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unraveling

29.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Aiming the firing squads Permalink to this item

In the news analysis about the president's roiling Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, this wit & wisdom of Sen. John Cornyn: “[R]ather than having circular firing squads, we need to be shooting outward.”

That's leadership.

It's going to be all fundraising, all the time, of course. On his way out, House Speaker Paul Ryan is saying the GOP "must sell the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," which is just super-weird for the party that's been all tax cuts, all the time. Do we have tax cut fatigue? They need to sell the benefits of supposedly historic "reform" (that sure, pumps up the deficit something fierce, when the economy is actually going well, but who pays attention to deficits?).

Their leader thinks prepared remarks are boring. (It could be his delivery, though.)

Their leader thinks preparation is boring. He's never bothered with it that much. So, how's that so-easy-to-win trade war going?

“If we can get trade resolved that would be exceptionally important,” Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma said when asked in an interview how the president could help in the midterms.

Resolved.

"Other Republican lawmakers have begun pleading with the president to be disciplined..."

Seriously? Discipline is boring. And with his campaign advisors blowing smoke about his "never been higher" poll numbers, what me worry? It's not like the president is going to work his way through the NYT interactive showing that Republicans Lost Support in Every Special Election Since Trump Became President. Let's appoint some more members of Congress to the cabinet!

28.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

23 and Thee Permalink to this item

You can choose your friends, the old trope goes, but you can't choose your family. You have to settle for the DNA they give you, too. These days, you can track down who gave you what, though. Maybe someone saw this coming, but the whoosh of it was a surprise to me. One week after tapping into a DNA database, the more than 40 year old cold case of the so-called Golden State Killer het up all the way to an arrest on several counts of murder.

One expert said "it just happens they got lucky," but it's a good occasion to get to work on the ethics issues we skipped over in the Terms of Service.

"The detectives in the Golden State Killer case uploaded the suspect’s DNA sample. But they would have had to check a box online certifying that the DNA was their own or belonged to someone for whom they were legal guardians, or that they had “obtained authorization” to upload the sample."

Not a technical violation, a lawyer "affiliated with" GEDmatch said.

"The matches found in GEDmatch were to relatives of the suspect, not the suspect himself. Since the site provides family trees, detectives also were able to look for relatives who might not have uploaded genetic data to the site themselves."

Photo from Ann Morrison park

Says there that 23andMe and Ancestry.com are off to a strong start: 15 million customers between them. That's 0.2% of the world population, give or take. Quite a bit higher proportion of the well-to-do inhabitants of the planet. How many degrees of separation between non-participants and someone in their family?

Erin Murphy, law professor at NYU and an expert on DNA searches notes, “if your sibling or parent or child engaged in this activity online, they are compromising your family for generations.” Or, with a rough estimate of the one-way vector of technology, let's just round up to "forever." Wouldn't universal and incontrovertible "fingerprints" be a good thing?

All of a sudden, the skeletons in the closet have a lot to say.

Whether it's good or bad publicity, it's a ton of publicity for GEDmatch.Com at any rate. As of this morning, their Terms and Policy Statement is still showing a revision date last August, but the NYT showed a screen shot of "a message posted ... to its users" getting more directly to a point that their users might not have considered when they clicked through all that jazz at the get to:

"[I]t is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes."

27.Apr.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Through heavy lenses Permalink to this item

Been there, done that:

“It’s too small, and it’s too crowded to get close to look at the detail,” said the woman, Jeannie Li, 28, a financial analyst in Shanghai, unimpressed by her first sight of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” “I can see it better in a book or on the internet.”

In addition to being too small (what are you going to do?), and too crowded (unless you're Jay-Z and Beyoncé), it's hung behind tinted (and bulletproof) glass. As if it wasn't dark enough to begin with.

What we remember about our day at the Louvre (25 years ago already, where does the time go?) was a cringe-inducing, booming Texas drawl delivered to one of the guards, asking the essential question: "Whar's the Mona Lisa?"

She is where she has always been, floating in the mind's eye in a tranquil landscape of ambiguity, alluring, unanswering, slightly disturbing, undisturbed. The crowds, certainly, do not disturb her.

This is weird Permalink to this item

I'm reading the latest NYT story about Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, that Russian "lawyer" who used dirt about Hillary as bait for the Trump clan with spectacular effect for her client. Which was...

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”

Up top there's a BREAKING NEWS banner about how a House panel released its report on Russian election meddling, saying it found no evidence the Trump campaign was involved. Democrats dissented. (Shorter, and more to the point: House Republicans say 'nothing to see here, move along')

First of all, didn't that happen a week or two ago? (More than a month ago, actually, but just the supposedly "key findings" back then.) Second of all, as Sergey Lavrov would say, You are kidding! You are kidding!

Never mind the careful dance of the cherry-picking majority members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, we've already seen plenty in the unclassifieds, and it's for sure that Bob Mueller and his team have the unredacted version of all the fake news from the HPSCI.

Which is not to say our Tweeter-in-Chief is not predictably touting his favorable returns, as if he was hearing his House boys' testimonial for the first time. Of course he did. Rep. Ted Lieu's take is that "when Special Counsel Mueller is done with his investigation, the GOP Intel Members will look really stupid." Will we have to actually wait that long? David Corn reminds us of the big picture:

Your son, your son-in-law, and your campaign manager met with a Kremlin emissary hoping to get dirt on Clinton produced by a secret Russian plot. This sent a signal to Putin's regime: Trump has no problem with Moscow covertly intervening in US election to help Trump campaign. https://t.co/XrxOLWDF5N

— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) April 27, 2018

And the damning month-ago minority report stands unanswered.

"[T]he Majority [members] have engaged in a systematic effort to muddy the waters, and to deflect attention away from the President, most recklessly in their assault on the central pillars of the rule of law. Their report, as with their overall conduct of the investigation, is unworthy of this Committee, the House of Representatives, and most importantly, the American people, who are now left to try to discern what is true and what is not.

"The Majority’s report reflects a lack of seriousness and interest in pursuing the truth. By refusing to call in key witnesses, by refusing to request pertinent documents, and by refusing to compel and enforce witness cooperation and answers to key questions, the Majority hobbled the Committee’s ability to conduct a credible investigation that could inspire public confidence. The Majority’s conduct has also undermined Congress’ independent investigative authority. Their repeated deferrals to the White House allowed witnesses to refuse cooperation, and permitted the Administration to dictate the terms of their interaction with Congress, or evade congressional oversight altogether, setting a damaging precedent for future non-cooperation by this President and, possibly, by his successors."

The table of contents, section III, COLLUSION, outlined "What We Know":

and concluded with 2+ pages of "Investigative Next steps," with a list of people the minority felt should be compelled to testify (further): Hope Hicks, Donald Trump Jr., Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, Alexander Nix (the Cambridge Analytica guy), Corey Lewandowski, Keith Schiller, and Roger Stone.

Slack-jawed wonder Permalink to this item

Normally, that narrow-band segment where you've got an audio-only caller on a poor quality line isn't that compelling, but yesterday's presidential no-photo bomb of Fox & Friends was one for the ages.

This is the trio of the president's closest advisors, apparently. To say he's their biggest fan beggars understatement. But as Ben Franklin pointed out, fish and visitors stink after three commercial breaks, and by the end, Steve, Ainsley and Brian were squirming along with the rest of us.

scrape

ICYMI, Trevor Noah broke it down, on The Daily Show. Warning: Set your coffee down.

Update: Seth Myers' take on the F&F debacle and general hot mess is extremely well done as well. Watch Ainsley's smile when she transitions from eager enthusiasm to hear what the very, very rich man bought his very, very beautiful wife for her very, very special birthday, to the realization that He. Did. Not. Even. Get. Her. A. Card. That subtle distinction between "happy" and "clenched."

Update #2: Alexandra Petri's "lighter take" on this very dark fare, for WaPo: ‘Fox & Friends,’ stuck with Donald Trump for all eternity. I'm just saying, I started calling him sur-@realDonaldTrump first.

"...Maybe in the fourth hour they would start to get a glimpse of the kind of man Trump really was, inside. If he were just left to talk long enough, he might start sloughing off the onion layers of his personality and reveal things about his heart and his childhood that no one had ever before been told. But already they could tell that this would not be the case. This was not the kind of interview where if you just sat there long enough you would discover something new; it would simply get more and more alarming as it doubled back on itself, it would be an interview drawn by M.C. Escher or Salvador Dalí where you were trapped and circling around and around in a dream-landscape with a nightmare physics that bore no resemblance to reality and every clock in the studio melted."

25.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How government got broken Permalink to this item

Mick Mulvaney reminds us that while it takes fine motor skill development and attention to detail to build a tower of blocks, a thrashing toddler can wreak destruction with comparative ease.

Speaking to the American Bankers Association conference—as their keynote speaker, no less, what a get—Mulvaney spelled out his approach to governance: pay to play.

"We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

You don't say. It's hard to give much credence to the further claim that constituents came first, if by "constituents" you mean the people who aren't paying. "If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions."

Photo from the backyard this week

If you're just one of the hundreds of millions of people supposed to be protected by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, without the means to go sit in his lobby or pay for him to keynote your conference, tough luck. He's not that kind of guy.

In telling the bankers' conference that he'd be "cutting public access to the bureau’s database of consumer complaints, which the agency had used to help guide its investigations," this must've got a big laugh:

“I don’t see anything in here that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government,” he said.

Mulvaney was swept into the back bench of the House on the wave of anti-Obama TEA Party nihilism, and went on to be a founding member of the so-called Freedom Caucus. A natural for promotion in the Trump administration. He squeezed through the Senate's nomination approval for Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the first month, Feb. 2017, with the 2nd narrowest possible vote, 51-49. After driving out the first director of the CFPB, Trump appointed Mulvaney as "Acting Director" in a legally dodgy move that avoided the possibility of the Senate saying no, while the courts sort it out.

It's not clear there will be anything left to administer by the time that happens.

Mick's next-level sabotage is to "begin calling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by its official statutory name, the more obscure Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection." Not to put too fine a point on it, "Administration officials said the rebranding was an attempt to diminish the agency’s public profile." Also, to make it more "Bureau" than "Consumer."

Putting Mulvaney in charge of it wasn't a clear enough signal?

Idaho's junior congressman, Raúl Labrador, is cut from the same Freedom Caucus cloth as Mulvaney, with even less to show for his effort in four terms in Congress, no cushy appointment in the Trump administration. He's aiming higher, back home campaigning to be governor, on a platform of slash and burn. Infamous for his telling gaffe in the GOP campaign against the Affordable Care Act ("nobody dies because they don't have access to health care," he said, inelegantly), he's now running on a kick-over-the-blocks program of slashing the state government a nice, round 30%.

After grabbing headlines with that nonsensical opening salvo, he's changed it to a straight-up shell game. In the latest debate with the other Republican candidates, see if you can follow the pea:

“We have $3 billion in tax loopholes, some of those benefit the state, most of those do not benefit the state,” Labrador said. “You can actually do a tax shift. That’s what tax reform is.”

So, not cutting the state's annual budget by 30%? It's hard to say what the hell he's thinking, but easy to see it's not well thought out.

The debate also featured a reporter informing the congressman how the Supreme Court works; he's running against it, too, "defending marriage" by trying to keep same sex couples from enjoying its benefits. (Retroactively, Congressman?)

It was too big a lift for Labrador to put children's lives ahead of religion, one of the weirder diversions from his supposed "pro-life" position. On the "religious liberty" for parents to deny healthcare to their children, Labrador said "I would not interfere with a parent’s right to make a decision like that." [1h21m into the 90m debate] Asked directly how that lines up with his pro-life belief, he said "I believe that they"—parents—"get to decide ah, what the issue is with their parents..."

And about the collective future of our children, one of the central issues of our time, climate change? Labrador's casual disregard (or is it ignorance?) for science is legion.

"I wouldn't do anything to change our current policy. I believe that climate change is something that happens... all the time, it happens every 30 years, we have a different cycle, and I agree actually with the things that have been said about this issue."

It was a bit rushed there at the end; no time to explore the contradiction between Brad Little saying "I've seen the climate change" (from his first-hand experience as an Idaho rancher), advocating decreased dependence on fossil fuels and Labrador's facile dismissal, or Tommy Ahlquist's "very careful" approach to doing nothing near this "very slippery slope."

Let's just say if clear thinking and competence matter, we're in for a world of hurt.

23.Apr.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Did I say that out loud? Permalink to this item

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel kind of let the cat out of the bag on the radio earlier this month:

"How many of your listeners really honestly are sure that Senator (Ron) Johnson was going to win re-election or President Trump was going to win Wisconsin if we didn’t have voter ID to keep Wisconsin’s elections clean and honest and have integrity?"

The "clean and honest and have integrity" stuff is in the RELATED story, linked by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel right after that quote: Judge strikes down Wisconsin's early voting restrictions and part of state's voter ID law. With emphasis added:

"Judge James Peterson found Wisconsin's voting laws discriminated against minorities and labeled the voter ID law 'a cure worse than the disease' that tried to address 'mostly phantom voter fraud.' His ruling forced the state to make changes to the system it uses to issue IDs to those who have the most difficulty obtaining them, such as people who don't have birth certificates or Social Security numbers.

"Both sides appealed the parts of the case they lost. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago heard arguments on the case more than a year ago but has not issued a ruling — taking an unusually long time for the appeals court."

18.April.18 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Chutzpah Permalink to this item

An initial coin offering from Cambridge Analytica, to "raise money" (duh) to build "a system to help people store and sell their online personal data to advertisers." You know, "to protect information from more or less what the firm did when it obtained the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users."

Sounds totally legit.

Syria Permalink to this item

Maybe there was something more we could have done, sooner, to reduce the horror of the war Syria is waging on itself with too many people aiding chaos. Susan Rice's take and advice for strategy is surely better-informed than anything I could add. With only 1,000 words, it's a broad brush, but as I was reading it, I was thinking this is like 40 times longer than the attention span of what passes for our Decider right now.

Could we at least get buy-in for the general idea to "[focus] on clear and achievable objectives, avoid strategic overreach and wisely tend to our core national interests"? Maybe if someone gave Fox & Friends that script and says it's coming from John Bolton?

There would still be the intractable hypocrisies of our demonization of Syrian refugees, and just some kinds of chemical weapons. "Conventional" bombs and bullets and chlorine gas and attacks on hospitals and rescue workers are somehow never considered as over the red line.

Tax Day (revised) Permalink to this item

News is, The IRS is giving taxpayers an extra day to file their tax returns after (ahem) something went wrong with the system. "All indications point to it being hardware-related," the report says although we didn't get the final word. Not terrorism, because terrorists aren't that creative, I wouldn't think. But speaking of sabotage, the unesteemed and lame duck Speaker of the House jumped right on it with a self-serving twantrum:

It’s high time we restore oversight, fairness, and accountability to the IRS. Today, we’ll vote to return customer service to the forefront of the IRS’s mission. https://t.co/hS2CPzOH9Q

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) April 18, 2018

As if. In his spare time off from his main job of fundraising, he's going to reform the IRS, srsly? You know what the biggest problem the IRS has? THE TAX CODE THAT KEEPS GETTING SLAP-DASH PATCHED BY CONGRESS larding on breaks for the well-connected campaign donors.

The latest go-round gave a huge benefit to corporations, most of all, the regular old kind, the S-corps, the LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships. But it did not forget about those earning $half a million and up, or heirs of 8-figure estates. It's got a 2026 surprise built-in (good old "budget reconciliation") that will take away a lot of the individual changes for regular wage-earners (but not the ones for corporations).

And it cost $1.46 trillion that will be paid by future generations, give or take a $half trillion.

Add this to the lore of "government is broken," in the one and only section of the book, "We know because we broke it on purpose." For example: in January, when there was talk of increasing funding, in order to implement the new tax law, this: the overall IRS budget is less than it was in 2008, with a 20% smaller staff than it had in 2010-2011.

P.S. We had zero trouble filing our returns on April 3, and scheduling electronic payments to the IRS, and to the state for yesterday. Those went through without a hitch.

17.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Credit where due Permalink to this item

Being in the web dev business, and working as an engineer over the years, I've become a lot better at finding fault than finding goodness. It's nice (and rather rare) to have something on the web not only work but work well, so when that something comes along, it should be celebrated.

Late last year, I set up an account on Idaho's Taxpayer Access Point site, one of several different ways to make tax payments to the state. I was interested in the "Free" side, and wanted to have assurance that the payment was made timely, rather than waiting to see when a check made its way through the post office and banking system.

It worked well enough for my first-ever estimated tax payment to Idaho, and when I came back months later, to pay our balance due for our 2017 return, other than having to update the short-expiration password, it worked quickly and seamlessly, to provide for a no-added cost electronic payment, scheduled for the due date, today.

I checked, and it went through, as scheduled. And a few minutes later, I see I could've saved myself that trouble too -- they emailed a notice that the payment went through, with a confirmation number.

Well done, Idaho.

America's Shareholder Meeting: USAFacts Permalink to this item

Here's something orthogonal to the unhinged reality show dominating the political news these days: Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO is making sense of government spending, with facts. Imagine that! From the Q&A after Ballmer's live presentation just now:

"In the age of alternative facts, what makes you think people will accept yours?"

"These are not my facts... these are the numbers and facts recorded by the professionals who work for our government."

The usafacts.org website is a bit overscripted (and broken in interesting ways on Firefox, but works with Microsoft Explorer; just like the bad old days), but the reports page includes their "summary of the most recent data on government finances, outcomes of government activities, and population trends" as an Annual Report, and a just-published "10-K Report" for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2015.

Possibly too-cute leverage of jargon from his business world: the Form 10-K is the comprehensive summary of a company's financial report that the US Securities and Exchange Commission requires. In the case of the whole country, the size of the numerical task makes it a couple years' backward looking. At this rate, it'll be 2020 before we're looking at the 10-K for the first year of the present administration.

It's a fascinating effort, at least. A refreshing dose of attempted clear-eyed objectivity. Ballmer's one of those people who leave you a little smarter after you pay attention to him. Let's do enage in an informed debate.

Looks like the whole video stream from the "first ever" Shareholder Meeting for the whole country is available same day.

Homage to the old federal tax system Permalink to this item

It's tax day again, and Idaho's whole Republican delegation to Congress disingenuously bade farewell to the "old federal tax system," and hello to our glorious future in a guest opinion for the Idaho Statesman.

I know a few things about the tax system, and the tax bill that was just passed. I'd be willing to put my knowledge (and/or research skills) up against that of our Senators and Representatives, who keep spouting fatuous nonsense disconnected from any actual legislative reality.

Raúl Labrador, for one, proclaimed back on December 22—and still proclaims to this day, in spite of it being demonstrably false— that "the average family that is working paycheck to paycheck, this tax bill will lower their taxes by an average of 60 percent. The average single mother will receive a 70 percent tax cut."

No matter how many "averages" you stuff into the hedges, no one (other than perhaps some large corporations) will have their taxes lowered by 60%. SIXTY PERCENT, wouldn't that be something? MORE THAN HALF. The approximately correct number is SIXTY DOLLARS. Not sixty PERCENT.

But that's old, fake news. Today's lede derides "the more complicated old federal tax system." Compared to what? The Simplification section of what follows celebrates "doubling the standard deduction" (without mention of the elimination of personal exemptions which pretty much eliminates any tax benefit from that).

That's it. That's the only significant simplification they came up with. In a seriously target-rich environment.

The trickle-down theory is not mentioned by name, but that's the bountiful future our GOP leaders celebrate here. The stock market is going up! (And, uh, down.) If you're making your rent and car and childcare and grocery and insurance and student loan payments with enough left over to invest, you'll be fine! Maybe a bonus or wage boost will help. (Maybe not.)

But the most disingenuous part of this happy nonsense is the way deficits suddenly no longer matter. You can still find hints of past indignation. You don't need the Wayback Machine to find this Appropriations/Budget bullet item on the issues page of Jim Risch's Senate website:

"President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2013 will result in an estimated $901 billion deficit. If approved, that would be the fifth year in a row of near trillion-dollar deficits. I do not support continued deficit spending."

You don't say.

As David Leonhardt pointed out on Monday, when you consider actual budgetary performance, you see that the Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility, repeatedly reducing the deficit; raising taxes; cutting military spending and corporate welfare, etc.

Happy #TaxDay!

Splurged a bit and bought a new car with my tax cut money... pic.twitter.com/ZPjhIFMAHw

— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) April 17, 2018

16.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Farewell to norms Permalink to this item

Digesting the opening salvo of James Comey's book tour, from ABC News.

It "moved into a PR conversation." "No one to my recollection asked 'What's coming next from the Russians?' ... It was all 'what can we say about what they did?'"

Take things at face value, first of all. James Comey seems like a normal person. He's present in the conversation. Practiced? It'll come to that, sooner or later, as he runs his book tour. Facile?

He seems calm. Lucid. Thoughtful. Introspective. Focused. Able to respond to familiar and less familiar questions. Stays on topic. Listens to the questions. Is consistent in his responses.

Donald Trump said "I always knew... our system is totally rigged." That's how he's made his living all these years.

We know that Comey has second-guessed himself about the October surprise. He's trying to justify what he did, trying to deny that he had any other choice than the one he made.

This book tour feels like his attempt to justify what he did.

That fails, spectacularly. He's a decent, honest guy, straight arrow, who made one of the most consequential mistakes in the history of the country.

Scene: Trump spreads his arms and calls the FBI Director to him from across the Blue Room, out of the blue drapes' camouflage, out of the circle of uniformed law enforcement providing a photo opportunity for the new president. It looked like a kiss, but it wasn't, Comey assures us. The kiss of death came with the call, before that lonely walk. "He's become more famous me," Trump said.

Stephanopoulus: "So are you thinking, 'President Trump's a liar'?"

Comey: "Yes."

As someone who takes more notes than most people, I recognize Comey as a kindred spirit in that regard. He says he left that dinner alone with the Trump, and wrote "a memo" about just what happened. It was his own account, more or less objective, more or less self-serving, but I expect professional.

We can be certain that the president did not, for his part, memorialize any part of his experience for posterity, other than what we saw him tweet. That just doesn't happen. ABC News juxtaposed the Trumpian pushback, in the sunshine, at a microphone. His excuse, "I hardly known the man," sounds almost Biblical in its self-indictment.

He said, he said. Do you trust Comey? About what just happened, who said what? Yes. Versus the president, answering a reporter, peremptorily, before the whole question is spelled out, "No. No. Next question"?

Hell no, I don't trust the president. Who would? He's not just a reckless liar, his deliberate disregard for any semblance of veracity, honesty, loyalty is shocking. IT'S IN PLAIN VIEW, ON PARADE, whether in public appearances or his "Executive Time" tweets, the "jokes" he makes about his enemies, who are legion. Anyone with the temerity to criticize anything about him. Can we imagine he's a different person in private? No. No. Next question.

So, um, did Comey record his phone calls? Like the ones he was taking from the president as the Russia investigation was continuing? If not, why the hell not? If so, well, it's nice to know that the Special Counsel will have that evidence, too.

"I thought 'it's crazy to fire me.'"

And then—after the Tass Agency so memorably captured the meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office the NEXT DAY, "the pretense is melting away."

About him being a "leaker," Comey said "it's true." He leaked his own unclassified memo to a friend and "asked him to give it to a reporter." And obtw, Comey has testified before the Senate, under oath, under penalty of perjury, that the president lied.

"He is morally unfit to be president."

Stephanopoulus: "At any point over the last two years, did you fall prey to that, did you fall in love with your own virtue?"

Comey: "I don't think so, but I worried about it constantly."

There's one thing no one will ever say about Donald Trump, that he frets about seeming too virtuous.

Comey also opines that "this president does not reflect the values of this country." That's the idealist talking, not the objective observer. This president does, in fact, appear to reflect the values of a sizeable proportion of this country, his aptly named "base."

Asked to reflect on his actions, Comey said he was "trying to do the right thing," and that's perfectly plausible.

ABC/WP poll: Who is more believable?

On the opposite pole, consider the proposition that Donald Trump is ever "trying to do the right thing." Can you believe that?

Well... according to the latest reported ABC News/Washington Post poll, the former FBI director has a pretty good lead in the "Who is more believable?" race, but not as big a lead as anyone paying close attention would expect. 48% to 32%. A good third of the country is still willing to claim that they think Donald Trump is more credible than James Comey.

To say that strains credulity beggars understatement.

Update: Someone on Twitter pointed out that the editing of the interview was... a thing. The (much longer) transcript is worth reading.

14.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's lawyers all the way down Permalink to this item

Ya, you better betcha: Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller. The attached video has this lovely sound bite from Michael Cohen, on the campaign trail in Sept. 2016:

"The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are 'generous,' 'compassionate,' 'principled'..."

Objection: facts not in evidence.

Anyway, Cohen's got his own legal team now, the ones making an appearance in court on his behalf Friday (along with at least one laywer for the president), and you have to wonder if all of them have lawyers lined up too? "Just in case."

Judge Kimba M. Wood invited Mr. Cohen himself to show up for the follow-up hearing on Monday.

Update: Andrew Prokop's explainer for Vox, and us, why the question of whether Michael Cohen visited Prague is massively important for Donald Trump.

"If Cohen did in fact visit Prague in 2016, but for innocuous reasons that Steele's sources twisted, he could have just said that at the time. Instead, he vociferously denied that he went to Prague at all. If that was false, there would be no reason for him to take that tack—unless he was trying to cover up something very serious and hoping to get away with it."

13.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No slimeball. You're the slimeball. Permalink to this item

I'd started Michiko Kakutani's review of James Comey's book yesterday, left it up overnight and finished it this morning. It's an entertaining read, and a good teaser for a book to anchor the 2018 Zeitgeist for future generations.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Only the most extreme of partisans could dispute the truth of the capsule description, no matter how much they think they'll get out of the transactions. It's hardly even news, but to have the eye-witness description from one of the towering figures in the unfolding tragedy is a gift.

"It’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey," Kakutani writes, calling up "The Untouchables" and "High Noon" to help with the task. This:

"One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

"The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law."

Speaking of "us[ing] language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles," and untethered (that word keeps coming up) attacks, as if on cue, and how could he not, the man with the surreal handle @realDonaldTrump used his Executive Time this morning for his own review of "the first major memoir by one of the key characters in [his] administration."

You won't be surprised to know it fit into a pair of tweets, with a quarter of an hour between the first and the second, in which curiously, the money epithet lede, "untruthful slime ball" was not set in all caps.

As compared to Comey's style in the medium, which has included impersonation of his philosophical mentor, Reinhold Niebuhr, friendly stuff from his life-after-service, a long, peaceful walk by the Potomac, quotes from Luther, Lazarus, Martin Luther King, respect for colleagues in service, and of course, a few book teasers. From not quite a month ago:

Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.

— James Comey (@Comey) March 17, 2018

The NYT has a "Politics" piece on the book as well, in which it's noted that "a media blitz, beginning with an intensely hyped interview with ABC News" to air on Sunday night is coming. You know this is going to drive Twitler batty; the only thing he hates more than not being the center of attention is having someone else get more publicity than him.

In fairness, and since you won't be hearing as much about this on the news, we're told "the book is a personal memoir more than a direct attack" on the president, "many of the chapters do not mention him." Still, what matters most right now seems more about the hot mess in the White House than Jim Comey's upbringing.

Who better than the quintessential G-man to tell the tale? Comey writes of the comparisons to investigating the mob in New York:

“The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”

12.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Another go at data mining Permalink to this item

Brian X. Chen downloaded the information that Facebook has on him. Yikes.

I did that 2½ weeks ago, and I did not go "yikes," but he made me think maybe I should look again.

Eight advertisers had my contact info out of Facebook. Of those, one or two looked a bit dodgy, one was a name I'd never heard before, and the others were reasonably expected. (I'll look into that one, but not just this moment.)

I avoid clicking on ads for various reasons, mostly that they're not of interest, and also, I don't want Facebook to be a party to my transactions. If it is a business I'm genuninely interested in, I'll save them the cost-per-click and find them more directly, unless it's really inconvenient (which it could be, on the phone).

The Naturalist's Notebook is apparently my one, big exception. They have awesome nature images, and I click their stuff like crazy. Why are they "sponsoring" themselves, I wonder? They've got a great (free) product. What are they getting out of me? (Well, other than this personal endorsement now. But they've got no business model, they're just giving away beauty.)

From an ad for Lion hair tonic, in a Japanese magazine

My "Ads Topics" are a longer list, and let's just say there are a lot of foul balls and clean misses. Gold? No. North America? Ah, ok. Potato, sure. Information, definitely. Lee (jeans) are kind of dorky. U.S. state, yes. Voluntary association, sure. Hair products, seriously? Shopping and fashion? Huh uh.

Contact Info is blank, that's nice. "Installed Applications" are fewer than a dozen, all legit.

Events are big, but I only made it to a fraction of them. Anyone inferring things about me from that will be sadly mistaken.

Six pokes in seven years.

The Security page gets to be a little creepy. It's the 2nd largest (after timeline) of the 11 pages in the "html" folder. It has a very long list (with lots of duplicate entries) of the IP addresses I've connected from, and if that doesn't seem specific enough, also a long list of "Estimated location inferred from IP," connecting dots of time, latitude and longitude.

The Security page "Active Sessions" list is a bit freaky—apparently they keep adding things, and never remove them? Looking in the live session, "Where You're Logged In" shows a long list of devices, places, dates. I can't possibly be logged in from all those places now, but it looks like I once was, and really, I don't need Facebook to keep all that. (The wirless network we subscribe to has an ample dossier on my comings and goings.)

So, log out of everywhere (except the session I'm doing that from), and then get back in on my phone, and it asks if I want to let Facebook access my location? Nope.

And I have resisted all attempts at it grabbing either my email contacts from anywhere, or my phonebook.

"Most basic information, like my birthday, could not be deleted," Brian X. Chen wrote. Yeah, I never told Facebook my real birthday. They don't need to know that. I miss out on receiving an annual lovefest, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

This is surely true: "Facebook Retains More Data Than We Think." But see for yourself.

11.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The crime-fraud exception Permalink to this item

One more hostage busts out of the limelight and heads for the has-been shadows, Paul Ryan wants to spend more time with his family all of a sudden. Well good on him for connecting with his teenagers after a family vacation in Austria. My desire to get all warm and fuzzy about it bumps into the scene from last night's episode of Frontline, Trump's Takeover, the celebration in the Rose Garden for the Grand Old Party of white people's robbery of the next generation to the approximate tune of $1,000,000,000,000, give or take a few $hundred billion. After the claque was arranged to fill the curved stairway on both sides, the Entrance of Leadership: Trump, Pence, McConnell and Ryan walking up the garden path to warm applause, which the foursome returned. They were all clapping for themselves. Well, almost all. This time, for a moment, at least, the president did not clap for himself, he just took it all in. And what better cue than Will Lyman's dark voiceover:

"One by one, congressional leaders came forward to praise President Trump."

Mitch – How 'bout you start it?

The Senate leader was able to extol "a year of extraordinary accomplishments" with a straight face, and without notes, especially that "SEE-menting" of the Supreme Court, for which his own contribution of lawlessness was so instrumental. And now this big payday.

From the Frontline video, as Ryan began to speak

Paul Ryan, on the other hand, did need notes to contain his puffery, as the Great Pumpkin absorbed the fulsome praise.

"Something this big could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership."

Ayn Rand's corpse must have had a grin to match the Cheshire Cheetoh's at Ryan's exquisite enunciation. (What a coincidence the House heir apparent was there, looking over the presiden't shoulder.)

Quinta Jurecic, deputy managing editor of Lawfare, contributes a timely op-ed singing the praises of the man actually in charge of Washington right now, "an avatar of justice and probity": It’s Mueller, Not Trump, Who Is Draining the Swamp.

After a warrant served on not two, but a trifecta of Michael Cohen's repositories (and his taxi medallions), it would seem the murky liquid must be down low enough to expose the blindingly obvious, even as the muddy depth of corruption has yet to be fathomed.

"The country is living through an astonishing story without a full sense of what that story is. But as the public waits to discover who on the Trump team knew what and when they knew it, Mr. Mueller has been telling another story, about “draining the swamp.” And how that story plays out stands to have a major effect on how our politics moves forward after the investigation is complete."

Telling a story without saying a word.

As opposed to the fellow occuping the office with no corners to hide in, excerpted for comedic effect by Stephen Colbert and his team, another president having trouble with a "break-in." Here was this president's hot take:

Pence, Trump, Bolton, 'It's disgraceful'

"It's frankly a real disgrace. It's an attack on our country in a true sense, it's an attack on what we all stand for."

How many of those two dozen words are not lies? Frankly. An attack on our country? A true sense? We? All? Stand for?

He needs a hug. He's hugging himself (because, frankly, no one else wants to do it these days, not even for $130,000). "It's a disgraceful situation... it's a disgrace... it's frankly a real disgrace... I think it's a disgrace, it's a disgrace... a disgrace, it's a disgrace... it's ah disgraceful."

It all depends on what the meaning of the word "it" is, you know?

We have, at least, reached a teachable moment. For example, let's see a show of hands of everybody who's just now learning about the "crime-fraud exception" to attorney-client privilege.

Thank you, Mr. President, you can put your hand down now.

9.Apr.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mueller Malleus Maleficarum Permalink to this item

Charles S. Pierce has a No Knock joke for us, a bit crude, but aptly illuminated from today's source of attention. Political punditry crowdsourcing today, here's an astute observation from deep in the comments under Asha Rangappa's reminder about the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege:

I'm increasingly thinking that Trump's biggest mistake was winning the election. If he hadn't, none of this would have happened.

— ChrisO (@ChrisO_wiki) April 9, 2018

If misery loves company, well, here's some company for Michael Cohen:

Squire Patton & Boggs, lawyers to Cambridge Analytica. Raided by FBI. Oh, and lobbyists to Gazprom. Did I mention that? https://t.co/Hi0oMYax2t

— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) April 9, 2018

For the record, the president's lawyer has a lawyer, and he's said to have said the search was "completely inappropriate and unnecessary."

Reason's contributing editor Ken White, former federal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and First Amendment litigator at Brown White & Osborn LLP in L.A. explains why the Feds raiding the office of Trump lawyer who paid off Stormy Daniels is a Big Deal. Also maybe his home, there at the Loews Regency on Park Avenue.

"This is historic."

More from White at Popehat.com , "a Group Complaint about Law, Liberty, and Leisure."

In other news commentary, Dana Millbank explores the genius of Making American Great Again through affirmation. Tastes great, less filling, and now more presidential than ever before, even while being treated the worst and most unfairly.

8.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

These are not the polling data you're looking for Permalink to this item

The most fake candidate who ever stumbled into high office gets a lot of traction out of casual slander (and then some with his libelous Twitter fingers). It's not that the members of his aptly named "base" believe him, they just love that he can be as much of a lying scumbag as he wants to be and gets away with it.

That's the way they want it for themselves too, presumably.

Trouble is, there's not a lot of room for Grifters in Chief, especially not when our winningest one can't bear to share the limelight.

You've heard about dismal statistics regarding trust in media, and it's long gone without saying that politicians aren't generally trusted. Hell, "politician" has become an epithet. So, what a great tactic for politicians to drag the media down into the swamp with them, right?

The latest Monmouth University Poll considers one dimension of damage done by the "fake news" meme. As bad as it is for the press, the man so free with the derision is less trusted still in the overall numbers for every head-to-head match-up of man vs. medium: he "continues to be less trusted than the major cable news outlets as an information source."

There's a bit of hope in that.

On the other hand, how can you make sense of this? "Tell me which one you trust more as a source of information, or whether you trust both sources about equally: Donald Trump and Fox News."

It's a real toss-up (in every sense of the word) for me. About equally absurd?

In fact, the "about equal" middle ground was widest for Fox News, compared to CNN and MSNBC. Mostly, people can pick sides, and mostly you can guess the side by party affiliation for CNN and MSNBC. But Fox News... is about as equally un/reliable as the president.

The size of the "don't know" reponses (all volunteered; that wasn't one of the choices) is a measure of lack of trust, it seems to me, and there were twice as many for Fox News (13%) as for the other two networks.

Here's my thousand-word image of their results. (For all the work they must have put into it, and enough numbers to make your head spin, all they gave us to digest was a summary and the tabulated data.)

My image of Monmouth polling data

On the lighter side of the cable news, Caroline Orr reports the "unusual twist" of some accidental honesty out of Fox News. The big picture numbers for "Who Do You Trust More?" of Network vs. Trump, showing themselves on the bottom.

“That is not the graphic we are looking for. Hold off,” Howard Kurtz said as he realized the mistake. “Take that down, please.”

7.Apr.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

High f-liar Permalink to this item

Scott Pruitt is, by all evidence at hand, a grifter with an outsize sense of his importance, and a shameless liar. Notwithstanding the president's temporary affirmation (hardly worth a bucket of warm twit), his job is not at risk for abusing his expense account, a ridiculously overblown security detail, and entering into oil and gas side deals around the world.

The greatest sin for anyone in this administration is upstaging the president, even temporarily. Do it once, and shame on you. Do it twice, and you're fired!

My favorite part of the Vox piece (link above) is where the chairman of a lobbying firm who was providing the low-income housing scratched his name off the lease (the what?) and scribbled in his wife "Vicki" instead.

The link to the Washington Post provides this detail, about Pruitt's lying about the raises to aides that he "didn't know about," in a TV interview (Fox News TV, in fact, so the president might see it):

"On Thursday evening, three administration officials confirmed that Pruitt endorsed the idea last month of giving substantial raises to senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling and advance director Millan Hupp—although he did not carry out the pay raise himself."

But hey, the bald-faced lie isn't a problem, either. Here's the problem:

"Pruitt’s decision to ignore White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s warnings to be more cautious about giving public interviews only complicated his standing with many of [the president's] key aides."

Not to mention the standing with the headman, who doesn't like it when a.n.y.b.o.d.y gets more attention than he does.

Golf Permalink to this item

"What do make of this putt, Ian?"

"Steep. Breaks left. ... Really, it's a metaphor for humanity, Jim. Ultimately, striving to drop the ball into the hole mirrors our existential crisis of meaninglessness."

UI Golf Course, fall 2014, from Paradise Ridge

Later, there was the dude whose club slipped out of his hand at the end of his swing. What should have been broad comedy (not pie-in-the-face comedy, but still) was treated as a minor tragedy. The collective gasp. His ball went wide of his target, into a lovely bed of azaleas.

I don't suppose he was really appreciating how attractive the landscaping was as he searched through it to find his ball.

It's always a battle against the landscaping, actually. Swinging a chunk of metal on the end of a stick is hell on turf, and the occasional unfortunate shrub. (Tree trunks can hold their own.)

Flower bed-fellow tapped his way out from under the flowers, and the crowd applauded his effort. Yay.

They're golfing in the rain this afternoon. I'm sure they can afford it, but for some reason each caddy and his player are splitting one umbrella.

Well it's hard enough to carry that big bag of clubs and what-not, another umbrella would just be irksome.

Can't remember a lot of rain in my golfing, caddying, and landscape maintenance career. It's a fair weather sport, for one thing. And when I was up on the Palouse and night waterman for the University of Idaho, my whole job was predicated on there not being rain. July, August, September, it typically doesn't rain up there, and if there are to be "greens," there must be watering.

But if it had rained, I would've for sure just stayed home. I think there was one night it rained. Was I paid by the hour? Seems like I must've been. Paid more for my early stumbling around, almost until dawn. Then paid less when I learned how to get it done more efficiently. And not paid when it rained. I appreciated the night off.

As for The Masters, wasn't there supposed to be Tiger Woods? He's not on the leader board. CBS Sports' second-tier headline was that he "failed to impress." So, meh.

Later, the flower bed guy (I see it was a golfer named Rory McIlroy, surely just "Rory" to his legion of followers) was being interviewed after his round, and going over the day's ball-striking and putt-holing highlights, he talked about the strategic thinking associated with said highlights. He spoke in the plural. "We thought" such and such. Him and his caddy, I assume, even though I never entered into such a mind-meld with the swells I caddied for. It was mostly just carry the bag, keep your mouth shut, hope for a good tip.

4.April.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The military solution Permalink to this item

Speaking of US manufacturing, our current speciality seems to be made-up crises. Have you heard about the hordes of aliens caravaning toward our southern border? The "horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws" in this country? The president is getting desperate for some sort of distraction from the Chinese water torture of Bob Mueller's investigation. Anything, doesn't matter how loony.

Cooler heads must have prevailed with the whole nuke North Korea program, so it's back to the Mexican border, where The Wall somehow remains a bridge too far, and now we need to call up the National Guard! Last year's take "the lowest since 1971," you say? Mr. T. "seized on what has become an annual seasonal uptick in Central American migrants making their way north to make his case," and left "White House aides struggl[ing] for hours to decipher his intentions."

“Some of it is just the guy at the end of the bar yelling his opinions — his gut reaction is to say we’ve got to send the military,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates slashing immigration levels. “But there may also be an element here of political messaging — and a desire to create problems in November for Democratic candidates who have refused to embrace his policies.”

There's a fair amount of lashing out at the supposed GOP "establishment," too, such as Conservative HQ's George Rasley barking about Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell insufficiently on board the bandwagon, the cadre of "squishy Republicans" that can't be counted on to echo Fox News talking points as well as the president can.

Mass manufacturing Permalink to this item

Reading about Tesla's difficulties in churning out Model 3s brings back some memories of my time in process, production, and manufacturing engineering 30 years ago. I never slept at the plant, but I put in my share of odd hours. I forget if there was a cute name for "swing" shift, but it was actually a psychological benefit for everyone involved to change "graveyard" to "sunrise." And when you're working graveyard, you need all the help you can get.

Tesla's said to be "taking some extraordinary measures to turn things around," including having headman Elon Musk "sleeping at the plant." The business of turning out printed circuit assemblies and hard disk drives was challenging, but nowhere near as challenging as having a finished car roll of the line every couple of minutes.

“If you make a change to solve one problem, you can create five other problems,” [Mark Wakefield, global co-head of automotive and industrial at AlixPartners, a consulting firm] said. “People think you just find a problem and solve it, but it’s not like that. There are literally millions of problems that come up and require thousands of engineers, working in teams, either at the car company or the suppliers, to deal with.”

And this:

Ron Harbour, a partner and auto-manufacturing specialist at Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm, said that adding more automated equipment tends to create a more complex production environment. “You have more new equipment to launch, there’s more programming, more maintenance,” he said. “More automation doesn’t necessarily make it more efficient.”

There's no substitute for a smart, motivated, well-trained workforce, at all levels of the enterprise. Robots are great at all sorts of repetitive, dangerous, superhuman feats, but terrible with surprises. Not sure how much hyperbole was in the "thousands" of engineers comment, but "5,000 parts" per car seems likely, and every one of those parts has engineering behind it every step of the way.

All told, there are almost 3 million people in the auto industry in this country, a third of them on the manufacturing side. (That's up from 2.3 million, with 623,000 in manufacturing at the bottom of the Great Recession, by the way.)

More fun facts: Tesla's factory in Fremont, CA, 5.3 million sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space (with plans to double that) on 370 acres, used to be General Motors', and then was Toyota's New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI) plant while I was in the disk drive business, and up until 2009.

As for the general future of US manufacturing, let's hope it doesn't depend on our current Executive branch, which proved itself incapable of running an advisory council, let alone an actual factory. The rubber won't ever meet the road on the strength of empty bluster.

Congress St. Strauss Bascule Bridge, Tom von Alten 2018 photo
Here's some good old massive US manufacturing: the 1930 Boston Bridge Work's Congress St. trunnion bascule bridge over the Fort Point Channel. More photos in the Library of Congress.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007