Three Ring Circus: House, Senate & Trump/Putin

This week in Washington DC is proving a three ring circus.  Hard to know where to focus your attention, and perhaps that’s some of the point.  Those opposed to the Trump/House Republican domination of our government need to stay focused on all rings.three ring circus

Ring 1: Health Care in the House

In no way is the Republican bill in the House of Representatives truly a health care bill.  It serve only the continuing need of the Republican Party to say they repealed the Affordable Care Act.  (Don’t call it Obamacare: it’s our health care that’s under threat, yours and mine and our neighbors’.)

This proposed legislation (a) reduces the percentage of Americans with health care, (b) makes it less affordable for most Americans, and (c) does nothing to reduce medical or pharmaceutical costs.  The bill only makes health care worse.  It is a Wealthcare bill: as it shreds coverage and affordability, it enriches the wealthy with further tax cuts.  Urge your Representatives to vote no.

Ring 2: Treason Investigation of the Trump Campaign

In the middle, the two elephants trunk to tail: Trump to Putin.  After FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, there are only larger and more profound reasons to suspect collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents in the 2016 election campaign.  Comey confirmed there was an ongoing investigation.  We already know of contacts between Russian agents and Michael Flynn (briefly National Security Advisor), Paul Manafort (Campaign Director) and Jeff Sessions (confirmed Attorney General, now recused from the investigation).  Devin Nunes, Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee has shown himself unfit to lead a proper investigation.  As Adam Schiff (ranking minority member of the House committee) put it, “There is more than circumstantial evidence now.” We need to press for appointment of a bipartisan Select Committee, and insist we get to the bottom of this swamp.

Ring 3: Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings in the Senate.

We’re toward the end of hearings to consider Neil Gorsuch as “President Trump’s nominee for Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat,” as E. J. Dionne properly described it.  Garland should have been confirmed by the Senate.

Tell your Senator to vote no on Gorsuch at least until the treason charges have been fully heard. And if the Trump campaign has been shown to have colluded with Russian agents, Gorsuch should be withdrawn as a nominee. We won’t know whether we have a legitimate U.S. President until we reach the end of a proper investigation.  No nominee of an illegitimate president should be confirmed, especially not a Supreme Court Justice.

Talk to your members of Congress about all three.

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Secrets or Lies? Two Presidents on Trial

This morning I’m watching the House Intelligence Committee hearings with FBI Director James Comey as the lead witness.  (Also testifying is Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency.)  Republican and Democratic members of the committee are asking about intelligence information and investigations bearing on the 2016 Presidential elections, especially possible involvements of Russian agents.

Comey is being very careful not to disclose any specific information about ongoing investigations, but Comey has disclosed that there is indeed an ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.  There is a striking contrast in the questions that the majority and minority members of the committee are asking.

Republicans are asking about leaks of intelligence information, leaks whose content suggest collusion or coordination between members of the Trump campaign apparatus and Russian agents.  These members of Congress want to expose that leaks of classified intelligence information are improper and serious.

Democrats are asking whether Comey has any knowledge of any wiretapping of Trump or his campaign by U.S. intelligence agents.  Comey has specifically denied any such knowledge, thus exposing those Trump claims as lies, reckless lies.  Similarly he has denied any knowledge of cooperation of British intelligence agents in any wiretapping of the Trump campaign, again exposing this as a lie, one that slanders a trusted ally.

The testimony is vindicating Obama from Trump’s charges, and affirming Trump’s lies. It also is calling attention to leaks by U.S. officials of classified intelligence secrets.

The question for any citizen is whether you are more concerned about leaks of secret intelligence information, or whether you are more concerned about slanderous lies by the President of the United States.

Me, I’m more concerned about the lies by a sitting American President.

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I Want Leadership From the Democratic Party

ADDENDUM below 17.3.12

I’m not getting it, and neither are you.

Today I get the survey below from the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).  The e-mail is ostensibly from Nancy Pelosi.

DCCC Survey 17.3.10

They forgot to ask “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

They don’t want me to do any thinking whatsoever.  And there’s no indication of what I should do other than contribute money via the certain-to-follow “chip in” screen that will follow if I submit responses.  What do they do with that money? And what do they do with all of all these polls and petitions they are forever sending?  (Am I seriously to believe that Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan care about those petitions?)

I respond: “This is a stupid survey.  Treat me like a serious person or don’t bother at all.  I want leadership, not condescension from the Democratic Party.”  But I have no confidence whatsoever they are listening.

We have serious work to do.  We have a crazy President and a Congress dominated by leaders who have no regard at all for the welfare of the vast majority of citizens.  I want a Democratic Party that channels the ready-to-mobilize energies and talents of those citizens.

Dear DCCC:  What should I read? Who should I call? What should I tell them?  What are the most effective things I can do today?  And you might occasionally ask me what I think in a way that anticipates I might have something to say.


ADDENDUM.  a day later, having failed to complete the survey, having told them why, I receive the further e-mail, below.  The link takes me to the exact same survey.  “Personalized?”  “(just for you!)” A seven-pack of BVD briefs would be more personalized.  Wow.  I don’t think they are getting it:

DCCC Survey 17.3.10 response


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What To Make of Trump This Week?

Oh, what a long strange trip it’s been, and we’re only a month and a half into the four years of the Trump presidency.

Today, on the intelligent conservative side of the political spectrum:

Here’s Eric Posner saying he’s your crazy uncle listening to Fox News with the volume up.

And yet here’s Ross Douthat saying maybe he’s the most politically savvy Republican of our time.

From the journalism, just-the-honest-facts world, here’s the New York Times reporting that none of the president’s political allies want to back him in his tweet storm alleging President Obama wiretapped him.

And on the progressive side of the political spectrum here’s Steve Almond (of Cognoscenti) dressing Trump as a second coming of McCarthy (complete with Roy Cohn whispering in his ear), seeing Trump as doubling down on the maxim that the best defense is a virulent, smeary offense.

All saying this at the same point in time.  Got your head spinning?  Could they all be correct?

Time to remind us of Doug’s Rule #1: Pay as little attention to what Trump says as possible.  Rather, pay attention to those he puts in positions of authority and responsibility, and pay attention to the Republicans in Congress.

From that perspective, I like what Almond says at the end of his post:

But the day will surely come when a foreign enemy, or enemies, attempts to exploit Trump’s fatal flaws: his brittle vanity, his reflexive aggression, and his towering ignorance of the damage he might do in using American military might to settle his scores.

The journalists who have bull-horned the president’s every intemperate tweet will have to face their own complicity in having helped usher a wave of McCarthyism into the Oval Office.

And the Republicans in Congress who have stood by and watched him trash the integrity of the American presidency, in the naked hope of passing a rich man’s legislative agenda, will rue their cowardice. If any of them have even a speck of decency, they do already.

Do they? That’s the question we need to ask: do they embrace him, still empower him, or are they prepared to separate themselves from this unfit president? The Republicans he has appointed and the Republicans in the Congress need to hear that question every hour of every day.  We need to be asking.

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What Are We For? Healthcare (1)

As we resist the Trump/Republican political cyclone domination of national political institutions, it is important to say what we are for.  (Not just what we are against.)  Here’s a first contribution.

With Healthcare, it is relatively easy to say what we are for.  (There will be some difficult issues.)  At the present moment we want to preserve the Affordable Care Act.  Yes, it has problems.  Yes, a single payer system (Medicare for everyone) would be better.  But for the present, simply defending the ACA is essential.  That’s what we’re for.

The Republican Congressional leadership has just released their ‘replacement’ for the ACA for their repeal and replace strategy.  There will be lots to read, but for starters I suggest:

The New York Times provides a useful graphic that summarizes the current ACA and how the Republican bill would change it.

Ezra Klein, The GOP health bill doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve; After seven years of drafting a replacement plan, we get … this?  Klein links to several other pieces worth reading.  I am especially drawn to this observation:

“In general,” writes Peter Suderman, “it’s not clear what problems this particular bill would actually solve.” This is a profound point. It is difficult to say what question, or set of questions, would lead to this bill as an answer. Were voters clamoring for a bill that cut taxes on the rich, raised premiums on the old, and cut subsidies for the poor? Will Americans be happy when 15 million people lose their health insurance and many of those remaining face higher deductibles?

Russell Berman gives a good preview of the problems that the Republicans will have in getting their bill through the Congress in The Conservative Uprising Against the Republican Healthcare Bill.   There will be opposition from within the Republican ranks to this proposal, and that opposition will come from both directions, too much and not enough.

We shouldn’t conclude that Republican disagreement will sink this plan.  We need to keep the pressure on Congress.

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Should We Listen To Charles Murray?

Here’s how the story appeared in Seven Days: Vermont’s Independent Newspaper:


This is attention-getting, isn’t it? Here’s the story in Inside Higher Education.  Here it is in The Washington Post.  A mob committed violence to prevent someone from speaking.  A mob. Injuries.  The story doesn’t go down better when we learn that some of the mob members were college students upset about white racism.  At least it doesn’t for me.

Today we are in a struggle for the soul of America.  Roughly half of the voters who showed up at the polls in 2016 voted for Donald Trump.  More than half voted for Republican members of the House of Representatives, the ones that are busy deregulating everything they can reach.  We need to persuade these voters to vote differently in 2018 and 2020.

Are we likely to persuade people by having mobs attack Charles Murray? Of course not. For one thing, mob violence tears apart the civic fabric.  It is likely criminal behavior.  But it’s more than that.

The question of what we make of Charles Murray and his writings is an important one.  I disagree with Charles Murray, often in quite fundamental ways. Nevertheless, I regularly use his writings when I teach public policy.  I especially use The Happiness of People, Losing Ground, and Coming Apart.  (Note: not The Bell Curve. Why not, see below.)  Why do I read and assign others to read Murray’s works?  Because I believe he is one of the clearest, most evidence-based, broad-gauge conservative thinkers about public policy today in the United States. He is immensely influential and admired in conservative intellectual circles.  If we are going to persuade people to vote differently, we are going to have to understand and be prepared to speak intelligently about the ideas being put forward by the other guys. Charles Murray is a good place to start.

As progressives all across the United States perform an inquest on the 2016 election, one common theme emerging is that we missed focusing on those Americans who have been ‘left behind’ by the march of globalization, lost their jobs and lost their dignity.  Thus, lots of people are taking the time to read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, 2016, touted as ‘#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NAMED BY THE TIMES AS ONE OF “6 BOOKS TO HELP UNDERSTAND TRUMP’S WIN”‘.  What else might we read to help us understand this?

I suggest Murray’s Coming Apart, first published in 2012, four years before Vance’s excellent book.  (“This is an immensely important and utterly gripping book,” writes Harvard History Professor Niall Ferguson.)  No, I don’t agree with much of Murray’s analysis, still less with his prescriptions, but the book did make me think, as I believe it would make many others think if they gave it a read.  Had many of us read it, we might have approached voters in some midwestern states differently.

Today, as I’m mulling about the shout-down and worse at Middlebury, I find a moment to read Andrew Sullivan’s most recent letter about the Trump era.  As always, Sullivan’s letter is worth reading.  In it I’m surprised to find this:

In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.

I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss.

Murray. “Extraordinary book.”  “Can’t understand the politics of this moment without ….” The same Murray that Middlebury students shouted down and chased out of town.  Sullivan isn’t shouting him down; he’s praising Murray.

A group of nearly 500 Middlebury alumni signed a letter before the event objecting to the invitation.  They said “Dr. Murray’s scholarship is of blatantly dreadful quality.” I doubt very many of the 500 had ever read Murray.  The very smartest, best educated conservatives in the U.S. largely don’t agree with that “blatantly dreadful quality” (unsupported) assessment of Murray’s work. We won’t effectively defeat conservative arguments by simple name-calling, and still less by mob behavior. We won’t win future elections by sticking our fingers in our ears or by shoving our fists and elbows in other people’s ribs.

Yes, some of you may remember that Murray came to Earlham in March 2011 at my invitation.  Some students tried to stop that speech by pulling first one and then another fire alarm.  I spoke up for academic freedom on that occasion.  I’d have liked to see a stronger letter from Middlebury’s President on this occasion, one that apologized to Murray at the start of the letter rather than at the end, but she did voice the key concerns.  Because Earlham and Middlebury are institutions of higher education, academic freedom is the central concern.

Today, not on a college campus and hoping for better days for America, I want to speak up for more than academic freedom: for hearing out and thinking clearly about those with whom we disagree.  If Murray is wrong, say why with care.  You might even find insights that you’d otherwise have missed.  Murray noticed the “abiding sense of loss” among the white underclass before we did.

We may learn something; we may win more elections.


On The Bell Curve.  The book that Murray wrote with Richard Herrnstein, first published in 1994, is a controversial book because it deals frontally with the question of race and IQ.  Its subtitle is “Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.” It drew more attention on publication than probably any other social science book since World War II.  On the whole, I agree with this 1995 assessment from three Brookings Institution scholars: “There are indeed some useful messages in the book. But there is also much wrong with it.”  What “useful messages?” What “mistakes?”  That would take some time to say.

The Wikipedia account is a decent place to start if you want to know more, but first it will let you know that the book generated an enormous scholarly literature, much of it quite technical about statistical techniques and the measurement of intelligence.  Taking the book seriously means committing yourself to a very deep dive.  Just reading one or two things, or worse, taking someone else’s word for it, simply won’t do.

I once read a great deal of that commentary; I pay the book little attention today.  I believe it is wrong in its conclusions, and I believe it is not a constructive contribution to discussions of public policy.  I believe it is Murray’s worst book. But I also believe many other scholars have written bad books and still are worth my/our attention.  I set their bad books aside.

Several of Murray’s other books are well worth my/our attention even though I disagree with them.  (Murray’s The Happiness of People, his 2009 Irving Kristol Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute lays an excellent foundation for a conservative opposition to the likes of Donald Trump.)  It simply is a cheap shot to say, as the Middlebury alumni do, “Dr. Murray’s scholarship is of blatantly dreadful quality.”  It’s as much a cheap shot as it is to say (for example) that most conservatives are shallow, or that they are mostly racist.

If Murray is wrong (or if he is a racist), be prepared to say why. And to do that you will have to read him (or listen to him) first.  Or pay him no attention because you think you have more important things to do.  Those at Middlebury had that option, too.


ADDENDUM, 3/6: The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart addresses the same issue in a similar fashion in A Violent Attack on Free Speech at Middlebury.  One cavil: He uses an ungenerous and I believe inaccurate quote from a student group to characterize Murray’s Coming Apart.  If he hasn’t read the book, why not just mention the topic.  If he has, why doesn’t he simply tell us what he makes of it?

See also The Aftermath at Middlebury, from Inside Higher Education.


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We Just Got SCRUBBED in the House

Very little national reporting on this, but on March 1 the House of Representatives passed HR 998, The SCRUB Act.  SCRUB stands for “Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome.”  Quite a title.

SCRUB passed on essentially a party-line vote.  Just 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans broke ranks.  There have been quite a number of such party-line votes in the House already this year, and almost all of them have to do with rolling back regulations.  Useful, important regulations, for the most part, but rolling them back will allow some folks to make piles more money.

Why SCRUB is a bad idea is stated simply and clearly by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an organization that gathers about 150 consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups.  (AKA good guys.)  CSS opposed it.  So did, for example, Consumers Union and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC said SCRUB is “radical and outrageous – really almost a parody of anti-regulatory efforts.”

SCRUB will make it harder to safeguard food, pharmaceuticals, the environment, water quality, workplace safety and much much more.  SCRUB has a “cut-go” feature that requires that for every new regulation, an old one be eliminated — no matter how valuable the current set of regulations.  No need to show that any current regulation is “Unnecessarily Burdensome,” not matter what the title of the bill.

The Senate still has to act, and the President has to sign the legislation, but the votes are likely there (expect a party line vote) in the Senate and the President will sign when it reaches his desk.

But wait, there’s worth.  Read a letter from Consumer’s Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) opposing SCRUB and two other bills, The Regulatory Improvement Act of 2017 and OIRA, the Insight, Reform and Regulatory Act.  Today (March 2) the House also passed, by a party line vote of 246-176 the Regulatory Improvement Act of 2017 (15 Democrats broke ranks, and one Republican).  OIRA passed the House on March 1, 241-184, seven Democrats and no Republicans breaking ranks.

We just got SCRUBBED.  You didn’t even have a chance to call your Congressional representatives.

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