The best dealmaker!!

I’m so glad the shutdown is over because I actually care about the very real human suffering that happens when nearly a million government workers are out of work (and all kinds of knock-on effects beyond their families).  It’s just so stupid and frustrating that Trump and Republican Senators (essentially is unnamed co-conspirators) created all this suffering all because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh threw a tantrum back in December.  Lots of good takes, of course.  Some of my favorites:

David Graham:

In other words, Trump not only folded—sustaining all the political damage that he would have in December—but he did so only after a long, bruising shutdown that hurt his public approval and split off even some of his core supporters. This dubious strategy is in keeping with the president’s modus operandi. As I have written, Trump almost always folds. From tougher gun control to family separations at the border to negotiations with hostile actors (from Pyongyang to the Democratic caucus), the president talks a tough game and then generally gives in.

Trump’s desire for the wall is genuine. Hoping to make good on his central campaign promise, he has pursued the project with remarkable tenacity. Unfortunately for him, he has also pursued it with incompetence. After two years as president, Trump still evinces little understanding of how the government works. His vision of the presidency is entirely romantic and cinematic: The heroic chief executive uses the bully pulpit, and the rest of Washington gets in line. Trump is not the only president to underestimate the difficulty of getting things done, but it is surprising that after nearly two years in office he still doesn’t recognize that simply demanding things without any plan won’t work.


The mystery of Trump’s bad-but-not-bad-enough approval ratings has spooked liberals ever since his surprising election victory. The shutdown debacle provides some hint as to what might be in store for his public standing if the economic recovery he inherited comes to an end. He has been held up by polarization, a party-controlled media apparatus, and kept aloft by the peace and prosperity he was bequeathed.

In every other respect, Trump is absolutely horrible at politics. His policies are unpopular. He can’t make deals with Congress because he understands too little of the policy substance and can’t be bothered to learn. He surrounds himself with unqualified staffers and listens to the worst advice presented to him. The shutdown was a self-inflicted wound whose outcome was utterly predictable. [emphases mine]

Perry Bacon Jr with my theory for what happened:

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him…

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopular — and it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

Great twitter thread from Matt Glassman:

And, last, but not least, of course, Ezra:

Second, Pelosi correctly read Trump’s personality and had the steel to act on that read. For years now, members of Congress have divided on whether Trump is strong or weak, whether his political success shows an intuitive tactical genius that needs to be respected or a hollow showman who connects to conservatives but is easily flummoxed.

Pelosi has long held that Trump is weak, easily confused, and easily baited. That informed her strategy. Along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, she baited Trump into saying, while the cameras were rolling, “I will shut down the government. I am proud to shut down the government. I will take the mantle.” In interviews and meetings, she tweaked the president, calling the crisis “the Trump shutdown” to Trump’s face and suggesting the billionaire thought furloughed workers “could just ask their father for more money.” She was betting that Trump would overreact rather than turn her into the aggressor, and he did…

Trump’s decision to force this fight has both delivered him a loss and reset Washington’s expectations going forward. Pelosi is now the clear leader of the Democratic opposition, and she has shown herself more than Trump’s equal in a legislative showdown. She has enhanced her standing in her caucus, and he has diminished his standing inside his own. You don’t hear many House Democrats these days grumbling about Pelosi’s leadership. But you hear plenty of Republicans lamenting Trump’s.


Quick hits (part I)

Oh man, so much good stuff this week.  But a really busy Friday.  So, let’s see how much I get to here:

1) Among the conservatives whom Trump has caused to see the light to varying degrees, George Will:

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

2) Paul Waldman is exactly right, “Why you shouldn’t care when a presidential candidate flip-flops.”  Of course, both the media, the Republican Party, and single-issue agenda pushers have conditioned us to care a lot.  Waldman:

Gillibrand’s situation of starting in a place that isn’t representative of her party and then having to change as she moves to the national stage has plenty of precedents. But the evolution over time may be more common, especially in the past couple of decades as the parties have grown steadily more ideologically more homogeneous and shifted away from the center.

For instance, when Clinton joined her husband in the White House in 1993, it was standard for a Democrat to oppose same-sex marriage and support “tough on crime” measures; she had to apologize for both when she ran for president in 2016. By then Democratic tolerance for dissent from the party’s position on guns had narrowed, which left Bernie Sanders explaining that his sometimes pro-gun record was because Vermont is a rural state where lots of people have guns. In other words, he was faithfully representing the beliefs of his constituents, which you can either say is what a representative should do or is just pandering.

Other Democratic candidates are going to confront this issue as the primaries proceed. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has already released a videoapologizing for her previous opposition to marriage equality. Sen. Kamala D. Harris will be criticized for some of her actions as a prosecutor in California. Former vice president Joe Biden will be grilled on his authorship of the harsh 1994 crime bill (among other things). Sen. Cory Booker will have to defend prior ties to Wall Street. Retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya will have to explain his long record of punching other men in the face (though you probably didn’t know, he’s thinking of running, too).

They’ll all probably say that they’re different today than they were then, and while voters will inevitably judge their sincerity, you don’t really have to believe a politician is sincere when they make this move. Why? Because once they shift, they seldom go back. They don’t get elected and then say, “Ha ha, I fooled you all!” As a voter, you’d do better to accept the change and judge them on whether you like the positions they take now. Because that’s almost certainly what they’ll do if they become president.

3) Derek Thompson on the 70% marginal rate and innovation:

Entrepreneurs aren’t just born tough; they’re born lucky. The majority of successful young founders come from affluent white families, and they often piggyback on the professional connections and business expertise of their parents. Taxing the rich and distributing their income would do nothing to change the networks or tutelage of rich families, but it would reduce precarity among middle- and lower-class families, thus helping nonaffluent children become founders without doing much to punish their richer peers.

If Ocasio-Cortez wanted to destroy the American culture of innovation, she wouldn’t propose a barely applicable marginal tax rate, which exists within a larger tax code, which itself exists within a larger fiscal policy. Instead, she would reduce research funding, protect employer-sponsored insurance to keep tomorrow’s founders locked inside today’s cubicles, and increase student debt to make youth entrepreneurship more precarious. Oh, wait.

4) And Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman make the case for high marginal rates.  Read this one.

The view that excessive income concentration corrodes the social contract has deep roots in America — a country founded, in part, in reaction against the highly unequal, aristocratic Europe of the 18th century. Sharply progressive taxation is an American invention: The United States was the first country in the world, in 1917 — four years after the creation of the income tax — to impose tax rates as high as 67 percent on the highest incomes. When Representative Ocasio-Cortez proposes a 70 percent rate for incomes above $10 million, she is reconnecting with this American tradition. She’s reviving an ethos that Ronald Reagan successfully repressed, but that prevailed during most of the 20th century.

And she’s doing so at a time when there is an emergency. For just as we have a climate crisis, we have an inequality crisis. Over more than a generation, the lower half of income distribution has been shut out from economic growth: Its income per adult was $16,000 in 1980 (adjusted for inflation), and it still is around $16,000 today. At the same time, the income of a tiny minority has skyrocketed. For the highest 0.1 percent of earners, incomes have grown more than 300 percent; for the top 0.01 percent, incomes have grown by as much as 450 percent. And for the tippy-top 0.001 percent — the 2,300 richest Americans — incomes have grown by more than 600 percent.

Just as the point of taxing carbon is not to raise revenue but to reduce carbon emissions, high tax rates for sky-high incomes do not aim at funding Medicare for All. They aim at preventing an oligarchic drift that, if left unaddressed, will continue undermining the social compact and risk killing democracy.

5) Molly Roberts with my favorite take on the whole Covington Catholic HS mess:

The problem is, neither of these distillations captures the truth, which is hidden somewhere in a mess of different segments of different recordings showing different offenses by different parties. It’s true that the Hebrew Israelites shouted invective at the kids, and it is true that the kids chanted school cheers to drown them out. It’s also true that the schoolboys, whether someone else was mean to them beforehand or not, were giggling as they let loose with offensive war whoops and tomahawk chops while a Native American man beat his drum before them. It’s true that one of them ripped his shirt off in a signal of self-assured dominance. And it’s true that a smirk is a smirk.

The quarrel over the Covington teens is not only a story of social media hate-mobbing. It’s also a story of the groupthinking tendency to hop off a bandwagon as unthinkingly as we hop onto it. More important, it’s a story of our desire to make every cultural controversy fit into a framework that tells some distillable truth about the state of our country today. Any actual truth about the rifts running through America right now can’t be cleanly distilled. That’s a harder story to tell — which might be why so few are trying.

6) Tom Edsall with a deep dive on Democrats’ leftward movement, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Leading and Following at the Same Time: The Democratic electorate has shifted sharply to the left, taking many politicians along with it — willingly and unwillingly.”

7) But when it comes to social issues, it’s not just Democrats moving left, “Young Voters Keep Moving to the Left on Social Issues, Republicans Included”

Democrats of all ages tend to align fairly closely on major social and political issues, but the report highlights a sharp generational divide among Republicans. For example, more than half of the youngest Republicans surveyed said that racial and ethnic diversity was good for American society, a view shared by fewer than 40 percent of their Millennial counterparts, 34 percent of Generation Xers and just three in 10 baby boomers.

Young Republicans are also more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and accept transgender people.

8) Maybe take a stair-climbing exercise “snack

As little as 20 seconds of brisk stair climbing, done several times a day, might be enough exercise to improve fitness, according to a pragmatic new study of interval-style training.

The study finds that people can complete a meaningful series of insta-workouts without leaving their office building or even changing out of their dress shoes, offering hope — and eliminating excuses — for those of us convinced that we have inadequate time, expertise, income or footwear to exercise…

So, for the new study, which was published this month in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, the researchers decided to see whether it was feasible to break the workout into a series of “exercise snacks” spread throughout the day.

Their hope was that a single quick burst of stair climbing would be strenuous enough to prompt improvements in fitness if it were repeated multiple times, even with hours in between.

To find out, they recruited 24 healthy but inactive college students, tested their endurance and leg power using a specialized stationary bicycle, and randomly assigned them either to continue with their normal lives as a control group or start exercise snacking.

The exercisers reported to the physiology building’s stairwell. There, the researchers directed them to warm up with a few jumping jacks, squats and lunges and then hurry up 60 steps — three flights of stairs — as quickly as they could, one step at a time, while using the guardrail for safety. These ascents lasted about 20 seconds.

And that was the workout. The volunteers repeated these abbreviated exercise snacks twice more that day, usually at lunch and again in the afternoon, for a total intense exercise time of about a minute.

By the end of six weeks, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.

9) I’ve done a fair amount of Amazon returns.  I found this pretty fascinating to find out what happens to so much of them.  Pretty sure the headphones I’ve returned (additional headphones from multipack purchases when first pair is defective) have all just ended up trashed.

10) Sarah Jones is right, “Donald Trump Has No Idea How Grocery Stores Work.’

11) I’m a sucker for Girl Scout Cookies and for Vox articles about Girl Scout cookies.  Hooray for Samoas/Carmel Delites.

12) Jeremy Stahl, “Roger Stone’s Indictment Proves the House Republicans’ Russia Investigation Was a Whitewash.”  Yes, it really does.  It’s like asking the guy with a knife, “hey, did you stab that guy over there lying in the pool of blood.”  Guy, “me, no.”  Republicans in Congress, “see, he didn’t do anything wrong.”

13) How much do I love Adam Serwer referencing Stringer Bell’s use of Roberts Rules of Order when it comes to Trup associates taking incriminating notes.

14) Kottke with videos visualizing the speed of light.  This is so cool!

15) Damn, those pot sellers are dangerous!  Radley Balko:

16) Read this excellent piece from Ezra on the excellent political science of Frances Lee and what it tells us about Trump and the current partisan dynamics:

Once a political party has decided the path to governing is winning back the majority, not working with the existing majority, the incentives transform. Instead of cultivating a good relationship with your colleagues across the aisle, you need to destroy them, because you need to convince the voters to destroy them, too.

Dick Cheney, then a member of the House of Representatives, put it sharply in 1985. “Confrontation fits our strategy,” he said. “Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about this. It’s the logic of zero-sum contests everywhere. But America’s political system is unusual in that it fosters divided government and is full of tricks minorities can use to obstruct governance, like the filibuster. The current shutdown, for instance, reflects the fact that the Republican president needed Democratic votes to fund the government, even when Republicans held the majority in both the House and the Senate. [emphases mine]

Imagine this structure outside the context of American politics. Imagine you worked in an office where your boss, who was kind of a jerk, needed your help to finish his projects. If you helped him, he’d keep his job and maybe even get a promotion. If you refused to help him, you’d become his boss, and he might even get fired. Now add in a deep dose of disagreement — you hate his projects and think they’re bad for the company, and even the world — and a bunch of colleagues who also hate your boss and will be mad at you if you help him…

The media tends to tell the story of American politics as if it were an episode of The West Wing. The protagonist is the president, and any problem can be solved with enough presidential leadership, with a soaring enough presidential speech.

Brendan Nyhan, a University of Michigan political scientist, calls this the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, and defines it as “the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics.” In other words, the American president is functionally all-powerful, and whenever he can’t get something done, it’s because he’s not trying hard enough, not leading aggressively enough.

Trump, whose political history prior to winning the presidency included a lot of speeches and television appearances but no actual governance, seems particularly besotted by this vision of politics. He often seems to understand his presidency as the Donald Trump Show, where he is the main character, perhaps the only character. During his party nomination speech, Trump famously said, “I alone can fix it,” and if the actual experience of the presidency has perhaps tempered that view a bit, it hasn’t tempered it enough for Trump to work in a truly collaborative, consistent way with the other parts of the government.


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