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14.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho tuition freeze next year Permalink to this item

In the midst of prosperous times, or as close as we may get to those any more, the Trump bubble buoyed by gigantic tax relief for those persons and corporate persons who need it least, and runaway deficit spending, Idaho's institutions of higher education are facing unprecedented financial exigency—even as they set records for enrollment, and as many students face going deep into debt to finance their education.

From the students' point of view, it might be good news that our 4-year public colleges announced a tuition freeze for next year. But it will mean $millions less to make ends meet, less money to meet their educational mission.

Exigency-in-prosperity makes perfect sense if you understand our Republican super-majority, coming from the ideological foundation of Ronald Reagan's pithy inaugural quip: "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

It was a too-cute and poorly-considered thing to say even in 1981, and it hasn't obtained any wisdom in the decades since. Using it as license to proceed with attempts to dismantle all government, or, at least cripple and sabotage whatever targets present themselves has been a truly awful idea. Upon the Gipper's deification however, it has been taken as Scripture. 'Tis a gift to be simple, and oblivious to irony.

The statistic quoted in Betsy Russell's report took me back: 40 years ago, to when I was at the U of I. According to the State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield, the state of Idaho was covering 88% of the cost back then, and student tuition just 7%. Now the state covers just over half, and tuition revenue covers 47%. Maybe you think students should cover all that or more, but a lot of them just can't. And from my own experience, I'd suggest a larger investment might be the smarter alternative.

I stayed in Idaho after attending the UI, and my taxes (and regular contributions to my alma mater) have easily made up for the state's share. Investing in the future, don't you know. What could be more conservative than that?

13.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Russ Fulcher, in the role of useful idiot Permalink to this item

I know that Idaho's House member from District 1 isn't actually an idiot. When I met him and his staff members for a conversation about climate change and the possibility of legislation for a carbon fee and dividend, he showed himself to be a thoughtful, careful, capable politician. Actions speak louder than words in that regard, and he has taken none, and I rather expect him to take none, but we shall see.

For the other hot topic of the day, the congressman was given most of the Idaho Press's opinion page on Thursday, under the headline Facts of impeachment case speak for themselves. Apparently there was not room in that headline for the adjective "Cherry-picked" at the front, but Fulcher did him some cherry-pickin', as he laid out the case for the Biden-Burisma conspiracy, and the "perfect" phone call that is why we're now having this conversation.

Before he launched into that, there was this affirmation of his supposed objectivity in the matter:

"To remain objective, every time I review information I ask myself, “…how would I act if the President being charged was not a member of my political party?” In that spirit, and as of this writing, the following reflects my perspective."

Can't you just imagine the members of the GOP with the present evidence of abuse of power and obstruction by Barack Hussein Obama coming to the same conclusion that the phone call was perfect and there's nothign to see here?

Fulcher and I can agree on one point near the end, there: "The level of politicization in this inquiry is very troubling." Fulcher has illustrated it all too well.

Marc Johnson, with a more seasoned view of local and national politics than Fulcher has obtained, and no partisan servitude to carry out, explains what a bad time for truth we're in right now, with Ukraine, and Russia very much in the center of the story that the GOP is pretending is make-believe. In regard to the "fizzle" Sensenbrenner sneered at (previous item):

"The Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election makes clear – you really should read it – that Russia broadly and blatantly interference with the election to assist Trump and that he encouraged and welcomed the helped. Putin has admitted he was happy to see Trump elected knowing he would be a soft touch for continued Russian interference in Ukraine and elsewhere."

"Former national security advisor Michael Flynn is awaiting sentencing for lying about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador in December 2016 aimed at signaling the incoming administration would work to ease Obama’s sanctions related to Ukraine. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in jail for, among other things, money laundering related to work he did for pro-Russian elements in Ukraine, almost certainly at Putin’s behest."

And yes, Idaho's "Congressman Russ Fulcher has been sipping this crazy conspiracy Kool Aid lately," in that Twitter thread from last month, and now in print, selling the conspiracy talking points. The wagons remain tightly circled. Idaho's other congressman—our congressman—Mike Simpson is on the same page, even if he's not quite as outspoken about it. Johnson's conclusion:

"The times are ripe with irony. The party that once prided itself on tough-minded reality in opposition to brutal authoritarians now celebrates a homegrown con man who embodies the kind of lawless thuggery Reagan once condemned.

"Congressman Mike Simpson, the last Republican I would expect to embrace Russian fables, lamented Trump’s looming impeachment by saying, “today is a dark day for our country.” Simpson is right, but for all the wrong reasons."

Sensenbrenner, of the Office of Circumlocution Permalink to this item

On the plus side, the wall-to-wall coverage of yesterday's 14 hour (!) impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee pre-empted the end of year pledge drive on NPR, but on the minus side, the Republican minorities stonewalling, histrionic denials and procedural pettifogging were so tedious I had to change the channel.

Before that, and before Chairman Nadler short-circuited the GOP's drive to make the vote happen at the stroke of midnight (oh how they wailed when they had to change their Friday morning flights home!), I did hear one random snippet. By this time, I know a surprisingly number of members of Congress by their voices alone, and one is Frank James "Jim" Sensenbrenner, Jr. who has been in the legislating business since I was a pup, and our war on Viet Nam was in progress. It was the Wisconsin legislature starting in 1969, after his election in the same year he graduated law school and turned 25. That's right, going on half a century and counting. After 10 years in the Wisconsin legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he's polishing up his 21st term. While he missed Nixon's thrilling conclusion, he was not only present, but one of the House "managers" for the Clinton's impeachment.

And this memory recounted by Chairman Nadler in regard to having a "minority day" hearing, as the ranking member attempted to demand in a point of order.

"...back in 2005, then-Chairman Sensenbrenner scheduled the minority day hearing, but cut off witnesses, shut off the microphones, shut off the lights and abruptly ended the hearing while members were seeking recognition to speak."

At 46 minutes in the 14+ hours (it's all on C-Span!), Sensenbrenner got his say on why the "amendment" to throw out the first Article of Impeachment should be approved:

"Mr. Chairman, I think it's obvious you know, to all the American public that, this is a railroad job. Y'oh, things have been going quickly but I think what the real key is that all of the denials of minority requests, both here and in the Intelligence committee, ah, the Republicans and the president have not been able to put on live witnesses, ah, to be able to, ah, basically to put together a defense. And if you're gonna have a trial, ah, you have to have both prosecution and a defense. ..."

Sensenbrenner knows that impeachment is not a trial, but he's not letting legal particulars get in his way. Next he talks about how you have to see a witness testify in person to know whether they're telling the truth or not. (You know, like when Donald Trump testified live for the Special Counsel's investigation?)

He celebrated Ken Starr and his "36 boxes of evidence," and deprecated Special Counsel Mueller's recent effort (under very different rules, as he would well know, given the modification in response to Starr's abuses), as "a big fizzle." All that fact and witness documentation of the the president's obstruction, witness tampering, and trying to get Don McGahn to manufacture false evidence just a nothing-burger.

In regard to the "perfect" phone call, Sensenbrenner emphasized once again that the brand new president of the country that has been most recently invaded by Russia, as he awaited the $391 million of promised aid, and as he continues to try to avoid getting embroiled in the partisan morass of U.S. politics while he desperately depends on this country's help, said he was "under no pressure."

"That's what the facts are, and the facts speak for themselves."

I did not find the particular snippet I'd heard on the radio before losing interest in searching further, but the complaint I heard, in regard to the 2nd Article of Impeachment was that woe befall us if the president must respond to every request of evidence from Congress lest he be impeached. Which didn't quite get to the fact that the president has rejected e.v.e.r.y demand for evidence. It's not as if he deserves an A for effort and a C- for compliance. He's earned an F for effort and an F for compliance, and the GOP is gaslighting us that he's always been a straight-A student.

Did not see this coming Permalink to this item

In-browser attention getter, a reprint site called "Pocket" took me to all sorts of fascinating Scientific American content, but I see they've gone subscription-based, and I quickly burned through all my "free articles" before I looked up the one from Feb. 2018 that brought me there. Magazine subscriptions aren't what they used to be: SciAm's run from $35/yr (12 print issues and digital "read anytime, anywhere") to $199/yr "unlimited," which includes digital archives back to 1845 (!), but kind of puts the lie to the "anytime" in the cheaper one. For $40/yr, you get a "4-year rolling archive." As far as "unlimited" goes, who has time to read "more than 200 new articles per month"?!

Anyway, you can check out the story if you haven't burned through your quota, here: Stronger Than Steel, Able to Stop a Speeding Bullet—It's Super Wood! Or, for really free via Pocket's reprint.

Image from InventWood site

Dissolve out the lignin and hemicellulose, compress the remaining cellulose (to crush the cell walls) while heating it (to polymerize? or "encourage the formation of chemical bonds" between adjacent nanofibers), and you end up with 3x density, 10x tear resistance, 50x the compression strength and 20x the stiffness, with more moisture resistance than the original. What susceptibility it still has to moisture-induced swelling can be covered with a coat of paint. Plywood for low-cost armor? Not quite as good as Kevlar®, but 5% of the cost. Oh, and mix in methyl methacrylate and you get Optically Transparent Wood from a Nanoporous Cellulosic Template.

This Liangbing Hu guy, professor of mechanical engineering, nanomaterials and nanostructures seems like a superstar. Oh, and he's an immigrant from China. And he's started a business, InventWood, to commercialize some of his team's inventions, including Transparent Wood.

Additional storage Permalink to this item

Drilling into gmail settings for something else, I noticed that IMAP is enabled on my behalf, even though I've never used it. (I started with POP, and if a setup works well enough, I stay with it a long time.) IMAP offers the virtue of giving multiple devices access to one effective repository, such that if you delete from one place, the message gets deleted from all. (Unlike my messages POP'd to Outlook, leading to two disparate and poorly tidied collections of endless thousands of message.) I also noticed that the default setting is that when a message is marked as deleted and expunged from the last visible IMAP folder, gmail will "Archive" the message.

As in... set a bit that says "archived," instead of actually deleting it. That's bad design. (The second choice, "move the message to the Trash," would be a better default. "Immediately delete the message forever" is ok too, but not as a default.) Gmail's attitude has always been "we give you lots of storage, why not just "archive" everything instead of deleting it?

The Accounts and Import tab shows my why not: You are currently using 10.36 GB (69%) of your 15 GB. And no, I'm not interested in purchasing additional storage, I'm interested in SHOW ME THE TOP N SPACE HOG ITEMS, OLDEST FIRST to see if I actually want to save them. (Advanced search syntax sample: larger:1M before:2015/1/1; and click on the count for the newest/oldest sort toggle. Without too much effort, but more fussy work than I can sustain for the next 10,000 selections, I got rid of a couple hundred old messages I don't need. The tally still shows 10.36GB, even after I emptied most of the Trash, so that's not very encouraging. No escape? Only scans once in a while?) [Update: later in the day, after deleting a couple more hundred messages, and emptying them from the Trash, it was down to 9.89GB, so I've cleaned up 4% of the bin.]

Back in the day, early versions of Microsoft Outlook had a hard 2GB limit on the .pst file. That's the gigantic, binary heap of a message-and-everything database. "Hard limit" as in, the program would crash, and your stuff would be hard (? or impossible? I behaved myself and never had personal experience) to recover. It seemed like an incomprehensibly large amount of email when the software was new. Then came "attachments," and now 2GB is almost just an appetizer.

12.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Record-setting Twitter binge Permalink to this item

This is what it's like to impeach the first Twitter president: Trump attacks Greta Thunberg during record-setting Twitter binge. In case you've been hibernating at the South Pole, Greta Thunberg is the 16 year-old climate activist who Time magazine just selected as its Person of the Year. Wikipedia, in an old-timey homage with oldest first (from Charles Lindbergh in 1927, to now) has been updated to include Thunberg and this year's runners-up: Donald Trump; Nancy Pelosi; The Hong Kong protesters; and the Whistleblower in Trump-Ukraine scandal. (Had they picked Lord Orange, we would have had to cue Carly Simon's 1971 hit, "You're So Vain" to go with.)

Trump "surpass[ed] his single-day posting record of 105 which was just set last Sunday." Aaron Rupar is keeping track, noted that after the first 90 tweets and retweets, Trump said he's having "a very busy day." One of his very busy tweets came out in the heart of Executive Time, 7:22 am EST, clapping back at Roma Downey's congrats to Thunberg.

"So ridiculous," the President of the United States wrote. "Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill."

Apparently it's ok to attack teenagers again? Trump's youngest better keep his head down lest another b'erronial pun land upon him. Not that this is a fair fight, between a decidedly not-ok boomer and a child born in the 21st century. She updated her Twitter profile in reply:

@GretaThunberg screen shot

For his part, Trump continues to make a mockery of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, always and ever with the GOP's implicit blessing, balancing his mock-concern for corruption with a straight-up advertisement for Mal-a-Lago, aka the Southern Swamphole. 14 minutes after slapping at Thunberg.

As nadir is to zenith, what's the word for "superlative" when you're going down the drain? Apply that to Trump-on-the-stump in Hershey, Pennsylvania Tuesday night, and his "firehose of nonsense."

"Over the course of a more than 90-minute delivery, Trump pushed conspiracy theories and blatant lies, trashed law enforcement officials that aren’t blindly loyal to him, exhibited thuggish tendencies toward protesters, made misogynistic remarks, and demonstrated that he fundamentally misunderstands the Constitution."

C-Span grab

Shouting and snarling his way whipping up his mob, POUTS complained about how the FBI "hid that exonerating" that he's now imagining the inspector general's report contains. (Just like the GOP is currently hiding exonerating him and instead attacking the impeachment process, the witnesses, members of Congress they don't like, Trump's own pick to lead the FBI, and so on. "You have not good people in leadership, you haven't had.")

"Not only were these comments ugly, but they demonstrate how Trump demands total personal loyalty from law enforcement agencies that in theory are supposed to operate independently of partisan politics. But to Trump, if the FBI director speaks the truth and refuses to validate conspiracy theories about anti-Trump bias in the FBI, then he’s not the right person for the job. If bureau brass goes after his associates, they’re “scum.” If the Inspector General was appointed by Barack Obama, then his work is inherently suspect."

That's before the section headed "open thuggishness and misogyny." And apocalypse.

“At stake in our present battle is the survival of the American nation itself. We will destroy our country if these people get in,” Trump said.

Give him one thing: he is honing projection of his faults onto others to an art form.

House Judiciary Permalink to this item

As luck would have it, I was in the car yesterday evening in time to hear the end of the opening statement from the House Judiciary committee chair, Jerry Nadler, and all of (way more than I wanted) of ranking member Doug Collins' rebuttal.

"Stark contrasts" is the way ABC News headlined it, with a video reporting their commentary over the top of "it's still going on" last night, one youngster saying "this is basically open mic night" for the 41 committee members, "and a little bit of Kabuki theater." Which, ok, that "news" coverage is even worse. The text does excerpt Nadler's opening:

"Taken together, these two articles charge President Trump, with placing his private, political interests above our national security, and above our free and fair elections, and above our ability to hold public officials accountable," Nadler said. ...

"Some ask, why not take more time?" Nadler asked. "One indisputable truth has emerged," he continued. "If we do not respond to President Trump's abuses of power, they will continue."

And closing with a message to his Republican colleagues:

"I know you. I have worked with many of you for years. I consider you to be good and decent public servants. I know this moment may be difficult, but you still have a choice," he said.

"One way or the other, President Trump will not be president forever," he added. "His time has passed, his grip on our politics is gone when our country returns as truly it will -- stronger ties, stronger leadership -- history will look back on our actions here today. How would you be remembered?"

"The evidence proves that these requests were not related to any real interest in rooting out corruption. President Trump eagerly does business with corrupt governments every day." – Rep. Jerrold Nadler

Doug Collins demonstrated that he wants to be remembered for a petulant, whiney, shouty display of fake indignation centered on "the big lie" (to use his catchy phrase): this is all a sham! Too fast! Not enough charges! No specific crime mentioned! Premised on the (never quite said directly) insistence that the president has done nothing wrong. Taking the full measure of the gravity of the moment, he started by saying "I find it amazing at best, hilarious at worst," and right downhill from there.

They're not even bothering with "alternative facts" anymore, they're just saying that facts don't matter. It's preposterous, but that's their story, and they're sticking to it.

C-Span has all 4 hours of it, all members given the opportunity to make opening statements. Nadler's starts 3½ minutes in.

He started with three questions: (1) Does the evidence show clearly that the president committed these acts? (2) Do they rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors? (3) What are the consequences to our elections, and to our country if we fail to act?

Spoiler alert: yes, yes, and dire.

The committee's impeachment debate continues, this morning.

10.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How is this playing in Russia? Permalink to this item

It occurred to me to wonder if there'd be another FBI director firing coinciding with a visit of Sergey Lavrov to the Oval Office ("Was he fired? You are kidding! You are kidding!"), which is weird, and then it occurred to me to scroll down my old-timey blogroll to the "news from Russia" link to The Moscow Times, currently billing itself as "Independent News from Russia." The former mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov has died, at age 83. He "led the city's transformation into a modern metropolis," it says.

Image from the Moscow Times, credit

JUST IN leads with Abnormally Warm Winter Keeps Siberian Bears From Hibernating, but good news: at least last winter, they [Weren't] Turning Into 'Aggressive Insomniacs' Despite Being Kept Awake all Winter. Not so good Russian bear news: polar bears being driven into town to forage in garbage dumps. "Scientists recently estimated that plastic makes up almost a quarter of the visiting polar bears’ diet."

More of the sidebar stack, all dated Dec. 10:

The statue is slighly larger than life (2.5m), shows "the man, with a capital M" in a business suit, and (ahem) doesn't really look like Vladimir, but ok.

What's this about targeting pipelines?! And a three-quarter $trillion National Defense Authorization Act? The NDAA seems to be of keener interest to Russians than to USonians, what with all the high crimes and impeachments going on. I guess you can understand why.

"Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions relating to Russia's Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.

"Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.

"The NDAA also re-authorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.

"Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev this summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia."

Sanctions on Turkey for buying that Russian missile defense system, the one that can target F-35 stealth fighters we now won't be sending over there, and addressing threats from China. And way down at the bottom a little kicker about sanctions it doesn't contain:

"The NDAA does not contain sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt included in its previous iteration, the RBC news website pointed out."

Also missing from the bill, it seems: all potential sanctions against MBS for murdering Jamal Khashoggi.

Our own US New and Swirled Report's report featured a Win with Space Force in the bill. It "would establish" the Space Force, and "allow the Air Force to transfer personnel" to it, but not approve any new hiring. Just "$72.4 million to stand up a headquarters." Think of it as a large office remodeling for the DOD, which, ah, no one mentioned to them?

"Pentagon officials on Monday afternoon said they weren't aware of the bill's specifics related to Space Force and that they were focused on moving forward with Space Command, the new combatant command for space."

It's just our next-level planetary arms race, NBD.

One other thing Permalink to this item

Susan Hennessey, Executive Editor of Lawfare and General Counsel of the Lawfare Institute: The One Episode From the Mueller Report That Democrats Must Include in Impeachment.

The unresolved debate is whether to go with the latest, most obvious abuse of power and the high crimes and misdemeanors it comprises, "keep it simple" and understandable for the general public, or to more comprehensively catalog the criminal record of Donald J. Trump. Personally, I'm not in a screaming hurry to move the proceedings into Mitch McConnell's fiefdom and have it confirmed that the Republican party remains all-in on their guy, no matter the evidence. There should be time to set the record straight. Hennessey's proposal is that we should not (as the also eminently impeachable member of the Trump administration, William Barr pre-suggested) dismiss the Special Counsel's report entirely. "[I]t would be unwise to be so overbroad" as to try to include "every plausible article" based on that. But one thing, at least:

"[O]ne describing how the president of the United States obstructed justice by directing White House Counsel Don McGahn to create a false internal record denying that the president had instructed him to have Robert Mueller fired as Special Counsel."

Update: The first two articles of impeachment are out, and Don McGahn didn't make the cut. In conclusion:

Wherefore, President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

Whodunnit? Permalink to this item

ICYM the Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday (as I did), Eric Swalwell's question time boils it down, with 20 seconds to spare:

Wow. This is pretty incredible.

In under 5 short minutes, @RepSwalwell lays out the entire & clear case for impeachment in undeniable terms#ImpeachingHearing

— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) December 9, 2019

9.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Old and the New(sletter) Permalink to this item

We recently added a newspaper subscription to our household: the local up-and-coming Idaho Press out of our neighboring Avis-ville. It has more news of Nampa than we're accustomed to, but ok. It has Betsy Russell covering Idaho state politics, which is essential. It has Letters to the Editor that are a wilder mix than I can remember seeing in print in half a century, alas only 2 or 3 days a week. Of course there are pro and con-impeachment, a couple stellar examples of the latter on November 24: "But the Democrats took the low road and have shown the Nation just how empty their souls really are" from Richard Behmer, and "Every accusation against President Trump has been based on nothing more than second, third, and fourth hand information. Much has been based on personal conjecture or feelings. Ukrian [sic] got the aid without launching or stating the start of any investigation" from David Wilson. (Why ukrian, bro?)

Family photo, 1962

I've been an ink-stained wretch for more than half a century now, starting with recycling them for the Boy Scout paper drive, and as packing material for the family business, one of my first paying jobs. (Not sure whether that, raking leaves, or shoveling snow came first.) Wm. K. Walthers, Inc. paid 1¢ a pound for plain old stacks, 2¢ if they were unfolded and rolled into cylinders to speed the work in the shipping department.

At age 12 I was old enough to obtain an official "work permit" and deliver the Milwaukee Sentinel for as long as I could tolerate getting up in the dark and cold. (Not quite a year and a half, as it turned out.) I came up with some sort of "school newspaper" when I was in grade school, on my own initiative, a dim memory that probably lacks supporting evidence. I was photographer for the high school newspaper my freshman year, another claim you'll have to take my word for. I wrote letters to the editor, of course, and seeing them in print was like opening a Christmas gift. I wrote columns for the University of Idaho Argonaut, still taking up space in their archive. With friends in Moscow, there was an enterprise named "Cumulus Press," and an alternative weekly? monthly? called Wellspring, long ago run dry.

After moving to Boise, and joining the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I was "involved" in the monthly newsletter back when that meant printing and mailing. I can imagine a whiff of solvent from the Gestetner, the stick of adhesive labels, paper cuts, and penciling out the economics to using photocopying instead. (It seemed like a really expensive proposition, but it was faster and better than the Gestetner.) I helped putting it up on the new-fangled World Wide Web end of the last millennium and into this one, met monthly deadlines (most of the time) year after year.

And now, this month, December, 2019, the final edition of that has been sent out in the usual way, via Constant Contact and into everyone's email inbox, interspersed with the weekly announcements, and special messages. I'm a bit wistful about that. But the media are ever morphing into new forms, and there's no stopping the tide.

7.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The bottom of the barrel Permalink to this item

One of the more bizarre angles in the impeachment of Donald J. Trump is the insistence of his defenders that he's done nothing particularly untoward and it's the Democrats who are unhinged, crazed, filled with burning hatred, and so on. (A Sinclair Media reporter tried to troll Nancy Pelosi on her way out of the press conference yesterday by asking "do you hate the president, Madame Speaker?" Her snap-back was epic.)

The facts of the inculpatory evidence is not disputed in any meaningful way. Congress and the Department of Defense approved aid of almost $400 million to Ukraine, and the president and his underlings withheld that aid for months, while various members of the administration acting under the president's explicit and implicit instruction sought to use that aid and the promise of a presidential meeting as a bribe to extract a statement (at least) about Ukraine investigation Trump's political rival.

There is no meaningful, fact-based dispute that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and continues to interfere in our electoral process, with the president and the senate majority leader blockading any meaningful response on our part, for 2020 and beyond. There is no dispute that the Special Counsel's report documented the president's obstruction of the investigation into that interference.

There has been no meaningful, fact-based exculpatory evidence offered to mitigate the evident crimes and abuse of power. There isn't a good alternative explanation for what happened. (Trump's supposed hatred of corruption doesn't even taxi, let alone get off the ground.)

Instead, we have demonization, both literal and figurative. Democrats are just mad because they lost the election in the electoral college. They've always hated Donald Trump. This is a "coup." The Trumps were entrapped, with, ah... Hillary losing on purpose so Jim Comey could come after him and trick him into obstructing justice and stuff. And so on. We also have fact-free conspiracy theories galore. It might have been Ukraine in 2016! Or China! Or a 400 pound guy in his basement.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary committee, Doug Collins was a lot better behaved talking to Judy Woodruff on the Newshour than he was in his committee, but just as determined to ignore three out of the four witnesses that had appeared. The Republicans' guy, Jonathan Turley didn't see anything all that serious, and they like that story. (Never mind the unintended humor of Collins saying "at best, Mr. Turley said that it was a paucity of errors.") Woodruff was a bit incredulous at his cheerful gaslighting. Collins insisted "the facts are in dispute"; I guess in the Kellyanne Conway "alternative facts" sense of the "dispute." "There was never a connection between aid and doing something," Collins lied, facilely.

Even more incredibly, Collins tried to justify the phone call that kicked impeachment into gear by talking about the "very much of a frustration" Trump was feeling the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress. Never mind Mueller's repeated insistence that the Special Counsel's report should speak for itself, knowing as he would the limitations of live testimony in the circumstances, Collins tried to summarize that day as utterly equivocal about the president's obstruction. It, and the report, were not equivocal. We weren't talking about "crimes" because Mueller took it as a given that his scope precluded a criminal indictment. Collins shows us how the Republicans leverage that into a talking point that "see, there were no crimes!"

Today's less decorous offering from George Rasley on Richard Viguerie's Conservative HQ offers the prospect of a "Democrat-controlled America" as bogeyman, starting with an epigram about "as every good Communist knows." Then he starts with "the Democrats' three-year long coup," and goes on to mention (ICYMI) that the Democrats started the Civil War, and here we go again.

Elliptical comments about "secret warrantless searches against private citizens, against journalists and against attorneys in a completely extra-judicial attempt to pierce the attorney – client privilege" are crazy-ironic in light of the latest revelation of Trump's use of unsecured communications, as he sought to keep who all he was talking to a secret.

You don't have to be an expert to know that it's not only possible but likely that Russia knows a lot more about what all happened in Ukraine than congressional investigators do.

5.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Daily outrages Permalink to this item

Here's a bad habit: checking Twitter first thing in the morning. I had to laugh at one post, though: @thistallawkgirl, a.k.a. Marie Connor, kicked it off straight up: "Good morning, Twitter! So, what are we offended by today?"

Yesterday's winner was having a witness at the House Judiciary impeachment hearing make a point about the difference between our republic and a kingdom, with a pun on young Barron Trump's name, and Republican heads exploded like it was the Fourth of July. @FLOTUS' twitter account weighed in, famously. And @VP allowed that he found this "a new low." "I just heard," he said, according to The Hill, "one of the Democrats' witnesses actually used the president and first lady's 13-year-old son to justify their partisan impeachment."

Just heard. To justify. Used. You know who's using l'il Barron pretty shamelessly, Mike? We just keep descending into shame.

Let's try this again. @realDonaldTrump can name his next child Marrquessa or Dukke or Earrl or Lorrd or Freiherr but he can not convey a title of Marquessa, Duke, Earl, Lord, or Freiherr, because we don't have titles.

We do call members of Congress "honorable," just for fun.

— Tom von Alten (@fortboise) December 5, 2019
Photo of moon at night

Also in yesterday's House Judiciary impeachment hearing, Rep. Tom McClintock demanded a show of hands from the four witnesses, "how many on the panel actually voted for Donald Trump in 2016?"

But to get back to the more important, meta-point (outrage), here's a bit of must-see TV: Hari Sreenivasan's interview with Jonathan Haidt on Amanpour&Co. Not like you hadn't noticed, but Haidt explains how social media has become an "outrage machine," spreading anger and toxicity, and when that happened. Turn of the decade, "weird stuff started happening on college campuses," and then in other institutions, and other countries.

2015, students were showing up with "new ideas that we couldn't understand, about fragility, trigger warnings, safe spaces, this idea that speech is violence, words are dangerous." Looking for the source, he and a colleague point at "the changes in social media that happened between 2009 and 2012 that most people don't understand." In The Atlantic, The Dark Psychology of Social Networks; Why it feels like everything is going haywire. Haidt outlined three things in the interview:

Facebook's gravitational attraction draws in the news media, who have to figure out how to survive with a new dominanting platform in town.

"It used to be the news [media] would talk about big things that would happen. ... and now maybe a video comes out about something someone said, somewhere in the country, and people spin it, manipulate what it was, they make it more outrageous and that spreads virally on social media. Now all journalists are on Twitter...

"We are now immersed in a cycle of conflicts about trivial things. Trivial things! A word that somebody used, typically. ... It's filling our minds and distracting us from thinking about more important issues."

One little side effect: "Democracies are now much more likely to fail." The Greeks thought that democracies were inherently unstable, doomed to fall prey to "a demagogue comes along, inflames the passion..." The founding fathers' big fear was "faction," what we call polarization and partisanship today. In The Atlantic:

"[I]n “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation."

"[S]ocial media in the years since 2013 has become a powerful accelerant for anyone who wants to start a fire."

Most of us are mostly reasonable, except when we join a mob, and social media has created a steady breeding ground for mobs, with a "technology [that] greatly increased the amount of “mutual animosity” and the speed at which outrage spread." The inability to disagree in an agreeable fashion is devestating to the process of advancing common good. In the roiling mob, there is no future. There are no bounds. It's not real communication. Mostly it's "moral grandstanding," and team-building in the worst sense of the word.

"Online political discussions ... are experienced as angrier and less civil than those in real life; networks of partisans co-create worldviews that can become more and more extreme; disinformation campaigns flourish; violent ideologies lure recruits."

We're running the greatest social experiment of all time on ourselves, and most particularly, on our children. From the interview:

The "very sudden and very big increase in rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide" in American teens "right around 2012, 2013, when the graphs all start going up, especially for girls; boys go up, but girls go way up, almost every measure. Same in Canada, same in Britain. ... It's a national catastrophe..."

Haidt and Rose-Stockwell suggest three systemic changes to social media that are needed if we are to reverse the trend toward toxicity:

1) Reduce the frequency and intensity of public performance, through "demetrication," and disengaging the popularity contest.
2) Reduce the reach of unverified accounts, through some sort of basic identity verification for account creation (at least).
3) Reduce the contagiousness of low-quality information. "Adding some friction back in has been shown to improve the quality of content."

In the meantime, and not because I think I have a fulcrum to move the Earth, but selfishly for my mental health, I'm going to look for ways to be more positive. I'm going to continue to take the trouble to block and report new followers on Twitter who appear to be fake or toxic. (One today: joined September, all of its "tweets" were retweets. No actual voice. Another: joined April 2015, claims to be a "million mega jackpot winner from New Jersey," with one prayerful tweet and the rest retweets. Just don't need retweet machines.) And to think about Socrates' triple-filter test at least once in a while:

Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?

4.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Donald Laughingstockings Permalink to this item

It's hard to remember what the first half of this decade was like, sometimes. Aaron Blake's brief history of world leaders laughing at Trump leads with Trump's own obsession with the subject.

“The world is laughing at us,” he said in May 2016. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said of Mexico in his campaign launch speech. He used the phrase “laughing at us” more than 50 times between 2011 and his election as president. Trump, the argument went, was going to make it stop.

This is not our finest hour. But given what happened in merrie old England yesterday, if we don't laugh, we'd have to cry. This, after his lunch with NATO members who'd paid their cover charge:

As reporters were leaving the room during Trump's lunch with leaders from countries that meet the 2% NATO threshold, the radio pooler caught Trump saying, "That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced."

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 4, 2019

"That guy" was the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

Pity Daniel "Sisyphus" Dale, pushing the rock of fact-checking our president uphill. He found at least 21 false claims from Trump in yesterday's meetings.

"Trump treated NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a selection of his favorite fictions, most of which we have fact-checked before, and sprinkled in some new nonsense for good measure."

So, take your pick: laugh, or cry.

The Bizarro President Permalink to this item

Every measure of normalcy is broken. With the so-far stalwart complicity of the Republican party as a bloc, our unitary executive is leveraging his career experience as a serial bankrupt, cultural ignoramus, and all-purpose grifter into not just a constitutional crisis, but an existential global crisis. Credit his times: a bouyant economy recovered from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, coupled with the culmination of the industrial revolution and age of coal and petroleum in global warming.

Yesterday, he turned a "summit" for NATO into a nadir, leaving the president of France and the prime ministers of Great Britain and Canada, and others laughing and comparing notes, did you see what he did next? after the president of the United States petulantly whined about others not paying their fair share, because he takes deadbeats personally. He takes everything personally, and turns it on its head, lying not in any sort of strategic way, but simply comprehensively. He does not care to know truth, because truth so rarely serves him. The party of Lincoln is taking it all lying down, more than a little ironically, as it is juiced into the party of Trump. More than half of "ordinary Republicans"—53 to 47%—in an Economist/YouGov poll deemed Trump a better president than Honest Abe.

It's so alarming, the people describing it are pushed toward kindness. The "slightly" in Emily Maitlis' observation here, after her interviewer said "he was relatively well-behaved, but then you kind of never know what he's going to say in the next sentence!"

"...he's morphed, slightly, into Homer Simpson. You know, I imagine him tip-toeing around a sitting room in carpet slippers, or maybe those, you know, fluffy white ones you get in posh hotels, and he's trying desperately hard to sit quiet, and his head's going "don't mention Brexit, don't mention Boris, don't mention Brexit, don't mention Boris, don't mention Bo- AWP, D'OH! BORIS, BREXIT, and now it is comedy, he's bumped into the standing lamp and you're not quite sure what he's going to do next..."

She went on to describe the "over-vehement denial" from "the Trump that you know has more to say, and you're just waiting for it to land." All around the world.

Fox News useful idiot Tucker Carlson invites his viewers, "can any of these people actually tell you why Vladimir Putin is so bad? So bad! Okay, speak slowly so I can understand." He wanted to know what makes him worse than "I don't know, a whole long list of American allies?"

We're now in the "everybody hates us" phase, except Putin. Putin has to love what's going on, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—designed to contain Soviet (and German) aggression after World War II—is shaken to its core by a deadbeat whose strongest alliances have always been with criminals serving his own, private corruption. On the one hand, Putin might think "this is a man I can do business with," but on the other, the craziness won't be lost in translation. No one is ever quite sure what he's going to do next.

Julia Ioffe answered Carlson's question: the epic theft, corruption, murder, cult of personality, autocracy, invading neighbors thing. Which are... all those things Tucker likes about Homer, right? What are 13 or 14,000 dead Ukrainians to him? You can imagine Carlson on his next show asking "what was so 'great' about Abraham Lincoln, anyway?"

This morning, we're continuing with the process of impeachment, in the House Judiciary Committee, and the C-Span automatic transcription is being befuddled by the out-of-order Republican objections.


The Gentleman will suspend.

Which is not to say the mockery and derision will cease dripping off the curtains. Doug Collins is our new ranking clown car driver. "It's the same, sad story," indeed. But he's a lot more shouty than Devin Nunes. His line of argument is that Americans are going to be too confused about all this legal mumbo-jumbo.

"We're gonna see why most Americans don't go to law school. Please. Really?"

"What a disgrace to this committee," he winds up in the middle of his thundering dudgeon, demanding more fact witnesses, because he's pretending there aren't enough facts, yet? Defending "this gentleman," Collins preposterously shouts "He told the truth."

READ THE REPORT, DOUG. JUST THE TABLE OF CONTENTS, AT LEAST. There are ample facts for you to consider.


  1. The President Forced Out the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
  2. The President Put Giuliani and the Three Amigos in Charge of Ukraine Issues
  3. The President Froze Military Assistance to Ukraine
  4. The President’s Meeting with the Ukrainian President Was Conditioned on An Announcement of Investigations
  5. The President Asked the Ukrainian President to Interfere in the 2020 U.S. Election by Investigating the Bidens and 2016 Election Interference
  6. The President Wanted Ukraine to Announce the Investigations Publicly
  7. The President’s Conditioning of Military Assistance and a White House Meeting on Announcement of Investigations Raised Alarm
  8. The President’s Scheme Was Exposed


  1. Constitutional Authority for Congressional Oversight and Impeachment
  2. The President’s Categorical Refusal to Comply
  3. The President’s Refusal to Produce Any and All Subpoenaed Documents
  4. The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify
  5. The President’s Unsuccessful Attempts to Block Key Witnesses
  6. The President’s Intimidation of Witnesses

1.Dec.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The new crusaders Permalink to this item

Twenty-three years ago June, Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World had been on the NYT nonfiction best seller list for three weeks, and was up to no. 14. "The astronomer argues against beliefs that he fears are dangerously unscientific." His message failed to penetrate the cloud of epistemic bubbles that float over modern society. Gods and demons are just too handy to invoke to cover our tracks, or jab at our opponents. Peter Wehner, writing in The Atlantic, holds up son-of-Billy Franklin Graham, and a talk radio guy, Eric Metaxas, for their recent example of literally demonizing the opposition. The set-up trope was "some people [who] seem to exist to undermine the president of the United States." Graham said "well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying—" and Metaxas took exception to "almost."

"You know and I know, at the heart, it's a spiritual battle."

New snow today

Thus spake Zarathustra, I guess. You-know-who as the Chosen One, seriously? When that idea first came up (and how could he not take a shine to it), Trump jokingly repeated it. See how it played to the mob; if they responded well, he'd add it to the repertoire, just like "Drain The Swamp." We went back to more conventional outrages, and his impeachment for abuse of power, bribery and obstruction. Then this month, Rick Perry brought it back up as part of his swan song, but in a more generously Christian way than Graham and Metaxas. In Perry's estimation, nothing in the universe is accidental; God "is sill very active in the details of the day-to-day lives of government." No one gets to be POTUS "without being ordained by God."

Which is to say that God chose Barack Obama before the current fellow, probably just as well to get us out of the Great Recession and well into recovery before handing over the keys to grampa. Being "chosen" doesn't mean you're perfect, just that God uses the Electoral College to override the popular vote, as needed. At least it makes a more reasonable faith statement than the one Michele Bachmann coughed up in April, on her way to the End Times.

"[Trump] is highly biblical, and I would say to your listeners, we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime."

Two elections away from a solution Permalink to this item

The good news is, there's a smart way forward. The bad news is, we're not there yet. William Hsiao, healthcare economist and the guy who designed Taiwan's national health care system in the 1990s, "and helped manage that country’s transition from American-style employer-based insurance to a national single-payer system," on why:

"We’re not there yet because the common, average American is not educated yet and there is a lot of misinformation being directed at them. And you haven’t even seen the insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry come out yet with really well-organized campaigns against it. The private insurance industry’s annual revenue is $1.3 trillion. The pharmaceutical industry’s annual income is $400 billion."

There's enough profit in that to buy a lot of political manipulation, let alone advertising.

"They only have to use one-thousandth of 1 percent of their revenue to fight [this]. They can elect the key decision-makers in Congress, [the Senate and the House of Representatives because they can mobilize literally a billion dollars. And those powerful, wealthy, well-organized, vested interest groups have not come out openly yet. That’s the reality of American money, politics."

That's somewhat overstated. 0.001% of 1.7 trillion is a mere $17 million, the average income for 5 minutes, 15 seconds. A tenth of a percent of their revenue is most of $2 billion though. That goes a long way in Foggy Bottom. Hsiao's estimate of the US being "two elections" from recognizing the obvious seems optimistic, but we can hope. Business might lead the way, out of necessity, as costs outstrip their ability to pay for their employees' insurance.

"I think that most people who specialize in this field, the majority at least, think that single payer is the right solution because it’s much more efficient. You create a unified electronic record that can improve the quality of care and also give patients much better information about their history and their treatments."

My Facebook feed's possibly coincidental juxtaposition of another healthcare insurance story helps drive the point home: almost half of new cancer patients lose their entire life savings.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007