President Trump is facing a tough reality: Congress is completely dysfunctional. He has been hoping for a quick win on health care, but Congress has cursed him with a dud bill that no one likes. His "charm offensive" seems to have had little effect (are you surprised?). The New York Times' first quote is, of course, from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- the opposition politician who pushed through Obamacare seven years ago.

"I don't know whether he will ultimately succeed or fail, but I will tell you that President Trump is so transactional, who knows what transactions he will be willing to make to pass this," said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, who passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 as speaker.

"So far he's acting like a rookie. It's really been amateur hour," she added. "He seems to think that a charm offensive or a threat will work -- that saying 'I can do this for you' or 'I can do this against you' will work. That's not the way it works. You have to build real consensus, and you have to gain a real knowledge of the policy -- and the president hasn't done either of those things."

Ouch.

And to be fair, Pelosi is entitled to a little gloating. Maybe this experience will be a good learning opportunity for Trump. (Like no one has said that before.)


Lots of people are opposed to the Republicans' plan to replace Obamacare in phases -- Democrats are unified in their opposition, and many Republicans also don't like what Speaker Paul Ryan has put on the table. Everyone who hates it does so for different reasons, but that doesn't mean the plan is a moderate compromise.

I personally don't have a strong opinion on the matter. Ideally, in my opinion, we'd roll back the clock and make it as if Obamacare had never happened, and then use that as our new baseline for future healthcare legislation -- but that doesn't seem to be possible. Given where we are now, it's not obvious that there's a path forward that is both politically feasible and likely to improve our healthcare situation. That stinks.

For the Republican party, it seems likely that the best bet is to do nothing -- wait until Obamacare implodes, and keep their hands clean so they don't get too much blame. It's not at all obvious that letting Obamacare implode is the best path for our country, however.

What a mess.


Dystopic writes about morality middlemen, wherein a person derives his moral standing from how much money he takes from one party and gives to another.

Taxing one person to benefit another isn't charity. Taxation (for good and ill) is performed under the threat of force, and charity is always voluntary.

The person who takes the most wealth from one person and gives it to another is the pinnacle of proper Progressivism, the greatest of their moral agents.

Who the wealth is taken from, and who it is given to, doesn't really matter from any moral perspective (it matters in other ways), so long as the wealth is taken. You might take millions from a man who cured cancer, and give it to a bunch of barbarian slavers in the Third World, but all is good because the millions were taken.

The middleman gets all the credit, of course. Lesser Progressives must bow to his superior morality, that he managed to steal more from one to bribe another to do his political bidding. The taxpayer is insulted for not giving more of his wealth to the government. There is no gratitude.

The media is most moral, and the guy living in the sticks least moral, for no matter what he might do for the poor, no one is there to see it, therefore it isn't moral.

If a person helps another, and the cameras aren't there to record it, it is as if it never happened.


Looks like another vehicle-based terror attack, this time outside the UK Parliament.

At least one person is dead after a terror attacker brought carnage to central London today by mowing down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and attacking police with a knife in the grounds of the Houses of Parliament.

More than 12 people are said to have been hit by a vehicle on the bridge after a 4x4 drove into pedestrians and cyclists before crashing into the gates of Parliament.

An intruder, described by a witness as 'middle-aged and Asian', then managed to break into the grounds of the Parliament and stabbed a police officer before he was shot. The policeman is thought to have since died.

We pray for the victims, as well as for our good friends and allies in the UK. May God give you peace, strength, and wisdom through this horrific time.


Sometimes what you refuse to say speaks pretty clearly; here, during an interview with Tucker Carlson, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president Dawn Laguens refuses to say whether she believes that a fetus is a human being.

Laguens knows the answer, but she's got a mortgage to pay. Maybe late at night she worries a little... but what would her friends say if she dared voice her doubts? How would she feed her own kids without the executive vice president paycheck? She might not get invited back on television ever again. Those babies aren't "viable" anyway. Don't think too much about it. Cash the check.

Carlson: With respect, I've let you repeat your talking points . . . But I want to take it just a level deeper . . . People say, "Look, this is killing a life. A heart is beating." You can hear it at five and a half weeks and the majority of our abortions take place after five and a half weeks. So I want to know if that bothers you at all. . . . Do you ever stop and think, wow, what is happening here? Is a life being taken?

Laguens: I personally favor safe, legal abortion in this country decided on by each individual woman and her doctor to decide for themselves. I personally do not believe that that is a viable fetus at that point. Carlson: I'm not saying viable. Is it - Laguens: And there are rules -- well there are rules we follow. Roe v. Wade laid out -

Carlson: Why are you giving me robotic responses? I'm asking you a human question, and I hope you'll favor me with a human answer. I'm not saying it's viable; at five and a half [weeks] it's not. But you can hear the heartbeat. Is that a human being or not? Is it separate from the mother or not? Different blood type, often a different sex, different DNA. It doesn't seem like a tumor or something that is connected to the woman wholly. It's distinct. What does that mean? I would think you would've thought about it considering you provide more of them than anyone.

Laguens: I have thought about it very much for myself, but I am not going to project onto other women what I believe. What I believe is that women have the right and the choice and we're going to leave it up to them.

Alexandra Desanctis comments:

Laguens didn't avoid Carlson's questions because she didn't know the answers. She didn't avoid them because she believes that each individual woman actually possesses the power to determine whether or not the organism growing inside her is, in fact, a human being. She avoided the questions because the abortion industry is built on the lie that the unborn child isn't a living human, and if they acknowledge that this claim is fiction, their entire system will collapse.

Tucker Carlson is pretty fantastic these days.


Huge news! Trump earned a lot of money and paid a lot of taxes in 2005! Thanks, Rachel Maddow.

Anyway, when she finally revealed what was in the taxes, it was not a huge deal. Trump earned about $150 million in income in 2005, and paid $38 million in taxes, thanks to the alternative minimum tax, which he wants to kill.

This gives Trump an effective tax rate of about 24 percent, which Johnston pointed out was roughly equal to what he and his wife, who are an upper middle class couple, pay.

And, sure, for a billionaire, you can argue that he should pay more in taxes. But, $38 million is a big number. As is $150 million in income.

Yawn.


Wow.

Within 180 days after the closing date for the submission of suggestions pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the Director shall submit to the President a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies. The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions. The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

This will be fun to watch.


Megan McArdle advises Republicans to do nothing yet with regards to Obamacare, and neatly captures America's conflicting desires on health care. McArdle outlines a fairly simple replacement plan and then explains why it can't happen.

However, this is completely politically infeasible, because voters don't want genuine insurance, by which I mean a pool that provides financial assistance for genuinely unforeseeable and unmanageable expenses. Voters want comprehensive coverage that kicks in at close to the first dollar of spending, no restrictions on treatments or their ability to see a doctor, nice American-style facilities, and so forth. They are also fond of their health-care professionals and do not wish to see provider incomes slashed and hospitals closed, nor do they want their taxes to go up, or to pay 10 percent of their annual income in premiums. This conflicting set of deeply held views is one major reason that Obamacare -- and American health-care policy more generally -- has the problems it does.

Your car insurance doesn't pay for your gas or oil changes. Your homeowners insurance doesn't pay for termite treatments or new paint. Why do you want your health insurance to pay for annual check-ups and ear infections? It can be done, but when you add a bunch of fixed expenses to an insurance plan, premiums go up in direct proportion plus management costs.


The play "Her Opponent" sounds utterly fascinating, and I wish I had an opportunity to see the whole thing. Here's a 2-minute clip from a rehersal.

Guadalupe reached out to Joe Salvatore, a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama--a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play. Together, they developed Her Opponent, a production featuring actors performing excerpts from each of the three debates exactly as they happened--but with the genders switched. Salvatore cast fellow educational theatre faculty Rachel Whorton to play "Brenda King," a female version of Trump, and Daryl Embry to play "Jonathan Gordon," a male version of Hillary Clinton, and coached them as they learned the candidates' words and gestures. A third actor, Andy Wagner, would play the moderator in all three debates, with the performances livestreamed. ...

Many were shocked to find that they couldn't seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton--or that Brenda King's clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they'd remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.


Chris Farrell tweeted this image of the NYT from January 20th, 2017.

nyt wiretapped.jpg

You'll notice the headline: "Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides". However, according to the Wayback Machine, the online version of the story has had a different headline since it was first posted: "Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates".

nyt wiretapped 2.jpg

Did someone realize even then that the word "wiretapped" would prove troublesome? The text of the article still uses it.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.


The term "charm offensive" is only ever used to refer to a president who is trying to wrangle votes out of Congressmen, and it's a really stupid term. But anyway, President Trump is on a "charm offensive" on behalf of the "Republican Obamacare plan".

His press to get an Obamacare repeal and replacement passed will provide a test of whether Trump's enthusiastic glad-handing can help him overcome hard-edged ideological divisions within his own party.

It's unclear whether his courting of lawmakers will sway any votes, and he may still have to switch gears and starting being tougher on GOP holdouts. But his personal salesmanship may be the only way that Republicans can pass their Obamacare bill, given the strong negative reaction from conservatives and the strong opposition from groups representing doctors, hospitals and the elderly. Early Wednesday morning, the bill experienced its first success, as the House Ways and Means Committee voted 23-16 to approve its portion of the proposal.

The bill looks like a huge loser to me, and the Republicans will likely suffer if they pass it.

While I loathe couples who quarrel in public, I must point out that it's actually quite clear what problem this bill solves: the problem of Republican legislators who want to tell their base that they repealed Obamacare, just like they promised. Tada!

My husband is, of course, completely right that it's not clear what other problems this solves. It will not, for example, make the looming possibility of a "death spiral" in the individual market any less possible, and indeed may make it more likely. Passing this bill would certainly ensure that Republicans will 100 percent own any ensuing death spiral, and will have little luck whining that it was gonna death spiral anyway, because Obamacare. In other words, even if we leave aside any policy effects, this bill will be a disaster for the long-term political fortunes of the Republican Party.

Path dependency is a harsh mistress, but it would be foolish for the Republicans to take ownership of the wreck of Obamacare, just so they can claim to have "done something". However, the bill seems unlikely to pass the Senate.

Maybe an incremental approach is best, but it certainly isn't as satisfying to conservatives as a full repeal.


The most interesting take I've read on the Trump wiretap imbroglio comes from Sundance who puts together a timeline of events leading up to the President's tweets over the weekend. Just a taste:

  • On Tuesday November 8th, 2016 the election was held. Results announced Wednesday November 9th, 2016.
  • On Thursday November 17th, 2016, NSA Director Mike Rogers traveled to New York and met with President-Elect Donald Trump.
  • On Friday November 18th The Washington Post reported on a recommendation in "October" that Mike Rogers be removed from his NSA position...

Basically, the hypothesis is that NSA Director Mike Rogers objected to the wiretapping in June and October, which led to a recommendation from others in the Obama administration that Rogers be fired; further, shortly after the election Rogers alerted Trump to the wiretapping.

I guess we'll have to see how this plays out, but the carefully crafted denials from the Obama camp make it seem like there's some substance.


Americans have borrowed over $1 trillion to finance our cars, and the used car market is worth something like $200 billion per year... will all that value evaporate when autonomous cars become available? Aftermarket autonomy kits might help car owners cling to some of that value, but if the future looks like Uber/Lyft fleets rather than personal vehicles then the kits won't help much.


It's not your imagination: many costs really are rising much faster than inflation. The post has a ton of great charts, but let me quote this summation of the evidence:

So, to summarize: in the past fifty years, education costs have doubled, college costs have dectupled, health insurance costs have dectupled, subway costs have at least dectupled, and housing costs have increased by about fifty percent. US health care costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries; US subways cost about eight times as much as equivalent subways in other First World countries.

I worry that people don't appreciate how weird this is. I didn't appreciate it for a long time. I guess I just figured that Grandpa used to talk about how back in his day movie tickets only cost a nickel; that was just the way of the world. But all of the numbers above are inflation-adjusted. These things have dectupled in cost even after you adjust for movies costing a nickel in Grandpa's day. They have really, genuinely dectupled in cost, no economic trickery involved.

Read the whole thing -- that summary is only the half-way point.


An "atmospheric river" is headed for the beleaguered Oroville Dam.

atmos-river-oroville-dam.gif

Above: Computer forecast models indicate a powerful jet stream will continuously pound California over the next ten days and bring copious amounts of moisture from off of the Pacific Ocean into the state. This 10-day loop of predicted upper-level winds at 250 mb are in 6-hour increments from today until Thursday, February 23rd; maps courtesy tropicaltidbits.com, NOAA/EMC (GFS)


Poet Sara Holbrook describes how questions about her writing in a standardized test are completely nonsensical. When I was in school, I always suspected that the teachers were making up stuff about the "intent" of the various authors we studied.

Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I'm a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.

These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids' futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.

Then I went online and searched Holbrook/MIDNIGHT/Texas and the results were terrifying. Dozens of districts, all dissecting this poem based on poorly formatted test prep materials.


The riots at Berkeley were already humiliating enough for the school and the state of California, but I didn't even see until just now this video of a woman being ambushed with pepper spray while talking to a reporter. It's hard to even find words to describe the viciousness and cowardice of the attack. Reprehensible.


Ray Comfort asks people on the street: would you use a bulldozer to bury-alive hundreds of people to save your own life?

Over 50 million babies have been legally killed by abortion in America.


California isn't going to secede. Even if the federal government were inclined to let California go without a fight (which it won't), here are two reasons it won't leave:

  • California imports 25% of its electricity.
  • Southern California imports 85% of its water from the Colorado River.

Rocking the boat would devastate California's economy. It would make a lot more sense for California to split.

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