My M-protein level is basically the same as last month, and my oncologist thinks things have probably stabilized. This is both good and bad news: Stable is obviously good, but on the other hand, we'd have preferred things to stabilize at around zero, not 0.33.
Still, he's fairly satisfied since everything else is in its normal range. Satisfied enough that we're tentatively deep-sixing the Evil Dex, anyway. Hooray! Hopefully this means that my sleep will return to normal and I might be able to lose some of the weight I've put on since I started taking it. We'll see.
In case you're curious, I feel fine these days. In fact, ironically enough, my health is as good as it's been in years if you don't count the multiple myeloma. That's a big "if," of course, but I'll take what I can get. And if I stay off the dex for good, I'll feel even better.
Here are four common pet names for Hilbert and Hopper in our household:
My little kittenball
Can you guess which ones are mine and which ones are Marian's? In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Hilbert in jail. This cage is normally used to keep Hilbert out of the plants in the background, and when it was moved for maintenance he wanted in—plants or no plants. However, he earned parole for good behavior very quickly. Lucky cat.
For many years now, the Republican Party has relied on the votes of white men to win the presidency. But that's gotten harder and harder. As Lindsey Graham famously put it four years ago, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
Graham was right: there's only just so much you can do with this demographic. In 1980 Ronald Reagan pulled white evangelicals and social conservatives away from the Democratic Party. That got the ball rolling. George Bush seized on Willie Horton in 1988. That helped things along. In the 90s, Newt Gingrich teamed up with Rush Limbaugh, the champion of the angry white guy. That helped some more. A decade later Karl Rove went off on a dogged search for the final scraps of the evangelical vote. That helped—but only by a percentage point or two. The pickings were getting slim. Finally, with nothing more available to them, a few years ago the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to suppress the non-white vote via voter ID laws. That was a desperate ploy, and it eked out only a slight advantage. For all practical purposes, by 2012 they seemed to be out of ideas. What more could they do?
At the time, I figured they were at the end of their rope. There are only so many angry white guys out there, and only so many that you can get out to vote. The GOP had squeezed the onion dry, and there wasn't anything left to do.
But I was wrong. There was one more last-gasp possibility that I hadn't seriously considered: nominate a guy willing to explicitly base his campaign on racism and xenophobia. No more dog whistles. No subtlety. No "self-deportation" or "Southern heritage." No winking and nudging as talk radio and Fox News did the dirty work. This was, literally, the only option left to them.
Here are six trends that I think are likely to continue for the next dozen years and beyond....Trend #5: The Republican Party will continue to become ever more dependent on the white vote, while the Democratic Party will depend ever more on minorities.
....So what does this all mean? With the usual caveats taken—world events can change things, anything can happen, etc.—here are some guesses. One: Certain aspects of the culture wars will heat up. In particular, thanks to the increasingly polarized demographics of the two main political parties, fights over immigration and race may well be even more acrimonious than they are today.
Hillary Clinton gave a "big" foreign policy speech yesterday, but it wasn't really a foreign policy speech. That is, its purpose wasn't to spell out a "Hillary Doctrine" or reprise her well-known positions on various global issues. Its purpose was to clearly expose Donald Trump as the ignorant cretin he is. And it did!
He is not just unprepared — he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility. [Applause] This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.
....He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists — even though those are war crimes. He says he doesn’t have to listen to our generals or our admirals, our ambassadors and other high officials, because he has — quote — “a very good brain.” [Laughter] He also said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” You know what? I don’t believe him.
....It’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons, and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea — and I quote — “If they do, they do. Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.” I wonder if he even realizes he’s talking about nuclear war?
....And I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, “You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit” for taking over North Korea — something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.
Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. [Applause] I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are. Because it matters. If you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.
....Just look at the few things he’s actually said on the subject [of ISIS]. He’s actually said — and I quote — “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.” Oh, okay — let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East. Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS. He also refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties. It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.
....It also matters when he makes fun of disabled people, calls women pigs, proposes banning an entire religion from our country, or plays coy with white supremacists. America stands up to countries that treat women like animals, or people of different races, religions or ethnicities as less human. [Applause] What happens to the moral example we set — for the world and for our own children — if our President engages in bigotry?
....Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal. Do we want him making those calls — someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?
Very nice! Hillary's remarks seem to have left Trump relatively speechless.1 The best he could do was to claim he is "the opposite of thin-skinned";2 that Hillary's temperament is bad; that she read her speech badly; that she is "pathetic"; and that she killed four people in Benghazi. By Trump's standard, this is very weak tea. All he could do was stutter the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?"
Apparently this speech really did get under his skin. But what can he do? His own record over the past few months shows that he's abysmally ignorant of foreign affairs. He doesn't know what the nuclear triad is.3 He favors Britain leaving the EU but has never heard of "Brexit."4 He doesn't know where Iraq's oil is.5 He doesn't know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.6 He's blissfully unaware that Germany cares a great deal about Ukraine.7 He was taken by surprise when he learned that US companies aren't allowed to sell planes to Iran.8 He thinks Iran is the main trading partner of North Korea.9 These are all howling bloopers. Anyone who had so much as perused a daily newspaper over the past couple of decades would be familiar with all this stuff.
Apparently Trump hasn't done that. What's more, over the past year, while he was running for president, he still didn't bother. This is inexplicable, even for Trump. How is it that he hasn't picked up more stuff just by osmosis? It's not only scary, it's genuinely puzzling. He obviously cares so little about foreign affairs that he actively resists learning anything about it. I guess that might ruin his prized ability to say anything he wants without letting facts get in the way.
1Note that "relatively" is the key word here. Nothing actually shuts the guy up.
2Just spitballing here, but I think the word he's searching for is "thick-skinned."
6Hezbollah operates in Lebanon; Hamas operates in Israel (the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Territories).
7For example: "From the start, Merkel has played an impressive role in responding to the Ukraine crisis. In fact, her actions have allowed Germany to assume geopolitical leadership of Europe for the first time since 1945." Or this: "In the course of the Ukraine conflict that erupted in 2014, Germany has for the first time taken the lead on a major international crisis. The main center of Western action and coordination hasn’t been Washington, Brussels, Paris, or London, but Berlin." Or this from last year's G7 meeting: "Germany, Britain and the US want an agreement to offer support to any EU member state tempted to withdraw backing for the sanctions on Moscow, which are hurting the Russian economy." Etc.
8From his March New York Times interview: "Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States? They’re buying planes, they’re buying everything, they’re buying from everybody but the United States." NYT: "Our law prevents us from selling to them, sir. " Trump: "Uh, excuse me?" NYT: "We still have sanctions in the U.S. that would prevent the U.S. from being able to sell that equipment."
9From the same interview: "Mr. Trump with all due respect, I think it's China that’s the No. 1 trading partner with North Korea." Trump: "I've heard that certainly, but I've also heard from other sources that it's Iran." Actually, it's China, by a factor of about a thousand. Iran and North Korea have basically no bilateral trade.
Here's a jaw-dropping entry in the annals of prosecutorial misconduct. Down in Miami, the US Attorney's office tells defense attorneys to use a local shop called Imaging Universe when they make copies of discovery documents. Its owner, Ignacio E. Montero, then turns around and provides the government with a CD that contains everything the defense has copied:
Arteaga-Gomez [the defense attorney] phoned Montero on April 25 to ask who had told him to provide copies of the CDs to the government. Montero, the motion says, answered that an “agent” told his office manager to do it. “Mr. Montero then stated that he had been providing to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the past 10 years duplicate copies of the discovery documents selected by defense counsel in other cases.”
Montero also forwarded to [defense attorneys] an April 21 email he sent to a healthcare-fraud paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stating that he’d provided the Justice Department with duplicates of defense records “since 2006.” Montero added that both his old company, Xpediacopy, and Imaging Universe had done it.
....“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has admitted that Agent Deanne Lindsey had been receiving copies of the CDs and had been keeping the duplicate CDs in a folder as she received them,” the motion says. Lindsey also “confessed to opening four of those duplicate CDs” looking for files, copying and pasting files onto her own CDs and providing “those new CDs to the government’s expert witness for trial preparation,” the motion says.
The government's response is apparently to claim that Lindsey, the FBI agent, was some kind of rogue operator, and prosecutors never saw any of this stuff. Maybe so. But then, that's what they always say, isn't it?
The American economy added 38,000 new jobs last month. However, since we need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, this means that net job growth clocked in at a dismal -52,000 jobs. The official excuse for this drop was the big Verizon strike, but that seems unlikely to account for more than a fraction of the bad news.
The headline unemployment rate declined to 4.7 percent, but obviously this isn't because more people found work. It's because a whopping half million people—most of them unemployed—simply dropped out of the labor force. The bleak arithmetic is on the right. However, it's not clear why so many people exited the labor force. Some are new retirees, of course. More pointedly, some of them appear to be long-term unemployed who got discouraged and gave up looking for work, but that accounts for only part of the drop.
Unsurprisingly, labor force participation was down by 0.2 percentage points. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 1.7 percent compared to last month, which means wages were about flat in real terms. Overall, this was a really discouraging report. If you insist on a silver lining, here it is: It's probably less likely now that the Fed will raise interest rates at their next meeting.
Donald Trump's core support is, famously, concentrated among whites with high school degrees or less. Via Ronald Brownstein, here's how these folks feel about cultural change:
No surprise here. They're a little bit sexist, a little bit homophobic, a little bit racist, and a little bit xenophobic. In other words, perfect for Trump.
Why bring this up? I realize I'm beating a dead horse here, but this particular horse needs to be put well and truly out of its misery. These folks aren't voting for Trump because of economic angst. That may play a minor role, but it's not what really bugs them. The economy has been picking up for years and all of the evidence suggests that most Trump supporters are doing at least OK financially. What bugs them is culture war stuff.
This is nothing new. These are the same folks who deserted George McGovern over acid, amnesty, and abortion. They're the Reagan Democrats. They're the Rush Limbaugh shock troops. They're the core audience for Fox News. They're the tea party. They've been deserting the Democratic Party over "family values" for more than 40 years.
This is important not because liberals should spend more time berating these folks as racist and sexist and homophobic. We should probably do less of that. It's important because everyone needs to understand what it would take to peel off Trump's supporters. It's not going to happen by campaigning on Wall Street regulation or trade deals or the minimum wage. It can only happen by soft-pedaling liberal support for civil rights, gay rights, immigration reform, and so forth. Does anyone want to do that?
I didn't think so.
Once and for all, let's put the whole "economic angst" argument into the ashcan of history. It's out there. It's an issue. But it's not a big one. The folks who support Trump are doing it because they think white male culture is under siege. That's why Trump doesn't spend much time talking about his tax plan but does spend day after day ranting about judge Gonzalo Curiel being unfair to Trump because he's "of Mexican heritage" and a member of a Latino lawyers' association. His followers eat that stuff up, and we're going to be hearing a lot more of it over the next few months.
Which is better, in-band signaling or out-of-band signaling? Old-school telecom geeks know what I'm talking about. In-band means that control codes (start, stop, ready, etc.) are transmitted as part of the data stream. Out-of-band means that control signals are transmitted on a dedicated channel separate from the data stream.
Why bring this up? Because it's gained new salience in the era of Trump falsehoods: They now come so thick and fast that new standards have to be developed to deal with them. CNN, for example, apparently endorses out-of-band fact checking. They simply let Trump speak and paste the fact checking into the chyron. The New York Times, by contrast, prefers in-band fact checking. They let readers know about Trump's lies directly in the text of their stories.
Which is the better standard? Do we even need a standard for correcting Trump's lies? Will Trump be able to overwhelm us regardless of which standard we choose? These are critical questions for the upcoming campaign season. Who will take the lead on this?
Federal Reserve officials strongly signaled they will toughen big-bank capital requirements even more than they have since the 2008 crisis, a move that will add to the pressure on the largest U.S. banks to consider shrinking. Fed governors Daniel Tarullo and Jerome Powell, in separate public comments on Thursday, said the Fed would require eight of the largest U.S. banks to maintain more equity to pass the central bank’s annual “stress tests.”
“Effectively, this will be a significant increase in capital,” Mr. Tarullo said on Bloomberg television....Mr. Powell said at a banking conference that the Fed’s move would make big banks “fully internalize the risk” they pose to the economy.
“I have not reached any conclusion that a particular bank needs to be broken up or anything like that,” he said. The point is to “raise capital requirements to the point at which it becomes a question that banks have to ask themselves.”
Bernie Sanders has campaigned heavily on the idea of breaking up big banks. But that shouldn't be our goal. Our goal should be to make banks safer and to reduce the likelihood that they need to be bailed out in the future. That's what higher capital requirements do: they force banks to carry a bigger buffer against losses, which makes them less likely to fail in any future downturn.
As it happens, new regulations put in place since the financial meltdown of 2008 have already increased capital requirements, but big banks still have an unfair advantage in the market: their funding costs are lower because investors figure they'll be bailed out if they ever implode in the future. To make up for this, big banks should, as Tarullo said, "fully internalize the risk" they pose to the economy. In other words, if big banks have an automatic advantage simply because taxpayers have little choice but to rescue them in case they fail, they should be required to pay higher insurance premiums against failure. That's essentially what higher capital requirements do.
This is fair. However, higher capital requirements also make big banks less profitable, which in turn gives them a strong incentive to downsize all on their own. And that's how it should be. There's no reason for the Fed or anyone else to pick and choose banks to break up. We just need to make sure they're reasonably safe and are operating on a level playing field. If we do this, we're providing an organic incentive to downsize. The banks themselves get to decide whether and how to do it.
The only bad news here is that the Fed is unlikely to raise capital requirements enough to suit me. Nonetheless, this is very much another step in the right direction.
I was actually sort of surprised by the lack of conservative reaction to Obama's speech. I guess they must be keeping their outrage to themselves—which is a bit odd, since Obama's speech was about the most partisan attack on Republicans I've ever heard him give outside a campaign. Here's a taste:
I'm going to start with the story that...most Republican candidates up and down the ticket are telling....America’s working class, America's middle class — families like yours — have been victimized by a big, bloated federal government run by a bunch of left-wing elitists like me. And the government is taking your hard-earned tax dollars and it's giving them to freeloaders and welfare cheats. And we're strangling business with endless regulations. And this federal government is letting immigrants and foreigners steal whatever jobs Obamacare hasn’t killed yet. (Laughter.)
....I haven’t turned on Fox News or listened to conservative talk radio yet today, but I’ve turned them on enough over these past seven and a half years to know I’m not exaggerating in terms of their story....But it’s not supported by the facts. But they say it anyway. Now, why is that? It’s because it has worked to get them votes, at least at the congressional level.
Because — and here, look, I’m just being blunt with you — by telling hardworking, middle-class families that the reason they’re getting squeezed is because of some moochers at the bottom of the income ladder, because of minorities, or because of immigrants, or because of public employees, or because of feminists — (laughter) — because of poor folks who aren’t willing to work, they’ve been able to promote policies that protect powerful special interests and those who are at the very top of the economic pyramid. That’s just the truth. (Applause.)
I hope you don’t mind me being blunt about this, but I’ve been listening to this stuff for a while now. (Laughter.) And I’m concerned when I watch the direction of our politics. I mean, we have been hearing this story for decades. Tales about welfare queens, talking about takers, talking about the “47 percent.” It’s the story that is broadcast every day on some cable news stations, on right-wing radio, it’s pumped into cars, and bars, and VFW halls all across America, and right here in Elkhart.
There's more, and it's mostly a sustained attack on conservative misinformation about the economy and Obama's policies. It's also a sustained attack on Donald Trump, even though Trump's name is never mentioned. After seven years of holding his tongue, it's pretty obvious that Obama is eager for the Democratic primary to finish up so he can get out on the campaign trail and tell us what he really thinks of the Republican Party these days.
And if you're interested in policy, here's what Obama had to offer: