Friday links! Decay of the art of lying edition

Mark Twain, in no way the Gary Cohn of his day

In 1882, Mark Twain published “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” an essay lamenting the disappearance of quality falsehoods from the world. Twain’s complaint wasn’t that people had stopped lying. It was that they were lying poorly—”injudiciously,” as he puts it, which neatly captures the elements of both technical sloppiness and tactical unwisdom. “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie
injudiciously,” he writes. “An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.” I’m sure he didn’t mean that and only let his emotions get the better of him. But his words have become true in the 21st century: ill-conceived, injudicious lies—lies without even internal coherence—threaten to reduce all statements, true and untrue, to the same ineffectual broth. Today is Friday, and we’re all Just Sayin’ Stuff now. Won’t you stop even trying to make your lies sound true with me?

First, the good news: Donald Trump’s tax plan will not cut taxes for the rich. White House economic advisor Gary Cohn said so in this interview with Good Morning America. The bad news is that one of the few parts of the plan made public would reduce the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. That kind of sounds like a tax cut for the rich, if you define “rich” as “people who make the most money.” Maybe when Cohn says “rich,” though, he means people who inherit vast estates. It so happens that Trump’s plan would also repeal the inheritance tax, which only applies to inheritances valued above $5.45 million. That, too, sounds like a tax cut for the rich, but Cohn insisted Trump’s plan is “purely aimed at middle-class families.” He could not guarantee, however, that such families wouldn’t see a tax increase.

Whatever—words don’t mean anything, anyway. Now that his plan to overhaul the United States health care system has, in the words of the Senate parliamentarian, “eaten shit,” Senator Lindsey Graham is prepared to admit there were some flaws in the process. For example, he didn’t really know what he was doing. I quote the Intercept:

“Nobody in our conference believes Obamacare works. It must be replaced. But until now, we didn’t know how to do it,” Graham told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday…A reporter pointed out that such ignorance at this late stage is hard to understand. “You’ve been working to overhaul this for seven years. Why is this so hard?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve been doing it for about a month. I thought everybody else knew what the hell they were talking about, but apparently not,” Graham clarified, adding he had assumed “these really smart people will figure it out.”

That, gentle reader, is the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m glad these people did not wreck my barely adequate health insurance. Still, I wish the Republican Party had not spent the last seven years confidently declaring the Affordable Care Act a disaster when they not only lacked a superior replacement but also couldn’t say what a success might look like. Here I thought Graham-Cassidy was a nefarious plan to divert money to hospitals and drug companies, or something. Maybe it was just a product of ignorance, like a man groping in the dark who accidentally fondles a wealthy dowager.

I forgot the first rule of poker: don’t assume intelligence. In completely unrelated news, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke took a charter flight from Las Vegas to Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, Montana at a total cost to taxpayers of $12,000. Commercial flights on that route typically retail for $300. Zinke’s choice seems dubious, but it makes perfect sense when you learn that the private jet he we paid for belongs to a bunch of oil and gas executives. He needed it, though, to get home after delivering a motivational speech to the Vegas Golden Knights—the professional hockey team owned by Bill Foley, whose PACs and employees donated almost $200,000 to Zinke’s congressional campaigns—with enough time to address the Western Governors’ Association the next day. Anyway, there must be an innocent explanation for all this, since no one of sense would try to rip off American taxpayers so transparently.

I detect a conspiracy, probably orchestrated by George Soros. You know how global financiers start wars in Muslim countries in order to create refugees that they can then resettle in small towns to illegally vote for Democrats and put Americans out of work? You didn’t hear about that? I guess you haven’t read the writings of Lee Stranahan, a former Breitbart reporter who now has his own radio show on Sputnik, the state-run Russian network. Stranahan figures heavily in this amazing New York Times Magazine story about a child-on-child sexual assault in Twin Falls, where confidentiality requirements allowed “citizen journalists” to fill in whatever wasn’t publicly known with their own unsubstantiated theories. Props to Willy for the link. Also RIP to Willy’s Twitter, which has apparently drawn the attention of various Timeso- and Islamophobic conspiracy theorists. There is no justice in this world. Nobody really knows why not, which is how I know Hillary Clinton did it.

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  1. Articles about places like Twin Falls is why I’m a reluctant Democratic elitist. The less governance entrusted to such folks the better our public outcomes. If only there was a way to reliably detect “those people” and not occasionally be one ourselves….

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