Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Literary Corner: The Committed Woke

In memory of the great Merle Haggard, who may not have smoked marijuana in Muskogee, but certainly did in every other town on the circuit:

We don't get up early in Biloxi
We don't set our radio alarms
We don't ever wear a mask on Main Street
Or brag on vaccinations in our arms

We don't go for wokie in Muskogee
Or Tupelo or old Sault Saint-Marie
We don't buzz on coffee in Kentucky
Cause dead asleep is where we want to be

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free

We don't allow no racism in Tulsa
We drove it out a hundred years ago
We had to drive our black folks all out with it
But nothing in this life comes free, you know

We don't take to critical race theory
We like lettin well enough alone
Criticize your forebears if you want to
I"ll be here just sleepin like a stone

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Another Steele Dossier?

Updated 5 May

This is kind of interesting, reported in England by The Telegraph (paywall) and picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald: It seems Christopher Steele compiled a second dossier on Donald Trump, this one directly for the FBI, after Trump took office:

The second dossier contains raw intelligence that makes further claims of Russian meddling in the US election and also references claims regarding the existence of further sex tapes. The second dossier is reliant on separate sources to those who supplied information for the first reports.

The fact the FBI continued to receive intelligence from Steele, who ran MI6’s Russia desk from 2006 to 2009 before setting up Orbis, is potentially significant because it shows his work was apparently still being taken seriously after Trump took hold of the reins of power.

It was, was it? We'd been given to believe FBI broke off relations with Steele in November 2016, after David Corn revealed the existence of the original dossier in a Halloween article in Mother Jones—not that at that point that they didn't trust his research, but that they couldn't trust him to stay away from the press, which is understandable (I can also understand Steele's point of view, that the FBI didn't seem to be doing anything with the material he'd showed them, even as they publicly reopened an obviously bogus investigation into Hillary Clinton, and someone who appeared to be a tool of the Russian government was dangerously close to getting elected president of the United States, and he and Glenn Simpson felt morally obliged to do something).

But it's not exactly true that the FBI broke off with Steele. DOJ's Bruce Ohr kept talking to Steele, and the FBI was aware, and opinions on it in the Bureau differed:

(Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian active measures, vol. 5, p. 851)

And of course in September 2017 FBI agents working on Robert Mueller's investigation team interviewed Steele, over a two-day period, at a hotel near Steele's office in London, as we know from the DOJ Inspector General report on the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, in which it provided a lot of the material for IG Horowitz's discussion of the unreliability of the original dossier, or at least the bits that were used to support the surveillance orders on Carter Page. 

I had thought, based on the way Horowitz (and eventually the Senate Intelligence Committee) presented it, that this interview was a kind of hostile interrogation meant to challenge the veracity of the original dossier, but the Telegraph story mentions it in reference to this second dossier, as discussing the research that went into it—

Monday, May 03, 2021

Joe did what? He didn't—yet


Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2008, when they were both being considered for cross-the-aisle vice presidential candidacies. Remember who won the vice presidency? Via Politico.

Really interesting tidbit from Anita Kumar/Politico, passing on what look to me like some pretty carefully orchestrated hints from the White House as to what's likely to happen to the Biden agenda this summer, after he's finished with the essential task of looking hopeful for Republican cooperation:

But Biden aides also are hinting that there are time limits to how long that engagement will last. They say the president hopes to make progress on both spending bills — either as a pair or individually — by Memorial Day and sign them into law this summer. And the calendar creates some urgency: By the end of his first year, members of Congress will be consumed by the midterms and then the next presidential race. The White House also knows how a drag-on legislative process can consume a presidency and party.

“Biden and the people around him understand you have to get as much done this year as possible,” said Republican Chuck Hagel, who served with Biden in the Senate and later served as Defense secretary in the Obama administration. “At what point then — if you’re not making any progress on any front and you've been willing to compromise on some things — do you have to go it alone. That’s a decision they’re going to have to make. You don’t have a lot of time.”

Namely, that (just as Minority Leader McConnell announced that there will be zero Republican votes for any Democratic infrastructure bill) the White House knows nothing is going to happen with Republicans on the Jobs Plan and Families Plan, and is now preparing us for the next phase, after the negotiations on whether to have negotiations break down irretrievably sometime around the end of the month or early June, when they will begin issuing the final outlines of the legislation to consist—I always wanted to be the Dr. Bill Kristol of the left, so I'll make this a formal prediction—of two budget reconciliation packages, one devoted to the whole $4-trillion tax proposal and the physical infrastructure of the Jobs Plan and the "social infrastructure" of the Families plan, and later on one devoted to raising the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt ceiling? What? Yes, kids, that's something I just happened to land on the other day; it seems the debt ceiling, memorable for the way Senate Republicans used it to torture President Obama, has been basically suspended since 2015—the suspension expires every so often but they always renew it in time, most recently in August 2019, and it's due to be renewed again on 1 August, but Republicans have been threatening to start up with the debt ceiling battles again, most recently and loudly on 21 April:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday signaled they might oppose any future increase to the debt ceiling unless Congress also couples it with comparable federal spending cuts, raising the specter of a political showdown between GOP leaders and the White House this summer.

Republican lawmakers staked their position after a private gathering to consider the conference’s operating rules this session, issuing what GOP leaders described later as an important yet symbolic statement in response to the large-scale spending increases proposed by President Biden in recent months.

“I think that is a step in the right direction in terms of reining in out-of-control spending,” Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) told reporters after the meeting.

But it's just remotely possible that Ted doesn't remember what I happen to remember, and what President Joe Biden unquestionably knows very well, which is that the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled (you may have read about it here) that Congress is entitled to as many as three more reconciliation bills this year, one each devoted devoted to tax, spending, and the debt ceiling. So Democrats will be able to raise the debt ceiling before 1 August without any Republican votes, and without submitting to any Republican extortion attempts. 

So that, I think, is pretty much how they're going to manage it. (And just in case you think I really am Bill Kristol, please recall that I did this 25 January for the American Rescue Plan, passed with no Republican votes on 11 March.)

And that's what old Chuck Hagel and Kumar's anonymi are signaling in this report, for anybody who needs to know: there's a time limit within which the Republicans have to decide whether to shit or get off the pot, it's only two or three months away, and they're expected to be unable to do it, whether because they're too divided or because they're not divided enough. 

It's very cool that Hagel was chosen to deliver the message, a good old relic of the Senate of bygone days of friendship and comity who wasn't too proud to cross the aisle and be a Democrat's defense secretary. That alone should make Manchin feel warm all over. 

No, I don't know that Manchin himself will be able to live up to the opportunity, so those bills could still fail to pass—I do tend to think, because his explanation of what he wants is so incoherent (he wants spending of $3 or $4 trillion, he wants it all paid for out of revenues, but he doesn't want too many taxes), that he's really holding out for something specific. In 2009 Joe Lieberman held out for ditching the public option from the Affordable Care Act, because that's what Connecticut's insurance companies paid him to do; Manchin doesn't have something like that, surely, but he wants something. If he manages to make up his mind to go with the program, it will be a good thing, and not necessarily the end of Biden's, and our, run of good luck—that's when it will be time to go back to talking about getting rid of the filibuster, and either Manchin or the Republicans may find themselves interested in taking a more helpful attitude. I hope it's both, but that is not something I'd bet on.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Unparliamentary Language

Erskine May, 1st Baron Farnborough, KCB, Under Clerk of the Parliaments from 1871 to 1886. Via Wikipedia.

Lovely buried lede in this Guardian story about Prime Minister Boris Johnson's inveterate lying, which is becoming increasingly hard for Britain to live with:

On Tuesday an exasperated cross-party group of MPs went to see [Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay] Hoyle. Their message: the parliamentary protocols drawn up in Victorian times no longer work. “We need new rules for this Trumpian era of British politics,” Green MP Caroline Lucas told the Radio 4 Today programme. The MPs want to be able to call him out – and the charge sheet against him is long.

Under the ministerial code, an MP who makes a false statement to the Commons is supposed to correct the record. Johnson has repeatedly ignored this obligation, making a litany of inaccurate claims which he subsequently fails to fix. Seemingly, Erskine May, the sideburned baron who established parliamentary procedure, did not envisage a PM like Johnson.

Basically, they're asking permission to use unparliamentary language and call Johnson a liar, preferably to his face at Question Time.

“I can’t possibly call the PM a liar in this house,” [SNP House leader Ian] Blackford said, beaming in remotely from Scotland. “But … are you a liar, prime minister?”

There was an awkward silence. It was as if Johnson – facing off at the dispatch box against the Labour leader, Keir Starmer – was genuinely mulling an answer.

Johnson is really an extraordinary liar, and has been one from the beginning of his first career as a journalist, when he was fired from The Times of London over a fabricated quote attributed to his own godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, in a front-page piece on the discovery of the Rose Palace of the sodomitical king Edward II.

“The trouble was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace,” he claimed.

Alas, Gaveston was executed 13 years before the palace was built. “It was very nasty,” Mr Johnson added, before attempting to downplay it as nothing more than a schoolboy blunder.

More significant were the falsehoods about the European Union he used to send his next employer, The Daily Telegraph, as their Brussels correspondent from 1989 to 1994:

His articles, like those in several other Eurosceptic newspapers, contained many of the claims widely described as “Euromyths”, including plans to introduce same-size “eurocoffins”, establish a “banana police force” to regulate the shape of the curved yellow fruit, and ban prawn cocktail crisps.

When questioned about them in parliament, he denied suggestions they were a figment of his imagination.

“There is a great deal of effort being made to deprecate those who think we should leave the EU and everything we say is somehow mythical”, he replied.

That doubling down in the face of the evidence that he was lying is pretty Trumpy, in spite of the fustian Oxford diction, and it had a real effect, 30 years later, in creating the anti-Europe culture in Britain that propelled him through Brexit, with the ridiculous claim that leaving the EU would save Britain £350 million per week that the country was sending to Brussels and could be applied to funding the National Health Service. Lying about their devotion to the beloved NHS has been a Conservative specialty for a long time, of course:

Saturday, May 01, 2021

All Power to the Oppressed Parents!

Hi folks, relief crew here! And happy International Labor Day! 

Children in New York City's universal pre-K program, abandoned by their selfish millionaire moms who'd rather be at a power lunch with their law partners. David Brooks begs you, don't let this happen to the rest of America! Via Day Care Council of New York.

Shorter David F. Brooks ("Power to the Parents!", New York Times 30 April 2021)"

We must allow parents to make their own decisions on building their families! I mean unless they make the wrong decisions, obviously we need to keep an eye on that.

This is such a great example of a particular manner of Republican argumentation, addressed to Biden's American Families Plan and its cruel and insidious attempt to force our nation's 3- and 4-year-olds into quality pre-kindergarten programs against their parents' desires.

That is—he begins with praise for the expanded child tax credit program of the American Rescue (to be extended out to 2025 under American Families), which gives parents $300 per month (for adjusted gross income of $150,000 for a couple filing jointly, less for higher incomes) per child under 5, $250 for kids 6 to 16, for the freedom it allows parents to decide what to do with the money

The role of government is to help people build the kind of family they prefer, not tell them what kind of family they should prefer. Government should be neutral about what kind of family is best. Joe Biden’s American Families Plan has one element that beautifully accomplishes this, by extending the child tax credit, or child allowance. If parents want to use the extra money from the credit to help pay for day care, they can. If they want to use it to reduce work hours time so they can spend more time at home, they can. 

Of course, the expanded child tax credit doesn't do anything like what Brooks says it does. Crappy unlicensed day care in Michigan will run you $600 a month, twice what you can get from the expanded child tax credit; care in a licensed facility with qualified teachers pushes it up to nearly $900. You'd still be paying $7,200 a year, which isn't considered affordable (7% of household income) unless your household income is $103,000. If you think of the money as a fungible substitute for work hours, for a part-time worker whose employer doesn't really care how many hours a week you work one way or the other, which is not in my experience most employers, it's 40 hours a month for a rock-bottom job at the federal minimum wage of $7.25, 20 hours a month at $15; how much extra time with the kids is that? I just want to point out that the expanded child tax credit, while a genuine reduction of real poverty and deep poverty, and even for middle class families a lovely way of relieving everyday budget stress around school clothes and utility bills and credit card bills and the like, and I'm totally for it, is not a helpful subsidy for day care or realistic substitute for part of a paid job.

There's no reason we should expect Brooks to understand this, his experience of life doesn't extend in that direction, but he ought to understand it's possible to find out. And if he really wants the child tax credit to do that job, he needs to let it be more like at least three times as much as it is, around $1000 a month, and he'd better not think he can make any compensating cuts in food assistance or medical care.

Meanwhile, he shakes his head in distress at the elements of the Biden program that will make it possible to choose day care:

But the Biden administration is not entirely neutral when it comes to family policy. When, during a conference call, I asked three administration officials Thursday about this, they mentioned two other social goals. First, getting people working. “We want parents to be in the work force, especially mothers,” said Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council. Second, the administration wants kids in classroom settings, to extend the public school system down two years. The administration is aggressively expanding child care subsidies and pre-K programs.

Actually, what? Is there a coercive element in there I'm not seeing? Is there a plan to require women to get out there into the wage-labor economy against their wishes, like the state-level efforts of Republicans to attach "work requirements" to SNAP benefits or Medicaid? Is there a proposal to make pre-K compulsory, like K-12 schooling?


It's been a while since I took a break, so I'm traveling and (cautiously) road-testing my fancy vaccine. I'll be back May 9. There will be guest blogging, so stop by.