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10.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your hair-on-fire moment Permalink to this item

Apparently the takeaway at Goldman Sachs from Hillary Clinton's speech to them was "heads we win, tails you lose." Here they are landing on their feet in the new administration being assembled, starting with the pick for Secretary of the Treasury, no less. And why not the longtime second-in-command at Goldman Sachs as director of the National Economic Council, overseeing economic policy? Steve Bannon got his passport stamped at Goldman too, back in the day.

You might say this reeks of “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”

That's the way Trump himself put it, helpfully transferred from a stump speech into his final campaign ad. And in a twist to that, instead the "I alone can fix this" angle of his acceptance speech at the RNC, it was "the only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you."

So toward the end of "stopping this corrupt machine," we'll have Goldman Sachs in charge of the Treasury (again, or still; we haven't forgotten Robert Rubin's tenure, et al.), less health insurance, the long-planned attack on Social Security and Medicare come to fruition, a billionaire speculator (with no government experience and never managed a large corporation) at Commerce, Ben Carson at HUD, an Amway heiress who wants to privatize schools for Education, a fast food exec who thinks the minimum wage is fine (or too high?) at Labor, an Affordable Care Act hater at HHS, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III as Attorney General, Mrs. McConnell at Transportation (in her defense, Elaine Chao might be the only genuinely qualified pick in the lot), a proponent of black sites and torture at the CIA, an oil and gas man for EPA, drilling and mining enthusiast Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Interior, and—I am not making this up—the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp as odds on favorite in the ongoing cage match for Secretary of State. (At least he's not Rudy Giuliani. Or John Bolton.) This:

"In 2011, Exxon Mobil signed a deal with Rosneft, Russia's largest state-owned oil company, for joint oil exploration and production. Since then, the companies have formed 10 joint ventures for projects in Russia.

"In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson his nation's Order of Friendship.

"But U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursion into Crimea cost Exxon Mobil dearly, forcing it to scrap some projects and costing it at least $1 billion in losses. Tillerson has been a vocal critic of the sanctions."

Image of the Washington Post front page, Dec. 10, 2016

Does it feel like old news that Russia hacked the election already? The transition team dissed the CIA (yup, they've made some big mistakes in the past), and said let's just move on and start making American great again already people.

Kind of a big story to drop on Friday, December 9, but everybody's talking about the Washington Post bombshell (now in ink-stained retch format this Saturday morning). Evan McMullin's tweet storm, for example:

Our nation has been the target of hostile Russian intelligence efforts for decades. That's nothing new.

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016

Republican leaders knew Russia was undermining our democracy during the election and they chose to ignore it.

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016

You might think that follow-on a site named Crooks and Liars sounds a little fakey, or maybe... that that domain is now poised to be the sweet spot of real news. Karoli Kuns has some quotes and commentary out of the WaPo report, and a short video segment from Rachel Maddow's show, 2 min. worth watching.

"This conclusion was not something they just pulled out of thin air. Intelligence agencies had arrived at their conclusion in September, and briefed a bipartisan group in the Senate and House about it then, along with President Obama. The President wanted to go forward with a full disclosure of the report, but Mitch McConnell quashed it, threatening to taint any disclosure with the claim that it was being made merely for political gain."

That would be a holiday fruitcake soaked in Everclear, wouldn't it? Mitch McConnell threatening to taint something being done "merely" for partisan purposes. With the CIA conclusion safely quashed, the field was open for the FBI to drop in at the last minute, and amplify the "epic corruption" message of Trump (made credible because... well, Trump obviously was well-acquainted with epic corruption, right? Talking about buying politicians whenever he needed a favor. Selling his name to be slapped on dodgy products of myriad sorts, "Trump University" and its motto, "Ne Plus Ultra").

But that parenthetical parade is old news. What's new? The recount in Michigan, where there may have been more than just news fakery for fun and profit, the usual suspect vote supression and gerrymandering and what, actual hacking of the machines? Don't know. They ended the recount, because, mostly, the Trump team is ready to move on.

And you know, the Russians hacked the RNC too, not a big surprise, but we didn't hear about that, or what they got out of it. They didn't expect to need it? Saving it for later? Didn't serve their purpose of tainting the candidate they expected to win? Try to remember the kind of September in which...

"Mitch McConnell, James Comey and others intentionally aided and abetted foreign aggression against American democracy.

"What Comey did may be even worse, because he not only permitted foreign aggression to continue undisclosed, but also inserted himself and the FBI into the election in a different way but with the same goal: To tilt the result toward Donald Trump.

"At what point do we call this treason? Where are the hearings? Where are the investigations? This needs to be done by a bipartisan commission and it needs to be done now, before that hotline in the White House turns into Putin's vehicle for pulling President Trump's puppet strings.

"This is a hair-on-fire moment for all of us."

Update: one additional point that bears a highlight, in my Twitter flow because Norm Ornstein retweeted a retweet:

So just remember that Comey knew McConnell didn't want to reveal Russian effort to help Trump ... but still sent letter on Clinton's emails

— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) December 10, 2016

9.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Winners and losers Permalink to this item

All indications and now "according to officials briefed on the matter," the CIA concluded that Donald Trump was Russia's choice for U.S. president. Retired General and ex-CIA chief Michael Hayden, on the PEOTUS'refusal accept the conclusion, according to CNN:

"To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions. Wow."

Meanwhile, remind us again of what decided the election? Emails? Emails?! EMAILS?! What in the world? How can this be? Rick Perlstein unloads on "the media":

"America’s media establishment endlessly repeated Republican claims that Hillary Clinton was a threat to the security and good order of the republic because she stored official emails on her own server and erased about 33,000 of them she said were private. The New York Times ran three front-page stories about FBI Director James Comey’s surprise review of another set of emails found on the computer of Anthony Weiner’s wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This second review, however, like the first, ended up showing no wrongdoing.

"The elite gatekeepers of our public discourse never bothered with context: that every secretary of state since the invention of the internet had done the same thing, because the State Department’s computer systems have always been awful; that at the end of the administration of the nation’s 41st president a corrupt national archivist appointed by Ronald Reagan upon the recommendation of Dick Cheney signed a secret document giving George H.W. Bush personal, physical custody of the White House’s email backup tapes so they would never enter the public record. (A federal judge voided the document as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law.”) The White House of his son George W. Bush erased 22 million of its official emails, including those under subpoena from Congress. ..."

TWENTY TWO MILLION OFFICIAL EMAILS DELETED, INCLUDING THOSE UNDER SUBPOENA. Just wanted to higlight that. Official emails. Some under subpoena. 22,000,000. (In case you were wondering, that's six hundred sixty-six times as many as Clinton's deletion, claimed to be not official, and not under subpoena emails. 666.)

"Newspapers archived by the Lexis-Nexis database mentioned Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 erased private emails 785 times in 2016. I found six references to George W. Bush’s 22 million erased public ones: four in letters to the editor, one in a London Independent op-ed, another in a guide to the US election for Australians and one a quotation from a citizen in the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun.

"And now we have Donald Trump, elected in part because of his alleged tender concern for the secure handling of intelligence, making calls to world leaders from Trump Tower’s unsecured telephones."

And with his kids (a.k.a. business partners) hanging around, with no security clearances.

Perlstein's an excellent writer. His book, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America is on my recommended reading list, and the other two in that trilogy would be too if I got around to reading them.

He's got a searing indictment, both of the media's failures, and of the execrable picks that Trump is lining up for his cabinet.

Trump's closest adviser welcoming apocalyptic conflagrations. The "diversity picks" of a person "without a day’s foreign policy experience in her life as America’s ambassador to the United Nations" and someone with "no education experience, except if you count writing checks to advocate its privatization" for SecEd.

Read it. Brace yourself. Mr. Toad's wild ride will be like nothing you've ever experienced.

8.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The man on the cover Permalink to this item

Time magazine persists, somehow. It seems relevant this moment.

"For reminding America that demagoguery feeds on despair and that truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, for empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-streaming its fears, and for framing tomorrow’s political culture by demolishing yesterday’s, Donald Trump is TIME’s 2016 Person of the Year."

As you might have already been reminded, Time's "Person of the Year" designation has a category of "Notorious Leaders." The "controversial choices" over the years have included Adolf Hilter (1938), Joseph Stalin (twice, 1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957) and Ayatullah Khomeini (1979). The many U.S. Presidents were easier work. They didn't sort the PEOTUS pick into a category, yet. At the start of 1940, they noted:

Montage from Time magazine

"Joseph Stalin has gone a long way toward deifying himself while alive. No flattery is too transparent, no compliment too broad for him. He became the fountain of all Socialist wisdom."

And with a longer view:

"Stalin established a reign of terror that included mass arrests, executions and deportations. He also rallied his troops to beat back a German invasion in some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II. At his death on March 1, 1953, there was a mass outpouring of grief; at a 1956 Party Congress, successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced him as a murderer."

Time lists five others who made this year's short list: Hillary Clinton (missed it by that much); The Hackers; Recep Tayyip Erdogan; The CRISPR Pioneers; Beyoncé. (CRISPR? Wikipedia expands the acronym as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, while Time describes a tool that "allows scientists to easily and inexpensively find and alter virtually any piece of DNA in any species. In 2016 alone it was used to edit the genes of vegetables, sheep, mosquitoes and all kinds of cell samples in labs." There are a bunch of CRISPR/Cas tools, actually. At any rate, a prokaryotic immune system that confers resistance to foreign genetic elements such as those present within plasmids and phages is a lot harder to explain to the general readership than their choice.)

"So which is it this year: Better or worse? The challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer.

"It’s hard to measure the scale of his disruption. This real estate baron and casino owner turned reality-TV star and provocateur—never a day spent in public office, never a debt owed to any interest besides his own—now surveys the smoking ruin of a vast political edifice that once housed parties, pundits, donors, pollsters, all those who did not see him coming or take him seriously. Out of this reckoning, Trump is poised to preside, for better or worse.

"For those who believe this is all for the better, Trump’s victory represents a long-overdue rebuke to an entrenched and arrogant governing class; for those who see it as for the worse, the destruction extends to cherished norms of civility and discourse, a politics poisoned by vile streams of racism, sexism, nativism. To his believers, he delivers change—broad, deep, historic change, not modest measures doled out in Dixie cups; to his detractors, he inspires fear both for what he may do and what may be done in his name."

Violating terms of service Permalink to this item

If nothing else, Donald Trump is the sorest winner we ever saw. By the structural technicality of the Electoral College (and please don't tell us this is just what the Founding Fathers had in mind, "to protect small states"), he's almost certainly going to be president come Jan. 20, 2017. In addition to the bizarre "victory tour" (slapdashed to "thank you," as if), and while he might be paying attention to the world's greatest workload, preparing for and staffing his administration, he continues to watch too much TV and yell at the screen through his sur-@realDonaldTrump twitter machine.

One of his latest targets is Chuck Jones, President of United Steelworkers 1999, who had the temerity to call out the vaunted deal supposedly keeping Carrier jobs in the U.S. as yet another con. Not to put too fine a point on it, Jones told the Washington Post Trump "lied his ass off." Millions of dollars in tax breaks for... some 800 factory jobs kept stateside, maybe.

Is it "lying" if you're just in the habit of popping off random claims, promises, whatever? And then saying "I didn't mean it quite that way." Or "what, you don't understand sarcasm?"

Have a look at the video at the bottom of the BBC report, Donald Trump attacks union leader who called him a liar, in which Megyn Kelly has a quiet sitdown about being on the receiving end of Trump tweets and what he incites from his bully pulpit. This is not normal.

What Chuck Jones got to experience for standing up for the workers he represents, and the truth: threats from Trump supporters. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich addressed Trump directly on CNN: “Stop this. This is not a fireside chat. This is not what FDR did. This isn’t lifting people up,” he said.

Reich pointed out that Trump takes offense to anyone criticizing him, whether it’s a CEO or a local union leader, and that’s an untenable position for the president of the United States. “You are going to have at your command not just Twitter but also the CIA, the IRS, the FBI,” he said. “If you have this kind of thin-skinned vindictiveness attitude toward anybody who criticizes you, we are in very deep trouble, and, sir, so are you.”

For my part, I reported Trump's tweet calling out Chuck Jones personally as a violation of Twitter's Terms of Service.

7.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Freedom caulk us Permalink to this item

The big tilt at the Internal Revenue Service windmill has come to naught. The House rebuked the Freedom Caucus effort to impeach! the IRS chief, and we're scratching our heads wondering how an IRS chief could possibly do his or her job under a Trump administration, with the man at the top on the wrong side of the agency six ways to Sunday. Not sure who would have got the credit, but more the FC than John Koskinen if they'd managed to impeach the first appointed executive-branch official in 140 years.

In addition to the rebuke, the lopsided 342-72 vote seems like a fair measure of the size of the "Freedom Caucus" right-wing rump faction. They took attendance, and put it on page H7254 of the permanent record for Dec. 6, 2016: Aderholt, Allen, Amash, Babin, Barton, Bilirakis, Blackburn, Blum, Brat, Bridenstine, Brooks (AL), Buck, Byrne, Chaffetz, Davidson, DeSantis, DesJarlais, Duncan (SC), Fleming, Garrett, Gohmert, Gosar, Graves (LA), Griffith, Harris, Hartzler, Herrera Beutler, Hice, Jody B., Huelskamp, Hunter, Johnson, Sam, Jordan, Kelly (MS), King (IA), Labrador, LaMalfa, Lamborn, Long, Lummis, Marchant, Massie, Meadows, Messer, Mooney (WV), Mulvaney, Noem, Palmer, Pearce, Perry, Pitts, Posey, Ribble, Rigell, Roby, Rohrabacher, Rooney (FL), Rouzer, Russell, Salmon, Sanford, Schweikert, Stutzman, Wagner, Walberg, Walker, Weber (TX), Webster (FL), Williams, Wittman, Yoho, Zeldin, Zinke.

“He’d be wise to tender his resignation now,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), even though he voted with the super-majority to send the effort to go die in committee. “He doesn’t fit in with an open, transparent Trump administration. Clearly, we need a fresh start at the IRS.”

Along with a special prosecutor to look after the inevitable and ongoing audits of Trump's business affairs and tax shenanigans.

Civil service Permalink to this item

Among the more compelling and incredible dramas of the incoming administration: bringing acclaimed neurosurgeon and later presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson into the cabinet, as the nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. After quashing rumors about another cabinet post, saying “I don’t have any experience running a big bureaucracy,” he was apparently persuaded to HUD, because... he lived in public housing, once upon a time? (Similar qualifications: had a bank account? Treasury. Traveled to a foreign country? State. Went after his mother with a hammer? Defense. And so on. And whoops, he didn't actually ever live in public housing.)

The House minority leader noted in a statement that Carson would make a "disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice."

"There is no evidence that Dr. Carson brings the necessary credentials to hold a position with such immense responsibilities and impact on families and communities across America."

Federal employees by agency datagraphic from The Huffington Post

It seems rather quaint to expect someone with "relevant experience" for a particular post, doesn't it? Such old-fashioned, political correctness. For its part, the NRCC jumped on the fundraising opportunity. I could add my name to a petition saying I "stand with Dr. Ben Carson"; on the basis of his "good conservative instincts" and "Christian humility" perhaps. The CHQ staff explains How to Make Ben Carson a Success at HUD by bringing in a team with a pre-packaged anti-government agenda. A fellow from the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute; the founder of Sustainable Freedom Lab; and "our old friend Tom DeWeese, president of the of the American Policy Center, and one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence."

Demon Smart Growth must go. Also, "fascist-style public private partnerships" will be right out, and the team will stay busy dismantling "HUD’s anti-constitutional attacks on local government and state jurisdiction over land use."

it's interesting to consider another possible backstop to what trumpery might wreak upon us (in case the Senate Republicans don't save us): the "non-political" members of the civil servants, who will outnumber political appointees (the thin orange line) by 800- or 900-to-1.

HuffPo's pareto of employees at large federal agencies is enlightening in various ways, such as showing that the top 5 Departments (Veterans Affairs, the Army, Navy, Homeland Security and Air Force) comprise the vast majority of federal employees, 1.2M-ish versus less than a million in all the rest. HUD is down in the tail, 8,000 employees, 99% non-political. (And yes, it's politically top-heavy: 77 political appointees there, while the VA, with more than a third of a million employees, has only 63.)

Foreign agents Permalink to this item

Yet another sweetheart tax deal "saves" some Carrier jobs in the rust belt, yay. And Art o' the Deal publicly shames Boeing because they're kind of in Washington state that did not vote for Trump, and fake news says the next AF1 will be really, really expensive, tanks the stock. It's called "negotiation" people, and oh, a nice opportunity for some insider trading, innit? (ICYMI, what Boeing said: "We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the president of the United States...") Trump is bullish on fake news and conspiracy theories.

Here's one good thing: Michael G. "Don't Call Him Junior" Flynn, son of Trump's national security adviser pick and Twitter machine has been booted from the transition team, and we would presume will not be getting that security clearance after all.

We're all on pins and needles over the SecState job. Mitt Romney is still in the running! And how about Bob Dole, a name you didn't expect to see pop up in politics this late in the game. (He's 93!) Especially not acting as a foreign agent for Taiwan, working since May to arrange that supposedly casual phone call. $140,000 vigorish to get that rogue province off on the right foot with the new boss.

"[Disclosure documents filed last week with the Justice Department] suggest that President-elect Trump’s decision to take a call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, was less a ham-handed diplomatic gaffe and more the result of a well-orchestrated plan by Taiwan to use the election of a new president to deepen its relationship with the United States — with an assist from a seasoned lobbyist well versed in the machinery of Washington."

The NYT story notes that Dole was "the only former Republican presidential nominee to endorse Mr. Trump," so that's nice.

"Mr. Dole, who said he first took an interest in Taiwan as a senator when Congress was considering the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that established the current policy, has lobbied for the Taiwanese government for nearly two decades. In a letter in January, Mr. Dole laid out the terms of his agreement to represent the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, Taiwan’s unofficial embassy, including a $25,000 monthly retainer."

Maybe it hasn't been 25k/month for all of those nearly two decades, but my stars Dorothy, it doesn't look like we're in Kansas anymore. That is some nice work if you can get it. But wait, there's more! Former Democratic majority leaders of the House and Senate, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle are on Taiwan's payroll too. A bipartisan effort, you might say.

5.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The ultimate political football Permalink to this item

Marty Trillhaase, for the Lewiston Tribune: Now the nuclear waste shoe is on the other foot. We have political systems that are strained to the breaking point to deal with 5 or 10-year problems. We have no mental capacity to comprehend problems that might last 5 or 10 millennia.

I guess the good news would be that we're still around 5,000 years from now? When we opened Pandora's Box and the knowledge of radionuclides flew out, it gave us the power to annhilate the whole of humanity in short order, and for mutually assured destruction to be maintained for a whole century, two, three, four, would be quite a thing.

So far, so good.

But this observation, something that jumped out at me from a larger reading at church yesterday: humans have the power to decide the fate of the planet.

Ginkgo in gold, Nov. 2016

That might be too grandiose. Geologic time is long, and the planet has seen a lot of things we'd count as cataclysms come and go, never much batting an eye. Ginkgo biloba has been around 270 million years. But we do have our own fate in our hands, at least.

The nuclear waste problem is intractable, to be sure, but not quite as edge-of-cataclysm as weapons. With a longer perspective, the difference between seconds and centuries could be moot, but widespread contamination doesn't arrest attention the way a mushroom cloud does. As far as I know, Yucca Mountain was the best possible solution, among a small set of alternatives that all have the potential for trouble, sooner, or later.

Senator Harry Reid's interference might have been a good thing, or awful, take your pick. Another testament (as if we needed one) to the power of obstruction in our world's supposedly greatest deliberative body. Trillhaase's tone seems weird, not least for the metaphor of nuclear waste shoes. Kicking the can across state lines, and ever down the road.

If this is revenge, it's going to be served very, very slow, no matter how hot the isotopes may remain. Nevada is not so far away that our Congressional delegation sits that pretty. Even if the repository gets relaunched, nothing will happen in a hurry. "By some estimates, a revived Yucca Mountain could not accept waste shipments until 2048."

A quarter of a century from now. File it under #ThingsIWontNeedToWorryAboutPersonally.

The Twitter presidency Permalink to this item

Maybe Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser-appoint attracted his boss-to-be with attractive conspiracy theory tweets. But this much is clear: junior G-man Michael G. Flynn is a chip off the old block, and All Over that twitter thing. And now he's "more than just a family member of an incoming senior administration official," dad's gatekeeper and chief of staff.

"[H]e now appears to have a job with the Trump transition team. Email sent to an address at the Flynn Intel Group returned with an automated response that provided a new email contact for both Flynns — and each had a Trump transition email address that ended with .gov."

A two-for-one deal. With National Security advice like this, who needs enemies?

How the Grinch stole Christmas Permalink to this item

Paul Krugman's column covers pretty much the same ground as my effort yesterday, but better written, and more focused on the point: The Art of the Scam. Also, in the New York Times. His two key points bear repeating:

1) Trump got away with keeping his tax returns secret, "believ[ing] correctly, that he could violate all the norms, stonewall on even the most basic disclosure, and pay no political price." "[A]s a result, we can expect radical lack of transparency to be standard operating procedure in the new administration."

Much of the radical lack of transparency will be in the make-believe "blind trust" for his dealings. The American people will be blind to its inner workings, at least. We'll be left spluttering with incredulity with questions like whether the phone call with Taiwan's president was preparation for an investment in luxury hotels in Taiwan.

2) What success the Affordable Care Act has had will make it difficult to eliminate without hurting a lot of people, many of whom supported Trump (or at least opposed Clinton). Call it "Repeal and Delay" (past the midterm election). Or "Repeal and Point Fingers."

"There will, of course, be no replacement. And there’s likely to be chaos in health care markets well before Obamacare’s official expiration date, as insurance companies exit markets they know will soon collapse. But the political thinking seems to be that they can find a way to blame Democrats for the debacle."

Photo from summer, 2016

There is one other thing I heard, in Paul Ryan's performance on 60 Minutes that aired last night. Scott Pelley was going down the list of ACA features and asking whether the magical replacement plan would include them. "And women will pay the same as men? That didn’t used to be the case."

Paul Ryan: It depends on the age of a person. So we believe that we should have support based on age. The sicker and the older you get, the more support you ought to get. If you’re a person that has low income, you probably should have more assistance than a person with high income, for example.

And "everyone will have access to affordable healthcare coverage." (Even better than Obamacare, eh, given the Medicaid non-expansion debacle many of the states have cooked up.)

When that went by the first time, I thought his interjection of "sicker" was a signal that healthcare insurance underwriting would be revived. But fetching up the transcript, I see that he was talking about "support," and not premiums, even though the next sentence is about income, and vaguely hints at higher premiums for those who can pay. (As we have in the ACA.)

"More support when you need it" is the basic purpose of insurance, so why does that even need to be said? The idea that we're going to keep all the essential bits, everything that people need and like, but make it work better with a newer, gold-plated nameplate and tax credits or something is a grim fairy tale. What Krugman said:

"[T]here’s no way to achieve these things without either a major expansion of government health programs—hardly a Republican priority—or something very much like the law Democrats passed."

4.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Clutching at strawmen Permalink to this item

"What is historic here," VPEOTUS rejoined to George Stephanopoulos , "is that our president-elect won 30 of 50 states, he won more counties than any candidate on our side, uh, since Ronald Reagan."

Wut? Counties?

It's just some disappointed partisans pointing to the popular vote? Trump's margin of losing the popular vote while still managing to win the Electoral College, that will be historical.

And Pence's avuncular chuckle about how he and Trump would have campaigned more in Illinois, New York and California if they thought the vote of the people across the country really mattered. Ho ho ho.

Let's get back to the question, which was WHAT UP WITH THE "MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WHO VOTED ILLEGALLY" TWEET? Stephanopoulos said "that statement was false," and Pence says Trump just wanted to call "attention" to "evidence" "over many years," citing the Pew Research Center.

It's "refreshing," Pence said, with a look on his face that says THIS IS HEELARIOUS, "he tells you what's on his mind."

(Just for the record: The Washington Post handed out four pinocchios, for the abuse of legitimate Pew Research reports by Trump before the election.)

Carelessly unaffordable acts Permalink to this item

For the years and years and dozens of dozens of votes against the Affordable Care Act, the rallying cry to "repeal and replace" it was never credible. The House could do whatever it wanted (and did) with symbolic bills going nowhere, and even if something were to get through the Senate (which nothing ever did? or one thing?), there was the VETO waiting at the president's desk.

It was bad (and expensive) theater, and undertaken cynically (at best—stupidly, if you think anyone involved could dispute the facts in the first paragraph), while the important work of sabotage proceeded apace. The volley of legal challenges was mostly theatrical (and expensive), but one shot, improbably, created a grevious wound. The federal government could not coerce the states to take a 100% or 90% paid-for expansion of Medicaid to cover the gap between the existing program and the start of subsidies at 135% of the federal poverty level. The states that said "no," such as Idaho, did not have to solve the problem. They did not have to face the plain economics of a decision to reject the federal assistance to make health care affordable for those least able to afford it. Lord knows, they have not rejected federal support in myriad realms, but poor people's healthcare insurance is some kind of bridge too far.

If all that weren't cynical political theater, there would have been some kind of plan for the replacement, right? Maybe even alternative plans to choose from, discuss, consider, debate. But no. Just the repeal and then we'll talk. About something.

Weeks ago, Marketplace pundits asked the question replace with what? "Nobody really knows." Starting with the man soon to be at the top; he went squishy on the simplicity of "day 1" action just after Election Day.

Pre-existing conditions? Maybe it'll be "hybridized." Individual mandate? Probably goes; who likes "mandates" you have to pay for? (Never mind the essential connection to the first point. If you can opt out when you're healthy, and only have to opt in when you need insurance... the "just go bankrupt" model that worked so well for Donald Trump?) Kids stay on your plan until 26? We like that. Crossing state lines? "This thing is so misunderstood." (Do we want to repeal state regulation, and race to the bottom? Survey says... states say actually, no.)

20 million people who have healthcare insurance now who didn't have it before are the nut of the problem. Not the inevitable anecdotes from people whose premiums went up, or coverage didn't work, or aren't happy in their individual ways. Healthcare insurance for 20 million people.

Two weeks closer to the day Republicans take over everything, the one thing that's becoming more clear is that the plan (expanding the meaning of that word) is "Repeal." Then what? Don't know. Call it... Repeal and Delay. As in... which shell is the pea under, chump? "It is not sheer coincidence that at least one idea envisions putting the effective date well beyond the midterm congressional elections in 2018." "To make sure we do no harm," isn't that the Hypocritic oath Congress swears to?

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy put it right out there in nearly plain language:

“I don’t think you have to wait. I would move through and repeal and then go to work on replacing. I think once it’s repealed, you will have hopefully fewer people playing politics, and everybody coming to the table to find the best policy.”

Fewer people playing politics, that'll be great.

3.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Post-factual election results Permalink to this item

Props to Mark Newman of the University of Michigan's Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, for (a) his mapping of the 2016 US presidential election results, (b) his clear, sequential explanation of his work, (c) generous licensing under the Creative Commons ("Text and images may be freely distributed."), and (d) making his cartogram software available as well. (But, source code, in C. I could make that go, somewhere, with some difficulty. It's been out there for the taking a while, but that explains why I haven't been using it.)

Oh, and (e) his share of the diffusion method of Gastner and Newman used to make the cartograms.

"The calculation of the cartograms involves allowing the population to diffuse in the two-dimensional space of the map, carrying the boundaries of the states or counties with it, until it reaches a uniform equilibrium. The diffusion equation is integrated in Fourier space, where it takes a particularly simple form: the initial density function is evaluated on a 4608x3072 lattice, transformed using a two-dimensional fast Fourier transform, convolved with a Gaussian kernel, and then back-transformed to give the diffusion field at an arbitrary later time."

And so on. I've heard, read and/or spoken all the technical terms he uses in his lovely answer to FAQ #6, even if it would take me a week to follow the trail to and beyond the fourth-order Runge-Kutta integrator. If you're tired of politics already, you can browse his (2009-vintage) images of the social and economic world as food for thought.

What piqued more than my regular curiosity about county-wise results for the presidential election is the counterfactual meme intended (I'm sure) to deprecate Clinton's remarkable popular vote margin, 48.0 to 46.3% at latest count, as if... I don't know, how much land around you should determine how much your vote counts? Sounds crazy, but that is actually the way our system is set up.

The NYT interactive election results national map, which has all the country's counties available at hover (if not at hand for one's own sort, filter and analysis), cites Dave Leip's Atlas of Presidential Elections with county data sets compiled and marching back through time, for sale. Wandering around with my mouse, I see all four counties in Hawaii, 26 in Texas, 14 in NM, 4 in AZ, 20 in CO, 2 in Idaho, 11 in Washington, 8 in OR, 6 in MT, 29 in CA, 60+ in the northeast. 11 in Wisconsin. Two-hundred plus, easy. So you don't have to believe Snopes to verify that (mirabile dictu) a claim originating with Breitbart in mid-November is bullshit. (To put it slightly less delicately than they did: "We were unable to substantiate the '57 counties' number by any mathematical means.")

Presidential election 2016, mapped by county, by Mark Newman

Whilst hovering back home, the obvious numerical fact of why cartogramming makes much more sense than tallying counties. Ashland Co., Wis. results show about 8,000 votes. The 3 precincts in Clark Co., Idaho, accounted for 270 votes, total. Dane County, around Wisconsin's capital city, 300,000-ish. Milwaukee Co. over 400,000. Idaho's most populous county, Ada, counted fewer than 200,000 votes. (Ada isn't quite big enough to make the top 100 list of U.S. counties by population.) King Co., Wash., counted almost 900,000 votes; more than all of Idaho's 44 counties put together.

There are about 20 counties with more population than the whole state of Idaho. All 100 of the most populous counties each have more people than Wyoming does. Why are we talking about counties anyway? Madness can be contagious.

Back in the reality-based community, what possible reason do we have for trying to recount votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania? Greg Palast provides some answers to that question, including to assess the "massive number of votes that were simply rejected, invalidated, and spoiled." Estimated three million (that number keeps popping up) ballots deemed "spoiled," provisional or “placebo” ballots rejected more or less arbitrarily, and absentee ballots simply not counted. It's sloppiness that's not necessarily rigged, but sobering, at least.

And the "Crosscheck" program led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, punishing people with common names (especially those common to people of color, by remarkable coincidence). Palast spent two years investigating the claim that millions of people are voting multiple times.

"Crosscheck identified a breathtaking 449,922 Michiganders who are suspected of voting or registering in a second state, a felony crime, as are 371,923 in Pennsylvania. ...

"About 54,000 voters in Michigan, five times Trump’s plurality, lost their right to vote based on this nutty double-voter accusation. In Pennsylvania, about 45,000 were purged."

2.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Trumporama Permalink to this item

Starting with a first round of Trumpian diplomacy. Rang up the British P.M., Theresa May, to tell her “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know,” and then tweeted who he thought she should name ambassador to the U.S. (Nigel Farage, duh.) Not quite as funny as the idea that the Great and Powerful Trump would seek out advice and expertise from career staff in the State Department, as the current press secretary delicately suggested.

"The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody."

Welcome to our new reality.

Photo from this morning

No amount of lipstick on the pork barrel full of $7 million for Carrier to slow-play its moving jobs out of the rust belt will turn it into a revenue fairy, as Kevin Williamson ably explains for the National Review. His punchline sounds like the satellite view of the whole 2016 campaign: "Conservatives have a hard enough time of it as it is without inflicting needless stupidity on themselves."

But economics is always dismal and hard to follow. Let's start with easier fare. Do facts still exist?

Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump stalwart, and self-proclaimed "classically studied journalist" (now grown up to be "an opinion journalist" [sic]) said no. “There's no such thing, unfortunately any more, as facts.” James Fallows carves out that Thanksgiving turkey from the discussion on Wednesday's Diane Rehm Show. (Bonus for taking that jump, whether or not you follow its links to the audio: population adjusted county-wise cartogram of the 2016 popular vote for president.) It's a whole new ballgame for journalism, starting with this observation from Fallows:

"In contrast to all political coverage in my lifetime—even Richard Nixon—I think the starting point for most press coverage is that there is no presumption that anything Donald Trump is true. And we should start from the premise that this might be true, it might not, and pursue... but not present it as 'the president says X, critics say Y,' because the president may just be making up something as X, just because of something in his nature."

Ignore Trump's tweeted blurts? He has a 25M-account-wide pipeline direct to his fans (and ok, a swath of not-fans who can't look away from the 29-car pileup in progress).

Hughes likes the idea of Trump being "the media's worst nightmare," as if... they were one team out on the gridiron, and yay, her man won?! "And now, we're going to have a non-traditional administration." She got that much right, at least. If we needed an illustration of the toxic potential of social media, her man is it. What she celebrates is the power it gives the man to get his message out ("accurately," the most glorious non-sequitur of an adjective the radio waves have ever carried), directly. His message, as opposed to... whatever message "the media" were trying to get out.

After Glenn Thrush of Politico talked about the specific case of Trump's tweet about millions of illegal votes cast, Hughes turns tail and makes it clear she's not abandoning "fact" as a category, but rather intends to plant the flag on her side's hill, to insist that their facts are the better ones.

"As many as 2.8 million, these four [sic] professors at Old Dominion and George Mason came out and proved [sic] and said that 2.8... Many states, you can mail things in. So yes, there is facts to back up what I said and why Trump supporters believe it. You are wrong."

And by "you," there, she's talking about "the media," which means anyone who disagrees with her point of view.

That study by two Old Dominion U. and one George Mason U. profs is available via JudicialWatch.org and I took a look: Do non-citizens vote in U.S. elections? It's based on self-reporting of citizenship status and voting, collected by the 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, conducted by YouGov/Polimetrix of Palo Alto, CA, "as an internet-based survey using a sample selected to mirror the demographic characteristics of the U.S. population," with about 1% of respondents saying they were non-citizens.

FWIW, my takeaway is that there is something worth looking into here, but with better means than the sideband noise of a large-scale survey of self-reporting six and eight years ago.

In any case, don't try to tell Hughes that calling people "illegals" is offensive; political correctness is over. And don't try to tell her that "illegal is not a noun" (Margaret Sullivan did); grammatical correctness is over too. She'll tell you "you're going to continue to lose." Daily Caller, Breitbart, the Washington Times, they all say "your" reporting is hooey, so there.

On the matter of Trump's apparent disinterest in daily intelligence briefings, Hughes did at least express mild concern. But Mike Pence is covering for the briefings. Delegating intelligence, why not?

1.Dec.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Special KKK Permalink to this item

You know as well as I do that no corporate PR person would breathe a word about 45,000,000 breakfast-eaters and their possible ideological misalignment. What was reported in legitimate media, quoting Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles "in a statement":

"We regularly work with our media buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren't aligned with our values as a company. This involves reviewing websites where ads could potentially be placed using filtering technology to assess site content. As you can imagine, there is a very large volume of websites, so occasionally something is inadvertently missed. In this case, we learned from consumers that ads were placed on Breitbart.com and decided to discontinue advertising there."

The company's own "newsroom" isn't up to date, and is all positive stuff, in any event, but doesn't sound like that big a deal, does it? Au contraire!

The alt-right-o-sphere is dialing up the apoplexy to 11. Blacklisted! Serving "bigotry for breakfast"! Un-American! Yeah, that's (alt-)right, you don't advertise on Breitbart.com, you are a BIGOT, baby.

ConservativeHQ, in service to the Breitbart nutjobbery, and its new role as the house organ of the Trump administration, is pretending to be beside itself about the withdrawal. This is a declaration of War On Conservatives, no less. Even if Breitbart.com's sour grapes assessment is that this will have "virtually no revenue impact."

CHQ only wishes it had as much juice as Breitbart, but they're trying. In the "coming after your family" vein, they look to Battle Creek, Michigan, and Calhoun County, where Kellogg is the largest private employer to point out that

"the conservative–populists Donald Trump and Mike Pence, backed by Breitbart, defeated Far-Left Democrats Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine 31,489 to 24,154 in a 23-point blowout."

Unlike, you know, the rest of the country, where it was the Far-Left over the conservative-populists by more than 2 million votes. Not that that rankles upon them or anything, to have their c-p men weaseling into the White House celebrating the profundity of the Electoral College.

The most recent NYT Magazine had a more important piece about the latest war, in print as "Stop the Presses," online with the more descriptive headline, Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump. Trump's been a reliable loser in libel suits, other than the joy revenge brings him. (He has won one of seven, the one for which the defendant failed to appear.) The author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, who gathered evidence for the factual size of Trump's worth and was sued for the order of magnitude correction to Trump's braggadoccio (as if it were "libel") didn't spend anything, let alone "a whole lot more" than the Donald, as claimed. But this:

“I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

You can never be sure when Trump is working another con or something sincere slips out, but that statement sure has the ring of truth to it. A man with an inflated sense of his wealth, hands, his "down there" and now more power than he knows what to do with is a mean-spirited thing. He'll be happy to replace a critical, fact-biased enterprise for uncritical sycophants willing to sing for their supper.

Idaho's own billionaire bully, Frank VanderSloot, and his battle with Mother Jones are featured in the story, too, with the "Guardian of True Liberty" warchest VanderSloot has started, just in case any one else calls him out.

Such a great time to be a billionaire, under our new conservative-populist overlords.

Go with the flow Permalink to this item

The new Heritage OP/Jason Shelton CD is about to drop, and Jason offered up the title track on SoundCloud, Come to the River, and it kept playing, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Every Tear Wiped Away, Baby I'm Amazed. A veritable river of music. The look at the album art was layered behind some scripting and Flash and it made me wonder what album art-worthy river pictures were close at hand, a convenient prompt for a look back at the year, along rivers.

Spring flood

The Palouse River, in eastern Washington (and we still haven't been to its Falls!); the indelible traces the Owyhee River left on my life this spring, the Snake, through the desert, with wind; the White River and the Inter Fork above it, draining glaciers on Mt. Rainier; our way to family, along the Payette and its North Fork, the Little Salmon, main Salmon, Lapwai Creek, Clearwater; the Boise. (The last scene, only in memory, three deer wading across it in morning sunshine, on our way to plant willows in burnt hills.)

Take me to the river. I went down to the river to pray. Wade in the water. Love is the water that wears down the rock. The rivers sustained me, swept me off my feet, tried to wash me away, but oh, these times, I did not let them. A friend threw a line, pulled me in, I threw a line, pulled another friend in, we salvaged what we could, we survived together.

Close of November, another friend posted words from Pema Chödrön, "Now is the Time."

"We can aspire to be kind right in the moment, to relax and open our heart and mind to what is in front of us right in the moment. Now is the time. If there’s any possibility for enlightenment, it’s right now, not at some future time."

Right now.

Here she was on the Right Now of her 80th birthday, relaxing with impermanence, and free from fear of groundlessness.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007