Happy New Year

Dave Barry’s Year in Review begins “Looking back on 2017 is like waking up after a party where you made some poor decisions, such as drinking tequila squeezed from the underpants of a person you do not really know. (At least you hope it was tequila.)” Yeah, pretty much.  I hope 2018 is an improvement for everybody.

Whatever happens in 2018, just remember — we’ll always have Bugs Bunny.

Stopping Trump

People are still talking about the interview of Donald Trump published in the New York Times on Thursday. It’s an incoherent mess. None of the headlines come close to how alarming it is. As Charles Pierce wrote, Trump’s New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline.

In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart.

If you read nothing else about the interview, make it Ezra Klein’s analysis. It begins:

The president of the United States is not well. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, but it is an even worse thing to ignore.

Seriously, there is no other reasonable assumption to be made from that interview except that Donald Trump has a major mental impediment that goes beyond being merely stupid. There’s no question about that; the only questions are what is wrong with him? and how bad is it? IMO “dementia” and “pretty effing bad” are safe guesses.

One thing the interview cleared up for me is how he could continue to claim that he has signed more bills than other presidents, when in fact his bill signing record is way behind the norm. Trump has signed fewer bills to this point in his presidency than any elected president since Dwight Eisenhower. The issue is that he doesn’t seem to understand that an executive order is not the same thing as a bill. At one point Trump said this:

So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. That’s gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, we’ve ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that I’m allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So that’s all done.

Now I’ve ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish you’d tell people. So when I do this, and we’ve got health care, you know, McCain did his vote.

… We’ve created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn’t have insurance. Or didn’t have health care. Millions of people. That’s gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that’s a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don’t even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. … With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.

Somewhere in that word salad one finds reference to associations. Ezra Klein explains,

He signed an executive order making it easier to form association health plans, which are health plans formed by groups of small businesses, and making it easier for those plans to skirt Obamacare’s insurance regulations and to contain small businesses from multiple states.

As of now, and Trump doesn’t seem to realize this, it’s just an executive order — the rules defining and implementing it have not been written, so it is not yet happening, and we don’t know how it will work in practice, much less how many people may eventually sign up. Nor does the order get rid of the prohibition on selling insurance across state lines for most people — it’s only for this one kind of plan which can include members in multiple states, and which will only serve a tiny minority of the health insurance market.

See also Association health plans: Trump’s attack on Obamacare, explained.

In the past few days Trump has been on a de-regulation roll. He scaled back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents, for example.  He rolled back offshore drilling safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Also this past week he laid off the entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) without bothering to give a reason. Here I go back to something Charles Pierce said —

In Ronald Reagan’s second term, we ducked a bullet. I’ve always suspected he was propped up by a lot of people who a) didn’t trust vice-president George H.W. Bush, b) found it convenient to have a forgetful president when the subpoenas began to fly, and c) found it helpful to have a “detached” president when they started running their own agendas—like, say, selling missiles to mullahs. You’re seeing much the same thing with the congressional Republicans. They’re operating an ongoing smash-and-grab on all the policy wishes they’ve fondly cultivated since 1981. Having a president* who may not be all there and, as such, is susceptible to flattery because it reassures him that he actually is makes the heist that much easier.

It’s not just Republicans in Congress; probably the whackjobs who make up his “staff” are happily writing whackjob executive orders and putting them in front of him to sign. One can imagine Mike Pence behind the firing of the HIV/AIDS advisors.

One part of the interview that drew a lot of criticism is his comment,  “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Ezra Klein did a good job unpacking that, I think. He points to this section of the interview —

TRUMP: It’s too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it’s too bad he recused himself. I thought. … Many people will tell you that something is [inaudible].

NYT: Do you think Holder was more loyal to …

TRUMP: I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the I.R.S. scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.

In other words, Trump thinks the job of the attorney general is to protect the president; he thinks the Justice Department works for him. And when he said of the Mueller investigation, “For purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter,” Ezra Klein wrote,

Here, Trump offers insight into his own thinking. He appears to believe that he is engaged in some explicit or implicit quid pro quo with the Department of Justice: He doesn’t fire Jeff Sessions, demand prosecution of his political enemies, or whatever it is he imagines doing with his “absolute right,” so long as they treat him and his associates “fairly,” which likely means protecting him from Mueller’s investigation.

See also Josh Marshall, “Read His Words Carefully.” “President Trump has a decades-old penchant for public comments which are nominally conciliatory but contain an indifferently concealed note of menace,” Marshall writes. Trump is saying that he’ll leave the Department of Justice alone as long as they do their job as he defines it, which is to protect him. If he thinks they are not protecting him, however, heads will roll.

See also “The 47 most outrageous lines in Donald Trump’s New York Times interview.”

To me, the most frightening thing about the fact that the so-called president is mentally incapacitated is that nobody’s doing anything about it.  We’re well into 25th Amendment territory here. A responsible Congress would be taking steps in this direction already. However, the current Republican-dominated Congress isn’t going to do anything as long as they think having Trump in the White House is useful to them. So, safeguards don’t work.

When “People of Faith” Don’t Know Faith from Fritos

I’m about to lay a sermon on you. I hope you don’t mind.

Roy Moore of bad horsemanship fame has still refused to concede the Senate race he lost to Doug Jones on December 12. Moore has filed suit to block state officials from certifying the results. State officials certified the results today anyway.

One wonders what Moore thinks he’s trying to prove; the election was close, but not that close. Some cynics have said he’s just dragging things out to scam more donations out of the faithful, which is the only explanation that makes sense.

But let us consider at least one explanation that doesn’t make sense, which is that Moore seriously believes God wants him to be senator. That’s basically what he told his supporters on election night instead of conceding. If he believes that, then he must also believe that the election results are a mistake caused by demonic forces, such as African Americans and Democrats.

“That’s what we’ve got to do,” Moore said, “is wait on God and let this process play out.” So he filed suit to give God more time to set things right. God ran out of time anyway.

Even the right-wing Jim Geraghty wrote at National Review

… we’re watching a man who had so much faith in his own victory that he cannot mentally comprehend that he lost.

Maybe that’s part of it, that Moore convinced himself that God would speak through the results and simply can’t fathom the reality that he wasn’t chosen. That reminds me of his spokesman, Janet Porter, allegedly telling Nancy French in 2008 that she didn’t love America because she preferred the Mormon Mitt Romney to the evangelical Mike Huckabee in the GOP primary. If Huckabee versus Romney was a litmus test on patriotism and Christian virtue, imagine how much more of a litmus test Moore versus Jones was. Surely the good lord prefers the former to the latter. So how can the vote totals be accurate?

Moore may consider himself to be a “man of faith,” but his actions reveal he doesn’t know faith from Fritos. To the great theologians of the past, faith was about love of or trust in a God whose nature and opinions were beyond human understanding. One was to accept one’s role in God’s Unfathomable Plan with humility, even when that Plan demands that one loses. To declare you know what God thinks about anything would have been blasphemy to them.

Moore’s is a faith with conditions, and the condition is that Roy Moore be elevated to greatness. That’s not faith, my dears. That’s ego. It’s also delusion, and many of the early patriarchs of Christianity would have called it heresy. Mistaking one’s own desires for God’s Will is one of the most common pitfalls of the spiritual path. And it’s a pitfall Christianity has fallen into many times over the centuries. But it seems to be getting worse.

Many theologians have decried the loss of humility in modern Christianity. This was a major theme of Reinhold Niebuhr‘s, for example. I don’t always see eye to eye with Niebuhr, but I like what he wrote about humility.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

In other words, in the grand scheme of things our opinions and views are pitiful little relative things; a mere drop in the ocean. Great faith is not an insistence that we must be right, but rather it acknowledges that we could be wrong as we stumble on doing the best we can. (See my old series of several years ago, the Wisdom of Doubt.)

Niebuhr wrote a lot about the evils of moral pride, spiritual pride, and self-righteousness. Those who claim divine support for their own values and positions are the cause of most of the evils of the world. This is from his book The Nature and Destiny of Man  (1941).

Moral pride is revealed in all “self-righteous” judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the highly arbitrary standards of the self. Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil, when their standards fail to conform to its own. This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self righteousness. When the self mistakes its standards for God’s standards it is naturally inclined to attribute the very essence of evil to non-conformists.

The character of moral pride is described in the words of St.Paul: “They have the zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness they have not submitted themselves onto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2-3).

Moral pride is the pretension of finite man that his highly conditioned virtue is the final righteousness and that his relative moral standards are absolute. Moral pride thus makes virtue the very vehicle of sin, a fact which explains why the New Testament is so critical of the righteous in comparison with sinners. …

… The whole history of racial, national, religious and other social struggles is a commentary on the objective wickedness and social miseries which result from self-righteousness.

I would like to add that one doesn’t have to be religious to be self-righteous. There are none more self-righteous than die-hard political ideologues, left or right, or crusading anti-religion atheists, for example

One of my favorite works of theology is Paul Tillich‘s Dynamics of Faith (1957). Tillich defined “faith” as “the state of being ultimately concerned.” It is a free and centered act of one’s total personality. The content of that faith does not matter to the definition. Tillich separates faith from belief, as the older theologians did; what you believe is not necessarily where your faith lies. This ultimate concern makes demands, he said, but it also holds out a promise of ultimate fulfillment. “Man is driven toward faith by his awareness of the infinite to which he belongs, but which he does not own like a possession.” For Tillich, doubt and courage are essential elements of faith. He also said,

Love is the power in the ground of everything that is, driving it beyond itself toward reunion with the other one and ultimately with the ground itself from which it is separated.

Obviously I’m skipping a lot here. Tillich defined God not as a being but as the “ground of Being-Itself” that is manifest in all beings.

“The separation of faith and love is always a consequence of a deterioration of religion,” he wrote.

An idolatrous faith which gives ultimacy to a preliminary concern stands against all other preliminary concerns and excludes love relations between the representatives of contrasting claims. The fanatic cannot love that against which his fanaticism is directed. And idolatrous faith is by necessity fanatical. It must repress the doubts which characterize the elevation of something preliminary to ultimacy.

In other words, “faith” that is tribal, that pits my tribe against your tribe, that demands its finite doctrines and understandings be unquestioned, is idolatry to Tillich. What we’re seeing among a lot of white U.S. Christians these days is a descent into idolatry, and Donald Trump is the golden calf. Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, made a similar point in an editorial titled “Speaking Truth to Trump.” Support for Trump may seem strategic, in that he offers conservative Christians the power to impose their moral values on the nation. However, “Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence,” Crouch wrote.  

I would add that in Buddhism, the word from Sanskrit that is often translated as faith could also be translated as trust, confidence or fidelity. It’s faith in the practice; it’s faith to keep going even if you can’t see where.  Older theologians spoke of faith in those same terms.  The relatively recent notion that religious faith is merely a synonym of belief has done Christianity a lot of harm, I think.

Charles Mathewes, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, wrote,

When we’ve reached a place where good Christian folk think it’s a matter of major theological principle not to sell pastries to gay people but are willing to give pedophiles a pass, I think it’s safe to say that American Christianity today — white American Christianity in particular — is in a pretty sorry state. …

… There are many factors — historical, social and political — that have helped shape white American Christianity into what it is today. But when it comes to keeping us away from the core truths of our faith, I suspect this one error is key: Christians today seem governed by fear. Theologians as well as psychologists will tell you that there is a spiritual peril in acting out of fear and a sense of danger. Fear drives us into patterns of “reasoning” that are far from reasonable, but more akin to reactionary patterns of cause-and-effect. And fear moves us away from the core of Christianity — love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love,” says the first epistle of John.

It’s up to Christianity to reform itself. We’ll see if it can. Miracles do happen; one-time neoconservative toady and apologist for all things George W. Bush, Max Boot, has written a column for Foreign Policy acknowledging his white male privilege. I’d link to the article itself, but Foreign Policy currently is offline. Miracles have their limits.

Stuff to Read

More about those pesky Russians —

Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options (Washington Post)

After you’ve read that, check out this:

Kremlin Troll ‘Alice Donovan’ Reportedly Writing News As Recently As October (Talking Points Memo)

Regarding the word of Kremlin Troll Alicce Donovan, from the TPM article:

Perhaps predictably, some of the sites that published Donovan’s work have reacted largely with shrugs in much the same way that right-wing organizations felt too much was made of pro-cop memes, anti-Hillary jokes, and anti-immigrant sentiment. The origin of the articles was unimportant, suggested both Veterans Today editor Gordon Duff and Counterpunch editors Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. “I don’t edit what people do. If it’s original, I’ll publish it,” Duff told the Post. “I don’t decide what’s real and not real.” Today Duff wrote his own conspiracy-filled piece about the Post story, primarily to criticize Counterpunch, at Veterans Today.

There are news sites and there are junk news sites; know the difference. IMO Counterpunch used to be better than it is now, though.

Counterpunch took a more philosophical tack: “So why did we run five pieces by Alice Donovan?” asked St. Clair and Frank. “First, because they were interesting and timely. The short pieces on Syria, in particular, came at a moment when Trump was engaged in his first big military action and we were eager, perhaps too eager, to publish as many different perspectives as possible on his new, more aggressive policy.”

Another site, We Are Change, didn’t respond to the accusations at all, though it did remove Donovan’s work from its public web presence.

See also, Russia Wants Americans to Doubt Mueller, Experts Warn (Newsweek)

Merry Whatever

Even though it’s not a religious holiday for me, I have to admit I appreciate that there’s one time of year when everything comes to a screeching halt. Routines go out the window; businesses close. There’s nothing left but to say, “Oh, yeah. It’s Christmas.” It helps one appreciate normal, especially when all those insipid made-for-television Christmas romance movies go away.

In the unintended consequences department, we learn that Trump’s announcement about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has killed Christmas tourism in the Holy Land.

Chalk the absence of visitors up to President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech, which outraged Muslims, scared off tourists, and unnerved Christian clerics. It also bushwhacked Vice Preside Mike Pence’s planned (now postponed) trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Cairo, which was meant to express solidarity with Mideast Christians. Church leaders were refusing to meet him.

“Who was advising Trump?” one prominent Bethlehem Christian asked me plaintively. Good question. Because the backlash against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital makes one wonder what Trump and Pence thought they would gain.

According to what I have read here and there, those advising Trump to do this included his go-to guy on Middle East Peace, Jared Kushner; and his veep, Mike Pence.

And then there is Pence, a fervent Christian who urged the president to keep his pledge to his evangelical base and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. If he thought this move would help Holy Land Christians, he was very wrong.

One of the terrible ironies here is that Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims have co-existed peacefully for generations. The reason the Palestinian clergy want to keep a distance from Mike Pence is that they fear making enemies of Muslims.

Ordinary Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem worry that Trump’s perceived challenge to Muslim holy sites will destabilize the city and affect them. They are a minority who have lived for centuries alongside their Muslim Palestinian brethren, and always hope for calm.

On the West Bank, Palestinian Christians do not face persecution for their religious beliefs. Christian restaurants in Bethlehem serve alcohol without any problem, and Christian women walk with hair uncovered. “In Bethlehem, we are a minority, but the Palestinian government supports Christians here,” Canawati said. “The post of mayor always goes to a Christian.” …

…”Most Christian Palestinians feel caught in the middle,” says the Rev. Peter Vasko, a Brooklynite and longtime resident of Jerusalem, who heads the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, which aims to help Christians remain there. “Israeli soldiers look at Christians as Arabs, while Palestinian radicals see them as traitors to the cause.”

Christian evangelicals in the U.S. think that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a great idea; Christians who actually live in Israel, however … not so much.

The divide between evangelicals and other Christian denominations reflects two views of Jerusalem — one traditional and political, the other literal and theological. The key to understanding this rift is the evangelical belief in what is necessary to pave the way for the second coming of Jesus.

For many Holy Land Christians, Trump’s declaration was about as welcome as a biblical curse.

Hours before the declaration on Dec. 6, Jerusalem’s Orthodox Christian patriarchs and heads of local churches sent Trump a letter predicting that “such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

And yet, across the ocean, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Christian Family Research Council, said on a White House visit that “evangelical conservatives are grateful” to Trump for his decision on Jerusalem.

I’m afraid the best we can hope for is that someday Tony Perkins and the whackjobs who admire him find Jesus.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole, there’s a climate crisis.

On a more cheerful note, someone — maybe the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — sent Steve Mnuchin a gift-wrapped box of horse manure. This was generous; I would have just sent some well-used kitty litter. Horse manure is too good for Mnuchin.

And so as not to be a complete downer this Christmas, here’s my favorite Christmas carol. Enjoy.

Republicans Could Be Disappointed

There’s a lively debate going on about whether, and how much, the tax cut bill will hurt Republicans in the midterms. Some people are pointing to the current unpopularity of the bill; the most recent CNN poll shows that 55 percent of Americans oppose it. But Republicans think this opposition will melt away when people see reductions in taxes withheld from their paychecks, starting a few weeks from now. Maybe. I’ll get back to that.

There are a couple of wild cards out there that could change the game. One, a big one, is health insurance. Companies providing employee benefit health insurance had already announced big increases in premiums (thanks in part to Trump), a portion of which are deducted from paychecks. From what I have read this could wipe out at least half of the tax cuts for middle income people and all of the tax cuts for low income people, none of which were all that generous to begin with.  Republicans appear to be blissfully unaware of this.

The other wild card is chaos. Because of the speed and carelessness with which this bill was put together, it’s going to take months to work the kinks out. The IRS has to issue rules for employers for how much to deduct. The IRS may have to design new W-4 forms that everyone will have to fill out and return. The IRS may not be able to process all this in a timely manner.

The chaos is likely to take months — and perhaps longer — to sort out as the IRS begins writing the rules governing the law’s implementation. The agency has already said it doesn’t expect the tax tables helping employers decide how much in federal taxes should be withheld from workers’ paychecks to be ready until mid-January, allowing them to be implemented in February.

“The IRS will be working closely with the nation’s payroll and tax professional community during this process,” the agency said in a statement.

But some tax experts are also concerned about the IRS’s ability to quickly address the mounting concerns. The agency has been attacked by Republicans for years and has seen its budget cut repeatedly, leading some to question whether it will be up to the task. When the IRS’s former commissioner, John Koskinen, stepped down last month, he blamed Congress for underfunding the agency.

“I don’t know how the IRS is going to enforce this stuff. They have to write regulations, give guidance to taxpayers. They are probably going to feel the brunt of this more than anyone,” said Willens, the tax attorney.

The bottom line is that people who expect to see a big change in their deductions in January will be disappointed. And there will likely be many news stories about all the uncertainty and chaos being created by the tax law.

And then there’s Obamacare. Trump actually bragged about killing the individual mandate. That’s going to create another level of chaos, as insurers are likely put their feet down and refuse to insure people with pre-existing conditions.

Amber Phillips wrote in WaPo:

In the throes of his superlative-filled praise of the Republicans’ tax bill, President Trump said this Wednesday: “We essentially repealed Obamacare.”

It is not true — and it could also have been a major political blunder for Trump and Republicans.

Republicans did pass a tax bill Wednesday that undoes one of the central components of Obamacare: the mandate that people have health insurance, or pay a fine.

Health-care experts say that does not mean Obamacare is dead. It is just in trouble — and by extension, so are the health-insurance markets that have framed their business model around the law. That means Trump may have opened up his party — and himself — for taking responsibility for whatever trouble lies ahead for the markets.

We don’t know how extensive the damage is going to be and how widely it will be felt, but it’s going to be felt.  And there will be many, many news stories about the millions of people who are losing their health insurance.

Still, Republicans think they’ve got a winner:

“We will run on tax reform and win on tax reform in 2018,” said Matt Gorman, the NRCC’s communications director. “This bill will help ease the cost of living for millions of Americans who feel left behind.”

On the other hand, it’s equally remarkable that not a single Democrat in either chamber voted for this, including all 10 of the senators up for reelection next year in states Trump won. “Democratic obstruction of middle-class tax reform will be our No. 1 issue going into next year’s elections,” said Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law, a former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell….

However, if the middle class doesn’t actually see this tax reform in any tangible way, will they still believe in it?

Canada Is Looking Better All the Time

The tax bill has gone to Trump to be signed.  It will go into effect immediately. People still don’t know what it’s going to do. Expect chaos.

I still think that the single biggest fly in the GOP ointment is health insurance. Republicans are promising that people will see bigger paychecks starting immediately, but from what I’ve read increases in health insurance premiums will more than wipe out the difference. Nobody seems to be talking about that.

The tax cuts are unpopular, partly because people have gotten the message they’re skewed to benefit the rich. But I think it’s also the case that we’ve all been sold the same snake oil a few too many times already. Reagan’s tax cuts actually triggered a recession, and of course his administration ended with the 1987 stock market crash. Bush’s tax cuts were supposed to do glorious things, but the economy was mostly stagnant and then tanked big time in 2008. I don’t think most people believe in the snake oil any more.


What Could Go Wrong?

The House passed the Murder-Suicide Tax Bill after a whole hour of debate, while protesters were removed from the gallery. I watched a bit of coverage on MSNBC this afternoon, and various Republican talking heads were gleefully talking about the lower payroll taxes most working Americans would see starting in 2018.

I take it they think this is going to help them in the 2018 midterms. The worst of the effects may not hit people until 2019; between now and the midterms things may not be disrupted that much; people may decide it’s not that bad. On the other hand, the paycheck difference most people will see won’t be big enough to make any damn bleeping difference in their lives, so they may not feel all that grateful for it, either.

It’s also the case that a lot of people’s taxes will go up because of many deductions that were eliminated. Not all of those people are poor and working class; it may hit the pretty-well-off professional class pretty hard, actually.

But the bill kills the individual mandate beginning in 2019, which is going to wreak havoc in the health insurance markets.  Premiums were going way up in 2018 anyway, thanks mostly to Trump, in ways that could impact everyone’s insurance. The couple of bucks taken off each paycheck is likely to be offset by a big increase in insurance premiums.

Here’s something fishy — “The bill would move from the current worldwide tax system, in which income earned abroad is taxed in the United States, to a territorial system in which only domestic profits would be taxed.” What the bleep?

One of the guest talking heads on MSNBC said that people don’t resent the rich doing well as long as the rich have earned it, which is kind of the catch. I don’t think people are seeing the rich earning it. They are seeing the rich rigging the system for it. And people do tend to resent that.


Trump’s Cracked Legal Team Has an Email Problem

The Mueller investigation obtained tens of thousands of emails of the Trump transition team, and Trump’s lawyers claimed these were obtained “illegally.” The most important thing to keep in mind is what Josh Marshall says about this:

Behind the new faux controversy over Mueller getting Trump transition emails is a key and probably too little discussed aspect of the Russia story: Mueller’s team has some of the most accomplished and aggressive prosecutors and legal minds of their generation. They’re facing off against a team of has-beens, 3rd or 4th rate lawyers and in some cases simple incompetents. Why? Because Trump values sycophancy above competence and because none of the top lawyers were willing to work for him.

Chris Geidner did some good reporting on this at Buzzfeed:

Specifically, the General Services Administration (GSA) turned over emails written during the transition — the period between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017 — and the Trump campaign is claiming in a letter that the decision to do so violated the law.

Officials with both the Special Counsel’s Office and GSA, however, pushed back against the Trump campaign lawyer’s claims in the hours after the letter was issued. …

The GSA — which is responsible under law for providing the presidential transition with office space, supplies like phones and laptops, and “ptt.gov” emails — was instructed after the transition had ended and President Trump had taken office to preserve records from the transition in connection with ongoing investigations.

Further, the Buzzfeed article says, the Trump transition team was told up front that they had no expectation of privacy regarding the emails or any materials being kept at the GSA. Trump’s lawyer is saying they had an agreement with former GSA general Richard Beckler that nothing at the GSA would be turned over to anyone without the Trump team being notified. But Beckler died in September, and there seems to be no official record of any such agreement.


In response to Langhofer’s claim that some of the emails could be “susceptible to privilege claims,” Georgetown University national security law professor Phillip Carter tweeted that there was no “legal privilege” that applied in this case. “Just putting a ‘privilege’ legend on something, or asserting the privilege in a letter after the fact, doesn’t make it so.”


Mueller’s office dismissed Langhofer’s claim late Saturday. “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” spokesman Peter Carr said in a rare public statement.

Does anyone think that Mueller doesn’t make certain all Ts were crossed and Is dotted before doing anything on this case? And does anyone think the Trump lawyers aren’t in way over their heads?

We don’t know if there’s anything actually incriminating in the emails. It appears Trump’s lawyers are using this to just discredit Mueller. Seems kind of desperate to me.