.

GOP enlists 13 men, no women, to draft Senate healthcare bill.

South Korea votes for a new president today.

Eighteen frat brothers charged in hazing death.

Four feared dead in flooding in Canada.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Reading

Lessons Not Learned — Russell Berman in The Atlantic on what the Republicans should have learned from the Democrats.

Appearing on “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana didn’t flinch when host Willie Geist asked him a direct question about what would happen if the American Health Care Act—which the House narrowly approved a day earlier—became law.

“So everyone with a pre-existing condition right now who is covered under Obamacare will continue to have coverage?” he asked the congressman, who as House majority whip is the third-ranking Republican in the chamber.

“Absolutely,” Scalise replied.

“Everyone?” Geist pressed him.

“Everyone,” Scalise confirmed.

From off camera, Mika Brzezinski let out a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a gasp. In the interest of reassuring the public about the GOP’s plan, Scalise had made the kind of blanket commitment that could come back to haunt the party in the future. While Republican leaders were careful to maintain the federal requirement under Obamacare that insurers offer coverage to anyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, their bill would allow states to wriggle out of the mandate that insurers charge those customers the same price. As a result, people with pre-existing conditions could find insurance unaffordable in states that get a waiver to opt out of the federal law.

Did Republicans learn nothing in the last eight years?From making unrealistic promises to cutting back-room deals, Republicans are ignoring many of the lessons they should have taken from the Democrats’ experience selling a complicated health-care plan to the public.

Don’t Over-Promise

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” That one concrete pledge repeated dozens of times by former President Barack Obama—and many other Democrats at the time—became an albatross for his party once the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2013. They had made the commitment to try to sell the public on the plan and get it passed initially, having seen how the fear of change illustrated in ads by the fictional couple “Harry and Louise” torpedoed the Clinton health-care bill 20 years earlier. But although Obamacare did not directly force people off their insurance, many had to change their plans because insurers stopped selling due to the new coverage requirements under the law. That broken promise helped the GOP expand its House majority and retake the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Republicans, however, have ignored that lesson repeatedly in 2017, making all kinds of assurances about their health-care bill that will be all but impossible to keep. Most egregiously, President Trump told The Washington Post in January that his Obamacare replacement plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In fact, Republicans made no attempt at universal coverage; their bill cuts Medicaid deeply, and the Congressional Budget Office projected that it would result in 24 million fewer people having insurance after a decade.

In recent days, House Republicans like Scalise have made claims about people with pre-existing conditions that are unlikely to stand up over time. Like Democrats before them, GOP lawmakers may genuinely want their assurances to bear out, but they are putting themselves at political risk by not being forthright about the tradeoffs involved in health policy and the potential consequences of a sweeping new law. If the American Health Care Act never gets enacted, it’ll be a moot point. But if it does, Republicans better watch out.

Read the Bill

Or at least don’t admit publicly that you didn’t.

After Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Republicans succeeded in making a couple of key quotes infamous as they rallied opposition to the law. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi uttered one of them just two weeks before final passage: “We have to pass the bill,” she said during a speech, “so that you can find out what’s in it.”

No matter the context, the comment perfectly encapsulated the GOP’s criticism of the bill—that at nearly 1,000 pages, it was too long for members of Congress to read and understand, much less the general public, and that Democrats were intent on jamming it into law before people found out what it would actually do. (Just watch then-House Minority Leader John Boehner make the case right before the final vote.)Republicans did take heed of Obamacare’s length when they wrote its replacement. As Sean Spicer passionately demonstrated, the American Health Care Act is just 124 pages, and even after the amendments Republicans added, it comes in at less than 200 as passed by the House.

But even that was too long for some GOP lawmakers. “I fully admit, Wolf, I did not,” Representative Chris Collins of New York told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when he was asked if he had read the complete and final text of the AHCA. Two other Republicans admitted as much to CNN, although they noted that their staff read the bill and briefed them on its content.

The lawmakers have a point when they say they rely on policy experts on their staff to fully read and summarize to them the legislative text of legislation, particularly when it comes to massive spending bills that the House and Senate vote on just days after they are unveiled. But it seems that Collins’s team didn’t even fully explain the impact of the GOP health-care bill to him. As the Buffalo Newsreported, the congressman was unfamiliar with a provision that could decimate a state health plan that serves 635,000 New Yorkers.

Unlike staff, it’s the members of Congress themselves who are elected by the public and accountable to their constituents, and it’s not too much to ask that they personally read bills that could affect health care for the entire country. Failure to do so just feeds the perception that Republicans rushed the AHCA to passage without sufficient scrutiny, especially after the House adopted late changes that had only been public for a few hours before the vote and after the GOP spent years accusing Democrats of doing the same thing.

Avoid Back-Room Deals

The Cornhusker Kickback.

The Louisiana Purchase.

Democrats relied on these side agreements benefiting individual states to secure the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate’s version of Obamacare in late 2009. The additional Medicaid money for Nebraska wasn’t even included in the final bill, but the back-room deals helped sour the public on the new law. Republicans seized on them to argue that Democrats were buying off senators in secret, undermining a bill that actually went through months of public scrutiny and debate.Eight years later, the GOP resorted to the same kind of tactic in the “Buffalo Bribe” (or, if you prefer, the “Tammany Haul”)—a provision the House leadership added to the AHCA at the urging of five members of the New York delegation that would shift the Medicaid tax burden away from upstate counties.

But there’s a reason this kind of horse-trading is a time-honored, if unsavory, part of legislative politics: It helps to win votes, and members of Congress have a legitimate responsibility to look out for their constituents. The New York lawmakers publicized their victory, so it wasn’t a secret, but the provision’s inclusion after Republicans reported their bill out of committee underscored the legislation’s relative lack of public hearings or lengthy formal debate.

Just Stay Away From Health Care Entirely (Or Don’t Tackle It Alone)

Maybe Republicans were doomed from the start. “The mover on health care loses; to do something is to lose,” the always-blunt Democratic strategist James Carville reportedly told party donors earlier this year. Twice now, Democrats have lost their House majority in the next election after pursuing a major overhaul of the health insurance system. With their vote on Thursday, Republicans could be at the same risk next year.

As the president recently discovered, health care is incredibly complicated. But more than that, it is intensely personal. The trade-offs between cost and coverage will always cause controversy. The economics of private insurance necessarily require younger, healthier people to subsidize the care of those who are older and needier. And changes in policies will almost always mean some will pay more so others can pay less.

Republicans may be missing a lesson the Democrats learned in another way. The party that controls government might not be able to avoid touching health-care policy entire, but it doesn’t have to do so alone. Bipartisanship doesn’t guarantee a better result, and it can’t happen if both parties don’t agree to cooperate. But like insurance itself, it’s at least a way to share the risk.

Equal Rights Under The Law — Michelle Chen in The Nation on why the Equality Act is essential.

Segregated schools were outlawed long ago, so why are trans students still shut out of the bathroom? And why, if sex discrimination is illegal, are workers fired because their spouses are the “wrong” gender? The language of the Constitution in many cases fails to contemplate gay, trans, and queer identities, and rights advocates say an update is way overdue.

So a much-needed addendum to the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act has been reintroduced in Congress, providing explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, in line with the framework that has applied to categories of sex and race for decades.

The Equality Act would leave no ambiguity that the fundamental foundation of equality under the Constitution applies equally to LGBTQ communities as it does to women, people of color, immigrants, and religious groups. Moreover, the legislation would amend the existing 1995 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which rolled back civil-rights mandates for individuals and institutions claiming religiously based exemptions, so that the new law could prevent religion from being used as a pretext for discrimination “on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” While the RFRA remains on the books, the Equality Act would at least shift the burden of proof onto the employer or institution claiming a religious exemption rather than on the individual to prove they’re entitled to full constitutional protection.

The amendment would effectively change the Civil Rights Act, along with the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and other anti-discrimination laws related to public-sector employment and access to public facilities, to cover “sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.” It would officially expand protections for public spaces and ensure equal access to federally funded programs, including health and social benefits.

It would both simplify and complicate our current legal crisis surrounding the rights of, for example, trans teens shut out of the locker room that fits their gender, or same-sex couples barred from insurance coverage, under an administration that has shown unprecedented hostility to the idea of equal justice.

The struggle for equal protection is more acute than ever because Trump has just signed a major executive order on “religious freedom” aimed at expanding the power of the religious right to influence federal politics. A more sweeping leaked draft version that The Nation published earlier this year had aimed to grant broad legal exemptions for legal and workplace discrimination under the pretext of acting on religious belief. Though the version signed by Trump today does not include those most severely discriminatory provisions, it would enable religious institutions to participate more directly in electoral campaigns, potentially opening the path to further rollbacks on LGBTQ rights, driven by religious hard-liners fueling Trump’s Christian, right-wing support base.

The Equality Act would not, of course, remedy the worst violations that disproportionately impact the poor, people of color, and youth and the elderly within the LGBTQ community. It would, however, provide basic legal recourse for the estimated half of LGBTQ individuals who reside in states without any civil-rights protections that include their gender or sexual identity categories.

Currently, fewer than half of states explicitly protect people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and just 19 maintain explicit anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

So in most states it’s often perfectly legal to get fired for insisting that your boss identify you by the right gender at work, or facing unequal access to medical care for a gender transition, or being denied equal rights as a married couple or adoptive parents in a same-sex relationship. For youth facing abuse at school, only 14 states protect their rights explicitly in the education system. Trump’s anticipated executive order, if fully implemented, would pose an even more direct threat to the hard-won but limited rights LGBTQ communities have fought for through civil litigation and public advocacy.

The act would also underscore the ongoing legal resistance to discrimination laws and practices targeting the LGBTQ community. While the courts have in recent years upheld LGBTQ protections under existing laws—most recently with a landmark Appeals Court ruling affirming that anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination against an Illinois college professor is a form of sex discrimination under federal law—Lambda Legal says it is “ready to take the fight to the courts” for further legal challenges to Trump’s “religious refusal” decree.

According to Sharon MacGowan, director of strategy with Lambda Legal’s DC office, the Equality Act, previous versions of which have won bipartisan support, “makes clear that Congress agrees that these terms should really be understood as just a subset of what sex discrimination already covers.”

While Trump purports to champion a silent majority of cultural conservatives, the Equality Act articulates what rights advocates see as a generational culture shift toward embracing LGBTQ identities. That, MacGowan argues, is undeniable, regardless of Washington’s current political clashes:

To stand in the way of this clarification and development in the law is symptomatic of the fact that there is a small, really ideologically driven group of people who are getting in the way of progress that this country as a whole is squarely behind.

While other marginalized groups, including women, Muslims, and immigrants, have been more blatantly targeted through Trump’s demonizing rhetoric, MacGowan warns that the Trump administration is imposing a kind of “death by a thousand cuts” through subtler policy changes—for example, cutting back on demographic data collection for LGBTQ groups. So rights advocates seek to affirm both within and outside the LGBTQ community that defending their rights remains as crucial as ever to defending the basic tenets of equal protection. While bracing for an attack parallel to those Trump has waged against other marginalized groups, MacGowan warns that activists need to affirm their allies and know their common enemy.

Whether or not the legislation advances, “now more than ever it’s important for those who stand on the side of equality to plant the flag, to make sure that everybody knows who’s on the side of this issue,” MacGowan says, and in Washington and beyond, “keep up the conversation about…how the values that are embodied in the Equality Act are really who we are as a country and not what we hear coming out of the White House.”

Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes about the social media grip.

IT is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable.

We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.

Just how different is the real world from the world on social media? In the real world, The National Enquirer, a weekly, sells nearly three times as many copies as The Atlantic, a monthly, every year. On Facebook, The Atlantic is 45 times more popular.

Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.

The Las Vegas budget hotel Circus Circus and the luxurious hotel Bellagio each holds about the same number of people. But the Bellagio gets about three times as many check-ins on Facebook.

The search for online status takes some peculiar twists. Facebook works with an outside company to gather data on the cars people actually own. Facebook also has data on the cars people associate with by posting about them or by liking them.

Owners of luxury cars like BMWs and Mercedeses are about two and a half times as likely to announce their affiliation on Facebook as are owners of ordinary makes and models.

In the United States, the desire to show off and exaggerate wealth is universal. Caucasians, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are all two to three times as likely to associate on Facebook with a luxury car they own than with a non-luxury car they own.

But different people in different places can have different notions of what is cool and what is embarrassing. Take musical taste. According to 2014 data from Spotify Insights on what people actually listen to, men and women have similar tastes; 29 of the 40 musicians women listened to most frequently were also the artists most frequently listened to by men.

On Facebook, though, men seem to underplay their interest in artists considered more feminine. For example, on Spotify, Katy Perry was the 10th most listened to artist among men, beating Bob Marley, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. But those other artists all have more male likes on Facebook.

The pressure to look a certain way on social media can do much more than distort our image of the musicians other people actually listen to.

Sufferers of various illnesses are increasingly using social media to connect with others and to raise awareness about their diseases. But if a condition is considered embarrassing, people are less likely to publicly associate themselves with it.

Irritable bowel syndrome and migraines are similarly prevalent, each affecting around 10 percent of the American population. But migraine sufferers have built Facebook awareness and support groups two and a half times larger than I.B.S. sufferers have.

None of this behavior is all that new, although the form it takes is. Friends have always showed off to friends. People have always struggled to remind themselves that other people don’t have it as easy as they claim.

Think of the aphorism quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Of course, this advice is difficult to follow. We never see other people’s insides.

I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram.

Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands.

On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase “My husband is …” are “the best,” “my best friend,” “amazing,” “the greatest” and “so cute.” On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also “amazing.” So that checks out. The other four: “a jerk,” “annoying,” “gay” and “mean.”

While spending five years staring at a computer screen learning about some of human beings’ strangest and darkest thoughts may not strike most people as a good time, I have found the honest data surprisingly comforting. I have consistently felt less alone in my insecurities, anxieties, struggles and desires.

Once you’ve looked at enough aggregate search data, it’s hard to take the curated selves we see on social media too seriously. Or, as I like to sum up what Google data has taught me: We’re all a mess.

Now, you may not be a data scientist. You may not know how to code in R or calculate a confidence interval. But you can still take advantage of big data and digital truth serum to put an end to envy — or at least take some of the bite out of it.

Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, “I always feel tired” or “I always have diarrhea.” This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.

As our lives increasingly move online, I propose a new self-help mantra for the 21st century, courtesy of big data: Don’t compare your Google searches with other people’s Facebook posts.

 Doonesbury — Nice tweet.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Short Takes

House passes healthcare bill; future uncertain in the Senate.

Civil rights groups vow to fight Trump’s “religious liberty” order.

Cop ordered into anger management after shooting teenager.

Iraqi troops open front in Mosul to squeeze ISIS.

Russia, Turkey and Iran agree to safe zone in Syria.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nuclear Meltdown

Neil Gorsuch will be the next justice of the Supreme Court after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell breaks the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate and kills the filibuster.

Senate Democrats secured enough votes Monday to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, making it all but certain that Republicans will change the rules of the chamber to ensure his confirmation later this week.

Democratic opposition to Gorsuch has been building for days, and five more senators announced Monday that they would vote against him. That gives Democrats more than the requisite 41 senators to block a procedural vote and compel President Trump and Republicans either to withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination or to change Senate rules to eliminate the 60-vote requirement.

“This is a new low,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to Democratic opposition. But he also reiterated his vow that Gorsuch will be confirmed by Friday despite the likelihood of a filibuster. That’s because McConnell is prepared to invoke what is known as the “nuclear option” — a change in rules to allow ­Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority vote. With 52 seats, Republicans would then have enough votes to secure Trump’s first selection for the high court.

The procedural vote known as cloture has long set the Senate apart from the House of Representatives — and it has long been hailed by members of the upper chamber for requiring bipartisan cooperation, and forcing consensus, on major legislation or confirmation votes.

If that step is eliminated, the Senate is “headed to a world where you don’t need one person from the other side to pick a judge,” warned Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “And what does that mean? That means the ­judges are going to be more ideological, not less. It means that every Senate seat is going to be a referendum on the Supreme Court. . . . The damage done to the Senate is going to be real.”

And if we jump ahead in time to when President Cory Booker sends the nominations of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to replace Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court to the Democratic majority Senate, the Republicans will suddenly demand that they bring back the filibuster.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Party Of No

And about time, too.

Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ended Thursday on a confrontational note, with the body’s top Democrat vowing a filibuster that could complicate Gorsuch’s expected confirmation and ultimately upend the traditional approach to approving justices.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will vote no on President Trump’s nominee and asked other Democrats to join him in blocking an up-or-down vote on Gorsuch.

[…]

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said: “If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes — a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees and George Bush’s last two nominees — the answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee.”

I think Merrick Garland is available.

Rest assured that the Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, will storm around and run to the microphones to call Mr. Schumer an “obstructionist” and we’ll hear the minions on Fox News carry on about how it’s the Democrats who want to keep anything from getting done in Washington which is why Trump won the election by an overwhelming majority.  And then they’ll smile and burst into flames from the irony overload accelerated by the gallons of rank hypocrisy doused on them by Karma.

It is way past the time for the Democrats to utilize the tactics that are available to every minority party on Capitol Hill that are either written or unwritten in order to put a check on the roughshod running by the majority.  When the Republicans were in the minority they did it very well, most recently when they declared even before the litter had been picked up from the first inauguration of Barack Obama that nothing he did would get past them without a fight because he was… well, there had to be something that was coloring their judgment.  Even if they agreed with the principle of the policy, they were not going to allow it to become law.

For the Democrats, the difference is that not only is it sauce for the gander time, they actually will look at what is being proposed by Trump and consider it on its merits, not just because he sent it up.  They will stop it because it is bad policy, harmful to a lot of people, benefits just a few, or poses a threat to what we commonly call “democracy.”

So go on, Democrats, and become the party of No, the obstructionists, and the naysayers.  And if the Republicans complain, tell them you had a good teacher.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Short Takes

F.B.I. confirms probe into Trump-Russia connection.

Neil Gorsuch goes before Senate committee.

U.S. to ban electronics on certain flights to and from the Middle East.

Stephen Hawking fears he may not be welcome in Trump’s America.

R.I.P David Rockefeller, 101, last grandchild of John D. Rockefeller.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

“Hey, We Tried”

The response to the GOP healthcare bill has been roughly the same as having a wet dog at a wedding, and yet the House and Senate leadership is bound and determined to rush it through both chambers by the end of the month without hearings or even conferences.  (Ironic since the Republicans in 2010 complained bitterly that President Obama “rammed ACA down our throats.”)

The short answer, according to Jonathan Chait, is that when the Republicans couldn’t get repeal-and-replace past President Obama, they had all the time in the world to carry on about how terrible it was and how it was destroying America and they could vote fifty-plus times to repeal it and not worry about actually doing anything.  But now that they have the White House and both the House and the Senate, they can do something… but what?  They’ve got various factions within their own party who have very different goals and they’re all attacking the piñata of a bill the House cobbled together that does everything and nothing.

Not only that, if they repeal and replace Obamacare with something that is truly worse — and this new bill seems to embody the worst of every GOP trick in the book, including tax credits and vouchers — it will be their albatross, and the mid-term campaign will be all about the Democrats running against the GOP House that killed — literally — healthcare.

So the solution seems to be to try and shove this terrible bill through and have it fail so they can go out to the voters in 2018 and say, “Hey, we tried, but there were too many special interests and Obamacare holdovers, so you’re just going to have to suffer through with it while we go on and give massive tax breaks to the rich, gut education spending, demonize immigrants, bully the transgender community, and play slap-and-tickle with the Russians.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

More Like A Gusher

From the New York Times:

As a candidate for president, Donald J. Trump embraced the hackers who had leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails to the press, declaring at a rally in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!”

To the cheering throngs that night, Mr. Trump marveled that “nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet.” The leakers, he said, had performed a public service by revealing what he called a scandal with no rival in United States history.

Now, after less than four weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump has changed his mind.

At a news conference on Wednesday and in a series of Twitter postings earlier in the day, Mr. Trump angrily accused intelligence agencies of illegally leaking information about Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser, who resigned after reports that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

“It’s a criminal action, criminal act,” Mr. Trump fumed at the White House. In a Twitter message, he asserted that “the real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”

Most of the time, leaks are about power and controlling it.  Either the leakers are trying to undermine those who have it, or they’re trying to alert the public to nefarious goings-on.  It would be naive to think that all leakers have the nation’s best interest at heart — a lot of them are about sabotage, intrigue, and revenge — but in the case of Trump, we’re getting leaks from everywhere because a lot of people, including career politicians and people who may have supported Trump in the first place are seeing what’s going on now and are truly concerned about the fate of the country.  This is their way of putting the brakes on this careening train wreck.

Of course Trump is upset with leaks now.  And of course he’s raising a stink about them.  It’s called deflection: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”  To top it all off, this weekend he’s holding a campaign-style rally in Florida because that’s a lot more fun that being president.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Going After Women

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a rule dating back to the time when discussing abolition was forbidden on the floor of the Senate to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a number of senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, got up and read the same letter that got Ms. Warren banished from speaking.  Why weren’t they silenced?  Because they are men.

Institutional misogyny is so ingrained in the fiber of American culture that people of every stripe often fail to see in such attacks on women leaders the particular markers of that disease. But in our hearts, women know. Elizabeth Warren was effectively told, in the words of Politico’s Seung Min Kim, to “sit down—and shut up.” Any domestic violence expert will tell you that those are the sort of words that often precede the connection of a male fist to a female face.

Never mind that Warren wasn’t reading the King letter to comment on Sessions’s motives or conduct in his role as U.S. senator; she was speaking against his nomination to one of the most important jobs in the executive branch—a job that is, among other things, charged with enforcement of the citizens’ franchise of the vote. Never mind that King’s letter spoke directly to that concern. Never mind that over the course of the last two years, as The New York Times reports, both Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas appear to have violated the rule according to its true intent, without having it invoked against them. Cruz’s 2015 impugning of a fellow senator’s conduct motives was a critique of McConnell himself, described by Cruz as a liar. They’re men, and white men at that (and Republican).

Senate Republicans may not all love Donald Trump, but a significant aspect of their agenda dovetails nicely with Trump’s base-stoking, and that is the revival of a white male patriarchy that sees itself as threatened by a multicultural population and the changing roles of women in society. Trump’s courtship of the religious right speaks to this, as does his chief strategist’s courtship of white nationalists and supremacists, whose ideological misogyny is often overlooked.

Make no mistake: McConnell’s bullying of Elizabeth Warren for reading the words of Coretta Scott King was intended to convey to women—white, black, and of every other color and identity—just who’s boss.

I am very glad that Senate Democrats rose to fill in for Ms. Warren, and perhaps if there wasn’t institutional misogyny in American politics no one would have noticed what she read on the floor of the Senate except for the watchers of C-SPAN.  But in doing so, one might hope that shining this glaring light on the He-Man Woman-Haters Club might actually do some good.

Awkward Moment

Via the Washington Post:

Trump’s escalating attacks on the federal judiciary drew denunciation Wednesday from his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, who told a senator that the criticism was “disheartening” and “demoralizing” to independent federal courts.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Gorsuch made the comments during their private meeting Wednesday, and the account was confirmed by Ron Bonjean, a member of the group guiding the judge through his confirmation process.

[…]

Blumenthal said Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court just over a week ago, agreed with him that the president’s language was out of line.

“I told him how abhorrent Donald Trump’s invective and insults are towards the judiciary. And he said to me that he found them ‘disheartening’ and ‘demoralizing’ — his words,” Blumenthal said in an interview.

Gorsuch “stated very emotionally and strongly his belief in his fellow judges’ integrity and the principle of judicial independence,” he added. “And I made clear to him that that belief requires him to be stronger and more explicit, more public in his views.”

Yeah, but I still don’t want him on the Court.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017