Thursday, March 15, 2018

Walking Out To Step Up

TaMara and Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice have recaps of yesterday’s school kids walking out for seventeen minutes to honor the memory of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to demand changes to gun laws at the state and federal level.

What struck me the most about this movement is that this is well-disciplined and deadly serious on the part of the participants.  This is not a lark to them or a chance to cut school.  They realize what’s at stake: not just their lives but the future of the country.  Many of them are old enough to vote now and a lot more of them will be old enough to vote in 2020.

There have been student marches and protests before; I participated in them when I was their age: against the war in Vietnam, against segregation, for civil rights.  But those were distant and abstract causes; Vietnam was a place that few of us could find on a map, and civil rights didn’t divide my white upper-middle class suburban life.  What we were trying to change was an entire culture: no more war, no more racism.  It was noble, it was overarching, and of course it was never going to be fully realized.

These students, these young adults, have a more specific goal in mind and are much more focused.  They don’t want to change the world; they just want to make it safer.  That’s not too much to ask.  We didn’t do it for them, so now they’re stepping up.  And it might just work this time.

Kudlow: Wrong About Everything

Jonathan Chait has a concise summary of TV-pundit Lawrence Kudlow’s economic scholarship and history: He’s been wrong every time.

In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.

By December 2000, the expansion had begun to slow. What had happened? According to Kudlow, it meant Reagan’s tax-cutting genius was no longer responsible for the economy’s performance. “The Clinton policies of rising tax burdens, high interest rates and re-regulation is responsible for the sinking stock market and the slumping economy,” he mourned, though no taxes or re-regulation had taken place since he had credited Reagan for the boom earlier that same year. By the time George W. Bush took office, Kudlow was plumping for his tax-cut plan. Kudlow not only endorsed Bush’s argument that the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — the one Kudlow and his allies had insisted in 1993 could never happen, because the tax hikes would strangle the economy — would turn out to be even larger than forecast. “Faster economic growth and more profitable productivity returns will generate higher tax revenues at the new lower tax-rate levels. Future budget surpluses will rise, not fall.” This was wrong, too. (I have borrowed these quotes from my book, in which Kudlow plays a prominent role.)

Kudlow then began to relentlessly tout Bush’s economic program. “The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points,” he predicted in 2002. That was wrong. He began to insist that the housing bubble that was forming was a hallucination imagined by Bush’s liberal critics who refused to appreciate the magic of the Bush boom. He made this case over and over (“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well.”) and over (“The Media Are Missing the Housing Bottom,” he wrote in July 2008). All of this was wrong. It was historically, massively wrong.

And now he’s Trump’s chief economic adviser.  Why?  Because he was on TV and he’s been sucking up to Trump since he got out of rehab.

Living Large

The Cabinet loves fancy furniture and flying high.

During a Cabinet meeting at the White House last October, President Trump extolled the virtues of the men and women surrounding him at the table.

“A great trust has been placed upon each member of our Cabinet,” he declared. “We have a Cabinet that — there are those that are saying it’s one of the finest group of people ever assembled . . . as a Cabinet. And I happen to agree with that.”

Less than five months later, Trump finds himself presiding over a Cabinet in which a number of members stand accused of living large at taxpayer expense — often by aggressively embracing the trappings of their high government posts.

At least a half-dozen current or former Trump Cabinet officials have been mired in federal investigations over everything from high-end travel and spending on items such as a soundproof phone booth to the role of family members weighing in on official business. On Wednesday alone, newly disclosed documents revealed fresh details about spending scandals at both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Revelations about repeated use of chartered airplanes forced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in September. More recently, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has continued to wrestle with the fallout of news that taxpayers covered the expenses for his wife during a 10-day trip to Europe last year — and more recently that his chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to justify the payments.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced public criticism and the scrutiny of government investigators for his own frequent first-class travels and for other expenditures he made using public funding. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that records showed a soundproof phone booth installed in Pruitt’s office cost $43,000 — $18,000 more than previously disclosed.

At the Interior Department, Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced inquiries about his travel practices, and last fall an official in the agency’s inspector general office wrote that Zinke had failed to properly document his trips since taking office.

And at HUD, public records released this week detail how Carson’s wife was closely involved in the redecorating of his office at the agency, including the purchase of a $31,561 dining set.

And they all claim they had no idea it would cost this much to redecorate or fly first class and they’re pissed and insulted that we would dare question them about it.

Wow, the nerve of some people.

This is the very definition of a kleptocracy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Seventeen Minutes

High school students across America are planning to walk out of school today at 10 a.m. for seventeen minutes to mark the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to demand changes in gun laws.

Some school districts may take action against the students; some may encourage them.  The ACLU has a primer on the rights and consequences for students for taking such action.  So noted, but a number of schools in Miami-Dade County are planning to participate.

Too Close To Call

As of this writing — 3:17 a.m. — the results of the special election in Pennsylvania are too close to call, but Democrat Conor Lamb has the lead.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Lamb clung to a 579-vote edge over Republican Rick Saccone, with 113,111 votes for Lamb and 112,532 for Saccone. NBC News said the contest was too close to call.

But shortly before 1:00 a.m., Lamb was introduced as “congressman-elect” at his election night party.

“It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it!” Lamb told cheering supporters.

I don’t know what the trigger point is for a recount, but there will most assuredly be calls for one.

Stephen Hawking

From the BBC:

World renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76.

He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday, his family said.

The Briton was known for his work with black holes and relativity, and wrote several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.

At the age of 22 Prof Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease.

The illness left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

In a statement his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

They praised his “courage and persistence” and said his “brilliance and humour” inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

He also promoted science to the masses: he guest-starred as himself on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and I think he would appreciate the timing that he left this form of life on Pi Day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ta-Ta For The Tillerson

(Re: Post title — that’s the best I could do on short notice and “REXIT” was already taken by TPM.  Apologies to Cat Stevens.)

Via NBC:

Trump asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to step aside, the White House confirmed Tuesday, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

In a tweet, Trump thanked Tillerson for his service and said Pompeo “will do a fantastic job.”

It really doesn’t matter who Trump puts in there; he/she/it will be a figurehead.  Trump is in charge of everything; presumably Mr. Tillerson didn’t fully grasp that.

Nothing To See Here

Whitewash, anyone?

House Intelligence Committee Republicans say they have found no evidence that President Trump and his affiliates colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election or that the Kremlin sought to help him, a conclusion at odds with Democrats’ takeaways from the congressional panel’s year-long probe and the apparent trajectory of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

The findings are part of a 150-page draft report that Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the committee’s Russia probe, announced on Monday. It will probably be weeks before the document is made public.

“We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters Monday. He noted that the worst the panel uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings” — such as a June 2016 gathering at Trump Tower in New York City between members of the Trump campaign and a ­Russian lawyer. Conaway said that meeting “shouldn’t have happened, no doubt about that.”

“But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction, page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway said. “We’re not dealing in fiction, we’re dealing in facts, and we found no evidence of any collusion.”

House Intelligence Committee Republicans completed the draft report without any input from Democrats, who will be able to see and weigh in on the document starting Tuesday, Conaway said. In a statement Monday night, the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), said the sight-unseen report was a “tragic milestone” and a “capitulation to the executive branch.”

What, you were expecting anything more from them?  They’re ignoring what the intelligence community has been saying all along: Putin wanted Trump in office.

What Charlie Pierce said:

Of course, in fairness, we should wait for the actual report, and do our best to ignore the symphony of triumphant crowing from the usual suspects in the media. (Sean Hannity has set the Orgasmatron to infinity and climbed inside.) But we already know enough to know that the purpose of the Republican majority on this committee was to act as a White House alibi factory.

And the idea that this announcement, by which we learn what the report will conclude without being told when the report actually will be released, is in any way coincidental in the context of everything else that’s swirling around the administration* is to ignore how Monday’s action is totally of a piece with the strategy employed by the Republican majority of the committee from the day the gavel first fell.

And, I suspect, the lights are still on in the Office of the Special Counsel, as Robert Mueller hears the news from across the room, and asks one of his lawyers to pass him another file.

The shoes haven’t even begun to drop.

Pennsylvania Oracle

Pundits, predictors, and cable news hosts — basically the same thing — are awaiting the results of today’s special election in Pennsylvania.

The stakes are high for President Trump and congressional Republicans in Tuesday’s special election to fill a U.S. House seat, with GOP leaders unnerved about the prospect of defeat and the implications for this year’s midterm elections.

A loss in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District — a working-class slice of the country that Trump has cultivated as his political base — could shatter hopes that his core voters will turn out in droves this fall and save the GOP’s 24-seat House majority.

And, coming days after the president announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the vote could raise fresh questions about the power of Trump’s protectionist agenda to lift his party.

“It really is a test that sets things in motion,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said. “Does the base have energy? Does the party have the structure and discipline it needs?”

The latest polling has the Democrat, Conor Lamb, up three points against Rick Saccone, the Republican who is hoping to keep the district in GOP hands, a seat they’ve held for generations.  The district, south of Pittsburgh, is mainly working-class white voters and went heavily for Trump in 2016.  But when the previous rep, Tim Murphy, resigned in a sex scandal, it became the test case Trump’s rhetoric versus the Democrats’ renewed energy to take our country back.

Ironically, the district will basically disappear by November when the court-mandated map is put in place.  But for now it’s all about who’s message gets out.

Scott Lemieux at LGM:

…Whether Saccone narrowly wins or narrowly loses a district Trump carried by nearly 20 points, it’s a sign Republicans are in serious, serious trouble in the fall. And while normally the outcome of the election would still be very important because of the incumbency advantage, because Pennsylvania’s elected judges decided to ram democracy RIGHT DOWN THE THROATS of Pennsylvania’s unrepresentative legislature the November election will be fought in a completely different district anyway. Saccone losing might lead to a few more preemptive retirements by GOP House members but that’s about it. It’s already bad news for Republicans and the only question is how bad.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Starving For Success

Speaking of toadies (see below), Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revealed that she doesn’t know jack about public education other than the best way to make a school better is to take away all its funding and give it to some fly-by-night charter operation.

STAHL: Why take away money from that school that’s not working — to bring them up to a level where they are, that school is working?

DEVOS: Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school, school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.

STAHL: Okay. But what about the kids who are back at the school that’s not working? What about those kids?

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been, where there is, a lot of choice that’s been introduced, Florida, for example, the studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DEVOS: Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I,  I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

Interesting that Ms. DeVos would cite Florida as a shining example of how her alleged ideas work; the state is cutting funding again in the counties that need it the most, and the successes of the public schools have been achieved in spite of the best efforts of the legislature to screw them over.

Self Governing

Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff decision to meet Kim Jong-un proves that he truly does believe he can do it all by himself.  He alone can fix it.

That may sound good at a campaign rally, but that’s not how you run a country.  Or at least one that aspires to democracy and separation of powers, and when it comes to making snap decisions in a time of crisis — e.g. under attack — it doesn’t bode well for the outcome.  Even when he says he’s brought in “the best people,” he’s ignored their counsel and gone with the words of the nearest toady.