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unraveling

30.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood Permalink to this item

The President* of the United States is poisoning our political discourse, every single day. (He's not the ONLY one doing it, but he is leading the charge.) "There is great anger in our Country," he tweeted yesterday, as preamble to his usual unspecific libel of "The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People," feeding the anger of his base.

Photo by the author, Oct. 2018

David Corn: In the Wake of the Pittsburgh Massacre, Sarah Huckabee Sanders Gaslights America, and gives a quick outline of the president's expressed hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and incitement to violence.

"The nature of conventional political media reality is allowing Trump, Sanders, and their whole crew to get away with this gaslighting. There is no penalty for such lies. There are no mechanisms for tossing these players out of the national discourse. There is no penalty for such profound prevarication. MSNBC commentators will howl. CNN anchors will point out the contradictions. But Fox News will defend, as many Republican elected officials will duck and cover, and, in the current tribalized environment, Trump supporters will cling ever tighter to his false statements and claims.

"This is how the political market works these days: For Trump’s backers, the lies—his promotion of racism, misogyny, and violence—do not matter. If they did, he would not have bagged 63 million votes in the 2016 election. Many, if not most, of these voters are beyond the persuasive reach of media reports focused on the facts of Trump’s hatred—or his conflicts of interest, or his policy ignorance, or his fill-in-the-blank. ...

"This is a deep hole. The Trumpers are promoting an alternative and perverse reality their supporters deeply need."

We are one week from the day voters and our voting systems, as corrupted as they may be by gerrymandering and the fraud of voter suppression, determining whether the Trump agenda will be amplified or squelched.

26.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

BRANDing exercise Permalink to this item

Lest I misframe the debate, start by not thinking about the elephant of actual mob violence on the streets of New York, less than two weeks ago, and the messages of misogyny, authoritarianism, and the right-wing program. It's in the news (until the next cycle erases the memory with something even more awful) last month, this month, any month.

Alright then, here we go. The self-proclamed king of direct mail, Richard Viguerie, is getting on to new media, because of course he is. He's got a political action committee, because free money. Somehow I hadn't connected the dots between FedUp PAC and him, though. Today's untimely "press release" in my inbox pulls back the curtain. It—which is to say he—is launching a "New Video and Internet Campaign to BRAND Democrats as Encouraging Mob Violence."

Here on October 26th, the day the FBI arrested an extremely suspicious suspect in this week's mail-bombing campaign with 12 13 apparently explosive devices sent to the most heavily demagogued targets of our president's* interminable campaign for attention.

If anyone wondered if that kind of political rhetoric "works," Cesar Sayoc's van is a rolling testimonial that it does, colored in target, weapon, and MAGA imagery.

Part of Cesar Sayoc's Vanifesto

Viguerie's fundraising campaign (it's always and all about the money) started with rather more subtlety in mid-September, a long narrative under an anodyne subject ("help us do what no one else is doing"). After getting right to the ask links ("donate $25, $50, $100, or more to a targeted marketing campaign") to ensure the Republicans hold all of Congress (to stop Nancy Pelosi, and the impeachment, duh), and singing his praises as he so loves to do ("I pioneered political direct marketing in the 1960s and 70s, sending out over 4 BILLION postal letters and billions of e-mail letters along the way"), he goes on. And on. To the punch lines that if voters want change, Republicans will lose; if voters are focused on local issues, Republicans will lose. So, this two step plan, in all its typographical glory:

1) Brand ALL Democrats, national, state, and local as "democrat socialists"

2) Nationalize the elections as a choice between:

-The Republicans: The Party of free markets, individual liberties, Constitutionalist principles, secure borders, high quality and available health care, low taxes, and a strong national defense; and

-The Democrats: The Party of big government, restricted liberties, a "living" and ever changing Constitution, open borders, socialized and rationed health care, a punitive tax code, job killing regulations, abortion on demand, men in women's bathrooms, a weak military and a globalist foreign policy.

Before too much longer in his screed cum strategy (paced for four pages of print, I suppose), he (finally) got to the real point. (The ALL CAPS, BOLD-FACE tips it off.)

DEMOCRATS HAVE BECOME A VIOLENT, DANGEROUS, RADICAL LEFT PARTY THAT BELIEVES IN FUNDAMENTALY CHANGING AMERICA BY IMPEACHING PRESIDENT TRUMP. THEN THEY WILL . . .

Make your own list if you like. His started with "Open the borders" and "give citizenship, voting rights, and welfare to illegal aliens" before even bothering with "Raise taxes." (Credit where due: every time Republicans get in to power, they lower taxes to unsustainable, deficit-exploding levels, and figure no one will remember who did what when it comes time to pick up the pieces, after the next financial meltdown.)

Those were simpler times, eh? Since then, the president* figured out that "mobs" rhymes with "jobs," so giddy up on the violence. Viguerie is now broadcasting not just to his community of contributors, but to anyone who will read his presser. He's got a video, people! It's called "Stop The Democrat Mobs" in case you were wondering if it would be too subtle for Joe Sixpack.

And if you worried it would be too honest, arrest your pretty little head. He's got Rand Paul in there talking about getting attacked from behind by his neighbor, you know the guy who was "fueled by irritation over a pile of debris." A literal pile of debris, not the figurative one the GOP is littering about. A pile of brush, stacked near the property line between them.

Update: Next day, same message. FedUP PAC's email subject = "Help needed in last few days to BRAND Democrats as violence-prone socialists." Never mind that lone-wolf bomber. It's not like he was the stereotypical deplorable or something. “He appears to be a partisan,” the Attorney General said, gingerly, “but that will be determined by the facts as the case goes forward.”

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

US vs. Tablets and Bullae (and scrolls) Permalink to this item

"And then they came for the tablets, and there was no one to speak up for the tablets, so they took them away."

DOJ photo of one of the cuneiform tablets

Maybe that story will be told, more succinctly than in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA vs. APPROXIMATELY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY (450) ANCTENT CUNEIFORM TABLETS; and APPROXIMATELY THREE THOUSAND (3,000) ANCIENT CLAY BULLAE in Rem.

Said tablets and bullae were not actually guilty themselves, but smuggled in by the good folks of Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma evangelicals in the Green family who had to give up the "Tiles (sample)" and pay a $3M fine. So, those were not part of the exhibits at the year-ago grand opening of the half-$billion Museum of the Bible in D.C.

(Tourist PRO TIP: the 19 world-class museums, galleries, gardens, and zoo of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. are all free admission.)

Now it turns out another part of the Greens' "archaelogical acquisition spree" and the museum has come up dodgy: the "centerpiece collection of Dead Sea Scrolls" "seems to be a massive case of archaeological fraud," the AP reports. Kudos to the chief curator at the museum for artfully pivoting to this teaching moment; this is

“an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of verifying the authenticity of rare biblical artifacts, the elaborate testing process undertaken and our commitment to transparency.”

You may go to low-earth orbit Permalink to this item

Book cover, 'You Will Go to the Moon'

Doesn't have quite the zing to it as the book that lit my childhood imagination a half-century ago, and given my prospects, it only makes sense for me to keep it second person. If you're reading this, and are or expect to be very wealthy, you may get to go for a ride to where all the sky is black, and you can look to the Great Beyond. I'm guessing when you get that far, our beautiful, watery planet will still fill your gaze and imagination more than Earth's silvery moon will.

Kenneth Chang considers How Many Space Stations Does this Planet Need? for the New York Times, some time after the question of whether we should stop socialism in space came up. Robert T. Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace has some ideas, leverging the fortune of Budget Suites of America, not too ironically. And some other guys.

Almost two decades ago, there was a commercial space station for a brief period of time. It was Russian, and an American named Jeffrey Manber ran it. Perhaps it could have succeeded — but NASA killed it.

“If you wanted to work with the capitalists in space in the 1990s, you worked with the Russians,” Mr. Manber said. “If you wanted to work with the socialists, you worked with NASA.”

That Russian vision was seeing the old Soviet Mir as a "fixer-upper." Manber's gone on to NanoRacks, and CubeSats, and thinking about collecting used rocket parts left in orbit to cobble together a low-cost space station. Convert an old fuel tank into living quarters. We had domes in the 60s and 70s, moving on to cylinders for the new age?

"In 2025, [Charles] Miller [former NASA official who is now president of Nexgen Space] expects there will be three space stations in orbit: the International Space Station, the Chinese station and the beginnings of a commercial one.'

22.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Case study in GOP misogyny Permalink to this item

Time and politics march on, closing in on what seems like the end of the world, or republic, or just another midterms, they're all the same to some. Was it only three weeks ago Brett Kavanaugh was a grossly tainted nominee? Now he's a Justice for life, or until impeachment, which ever comes first.

The Supreme Court-packing nomination tragedy seems ancient, what with the murderous drama at the Saudi consulate in Turkey still unfolding, and Genghis Kahn's hordes riding woolly mammoths toward the Mexican border before we got that darned wall put up. Jobs not Mobs! is the hashtagged cry from Trump's supporting mob. Barely time to clean out the "noted, but not read" file.

I found this first draft of history from Frank Rich at NY Magazine's Intelligencer, The National Circus for Sept. 28: The Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings Were a Case Study in GOP Misogyny. Bulls-eye.

"America has a major political party more dedicated than ever to stripping women of power by any ruthless means it can."

"A fair hearing would have called witnesses, and not just Mark Judge, to testify under oath about the incidents ostensibly being adjudicated, so that their unvetted public statements could be subject to cross-examination. A fair hearing would not have subjected a sexual-assault victim to a sex-crimes prosecutor while shielding the accused from equal scrutiny. A fair hearing would not have allowed men, from the doddering, filibustering chairman Chuck Grassley to Kavanaugh himself, to interrupt, condescend to, and talk over the questioners, particularly women on the committee. A fair hearing might also have been abetted by a coordinated line of inquiry from the Democrats, who often repeated each other’s questions (netting the identical answers) instead of collaborating on a comprehensive strategy that would advance the unraveling of Kavanaugh’s dishonest defense....

"In the hearing, he did just what Trump would do: accusing a woman who dared question him (Klobuchar) of the accusation she had raised about him (drinking to excess). If anything, he out-Trumped Trump in one area: While Trump is a teetotaler, Kavanaugh has the personality of a raging, self-pitying, out-of-control drunk. (He seems to think drinking doesn’t count as long as it’s beer.) As he tried to shut Klobuchar down with his bullying and bellowing, it was all too easy to visualize him pushing his hand on the teenage Ford’s mouth to stop her from screaming for help during an attempted rape. It was hardly a surprise that Kavanaugh said he didn’t deign to watch Ford’s testimony."

21.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Down escalator Permalink to this item

The old man in the big house is getting befuddled by the rapid fire of current events. In something like candor, he stated the obvious: "There's been deception, and there's been lies." Boy howdy.

"Trump had told reporters Friday that the Saudi explanation was credible, but U.S. officials said he has privately grimaced that his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s close relationship with the crown prince has become a liability and left the White House with no good options."

That said-to-be-credible explanation was that journalist Jamal Khashoggi "was killed after a fistfight escalated." That would be the "fistfight" of Khashoggi vs. the team of more than a dozen assassins.

Trump defended the oil-rich monarchy as an “incredible ally”

POTWEETOH says MBS and son-in-law Jared just "two young guys. Jared doesn't know him well or anything."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says approximately, "I see no evil. I hear no evil. I will not speak evil of the murderous Saudi regime."

“If Secretary Pompeo was offered to listen to the audio recording, he was smart to say no,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “You can’t unlisten to it, and once you listen to it, you can’t say certain things.”

For their part, the Saudi government "said it fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of the initial investigation." You don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognize that there are going to be quite a number of dead men who won't be telling tales.

This is a very, very dark story, in dark times. But leave it to outgoing quisling Bob Corker for a moment of gallows humor, channeling the administration's thinking on "salvage" of Jared's signature to-do item. “A lot of the Middle East peace plan is based upon their support. They feel like they have a lot of equity there,” Corker said.

How about a peace plan for Yemen, how's that going?

Milestone Permalink to this item

Happened to notice that my Twitter followership ticked up to 255 (decimal) accounts, which is to say binary 1111111 recently. The next step came only soon after, 10000000. So, um, yay! Top of the page banner keeps score for me. 3,732 tweets, I follow 181 people, and I've collected 16.6k unidimensional "likes." I don't know if 4.45 likes/tweet is good, bad, or indifferent, but it's a measure of some number of people seeing what I wrote (and/or retweeted).

There's a more proximate scorecard of "my tweet activity," says it "earned" 11,178 impressions over the last week, two-thirds of those on Thursday. What did I say? I said it was sad to see the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation were on the list of top donors (in the "Madison Club Platinum" for $100,000 or more) for the Federalist Society, among other things.

(My all time top tweet so far—just shy of 16k impressions—was on Sept. 28, pointing out that Christine Blasey Ford answered every question that was posed to her, while you know who did you know what.)

Anyway, I just scrolled through the list of my 10000000 followers, and I'm happy to say that most of them appear to be those of actual people whom I know (of), and many of whom I respect and am pleased to have listening (even if they're not, ahem, active listeners). Some look a little dodgy, but what are you going to do?

Update: 10000001.

Short takes Permalink to this item

H/t to Peter Daou for the short-take quotes of the day.

TRUMP ON PUTIN: "A strong leader."

TRUMP ON KIM JONG-UN: "He’s the strong head. He speaks, and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

TRUMP ON DUTERTE: "Unbelievable job."

TRUMP ON SAUDI CROWN PRINCE: “A strong person, he has very good control.”

(Trump did back off just a bit on Saddam Hussein—after the Iraqi people had already executed him; he likes living dictators, ok? His methods were admirable, but of course, he "was a bad guy.")

19.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Swearing on Oath Permalink to this item

TIL there are 13 Oath brands for which I might manage privacy settings, thanks to my path into Yahoo! being blocked by a modal demand that I accept new terms of surrender. INDIVIDUALLY?! Before I get to that, this charming screen, after I've logged in, and following their trail of links:

Yahoo!s robot fighting other robots

For Yahoo! alone, the "Privacy Dashboard" shows me 8 products, and 9 privacy control buttons. If Oath has coordinated the presentation, that would be... 117 individual forms to visit and possibly adjust? If I swore allegiance to all 13, which I have not, yet.

For Yahoo!, Precise Location was set Agree by default. No. Personalized Advertising on Oath was set Disagree. Each one of these 9 buttons goes to a single screen, with a single description and an "Disagree/Agree" slider, lovely designed-for-mobile, and annoyingly braindead for a desktop.

Communication Analysis (titled "Oath Communications Optimization" inside) was set Agree. These are "more relevant offers based on automated analysis for keywords or elements within your content on our communication services..." Somehow that's different from Personalized Advertising? Disagree.

Search History loops me back to the modal demand that I accept New Privacy and Terms, interrupting my REVIEW and SETTING of their controls, and back to this ridiculously long and link-riddled agreement, including "may share with Verizon" and a link to Verizon's privacy policy; a link to Privacy Controls under "Combining data"; a series of Key Points in Terms of Service, starting with "We’ve added a mutual arbitration clause" ("Hopefully, disputes wil lnever be an issue..."); and a little something about Business to Business. Without its coded links:

"The Oath Business-to-Business Privacy Policy applies when you use Flurry, Gemini, ONE by AOL, Convertro, BrightRoll or any other Oath business-to-business products. All other consumer-facing activities are covered by the Oath Privacy Policy. Learn More."

Wanting to go back to my privacy dashboard first, I clicked "I'll do this later," and it dumped me out to the Search History (it's short, I cleared it) form, which is NOT a single slider Dis/Agree.

Looped back to the ACCEPT splash, and forward to the privacy controls, Yahoo!, have to log in again (and re-prove I'm not a robot), continue. Oath Across the Web, Disagree, ok.

Audience Matching ("To help provide you with more meaningful and relevant offers from companies you already do business with while online...") is set Agree, NOT ok.

Device Linking, set Agree, NOT ok. Pesonalized Content ("we make educated guesses"; I can stop them from guessing?!), Disagree, ok.

And the pièce de resistance, Marketing Preferences. Whoops, I have to login again. Third time. Now I'm dead in the water; logging in just loops back to the login screen.

Go back to one of the previous tabs in Mail, still logged in. Go to Groups (which is, ahem, what I was ACTUALLY setting out to do something with, can I remember what? Yes: it was to see if perhaps it had accepted my message from gmail to a Yahoo! group instead of bouncing it as it has been doing.

It had not. It took... an extra minute or so for the bounce message to come back, which is how I got diverted for... 40 minutes.

Yahoo! is very close to dead for me.

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

The hard road toward legitimate unity Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein's description and think piece, on the eve of an election likely to have profound consequences for our future: The rigging of American politics. "Political systems depend on legitimacy. In America, that legitimacy is failing."

He points out that the architects of our political system feared majority rule, "with[holding] the vote from women, African Americans, and Native Americans." Still, UNITY was of the essence. Compromises were made between states to find a way to form a union. Four score and seven years later, we sacrificed more than 600,000 lives to coerce union without slavery. (A modest death toll as wars go, by the way: the Russians spent 10 times that many in their 1917-1922 go. The Spanish wiped out more than 30,000,000 natives on their way to conquering the Aztec and Inca empires. I digress.)

Now we have the GOP quite successfully rigging the system for minority rule with little concern for unity. It's not "conservative," it has come down to looting.

The rules are broken. The president nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and the GOP-controlled Senate, led by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, simply refused to consider the nomination, casually violating their oaths to uphold the Constitution in favor of a partisan take-over. Klein notes that we're in "an unstable equilibrium."

"[The] current political system is producing outcomes that feel illegitimate to the left. Any effort to reform that system would produce outcomes that feel illegitimate to the right. We cannot stay here, but we cannot move."

Speaking of the control of the Senate, this (my emphasis):

"By 2040, 70% of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70% of America will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30% of America will be represented by 70 senators."

Klein's conclusion is dark (spoiler alert: things will get worse before they get better), but along the way he offers the five-part test from the late political scientist Robert Dahl, in the book How Democratic is the American Constitution? For those who might get hung up on "democratic" (we live in a republic!), let me rephrase the metrics slightly:

To what extent, if at all, do constitutional arrangements help to:

  1. Maintain the system;
  2. Protect fundamental rights;
  3. Ensure fairness among citizens;
  4. Encourage the formation of a consensus; and
  5. Provide a government that is effective in solving problems?

Some adjustments are definitely needed. (Never mind agreeing on what problems need to be solved; effectiveness for solving any shared problems is currently up in the air.)

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

Good news and bad news Permalink to this item

The Pew Research Center's latest sampling of the Zeitgeist leads with how little partisan agreement there is, but there's one thing that (almost) everybody agrees on: we're open-minded. 90 and 96% of supporters of Republican and Democratic candidates, respectively, say that term describes them "well."

Also 2/3rds of Democrat supporters and almost 90% of Republican supporters say they "have traditional values," a conveniently rubber yardstick.

When it comes to the "very big" issues, there is close agreement on a few. Drug addiction, the federal budget deficit, violent crime. There's less-close agreement, but maybe close enough to make progress on the affordability of health care, and ethics in government. (But where shall we start?!) And, miles apart on the top red issue (illegal immigration) and most of the top blue issues (gun violence, income inequality, climate change, and the biases in the criminal justice system).

Apart from the most striking disparities, I found it difficult to make sense of the variation as presented in their graphs. I looked at sorting in rank order by one side, then the other, then settled on a radar plot, with the items roughly grouped by type: the one environmental problem, four things about crime, six about economics, seven about broad values and justice. One might conclude that Democrat-supporters see more things as big problems, overall. The red team first place finish of "illegal immigration" sure seems to be about how well it has worked as a polarizing issue rather than how important it is in the big picture of our future (from this dyed blue-in-the-wool blog).

Data from Pew Research

Don't be evil (until the price is right Permalink to this item

On the road to three internets, this jolly tidbit from the NYT Editorial Board (with links to The Intercept from the original):

"...Google is working on a search engine for China known as Dragonfly. Its launch will be conditional on the approval of Chinese officials and will therefore comply with stringent censorship requirements. An internal memo written by one of the engineers on the project described surveillance capabilities built into the engine—namely by requiring users to log in and then tracking their browsing histories. This data will be accessible by an unnamed Chinese partner, presumably the government."

Firey maple, fall 2018

The editorial's headline opines that America's [internet] Won't Necessarily Be the Best, but maybe not the worst, either?! (#3 is Europe, in case you're loath to follow the link.) Still, we might well end up with the worst combination of surveillance, Balkanization, and dark alleys full of grifters.

"Google says all features are speculative and no decision has been made on whether to launch Dragonfly, but a leaked transcript of a meeting inside Google later acquired by The Intercept, a news site, contradicts that line. In the transcript, Google’s head of search, Ben Gomes, is quoted as saying that it hoped to launch within six to nine months, although the unstable American-China relationship makes it difficult to predict when or even whether the Chinese government will give the go-ahead. “There is a huge binary difference between being launched and not launched,” said Mr. Gomes. “And so we want to be careful that we don’t miss that window if it ever comes.”

My new favorite quote of the day in regard to software: "There is a huge binary difference between being launched and not launched." A quantum leap you might say. We seldom see "huge" and "binary" travelling together. They're like night and day. Black and white. Up and down. Evil and Not Evil.

Speaking of which, how about that 15-man Saudi "interview" team showing up with the bone saw? It's not exactly top secret that our foreign policy has been transactional rather than ideological for the last 30 or 300 years, but leave it to our Grifter-in-Chief to spell it out plainly.

It's a three step process: the poorly considered and almost truthful first answers, then the garbly hedging after some coaching—"We are... going to leave nothing uncovered."—then boiling it down for a campaign mob. "Millions of jobs" and "billions of dollars" are so much more important than one non-citizen's life. And principles are a dime a dozen.

15.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Litmus test Permalink to this item

It astounds me to get drawn into this ridiculous drama, but let's all have a look at Senator Elizabeth Warren's DNA test results because our president* is a flaming racist?

Who knew that there was a unit "Morgans" (used in hundredths, "centimorgans," and don't do CamelCase; cM yes, centiMorgan no) for "genetic length":" the distance between chromosome markers for which the expected average number of intervening chromosomal crossovers in a single generation is 1 (or 0.01 for cM). Used to infer distance along a chromosome, but not an actual physical distance. Named after that 1933 Nobel laureate you never heard of, Thomas Hunt Morgan.

Warren came out as having something, at 8±2 generations, so one ancestor in 64 or 1,024, for what that's worth.

Her Senate site doesn't mention this, but it does talk about historic legislation to confront America's housing crisis, introduced last month. 3 million new housing units, reduction of working families' rents by 10%, 1.5 million new jobs with no impact on the deficit, and working to reverse decades of discriminatory housing policy would be worth doing.

Still from Reuters video of baby Trump blimp in London

Even the president*, whose family wealth benefited from both legitimate government housing subsidies and illegitimate tax dodging, could relate. But it's far more likely he'll still find a way to work "Pocahontas" for a laugh line with his mob, even though it was only a couple generations ago that Donald's grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, emigrated, discovering that his true calling was not barbering, but rather operating whorehouses during the Gold Rush. It seems to match more than a quarter of his DNA, actually.

There's little chance he'll make good on his promise to give a million dollars to charity after another of his racist speculations was proven false. It's not so much being sucked into the vortex of his narrative as another vignette in a cultural narrative of decadence.

At any rate, it's more relevant, as Keith Boykin points out, that Trump hasn't released his tax returns to show us the illegitimate financial pedigree that brought him to our attention to begin with. He's bragging it up all the time, you'd think he'd want us all to know the details, but only if you just woke up from a 40 year nap and hadn't discovered what a profligate liar he is. Back when he still had a command of language, he'd slyly referred to his fabulation as "truthful hyperbole." Now we're devolved down to Kellyanne's "alternative facts," Benjamin Buttoning our way to "I'm not a baby" talk.

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

Art of the deal Permalink to this item

Before I got around to saying something about the Washington Post journalist who had the poor judgement to be a Saudi citizen and only a permanent resident I came across Sarah Stillman's article in The New Yorker describing how a five-year-old was detained at the border and persuaded to sign away her rights. "You need to write your name here," I imagine some official telling her. Maybe through a translator. It's an awful story, but with a happy ending, as far as we know. One child saved.

See no evil Permalink to this item

Come to find out, there are different kinds of FBI "investigations," and some aren't terribly thorough. By design. Which is pretty damn chilling when you think about it. There's no doubt that FBI could dig up trouble on most anybody, or at least make a lot of trouble by digging. (Imagine what your boss would be thinking after an hour or so talking to a couple of agents about your history.)

If you're a bona fide member of the Good Old Boys club, with a ticket to the highest court in the land, you might get a "special" investigation in which the agents are told not to try too hard. Here's another one of Brett Kavanaugh's classmates from Yale who tried to talk to the FBI, and they weren't interested.

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

Land thieves to gather Permalink to this item

North of the Flathead, and west of the Blackfeet, LeRoy Finicum's widow, Cliven Bundy's scofflaw offspring, eastern Washington's wingnut legislator, and what's this, Idaho water law guy Norm Semanko? Are gathering for a weekend of patriotic fervor and domestic terrorism planning. I trust the FBI has a number of informants attending.

They're billing it as a "remarkable" one-day conference with an "array of speakers and subjects" to provide "an updated overview of “The Deep State” and its impact in the West, bureaucratic agency over-reach, federal Indian policy, public vs. private property rights, environmental and jurisdictional issues affecting our country and each of our communities. We will also have discussions on critical legislation impacting our western states."

Kind of an open-carry version of an ALEC conference? Front page on ThisWestIsOURWest at present, among the embedded documents is the Great Falls Tribune piece about critics of the anti-government gathering, and critics of the critics. (Everybody's a critic.) Former Montana Secretary of State and a state legislator for 27 years, Bob Brown:

"By inviting Ammon Bundy, organizers and participants of this event are attempting to normalize the seizure of public lands and to legitimize threats against federal and local law enforcement." He said the event "flies in the face of the values Montanans of all political persuasions share" and has no place in Montana.

Not featured on the TWIOW site is this GFT item about a study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, showing the logical conclusion if land-grabbers such as the Bundy clan have their way: Study: This public land is your land but it's landlocked, as in "federally managed lands that can't be reached directly from a public road or adjoining public land." The story has a tally by state, which includes more than 6½ million acres in Wyoming, Nevada and Montana (but "only" a couple hundred thousand acres in Idaho).

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

Down escalator Permalink to this item

Jennifer Rubin's searing, must-read opinion from the weekend (preceding the ceremonial swearing campaign event that further soiled the Supreme Court's legitimacy): They left no doubt what they think of women.

"You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women. Its members resent women. They scorn women. They exclude women. They use women to maintain their grip on power. But they do not respect them.

"What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny – like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism – becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans. If it bothers a Republican, he or she dare not say so. One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (”it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.

"The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?

8.10.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What goes around comes around Permalink to this item

The question I have after re-reading Adam Serwer's chilling piece in The Atlantic from last Wednesday—The Cruelty is the Point: Who is man—or woman—enough to step up and bring the Republican party back to a modicum of decency? Susan Collins seemed unlikely (but maybe) until she hit rock bottom with her blithe assessment that "it appears to be a very thorough investigation." (That was before she clarified that she had "not yet finished going through all the materials.")

And just last Thursday morning, the man who stopped the tide of history for just a moment, retiring Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, said he too thought that the investigation was thorough. Looking at what little there was to see, he said "we've seen no additional corroborating information."

Don McGahn made sure of that.

But just to make good and sure, they kept the one and only copy of the FBI report in a basement room where senators had to come and get a glimpse in shifts. So little time they had to have it read aloud to them, in groups.

As a plot device, any good director would have thrown this out as being too ridiculous. No one would believe it! The U.S. Senate? A Supreme Court nominee? A room in the basement? You cannot be serious.

That was also before Sen. Collins gave another go to the "mistaken identity" hypothesis, an equally ludicrous plot device. (PRO TIP for Ed Whelan: fingering an actual alternative suspect is a mistake.) She believed most of what Blasey Ford had to say. All but one little thing.

Collins also had to ignore the rather impressive list of Kavanaugh's lies under oath to get there. And to pin all of her own plans for the future on the "fervent hope" that he would turn out to be a different person than he just showed himself to be on Thursday morning.

Lisa Murkowski came through (never mind her "present" to keep the tally undisturbed by Steve Daines' "absent" to attend his daughter's wedding), quoting the code for judicial conduct that requires acting "at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary." It is a "really high" standard, and one that Kavanaugh failed to maintain last week.

But she was the only one to express doubt and break ranks. On the Democrat side, perhaps with the 50+Pence arithmetic and his West Virginia campaign in mind, but insisting it was not based on politics, and only on the carefully controlled diet of facts he'd been fed, Joe Manchin III stared down distraught protesters and put in a Yes vote to lend the faintest whiff of bipartisanship to the affair.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018

Before his McGahn-induced, fraudulent WSJ op-ed walk-back, we heard from Kavanaugh himself, unplugged, in Biblical terms, his partisan rancor unmasked, just in case his work history for Ken Starr and George W. Bush hadn't made his bona fides crystal clear. (Never mind the "presidential privilege" Trump exerted on W.'s behalf to keep most of the secrets.)

As Kavanaugh said, "the consequences will be with us for decades." And that epitaph of judicial temperament, modesty, and impartiality: "What goes around, comes around."

"Due process" was the cry from the gallery of white men, indignant at the challenge to their authority. (As opposed to the favorite mob chant of "Lock her up" at the next Trump rally.) Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing "presented Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault as a long-familiar dialogue between her facts and his resume. As framed by him, the question was whether someone as valuable and accomplished as he would be denied advancement over something as dubious and negligible as the abuse against Dr. Blasey," Catharine A. MacKinnon put it in her contribution to the New York Times' one year retrospective on the #MeToo movement.

"Courts are typically more hidebound and less nimble than culture, although they are embedded in it. The norms of rape culture still infuse much existing law. Rape law largely uses a “consent” standard often consistent with acquiescence to unequal power. Sexual harassment law’s equality standard is unwelcomeness. Criminal law’s burdens of proof, difficult for survivors to meet, are often imported, tacitly or explicitly, into civil and administrative processes as standards for the credibility of the victim. Statutory law against discrimination has a statute of limitations that is measured in months, before almost any victim of sexual violation is past trauma, far less beyond post-traumatic stress. No movement to change it exists in Congress. ...

"#MeToo may be the first change toward women achieving human status since the vote. Indifference to sexual abuse contributed to electing this president, an election that in turn fueled the #MeToo movement against that indifference with a rage that the events surrounding Judge Kavanaugh will likely continue to focus and accelerate further."

Howard Zinn's take on the Supreme Court and its overestimated importance, from 2005, when John Roberts had just been made Chief, and Harriet Miers' bid for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat had been rejected for a failing questionnaire and stuff, and Samuel J. Alito had been nominated but not yet confirmed might provide some small comfort, and a reminder: Don't Despair about the Supreme Court. "It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds." This had just happened:

"A district court judge in 2004 ruled that the detainees held in Guantánamo for years without trial were protected by the Geneva Convention and deserved due process. Roberts and two colleagues on the Court of Appeals overruled this."

And the Supreme Court, with Roberts recused, and Scalia inappropriately unrecused (given his prejudicial statements ahead of the case), reversed the Court of Appeals in Hamdan vs. Rumsefeld, 5-3. But here it is a 12 years later and there are still dozens of "detainees" deemed "too dangerous to transfer but who cannot be tried in a court of law." (Perhaps Justice Kavanaugh will feel solidarity for the due process they've been denied and put in a good word some time.) What Zinn said:

"[K]nowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture—the media, the educational system—tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system."

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

Your primer on trade deficits Permalink to this item

Gregory Mankiw does a nice job of explaining a basic principle of economics, even if there is no reveal of suprising truths about trade deficits. Could've called it the simple truth. He also touches upon a couple other simple observations. About the the revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, announced on Monday:

"[I]t is hard to be sanguine about this accomplishment, in part because the changes are so modest but mostly because the president’s overall approach to international trade is so confused. ... If imports exceed exports, we are running a bilateral trade deficit, which Mr. Trump interprets as a sign that we are the relationship’s losers."

"Trade" is mostly about trading money for goods and services. Money isn't useful by itself, but it makes a useful medium of exchange. If you like goods and services more than money, it's not hard to strike a good deal. On a daily basis. We run a "trade deficit" with every local merchant.

A normal understanding of the value of money (which is to say exchange), and of fairness pretty much covers it. You can see why Trump could be so confused.

For good measure, Mankiw provides a rule for assessing this administration's changes to tax law and regulation in one paragraph:

"All this isn’t to say that the president’s policies are necessarily misguided. The tax bill should be interpreted on its own merits — whether it makes the tax system fairer and more efficient and whether it brings in enough revenue to finance the government. And each regulatory change should be evaluated based on its costs and benefits."

Fairer and more efficient, and sufficient to finance the government. That'd be three swings and misses, but to be fair, the GOP wasn't trying for any of those things.

3.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just today Permalink to this item

Still from the video of Trump at a rally

Might need a healthier habit than checking Twitter in the morning. Starting right... IDK. Just the first couple that caught my eye, with accurate use of the words "wicked," "debase," "divide," "liar," "con man," "fraud," and "criminal." And "deplorable." Really deplorable.

It pains me to see a man of such power, our president, publicly mock an American woman who credibly claims to have been sexually assaulted before an audience of our fellow citizens who cheer him on. Please, my friends, let us not allow this wicked man to debase and divide us so. https://t.co/shTJUgRme2

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) October 3, 2018

This is one reason why voters needed--and still need--to see Trump's tax returns. The Times masterful work shows Trump is a liar, con man, fraud, and criminal. He has cheated tenants and US taxpayers. And the GOP has embraced and enabled him. That's deplorable. https://t.co/yy1nQMvW9r

— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) October 3, 2018

Just that little snippet atop the story, my god. Why don't more women come forward? he asked. How can a man be as vile as this, and have women in his carefully chosen background claque hold up their signs and smile and laugh at his mockery? Charles P. Pierce captures the Zeitgeist, for Esquire and all of us:

"And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.

"The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides."

The embedded link is to Pierce's cover letter for what would be the week's top top top story in any rational universe, the NYT's explosive reveal of how "the story Donald Trump has always told about himself may have been a literal fraud," as the subhead styles it, your latest Required Reading for our decline and fall.

"Did we all know that his endlessly repeated autobiographical tale was complete horse-hockey? Of course, we did. But now we have numbers. The famous mere $1 million that Papa Fred left him as a starter kit? It was closer to $60 million. He was making 200-large a year from the old man by the time he was 3."

You talk about a self-starter and hard worker, rags to riches from the get-go! A landlord at age 3. He alone could fix it.

2.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What a tangled web we weave Permalink to this item

NBC News reports a wee problem with the Judiciary Committee's practice. Last week, minority member Richard Blumenthal submitted the summary of relevant information from Kerry Berchem, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh and Ramirez to the committee, and it was kept from the light of day:

George Hartmann, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that “the texts from Ms. Berchem do not appear relevant or contradictory to Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony."

"This appears to be another last-ditch effort to derail the nomination with baseless innuendo by Democrats who have already decided to vote no," Hartmann said.

Text messages showing that "the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim" of Deborah Ramirez, before The New Yorker piece came around. Which was before Kavanaugh says he'd even heard about this thing that he claims never even happened. Berchem's been in touch with Karen Yarasavage, another classmate:

In a series of texts before the publication of the New Yorker story, Yarasavage wrote that she had been in contact with “Brett's guy,” and also with “Brett,” who wanted her to go on the record to refute Ramirez. According to Berchem, Yarasavage also told her friend that she turned over a copy of the wedding party photo to Kavanaugh, writing in a text: “I had to send it to Brett’s team too.”

Aaaand this:

"Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath that the first time he heard of Ramirez’s allegation was in the Sept. 23 article in The New Yorker."

1.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Q: Did you consume alcohol during your high school years? Permalink to this item

"Yes, we drank beer, uh, my friends and I, boys and girls, yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. I still like beer. We drank beer, the drinking age as I noted was 18 so the seniors were legal. Senior year in high school, people were legal. To drank. And we, yeah, we drank beer. And that said, sometimes, sometimes, probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers. We drank beer, we liked beer."

Kavanaugh was born in mid-February, so for half his senior year, he would have been 17. The typical age-based progression through school in this country makes most high school seniors 17 when they start, and turning 18 along the way (or, for some of us, not until after graduation). Most people remember their 18th birthday.

Most teenagers know how old you have to be to obtain alcohol, in my experience. I certainly did. Where and when Kavanaugh grew up, the drinking age was not 18. Sucked to be him: on July 1, 1982, Maryland changed the drinking age from 18 to 21, pulling the starting line 3 years further away from the 17y 4½m old Brett.

For his "senior year in high school," people were way not legal in Maryland. Some—including Kavanaugh after mid-February—would have been legal in Washington D.C. But stocking up in the District and crossing into the state to consume would have been illegal.

Yeah, that was all so long ago. But this guy is a judge, a Yale-educated lawyer, supposedly Supreme Court caliber.

It beggars credulity. Among other things.

His half-minute answer to that Yes/No question is featured by John Oliver in the Last Week Tonight episode from this weekend, along with the remarkable range of creepy facial expressions produced by the judge last Thursday.

Sham wow Permalink to this item

Jamil Smith: "Thursday's hearing was a master class in Trumpian masculinity." Brett Kavanaugh’s Fragile Manhood. (Smith also toted up reasons not to trust Kavanaugh two weeks ago.)

"I doubt that Republicans care about institutions like the Supreme Court beyond their ability to bend them towards their policy aims, but it is important that the American public can trust the judicial branch. Ideally, there would be no men on the Court — perhaps I should stop there — who have been accused of sexual assault and harassment. But regardless of gender, there can’t be justices who lie to us. Well before Ford’s accusations surfaced, Kavanaugh had given us definitive reasons to question his ability to tell the truth. Whether or not you think that he tried to sexually assault a girl in high school, he had already disqualified himself on account of his falsehoods. What does a man have to do to not be believed?"

James Comey belabors some obvious truths in an op-ed for the NYT: the FBI is definitely capable of getting the job done, even on an inappropriate schedule: "Although the process is deeply flawed, and apparently designed to thwart the fact-gathering process, the F.B.I. is up for this. It’s not as hard as Republicans hope it will be." Except...

"F.B.I. agents are experts at interviewing people and quickly dispatching leads to their colleagues around the world to follow with additional interviews. Unless limited in some way by the Trump administration, they can speak to scores of people in a few days, if necessary."

Ay, there's the rub. As Carl Hulse points out, "provided the new investigation doesn’t turn up damaging information, the inquiry could ultimately make it easier for uncertain Republicans to back Judge Kavanaugh as soon as this week." Call me cynical, but isn't it obvious that the president is going to make damn sure that no damaging information is turned up? His "free rein" tweet is most likely just another snowman in the avalanche of Trumpian lies, not intended and not to be taken as actual instruction to those doing the work. As former U.S. Attorney and deputy A.G. Harry Litman noted, limiting the "investigation" to a short list of just four witnesses would be "very unusual, if not unprecedented." It would "sharply reduce the prospects that the bureau will generate the sort of information that the Judiciary Committee has requested and the country deserves to have."

A few whispers from Flake, Collins, and Murkowski were enough for this "pause" but as the writers for SNL put it, the GOP doesn't know the meaning of the word "stop."

The nomination should be over Permalink to this item

Interesting piece on 60 Minutes last night, Senators Flake and Coons appearing together to explain what happened at and around Friday morning's Judiciary Committee meeting that led to the "pause" in plowing through the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Supposedly for a one week FBI investigation, will that be enough? It might be, if they were tasked with uncovering the truth, rather than coloring within some carefully drawn contours.

This nomination is reportedly Don McGahn's swan song, so the initial report from NBC News that the White House would direct the FBI to tiptoe through the tulips is completely believable, and POTWEETOH's insistence that the FBI would have "free rein," not so much. We may end up with another one of those "background checks" which didn't turn up any of what we've recently learned about this man's character in half a dozen tries.

Some form of "nothing to see here, now we can move along" seems nearly certain. But if there's nothing more to see, haven't we seen enough? Cut to the chase in that 60 Minutes segment, the last Q&A:

Scott Pelley: If Judge Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, the nomination is over?

Sen. Flake and Sen. Coons: Oh, yes. I would think so.

Q: Was the ralphing alcohol-related?
A: I went to Yale.

We don't need an FBI investigation to determine the remarkable breadth and scope of Brett Kavanaugh's lying to the Judiciary Committee. Nathan J. Robinson has the full catalog on Current Affairs. He lied about little things, and big things. He lied about his drinking, and he lied about sex. He never attended any event like that? He only drank on the weekend? His "very precise" calendar exonerates him? "None of those people, nor I, lived near Columbia Country Club"? His and his classmates "affection" for Renate Dolphin? Brand new definitions for all those dodgy terms in the yearbook? All those people who said they didn't remember X being cited as saying "it didn't happen"?

In everyday parlance that last one might be ordinary rounding error, but here, under oath, lawyers and judges talking in regard to the nomination for the Supreme court, that is a consistent, calculated, and essential deception.

BLUMENTHAL: [In law, there’s a Latin phrase that means] ‘false in one thing, false in everything.’ Meaning in jury instructions that [prosecutors tell] the jury that they can disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing. So the core of why we’re here today really is credibility. Let me talk...

KAVANAUGH: But the core of why we’re here is an allegation for which the four witnesses present have all said it didn’t happen.

Actually, no. There is only one person who has said "it didn't happen," and he's been false in too many things for us to accept his word as credible.

But never mind about the teenage drinking and "playful" sexual assaulting. Kavanaugh has a well-established record of lying to Senators. Just this, all by itself is disqualifying for any position as a judge:

Leahy recalled that Kavanaugh “testified under oath — and he testified repeatedly — that he never received any stolen materials, and that he knew nothing about it until it was public.” With the release of emails from the time when Kavanaugh served the Bush administration, Leahy said it is now evident that “there were numerous emails sent to him that made it very clear this was stolen information, including a draft letter from me.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has concluded: “Brett Kavanaugh used materials stolen from Democratic senators to advance President Bush’s judicial nominees. He was asked about this in 2004, 2006 and this week. His answers were not true.”

Update: Here's another useful compendium of Kavanuagh's lies.

Update #2: And one from Mari Uyehara, for GQ.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007