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27.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's all about coordination Permalink to this item

Ronald Klain, ex-Ebola czar, and stuff, if we can believe his Twitter profile, points out that the last five presidents (going back to Reagan) "trusted Tony Fauci to be their top adviser on infectious disease, and the nation's most trusted communicator to the public." Under the present regime, the subgenius who doesn't believe in science all that much will be "coordinat[ing] all statements and public appearances."

Mike "smoking doesn't kill" Pence didn't "have anything else to do," his boss reportedly said, so there's that. (And yet he found time to go to talk to CPAC today, go figure.) With more than a little irony, given what happened in Indiana on his watch, Pence named someone he'll need a chaperone to meet with, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the director of the United States effort to combat HIV and AIDS, to serve as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House.

"Officials insist the goal is not to control the content of what subject-matter experts and other officials are saying, but to make sure their efforts are being coordinated, after days of confusion with various administration officials showing up on television. And they say they are not focused on specific news releases rather with a streamlined effort around television appearances."

Streamlined. Also Larry Effing Kudlow is part of the team, because everyone knows inexpertise in one field automatically transfers to another, wholly unrelated one. Let's bring Steven Mnuchin on board for the Trumpvirus team, too! That would settle the markets right down, I'm sure. The last six days have been a hell of a drop, the fastest 10% market correction in history, and then some. You have to rewind back before the impeachment to put the market back into plus territory after this week.

6 mo. Yahoo! Finance chart of major US indices

26.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

That new coronavirus Permalink to this item

The last thing on my reading list last night was Dr. James Hamblin's piece in The Atlantic, where titles and headlines can now have a conversation. The former is "A Vaccine Won't Stop the New Coronavirus," and the latter, You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus. The good news and bad news combine in the subhead: "Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain." That which doesn't kill you can better spread to others. It's what makes the common cold so common:

"Coronaviruses are similar to influenza viruses in that they are both single strands of RNA. Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing, people. By contrast, the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, named for where the first outbreak occurred)—were picked up from animals, as was H5N1. These diseases were highly fatal to humans. If there were mild or asymptomatic cases, they were extremely few. Had there been more of them, the disease would have spread widely. Ultimately, SARS and MERS each killed fewer than 1,000 people."

H5N1, the "avian flu," has a fatality rate of 60%. This new coronavirus, COVID-19, "seems to have a fatality rate of less than 2 percent—exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news. The virus has raised alarm not despite that low fatality rate, but because of it."

Hamblin quotes Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch's prediction that "within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19," with the emphatic clarification that "this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses." Many will have "mild disease, or may be asymptomatic."

All I know is what I read in the papers, but 40 to 70% of the world's population is a big number, as is 2% of that big number. The nicer way of predicting what will happen is to imagine a fifth endemic coronavirus, just another way to catch a cold, even if, as you may have noticed, and irksomely, "people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity." The wild card right now is how contagious the disease is in milder cases.

The second half of the article addresses the vaccine angle, and the details about why we can't just whip one up and knock this out. There's "art" in making vaccines, as well as science. And you have to test things—"first in labl models and animals, and eventually in people"—before you start mass manufacture and distribution.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, researchers moved from obtaining the genomic sequence of the virus and into a phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine in 20 months. [Anthony] Fauci[, head of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases], wrote that his team has since compressed that timeline to just over three months for other viruses, and for the new coronavirus, “they hope to move even faster.”

Maybe the safety testing could start as soon as April. "If all goes well, by late summer testing could begin to see if the vaccine actually prevents disease."

"Overall, if all pieces fell into place, Hatchett guesses it would be 12 to 18 months before an initial product could be deemed safe and effective. That timeline represents “a vast acceleration compared with the history of vaccine development,” he told me. But it’s also unprecedentedly ambitious. “Even to propose such a timeline at this point must be regarded as hugely aspirational,” he added."

And then would come manufacturing and distribution. The story goes on through waning optimism to the significant expense. "The process could ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars—money that the NIH, start-ups, and universities don’t have. Nor do they have the production facilities and technology to mass manufacture and distribute a vaccine."

Our military budget these days is hundreds of $billions every year. Most of a $trillion, in fact. It's not as simple as writing a check, but redirecting a mere $billion (say) for something that could ultimately save millions of lives seems an obvious, easy decision. Consider it one of the better investments we could make in "defense." Hamblin talked to Jason Schwartz, assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health who studies vaccine policy:

"The best-case scenario [may be] the one in which this vaccine development happens far too late to make a difference for the current outbreak. The real problem is that preparedness for this outbreak should have been happening for the past decade, ever since SARS. “Had we not set the SARS-vaccine-research program aside, we would have had a lot more of this foundational work that we could apply to this new, closely related virus,” [Schwartz] said. But, as with Ebola, government funding and pharmaceutical-industry development evaporated once the sense of emergency lifted. “Some very early research ended up sitting on a shelf because that outbreak ended before a vaccine needed to be aggressively developed.”

"On Saturday, Politico reported that the White House is preparing to ask Congress for $1 billion in emergency funding for a coronavirus response. This request, if it materialized, would come in the same month in which President Donald Trump released a new budget proposal that would cut key elements of pandemic preparedness—funding for the CDC, the NIH, and foreign aid.

"These long-term government investments matter because creating vaccines, antiviral medications, and other vital tools requires decades of serious investment, even when demand is low. ..."

In other words, it's a problem that "the market" is never going to solve.

Still from Huang video

Update: This smart kid, Cary Huang, put together an amazing data visualization that puts the new virus in perspective with others we've known: How does Coronavirus compare to Ebola, SARS, etc? Very impressive information delivery in 10 minutes. Could've shortened the "mildly panicked emoji" section and the music is gratuitous, but quibbles. He posted his sources on pastebin.

After the alarming trip from day 0 to day 42 (which I saw yesterday, excerpted), the wider context of H1N1 Swine Flu in Mexico, just a decade ago, with almost 300,000 deaths and 0.5% fatality, and then the Big One, also H1N1, Spanish Flu a century ago. A 10% fatality resulted in 50 million deaths.

24.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

+rump is going to cheat Permalink to this item

This is, of course, a statement of the blindingly obvious, as if we were forecasting a sunrise tomorrow morning. Don John has lied, cheated, and stolen all this life. He is definitely going to be lying and cheating his way to try to steal the 2020 election. Given that we can count on it, how should we plan for it? Sarada Peri raises the question in The Atlantic.

"Trump will say absolutely anything necessary to attract and maintain support, including patent untruths. His pathological lying has been well documented and yet never ceases to stun. By one count, he has told more than 15,000 lies since taking office. A small sampling: After falsely declaring that Hurricane Dorian was headed toward Alabama, he displayed a doctored map to cover his tracks, and his chief of staff made the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration release a statement defending his lie. Trump also recently claimed that he rescued health coverage for people with preexisting conditions—even though he has gutted the Affordable Care Act and is suing to overturn it. One day after tweeting, “We will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare in Fiscal 2021 Budget,” his budget revealed cuts to both. ...

"No amount of fact-checking can counter his constant stream of mendacity, which has become white noise in our political culture."

She linked to McKay Coppins' piece, now two weeks old, but the "March 2020 Issue" of the magazine, which I'm finally getting around to reading in its entirety: The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President; "How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election." The "dystopian picture of the general election" that's coming into view, with "coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting."

"The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable."

About halfway down, then-only U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell pops up in the story, as one of the inside group that texts regularly with Junior, ready to go after journalists who produce news stories IMPOTUS doesn't like. ("Once a story has been marked for attack, someone searches the dossier for material on the journalists involved. If something useful turns up—a problematic old joke; evidence of liberal political views—[Matthew] Boyle turns it into a Breitbart headline, which White House officials and campaign surrogates can then share on social media.")

Instead of trying to reform the press, or critique its coverage, today’s most influential conservatives want to destroy the mainstream media altogether. “Journalistic integrity is dead,” Boyle declared in a 2017 speech at the Heritage Foundation. “There is no such thing anymore. So everything is about weaponization of information.”

Who needs actual facts, so time-consuming to assemble, when alternative facts can be tailored to suit out of whole cloth? As Rudy Giuliani's accidental candor reminded us, the truth isn't truth anymore. My own personal Twitter troll-follower and chairman of the Boise County Republican Party took the trouble to comment on one of my tweets, and when challenged to say something of substance, he pointed out that I was "wrong for 3 years." Wrong about... something? Anything? Everything! I'm sure. Liberals were all wrong about everything, because now +rump is president and he alone can fix it and no one can stop him. After the Senate gave its carte blanche this month, Eric celebrated the glorious future on Facebook: "Cleared in Russia hoax; Cleared in Ukraine hoax; Reelected in a landslide; Checkmate!"

Another dab into the alternate universe is in my inbox today, Judicial Watch's latest attack on Hillary, the National Institutes of Health, the whistleblower the RWNJs love to name over and over, and what issue could be complete without George Soros and the Globalist Leftist Agenda? All the latest from The Daily Caller, Breitbart, The Washington Times. Devin Nunes! #SpyGate! Hunter Biden! (Still?) Tom Fitton!

Who I'd never heard of, but I see he's the mastermind behind JW, and declaring that it's Still not too late for @RealDonaldTrump to go on a transparency tear, he's re-shouting from 2 years go, to get you salivating for this year's show. He was on his wet dream about "the lawful arrest of Hillary Clinton" back then, who's next?

With William Barr as Attorney General, I'd say all bets are off. +rump is bad enough at business that he could bankrupt a casino, but Barr has a proven record of genuinely deep state manipulation, with no evidence of moral scruples to slow him down.

A CBS News/YouGov poll has found that just 11% of strong Trump supporters trust the mainstream media—while 91% turn to the president for “accurate information.” This dynamic makes it all but impossible for the press to hold the president accountable, something Trump himself seems to understand. “Remember,” he told a crowd in 2018, “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

The smattering of ex-Californians and Kloset Konfederates who've found their way to Idaho to create a Redoubt fantasy are definitely mainlining the +rumpian alternate facts stream. "Substance" is easy-peasy; just shout out "you were wrong for 3 years!" As Coppins winds up:

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

22.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Paving the way to infinity and beyond Permalink to this item

It's a bombshell headline in today's Idaho Statesman, Idaho highway contractors changed records hundreds of times. Then, they got bonuses. It came my way via veteran Oregon journalist Les Zaitz' retweet of the shout-out from none other than Dan Rather, extolling local newspapers, and "stellar reporting." As Rather suggested, I clicked through and read the story, of local, and general interest.

The two facts stated in the headline are supported, but the implication between them (what makes for a bombshell) is up in the air. Did hundreds of alterations result in the bonuses? That's still under investigation. The most detailed examples in Audrey Dutton's reporting don't have enough context to make it clear.

Boise River greenbelt, after winter 2016-17 erosion

Changing the value entered for an asphalt sample weight from 2,289.1 grams to 2,291.2 doesn't seem like a huge deal. The difference is about the weight of a dime, in a five pound sample, less than 0.1%. Does the weight matter? We don't know. In the sidebar, "What is an altered test result?" we see eight different numbers posted for a value in less than a minute. The caption says "a test to check the quality of asphalt" and it looks like (but doesn't say whether) the numbers are weight, in grams. In that series, it varies from 2272.7 up to 2327.7 and then ends at 2322.7. That's more than 2% variation, and a lot more than I'd expect the uncertainty of weighing something, definitely on an instrument with resolution to the tenth of a gram. (Even if that last digit is noisy, and "all 7s" makes me suspicious about its precision, as well as that of the person recording the data, 1 gram in 2000 is 0.05%.)

The one piece of highway in the story, a $6.7 million project on US 95 near Council, won an award for being "finished in just 54 days and using more than 50,000 tons of asphalt, involved milling off one-half inch of the old roadway surface in various locations to prepare for a new driving surface, repairing asphalt soft-spots, repairing and installing guardrail and delineation, and installing trench drain in specific areas along the highway." Sounds great, except:

"When the forensic review team looked at it three years later, it already showed moderate distress, far earlier than it should. A 2005 study by the Asphalt Pavement Alliance, a coalition of pavement industry trade groups, found it takes an average of 22 to 28 years for asphalt roads to show moderate distress."

That's apparently what got the US DOT Inspector General and the FBI involved. And it was a couple years later that "technicians were documented, likely without their knowledge, making “suspicious alterations” in asphalt tests through the [ITD-installed] tracker [function] in the Excel workbooks. But...

"It's unclear how the tracking function and its data trail relates to the federal investigation, if at all."

Having this journaling of data entry in the ITD spreadsheet did provide some local color, however, with our Ada County Highway District (ACHD) Chief of Staff, Paul Daigle, breezily accusing the state of "hacking" the ACHD.

“They’re basically hacking us and stealing our internal data, to put it in layman’s terms,” Daigle said.

Not that he actually has a forensic clue (the outside consultants ACHD hired with your tax dollars notwithstanding), but a layman or woman might also understand a professional description of what the ITD provided with the Excel workbook as "keeping track of when data are entered and when they are altered." Which, I am cool with that, because it's in everyone's interest to have accurate quality control data for the $hundreds of millions we spend on highways in Idaho.

21.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Russians are coming... again Permalink to this item

It was a jokey movie back in the Cold War based on a novel written before the no-joke Cuban missile crisis, released in 1966 before the war on Vietnam took the fun out of playing Army. This time around, who needs a submarine to run aground on our east coast? Cyberwarfare can get the job done without getting your feet wet.

It's black letter fact that (a) our intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia, on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin, interfered in the 2016 presidential election, helping Donald J. +rump win (read the Report!); and (b) they've also concluded that Russia is part of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, effectively, here in 2020. CREEP, you might call it. (Or KAOS if you're still reaching for Cold War comedy.)

Cropped out of Doug Mills' photo in the NYT story

This time around, after intelligence officials briefed House members on the threat last week, "the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said." DoDo was "was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing." As in, Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who lives, rent-free, inside the orange-carpeted confines of +rump's liddle' brain.

Joseph Maguire was "outgoing" anyway, because "acting" holders of positions that require Senate confirmation to officially hold the post are time-limited, but also because the intelligence conclusions were delivered too bluntly, and You-Know-Who doesn't like to be reminded he's a Russian vassal run aground. IMPOTUS has lined up a more compliant crony to fill the slot, Richard Grenell, who can continue acting like Ambassador to Germany in his spare time. Acting DNI a full time job? He don't think so! Besides, the less a loyalist with no intelligence experience does, the better, maybe.

"[T]wo administration officials said the timing [of Maguire being pushed out] was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and [IMPOTUS] had never felt a kinship with Mr. Maguire."

Grenell's bona fides include "appear[ing] extensively on Fox News," chatty with Junior, and knows how to "navigate around normal State department protocol to speak directly with the president over the phone." You know, like Gordo used to do.

And we know how important kinship is to the head of the +rump crime family. The Republicans who aren't just stroking ego of Big Giant Head "have long argued that Moscow's campaign was intended to sow chaos, not aid [Rumptity Thinskin] specifically," which, would make for a good reason to improve election security, if you didn't like how chaos is working out for your party.

Also not coincidental that Devin Nunes' sloppy bagman in the effort to discredit US intelligence on Russia, Kash Patel will be coming on board to the Office of the DNI.

Meanwhile, the Acting News Network informs us that +rump's "former body man," previously fired over security clearance "issues," is back for a West Wing sequel as head of the Office of Personnel, an adjunct "Mick" Mulvaney.

"Administration officials tell Axios Trump feels he’s surrounded by snakes and wants to clear out all the disloyal people."

At his re-"introductory meeting," we're told he asked liaisons from cabinet agencies to identify political appointees "believed to be anti-Trump," for purging. 29-year-old Johnny McEntee "suggested the most dramatic changes may have to wait until after the November election," though. That lineup in the photo on Axios: Kellyanne the Berzerker, Johnny the Grim Reaper, and Nazgûl Stephen Miller, headed in to work.

20.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yet another +rump crime family felon Permalink to this item

Little Tucker Carlson danced a jig for his patrón. "The whole thing is enough to shake your faith in our justice system," he pontificated, accidentally landing on Truth in that weird, stopped-clock way of a duplicitous clown. His audience of One, our +rollin' thief retweetwed the clip.

Roger gets the boot for his felonies

The "only thing that matters" is fixing this, Tuck clucked, with a parodic schmear about "morality." Ah yes, ending this "travesty" with a pardon is the moral thing to do. I'm sure that will resonate with Dotard Don's moral sense.

I happened to tune into WaPo "cops and courts" reporter Rachel Weiner's twitter feed as she was live-tweeting the story, refreshing to "hear" Judge Berman Jackson's pronouncement as it unspooled, after she'd sorted through the prosecution's changing tune, as best they admitted.

“What is the government’s position today?” Jackson asked, emphasizing the word today. When Crabb said he had nothing more to offer, she said with a bit of exasperation, “Okay, fine.”

The ever-sartorial Artful Dodgy was said to be in a "wide-striped suit and a polka-dot tie," that's nice.

And, the pre-pardon punchline was 40 months. Well less than the 7 to 9 years the prosecution first suggested, "virtually a life sentence" for a 67 year old, Friar Tuck said. Stone has had a freewheeling run, so it would be the roach of his life, but we'll never know. @PopeHat (aka Ken White) notes that the sentence handed down was "a not unreasonable departure from the guideline given the nature of the case." And, of course:

I strongly suspect he won’t serve any of it because Trump will pardon or commute. But Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s defense of truth and the rule of law is inspiring — if, perhaps, doomed.

— AntiCorruptionHat! (@Popehat) February 20, 2020

Philip Bump put the over/under on a commutation or pardon at one week.

19.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I'll never stop calling it "perfect" Permalink to this item

It's time for a Closer Look, ppl. If you're wondering why the Senate Republicans are staying under the radar, consider the appearance of these three leading lights:

Lamar: "I would think you would– think twice before he did it again."

Joni: for his "ferreting out corruption," "he knows ... he needs to go through the proper channels."

Susan: "I believe the president has learned from this..."

Buckingham U. Badger, +rump's spirit animal

Meanwhile, IMPOTUS is bringing back the old team, the discarded tools that the small handful of adults in the room had banished to the back of the shed. RNC PR BS, buy a vowel!

It's funny, because it's true, and because we're all going to hell, because of the Senate GOP (minus Ronna McDaniel's uncle), and especially the perfidious Bill Barr previously grappling with the word "suggest" and now seriously giving thought to "resign" ha ha.

I think that was before yesterday's pardon parade, it's all a blur. Greg Sargent dips a toe into the alternate reality.

"In this magical place, Barr’s loyalists can leak word that, by golly, Barr just might quit if Trump keeps publicly trying to manipulate ongoing cases. This is meant to insulate Barr from Trump’s taint.

"But in the real world, here’s what’s staring us in the face: For Trump, the very public nature of his efforts to corrupt law enforcement is a key feature of those efforts, not a byproduct of them that he pathologically can’t control."

It remains to be seen what the criticism of 2,460 former DOJ members (at latest count) and a thousand federal judges can do. For the moment, as the Democratic primaries rage on, all we have left is the House. Jeffrey K. Tulis has suggestions for that: a series of oversight investigations are in order.

17.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Oh yeah, winter driving conditions Permalink to this item

Wired's recent item, Snow and Ice Pose a Vexing Obstacle for Self-Driving Cars seemed a flash of the blindingly obvious.

"[When] Czarnecki took the autonomous car for a spin in heavy Ontarian snow. It quickly became a calamity on wheels, with the safety driver forced to grab the wheel repeatedly to avert disaster."

December, 2003 photo

A spin, get it? Ha ha. As a new teenaged driver in Wisconsin, when the first snow came, I felt it was my obligation to find an empty parking lot and practice "loss of traction," aka "donuts." And the first Christmas after I'd moved to Idaho and went back and forth for the holidays, my buddy and I went for a "spin" on I-80 by Elk Mountain, Wyoming, and his Land Cruiser was never the same. (It wasn't the ice that got us, it was the dry pavement at the end of the ice.)

Next Christmas, I've got a story about a Great Plains blizzard and a snowbank, the damage done by the car following our tracks after we were deemed well and truly stuck there for the middle of the night, and got a ride into town to wait for morning.

Humans might slip into auto-pilot mode when conditions aren't challenging, and/or they're on the phone, but those of us who live to tell the tales do learn how to manage more extreme conditions one way or the other. Slow down, maybe get off the road, maybe crash a few times until we get the hang of better approaches. But machines... they're going to take a lot of special attention to get good at the corner cases. Mistakes will be made.

Chutes and Ladders Permalink to this item

Trying to recollect the ancient board game of my youth, "Snakes and Ladders" came to mind first, but I guess that was just the context of the day. Here's news about the multi-billion dollar border wall that Mexico's not paying for being defeated by "$5 ladders." That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but see what you think. Six meters (about 20 ft.) of "the sort of cubed rebar support structure used in construction in Mexico, called castillo" is going for 99 pesos in Ciudad Juarez DIY stores. Just bend the ends of the 3/8" rebar into a hook for the top of the wall, and you're good to go.

Two days ago in the El Paso Times (tracked down after seeing the Twitter-linked Yahoo! News version of what the UK's Independent copied, badly): 'Somebody is making money off those ladders': Smugglers use 'camouflage' ladders to cross border wall. The 'camouflage' element is that rusty old rebar matches the "brown color [of] the mesh panels [and] steel beams of the fence."

Still cropped from video

The Border Patrol guy in the video says no, no, the wall is working just like it's supposed to, because those ladders (and the home-made rope variety) take time to scamper upon, and that gives the BP a chance to respond.

Just between you and me Permalink to this item

Techie friend I trust recommended one particular flavor of encrypted messaging, with this piece on Wired by way of introduction: Signal Is Finally Bringing Its Secure Messaging to the Masses.

The default, NoScript-enabled view I get in Firefox provides the hero image (of "the cryptographer and coder known as Moxie Marlinspike"), and the full story text, and I don't remember any ads, maybe there weren't any. No paywall interrupting me, just a footer stripe with a Subscribe link for "unlimited WIRED access." At the end of the story, a headline/blurb for a Featured Video, "How to Get Started with Encrypted Messaging," ok. But no link there, no embedded video. Try relaxing NoScript once... nope. Twice... or maybe it was thrice before this appeared:

We're sorry, something went wrong.

Five hits of the NoScript allow temporary button and the video is finally delivered. There are now no fewer than fifty-six domains other than involved in delivering this page to me. Five of them remain firmly UNTRUSTED:,,,, There are others that deserve to be blacklisted along with those, I'm sure. In addition to the supposed site I'm visiting, the page on, there are 19 domains that have managed to get themselves TRUSTED by my browser, and all but the rest are "Temp. TRUSTED." ( is "DEFAULT," apparently the last thing to get loaded in.

I feel like I should go down that list and strike the temps that didn't take the trouble to hide their self-serving intent. "" for example. Digging into the page rendering, I'm surprised to see that iframe-embedded video source is on; which is to say, it should have been delivered from the get-go, since the default is to trust the page's own host domain. But no, there were layers and layers of scripting and transactions that had to take place before we get to the video. "But I digress."

The video has an authoritative-looking fellow who matches the dominate cultural expectation for that sort. He begins by emphasizing the now:

"It's 2017. It's time to start using an encrypted messaging app."

He eventually introduces himself, Brian Barrett, Wired News Editor (or was in 2017). He notes the viewer has some apps already in hand, probably. (I installed WhatsApp in Barcelona once upon a time. Used it for a couple of messages with our VRBO host, and that was it.) But this "Signal" thing, he says it's the "gold standard of encrypted messaging apps."

"Go ahead and download that now, and get your friends to download it too."

Because... that's how it works, and the only way it can work. Also, you can't ever really know how well it's working. Even if you're a coder and cryptographer out in the wild. Sorry.

NoScript screenscrape, at first load

The story (and video) doesn't have any helpful links to, you know, get started with encrypted messaging, other than they just told you what you need to do. Another video spools up and starts playing. Bu yao. Revoke all those temp permissions, and incidentally, what did this page look like to begin with? Three DEFAULTs, three UNTRUSTED, three TRUSTED domains. Nine total.

Anyhoo, Signal might still be up-and-coming but it's easy to find, and does have its hands on the perfect domain name: The home page promises it's Fast, simple, secure. Privacy that fits in your pocket. Android, iPhone, Desktop. Tout-blurbs from Edward Snowden (!), Laura Poitras, Bruce Schneier, Matt Green. Only that last name was new to me, he's a Johns Hopkins U. cryptographer, and his pull quote is "After reading the code, I literally discovered a line of drool running down my face. It's really nice."

"Send high-quality group, text, voice, video, document, and picture messages anywhere in the world without SMS or MMS fees."

Free for everyone. Signal is a 501c3 nonprofit. Seems like a compelling elevator pitch, even without the allure of its privacy! But what's the business model? Doesn't get into that, no obvious "about" link. There's a donate page though, requires some scripting enabled... to, and stuff. Here's the ask:

"Signal Technology Foundation is an independent 501c3 nonprofit. The team at Signal is committed to the mission of developing open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication. Your contribution fuels this cause. No advertisements. No trackers. No kidding.

"Your donation helps pay for the servers, bandwidth, and continued development of an app that is used by millions of people every day for secure, free, and instantaneous communication anywhere in the world."

The download page has giant buttons for Android, iPhone ("or visit from your phone"), Mac, Windows, Debian-based Linux. Do it. You know you want to.

15.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Damned if we didn't, damned if we did Permalink to this item

Ten days into the Era of Aquittal, heads are exploding, and the Base... is happy? I have no idea. A very select few are going to benefit from the looting, but most will have only Schadenfreude and the sweet milk of liberal tears for satisfaction. Maybe that's enough.

"Even Bill Barr," the story goes, has a problem with having the DOJ be a blatant tool of retribution and outright lawlessness. Does he? Does he really? How could we tell? What would be the sign? An interview with ABC News doesn't really work for me, because I don't trust anything coming out of Bill Barr's mouth. The lede of the NYT report from Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman boils it right down:

"While Attorney General William P. Barr asserted his independence from the White House this week, he has also been quietly intervening in a series of politically charged cases, including against Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, people familiar with the matter said on Friday."

With "a phalanx of outside lawyers," no less, creating his own, made-to-order Department of Justice.

Yesterday, +rump "made [it] clear that he believes he has free rein over the Justice Department and its cases, rejecting Mr. Barr’s public demand of a day earlier that the president stop commenting on such cases."

Maybe we could take the report that former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe—the fellow in charge after +rump fired James Comey to get the Russiar monkey off his back—would not be charged in connection with a leak case, "ending a nearly two-year criminal investigation" as a positive sign, if it weren't for the fact that it's been nearly two years, and Barr was put in place a year ago yesterday.

And that Roger Stone re-do, some "senior law enforcement officials" overriding the career prosecutors who'd recommended 7 to 9 for seven, count 'em, seven felony convictions.

"Though Mr. Barr said that he had intended to intervene to ask a judge to impose a more lenient sentence, he also said that Mr. Trump had complicated his plans by creating the specter of political tampering and that the president’s commentary was making his job “impossible.”"

As in, if +rump had just kept his big yap shut, maybe nobody would have noticed that the DOJ was letting the president's ratfkr off the hook? Seems as unlikely as Barr being honest and trustworthy.

Susan Glasser is at least entertaining the possibility that Barr's pushback is real, and an indicator of how unhinged and out of control the dotard is.

"Trump has been nutty and angry before, ranting and vindictive, blasting norms and lying with abandon. Trump has been insulting his enemies and wreaking vengeance and claiming the “absolute right” to do things that he does not have the absolute right to do—for years. The Washington Post counted more than sixteen thousand lies, misstatements, and untruths from the President—before a single senator voted to acquit him. Months before he hijacked U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine, in service of his personal political interests, he ordered the U.S. military to the Southern border to combat a nonexistent “invasion,” only days in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. Is this time really different?

"The answer, I’m afraid, is yes. In his post-impeachment rage, Trump wanted vengeance, and he wanted us to know it. There was no one inside his Administration to stop him. A month ago, Congress had at least the theoretical power to do something about his overreaching. Today, thanks to the Senate’s very clear vote, it does not. So, although the President himself is unchanged, the context around him is very much altered. In the history of the Trump Presidency, there will be a before impeachment and an after. It’s too late for lessons learned, and it’s most definitely too late for Bill Barr to complain about the President’s tweets. The constraints are gone. The leverage is lost. One ABC News interview with a single Cabinet official is not going to restore it. Trump, unhinged and unleashed, may actually turn out to be everything we feared."

♥.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

First draft of impeachment history Permalink to this item

Preet Bharara's got a podcast, and he's the perfect guy to spend an hour and a half interviewing the counsel for the House Intelligence committee, Dan Goldman, who you will remember if you watched any of the 17 witnesses testifying in the hearings for the impeachment of Donald John Trump. STAY TUNED with PREET, Scenes from an Impeachment. Highly recommended.

Among Bharara's other qualifications, he used to be Goldman's boss in the SDNY US Attorney's office. The interview was a couple of days ago, before the news was all-Bill Barr all the time, but it's no secret:

"I don't think we have encountered an Attorney General like Bill Barr in a generation." Since Watergate, that is, which is a couple generations ago now, I think. "He views himself as an arm of the President." Never mind that fake push-back in yesterday's news, and our Sun King insisting he can if he wants to. This:

"Past presidents in both parties have respected long standing traditions that are aimed at preventing political influence from the White House on Justice Department investigations, especially criminal inquiries that involved administration officials or friends of the president. The rules have been in place since the Watergate investigation, in which President Richard M. Nixon sought to pressure the FBI."

Nixon and Watergate are recurring themes. Now then, back to the interview, and from my notes while I listened:

Don McGahn was one of the key witnesses of the President's obstruction. He was told by the President to fabricate evidence. Keeping him from testifying kept the Mueller Report from having any momentum for impeachment. (That is, the crime of obstruction worked.)

Giuliani got on the House Intel committee's radar in mid-May, 2019 when he announced he was going to go do stuff in Ukraine, and then (publicly) backed off.

Sept. 9 is when the House Intel Cmte got notice from the IG that there was a whistleblower complaint, which SHOULD HAVE BEEN TURNED OVER TO CONGRESS but was not. Such withholding had NEVER HAPPENED IN 20 YEARS of the whistleblower statute.

Trump's solicitation of a foreign power for help in his reelection has never happened before in our history, it was said. (But now that I copy and paste that note, I remember that it's not true. Richard Nixon worked with North Vietnam—while we were at war with them, so straight-up TREASON—to prolong the war in order to help his election bid in 1968.)

Was there a political clock ticking? Goldman says "there was no deadline." They didn't know where it would go, what they would find, what witnesses they could get. Like being in the middle of a trial with the evidence was changing every day. "Every single day, there were new revelations..."

Why the hearings needed to be closed: You don't want witnesses to compare stories and revise them. "We were truly in a fact-finding mode." Great respect for the witnesses who did come forward, "some of the most impressive individuals I've come across," people who took detailed, copious notes as part of their work. For the most part they were able to review their own notes before testifying.

"How big a liar is Gordon Sondland?" Preet asked, jocularly. Goldman demurs, somewhat. He saw Sondland as a participant—a central participant, we now know—in a "scheme." Tried to toe a narrow line to avoid admitting what was going on, but the other witnesses (with better notes, and recollection) forced his him to come clean.

Goldman recounted one of the moments of high drama during the closed-door depositions, Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony, starting with the text of his opening statement distributed just before he gave it. It ran 40 minutes, and the SCIF was filled with gasps and oos and ahs from the perhaps 75 members of Congress who were present.

All those deposition transcripts were released in their entirety, with minimal redactions, just concealing the whistleblower's identity. And pretty much all of the material from the whistleblower became superfluous as witnesses who were closer to the action filled in the greater detail of what was going on.

10.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Established an intake process Permalink to this item

Just because this was utterly predictable doesn't mean it can't also be mind-blowing. The Attorney General of the United States has now acknowledged that +rump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is feeding what he's been collecting in Ukraine to the DOJ, "bringing what was a stealth campaign into official government channels." Never mind Lev and Igor getting arrested, the business of Fraud Guarantee is still going whole hog. Barr's DOJ "has the obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant," although a jowly harumphrumph, "very careful" and "we can't take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value."

9.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Burr in the saddle Permalink to this item

Decades ago, my trailer park door yard east of Moscow was taken over by a gorgeous burdock plant. I remember it fondly. Last year's crop in our churchyard caught my eye this morning, and when I showed off my picture to a couple friends, one said "oh, I hate those."

You can certainly get crosswise with them, but there is so much to love. My mind leaps to the intense magenta of the flowers, and the crenulated abundance of the leaves. Never had a taste for the root (let alone a thirst for it), but I see from the lovely entry for the genus in Wikipedia that it feeds honeybees, and various lepidotera, as well as Leo Tolstoy's and George de Mestral's inspiration. (Recommended: the photo therein, "close-up of a single bract spine of Arctium minus.")

In the main entry, the hooked burrs (naturally), the statuesque habit, the abstracted symbolism to ward off the evil eye, the etymology of the common name and the iconic brand now interwoven as tightly as burrs in your wool. In the photo of 5 ft. 11 in. man and a burdock leaf, I ask you, who is holding whom?

Burdock fruit and shadow

8.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

V   GER Permalink to this item

Voyager 2 is 17 lighthours out from Earth. 123 A.U., give or take. In interstellar space, along with its sibling. It had a little hiccup in recent weeks, but NASA tells us it's now back online, albeit on its ever-diminishing power budget. Our Voyagers flew by Jupiter more than 40 years ago, observed volcanoes on Io sending plumes more than 190 miles above the surface. By Saturn two years after that, Uranus in 1986, and Neptune in 1989. Here's a three-minute thrill of it:

From the Voyager Fact Sheet, on an approaching 30-year anniversary:

"On February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 took the last pictures of the Voyager mission. Beyond the outermost planet in our solar system, at a distance of about 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 turned its camera inward to snap a series of final images that became its parting valentine to the string of planets it called home.

"Mercury was too close to the sun to see, Mars showed only a thin crescent of sunlight, and Pluto was too dim, but Voyager was able to capture cameos of Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from its unique vantage point. These images, later arranged in a large-scale mosaic, make up the only family portrait of our planets arrayed about the sun.

"It was an image from this set that inspired Carl Sagan, the Voyager imaging team member who had suggested taking this portrait, to call our home planet “a pale blue dot.”

"After that set of portraits, the cameras on Voyager 1 and 2 were switched off and the software controlling them removed from the spacecraft. There was very little for the cameras to see in the vast, dark emptiness of space. ..."

February freakish weather Permalink to this item

NWS 7-day history for KBOI

A week into the used-to-be cruelest month, yesterday was "where is your jacket?!" warm for a bike ride to the post office. I didn't put a number on it, but looking after the fact I see it was smack mid-50s. On February 7. Last Saturday, first of the month, we hit 52°, with cold, snow and rain between.

Not quite as dramatic as 65°F at Esperanza Base, on the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, but still. It used to be February was just right for pruning trees in the depth of winter; now our winter seems to have lost its depth.

Halfway down toward sea level, and over on the other side of the Blue Mountains, yesterday's high in Pendleton, Oregon was also 55°, except it was 50-55° for several days in a row, and heavy rain followed heavy snow. The Umatilla, Grande Ronde and Walla Walla rivers reclaimed chunks of their flood plains.

"The Oregon National Guard said it has rescued 10 people in less than 24 hours, including two National Guard Swift Water rescuers who were stranded while doing search and rescue work."

And an important reminder from your National Weather Service:

Turn around, don`t drown. Never drive cars, trucks or sport utility vehicles through flooded areas. The water may be too deep to allow for safe passage. As little as one foot of water on the road can move most vehicles off the road.

See here, your four-lane, divided I-84 near Hermiston, after they shut 'er down for a couple hundred miles yesterday. Showing a bit of a detour now, up and through Hermiston.

Oregon State Police photo via AP

Update: A spectacular collection of images on the Facebook page of Walla Walla Co. Fire District #8 includes an aerial photo of that same stretch of I-84.

7.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And now, the retribution Permalink to this item

As the Senate Minority Leader observed, This "is not a sign of strength, it's a sign of weakness." There's also the mental illness, the drug abuse, and the dementia at work. But none of those will interfere with revenge. Friday's list includes two of the witnesses to +rump's criming, and one collateral damage:

The Vindman brothers have been reassigned from the NSC to the Department of the Army; I don't think the president can just fire somebody out of that, can he? One wag wondered if Gordo could get a refund for that cool $million that punched his ticket. Good luck with that.

I'm old enough to remember when the Republican Senators were clutching their pearls about House Manager Adam Schiff suggesting they'd been threatened that their heads would be on pikes if they had the temerity to stand up to +rump.

“That’s where he lost me,” proclaimed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called it “insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.’’ Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) went so far as to say that “I know of no Republican senator who has been threatened in any way by anyone in the administration.”

Unlike the good old days, I don't suppose the heads will be "parboiled, coated in pitch, and doted upon by the Keeper of the Heads."

Math break Permalink to this item

When I learned algebra (stop me if you've heard "half a century ago" already), I had it down like a lot of people (used to) learn arithmetic. (Now kids can hardly make change on their own.) But it's been long enough since a quadratic equation got in my way that I found I couldn't pop "minus b plus or minus the root of b squared minus 4ac all over 2a" off the stack like I used to.

Still, the particular example in This Professor’s ‘Amazing’ Trick Make Quadratic Equations Easier distracted me from the magic because I can still factor x2 - 4x - 5 = 0 by inspection, and don't understand where you'd have to "switch into a guessing mode" to get there (let alone "trial and error").

(a) 5 = 5 x 1

(b) sign pattern => factors' signs differ

(c) -5 + 1 = -4

=> (x-5)(x+1) => roots are 5, -1.

When I modified my brain to follow that sort of path, it did seem a bit magical, which was part of the attraction for me. So, what's this new thing? (Which it also says is an old thing, rediscovered from Babylonia.)

The average of the roots is -b, -(-4) = 4 in the example. That's the axis of symmetry if you were to draw the parabola of y equals the expression. The roots are ± an unknown amount. Which multiply together to c, -5 here. Write another (quadratic!) equation for u, and solve it, and uff, that seems a longer walk.

Graph of y = 4x^2 + 14x -13

Maybe this could make it worthwhile: "The same method also works for equations that are not readily factorable." Let's try one I can't solve by inspection:

y = 4x2 + 14x - 13

That's a mess, and with a not 1, is -b still the average? No. The sum of the two roots is 2(-b / 2a) = -b/a, which is to say twice the formula without the ± square root stuff. So the average is -b/2a or -7/4. That ± u will be the roots, and

(7/4)2 - u2 = -13/4


u2 = 13/4 + 49/16

u is ± the square root of 101/16, which is to say 10/4 and change, or about 2½. The roots are -7/4 ± 2½-ish. Magic!

If this is for an airplane or something important, we should check the numbers... with the quadratic formula. Ploddingly, but more assuredly.

There are bees in his head Permalink to this item

The person I wonder about is Susan Collins, Senator from Maine and reliable rag doll for the right. She voted for witnesses, after Lisa Murkowski and the rest of the Senate GOP (minus Mitt Romney) gave her (and the Chief Justice) cover for that, and then she voted for acquittal, and said she believe-hoped the president would be chastened by the experience. Of being accused, and then acquitted, never mind by a mock jury. I wonder if she really can imagine the things she says are real, and how she engages sufficient cognitive dissonance to neutralize the contradictory evidence.

"It can get away very quickly."
Boss Tweet

After morning prayers, Donald John Trump ignored whatever remarks had been prepared for him and went full-on stream of consciousness, exposing his ugliest side to a select audience in the East Room, and as ever, to the cameras, for "a long, rambling venting session" "where he denounced 'evil' and 'crooked' lawmakers and the 'top scum' at the FBI for trying take him down."

Would other presidents "been able to take it"? "Some people say, no they wouldn't have." Indeed, Richard Nixon had enough of a conscience to resign in shame for far less egregious offenses. But then, Nixon didn't have a Mitch McConnell and 51 other Republicans covering his sorry ass.

They're vicious

"I've always said they're lousy politicians, but they do two things: they're vicious and mean. Vicious. These people are vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person."

“It was all bullshit,” he said, his barnyard metaphor raising eyebrows, as if presidential decorum was a thing anymore. It doubtlessly delighted MAGAts nationwide. (He really tells it like it is!) He's the leader of the shithole party he hijacked, so what can you say? You're soaking in it!

The fellower travelers are skittering out into the light of day to join the retribution parade. Newt Gingrich! A man who imagined he could be president, but who knew, he lacked the vitriol necessary to harness the mule team. He dusted off his bona fides "as speaker of the House for four State of the Unions" [sic, but in fairness, "four States of the Union" would have sounded equally stupid] to express how disgusted and insulted he was by the "viciously"—viciously!—"partisan action" of Nancy Pelosi tearing up her copy of the speech. She should be censured, he did declare! Bless his heart.

The retribution campaign will be no joking matter, however. With Bill Barr at the helm of the DOJ, and Mitch McConnell's Carte Noir, it's payback time, with a full-on push to steal the November election, come hell and high water. All those stalled investigations into the Trump crime family corruption will come alive under a Democratic administration and Attorney General. Trump delicately allowed "I've done things wrong in my life," but "not purposely." The racism, the raping and rapine, the grifting and lying and money laundering and fraud, all accidental! Maybe a tiny bit of carelessness once in a while. But never on purpose. He's always been perfect.

That makes him uniquely, stably, geniusly qualified to call out the crime and fraud of others. Was Bill Barr at the breakfast to get his daily praying in, or was he too busy squelching investigations of Trump and launching new ones at his enemies?

6.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The ship of state is taking on water Permalink to this item

We seem to have hit an iceberg, parts have fallen off, the crew is hallucinating, and the Captain has gone raving mad. Susan Collins said she "believed" he'd learned a lesson, then had to downgrade that to "hoped." Mitch McConnell's fake impeachment trial and "not guilty" verdicts pushed Queeg into insanity.

Hope was dashed at this morning's National Prayer Breakfast, which Alexandra Chalupa reminds us "is a haven for foreign influence, including Putin’s top religious oligarchs who rub elbows with political elites, and is run by ‘The Family’ Christofascist cult that is linked to former Nazis." (Vox explainer from July, 2018.) Never mind all that, how's your day going?

"As dozens of attendees stared into their fruit cups and longed for the sweet release of the Rapture, the president* continued to read from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Hannitites."

But all that was "only an undercard attraction on the bill of CrazySlam ’20," as Charlie Pierce tells it. I see it acquired the hash tag #pettysburgAddress, aptly enough.

"This is really not a news conference, it’s not a speech, it’s not anything, it’s just we’re sort of — it’s a celebration because we have something that just worked out. It worked out. We went through hell unfairly. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong."

If you say it twice, it comes true, and a pony appears!

The oversized banner headline is not what the orange man was waving around today, "ACQUITTED" by a Mitch McConnell-orchestrated circus act, it's EMBOLDENED. As in, TARGETING ENEMIES.

The same Treasury Department that has been working like a shell company lawyer to keep Trump's tax returns hidden, violating the law and battling in court, turned over Hunter Biden financials with alacrity, in response to Republicans in the Senate asking. (Lindsey Graham told Idaho's Jim Risch to get right on it, and apparently Jimmy did just that.) This will help "validate Trump’s alternate-reality version of the Ukraine scandal."

And Trump's Attorney General will make sure that "politically sensitive investigations" on his watch will only go with his approval. We can, I'm sure, trust that he will be every bit as even-handed for future investigations as he has been to date.

5.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Total confustication Permalink to this item

The recap of "a dark day for the Senate," from Georgetown law professors Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer: Trump Was Not Convicted. But He Was Exposed.

"Uninterested in hearing from witnesses (and likely scared by what they would say), uncritical of outrageous legal arguments made by the president’s lawyers and apparently unconcerned about the damage Mr. Trump has done to the integrity of America’s elections, a majority of senators insisted on looking the other way and letting him off the hook for a classic impeachable offense: abuse of public office for private gain."

"But while the Senate got it wrong, the American people learned what’s right. This impeachment was about much more than the final vote of 100 senators. It was a process, and that process yielded a public education of extraordinary value. While the Senate may emerge from the process weakened, the American people, on the whole, emerge from it strengthened by a sharpened sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for an American president; of what it means for a political party to show moral courage; of what it looks like when dedicated public servants speak truth no matter the consequences; and of the importance of whistle-blowers for ensuring accountability."

Dignity of the office Permalink to this item

In the minutely examined slights of the evening, the Speaker of the House ceremoniously tore up the President's speech upon its completion. The President refused a handshake from the Speaker. And he announced his intention to award the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, a talk radio blowhard who has established a nadir of vulgarity for a generation.

This side-show for the main act of the President tearing up the Constitution, as the Republicans of the Senate leap to their feet in gushing applause. Greg Sargent boils it down: "Trump treats the opposition as fundamentally illegitimate in every way, and places himself beyond accountability entirely."

"In acquitting Trump while refusing witnesses and evidence, Senate Republicans will not only be clearing him for the article levied for this obstruction of Congress (as well as for abuse of power). They will be carrying through that delegitimization of the House’s institutional role to completion."

100 statements Permalink to this item

Here's another difference between an impeachment trial and every other jury trial in the country: the "jurors" getting to make statements before they render their verdict. Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, gave one for the history books. Here is most of what he said, via C-Span's transcript, with my editing from watching the video. Must see TV.

"Throughout the trial one piece of evidence continued to stand out for me. It was the President's statement that under the constitution, we have Article 2, and I can do anything I want. That seems to capture this president's belief about the presidency, that he has unbridled power, unchecked by Congress or the judiciary or anyone else. That view, dangerous as it is, explains the President's actions towards Ukraine and Congress. Some of what we've seen and heard is unfortunately a picture of a president who abused the great power of his office for personal gain, a picture of a president who has placed his personal interest well above the interest of the nation, and in so doing threatened our national security, the security of our European allies and the security of Ukraine.

"The evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office and the weight of the United States government to seek to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit. His actions were more than simply inappropriate. They were an abuse of power. ...

"Impeachment is the only check on such presidential wrongdoing. The second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, gave me more pause. I've struggled to understand the house's strategy and their failure to fully pursue documents and witnesses and wished that they had done more. However, after careful consideration of the evidence developed in the hearings, the public disclosures, the legal precedents in the trial, I believe the president deliberately and unconstitutionally obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation in any way.

"While I'm sensitive to protecting the privileges and immunities afforded to the president and his advisors, I believe it's critical for our constitutional structure that we also protect the authorities of the Congress of the United States. Here it was clear from the outset that the president had no intention whatsoever of accommodating Congress when he [fought] both witnesses and documents [from] being produced. In addition, he engaged in a course of conduct to threaten potential witnesses and smear the reputation of the civil servants who did come forward and provide testimony.

"The president's actions demonstrate a belief that he is above the law, that Congress has no power whatsoever in questioning or examining his actions and that all who do so do so at their peril. That belief, unprecedented in history of this country, simply must not be permitted to stand. To do otherwise risks guaranteeing that no future whistle-blower or witness will ever come forward and no future president, republican or democrat, will be subject to congressional oversight as mandated by the Constitution, even when the president has so clearly abused his office and violated the public trust.

"Accordingly, I will vote to convict the president on both articles of impeachment. In doing so I am mindful that in a democracy, there is nothing more sacred than the right to vote and respecting the will of the people. But I'm also mindful that when our founders wrote the constitution, they envisioned a time or at least a possibility that our democracy would be more damaged if we failed to impeach and remove a president such as the moment in history that we face today. The gravity of this moment, the seriousness of the charges, and the implication for future presidencies and congresses all contributed to the difficulty with which I've arrived at my decision.

"I am mindful, Mr. President, that I am standing at a desk that once was used by John F. Kennedy who famously wrote "Profiles in Courage" and there will be so many who will simply look at what I'm doing today and say it is a profile in courage. It is not. It is simply a matter of right and wrong. Doing right is not a courageous act. It is simply following your oath.

"Mr. President, this has been a divisive time for our country, but I think it has nonetheless been an important constitutional process for us to follow. As this chapter of history draws to a close, one thing is clear to me. As I've said before, our country deserves better than this. They deserve better from the President. They deserve better from the Congress. We must find a way to come together to set aside partisan differences and to focus on what we have in common as Americans. While so much is going on in our favor these days, we still face great challenges, both domestically and internationally but it remains my official belief that united we can conquer them and remain the greatest hope for the people around the world."

I do take exception to his self-deprecation; his statement is courageous, in no small measure because it stands in such stark contrast to the profiles in cowardice and complicity that we're seeing from so many in the Trump-hijacked Republican party.

Update: Mitt Romney is going to do the right thing, too. Bravo.

Romney shredded the defense's arguments along the way: that a statutory crime is required to justify impeachment; that anything the Bidens did justified Trump's acts; that the decision should be left to the voters.

"The President is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust."

How hard could this be? Permalink to this item

It's Wednesday morning, after the Iowa caucuses were held Monday night, and we still don't know the answer to the burning question "who won?" With just 62% of the count tallied, it was running a tie between the old and the new, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, with Elizabeth Warren in third and Joe Biden leading the also-rans. The midnight results update is up to 71% of precincts reporting, same order in the percentages, and State Delegate Equivalents. Still "too close to call."

After the debacle in Florida in 2000, Idaho quietly ditched its punch card technology (which seemed to have been working just fine, thanks), in favor of pen and paper and optical scanners. That seems conceptually simple, verifiable, recountable, and uses appropriate technology to get the job done timely. Not too slow, not too fast. No explanation needed for filling in squares with a pen, easily supervised process for user-fed scanning (while maintaining secrecy, pretty much), and the inevitable requirement for trust in the machine after the poll scan-watcher says "So and So has voted!" The results don't always get done the same night, but usually by the next morning it's close enough to done and dusted.

How do I know my votes were properly tallied and added in to the totals? I have no way of knowing. But the ladies who run our precinct seem nice, even if they don't always know the rules.

Which is not to say a caucus would go as smoothly as all that. The Ada County experience in the 2016 presidential election was pretty much all the undemocratic nightmare that Iowa's having right now, and more, without the close race to make it particularly consequential (even if the national contest was close, and contentious, and with the benefit of hindsight, we could see the rift widening even then, on our way to the unthinkable nightmare which we might be headed for again this year).

All those memories coming back as I read Kevin Roose's tech take, The Only Safe Election Is a Low-Tech Election, and how a "fancy calculator" seems to have derailed the process. "There is no indication that any of these technical issues changed the results of the caucuses, or that any systems were hacked or compromised," he allows, but how would we know? How could we know?

More than a few people have pointed out that Iowa caucus debacles are not actually a new thing. In 2012's crowded race the "winner" started out as Mitt Romney, went through Ron Paul, and ended up Rick Santorum. Ron Paul! Rick Santorum! According to the Wikipedia recap, the final tally of 19.8% of "active registered Republicans" and 5.4% of Iowans eligible to vote went Santorum, Romney, Paul, Gingrich, Perry, Bachman, Huntsman; 24.56, 24.53, 21.43, 13.30, 10.33, 4.98, 0.61%.

With 121,501 votes recorded, 0.01% would be about 12 votes. Santorum's recorded margin over Romney was just 34 votes, 0.03%. And this little post-script:

"The vote totals of eight precincts were never counted, so the vote totals are not really known."

Anything else? "The secret polling results at Republican caucus sites were unrelated to the delegate selection process in 2012." There were county conventions to be had (99 of them if every county had one), and then the state convention, where third-place finisher Abu Rand made off with 22 of the state's 28 delegates to the national convention and Mitt Romney collected the other six. Call it 78.57 to 21.43%. For the 2nd place and 3rd place finishers, respectively.

In this year's denouement, allegations of vote tampering and election rigging were flying easy-peasy and the search for scapegoats is on, with businesses you never heard of getting the kind of publicity they weren't looking for.

"Democrats quickly began blaming Shadow, the tech start-up that built the app, and Acronym, a Democratic digital strategy operation that invested in Shadow. ... Late Monday, Acronym put out a statement, saying that it did not provide technology to the Iowa Democratic Party and that it was merely an investor in Shadow."

Here's the (technology) punchline:

"[E]very piece of technology involved in the voting process is a possible point of failure. And the larger and more interconnected the technical system, the more vulnerable it is to an attack."

The electoral punchline is an even longer, and far more complicated story. Big picture, the god-awful polarized mess in 2016 made Donald Trump president, so Houston, we have a problem. Nobody's saying "that can't possibly happen again."

It's the economy stupid, and more particularly, the economy as perceived by the donor class, and by the determined to vote in November class, both of which are doing a lot better than the country as a whole. It won't matter that the rising tide of ebullient markets is lifting the yachts a lot more than the ski boats, while leaky dinghies are sinking at the docks, and it won't matter that the wave of disparate prosperity is continuing in spite of the current administration's kleptocratic incompetence, and it won't matter that it has been sustained on a "loot now, pay later" tax cut and a ballooning deficit. (Republicans know stimulus works; that's why they resisted it with a Democrat in office, and opened the spigot wide under their watch.)

Modeled data from Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Aaron Sojourner's twitter thread of our last decade's economic trends (juxtaposed with phony POTUS statements, before and after) spells it out: inherited trends (starting to run out of gas), and "one big economic policy change": the tax cut that "gave a massive gift to company owners," including the wealthiest Americans, and foreign investors, who got more benefit than 60% of Americans combined. So much for America first.

4.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An unseemly spectacle Permalink to this item

Former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court Jim Jones is a regular columnist for the Idaho Press, and his opinions are a breath of fresh air in a state where politics has gone more than a little whacked. (Case in point, the House Education Committee, which was supposed to be dealing with school content standards for science, math, and English/language arts, didn't get to that, but they instead voted along party lines to recommend repealing all of Idaho's current standards for initial certification of teachers, school administrators and others.)

Jones weighed in on the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump yesterday:
Idaho’s Senators turn a blind eye to the rule of law.

"Both Risch and Crapo struck a powerful blow against the rule of law by refusing to permit a meaningful impeachment trial. A trial in our system is designed to get to the truth of the matter by allowing the jury to hear witnesses testify under oath and to examine documentary evidence. Both of our Senators have refused to permit the introduction of that evidence. What kind of a trial is that?

"Had an opposing attorney refused to furnish documents and testimony when our Senators were practicing law in Idaho, they would likely have raised the roof. Now they say it is not necessary to learn what key witnesses have to say — John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey. Except for Bolton, the witnesses are Trump insiders and should be expected to parrot the party line, unless there is something to fear from having them sworn to tell the truth under oath."

And Risch's ridiculous, embarrassing, toadying frolick on the eve of the trial:

"Embedded in the requirement to do impartial justice is the obligation of Senate jurors to comport themselves impartially. If a juror in a court proceeding were to cavort with a defendant, it would certainly raise eyebrows and perhaps the blood pressure of the presiding judge. Jurors in an impeachment should not be frolicking with the defendant in the course of the proceedings.

"However, Jim Risch boasted in a Jan. 19 report that he had flown on Air Force One with the President to attend both the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia on Dec. 14 and the LSU-Clemson game in New Orleans on Jan. 13. Risch observed that “you can relate to this guy.”

3.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let us pray Permalink to this item

Talk about your weird juxtaposition: the 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate, retired US Navy Rear Admiral Barry Black's beautiful voice, and his heartfelt sentiments in today's opening prayer in the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump.

He addresses the "Lord," entreating Him to "arise," and then avers, oddly, that "we continue to keep our eyes on You, on Whom our faith depends, from start to finish." I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, or how one could claim it, in the eyes of a deity. But something.

"May our Senators embrace Your promise to do for them, immeasurably, abundantly, above all that they can ask or imagine."

"Lord help our lawmakers store Your promises in their hearts, and permit You to keep them from stumbling.

"Grant that they will leave a legacy of honor as they seek Your will in all they do, we pray, in Your amazing name, Amen."

The Chief Justice, his head bowed reverently for the ritual, nods and concurs with an "amen." We start a new day, a new week,

James Madison, 4th President of the United States, and principal drafter of the (non-)Establishment Clause did not resist the sentiment of his times to have chaplains, but he did express himself clearly in his Detached Memoranda, written after his retirement. As quoted in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Volume 17, Issue 4, Article 6, The Congressional Chaplaincies (with a h/t to Wikipedia, taking me there).

"The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers, or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor."

But other than that, the appeal to a deity not in evidence, and a call to Senators that means less than their plain oath "to do impartial justice," this is fine. Look how far we've come! By 1836, as far as a Catholic Chief Justice, and we now have a majority of Catholics on the high court (5½ of 9), including the current Chief.

Speaking of Catholics, before I figured out where this blog post was going to wind up, I came across this story from NBC News: 19th Century Vatican palace turned into homeless shelter at Pope Francis' behest.


02.02.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Palindromatic Groundhog Day Permalink to this item

Let's just say we haven't seen this before, nor will such a date come around again in our lifetimes. Enjoy it while it lasts! Forward or backwards, inside out or outside in, 2020.02.02, with or without punctuation. 20200202, 02022020. It pleases me.

How the deconstructed deep state responds to pandemic Permalink to this item

As summarized by Joyce White Vance in a tweet: "The President who used a sharpie to try to alter the course of a Hurricane & enraged the scientific community is now in charge of pandemic response to the Coronavirus. Predictably, he has destroyed everything Obama built."

Laurie Garrett's report in Foreign Policy: Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response. "As it improvises its way through a public health crisis, the United States has never been less prepared for a pandemic."

"In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure. In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion. If the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it is—not just for the public but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark."

There's a Task Force, which had some meetings this past week, one of them led by the president, if that comforts you. Some of the dozen members appear to have relevant expertise.

It wouldn't be too surprising if we lean toward China's authoritarian model, reported here as "put[ing] secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis and risking public alarm or political embarrassment." They forced an early whistleblower (as it were) to "sign a statement that his warning constituted 'illegal behavior,'" which, oddly enough, does not seem to have slowed the spread of the virus.

1.Feb.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The steady drip of nonexoneration Permalink to this item

While we consider the smoking ashes of our democratic republic over the coming months, if there is ever to be a way back, this most toxic concept of "Executive Privilege" needs to be put to death.

Iris, rain, 2016

First, and foremost, because criminal acts are not supposed to be privileged (just as one party is not supposed to be utterly cuckolded by a tyrant). But also because it has been promoted as a supreme value onto itself. As if communications between the president and his closest advisors should be utterly exempt from scrutiny, lest... what the hell is the "lest" argument, anyway? Lest their plotting be exposed to enemies?

After all but two of the 53 Republican members of the Senate (props to Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, finally, even if pointlessly) said "no mas!" and Lisa Murkowski wrote the epitaph ("the Congress has failed"), near midnight on Friday, the Department of Justice revealed in a court filing that it has two dozen emails related to Trump's involvement in the Ukraine extortion scheme, "as early as June."

The administration is still blocking those emails from the public and has successfully kept them from Congress.

A lawyer with the Office of Management and Budget wrote to the court that 24 emails between June and September 2019—including an internal discussion among DOD officials called "POTUS follow-up" on June 24—should stay confidential because the emails describe "communications by either the President, the Vice President, or the President's immediate advisors regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine."

Not that we had to wait for a midnight, January 31 deadline to realize something was rotten in the District of Columbia. In the middle of the day yesterday, another tranche of Bolton revelations showed the impeachment trial was even more corrupt than seemed obvious.

"President Trump directed John R. Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.

"Mr. Trump gave the instruction, Mr. Bolton wrote, during an Oval Office conversation in early May that included the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense."

Pasquale Cipollone is not only not the president's personal attorney with no business appearing in the impeachment trial, he was also very likely a material witness to Trump's criminal acts.

The notoriously sloppy conspirators deny everything. Giuliani is threaded through the timeline going back years, but it was November 2018 when he kicked the Ukraine conspiracy theory into a higher gear, just a year ago when his Fraud Guarantee bagmen were offering the previous president, Petro Poroshenko, the same quid pro quo that Trump would dangle in front of Zelensky in July.

So much evidence, so little time.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007