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31.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Suspence Permalink to this item

A certain man-child of my acquaintance, soon to be 12, is developing a remarkable vocabulary, and while catching up with the Zeitgeist this morning in the August issue of the magazine of record—Vanity Fair—it occurred to me that this is the great gift of the moment: the well-chosen word. We have the best words.

But my day started with Paul Krugman's eulogy for GOP gray matter, Who Ate Republicans' Brains? and "shambling." Call it "the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism—that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought."

Golden Ages aren't what they used to be.

Looking about for the online version of VF pieces, they don't turn right up; they must have a strategy to sell slick paper still, which is OK by me. The luscious look and feel of the full-page ads will never be a web thing, just as all the stuff they're selling will never be my thing. Start with three two-page spreads for the "Fox Fall" lineup on that less ironic fiction channel, then Chanel, Maybelline, Saint Laurent, Cartier, Estee Lauder, Bvlgari and on to Chevrolet which had a nice sound to it, in the Age of Discovery.

They've figured out how to keep the "parfum" samples encapsulated, that's a big plus. (Speaking of that other not-ready-for-prime-web-time medium, smell-o-vision.) Presumably, the articles will eventually show up online and expand our universal word list, but until then, a few of my favorite combinations from James Wolcott:

Deadlines and the current velocity of unreality being what they are, the latest astonishments are not all included. The forward-looking date seems a time capsule of the Ancien Régime, when Spicey was still launching memes among the bushes as he rode the wheel of misfortune.

There was... something... coming from the wings, what might it be?

29.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Arrested development Permalink to this item

A member of the family spent a week in the mountains, out of range of the news. It was "interesting" to catch her up on the week's events. The Mooch and all. Did we even get around to the Boy Scounts? Hell, we were offline for just part of a day yesterday and we had some catching up to do. The last thing we knew was the 1:30 am vote to kill the last of the stream of increasingly absurd "healthcare" bills, John McCain finally making good on the Maverick thing.

As opposed to voting in favor, with the assurance that the bill would never become law, just a ticket to a conference committee, right? (The House would never just say "ok, we'll take it," would they? We can trust them, can't we?)

Props to the stalwart resistance in the Republican Party, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

Then it was news to us that Priebus was out (the "most inevitable" sacking, as Jonathan Chait put it), John Kelly in as new Chief of Staff. A 4-star Marine seems a considerably more daunting match for the Mooch, but I guess we'll see. Another hermit kingdom ICBM launch, ho-hum. After the greatest hits, some passing mention of Junior and Kushner's testimony to the Intelligence committees, "what?!"

This morning, back to the incomparable, unfiltered, unending Twitter tantrum of The Man Who Could Not Lead. Top of the stack just now is the fear of being laughed at, no small thing, even projected to "R's" instead of owning his own nightmare.

Mitch McConnell's accomplishment in anti-leadership is a thing to behold. Can't. Even.

52 on his team and the Veep standing by for tiebreaking, and still flaccid. Ah, but @realDonaldTrump has a solution! It's that 60 vote filibuster that's the problem.

Arithmetic was never a strong suit, either.

And the appearance in Suffolk County, its "highlights" tweeted by the president in a poetic re-enactment of Steve Bannon's reported gymnastic onanism. Clapping for himself, as ever. Shaking a fist. Touting our "nation of laws" while mocking them.

As Adam Raymond put it for New York Magazine, Trump Calls for More Police Brutality in Front of a Crowd of Laughing, Cheering Cops.

The Suffolk County Police Department had to point out that actually, no, they "do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners."

But you know who else is ok with a little rough stuff? Nobody says "you're fired" quite like Vladimir Putin.

"Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC, on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department, according to two FBI agents whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death.

"Mikhail Lesin’s battered body was discovered in his Dupont Circle hotel room on the morning of Nov. 5, 2015, with blunt-force injuries to the head, neck, and torso. After an almost yearlong "comprehensive investigation," a federal prosecutor announced last October that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an "accident," and prosecutors closed the case."

27.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Whooeee Mooch! Permalink to this item

The new White House Communications Director is blowing the doors off the last one! He "asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give [him] a honeymoon period," but nooo. A little evening soirée with the First Couple, Sean Hannity, and former Fox News executive Bill Shine was supposed to be on the Q.T. but it was blabbed. And the new WH Communications Director was hopping mad, demanding the reporter cough up his source, OR ELSE!

“They’ll all be fired by me,” he said. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’”

Preciously, Scaramucci also told Lizza that, "unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention."

But here he is, up to his neck in media attention on a Thursday afternoon. Colorful! (Having quoted one of his f-bombs, I'll leave the rest of that up to you taking the jump.) His tweet pointing the finger at Priebus went viral, and then he deleted it, and said that he was just... calling for Priebus' help, yeah, that's it. Some more of that full transparency stuff. Oh, one more thing:

“Let me tell you something about myself,” he said. “I am a straight shooter.”

Whatever floats your boat (or board) Permalink to this item

Record latest start of the Boise River float season, I heard on the radio yesterday, with the opening bell at 10am on Saturday.

"While people can legally float the river whenever they want," Sven Berg wrote for the Idaho Statesman, "the county doesn’t allow rentals of tubes and rafts in Barber Park, or run shuttles between Ann Morrison and Barber parks, until it believes conditions in the river are appropriate for novice floaters.

"Furthermore, people who float the river before the rentals start could be billed for their own rescue."

The Boise basin snowpack hit bottom about the 1st of July, and the upstream reservoirs are already headed lower. Boater-friendly Lucky Peak topped up, but Arrowrock 75% and Anderson Ranch 92%, for more than a hundred thousand acre-feet of not-water. The natural flow slipped lower than what's going out the New York Canal a while ago, but we're still way over—most of 200,000 acre-ft over—the nominal storage curve for the water year. The graph of the river flow below Lucky Peak integrates out to about 2.5 million acre-feet on the year, after a phenomenal winter.

Water year graph for the Boise R. below Lucky Peak dam

25.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Everything you need to know about the GOP healthcare bills Permalink to this item

In one easy infographic, courtesy of the New York Times:

NYT infographic, link to original story

Let the debate... begin? Permalink to this item

Top of the news is that Senator John McCain is coming back to Washington to get back to work, carrying a critical vote to "open debate" on whatever the GOP bill carrying the "repeal and maybe replace" banner is today. The Washington Post reports that "some Senate GOP leaders expressed confidence in a newly emerging strategy of trying to pass smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act, with an eye toward continuing negotiations into the fall."

Newly emerging, huh. It seems the president is increasingly impatient for some battle to be waged, over which he can claim WINNING. The heat is on, the humidity is on, the swamp is increasingly gassy, and the Senate is feeling somewhat vaporous.

"It was unclear whether McCain’s return would improve the chances of the bill clearing a key procedural hurdle, as he has expressed concerns about the proposal. But some Republicans were privately abuzz with speculation that leaders might be close to securing the votes they needed to at least keep alive a months-long effort that all but died last week."

Pete Souza photo

But "months-long" is too modest. Years-long! If we continue negotiations into the fall, winter, spring, and another year or two, call it decade-long.

"Still, the prospects of success were murky at best. President Trump threateningly urged Republican senators to get behind the effort Monday, but his sharp rhetoric produced no new public support. And many were confused about what kind of measure their own leadership even intended to bring to a vote. Even if the procedural vote is a success, it by no means guarantees eventual passage of the bill."

Threateningly urged, with the Boy Scouts for a prop, hearkening upon the Scout Law, no less, calling for more of that thing he never gives: loyalty.

(Just after he said something about his cadre of Eagle Scouts' "road to American sex... and and, you have to understand, their American success.")

"As the Scout Law says, a Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal—we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that," and god bless 'em all the Scouts interrupted the speech to recite their Law by heart.

“There is still time to do the right thing,” Trump said.

“What are we proceeding to?” Sen. Rand Paul wondered.

“So what we need to do is make progress,” Sen. John Cornyn said.

If Trump had ever been any part of Scouting, he would have given it a bad name, I'm sure. Consider Baden-Powell's exhortation:

Compared to the abnormality of what just happened at the Jamboree, "a scene out of Triumph of the Will," as Michael Moore put it. Baden-Powell did not think to include A SCOUT DOES NOT CLAP FOR HIMSELF.

Or as Trump himself put it (talking to his favorite audience, himself), "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts, right?"

Our non-Scout, dishonorable, untrustworthy, disloyal, discourteous, profligate and unclean Tweeter in Chief, that's who! Applause-getters included:

Fake news.

Putting America first.

Killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare.

Are you going to get the votes? You'd better get 'em. Otherwise I'll say 'You're fired!'

And he got those loyal Scouts to boo his predecessor, with this:

"By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?"

Really demonstrating that loyalty thing. It comes and goes with the seasons.

From the Jamboree video

"It's amazing how many Boy Scouts we have at the highest level of our great government," he said, after talking about how "the swamp" wasn't an insulting enough term for D.C. It's a "cesspool." A "sewer."

Can you believe that ten members of his Cabinet were Scouts? All glory upon him.

Ryan Zinke—Eagle Scout from Montana, and now Secretary of the Interior—was there in his uniform and Yogi Bear hat, and called out as a prop, whoops, couldn't help upstaging the little man at the podium, proudly waving his Scout Handbook.

Trump couldn't help upstaging himself, in fact, imagining how the "fake media" would downplay his crowd size. The truth is, it was a big crowd.

And a very, very, little man in front of it.

Update: I didn't make it all the way through the speech. Life is too short. But here, Margaret Hartmann rounded up the 14 Most Inappropriate Moments for us.

24.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dirt bag Permalink to this item

Reading along in the story of Jared Kushner's prepared remarks (don't call it "testimony," he won't be doing it under oath for some reason I haven't seen explained), for today's Congressional consumption ("I did not Collude"), there's this charming vignette:

Days later, Mr. Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a lender that is under American sanctions. Mr. Kushner said that Mr. Kislyak had described Mr. Gorkov as someone “with a direct line to the Russian president who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.”

Mr. Gorkov gave Mr. Kushner a piece of art and a bag of dirt from Novgorod, his family’s ancestral village in Belarus. ...

Back in Phoenix

This might be a bit of diplomatic protocol we never heard of, or a cultural exchange that's common as, well, dirt to Russians, who knows? But it reminds me of the last time I crossed the U.S. border, wearing a goofy straw hat purchased as a souvenir of my first time in Mexico, and The ICE boys took a real special interest in me and my belongings. Did you visit a farm while you were abroad? is an especially big deal, I assume out of concern over invasive species.

Nothing to see here, move along, and maybe Boy Wonder is just a little bit slow on the take-up (with the rest of the team) on "full transparency." The inadvertent filing of incomplete forms keeps popping up in the news.

Whoops we left off all foreign contacts. More than a hundred calls or meetings. Were those supposed to be on the security clearance thingie?

Whoops, forgot to mention that real-estate startup, business ties with George Soros, Peter Thiel, Goldman Sachs and something around a $billion in loans from twenty lenders. Just slipped his mind somehow. The Wall Street Journal reported back in May that he still owes money to Bank of America, Blackstone Group, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, and RBS, all not disclosed the first times around.

Just Friday, the Washington Post reported there were "dozens" of previously undisclosed assets we're now hearing about. $5 million here, $19 million there, it can add up. It's a lot to keep track of, to be sure, and "frequent revisions are not unusual for appointees with many holdings." We're now on rev 40:

"Kushner’s financial disclosure has been updated 39 times since his first filing in March."

It is at least nice to know that the next time we have a Democrat in the same sort of position, Republicans in Congress will be very understanding about good faith efforts at this difficult process of disclosure.

23.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Alius culpam ignorantia Permalink to this item

There are many polished gems set into Peter Savodnik's explainer of how Russia mercilessly played Trump and his coterie of idiots, nihilists, and opportunists for fools. Illusions of competence (let alone normalcy) are evaporating faster than the morning dew.

"Their pretend patriotism, their ignorance of American history, its poetries and injustices, its constant existential confrontation with itself, leaves them especially susceptible to the allure of the authoritarian. There is a logic and clarity to the authoritarian, with his shiny toys and Potemkin bullet trains and airport terminals. The authoritarian knows how to put on a good show, and these people love to be dazzled. They are vulnerable to Putin because they admire him while not understanding where he comes from nor who he is. They have no idea whom they are doing combat with. They do not even know that they are engaged in battle, and that the battle is already won."

Photo today

By the way, speaking of the authoritarian, who saw the announcement that the president has "complete power" to pardon anyone—everyone!—including himself coming? (Hypothetical, of course. He's just saying for a friend.)

David Corn provided supporting evidence for the cluelessness, after Jeff Sessions' testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, regarding what Trump and his team didn't do: imagine that they were up against an adversary. "Trump and his national security team had not extensively discussed—if they had discussed at all—the Russian assault against the United States."

Just the opposite: they did all they could to conceal and dismiss the very idea that there might be interference. “It’s disgusting. It’s so phony... I can’t think of bigger lies,” Junior said. “That exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.”

Sometimes people accuse others of exactly what they would do, given a chance, and now that Junior's revealed to us what he was willing to do, if only that Russian government attorney would have put out, what to make of his indignation act? I guess he might be stupid enough to hack his own emails to blame it on someone else as a front-running campaign strategy, but let's be generous and imagine he's a big idea guy with no filter.

Charles Pierce's question—how much absurdity can you handle?—is still open.

"The government of the United States is a shambles. An incompetent administration headed by an unqualified buffoon is now descending into criminal comedy and maladroit backstabbing. It is an administration that not only self-destructs, but glories in the process."

Perhaps we all can be pardoned for thinking there were tattered shreds of normalcy that might protect us from the smash and grab operation that came to town under the banner of throwing bums out. In the week-ago New York Times Magazine's "First Words" feature, Emily Bazelon wondered How Do We Contend With Trump’s Defiance of ‘Norms’? Not to mention his most ardent supporters exulting in his transgressions.

"Norms seemed like enough to keep a president from using his office for self-enrichment, until Trump declared “the president can’t have a conflict of interest” and delighted that being elected had made his brand “hotter.” It seemed to go without saying that a president would not rail against the independent judiciary, call the press the “enemy of the people,” attack an investigation ordered by his own Justice Department, blurt Israeli intelligence secrets to Russia or ask his cabinet to fawn over him on TV."

20.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some good, wholesome news for a change Permalink to this item

Photo of our compost pile just now

Just over a month into the new city composting program, things are going gangbuster. 1,716 tons of "very, very clean" material that will not be going into the landfill, but will gracefully decompose mostly at the city's Twenty Mile South operation, along with the "biosolids" out of the city's wastewater treatment plants. Says there, collection is running about 50% higher than expected, 66 T/day instead of 45. There were some grumps to begin with:

"Ever since the Idaho Statesman first reported Boise’s composting plans, people complained this was yet another big-government program that would accomplish little more than separating people from their money. Especially vocal were Boiseans who already compost their own organic materials and saw no benefit whatsoever."

But we don't know those people. There has pretty much always been a compost pile where I live, and we'll keep that going just fine, along with ample reason to fill up a bin with leaves and shrub and tree trimmings that are more than we want or can use.

Let my words speak for themselves Permalink to this item

Ain't no two ways about it, the Electoral College installed a clown for president. A bad clown. He was never an attractive person for my money, but it's only gotten worse since he's achieved his supposed ambition. It hasn't solved the problem of his unhappy childhood. The ghost of Fred Trump haunts the country. The world.

Who knew health care was so complicated? He had no idea. Who knew that Mitch McConnell's capacity for obstruction would come around and bite him in the ass? And who knew Trump could be so nasty, as well as stupid?

Your president wants more people to die so he can embarrass Obama.

— John Legend (@johnlegend) July 18, 2017

We could have guessed. The toxic rump that still supports him—85% of Republicans!—apparently likes this sort of behavior. They got theirs, screw the lot of you.

He promised the moon—the most beautiful healthcare, lower premiums, everybody gets a toaster, it'll be So Easy. Now he's delivered... well, nothing. Not even some moldy green cheese. Do his supporters care? Some probably do, and if they can't get their daily dose of opioids, they could be getting nasty too.

Everything is secret, and nothing is. Trump has the follow-on meeting with Putin, no whisperers, no translator of his own, for god knows what, and we find out about it within a week or two. It was... "just pleasantries." Or... "I actually talked about Russian adoption with him!" That's a coincidence. Maybe Junior can talk about that some more when he's testifying next week. Oh, and we're ending covert aid to Syrian rebels trying to topple Assad, just like Vladimir Vladimirovich wants us to.

In other headlines, Trump loans from Deutschebank face regulatory scrutiny, Manafort owed about $17 million to pro-Russia interests and still, no one in the Internal Revenue Service has gone Snowden for us and released Trump's tax returns. Maybe Bob Mueller's looking them over.

We love the not-failing New York Times, and even though it's mostly creepy to have Trump off-script and on the record for an hour (except for the nice vignette with his granddaughter), please Do Not Give Him Any Ideas.

Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

Hmm? Russia? Also, "Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest." He interviewed for the FBI job! He wanted something. Funny/not funny that Trump sees that as a sin.

What one of the interviewers said (in "The Daily"): "This odd coincidence that we were not able to make sense of in real time." Kind of the story of the Trump administration. This is not normal. It doesn't make sense outside the orbit of the Sun King.

We are now moving into the paranoid raving stage of the psychodrama, the lead actor's memory being reshaped by the daily Fox News takes on events, men in black scrubbing his recollection with a flash of their pen, as he slips into out-of-body third person. Can't even remember shooing everybody out of the room and having that one-on-one with FBI Director James Comey. We hardly talked! The guy's obviously a showboating liar with a dozen corroborating witnesses who are all in on this, too.

And that conniving Jeff Sessions, after Trump gave him that nice job as General something, recuses himself! and leaves this meddlesome priest. "Frankly," Mr. Trump said, "I think that was very unfair to the president."

"Extremely unfair, and that's a mild word, to the president."

Update: "Challenge accepted." Mueller expands probe to Trump business transactions.

7.16.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Creature from the fake news lagoon Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein organizes the best of Fox News explanations for Junior's Russia meeting for us in a nice little video.

Joshua Green in today's NYT Sunday Review: No One Cares About Russia in the World Breitbart Made. Front-page bombshell and dire threat to the presidency? FUHGEDABOUDIT!

"On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

I'd take exception to Green's follow-on that "Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier." No matter how Republican-central the fringe Dobbs inhabits may have become, he most certainly is a wacky outlier from normalcy.

"One reason that an alternative view of reality has taken such deep root among Republicans is that they seem to be focusing more on the broader culture. Last week a new Pew Research Center poll showed that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now believes that colleges and universities — the flash point of our current culture wars — have a negative effect on the country. This number is up sharply from the 45 percent who agreed with this same statement last year."

Colleges and universities. The alternative being... making America great again with a system of grift, cons and real-estate branding, the Trump University of economic development.

Gallup polls of presidential job approval over the years

The jump to Gallup's latest shows Trump's most recent weekly average approval rating at 38%, the lowest of the last 10 presidents, going back to July, 1953, when 71% of the country liked Ike. The tranche of Republican-identifying Americans is all that crazy and more for the Donald, however: their approval remains at a solid 85%. THAT is some collusion.

And delusion. 85% of a scant half of the country are not going to benefit from having a narcisistic, greedy bully in the White House. 85% of 1% of the country might, at least for a little while, but even that seems high. The Trump clan is in it for themselves.

The meta-media analysis of the day is from Josh Marshall, in the Talking Points Memo editor's blog: The Trumpers don't hate media. They are media creations. Or creatures. Or sensations. (Props to Carolyn Kaster/AP for the perfect photo to accompany that story, BTW, and scariest meme for this year's Jack-o-lanterns.)

"Trump himself is a self-creation of the 80s and 90s New York City tabloid culture. His comeback in the early part of this century was driven more than most people understand by the success of The Apprentice. Why else do you think people in the Philippines or Kazakhstan paid millions to license Trump’s name? It was the brand driver of the licensing empire which allowed Trump to become the 45th President."

Well, that and the decades-long media campaign to demonize Clinton, the Russian effort to make a mockery of our occasionally democratic system, the collusion of so many in and around the campaign to collude with them, James Comey's possibly well-intentioned free-lance honesty turning into unwitting collusion and the best/worst/surprisiest October surprise ever. But a quibble. Marshall's point is well taken: this is all about the media, and its manipulation.

"Steve Bannon was a publisher. Before that he was a movie producer. Jared Kushner bought a newspaper and used it to fight his battles in the press. On down the list they are all media people. They don’t hate the media. Indeed, they can only understand most battles in media terms. You see this in Kushner’s frenzied and inane demands to deploy communications office staffers to battle cable news producers over chyrons or “unleash surrogates immediately”, as a Politico story this afternoon has him demanding of Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders.

"They don’t “hate” the media anymore than fish hate the water. Shouting and messaging and attacks are the only language they really understand. What they hate is that they feel like they’re losing on the terrain they believe is the only one that really matters."

The endless campaign for ruler of Oceania, golf and watching cable TV are the primary occupations of our titular president. And his adoring claque is eating it up, as they pay for the wall they're building around their epistemic bubble.

$13.9 million in the second quarter. Of 2017. "The campaign" spent $4.37 million over the same period, about half on "digital services," and a nice 5% tranche to Trump businesses. The legal fees are adding up. $50,000 flowed to Alan Futerfas to represent Junior, an advance paid last month before his scandal got legs. Slightly pale in comparison to the $677,826 in payments described in filings as “legal consulting” between April and June. Think on this: "Trump has spent more than $4.5 million of campaign funds on legal costs since the beginning of his campaign."

Back to that Pew Research Center report, on the Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions. As astounding as divide on colleges and universities is that on "the national news media." Democrats/Lean Dem are split down the middle: 44% positive, 46% negative on the question on its effect on the way things are going in the country. Republicans/Lean Rep said 10% "positive," 85% "negative."

Yeah, that same fraction, 85%. Josh Marshall said it's "too straightforward to be a paradox," but that poll result has to make you wonder. The same swath that supports these creatures of the media think the media is having a negative effect on the country.

They're exactly right.

Bastille Day, 2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ba da Boom Permalink to this item

We're still way in the black, but there's trouble in sight. The 2017 OASDI Trustees Report is available for our perusal.

First, the good news: benefit payments going to more than 60 million people; More than 170 million paying in. Total expenditures in 2016 of $922 billion, against income of $957 billion. Asset reserves grew to $2.85 trillion at the end of last year. "Short-range" projected results—the next 5 years—are that the total income is projected to exceed total cost, "as it has for every year since 1982."

If you're the glass half-empty sort, you can wring your hands about the fact that the net income of $35 bil was courtesy of the $88 billion in interest earnings. (We're getting about 3% on our nearly $3T trust fund loan.) And with the current assumptions, just past the short-term, we start spending down the trust fund, and it gets to zero in 2034.

Which seems a long way off still, but knowing that Congress can barely get its act together for annual budgeting, and handling the debt ceiling without shooting itself in the foot, it might not be too soon to worry. The "highlights" all in text are a sort of blessing; when you take the jump to Figure II.D2, OASDI Income, Cost, and Expenditures as Percentages of Taxable Payroll, there's that cliff up ahead. If we have to start living within our means—taxes paid by (a.k.a. "non-interest income" from) current workers—"scheduled" benefits won't all be payable. 77 cents on the dollar will be available, which is more than nothing, but might seem a little short if it's your ends you're trying to make meet.

Figure II.D2 of OASDI Trustees Report, 2017

The next figure, "Number of Covered Workers Per OASDI Beneficiary" tells the tale of the end of the Baby Boom. '65 + 65 = 2130, when what used to be more than 3 workers per retiree, down to 2.8 last year, settles down to about 2. "Covered" workers are the ones paying payroll taxes.

Simplified figure II.D3, # of 'covered' workers per beneficiary

It's still early, but it's getting later all the time. The conclusions tell us there is "a broad continuum of policy options that would close or reduce Social Security's long-term financing shortfall. Cost estimates for many such policy options are available."

Increase "revenues" (taxes) "by raising the tax rate or the maximum level of taxable earnings, or by dedicating revenues from other sources"; lower benefits for some or all beneficiaries; or some combination of the two.

"The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits and could preserve more trust fund reserves to help finance future benefits. Social Security will play a critical role in the lives of 62 million beneficiaries and 173 million covered workers and their families in 2017. With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations."

Sounds ok, except... we can't remember the last instance of "informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action."

7.13.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nothingburgers Permalink to this item

The Department of Justice had been investigating the owner of a Russian real-estate company, Prevezon, son of the former vice governor of the Moscow region (should that title be hyphenated, or not, I wonder), and here's news that the case was settled, a couple months ago. As in any settlement, everyone claims victory.

A spokesman for the US attorney's office touted how much time and expense was saved by not going to trial. A spokesman for Prevezon's attorneys said "It was a surprise."

"We were getting ready for opening statements and fully expected to try the case. In fact, we were looking forward to it. We reluctantly agreed to accept the government's offer when it became clear that the fine proposed was no more than we would have spent fully litigating the case, and that no admission of guilt, forfeiture, or continued seizure of any assets was required. Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse."

A week ago, you wouldn't have recognized the tongue-twisting moniker of the Russian lawyer, but this week, she's about famous: Natalia Veselnitskaya. (Sounds like... this.)

The other previously not-household-now-kind of famous name associated with this case was the U.S. Attorney who was prosecuting the case before the Trump administration said "You're Fired!": Preet Bharara.

And huh, here's the DOJ defying a court order to release Beauregard's SF86 with any part relating to contact "with any official of the Russian government."

Snapshot of the tableau public presentation of Siskind's list

H/t to Amy Siskind for the link to the Business Insider piece, and past time to catch up with her weekly feature inspired by experts in authoritarianism who advise us to keep a list of things subtly changing around us so we'll remember.

(Copyrighted, and just nominated for The Library of Congress's Public Policy Archive.)

Week 34: July 8, 2017 seems like ancient history already. Remember the Voter Fraud Panel? Heads exploding for the 4th of July when NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence? The Speaker of the House dictating women must wear sleeves? The Wisconsin assembly passing a bill to block students from protesting conservative speakers on college campuses? The dystopian carnage speech in Poland? Or these items, two-thirds of the way through:

64. US Intel estimates that Russia has 150 operatives in the US. Since the election, many have tried to sneak in under the guise of business.

65. Strangely, the State Dept reportedly continues to grant temporary duty visas to suspected Russian intelligence officers, despite knowledge.

The list is also available as a tableau public database with a histogram UI, there's a new idea. And on the entertainment side...

non-trivial possibility that if you had literally dressed up as boris and natasha you could have gotten a meeting with donald jr.

— Mazel Tov Cocktail (@AdamSerwer) July 11, 2017

The downfall of a presidency is going to be televised, and it's going to have the best ratings. Believe me.

"About the only administration stalwart not remaining silent is the vice-president, whose statement following the release of the Donald Jr. emails let it be known that he was “not aware” of the Trump Tower meeting and that it had taken place before he joined the campaign. Mike Pence has clearly been boning up on Gerald Ford, and may already be brooding about the risks entailed if he should eventually be in the position to pardon the 45th president."

7.11.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Famous first family Permalink to this item

It's so weird when you read about what's going on in whole, coherent sentences. David A. Graham, in The Atlantic:

"In other words, Trump Jr. admitted (while acknowledging a prior lie) that he was open to receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian lawyer; he was just frustrated that she didn’t seem to have it. If there was no collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump inner circle, it was not because top Trump aides were against it."

Also floating by this morning, in a friend's periodic "thought of the day" email, an excerpt of James Comey's sworn testimony on this June 8:

"There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in [the USA] election during the 2016 cycle. They did with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. ... It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as unfake as you can possibly get."

What could possibly go wrong with a clan of credulous bumpkins obssessed with gold-plated décor, put in charge of the world?

"Trump’s modus operandi throughout his life has been to break rules and then beg forgiveness. ... The president, a political newcomer, seems to be under the impression that he can do the same in his new line of work. But as I have written before, there’s no option to declare bankruptcy in politics. Nor will Robert Mueller agree to an out-of-court settlement if he decides the president (or his family members) have committed crimes."

Robert Mueller must have such an interesting job right now. Presumably someone on staff has gone through and collected @realDonaldTrump's fascinating Twitter history? It seemed banal and irrelevant for so many years, but now... less irrelevant.

Mother Jones dredged up this June, 2013 gem to go along with David Corn's piece on How a Music Publicist Connected Trump’s Inner Circle to a Russian Lawyer Peddling Clinton Dirt. Dishing dirt! Smackdown! It would be heelarious entertainment if so many millions of people's lives and livelihoods weren't casually hanging in the balance.

Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013

Tacky celeb entertainment aside, props to the superb reporting from the New York Times to dig up evidence to start to force some dribs and drabs of truth from Junior (who is pretending to laugh this off, and hired a new lawyer). The hits keep coming (my emphasis added):

"The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

"If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

"He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

And met with Natalia Veselnitskaya just 6 days later.

This morning, Junior corroborated the NYT reporting, by putting out "to everyone, in order to be totally transparent," "the entire email chain of [his] emails" about the meeting. That makes for another update needed to the explainer on how key Trump associates have been linked to Russia.

If irony weren't so dead already, we'd point out that the bait was "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia."

The NYT editorial board poses the essential question: If a culture of dishonesty takes root in an administration, how can Americans believe anything its officials say?

Update: As far as the entertainment news angle goes, my blogging doesn't hold a candle to Stephen Colbert's treatment for The Late Show. Pretty much the same report, with better production values, and mentions the Russian billionaire oligarch I didn't get around to.

10.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Found poetry Permalink to this item

In the bottomless bucket of spam, momentarily led by Antonia Riddle, cleverly aimed at Tennis Enthusiasts List, but they also have data for Basketball Enthusiasts, Boxing Enthusiasts, and so on down the alphabet (I would assume, without opening it). Tactical Flashlight wants my attention. DraftKings. Bill O'reilly finally speaks and drops a BOMBSHELL (came upon one of the sled-dogs oblivious to all, his eyes filled with vision, continued: to get on with). Nutrition and Healing, Reverse Mortgage Expert, Nugenix (GNC's #1 Vitality Product - A Shocking Boost For Men), thirty minutes or more (Stop taking this for blood pressure), Travel Agent, Fungaway, Life Love Daily, Sunless Tan, Navajo Medicine, Gun Holster, Biblical Nutrition Group (Secret- to-20/20- Vision- Hidden-- in--the-- Bible (to her plan, she at last Some of the girls screamed and ran back, but General Jinjur bravely stood dispositio), InstantHookup (NSFW!), Warranty Center, Warranty Administrator, Match (Are You Online?? Browse Singles Over 40 In Your Area - Are you, unable to examine the AD at all? You'll need-to Visit right here Are You Online ? Browse Singles).

Voiceover: that Men's Warehouse guy, "I guarantee it."

9.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's like draining the swamp Permalink to this item

New-fangled style. VeePence quietly courting big donors and corporate executives, with government-catered soirées at home at the Naval Observatory. One of the fellows who helped raise money for Pence said hey, he's also met with some people other than donors. Like the cheap novel we're now living in, this guy's name is Robert T. Grand. Bob Grand.

Mike Brown/Reuters

“There were a lot of folks who, if you were vice president, you would want to meet,’’ Mr. Grand said. “Corporate executives, other government leaders, people from past administrations, not just donors.” He added that “any administration, past and present, has an interest in getting to know folks. If you’re an incumbent president and vice president, then that’s part of what you do.”

Geico should make a commercial out of that one. Getting to know folks. When you're vice-president, it's what you do.

"Mr. Pence’s office declined to release the lists of guests invited to the dinners, which have not appeared on schedules released by the vice president’s office to the news media. Marc Lotter, Mr. Pence’s press secretary, called the dinners 'private' and said that the vice president had not held any political fund-raisers at his residence, which would be complicated by a law barring the solicitation of political contributions in government buildings."

Yes, that would be complicated.

First family of collusion Permalink to this item

We're left to imagine Junior's disappointment after the meeting at Trump Tower 13 months ago today.

“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner sat in on it. Junior had denied meeting with any Russians. Then pretended oh, it was just about adoptions. Not that "just" actually works in the context.

That's one hell of a blockbuster in the New York Times. Just in case there are too many distracting details, Jonathan Chait boils it down: the "denials" are actually confessions. Just think of what all Bob Mueller and his team know by now.

8.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Over the edge Permalink to this item

Among the topics I did not expect to come up for discussion in 2017 is whether or not the earth is flat, but here's news from what I would imagine is a credible outlet, The Denver Post, with a byline for Graham Ambrose, and a dateline that's not April 1, saying that the Flat Earth movement is growing in Colorado. "Thanks to technology and skepticism about science," no less.

"The Fort Collins group — mostly white and mostly male, college-age to septuagenarian — touts itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the United States. Sister [sic] groups have since spawned in Boston, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Chicago."

Just to keep it fair and balanced, there's a parenthetical note: "(All scientists and educators consulted for this story rejected the idea of a flat earth.)"

The top of the world on Christopher's/Gleason's map

If we can believe what we read in the Post, a once "shambolic rump of mostly silent believers" has been turned into "a fledgling movement that spans the country." Seriously?

"The Centennial State has been the cradle of the American flat earth renaissance since birth. The first Flat Earth International Conference, which will be in Raleigh, N.C., in November, features a number of Colorado-based Flat Earthers, including Sargent, Knodel and Matthew Procella, or ODD Reality, a Denver-based rapper and YouTuber with 75,000 subscribers and nearly 7 million video views."

(Bad news though: FE Early Bird, FE Early Saver, FE Regular, and FE VIP tickets are ALL SOLD OUT. The only thing left is BYO seat and internet connection for the $17 FE Early Bird Online deal.)

In a twist that would have confounded the original author, Alexander Gleason's patented time chart built on J.S. Christopher's North Pole-centric circular projection of the globe from 120-some years ago is now "frequently cited as the most accurate projection." Maybe it's the curved title text, New Standard Map of the World, Scientifically and Practically Correct AS "IT IS," that they find convincing?

It's just the reporter's bias to say that the flat-earthers take a shine to the "projection," since the nice thing about a flat earth is that you wouldn't need a projection at all. Or a "time chart," for that matter.

Square's square and fair's fair. Some enterprising FE-er could bolster his case in the "cradle of the flat earth renaissance," a conveniently rectangular state, by measuring Colorado's northern and southern borders and show that they're the same length. And certainly not about 22 miles shorter up north. Any old yardstick should be accurate enough to check that within 5%.

4.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The stupid bully Permalink to this item

Three weeks ago, Lizze Crocker was wondering Whatever Happened to Melania Trump’s Anti-Bullying Crusade? on the occasion of FLOTUS moving to Washington, because school's out, I suppose. There's a helpful link to the "closing pitch" from then would-be first lady, on the eve of the election, announcing she would work to stop cyberbullying, if only. It was header-hashtagged #IRONY, and the vein has only gotten richer. The bruising, crazy, no-holds-barred campaign and all, and then the interregnum, the inauguration, and... we continue to await "becoming presidential" for more than a TelePrompTered moment. Another writer deemed the campaign "the most absurd," but I would dispute the adjective. The consequences are too great to consider it that. Surreal is more like it. Alarming. Disturbing. Dangerous. Incredible.

Up at the lake this morning

More than seven months (!) later, there was no sign of follow-up, and lots of signs of a widespread problem with bullying quite close to the FLOTUS. After her husband went after a couple of talk show hosts who'd stopped being sufficiently sycophantic, no word from her, just a spokeswoman to put words in her mouth: “As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”

Given that her spokeswoman had previously said the first lady is “continuing to be thoughtful about her platform,” perhaps this was intended as a statement of the problem rather than some sort of excuse? She's not talking, and I can't blame her. She can't fix what's broken here.

Sarah Holder has a thoughtful piece of "Trumpology" for Politico, how the psychology of cyberbullying explains the tweeting.

"Technically, the term cyberbullying usually refers to teens—young adults sitting behind computer screens, nastily messaging peers things like, “You’re fat!”—so Trump, at 71, is about 55 years too old to be considered a cyberbully, says Parry Aftab, a lawyer who specializes in cyberbullying and digital privacy. But, she says, his behavior fits into other similar categories of grown-up hassling online: “flamers,” “trolls” and “cyber harassers.” Flamers use inflammatory language and profanity in hopes of eliciting a reaction. Trolls are a bit more sophisticated, starting full-blown arguments by saying derogatory or offensive things about certain people or groups. And cyber harassers engage in those same types of behaviors but repeatedly target the same individuals. “Trump has participated, based on my observations, in all three,” Aftab says."

Not sure I buy that "technical" distinction, but perhaps Melania was talking about that narrower problem. We'd have to hear something meaningful from her to know. What isn't in dispute is that her husband has some serious behavior issues.

The president's favorite medium, Twitter, has rules. "We do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice," it says there. Their business model remains a mystery to most observers, but it seems certain they're getting too much flow from the president's bully pulpit to just say no to him.

(It would be an absolutely brilliant move though, I have to say. Even if not immediately profitable.)

Beyond abusive and hateful behavior, there are legal matters, and Jennifer Rubin's blog post ("from a conservative perspective") for the Washington Post last month makes an important point: when the bluff about "tapes" was called, the president revealed another self-inflicted wound.

How droll that Trump's tweet stumbled upon the idea of "hope" for plausible deniability. (He didn't say there were recordings. And 'quotes' around the word 'tapes.' Just kidding!) But he's not sly like the tawny fox that lives on his head, he's crude and rather stupid like the guy who walks into women's dressing rooms and talks about sexual assault (while being "recorded") to impress credulous twerps.

So he had to brag that yeah, it was a ruse, and see how well it worked! "I think his story may have changed," Trump said.

And former FBI Director James Comey said... he felt the need to get his story out there, so that a Special Prosecutor would be appointed to get to the bottom of all this.

Somehow Trump thinks he won the exchange. He fired the guy, right? It's not just stupid, it's criminal obstruction of justice-stupid. To which Trump confessed. And couldn't help himself from adding, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid.”

The smattering of members of the GOP who edged, ever so briefly, away from their Stockholm syndrome to condemn a few of the most risible recent tweets are not doing anything to hold the president accountable.

But there will come a time.

3.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The beginning of the end Permalink to this item

As ripe as the swamp odor emanating from foggy bottom and certain brand-name golf clubs may be, it'll be getting riper still. Frank Rich advises us to Just Wait. Watergate wasn't built in a day.

"The skids of Trump’s collapse are already being greased by some of the same factors that brought down his role model: profound failings of character, disdain for the law (“If the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” in Nixon’s notorious post-resignation formulation to David Frost), an inability to retain the loyalty of feuding White House aides who will lawyer up to save their own skins (H. R. McMaster may bolt faster than the ultimately imprisoned Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman), and dubious physical health (Trump’s body seems to be bloating in stress as Nixon’s phlebitis-stricken leg did). Further down the road, he’ll no doubt face the desertion of politicians in his own party who hope to cling to power after he’s gone."

But that was a whole week ago. What happened since? The National Circus catches us up. With the links:

"[T]he news value of last week’s tweets should not be underestimated. There’s nothing new in Trump letting loose with a nasty misogynistic blow like the one he landed on Brzezinski. What is new is the back story of an alleged blackmail effort by Trump and/or Jared Kushner to use the threat of a National Enquirer expose on Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough as a cudgel to win favorable Trump coverage on “Morning Joe.” Scarborough has tweeted that he has phone records and texts from Trump’s “top aides” to prove this. It is incumbent on him and MSNBC to release that evidence now, particularly given the prominent role “Morning Joe” played in boosting Trump’s candidacy when it counted most, in the early stages of the campaign."

And the WWE/CNN send-up? Dialing up the red meat for the base, aaaand...

"[T]he new level of Trump mental instability dramatized by this tweet is notable. The escalating violence of his tweets at a time when his and the GOP’s entire agenda is on life-support makes you wonder if a complete breakdown is arriving sooner than I and others have thought. The wrestling tweet is batshit crazy, comparable to a drunk Nixon talking to the pictures on the White House walls during his final meltdown."

1.July.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Timely feature Permalink to this item

Kris Kobach was just featured in the NY Times Magazine last month, and here he is making a big splash with a conspiracy-theory inspired demand to all 50 states to cough up

"publicly available voter roll data, including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information."

One can only imagine how many Idaho heads would have exploded if President Obama's Vice Chair for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity had made such a request during his time in office. Or hell, if there had even been a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity formed. Haven't heard of any resistance in this state, but plenty of others are pushing back. 22 had "partly or completely rejected the commission’s request" as of yesterday, according to the NYT.

"[A] growing number of state election officials have indicated—sometimes politely, sometimes brusquely—that they will not or cannot comply. Among them, ironically, were Mr. Kobach himself and a second member of the commission, Secretary of State Connie Lawson of Indiana, both of whom disclosed on Friday that privacy laws prevented them from furnishing some personal voter data."

Is that "irony" or "nuts" that Kobach is refusing his own demand?

Wisconsin said they'd do it for $12,500.

And hooray for bipartisanship: states from Mississippi to California are among the resistance.

Bizarro world Permalink to this item

From CNN's Brian Stelter's newsletter, via the quote in Jay Rosen's PressThink blog:

And more, all about this new not-reality show we stumbled into. Talk about your asymmetric warfare; while the count of golf clubs with trumped-up fake Time magazine covers on display keeps rising (8 was the last I heard), one retraction (for unexplained reasons) by one legitimate media outlet is taken to confirm a yachtload of unhinged nonsensical spew. The need for unending public displays of dominance, as Josh Marshall puts it.

Why is this happening? "Trump is not trying to win the support of anyone who is not naturally allied with him."

This is abnormal. So much is abnormal, we can't keep up.

There's a lot more than the daily press briefing that's in trouble.

"Time to start planning for unforeseen events. When all forms of access and all avenues for questioning are choked off, journalism can still thrive. But it needs to become smarter. This is why I have been saying since January: send the interns. Redirect your most experienced people to outside-in reporting. They cannot visit culture war upon you if they don’t know where you are. The press has to become less predictable. And it has to stop volunteering as a hate object."

How to reform healthcare, in one sentence Permalink to this item

Just yesterday

It's not like he pointed out that the Emperor's ego is a pathetic, insatiable mewling toddler, but standing up the Senate's dog's breakfast of a healthcare was definitely a thing, and the GOP partisans are hopping mad about Nevada's Dean Heller putting the breaks on BRCA till some time after the 4th of July. I say, if Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn are mad at you, you must be doing something right. Tycoon FOTs upset, why on earth should we care?

The constant bombardment of stories about the horse race of legislation, trumpeted at the moment by one man's desperation for so much winning seems to be everything at the moment. In the meantime... we continue to be taken to the cleaners by the tycoons, and by the business of providing medical goods and (mostly) services. Thanks to Elizabeth Rosenthal (have you read American Sickness yet? You should) for the link to Saurabh Jha's Chargemaster explainer on The Health Care Blog.

It's a well-told tale, with the punchline in fewer than 140 characters, because, you know. Jha's Healthcare Reform in a Tweet:

Thou shalt not charge un- or under-insured more than Medicare rates for services rendered in any hospital which accepts Medicare.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007