Thursday, March 23, 2017

we can't win, so charge!

I can't tell if the Republican House leadership actually believes that they have any chance of winning today's vote on their health bill or if they expect it to go down and want to be able to say they tried.

I don't really understand what the point of this strategy of plowing ahead with a vote today no matter what, other than the fact that the Republicans really have no good options on healthcare right now. But what makes this the least-bad option?

UPDATE: If this is true, that means Ryan et. al. actually thought they had a chance of winning the vote. They are not trying to go down swinging, they do not want to go down at all. Now that they finally see the writing on the wall, they will put off the vote.  But that makes me wonder why they ever thought this piece of shit bill that is hated by the left and right could ever pass? (Again, this is assuming that report from The Hill is right.)

UPDATE2: And it's official. The Hill report that I linked to in the first update was correct. Ryan canceled the vote, again leaving us with the question: why the hell did they think this bill could ever pass?



I wouldn't be surprised if after the next big terrorist attack it turns out that the FBI had a trove of intercepted communication discussing the attack ahead of time that they just didn't have the ability to translate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Things that don't make sense or are unclear about the laptop flight ban

1. Why doesn't it apply to U.S. carriers?
2. Why only those 10 airports?
3. Why is it only for U.S.-bound flights and not outbound flights from the U.S.? (It can't be because outbound flights have screening by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. U.S.-bound flights from Abu Dhabi are screened by DHS personnel stationed in that airport)
4. Why are tablets and laptops banned  but not smart phones?
5. Are phablets banned?
6. Couldn't terrorist just put an exploding iPad on a flight to the U.S. that originated somewhere else?
7. Doesn't the ban create more danger for passengers?
8. Why is Britain imposing a similar ban?
9. Why are the countries affected by the British ban different from the ones in the U.S. ban? (Britain included flights from Lebanon and Tunisia, which are not included in the U.S. ban, and the British ban does not include Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, or Morocco, which are included in the U.S, ban)
10. If this is based on some specific intelligence, why aren't other allied countries imposing similar bans?

It is really hard to see how this isn't just a ham-handed effort to give a competitive advantage to U.S.-based carriers posing as an anti-terrorism measure. The only thing that gives me pause in reaching that conclusion is the British ban (which applies to both British and foreign airlines).

ADDING: James Fallows calls this Trump's first credibility crisis.


Having the most unpopular president since the invention of modern polling telling a bunch of Republicans who don't want to vote for the Trumpcare bill--a bill which is itself extremely unpopular, so unpopular that the president's own staff is trying to get people to stop calling it "Trumpcare" for fear that mere association with the bill would further sink Trump's approval ratings--that if they don't pass the bill they will face the wrath of the voters is genius-level absurdism.

I guess there is the argument that Republican primary voters are still deeply snuggled in their pro-Trump information bubble. In that alternate universe, Trump is popular. So maybe they would risk a primary challenge if Trump remains popular with the GOP base for another year. But showing independence from Trump is going to be a bigger advantage in the general election. At least that's how I see it. But I'm not in the bubbler

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What a bunch of morons

Are they aware that if they are in Mexico and the border wall goes up to keep people out, they wouldn't be able to get home?

On the other hand, I can't say that I would be upset if those idiots did get stuck in Mexico.

Will this fly?

Banning tablets and laptops on flights from foreign airlines leaving from eight Muslim countries, but not banning those same laptops and tablets from European and American aircraft on those same routes makes no sense at all. It is going to have a devastating effect on those airlines, and really just comes down to unfairly advantaging domestic and European carriers over middle-eastern based carriers for no good reason.

I mean, if I were planning a round-trip from Philadelphia to a place with no direct air connection (like India, for example), I would have to choose between using Qatar Airways (with a switch in Doha) or taking either American Airlines or some European airline with a transfer in Europe. Either way, it will be a long flight, so going without my electronic device is going to be a big deal. That goes double if I am traveling with Noz Jr. (who mostly enjoys air travel because the normal limits on his screen time go out the window in an effort to just keep him happy and quiet). Even if Qatar Airways has a much better price and a more convenient itinerary, I probably am going to go with someone else. Banning laptops by itself is going to stop many business travelers from using the airline.

I don't know enough about aviation law, but surely this kind of carrier of origin based discrimination is going to violate some law or treaty governing international air travel. Does anyone know what laws govern these things?

Monday, March 20, 2017

If Ossoff wins it may change the House

If Ossoff pulls this off and actually turns this solidly red House seat blue, it is going to be like a lightning bolt through the heart of every Republican member of Congress. Just 4 months ago, Tom Price won that seat in a blowout, beating his Democratic opponent by 23.4%.

If Ossoff takes the seat in an upset, the national media will be talking about how Trump's unprecedented unpopularity may drag down Republicans in even safe carefully gerrymandered seats. That conclusion might not be true. At the same time Georgia's 6th district was giving that easy win to Price, it only went for Trump by 1.5 points. This would not be an example of a solidly pro-Trump district turning for the Democrats. but I think that detail will be lost in all the buzz about how the Trump dumpster fire has jeopardized safe Republican seats everywhere. And that talk will change the dynamic for Republicans in the House. They all will face reelection next year and they will have to find some way to demonstrate their independence from the President to hedge against the risk that he will drag them down.

The special election is April 18. Although it is likely that Ossoff won't win outright (he is currently polling at 41% and the Republicans are split with the highest two candidates getting 16% each), just getting into the runoff should trigger some "Is Trump endangering all Republicans" stories. A win in the June runoff vote would solidify the narrative.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The President still doesn't know what NATO is

Trump's latest shabbat tweet storm plays into one of my recent pet issues: the fact that the President of the United States doesn't know what NATO is. He thinks its a protection racket where member states have to pay dues to the U.S., rather than a mutual defense treaty.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Choosing second best

Putting aside the fact that Fox News is not a reliable source of information for anyone, there is something really bizarre about the President of the United States relying on a cable news channel to get his information.

The reason why cable news channels exist is because the vast majority of the population is out of the loop. We often don't have any inside information about what is going on in other countries or in the halls of power at home. So we depend upon reporters to go out in the world and report back to us about what they find. They can ask politicians questions for us, and dig around public records or leaked non-public records so they can report back to us via their cable news channel, or the print media, or the internet or whatever. The news media serves an important function because it helps keep the general populace almost as well informed as the people who are in power. The media is critical for democracy because it keeps the electorate informed, maybe not as informed as the people who are actually in charge, but it at least has the potential to keep the general public the most informed they can reasonably without being on the inside.

Donald Trump is inside the halls of power right now. He can pick up the phone and call anyone in the government and they will all take his calls. He has at his fingertips the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus, the expertise of diplomats sitting in the capitals of every other country on earth, or pretty much any expert on anything that he decides to contact. He can read all the secret reports that the best cable news reporters can only get third or fourth-hand rumors about.

President Trump has access to much better sources of information than the news media. And yet, he keeps skipping intelligence briefings so he can watch cable news. The whole thing is completely absurd.

Make America's College Costs Great Again

As I said last month, this will lead to an increase in the cost of higher education in the U.S. because the tuition paid by foreign students (who usually are not eligible for financial aid from the college) effectively subsidizes the American students who receive financial aid. If fewer foreigners paying the full sticker price attend, that means less financial aid money for Americans, which will mean the real cost of attending college will go up.

That's on top of the effects Trump's proposed draconian cuts to funding of the arts, humanities, and science. Grants under those programs is another major way that U.S. colleges and universities are funded. Large public universities, in particular, get a lot of their funding from government research grants. If you decrease those revenue streams, they will be forced to increase tuition to make up the difference.

Heckava job Trump!

Preening with grammar

A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded — or totally necessary — Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks.
Is the Oxford comma really that polarizing? My impression is that there are a bunch of people who are passionate in their pro-Oxford comma stance, and then there is everyone else who just doesn't give a shit. There is no pro vs. con Oxford comma debate because the latter doesn't seem to exist. Think about it, have you seen any evidence of an anti-Oxford comma constituency? There are a ton of pro-Oxford comma memes that circulate on social media (e.g.). I have never seen any anti-Oxford comma memes.

Grammar pedants love to get up in arms about minor linguistic details. But this "debate" is not a debate at all. Instead, we have one side making a barely veiled claim at moral or intellectual superiority, and the other side... um, there is no other side. It's just a show.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"The swamp"

Trump's budget:

President Trump will send a budget to Congress on Thursday that sharply reorders the nation’s priorities by spending billions of dollars on defending the southern border and bolstering the Pentagon while severely cutting funds for foreign aid, poverty programs and the environment. 
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all of the people in it,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House’s budget director, said during a briefing on Wednesday.
During the campaign, "the swamp" were lobbyists for the wealthy and powerful. Now "the swamp" are people who drive meals on wheels trucks and researchers who are trying to cure cancer. MAGA!