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23.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Semper fidelis Permalink to this item

One other point in that New Yorker piece, the fourth of John Kelly's arguments:

4. Citizens are ranked based on their proximity to dying for their country. Kelly’s last argument was his most striking. At the end of the briefing, he said that he would take questions only from those members of the press who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a Gold Star family. Considering that, a few minutes earlier, Kelly had said most Americans didn’t even know anyone who knew anyone who belonged to the “one per cent,” he was now explicitly denying a majority of Americans—or the journalists representing them—the right to ask questions. This was a new twist on the Trump Administration’s technique of shunning and shaming unfriendly members of the news media, except this time, it was framed explicitly in terms of national loyalty. As if on cue, the first reporter allowed to speak inserted the phrase “Semper Fi”—a literal loyalty oath—into his question.

Loyalty to... something greater than our draft-dodger tweeter-in-chief, and his "personal Vietnam" of avoiding venereal disease, one would hope. "I feel like a great and very brave soldier," Kelly's current boss told Howard Stern back in 1997. And more recently, how much he'd "always wanted to get the Purple Heart."

We are in a swirling vortex being absorbed into the black hole of Trump's narcissism, truth long incinerated, decency and honor inside the event horizon, the fierce incandescence of loyalty now adorning the outer edge of what we can see.

22.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All due respect Permalink to this item

For those of us with advanced years, we're still getting used to the idea that everything finds its way to the internet, sooner rather than later. Our vague recollections will be recalibrated. The original audience for Rep. Frederica Wilson's dedication speech at the FBI building was small, and select. Now millions can watch the video of it, and judge for themselves whether Chief of Staff John Kelly's characterization was accurate. (Spoiler alert: it was not.)

The Press Secretary's pushback that we're not supposed to debate four-star Marine generals (even after they've taken a different job, and even after the factual evidence contradicts them) is, yes indeed, "something highly inappropriate." It's something military coup-level inappropriate. The second of John Kelley's arguments from Masha Gessen's take for the New Yorker seems the nut of the recent diversionary kerfuffle: "The President did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do."

We can stipulate that Trump's call was well-intentioned, even if it came later than it should have, prompted by reporters pressing the question of what happened in Niger. After assuring us he was much better than "most presidents" at making calls, it was time to make the call. The very best coaching from a 35-year Marine who'd sacrificed one of his own sons could not give our current president a shot at having enough empathy to console the soldier's pregnant widow who'd just seen her husband's coffin.

Our hope for discipline, rationality and competence that the General was carrying was dashed on that appearance. Ryan Lizza outlines the story to drive the conclusion that "no matter how good one’s intentions are, when you go to work for Trump, you will end up paying for it with your reputation."

It's a blessing that the president didn't try to make amends by showing up for the funeral. Better to head for a golf course (for the 74th day of his first presidential year, if anyone's counting). The Kelly-villified Congresswoman, a long-time friend of Sgt. La David Johnson and his family, was there for them.

More important than the original question (why haven't you commented on what happened in Niger?), there is that larger quesiton, tackled by Siobhán O'Grady, for The Atlantic: What the Hell Happened in Niger?

"Trump’s administration seems to be half-blind when it comes to acknowledging the strategic importance of West Africa and the Sahel, especially when it comes to military alliances and the fight against terrorism, experts said. For example, Trump added the nation of Chad to his latest travel ban—a move that is likely to have both surprised and infuriated its government. A U.S. judge has already shot down the ban; U.S. officials later said Chad was added in large part due to its inability to produce adequate passport pages in time for consideration by the Trump administration. Still, the move came at a time when Chad was already withdrawing its troops from the fight against Boko Haram. At a crucial moment, the Trump administration has caused unnecessary friction with Chad, whose military is the strongest in the region."

19.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thanks for asking Permalink to this item

The RNC sent me a "Trump Agenda Survey" the other day, just the usual engage-and-solicit sort of thing, but 13 questions to guide my attention and thinking, that's nice. The simple Agree/Disagree/Not sure opportunity doesn't seem like enough to do it justice, so here are some more detailed answers.

1. Do you have any interest in serving as a volunteer to help at your local Republican Party headquarters or to assist a Republican candidate in your area?

Good question! No.

2. Please rank the following issues according to the importance you believe they should have as President Trump and Republicans in Congress move to turn our nation around, with "1" being "most important."

___ Build a border wall and stop illegal immigration
___ Reverse President Obama's unconstitutional executive orders
___ Fully enforce our immigration laws and withhold federal funding from "sanctuary cities" who harbor illegal immigrants in violation of federal laws
___ Repeal and replace ObamaCare
___ Re-equip and rebuild our military
___ Reduce federal regulation and cut corporate tax rates to get the economy growing
___ Encourage domestic exploration and production of domestic energy sources
___ Renegotiate trade deals to put American jobs and interests first
___ Shrink the size of the federal bureaucracy to make it more accountable and efficient
___ Tax reform to simplify the income tax system, making it flatter and more fair

That's challenging. Starting with "turn our nation around"—that sounds like you don't know where you're headed. But let's cherry pick the low-hanging fruitcake.

"Build a border wall and stop illegal immigration" makes it sound like the two are connected in some way. You should check with Chinese how well their Make A Great Wall program turned out.

Which of Obama's "unconstitutional Executive Orders" are you talking about? Were some adjudicated and found to be unconstitutional, but are still in effect? No, of course not. How do you feel about President Trump's unconstitutional Executive Orders?

The Affordable Care Act is still law, and while Trump is doing his best to sabotage it, the Republicans in Congress turned out not able to repeal, nor repeal and replace, nor replace it. Now what? More of that budget reconciliation b.s. (right after they get a new budget passed, if they can)?

The economy is, in fact, growing. Has been since the nadir that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama.

"Flatter and more fair" is another one of those Krazy Kompounds®. As if flatter is by its nature more fair? Of course it isn't.

3. Are you in favor of major federal investment in rebuilding the country's infrastruture of roads, highways, bridge, and airports?

Yes, probably, but tell me what you have in mind. If it's tons of vigorish for private parties who are supposed to make magic happen, probably no.

4. Should President Trump renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade agreements to ensure American jobs are put first?

Who's going to negotiate with Trump at this point? That sounds about us unlikely as Mexico paying for the Wall.

5. Do you support reducing the federal tax rate for corporations to stop companies from moving their headquarters overseas and to encourage investment in facilities that will lead to job growth in the United States?

Reducing the federal tax rate for corporations would add to their profits, but they might or might not move HQs. They'll always negotiate for their best deal.

6. Should President Trump issue an Executive Order to suspend government unions so that his Administration can quickly move to fire federal employees found to be unnecessary, incompetent, or unresponsive to their mission of serving the American people?

More unconstitutional Executive Orders, what?

7. Do you support efforts to eliminate the federal Common Core education curriculum program for K-12 public schools?

There isn't actually a "Common Core education curriculum program" that the federal government dictates to states, so consider this done.

8. Are you in favor of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with market-based solutions that protect everyone's access to insurance and affordable health care?

I don't think "market-based solutions" mean what you seem to think they mean.

9. Should the Republican Majority in the United States Senate take whatever steps are necessary to overcome Democrat opposition to get confirmation of President Trump's choice for the federal courts, especially for vacancies to the U.S. Supreme Court?

That sounds a little crazy. Also, be careful what you wish for. The way things are going, even with the artful gerrymandering, the Republican majority isn't permanent.

10. Do you believe that Democrats in Congress have any intention of working in good faith with President Trump and Republicans to address the pressing issues facing our nation?

Good faith is hard to come by these days, isn't it?

11. Are you optimistic that President Trump and Republicans in Congress will pass reforms and conservative policies to improve our economy, strengthen our security, and protect our freedom?

Huh uh.

12. Do you believe that the so-called "Mainstream Media" will give President Trump fair, unbiased coverage of his policy proposals and leadership?

Fair, unbiased like this question?

13. Will you make a commitment to stand with President Trump and Republicans in Congress as they fight to put our nation back on track and Make American Great Again?
___ Yes, and let me send you some money
___ No, but here's $15 to cover "processing" of my survey
___ No, I do not support President Trump and Republicans in Congress

Let me know if I need to spell it out further.

17.Oct.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Q and A Permalink to this item

Let's go back to yesterday's question in the Rose Garden:

“Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?”

No answer was given. The press is now devouring the quibbling minutiae of the "dog ate my homework" comparative presidential history and word salad bragadoccio that ensued.

Other questions that weren't answered: What, exactly, is our military doing in Niger? (And for Extra Credit: Can you find Niger on a map?) Paul Waldman:

"He takes his own limited experience and characterizes it as unique, extraordinary and unprecedented. No one has ever done this before, no one has accomplished so much, no one knows more than I do. There’s an element of the salesman’s puffery at work, but it also comes from a place of pure ignorance."

That much about him is pure.

Krishnadev Calamur filled in some gaps in our knowledge about Niger for The Atlantic earlier this month. It's the region where ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram converge, in case that matters. Following that provocative headline, the first two sentences have one "who knew?" after another.

"In 2002, just months after the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration launched the Pan Sahel Initiative, a counterterrorism program in which the U.S. worked with the militaries of Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to track down criminals and terrorists in the region. Over the next several years the program expanded to include more countries, ultimately getting subsumed into a new military command called Africom, created in 2007."

And then quotes from Robert D. Kaplan's 2005 piece after visiting Niger:

"The countries of the Sahel—which runs through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan—are among the world's poorest and most unstable, with some of the highest fertility and lowest quality of life anywhere. Governments have little control beyond their capital cities, and throughout the region are many of the ingredients that breed terrorists and their sympathizers: a population disillusioned with its political leadership; a dangerously high number of unemployed young men; Islamic orthodoxy on the rise. Sahelian Africa provides the two conditions essential for penetration by al-Qaeda and its offshoots: weak institutions and the cultural access afforded by an Islamic setting. It is, in fact, already home to what is arguably the most dangerous and dynamic Islamic force in the northern half of Africa today: the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat."

Basemap/scale from Google Earth

16.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Political (non)performance Permalink to this item

It was some performance out in the Rose Garden today. A few lies about the tax "reform" from the big man, and then Mitch McConnell had a chance to do obeisance. He sang of the greatness that was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, after McConnell's own treachery had set the stage.

Then the excuses for not getting anything done. Because, hey, other presidents took longer and we're only about 9 months in. Or seven, if you think about it, or really only about six. Just you wait.

"The Republican party is very, very unified," the president assures us.

"We're the highest taxed country in the world," he says, that big-ass, bald-faced lie.

Because as ignorant as he is, he is Not That ignorant.

We've reached the point when it is not possible to rely on anything Trump says. He is completely untrustworthy.

What about Steve Bannon off the hook at the Values Voters Summit?

McConnell says "the goal here is to win elections in November." Is that all the man has ever been about? He really is despicable. "It's really very simple," he told us. "Winners make policy, and losers go home." Unless... the winners have incapacitated themselves into a party of obstruction.

Mr. President, what about the soldiers who were killed in Niger, you haven't found time to say anything about?

He said "I've written them personal letters, they'be been sent or they're going out tonight but they were during the weekend." And then he'll call. "The toughest calls I have to make are where... this happens."

Then he compared himself to the previous president, and to "most presidents." He's better. But it's tough.

And reiterated that he wrote letters to the soldiers.

He hasn't called yet. He likes to call, even though it's tough. He's going to let a little more time pass, and maybe golf some more. Those 7 visits to his golf clubs in the last couple weeks have helped ease his mind.

If this seems a mixture of sickening, incomprehensible and maddening, there was one bright spot in the news today. Last night, chairman of the National Constitution Center and former Vice-president Joe Biden awarded the 2017 Liberty Medal to his longtime friend and colleague, Senator John McCain. He joins good company, including Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O'Connor and Colin Powell.

And his modest, careful remarks in his acceptance provide a sharp contrast to what is happening right now in Washington. Worth reading in their entirety (just 6 minutes), but at least this:

"To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

"We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to."

Update: The NYT account of the Rose Garden stand-up was teased as "Awkward show of unity" from the front page, and the video excerpt featured Trump talking about how long he and McConnell have been "friends." Yeah, with friends like that. I see the URL is "trump-mcconnell-bannon"; it's almost Hallowe'en!

Also, "some presidents didn't do anything." What does he know? What does he care? It's just nonsense spewing out of him.

"...Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell both put on a display of awkward camaraderie, as the president went on volubly, fielding question after question as the senator fidgeted and spoke only occasionally. Through it all, they tried to wave aside reports of a disintegrating relationship that had included the president’s repeated use of tweets to publicly disparage Mr. McConnell’s legislative leadership."

And here's the bad-boy Bannon bit:

The feud peaked this weekend when Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, told conservative activists that “up on Capitol Hill, it’s the Ides of March.” He delivered a blunt message to Mr. McConnell: “They’re just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.”

Wasn't Brutus a Senator, and Julius Caesar heading the executive branch?

FedUp PAC used this 'From WBDaily', trimming off 'VOTE TRUMP'

Update #2: Richard Viguerie is not BFF with the Senate Majority Leader. His "FedUp PAC" is advertising on his ConservativeHQ list to demand McConnell's head on a pike. "Today I am also calling on Senator Mitch McConnell to resign immediately as Senate Majority Leader." (Just to keep it fair and balanced, he's also barking about getting a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.)

Viguerie is like an earlier and less voracious instar of Steve Bannon, loves to tout blurbs from his shining stars. Former congresscritters Newt Gingrich, and Barry Goldwater, Jr. under this missive. ("Viguerie is the catalyst that allowed conservatism to reach the pinnacles that it has over these past many years.") And the inimitable Roger Stone:

"He really is the Godfather of the conservative movement."

13.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Updates good and bad Permalink to this item

It feels a bit strange taking computer advice from "Kim Komando" ("America's Digital Goddess®" no less), or one of her lieutenants, but seems likely useful content to know that Windows10 is changing "big time" in a few days. We're still enjoying Windows7, mostly, but do have one machine that's made the jump.

Says there, it's called the "Fall Creators" update, which after you read or say it a few times starts to sound like "Craters" which is not actually a good name for software package. Reminds me of when they decided "Hailstorm" was a clever name for something. (They stopped using that for .NET Services not too much afterwards.)

Anyhoo, nothing there sounds like a "must have," although everyone likes faster boot-up and better battery management.

The slightly more disturbing bit is in the jump, where good news for win10 might be bad news for older versions if hackers reverse engineer the patches and get after the exploits in your older o/s before those are patched, on a slower schedule.

Indigenous people's day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Paul Ryan is a big fat liar Permalink to this item

Most politicians barking for public consumption will make some attempt at genunine arguments. In their fundraising, they're not so delicate. This just in from "Team Ryan" (a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Ryan for Congress, Inc., Prosperity Action, Inc., and the NRCC), under the subject Stand up for lower taxes:


We don't need to remind you, but the left loves high taxes.

Why? It's their way of asserting control over everyday Americans.

Instead of trusting you to do what's best with your money, the left takes it upon themselves to determine that for you.

So for the past 30 years, you've seen your take-home pay dwindle while your tax rates sky-rocket -- all thanks to unfair and unnecessary taxes imposed by the left.

As conservatives, we don't believe in high taxes. Instead, we believe in individual prosperity that starts with letting you keep more of your paycheck. That's why your House Republicans are lowering your taxes.

But we know the left will not willingly give up their big government and high taxes, so we need you to stand with us today.

Stand up against the meddling left by chipping in now for lower taxes >>

Never mind the irony of sending your money to Paul Ryan so that he'll pretend to lower your taxes.

Some fortboise readers may have been alive in 1987, and perhaps paying taxes. Ronald Reagan was president, and it was just about the time we "fixed" Social Security (et al.) by running payroll taxes up to where they are now: 15% and change for both halves of FICA and Medicare. The capital gains tax rate was almost twice what it is today. The marginal income tax rates had just come down from the 1950s stratosphere, with the top rate under 30% for a time, until George W. Bush's loose lips sank the ship of his 2nd term, and they went back up to where they are now, give or take. The Reagan-era voodoo didn't add up.

Then the roaring 90s, culminating in that moment of equanimity between taxation and spending at the turn of the millennium, before son-of-Bush and pals raided the Treasury, bigly, and deficits did indeed sky-rocket.

OECD taxes as share of GDP, Tax Policy Center analysis

Taxes, not so much.

Republicans love to stand and put their hand on their hearts for the anthem of balanced budgets, while their staffers are picking pockets in the bleachers. They are of course shocked, shocked by the resulting debt. Something Must Be Done About That. Some day.

You might ask yourself, how did we get here? How do US taxes compare to the other leading countries of the world? The Tax Policy Center has a helpful chart, showing that as of 2015, we're well below average for taxes—at all levels of government, combined— as a share of GDP. (That's in spite of our defense spending being more than a third of the world's total.)

E.v.e.r.y s.e.n.t.e.n.c.e of Paul Ryan's fundraising contains a lie. (Yes, even "Why?")

"The left loves high taxes" is a mindless-hyperbole-and-caricature sort of lie. But the Big Whopper is the one about "sky-rocketing rates," and how those have something to do with your take-home pay over the last three decades:

"So for the past 30 years, you've seen your take-home pay dwindle while your tax rates sky-rocket -- all thanks to unfair and unnecessary taxes imposed by the left."

Our supposed wonk-in-chief, Speaker of the House, is willing to poison the well with utterly fake facts, and sucker his supporters out of their hard-earned pay. That's some low-life ass-hattery right there.

Wonkblog graphic, Tax Policy Center analysis

Real wages have, in fact, been relatively flat for some decades. Measured in constant (2014) dollars, the average hourly wage peaked in the early 1970s, more than 40 years ago. (And the average is up, slightly, above what it was 30 years ago.) The biggest gains have of course gone to the upper income brackets, those who would get the most, by far, out of Paul Ryan's tax plan, as far as we know what that will be. A month ago, WaPo's Wonkblog made a nice little graph of the data in the Tax Policy Center's assessment, estimating that 99.6% of the benefit would go to the richest 1% inside of a decade.

Paul Krugman sums up the situation well enough: Republicans, trapped by their flim flam.

"In broad outlines, the tax story is a lot like health care. In both cases, Republicans have spent years getting away with big promises backed by lies. Now, with real policy to be made, the lies won’t work anymore. And they can’t handle the truth."

11.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dithering dotard of despicability Permalink to this item

Jay Rosen picked up on the NYT reporting normalizing our "raging narcissist" down to "seasoned showman." This under Peter Baker's take that for Trump, the Reality Show Has Never Ended. Overnormalization, you say?

Over the weekend, President Trump was accused by a Republican senator of running the White House like a “reality show.” In the 48 hours that followed, this is how the president rebutted the characterization.

He called out the offending senator for being short and sounding like “a fool.” He challenged his secretary of state to an I.Q. contest and insisted he would win. He celebrated the downfall of a critic who was suspended from her job. And his first wife and third wife waged a public war of words over who was really his first lady.

Mr. Trump’s West Wing has always seemed to be the crossroads between cutthroat politics and television drama, presided over by a seasoned showman who has made a career of keeping the audience engaged and coming back for more. Obsessed by ratings and always on the hunt for new story lines, Mr. Trump leaves the characters on edge, none of them ever really certain whether they might soon be voted off the island.

Variety is the spice of our increasingly darkened lives. It can't be just "raging narcissist" all the time. Blustering buffoon. Unhinged humbug. Lord of Orange. Twitler. Dr. Strangetweet.

With all due respect: our fatuous gaslighter-in-chief knows how irresistable name-calling is. We're long past the effete snobbery of William Safire's "nattering nabobs of negativism" put on Spiro Agnew's tongue. The NYT is maintaining an interactive catalog of insults, a rich enough vein even if it's two weeks out of date at the moment.

When you look at them, you realize, It's all about projection: I know you are, but what am I? Crooked, unfit to serve, a big mistake, total low life, has done nothing, so dishonest, hater & racist, has failed miserably, corrupt, really sad, a neurotic dope! Failing, failing, failing, a PATHOLOGICAL LIAR, a total loser! Bad for country!

Which is somehow much more fun than the reality we're actually inhabiting, as summarized by Trump's "Art of the Deal" ghost-writer:

Trump’s grip on reality is spiraling down into paranoia and delusion. If could declare martial law to seize absolute control, he would.

— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) October 11, 2017

Deconstructing the administrative state Permalink to this item

Let's just say it could be a heavy lift. Rep. Heather Scott's "October Update from Idaho State Government" alerts us to this month's Idaho Administrative Bulletin, Vol. 17-10, and its whopping 612 pages of "proposed rules, regulations and fees that will have the full force of law if adopted next spring." It's up to we, the people to "get involved to properly vet these rules and possibly help slow this process down!" We could demand hearings, contact our legislators, or "educate others on the ramifications of such laws."

Heather Scott at Timber Days in Priest River in 2015

The too-long-for-gmail SUMMARY (as she puts it) took "6+ hours" for a volunteer to extract, and includes information about how you can request hearings, who to contact, and when, to make comments, ask questions, give recommendations. About what? A more accurate and reliable standard for measuring soil phosphorus. Clarified definitions, updated procedures, combined and reorganized sections made into lists, and law enforcement officers added to the list of allowed confidential visitors at secure juvenile detention centers. The Plumbing Board desires to amend provision of the code. The HVAC Board desires to propose rules that allow HVAC apprentices to test upon completion of school, add tables for unlisted appliances, and define more clearly licensing. And so on.

A ton of stuff under the State Department of Education's Rules Governing Uniformity Docket, followed by the Rules Governing Thoroughness Docket. We're nothing if not thorough in this regard. Boiling down the list to just the headings of the departments could make your eyes roll:


And as our far north liberty-loving legislator from Blanchard reminds us,

"If this seems like a lot of information, just remember, administrative bulletins are released the first Wednesday of each month throughout the entire year!"

She makes a decent point, and hammers it home (as ever), but what neither she nor her volunteer provided was much in the way of discernment about what is important. (There is one tiny part of IDAPA I've cared about from time to time, under the Bureau of Occupational Licenses. I appreciated the notice... and looked to see that the proposed rule change was ok with me, I guess.)

She might consider the FEE SUMMARY, or FISCAL IMPACT (even though rulemakers don't always estimate that accurately). It might also acknowledge the process for comment to date, such as the first item on the list, having had meetings at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture on July 31 and August 17, with "extensive comments received from the meeting attendees, as well as a written comment submitted and entered into the record that were taken into consideration when drafting this proposed rule."

The fiscal impact tends to run "none" or N/A, but school buses matter, to the tune of $3.5 million for reinstatement of field trip, shuttle, training, and maintenance mileage. Not so much fiscal impact as cash flow, but not having big game hunters prepay for tags will provide "a small fiscal benefit to the fish and game dedicated fund because the cost of refunding approximately five million dollars each year ($5,000,000) will no longer be incurred." When it comes to Health and Welfare, and Medicaid, there's real money involved (much of it federal). But the vast majority say "N/A."

10.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How do you spell "IQ"? Permalink to this item

Forbes is cooking up something special for its November 14, 2017 issue, and through the magic of the Wayback Machine in reverse it's on the web more than a month in advance. The cover story exclusive, Inside Trump's Head. Yup, that's right, it's another interview with the man with the nuclear codes, and utterly lacking in empathy. What do you have to lose?

It goes without saying that inside Trump's head is a hall of mirrors with gold trim. Would he care to comment on the Secretary of State calling him an effing moron? Of course he would.

"I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."

We don't actually need a clue for that one, Mr. President. We know who would win, and we know who you think would win. But just to make it interesting, let's throw in a 25th Amendment medical evaluation, too. Mensa says it's willing to do the IQ portion.

Anyway, while the Forbes "exclusive" has a sort of gallows humor about it, Andy Borowitz beat them to the punchline with a pre-emptive strike:

Trump had personally created the brackets for the tournament, which he had hoped would lead to an I.Q.-championship showdown between him and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“He was determined to face Betsy in the first round,” a White House source said of Trump. “He thought it would be like a bye week.” ...

If and only if Permalink to this item

Not much of a Craigslist surfer, but a little birdie told me that there's a Boise non-profit looking for a Freedom-loving office manager. Some sort of... swinging singles? (Talk about dating myself, when's the latest time you heard that category? Hugh Hefner was still alive.)

Logo sendup

Working in an office, let alone managing one, and "loving freedom" seem a bit oxymoronic, but people need to work, generally. And the thing reads like any old boilerplate job posting. Solid verbal communication skills. (Non-verbal a plus.) Work effectively with others. Push buttons on a keyboard meaningfully.

And some handling involved. You're going to be "handling incoming mail, phone and pedestrian traffic to the office and handle with the utmost care the sensitive and proprietary information including donor names, funding data and account information."

Not that having secret donors mentioned in the second sentence of your responsibilities is a red flag or anything. The bullet list following, "major" responsibilities, starts with "manage the day-to-day operations of the office by answering the phones, answering mail and handling incoming donors, donations and other incoming constituent communications."

What does "handling donors" entail, exactly?

Finally, it says that "To be considered for this opening, send your resume and cover letter by email. ABSOLUTELY NO PHONE CALLS, please." This is a test of how much you love freedom, obviously. If you really love it, you'll be willing to break the rules. Get a leg up on the competition and give 'em a jingle at 208 258-2280.

8.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Clown question (and shoes) Permalink to this item

The National Republican Congressional Committee styles itself as "the only committee exclusively devoted to increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives." Increasing. Not sure what that would do for us, given the impotence of the majority we've got now. But we understand the motivation; it's the same as cancer's. Increase.

Today's distraction engagement tactic is a "rapid response" poll, with let's keep it simple two answers: yes, or no. Do you stand for the national anthem?

Their email scored a click-through, if not my vote (or contribution). And then I went back and read the pitch.

"Thomas -- President Trump feels that Americans should stand for the national anthem.

"Like most Americans, he believes standing for the national anthem is about respect for the millions who sacrificed their lives to ensure we can enjoy the freedom and security of our great nation."

Tom von Alten photo, 2000

The idea of Dear Leader dictating proper forms of patriotic ritual (let alone general etiquette) is (as he likes to pretend about himself) very rich. Exploring what he "believes" sounds like dangerous spelunking. But there is nothing he won't use to augment the Trump brand, a.k.a. Fatuous Self-Aggrandizement®. And the NRCC is happy to toady along the wild ride, collecting loose change for their endless campaign.

To this end, it is important to keep it simple, stupid. Focus on an abstract symbol of All That is Good and Right, celebrated with drums of war and Fie on the Foe, while we cover the ass of Faux. Pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain.

Carina Chocano tackled "Distraction" for the NYT Magazine's "First Words" a couple weeks ago, with an interestingly bulletproof rear-guard: "Calling something a distraction tells us more about the person making the accusation than about the thing itself." Infer what you like about me, then. She goes on to say:

"When middle-school girls in shorts or tank tops are called “distracting” and sent home, we learn that people are happy to make girls responsible for boys’ behavior. Colin Kaepernick and Marshawn Lynch’s gestures of protest are “distracting” if you resent being made aware of social injustice while getting choked up during the national anthem, or if what you value most is the N.F.L.’s functioning smoothly as an entertainment business. Everything is a distraction now, depending on your aims."

And to mention prestidigitation (it's like magic), and Ways of Seeing, John Berger's 45 year-old "seminal postmodernist critiques of Western aesthetics," following the 8 hours of BBC TV (which you can stream online, remarkably). Where Chocano winds up:

"Decades later, shortly after 9/11, Berger wrote about the hazards of mistaking that ideology for reality. “Being a unique superpower,” he wrote, “undermines the military intelligence of strategy. To think strategically, one has to imagine oneself in the enemy’s place. If one cannot do this, it is impossible to foresee, to take by surprise, to outflank. Misinterpreting an enemy can lead to defeat. This is how empires fall.” What he was recommending was empathy, sincerity and curiosity — the ability to step into somebody else’s shoes, even if it’s only in the service of defeating them. But in order to do this, we must first agree that the shoes exist, and that they are indeed shoes. He was talking about engaging in good faith with reality."

"It’s no longer a given that we do. It’s a sign of the times that we can hardly agree on what constitutes a distraction and what constitutes stuff-that-matters. It’s an even bigger, more garish sign of the times that the debate itself is being conducted in bad faith. ..."

4.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

First family of fraud Permalink to this item

Let's see, using inflated figures about how well your condos are selling, e-mail coordination of false information, and... $25,000 for the Manhattan D.A.'s reelection campaign to grease the skids. Or something. Another Junior, Cyrus Vance:

“I did not at the time believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed,” he told us. “I had to make a call and I made the call, and I think I made the right call.”

"Just before the 2012 meeting, Vance’s campaign had returned Kasowitz’s twenty-five-thousand-dollar contribution, in keeping with what Vance describes as standard practice when a donor has a case before his office. Kasowitz “had no influence, and his contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the case,” Vance said.

"But, less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others—eventually, a total of more than fifty thousand dollars. After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article—more than four years after the fact—Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said."

Better late than never!

ProPublica and The New Yorker, joining forces to report on How Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. Avoided a Criminal Indictment, back when they were 20-somethings, the real estate/finance bubble in the middle of last decade was yet to blow up, and the Trump "SoHo" project (it "wasn't really in SoHo," you couldn't make this up) was leveraging dad's stardom in "The Apprentice."

In April 2008, they said 31% of the condos had been purchased. Then Junior said 55% (to "The Real Deal" magazine, no less). In June 2008, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric "gathered the foreign press at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where Ivanka announced that 60 percent had been snapped up." Just some of that creative art of the deal. Except...

"None of that was true. According to a sworn affidavit by a Trump partner filed with the New York attorney general’s office, by March of 2010, almost two years after the press conference, only 15.8 percent of units had been sold.

"This was more than a marketing problem. The deal hinged on selling at least 15 percent of the units. By law, the sales couldn’t close with anything less. The Trumps and their partners would have had to return the buyers’ down payments."

Our short-changing isolationist Permalink to this item

Leaders of sucessful businesses took the trouble to sign on to a letter to the president in April, expressing support for the US staying in the Paris climate change agreement.

Apple, BHP Billiton, BP, DuPont, General Mills, Google, Intel, Microsoft, National Grid, Novartis Corporation, PG&E, Rio Tinto, Schneider Electric, Shell, Unilever and Walmart cited benefits of strengthening competitiveness, supporting sound investment, creating jobs, markets and growth, minimizing costs, and reducing business risks. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions also tells us that

"In the absence of federal leadership on climate policy, local governments and businesses are pushing ahead efforts to reduce carbon emissions and spur the transition to a low-carbon future."

Hidden Lakes trail, Glacier N.P., 2012

That was after more than 360 businesses and investors called on Trump last November (when he was president-elect) to stick with the plan.

On the other side, there are 44 "free market groups" in favor of withdrawal. That's a lot of think tank overhead on the free market, isn't it? They came up with three methods that the president could use to withdraw, but oddly enough, didn't suggest that he could just tweet his way clear.

Not that facts have a lot to do with Trumpian policy, but FactCheck, USA Today and Politifact all had a go at the fabulations, built on the firm ground of Heritage Foundation commentary. As ever, Dear Leader's grasp of reality is a bit short-fingered.

A friend who wrote to the president back when this was all the news just received his Dear Jim e-letter, conveniently undated. It's a keepsake of sorts, the body with five multi-sentence paragraphs of seeming substance, so clearly not the work of the person whose robo-scribbled signature subtends it. (Sincerely.)

Someone—yet another ghost writer—is speaking through him. Should we be comforted by such normalcy? The substance of the letter is warm (ha) and reassuring. We'll save the world AND keep electricity inexpensive.

And it's nonsensical. Negligible effect, and yet unfair burdens? In a voluntary agreement. That many businesses and local governments have said they'd go ahead and continue to follow, because it makes sense to them.

The nonsensical aspect has a Trumpian feel to it, at least.

"Continued participation in the Paris Agreement would be fundamentally unfair to American taxpayers. It would require the transfer of billions of their hard-earned dollars to other countries through the 'Green Climate Fund'."

That sounds bad, right? Billions of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. (If not, the "billions and billions and billions" as originally blurted, because that would be at least six and we only committed to three). Frittered away on grants, loans, equity and guarantees in projects like irrigation and groundwater replenishment systems to improve food security in northeastern India, a hydropower plant in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to eliminate diesel generators, or restoration and protection of Ugandan wetlands.

In fact, if the US had fulfilled its original $3 billion signed pledge, it would've come to $9.41 per capita. (We've actually disbursed a third of our pledge, so you're already in for $3.14.) We're not #1 in per capita commitment, you won't be surprised to learn. Sweden is, at $59.31 per person. The US would have been #10, behind Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Monaco, Britain, Frnace, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. If Trump follows through on reneging (the rare sort of "promise" he can be counted on to keep), we'll end up 18th on the list of 19, ahead of only South Korea, and behind Spain, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and Finland.

3.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your thoughts and your prayers are insufficient Permalink to this item

Jimmy Kimmel on the new most deadliest shooting in modern American history. Not easy to watch. But not as hard as being anywhere near that concert in Las Vegas. Of course, Idaho's two senators are in the group of 56 who voted against background check legislation after the shooting in Orlando. No doubt they'll vote against whatever the NRA wants them to vote against next, in spite of overwhelming popular support for something. Pretty much anything. Isn't there?

Kimmel said 90% of Democrats, and 77% of Republicans support background checks at gun shows. If those numbers are even close to accurate, we'd have a law, right? We've done a lot of measuring, such as the Pew Research Center on gun policy. Start with something easy: Which is more important, protecting the right of Americans to own guns, or controlling gun ownership? 24 years ago, 57% said the latter, 35% the former. Since 2010, it's been a dead heat.

Maybe that black-and-white choice covers up more divided opinion. But the numbers (whether overall, or by party) on having background checks for gun shows and private sales, for preventing the mentally ill from buy guns (seems like a no-brainer), for a federal database to track gun sales are all well in favor. The "ban on assault-style weapons" is close to equivocal for Republicans, and the last we tried that, it got (carefully, oh so carefully) mired in technical detail, and didn't turn out to work very well.

Pew Research Center survey data from 2015

After it's not too soon to have a conversation, it seems likely the non-conversation will continue, until the next mass shooting makes it too soon to have a conversation again.

P.S. The shooter in Las Vegas passed background checks with "no red flags at all." 20 guns taken to an upscale hotel. Nothing to see here.

2.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What have you got to lose? Permalink to this item

We will cut taxes "tremendously," the big man says. (But not his. Trust him.)

"You know, you really can't trust the things that President Trump has said about this tax plan because they've been completely inconsistent with the plans that he himself has actually proposed," says Jared Bernstein, former chief economist for VP Biden.

The opposition view provided by NPR last week, from Peter Morici of the University of Maryland is that our problem is perfectly able-bodied, childless, 35-year-old men sitting at home playing video games in Bangor, Maine.

MORICI: You can't cut taxes and not change spending without adding to the deficit. That's arithmetic. Conservatives and liberals can at least do arithmetic together.

That's... optimistic, actually. David Leonhardt's take on Tax, Lies and Videotape makes it sound like voo-doo economics all over again. At least with climate change the "rising tiding lifting all boats" will come true.

Speaking of Republican tax plans, they're sort of like when your slot machine says you won a million bucks (or $1.4M) and the casino says you know what? That machine malfunctioned. The house always wins.

1.Oct.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What does Betsy DeVos know about education? Permalink to this item

Sounds like our Secretary of Education received an educational response from the crowd at Harvard.

"Sycophants of the system"? Holy crap, did Betsy DeVos bring William Safire back from the dead to write her scripts? She doesn't need any research, she's got an anecdote, people! But one of the students brought forth a relevant question: "How much do you expect your net worth to increase as a result of your policy choices?"

The moderator (was it?) said "you can choose not to answer that question."

The students chanted "that's what white supremacy looks like."

True dat.

Says here SecEd plans to drop a $quarter billion on more charter schools, what she and the for-profit education industry are sure is the answer to all our problems. So there's that.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007