Spike Lee converses with Bernie Sanders in the Guardian today:

Lee: Were you ever offered the VP position, sir?

Sanders: No. Absolutely not.

Lee: Would you have taken it?

Sanders: Er. Probably, yes. But that’s again looking through the rear-view mirror.

Huh. I don't think I've ever heard Sanders say that before. Or has he? In any case, can you imagine what the office of VP would be like after eight years of Biden and then eight years of Sanders?

More seriously, I wonder what kind of ticket that would have been? The upsides are obvious, but there are downsides too. I'm not sure what the ultimate effect would have been.

BTW, in the same interview Sanders agrees with Lee that "it would be hard to suggest that the people of this country were enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign." He's getting a lot of crap for this on social media, but come on. My issues with Sanders are on the record, but it's hard to deny that someone with unfavorables in the mid-50s didn't generate a ton of enthusiasm. This wasn't all Clinton's fault, but it is what it is.

Ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump:

As many Americans are trying to figure out what kind of president they have just elected, the people of Balmedie, a small village outside the once oil-rich city of Aberdeen, say they have a pretty good idea....They say they watched him win public support for his golf course with grand promises, then watched him break them one by one.

A promised $1.25 billion investment has shrunk to what his opponents say is at most $50 million. Six thousand jobs have dwindled to 95. Two golf courses to one. An eight-story, 450-room luxury hotel never materialized, nor did 950 time-share apartments. Instead, an existing manor house was converted into a 16-room boutique hotel. Trump International Golf Links, which opened in 2012, lost $1.36 million last year, according to public accounts....Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland whose government granted Mr. Trump planning permission in 2008, overruling local officials, now concedes the point, saying, “Balmedie got 10 cents on the dollar.”

Sarah Malone, who came to Mr. Trump’s attention after winning a local beauty pageant and is now a vice president of Trump International, disputed some of the figures publicly discussed about the project, saying that Mr. Trump invested about $125 million and that the golf course now employed 150 people.

Of course Malone got her job by winning a beauty pageant. If you're a woman, this is one of the few proven ways to get Trump's attention.

On the other hand, Trump did build a wall. It was built primarily as revenge against a few folks who refused to sell him some land he wanted, but still. A wall's a wall. If the anti-immigration crowd can just figure out someone for Trump to get really mad at, they might get their wall too.

Hilbert has decided to adopt a life of the mind. In his new, more scholarly persona, he will be enriching his retirement years1 with the finest books ever written. As you can see, he has decided to start with Z and work backwards.

1Cat retirement starts at age three.

Are Republicans really going to start off the 115th Congress by mucking around with Medicare?

For nearly six years, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has championed the new approach, denounced by Democrats as “voucherizing” Medicare. Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the House Budget Committee chairman and a leading candidate to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services, has also embraced the idea, known as premium support.

....Democrats say that premium support would privatize Medicare, replacing the current government guarantee with skimpy vouchers — “coupon care for seniors.” The fear is that the healthiest seniors would choose private insurance, lured by offers of free health club memberships and other wellness programs, leaving traditional Medicare with sicker, more expensive patients and higher premiums.

....Republicans say their proposal would apply to future beneficiaries, not to those in or near retirement. But the mere possibility of big changes is causing trepidation among some older Americans.

....“I’m scared to death,” said [Charles] Drapeau, who has multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and takes a drug that costs more than $10,000 a month. “We don’t know exactly how it will work, but just the fact that they are talking about messing with Medicare, it’s frightening to me.”

Just for the record, that drug is actually $10,500 every four weeks. So Mr. Drapeau should be 14 percent more scared to death than he already is.

But back to Medicare vouchers premium support. It's pretty plain that it would be worse for seniors than the current Medicare system. After all, if it were better, Ryan wouldn't feel like he has to exempt current Medicare recipients. But everyone currently on Medicare is keenly aware of how their benefits would be affected by Ryan's vouchers, and if they aren't, AARP will tell them in no uncertain terms. So they'll fight Ryan's cuts tooth and nail.

So why is Ryan doing this, anyway? I suppose because it's one of the few ways to open up a significant amount of budget room for his gigantic tax cuts. If you want big tax cuts, after all, you need big spending cuts too, and that means cutting big programs. Unfortunately for Ryan, there really aren't all that many big spending programs, especially once you take defense off the table. So he has little choice but to chop away at Medicare if those top marginal rates are going to come down.

And yet, why now? In one sense, I suppose doing it right at the start, when political capital is highest, makes sense. You do the hard stuff when you have the biggest majorities and everyone is eager for change. That's why Obama went after health care first. At the same time, this would be a huge, messy battle that would almost certainly be wildly unpopular. Medicare is probably even more beloved than Social Security, after all. A battle like this could easily up in an epic defeat, and wipe out whatever goodwill the new Congress has.

So it's a bit of a mystery. I don't think Ryan can win this battle unless he offers up a plan that doesn't really save much money. That's possible, of course: just take a look at the difference between Ryan 2011 and Ryan 2014. But if you don't save much money, what's the point?

I dunno. If it were me, I'd do the popular stuff first. Cut taxes, build the wall, repair some bridges, bomb the shit out of ISIS, etc. More to the point, if I were Donald Trump, that's what I'd do. Trump wants to be adored by the masses, not hated by them. Voucherizing Medicare is very definitely not the way to get there.

Happy Thanksgiving!

As always, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from our feline turkey dreamers. And a happy long weekend too.

Dana Priest tells us today about Donald Trump's new National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn:

A lot of reporters and other civilians found Mike, as everyone called him, refreshing. A plucky Irish Catholic kid from Rhode Island, he wasn’t impressed by rank. He told his junior officers to challenge him in briefings. “You’d hear them say, ‘Boss, that’s nuts,’ ” one former colleague said.

....The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones....[Stanley] McChrystal, who was appointed to run JSOC in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief....He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

Sounds like a good guy who just needs a little direction. So, um, what happened?

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency....“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true....Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues.

....Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go....Flynn began saying that he had been fired because President Obama disagreed with his views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of ISIS. I haven’t found anyone yet who heard him say this while he was still in the military....As Flynn’s public comments became more and more shrill, McChrystal, Mullen, and others called Flynn to urge him to “tone it down,” a person familiar with each attempt told me. But Flynn had found a new boss, Trump, who enlisted him in the fight against the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Well, I guess it will all work out. Donald Trump will provide a firm hand at the—wait. What's this?

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month....A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won.

....Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority. But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues.

So Trump thinks that his work schedule will lighten up after he actually becomes president? And then he'll have time to get up to speed on all the stuff he doesn't know? And rein in Flynn at the same time?

We are so screwed.

This got retweeted into my Twitter feed today:

My BS detector went off immediately. So I checked, and it turns out this picture was taken 13 months ago, on October 16, 2015:

This is how crap gets spread on the internet. For nearly all households in Flint, the water is fine.

Great news from the Wall Street Journal!

Sectors Go Wild: S&P 500 Correlations Crumble

Financial sector makes pronounced gain as investors bet on lighter regulations under Trump administration

Among the sharpest collapses is the link between financial stocks in the S&P 500 and the broader gauge....Shares of banks, asset managers and insurance companies as a group have jumped 11% since election day as investors bet on lighter regulation for the sector under the Trump administration. The financial sector’s performance trounced other groups, such as utilities and consumer staples, each of which are down more than 3%.

I had heard that Hillary Clinton was a Wall Street shill and neolib corporate sellout beloved by all the big banks. But I guess not. The Wall Street boys sure seem to be pretty happy she lost.

Donald Trump on torture, February 6:

I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

Donald Trump on torture, yesterday:

So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy....I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, "I’ve never found it to be useful." He said, "I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture." And I was very impressed by that answer....It’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that. But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say. I thought he would say — you know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason.1 I thought he’d say "It’s phenomenal, don’t lose it." He actually said, "No, give me some cigarettes and some drinks, and we’ll do better."

How about that? It turns out that someone just needed to tell Trump that torture doesn't work very well. Who knew?

Of course, Trump also said about his conversation, "I'm not saying it changed my mind." So torture is still on the table. In fact, it's not really clear what the worst part of this monologue is. I have three candidates:

  • All it took was one guy with an anecdote to persuade Trump that torture isn't all that great.
  • Nonetheless, he's still willing to do it "if it's so important to the American people." WTF?
  • He just assumed a guy with the nickname "Mad Dog" would love torture. I wonder if this is literally the only reason Trump wanted to meet with him?

Really, state-sponsored torture is a pretty easy thing to figure out. In movies, you can pretty reliably tell who the bad guys are because they torture their prisoners. I think that's true in real life too.

1Not really. He's a plenty tough guy, but he doesn't like his nickname. Mattis is a fan of Marcus Aurelius, owns a huge personal library, and is famous for telling his troops, "You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon." He has also called Israel's occupation of the West Bank "apartheid" and added, "I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel." I wonder what Trump thinks of that?

Doyle McManus makes a point today about Steve Bannon that I think is obvious, but still hasn't sunk in with everyone:

Stephen K. Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s chief political strategist, has been condemned by critics as a closet racist and anti-Semite....Reporters have scoured Bannon’s past statements in search of a smoking gun (he hosted a daily radio show for several years), and have come up virtually empty-handed.

Case closed? Not quite. In stretching to paint Bannon as an old-fashioned racist, his critics overshot — and also missed the point. Bannon is more complicated, a whole new political beast. And because of that, he’s more dangerous than his adversaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties yet realize.

....His editors at Breitbart News, the conservative website he ran, said Bannon tried to keep overt racism out of the headlines. That said, he allowed plenty of dog whistles. An entire category of articles was tagged “Black Crime,” for instance. The comment section was “a cesspool for white supremacists,” a former editor complained. Bannon shrugged off any guilt by association. “Are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the “alt-right”? Maybe,” he told Mother Jones magazine. “Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe.”

So even if we give Bannon the benefit of the doubt on racism, he’s still presided over a website that deliberately indulges in race-baiting, presumably to build its audience. Is that better or worse? You decide.

I've written about this before, and I've already decided: It's worse. The David Duke version of racism may be repugnant, but for that very reason it's fairly easy to fight. There are just too many people who are put off by it.

The Steve Bannon version is far more effective. Partly this is because, yes, critics will overreach and discredit themselves. Partly it's because his more subtle attacks on "political correctness" don't put off as many people. Partly it's because he assures people they can have racist attitudes without actually being racists. And partly it's because his sub rosa approach is just plain harder to expose.

If the only people we had to confront were the David Dukes of the world, racism would be a whole lot easier to deal with. There aren't that many of them; they're mostly not very bright; and to give them their due, they actually believe what they're saying. That limits their political flexibility. Guys like Bannon are far more odious. He probably doesn't believe most of the alt-right's nonsense. But he's willing to sit in the background and cynically exploit it for personal and political benefit. That's about as vile as you can get.