• Yes, You’re Tired. But You Can Keep Fighting.

    It feels to me like we’re finally witnessing the last gasp of Reagan-era movement conservatism. By all odds it should have died a couple of years ago, and it would have if not for a couple of freak accidents that handed the election to Donald Trump and allowed the Republican Party to go on one final, epic bender of bigotry and bitterness. But it finally came to an end in November when they suffered a historic loss in the midterm elections—and they know it. You can almost feel the panic in the air. Trump wants to shut down the government over his border wall. Red states are enacting fuck-you laws stripping power from incoming Democratic governors. A right-wing judge in Texas has declared Obamacare unconstitutional. And every Republican in Congress is hiding in their office with their fingers in their ears pretending not to hear the hammer blows of a special prosecutor who has their president in his crosshairs.

    These are the final temper tantrums of a political movement that lasted 38 years—which isn’t bad, really. The New Deal consensus only lasted a little longer than that. But it finally imploded because, in the immortal words of Sen. Lindsey Graham six years ago, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” He was right, and the long term has finally come.

    But even with Democrats in control of the House, Republicans are hardly giving up without a fight. Trump is a cornered rat and will cause any chaos he can if he thinks it will save his skin. Mitch McConnell is going to keep confirming conservative judges until the day he’s hauled out of his office with a backhoe. Fox News will grow successively more panicked until the pixels start to melt on TV screens around he country. Wilbur Ross will work feverishly to skew the 2020 census, providing Republicans with one last gift from the grave.

    This means that the next two years are going to be even more vicious than the last two. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass told us once, and that’s just as true now as it was before the Civil War. Conservatives are going to concede nothing that progressives don’t force from their cold, grasping hands. That means we keep fighting: harder, smarter—and, yes—more ruthlessly than ever.

    As a writer for Mother Jones for the past decade, I’m part of that fight. We’re all part of that fight. I won’t pretend I’m not tired as hell these days, and if you’re tired too I don’t blame you. But if I can keep fighting past the damn cancer drugs, so can you. This is why, every few months, I ask you for a contribution to keep our doors open and to keep this blog on the air.

    But here’s the good news: right now the next $50,000 we raise will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor. That’s why I’m asking for a donation tonight, not next week. If you contribute $10, it’s worth $20 to us. If you contribute $100, it’s worth $200 to us. You get the picture.

    Click here to donate.

    And if you win the lottery this weekend? You know what to do.

  • Conservative Judge Overturns Obamacare

    Sigh. Another conservative judge with a vendetta has declared Obamacare unconstitutional. Here’s the reasoning:

    • The individual mandate is an exercise of Congress’s taxing power (you have to pay a tax unless you have insurance).
    • Last year’s tax bill reduced the tax penalty to zero.
    • Therefore the mandate is no longer an exercise of the taxing power.
    • But the Supreme Court has already ruled that the mandate is not justified by the Interstate Commerce clause.
    • So the mandate has no constitutional backing at all.
    • Therefore the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
    • The mandate is not severable from the rest of Obamacare. If it’s unconstitutional, then all of Obamacare is unconstitutional.

    According to this logic, Congress can never enact a tax of zero, even temporarily. It can enact a positive tax. It can enact a negative tax. But not a zero tax. This is going to come as quite a shock to the millions of people who pay a rate of zero on capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes.

    Anyway, the judge hasn’t issued an injunction, so Obamacare is still the law of the land. If he does, it will get overturned and eventually sent to the Supreme Court. Again. This is not something to panic about yet.

    POSTSCRIPT: In the meantime, Saturday is the last day to enroll in Obamacare in most states. If you or anyone you know is insured under Obamacare, make sure to enroll now.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 14 December 2018

    Hilbert has always enjoyed tipping over wastebaskets, but I think this is the first time he’s dived into the one in the laundry room. At first he looked like he was going to curl up and take a nap in there, but then he saw all the delightful cardboard and started gnawing on it. He was having a pretty good time until some guy with a camera barged in and started taking pictures.

  • Share of People Who Can Cover a $400 Expense Went Up in 2017

    Every year we learn that lots of people don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense. Here’s the Post yesterday:

    Four in 10 adults still say they don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense, according to the latest Federal Reserve report on the economic well-being of Americans. While that is an improvement over 2013, when half of Americans said they could not cover a $400 expense, it remains elevated at a time when unemployment is so low and wages are rising.

    This is a reminder, says Heather Long, “that the U.S. economy has deep structural problems that are far from being cured.”

    I suppose so. But I finally got curious about where this statistic comes from every year like clockwork, and the answer turns out to be the Federal Reserve’s “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.” It’s based on their annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), which they’ve been conducting since 2013. Here are a couple of charts from the 2017 report:

    Both of these charts suggest that although we’re not yet in financial nirvana, pretty much everyone has been doing steadily better over the past five years. And only 7 percent of the population reports that they’re finding it “difficult to get by.” Now here’s the $400 emergency expense chart:

    That’s going steadily up too. It’s certainly true, as Fed chair Jerome Powell says, that aggregate statistics “tend to mask important disparities by income, race and geography,” but it’s also true that things are getting better for just about everyone.

    They aren’t getting better very fast, though, and there’s probably a recession due in the next year or two. That’s when we’ll find out just how resilient our economy really is and how well our lowest-income workers are doing.

  • We High-IQ Humans Sure Do Have Thin Skins

    Well, as long as they can only write in German I guess we're OK.Philippe Clément/Belga via ZUMA

    Google Mail has a feature called Smart Compose. It’s basically autocomplete for email. It watches the stuff you write, and eventually it figures out the phrases you use most often and suggests them right away when it looks like you’re about to use one of them. Derek Thompson is…discomfited by this:

    Some technology works, so people like it; and some technology doesn’t work, so people hate it. Google’s Smart Compose belongs to a different category: tech that people hate because it works. Smart Compose has an uncanny ability to auto-complete replies with my exact phraseology—to do precisely the thing for which it is designed—and it is for this very reason that I (and, I’ve gathered, many others) find it so unbelievably creepy.

    ….In a recent interview with a source for another story, I brought up my issues with Gmail’s auto-complete function, and we ended up talking about that for several minutes. “It can be so stressful!” he said. “Sometimes I see Gmail suggest a sentence and then I feel like I have to come up with a better sentence than the machine, because I don’t want my response to feel robotic.”

    ….That’s why we—or I, at least—hate Smart Compose. Not, again, because the tech is bad. But because it’s good enough to illuminate the exclamation-marked inauthenticity of our correspondence.

    I have two things to say. First, chill out. Smart Compose only works with stock phrases that we use a lot. But we all use stock phrases a lot, and they don’t make up a big share of what we say and write. Figuring out that See y is likely to be See you tomorrow is hardly a threat to our humanity.

    Second: This is only a problem for us hyperverbal, hypereducated types, who like to think of ourselves as intellectual powerhouses and creative geniuses. A lot of us are pretty insecure when someone (or something) suggests that we might not be the smartest example of homo sapiens on the planet. But you’d better get used to it. Smart Compose may be nothing more than autocomplete on steroids, but it’s really not going to be long before computers can write our blog posts and emails and great American novels for us. If you’re under 50, you might as well suck it up and get ready.

    Here’s a guess: the first serious use of AI in the newsroom will be to replace editors, not writers. Roughly speaking, AI will take reporters’ notes or rough copy—or even what we humans laughingly call finished copy—and turn it into great prose. We’ll still need someone around to nag us about issues of substance, but the robots will compose sentences and paragraphs better than us. What’s more, they’ll be able to churn out multiple versions of our writing instantly: the magazine version, the 6th-grade version, the TV script version, the Spanish version, the PowerPoint deck, etc. Just tell it what you need and you’ll get it.

    Reporters will last a little longer, but just a little. I’m giving editors until, oh, 2035. I think that’s generous. Reporters will be out of business by 2040. Better get ready.

  • Donald Trump Was In the Room

    Did Donald Trump personally meet with David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, to ask him to pay hush money to women he’d had sex with? Yesterday I was unsure about this because I’d read it in the Daily Mail, not the most reliable source in the media landscape. But apparently they were right. Here’s the Wall Street Journal:

    As a presidential candidate in August 2015, Donald Trump huddled with a longtime friend, media executive David Pecker, in his cluttered 26th floor Trump Tower office and made a request. What can you do to help my campaign? he asked, according to people familiar with the meeting.

    Mr. Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., offered to use his National Enquirer tabloid to buy the silence of women if they tried to publicize alleged sexual encounters with Mr. Trump. Less than a year later, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Pecker to quash the story of a former Playboy model who said they’d had an affair. Mr. Pecker’s company soon paid $150,000 to the model, Karen McDougal, to keep her from speaking publicly about it. Mr. Trump later thanked Mr. Pecker for the assistance.

    OK, fine, but this story is dated November 9. Why is it suddenly getting new attention? Did something new get reported on Thursday? It was all over CNN last night:

    I’m confused. However, I guess one thing is clear: Donald Trump has been lying about this all along. He was in the room, and he personally directed David Pecker to pay hush money to Karen McDougal.

  • What Happened Today?

    I can barely keep up with the news anymore. Here is just today:

    • Donald Trump’s inauguration committee is under investigation. Apparently they managed to spend twice as much as any other recent president for an inaugural celebration that was half the size of any other recent president.
    • Maria Butina pleaded guilty to infiltrating the NRA on behalf of Russia.
    • Trump is now on his fourth (fifth?) version of events surrounding hush money paid to his mistresses.
    • But wait. Trump was present at meetings where hush money was discussed (though note the source).
    • Republicans who eagerly impeached Bill Clinton and called for the prosecution of John Edwards are now busily taking to the airwaves to insist that extramarital sex is no big deal, payoffs don’t count as campaign contributions, and lying about trivial sex stuff is just something everyone does.
    • Before big events, Trump crushes up Adderall and snorts it.
    • Wait. What? I can’t tell if that one is a joke or not.
    • Both Newt Gingrich and Jared Kushner are rumored to be candidates for Trump’s chief of staff. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they were co-chiefs?
    • Trump has decided he doesn’t want to shut down the government after all.
    • The Senate voted to end US support for the war in Yemen.

    I’m probably missing some stuff. I don’t even know anymore.

  • Deficit Crisis Countdown: 20 Days to Armageddon

    Bruce Bartlett makes a prediction:

    And just in time, look who’s here to help!

    CBO says there are 121 options in this report, but that’s not really correct. For starters, we can eliminate all the ones that raise taxes. That’s just crazy talk. Then there’s military spending, and obviously we can’t afford to cut that. And there are nine that are so small they’re relegated to an appendix. We can skip those.

    So that leaves 56 options. Those include cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and I think we all know they’re going nowhere. So now we’re down to 41 options. If we adopted every single one of them, it would cut the federal budget by somewhere between 2.6 percent and 3.8 percent.

    My prediction, of course, is that we’ll adopt zero of these. But I guess the game must be played. After two years of being in power and ballooning the deficit, Republicans must pretend that now the deficit is suddenly urgent again. Just like it suddenly became urgent on January 20, 2009.

    It’s all such dumb, kindergarten-level stuff. But Bartlett is right: everyone will pretend to go along with it. Sigh.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here are some lovely pink roses¹ hanging from our trellis after our once-per-year rainstorm last week.² I love pictures of flowers with raindrops on them, and they’re surprisingly hard to fake. I’ve tried various ways of tossing water on flowers, but somehow I never get quite the same effect as genuine rain. Does anyone know why?

    ¹Hang on a second and I’ll ask Marian what variety they are. Tick… tick… tick. I’m back. She doesn’t remember.

    ²That’s what it feels like, anyway.

    December 6, 2018 — Irvine, California