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

Who said it best? Permalink to this item

45 years ago last month.

President Richard Nixon:
"And I want to say this to the television audience. I made my mistakes. But in all of my years of public life, I have never profited - never profited from public service. I've earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice.

"And I think too that I can say, that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination. Because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."

What’s old is new again:

— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) December 8, 2018

Meanwhile, at the end of Friday afternoon on a truly epic news week (or as the New York Post put it, Donald and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day), this epitaph-length ironic pronouncement from #45:

Totally clears the President. Thank you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

The time machine on my desk tells me that reporter Steven Dennis "rewatched Mike Pence's full pre-inauguration Fox News interview where he denied Russia contacts with Trump associates, Flynn talking sanctions with Kislyak + defended Michael Cohen." It starts with FN guy Chris Wallace, Jan. 15, 2017, saying "on the brink of [Trump's] presidency, questions of Russia's involvement in the election won't go away."

Le plus ça change! I (re?)watched it too.

First thing I noticed is that after Wallace played a video bite with Rep. John Lewis questioning the legitimacy of the win, Pence shook his head steadily while saying "Donald Trump won this election fair and square." Kind of a perfect expression of the whole country's cognitive dissonance at what just happened. His shaking head contradicted his stated claim that "I have great respect for John Lewis..."

He found it "deeply disappointing" to have someone "of his stature" question the legitimacy, eh. Because "I truly do believe" [does the sugar make it more believable, people?] "this is a time, uh, when the American people should be celebrating the peaceful transition of power."

(Never mind that Trump had pre-questioned the legitimacy of the election in the 3rd and final debate with Hillary Clinton, "the most breathtaking moment," as Michael Shear described it.)

Pence expanded upon the president*-elect's counterpunch tweet to Lewis, with more illumination than a Bible verse, and this golden oldie: "you remember that great [sic] line, 'what the heck do you have to lose?'"

Yes, who could forget it? Delivered to an almost totally white audience, his eyes shaded by his white MAGA hat, WAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?

Candidate Trump, August 19, 2016, in Michigan

Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak came up in that Pence interview, one of those "questions" that "wouldn't go away," five days before the inauguration already. Pence dismissed the notion that there was any there there. Wallace:

"Second question: Can you flatly deny... that there were any contacts, at any point during the campaign between Mr. Trump's associates and Russian operatives, including cut-outs as we know, about the hacking of the Democrats during the election?"

Pence shook his head while Wallace is talking, starts his answer with puckered incredulity about the oppo research that "made its way around the internet," and about how "Michael Cohen himself had actually never been to Prague," Wallace doesn't let him off the hook with his fuzzy dodges.

"I'm asking you a direct question, was there any contact, in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin, or 'cut-outs' they had?"

Pence's answer is brilliant plausible deniability, shaking his head 'no' some more, "I joined this campaign in the summer" and "all the contact... was with the American people." Good for Wallace, he didn't let that fatuous blather stand for an answer either, and kept after him. Finally, Pence's quasi-direct denial:

"Of course not! Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?"

And then the counter-narrative anti-narrative:

"Chris, this is all a distraction. And it's all a part of a narrative to de-legitimize the election, and to question the legitimacy of this president. The American people see right through it. And truthfully...

More sugar! He went on about the "caliber and character of men and women that the president-elect has assembled, hundreds and hundreds of interviews and conversations he himself has had, I think should be deeply inspiring to millions of Americans..." (Michael Lewis' book The Fifth Risk takes us inside what happened after the Great Assembly, and it's horrifying, actually.)

3 questions in a lightning round Obamacare: "Repeal and Replace, Essentially Simultaneously" That's b.s., right?

Pence, leveraging his awesome experience in Congress, eventually boiled it down the "short answer" to can you really do that? as "Yes!"

Wallace presses him for "when?" while Pence filibusters on describing how bad the status quo is, as if he were still giving a stump speech. His considered estimate at the end of the blather was "in the first 100 days."

Does Mr. Trump still have confidence in FBI Director James Comey? "You'll have to ask him about that," Pence non-answered, shaking his head. Something about "safety and security first," always.

And symbolism, you bet. Mr. Pence was looking forward to taking his oath of office on "the Reagan Bible" [sic], and to have it "administered to me by Justice Clarence Thomas" [shaking his head] "someone who I admire for his philosophy, for his courage on the bench.

"We're approaching it with prayer," he said, apparently finally taking the opportunity to say something on his running mate's behalf.

Let us pray to God.

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

The first degree Permalink to this item

Today's Friday letter from the president of my alma mater up north recalls the first graduates, 122 years ago, in 1896, and celebrates 578 graduates ("to receive a combined 587 degrees," go figure) on tap tomorrow. It reminds me of my relatively unheralded December graduations, the first of which was a round number 40 years ago this month. (They could've been heralded, a little, but the ceremonies seemed unnecessary, or inconvenient to me at the time. I did show up for the third degree; and I've loved attending every family member's graduation I could in these later years.)

I was living by myself in a 10x55' mobile home, burning tamarack to stay warm, the plumbing back in order after a long course of DIY study, but still in the "no water heater" era, IIRC. I'd put the cast iron water jacket from a cookstove into the sheet steel stove that Mark Solomon had welded up, mostly to my specifications, and was trying to figure out how to make that go. (Pro tip: for a thermally driven loop, the hot side has to have a uniform, upward gradient. Need a way to bleed air bubbles out, too? I never did get that to work, so maybe I shouldn't be handing out pro tips.)

My last semester had been busy, with my own classes, and teaching a General Botany lab section for R.J. Naskali. I don't remember any job interviews, or contemplating employment, but it must have been on my mind. With my Bachelor's of Science in General Studies, I could do... generally anything! I loved teaching botany, had expectations to continue, but it seems my students didn't love it as much as I did, and not too long after collecting my diploma, I learned I wouldn't be invited back. Now what?

Paradise Ridge, 2001

A couple of Sufi friends had plans to go back east to The Farm, some sort of collective in Pennsylvania or New York that they seemed to know all about and thought would be brilliant. I knew as much as is in that sentence, but they were two beautiful, loving people, and the idea of a cross-country trip with them, and communal living sounded... interesting, at the very least. If it had been the cheery flush of spring instead of the cold, dark of winter, I think I would have gone with them.

Through my own steady diet of bicycle parts and repair (for my sole means of transportation during college years), and while still mulling my future prospects, I found out that Johnny Parkins, the once and again proprietor of J.P.'s Bikeshop, was in the market for a mechanic. Someone who could run the shop for him. I knew how to fix my bike, started with some very quick (but useful) training from him, as a Mechanic in February, Manager in March, and, with a modest capital infusion from the Bank of Parents, became Johnny's Partner on June 1.

5.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Swan songs Permalink to this item

NYT proposes to my morning viewing that it's breaking news that George H.W. Bush is having a state funeral, but actually, no. He had a good, long life, some worthy accomplishments, some less-worthy things, and by comparison to some of what followed, he earned some genuine praise, which should suffice for a ceremony. I'm not going to take on the job of weighing his soul, or watching his funeral; someone can round up the highlights for me. It's worth highlighting the good things, I think. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been a boon for civil rights.

The international acid rain treaty, from back when bipartisan progress for the environment was possible. Former Candadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney highlighted that, and NAFTA, the ADA, and Bush's international stature.

Mulroney says that when Bush was president, every other world leader knew they were dealing with a "genuine leader," one who was “distinguished, resolute and brave.”

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 5, 2018

Defending the downing of civilian Iran Air Flight 655 was a not-great moment. Given the current administration's imagined (or anticipated) impunity for criminal acts, the Iran-Contra affair ("a hydra-headed scandal"), and the pardons that GHWB handed out just before he left office are worth another look.

The timing doesn't seem like it will work quite the same for Trump, who can hardly claim he was "out of the loop" when he's been in the thick of the swamp since long before his inauguration day. Now that the special counsel has said that Trump's first national security advisor Michael Flynn was a key cooperator and should serve little prison time, David Rothkopf's Twitter thread takes a more critical view of the original bad acts. He points out that Flynn "undercut norms of decency" (does anybody remember norms of decency?!) "in calling for a political opponent like Hillary Clinton to be locked up," even as he himself was serving other countries ahead of ours, for personal financial gain.

Birds of a feather.

Flynn's misdeeds pale in comparison to what his boss has done, and continues to do, obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses for the ongoing investigation, in plain sight.

"He was at the center of one of the darkest moments in the history of the American presidency," Rothkopf notes, of Flynn, near the end of his thread. This darkest moment, still in process.

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

Life is a social medium Permalink to this item

That quip came to mind as I swam in it this morning, late getting going on the monthly edition of the blog. Is it original? It felt original, but I would be a bit surprised to actually be the first person to string together that sequence of 5 words. (I held off searching for it, because the moment you write it down to look for a phrase, poof, it takes on a life of its own. I'll check... later.)

Life is hard to define, but it's no fun/not interesting without reproduction. (What is cell division to an asexually-reproducing organism? No big deal? Just stretching one's "legs"? What is time when you're immortal? Scroll down my steadily updated top shelf reading list to see what put that question in my head, J.T. Fraser's 1987 book Time: The Familiar Stranger; that and his earlier work, The Genesis and Evolution of Time: A Critique of Interpretation in Physics have an interesting attribute on Amazon's site: exactly one review each. And alas, too ancient to be in our local library.)

Sunset photo, my front window view

Over the weekend, I finished Michael Lewis' The Fifth Risk, ending with its revelation about what's inside the Department of Commerce (not what most people imagine), and how the career category of "Data Scientist" came to be. For a little while, we had a Chief Data Scientist position, occupied by D.J. Patil, who you could see in action as of May, 2016, at the Commonwealth Club forum. Worth the time to watch, and relive the moment that seems a million years ago.

Three snippets, from the Q&A session following the interview with the moderator, Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Washington Post:

Responding to a question about genomic privacy, "what is the government's approach to stopping having insurance companies from having perverse incentives to declining coverage?" Patil started by pointing out that "One of the seminal tenets of the Affordable Care Act is that you can't be... there's no pre-existing conditions. Once you get to the genomic level, all of us have a pre-exiting condition. That's called being human. So you have to get that out of the way."

Then, from another universe, Dwoskin asked "DJ, do you think that Twitter data will be used to inform the president to make public policy decisions any time soon?" (As in "there's a crisis hotspot, now we're going to send troops, or...?")

His answer started: "We're definitely not going to put those that commit to duty in the armed forces into any situation on a whim. It's a very, very thoughtful decision... one that we take massively seriously."

The last audience question was from an attendee wanting to know how the government could use all it knows about us to improve the irksome TSA process for getting on airplanes. Patil redirected his answer (after noting that he had to stand in line like everyone else) to insight about the immigration process:

"A lot of the people in this country have the right to be a citizen, but they don't know it. And the forms and processes that they go through, the only way to do it is to pay somebody a lot of money that they shouldn't have to." "It should be easy," he said, that "you're allowed to do what by law and by constitutional authority is right."

"When we come together and work on a problem, we get to unleash the full force of the United States of America on a problem, to solve it for the entire country."

Imagine a civil servant, proseltyzing for engaging with government, for the betterment of all. Those were the days.

The Dept. of Commerce web view of its Bureaus and offices shows no hint of a Chief Data Scientist these days, although there is an Office of the Chief Information Officer with an Acting CIO, Rod Turk. (No Chief Data Scientist listed in the 12-member Bureau CIO Directory.)

There are 3 woman and and 17 men in Commerce's featured Leadership, a rather monochrome line-up. But hey, there's only one Minority Business Development Agency National Director position.

There is still a page for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, under Before the darkness, it had a complex menu with an About page, a pressroom, a blog, divisons, initiatives, R&D budgets, a resource library, the NSTC and the PCAST. There were enough initiatives to group them into 9 categories, including three related to STEM education workforce; combating climate change; promoting open data, open government and open science; spurring innovation; and harnessing America's expertise.

That page, like so much else in the federal government, went 404 on January 20, 2018. Three weeks later, there was a redirect in place: redirecting to a 404 "not found" page. Four and a half months later, 404 had matured into "under construction." "Thank you for your interest in this subject," [sic] it said. "STAY TUNED AS WE CONTINUE TO UPDATE WHITEHOUSE.GOV."

The current 404 - PAGE NOT FOUND page has a search interface, with a link to "past administration archives," so there's that, which is no small thing. One can find the archived websites of the three web-era presidents as part of the National Archives, with what used to be under the subdomain (at There was a data catalog with 28 datasets, for example, including a map of community-based initiatives data, and a climate change adaptation task force, the record of which is a quirky collection of 27,806 rows of csv'd comments and what-not, apparently all collected in mid-2015. (Just shy of 89% of the rows, 24,676, specified affiliation with "Defenders of Wildlife", just to show you what might go wrong with collecting comments via the web.)

Top of the stack, a California Sierra Club Member wrote "Terrific that this is ongoing, a relief that this issue if finally being addressed." Second up, Art Horn, "Self employed Meteorologsit" [sic] gave full contact information and a lead-in quote for the Climatic Research Unit email controversy before his 18,000 byte treatise on "Carbon Dioxide: The new WMD (Weapon of Mass Deception)."

A retired CNC machinist from Kansas offerered a link to what turns out to be his own site, (a sentimental favorite, given that my dad was an Aerologist for the Navy in WWII), touting "free long-range U.S. National, U.S. Local (searchable by zip code), North American, Canadian, and Australian weather forecasts" which doesn't seem to actually do anything. Dang it, so much for "how the weather really works."

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

Pants afire Permalink to this item

Rudy the red-nosed shyster was talking about Michael Cohen, fresh out of his pleading guilty to lying to Congress, but this "legal" observation is evergreen:

“He has so many different versions of the same stories, so by definition he is a liar and we can’t trust him,” Mr. Giuliani said ... “He has lied, so how can we believe him?”

Not to get all cloak and dagger or anything, but things are getting very, very real all of a sudden, aren't they? You can tell by POTWEETOH's middle of the night raving on Twitter. As usual.

The history of 2016 just gets more and more interesting in the multiple tellings. Today's emptywheel blog post, July 22, 2016: The Sater and Cohen Deal Gets Handed Off To Millian and Papadopoulos? has Fascinating excerpts from news reports, and court documents, a cast of characters like to make your head spin, from an amazing swamp of corruption. Seems like way old news, but the affadavit of Special Agent Robert M. Gibbs of the FBI, filed July 28, 2017 remains a fascinating read about the shenanigans of covfefe boy George Papadopoulos. (The blog post tag list connects the Papadop dots: Felix Sater, Glenn Simpson, Ivan Timofeev, Michael Cohen, Sergei Millian, Steve Bannon.)

Papadopoulos' sentencing memorandum drafted by his lawyers and filed 3 months ago is quaintly pathetic. Part II.A alleges that George Papadopoulos Lied to the FBI for Personal Reasons; Not to Impede the Investigation, said personal reasons being that he was worried about "what it would mean for his professional future," the "position" he hoped he'd be getting in the new Trump administration.

"George lied about material facts central to the investigation. To generalize, the FBI was looking into Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign as part of its larger investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. This issue had dominated the news for several months with stories concerning Carter Page and Paul Manafort. The agents placed this issue squarely on the table before George and he balked. In his hesitation, George lied, minimized, and omitted material facts. Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard."

There was so much dangling on the hook, though! Also linked by emptywheel, the NYT story from a scant 10 months ago (oh kitty, what a year it's been!) about How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt:

Mr. Millian proposed that he and Mr. Papadopoulos form an energy-related business that would be financed by Russian billionaires “who are not under sanctions” and would “open all doors for us” at “any level all the way to the top.”

One billionaire, he said, wanted to explore the idea of opening a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow. “I know the president will distance himself from business, but his children might be interested,” he wrote.

But we digress. The news is all about what we've learned from Michael Cohen right now (for which it seems more than reasonable to assume the Special Counsel has corroboration), and how what Trump Junior told Congress last year doesn't quite line up with the truth as best we know it.

Peculator Sr. said he only "Lightly" looked at something or other, "zero money" and the oldie-but-goody Witch Hunt! We're not getting bupkis for leaks out of the SC's office, but you can imagine them laughing and laughing every time there's a Witch Hunt! tweet, can't you?

And what did the ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY OFFICERS SEARCHING DEUTSCHE BANK HQ IN FRANKFURT AND FIVE OTHER SITES yesterday turn up about "zero money," we wonder. Unlike Paul Manafort, who's been working as a Trump administration mole, apparently in the hopes of a pardon, former "fixer" Michael Cohen "severed his ties to the president months ago," as Natasha Betrand put it for The Atlantic.

“The real wild card for Trump is Cohen,” said a veteran Washington lawyer who requested anonymity because he represents a client involved in the Russia probe. “It’s obvious that Cohen knows more about Trump’s business activities over the last decade than just about anyone.”

The cliff-hangers here at the the end of Season Two are amazing!


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007