October 16, 2017 in 3,907 words

The art of the deal-breaker

It’s hard to overstate how concerned free-traders on Capitol Hill are about the current state of the Trump administration’s negotiations on two consequential trade deals: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the U.S.-Korean trade deal (KORUS.)

“We’re all on collapse-watch,” one knowledgable source told me. Capitol Hill aides who work on trade are asking “when” not “if” Trump sends a withdrawal notice for NAFTA.

Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, is playing such extreme hardball with the Canadians and Mexicans in his NAFTA negotiations, that sources close to the process say there’s no chance of a compromise solution unless he changes tactics.

  • The uncompromising message:Trump wants what he wants. In this latest NAFTA round he’s demanding things the Canadians and Mexicans simply won’t accept‚ including 50 percent American-made parts in cars crossing the border tariff-free and a “sunset” clause that would force the trade deal to be reassessed every five years. (A Lighthizer spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about this.)
  • Washington’s pro-trade community isn’t feeling any more cheerful about the Korean talks. Trump believes to his core that the deal is a scam.

Administration sources don’t deny Trump and Lighthizer have been discussing the six-month withdrawal notice, and other methods of gaining leverage over their negotiating partners. But they caution us that just because Trump often discusses withdrawing from these deals — and sometimes with burning urgency in Oval Office meetings — that doesn’t mean he’s nanoseconds away from doing so.

McConnell and Trump meet for lunch after Bannon calls for Republican ‘war’

• Senate leader is target in ex-White House adviser’s primary campaign
‘He is failing’: Trump strikes out solo as friends worry and enemies circle

Mitch McConnell listens as Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in September.

Mitch McConnell will meet Donald Trump for lunch on Monday, two days after the president’s former chief strategist called for the metaphorical assassination of the Senate majority leader.

Speaking to a religious conservative audience at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Saturday, Steve Bannon called for “a season of war against [the] GOP establishment” and said: “This is our war. The establishment started it … You all are gonna finish it.”

Bannon, who left the White House in August and returned to the hard-right Breitbart News website, added: “Up on Capitol Hill it’s like the Ides of March. The only question – and this is just an analogy or metaphor, or whatever you want to call it – they’re just looking to find out who’s going to be Brutus to [McConnell’s] Julius Caesar.”

Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by Brutus on 15 March in the year 44BC, on the steps of the Senate in Rome. Bannon’s remarks were lent a dash of irony when considered in light of rightwing protests this summer over a Shakespeare in the Park production of the play Julius Caesar, in which the assassinated emperor was made to resemble Trump.

Meet the new class traitors who are coming out as rich

For many, talking about money, especially their own, is a social taboo. But now wealthy progressives are opening up about a system that is skewed in their favor.

Coming out as rich: ‘There are reasons why the wealthiest don’t want to come out.’

They are a minority in this country. Their rituals are often secretive. They have their own lingo, etiquette, schools, neighborhoods, and certain places they visit, seasonally. Typically, they partially hide their identities. But in the last five years, some have started to “come out”, not necessarily in pride but simply out of civic-mindedness. What they are revealing is surprising.

They are coming out as rich.

Eric Schoenberg is one of them. “I pay a lower tax rate than you do, which is startling,” Schoenberg, 55, told me. To illustrate this problem, Schoenberg posted portions of his returns online. He wanted to show how much he, a very wealthy person, benefits from our system. He has always benefited from low taxation on his investment income, for instance.

Schoenberg is part of a group I call “the transparent rich”. He is also in an organization that is similarly interested in transparency, the Patriotic Millionaires. The website describes members as “traitors to their class”, and then elaborates: “Patriotic Millionaires are high-net-worth Americans, business leaders, and investors who are united in their concern about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in America.”

How the Supreme Court Can Soothe U.S. Political Strife

Curbing gerrymandering would encourage politicians to reach across the partisan aisle.

Political polarization in the U.S. is intense and damaging. The Supreme Court could take a small step to mitigate it by limiting partisan gerrymandering.

Curtailing patently political drawing of districts for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures wouldn’t markedly change the partisan composition of either. Under a fair redistricting plan that isn’t designed to help one party at the expense of the other, Republicans, who controlled most of the power after the 2010 census, might lose up to 10 House seats. They’d still retain a solid majority. (When Democrats control the levers of power, they act the same way.)

But many district lines are contorted to create safe seats in a general election, usually for incumbents. If the job of drawing them were done by nonpartisan commissions instead of party activists, as now happens in four states, dozens more seats might be competitive. Competition makes politicians reach out to uncommitted voters instead of playing to their core base.

The Supreme Courts tends to avoid ruling on redistricting fights. But it is now considering a challenge to an egregiously partisan Wisconsin redistricting plan. Skeptics wonder how a workable rule for what’s acceptable could be fashioned. The legal scholars Cass Sunstein and Noah Feldman, who are also my Bloomberg View colleagues, have laid out ways this could be achieved without ensnaring the court in every political dispute.

The Rule That Broke the Senate

Once a tool to ease partisan gridlock, reconciliation has become part of the problem, used to reinforce the very problems it was designed to help fix.

This month, as congressional leaders ready their various budget and tax proposals for fiscal year 2018, Republican hopes hinge on the use of budget reconciliation—a way to expedite the lawmaking process for certain bills by immunizing them from the threat of filibuster and limiting the scope of amendments. In short, if the House and Senate can each pass the same budget resolution, it starts a process in which they can reconcile any differences between the two bills in a final proposal both chambers then vote on.

At the moment, the House and Senate proposals for fiscal year 2018 are quite sweeping in scope. The House resolution calls for $200 billion in mandatory spending cuts, while the Senate bill would cut taxes by $1.5 trillion. If Congress can agree on a final budget resolution, House and Senate committees will have no choice but to write legislation meeting whatever “reconciliation directives” they are given by the budget resolution.

There’s just one big problem: Budget reconciliation was never meant to be used like this. Once a tool to ease partisan gridlock, reconciliation has become part of the problem, used to reinforce the very problems it was designed to help fix.

As envisioned in the original 1974 Budget Act, budget reconciliation was limited in scope: a two-week exercise in late September of each year to tweak the spending and tax bills that had already passed earlier in that session. It was not built for legislation sweeping in scope and scale. Allen Schick, the Congressional Research Service specialist tasked with helping Congress draft the 1974 Act, later wrote that “reconciliation was intended to deal with legislative decisions made during the interval between adoption of the first budget resolution and consideration of [a] second resolution [in September, just before the start of the fiscal year].” But it was never used this way.

5 Things You Secretly Suspected (Confirmed By Science)

Have you ever secretly suspected that Steve from Marketing is a complete dipshit, only to be proven right when one glorious day, the guy arrives at the office without pants and drunkenly waving the license plate he pried off the manager’s car? It’s an amazing feeling to have a suspicion you’ve harbored for ages suddenly be confirmed like that, isn’t it? Well put on your happy pants, because today we’ll take a few of the suspicions that we’ve all collectively held and verify the everloving shit out of them.

#5. People Turn Into Idiots When They’re Horny

See, there’s this common belief that when people experience a rush of blood to their nether regions, they might not be able to think quite as clearly as … Hahahahaha! What am I doing? I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? Everyone knows in their heart of hearts that horniness slashes a whole bunch of your IQ points, outdated and arbitrary as they might be as a measurement of intelligence. According to our site statistics, the only reason my column gets traffic at all is that roughly 99 percent of you had a brain fart and mistyped something way more exotic, causing my humble piece of online real estate to pop up amidst the heaving bosoms and veiny meat constructs of the other 36 tabs you have open right now. Is that Sasha Grey two tabs down? Say hi from me!

Science Says:

Being horny will indeed make you stupid, according to a group of Canadian psychologists who published their research in 2016 in Archives Of Sexual Behavior, which I was disappointed to find out is the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research and not some kind of deliberately dry academic fetish porn magazine. Their methods were refreshingly straightforward: They just showed porn to a bunch of college students and then had them fill out a questionnaire about how willing they were to indulge in risky sexual scenarios (such as unprotected sex with a stranger). Shockingly enough, members of the porned-up group were willing to bone their way through the planet compared to the control group and their more SFW viewing materials, since the latter were a little more apprehensive about STD’s.

While that result may or may not have been co-authored by Jack Obvious, esteemed Captain of the No Shit Squad, another part of the study had the subjects play video blackjack. As it turns out, horniness-induced dumbassitude isn’t exclusively directed toward sexual decisions. The porn-enforced group took a whole lot bolder (read: dumber) chances in the game than the control group. Moral of the story: Maybe don’t gamble when you have a boner. Or do, if that’s your kink. I’m not your dad, I can’t tell you what to do.

The Murderer Who Helped Make the Oxford English Dictionary

William Chester Minor opened his eyes and gazed sleepily at the figure of a man looming over the foot of his bed. The intruder, who had been hiding in Minor’s attic during daylight, had slithered from the rafters, crept into the bedroom, and now, under the dark of night, was watching Minor as he dreamed. In his hands, the faceless man held metal biscuits slathered in poison.

The next morning, Minor woke up unscathed and found no trace of the intruder’s shenanigans. He checked his closet and crawled on his knees to look under his bed. Nobody was there. But that night, the trespasser returned. And the next night. And the next. Each night, Minor laid in his bed mortified.

By 1871, Minor needed a vacation. He left his lodgings in Connecticut and sailed for London in search of peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.

His harassers followed.

In fact, moving to England only placed Minor closer to his tormentors. Most, if not all, of the trespassers had been Irishmen, members of an Irish nationalist group called the Fenian Brotherhood that was not only hell-bent on ending British rule, but was equally hell-bent on exacting revenge on Minor. Minor envisioned these Irish rebels huddling under the cover of gaslit streets, whispering plans of torture and poisoning.

When it comes to making good decisions, bad options can help

The wrong choices can sometimes be helpful in getting to the right ones.

Think of the worst idea ever for a new business venture, one that is guaranteed to fail. Or try to imagine a truly terrible, good-for-nobody new government policy. Or even, as a class of grade school kids I know recently did, the worst idea for a birthday party. (For the record, some of those terrible party ideas included holding the event in a sewer, a joint birthday party/funeral, and, worst of all, a party with no cake.)

My guess is that this exercise, which I often run with my students and clients, was easier for you than it would have been had I asked you to come up with a great idea instead.

Many of us are in search of the elusive good idea – that brilliant stroke of insight that can create value, kick-start a career, and even change the world. The thing is, good ideas can be awfully hard to come by. They are difficult to produce on demand and challenging to recognize on sight. Bad ideas, by contrast, seem to be in endless supply.

Using this bad-ideas exercise and others like it, I teach that instead of only obsessing about good ideas, we can also learn to make bad ideas an essential part of the creative process.

‘Quackery’ Chronicles How Our Love Of Miracle Cures Leads Us Astray

An ad selling cocaine drops for tooth pain, from the book Quackery.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been searching for ways to make ourselves feel better fast. Unfortunately, history has shown that many of those ways — cannibalism, cocaine tooth drops, ingesting heavy metals — left us sick, broke, or both. Yet we keep looking for that fast cure.

Dr. Lydia Kang, an author and a primary care physician in Omaha, Neb., is the co-author of Quackery: A Brief History Of The Worst Ways To Cure Everything, which publishes Oct. 17. She talked to us recently about her new book, the gross things people have done through the centuries in search of health, and what it means for modern medicine.

As a culture, we are always looking for a quick fix, especially for our health. “We are so used to getting things immediately, it’s hard to be patient and wait,” says Kang.

“We’re always trying so hard as people to just feel better. We want normal, we want function. When something goes a little off, we are really, really eager to get back.”

That may have especially been true before physicians truly understood physiology. And before Google. “Let’s be honest. People don’t go to their doctors first,” Kang says.

An Oxford philosopher’s moral crisis can

Do The Right Thing

“We make moral progress in part by challenging our intuitions.”

Jeff McMahan is an Oxford moral philosopher and vegetarian of almost 50 years. He still doesn’t know if it’s wrong to eat meat.

I discovered this when I called McMahan in June to discuss his recently delivered lecture, “Might we benefit animals by eating them?” The lecture examined whether it can be good for animals to be brought into the world even if they’re reared to be killed and eaten. On the phone, I was confused when McMahan said that he intuitively disagreed with his own ethical arguments in favor of eating meat. Was he or was he not against eating animals that had been raised humanely?

He paused: “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

McMahan said he’d found some flaws in his old arguments on the subject, and was retracing his logical steps. He hoped to find a reason to support his intuitions, but he was open to changing his mind. “This is what a philosopher’s supposed to do, follow the argument wherever it leads,” he said. “You’re supposed to follow it even if it leads somewhere you don’t want to go.”

Most of us are not like McMahan.

Bacon and eggs for every meal: absurd diets of the rich and famous

Lucian Freud had breakfast at the same restaurant every morning for 15 years, Balzac drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day and Steve Jobs spent weeks at a time eating only apples and carrots.

From left: Lucian Freud, Marlon Brando, Hunter S Thompson, Jackie Onassis and Patricia Highsmith.

Their eating habits may not be quite as “insane” as former royal chef Darren McGrady branded them earlier this month, but the British royal family have their share of foibles around food. The Queen hates garlic and eats off diamond-encrusted plates, but also munches fruit out of yellow Tupperware. The Queen Mother was so reliably late to the table that they would lie to her about dinner time, telling her it was 8.15pm when everyone else was down for 8.30pm. Bejewelled crockery aside, however, the Windsors seem quite normal compared to these notably eccentric diners:

▶ Novelist Patricia Highsmith ate the same thing for virtually every meal: bacon and fried eggs. She began each writing session with a stiff drink – “not to perk her up”, according to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, “but to reduce her energy levels, which veered towards the manic”. Then she would sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, coffee, a doughnut and a saucer of sugar, the intention being “to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible”.

▶ Almost every morning for 15 years, the painter Lucian Freud had breakfast at Clarke’s restaurant in Notting Hill, London – often returning a few hours later for lunch. He would arrive at 7.30am with his assistant David Dawson and consume saucer-sized pains aux raisins or Portuguese custard tarts with extra-milky coffees (referred to by staff as “Mr Freud lattes”). After innumerable hours sitting in her restaurant, Freud invited owner Sally Clarke to his Victorian townhouse a few doors along on Kensington Church Street to sit for a portrait. He painted her three times, the final work interrupted – along with a decade and a half of loyal custom – by Freud’s death in 2011.

Read the urban legend about the government’s secret mind-altering arcade game

With more than 5.4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or investigating whether your middle school classmate’s cousin’s stomach really did explode from mixing Pop Rocks and Jolt Cola. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,495,445-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: Polybius (urban legend)

What it’s about:A secret government program to control your mind, maaaaan! At least, that’s the paranoid notion at the heart of a conspiracy theory from the early 2000s that posits that the same government that launched the Obamacare website managed to successfully develop a mind-altering arcade game back in 1981. Polybius allegedly appeared in a select few arcades, mentally scarring those who played it. As the story goes, shadowy “men in black” visited video arcades, where they would no doubt blend in effortlessly, to log the results of their sinister experiments.

Biggest controversy: The Polybius rumor started when an entry for the game was added to Coinop.org in 2000, claiming it appeared in 1981 and that a ROM image of the game (a copy of its code that could be run on a home computer instead of a stand-up arcade game) existed. The entry included rumors that Polybius was addictive and caused amnesia, insomnia, night terrors, and hallucinations. The game supposedly disappeared with no trace after a month. But the rumors continued. GamePro wrote about the game, and called evidence of its existence “inconclusive.” Yahoo! Games was willing to be more definitive: “There is no evidence that the game ever existed, no less turned its users into babbling lunatics.”

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

John Oliver discusses the massive impact of the cybersecurity breach at Equifax and their massively misguided attempts to mitigate the damage.

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.

Rache Maddow reports on a doctor who has quit her disaster response team in Puerto Rico after seeing medical workers treat themselves to a ‘spa day’ in the medical triage tents.

THANKS to MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show for making this program available on YouTube.

With a greater understanding of biological mechanisms, humans may be able to take a devastating birth defect and turn it into a treatment for cancer.

Wonder Woman is a powerful, butt-kicking, strong superhero, who shows us that in superpowered universe dominated by men, she can still reign supreme. Unless a man has chains, because her weakness might be the most ridiculous one ever.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Fuck it. This is better than most movies at the cinema.

Sorry about the camera angle. I thought it was centered better.

This is the only way Max will shower. The hair dryer isn’t used to dry him. It’s only to keep warm during the shower.


Woman Trades Single Packet of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce for Volkswagen

What do you do if you have the world’s rarest McDonald’s sauce? Trade it for a car.

We’ve seen some questionably-priced cars, but this trade takes the cake on oddities exchanged. Fans of the TV show Rick and Morty have begun to trade in a new currency: Szechuan sauce. In a bizarre trade, one woman happened to acquire more than she bargained for, a 2004 Volkswagen GTI.

Let’s rap a bit about where Szechuan sauce came from and understand just why it’s getting such obnoxious pricing from the public. In 1998, McDonald’s and Disney worked together on a promotion to celebrate the launch of the movie Mulan. Based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, the plot of the Disney movie revolved around a young woman who disguised herself as a man to fight the Huns (alongside a Chinese army consisting of only men). As part of the promo, McDonald’s released a teriyaki-flavored dipping sauce they called Szechuan sauce, and it slowly fizzled into the night once the hype of the movie wore off.

Fast forward to 2017. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s hit TV show, Rick and Morty, returns with the unannounced first episode of its long-awaited season 3 premier. At the end of the episode, Rick goes on a 30-second rant about how the entire show’s plot is actually driven by his need for Szechuan sauce.

Naturally, fans bought right into the hype, and so did McDonald’s. So much so, that they actually re-released the limited-edition sauce at some locations for just a single day. But many fans still couldn’t get a packet for themselves, and the fear of missing out drove thousands to restaurants across the country.

So what do you do when you find yourself holding one of corporate America’s coveted items? Sell it on eBay of course! A single packet of the sauce is easily running upwards of $100. Some people have theirs listed way into the thousands of dollars, and a promotional half gallon of the sticky sauce in a custom Pelican case is currently auctioning for more than $21,000 (another auction without the case is priced at $15,000). This entire ordeal of is making me question whether whoever buys it will actually dip their chicken nuggets like it’s 1998, or save it by throwing it in that junk drawer in their kitchen and forget it exists until way past its expiration date.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?