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New Years Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Help us help you Permalink to this item

It's the last day to make charitable donations deductible in 2016, and yes, that little bit of incentive makes a difference (since we'll be itemizing this year). Also the State of Idaho's more than a little 50% tax credit for educational institutions and likewise for certain other charities makes a difference as well, for the University of Idaho, the Boise Public Library! system, public radio and TV, the Idaho Youth Ranch, and more. So I found myself tracking down and working my way through almost a dozen web donation forms, with the primary goal of GIVING MONEY AWAY but you know, sensibly, and preferably connecting to our past record, so that we don't start getting multiple useless solicitations.

Since I'm also in the midst of another project designing a database-backed website with lots of forms users have to interact with, this amounts to a busman's holiday. The first or second form I encountered was one of the very best, and I started making a list of what I liked about it. Then as the morning wore on, my list got longer and more varied. Here are some of the best and worst.

Brilliant: little blue-green checkmarks at the right of input fields when what I've entered is (apparently) valid, and error icon/message attached to the bad input as need be, but not interfering with edit/re-do. Each checkmark a little blip of dopamine.

Edited screen shot from a pmt form

A simple, elegant, one-page form/process that looks like it's embedded on the organization's own site.

At the end of that one page, a gentle offer to bump up my contribution to cover the 3% credit card overhead. If I want to.

Provide for gift designation(s) up front, with effective search means for one not on the short list initially displayed.

Provide for a donation from the both of us. "It's not just me." If this is a membership organization, we'll both be members, right? (Also, we each have our own email address.)

If you provide for our membership number... and prefill the form? Or look me up by my email? That would be sweet.

Provide for an additional, unconstrained message. You're interested in whatever I might have to add, yes? It might be important, or friendly.

Do nothing to impede the way to Submit.

Offer opt-in to whatever future communications with the default setting NOT selected.

ZIP code can be 5 digits, 9 digits or xxxxx-xxxx and of course you know how to parse (and validate) any of those variants.

Credit card number accepted with or without spaces, and of course you know what type of card it is from the first four digits, so no need to ask me about that.

Confirmation page with all the necessary particulars, and a prompt emailed receipt.

Interesting: One form took my XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX-formatted paste and stripped the spaces out, how'd they do that? Even cooler is to take 16 digits and format it more readably, inserting the spaces automagically.

Not cool: Reject a valid number because you couldn't parse the spaces out. Truncate a 16+3 paste to 16, now 13 digits and three spaces, and call it a BAD NUMBER. Then fail on re-try because YOU DIDN'T SELECT WHICH TYPE OF CREDIT CARD (but I did, and your blasted form UNselected it on that error).

Meh: ask for my ZIP before my city, and then infer/pre-fill city/state. I'm pretty good at typing Boise, I (picks Idaho from select list), 83704 anymore. It's OK, but city/state/zip rolls off the fingers.

You're not trying very hard: Confirmation screen with no information about what I just did, just

Thank you for supporting
Your gift has been recorded successfully. Thank you for your support.

(How do I know my gift has been "recorded"? And given that I just authorized a payment, I want to know it has been received. At least they did get me an email receipt quickly.)

Not so good: Do not splashover "Sign up for our mailing list?" between me and the payment form. Do nothing to impede the way to Submit.


PLEASE DO NOT REQUIRE ME TO ENTER A PHONE NUMBER. I don't want to give it to you, and I probably don't want you to call me.

Do not give choices of "100% donation" (selected by default) that means you'll increase the amount I entered, or "97% donation" (because of CC overhead), and then reiterate my "97% donation" on the receipt. All 100% is coming out of my pocket, folks.

Weird: An "I AM NOT A ROBOT" Captcha, after I've given you all my information and credit card number. If robots have money, let 'em play!

Laughable: Donate form comes up with default amount $1000.

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

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... Permalink to this item

Phone picture from yesterday

Stumbled upon this entertaining (but too short!) video of "Perchten" monsters in Germany on the NYT's international feed, good old pagan solstice celebration of the goddess Perchta. As the local leader, Wolfgang Übelacker puts it, "with their dances, their stamping, the din and the singing, the Perchten want to wake up nature again." Apparently the monks have been complaining about this heathen gaiety cutting into church attendance since the 13th century, at least.

That's contrasted with the monstrous news of what could be a new Boxing Day tradition over here, giving "flash mobs" a bad name. Used to be some choir would break out in an operatic performance, now it's teenagers "running around, yelling and screaming and acting disorderly" at malls across America. (No reports I've seen of it being a masked brawl, but that can't be far behind.) It seems quintessentially American, the new new thing, and the perfect way to celebrate Donald Trump's ascent to his first elected office.

The PEOTUS did not take credit for the mayhem, but he has weighed in (on Twitter, no one knows how small your hands are) to thank himself for the current consumer confidence. ("Almost predictably" TheStreet put it. Talk about hedging your bets; almost?!) And for Sprint onshoring a few thousand jobs. (Did you know a Japanese bank has a controlling stake in the #2 mobile phone carrier? Or that investors are hoping T-Mobile will buy them out? Me neither.) And the stock market bump at the end of 8 years of an Obama bull market. And look there, the sun came up this morning! (ICYMI, the Dow was at 8,000 and change on inauguration day, 2009, bottomed out in early March of that year at 6,627. Just +97% from Election Day 2008 to E.D. 2016.)

From Center for Western Priorities PDF

In other end-of-term news, President Obama declared two new National Monuments, following "decades-long campaigns by members of Congress, tribes, local conservationists to protect areas of extraordinary cultural importance and natural beauty," as the Dept. of the Interior presser subhead puts it. For the Gold Butte monument, less than 100 miles outside Las Vegas, the Center for Western Priorities poll in May found that people in the state were overwhelmingly in favor of protecting Gold Butte; 71 to 11% among all voters, 78 to 5 among Democrats, and even 59 to 22% among Republicans. From the DOI:

"The new monuments protect approximately 1.64 million acres of existing federal land in two spectacular western landscapes – 1.35 million acres in Utah and nearly 300,000 acres in Nevada. Both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat. The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing. The monument designation also does not affect valid existing rights for oil, gas, and mining operations, military training operations, and utility corridors."

Note the word "authorized" in front of grazing there, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Bundy gang's seditious conspiracy in eastern Oregon, expanded from the 2014 Bunkerville standoff. Of course the "Bundy Ranch" weighed in on its Facebook page with a press release of their own. They have a sad, but not a surprise, that the president would "make our ranch and home a national monument" [sic]. Pretty sure they get to keep their house and watermelon farm, but the pestiferous feral cattle are going to have to go somewhere else.

"If any of this were really about protecting the land, you would come here, work with the local people who love this land, those who have a vested interest in this land, and take the time to learn what this land really needs. This is about control, pure and simple. You don’t love this land, you have never visited here, but you love being in control of this land. The problems we have had with federal land management have never been about cows, tortoises, or fees. It has always been about the constitutional limits on the federal government’s authority. While you enjoy a vacation in Hawaii we are here caring for this land and resisting federal overreach. Shame on you for undoing with your pen the good work we have done with our sweat for generations. We call on Attorney General Adam Laxalt to fight this to the fullest extent of the law!"

That would be the Nevada A.G., I suppose, who is not likely to answer this particular call anymore than he can bail out Cliven and his boys, awaiting federal trial and overdue justice for their 2014 wilding. Peter Walker dryly noted:

"Good point. Why didn't Obama just drop in for a chat at the Bundy Ranch? I mean, it's not like these folks reject federal authority, take over federal facilities with armed force, declare that the government should 'be scared,' and point guns at federal employees. Oh... wait..."

Boxing Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

It helps to have a sense of humor Permalink to this item

The caption under John Francis Peters' "this is perfect" photo for the NYT story wryly notes that "the idea that [Snopes'] work would slow down after the presidential election has proved unfounded."

Christmas day photo

It used to be about ludicrous urban legends, but now it seems to be approaching the status of a regulated public utility. (Not everyone believes in those, either.) Snopes is either "the last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery," or "a left-wing conspiracy whose real goal is to censor the right," which "therefore must be resisted at all costs."

"[T]he role of fake news and misinformation in Mr. Trump’s surprise win quickly reached a fever pitch, prompting questions about the extent to which Facebook, where many of these bogus stories were shared, had influenced the election. Reluctantly, the social media giant was forced to act.

"The plan is for Facebook to send questionable links to a coalition of fact-checking sites, including Snopes. If the links are found to be dubious, Facebook will alert users by marking stories with a “disputed” designation."

Given the demonstrated efficacy of fake news to elevate trumpery to new heights, there's no incentive to stop, and every incentive to turn it up to 11.

"The Snopes writers generally take a long-term perspective on fake news. The practice itself they see as ancient. The difference now is that the stories circulate faster and people can make money spreading them, which gives its purveyors a whole new motivation."

Make money fast, you might say. Snopes is making money too (via ads, naturally), but probably not as fast as less scrupulous purveyors. Some of those are featured in the other item that catches the eye this morning, Wielding Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Mainstream Media. Breitbart (don't call it News), the long-discredited but still laughing to the bank Rush Limbaugh, and Alex Jones are touched upon. And this:

“Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,” said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. “Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.”

Ziegler gets the last word, deservedly.

“Unfortunately, the truth is unpopular a lot. And a good fairy tale beats a harsh truth every time.”

Christmas Permanent URL to this day's entry

Money for nothing Permalink to this item

A few short letters in last week's NYT Magazine, prefaced with the synopsis that it was about "a nasty divorce, a fortune that disappeared and the depths of a hidden $21 trillion financial system" led me to this story. For middle-class citizens, an illustrated tweet-length comment put it, "this is like science fiction." Another letter deemed what was described as "an ugly display of amoral and inhuman behavior," but we have some history on that subject, and this seems all-too human. "That the money was ill gotten to begin with is just the start of a completely depraved system" is true enough.

Since I can't find the now three weeks-old print copy, I can't verify the droll observation that the jump was "to a page opposite the first of several expensive and slick pages of an advertising insert on luxury real estate in southern Florida," but we'll stipulate that, and "Congrats to the Times Magazine editors for either providing a new definition of chutzpah or having a great sense of irony."

The worst case, I suppose, is that it's just business as usual, and nobody at the magazine actually noticed while they were putting it together.

But speaking of the "the world of offshore finance, a place that the global elite has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and defend," where an "offshore archipelago" of shell companies and trusts float behind a cloaking shield of "anonymity guaranteed under the law, from Delaware to the Bahamas to the South Pacific," consider this “economic equivalent of an astrophysical black hole,” with "at least" 21 million million dollars.

$21 trillion. More than the annual gross domestic product of the United States, the story says. (Checking the BEA and its their press release from last week, after wading through the obsession with percent change, I see the annual run rate is up, "to a level of $18,675.3 billion." $19 trill, give or take.)

This one seamy divorce is not in the $trills of course, something less than half a $bil, but plenty interesting even if a bit petty ante. Nicholas Confessore's How to Hide $400 Million tries to track down gains ill-gotten from direct-mail promising credit cards to people with bad credit (but delivering nothing more than a list of banks), and going downhill from there. The cheated-upon wife does not turn out to be a sympathetic figure, either. But Oesterlund is definitely the bad guy, Middleton his "right-hand man," and Pursglove the wife. (Is it coincidence that the characters' surnames are halfway to Dickens?)

"When the opposing parties finally met in Florida court in April 2014, the room was overflowing. Oesterlund had sent his divorce lawyers. The companies had their own lawyers. There were lawyers for the banks. There were lawyers for the accountants. Even some of the lawyers had lawyers. ...

"A lawyer for Middleton did not reply to a request for comment. (When Fisher deposed him this past April, Middleton invoked his Fifth Amendment rights almost 300 times, including to the question of whether he had forged Pursglove’s signature.)...

"Early in the fall of 2014, Fisher printed out a copy of the Xacti organizational chart and taped it behind his desk. He ordered everyone in the office to keep a copy as well. Every time they found a new Oesterlund company, they would add it the chart, which came to resemble a convoluted treasure map."

Resemble? It was exactly a treasure map.

"In the Caribbean, there were shell companies with names like Paradise Liquidity I and Integrity Investment Holdings, formed by a Nevis holding company and then immediately transferred to Oesterlund’s Cook Islands trust. There was a second Cook Islands trust, also created in June 2013, right as the Florida attorney general began nosing around Oesterlund’s businesses again. There was $35 million or more in cash, in bank accounts in, among other places, Monaco, Luxembourg, Canada and the Bahamas."

The Cook Islands' attraction described earlier:

"[T]rusts organized in the Cook Islands, a self-governing state associated with New Zealand, are particularly difficult to investigate. Cook courts typically do not recognize American court orders, including divorce judgments. To sue a Cook trust, you have to actually fly to the Cook Islands, in the middle of the South Pacific, roughly 6,000 miles southwest of Florida. “It’s like Switzerland used to be, but squared,” Fisher told me. Once assets were hidden inside a Cook trust, he had learned, it was almost impossible to get them out."

Read it and weep for what sociopathy has wrought.

Measured work Permalink to this item

Truth be told, yesterday would have been a good day for an appropriate-sized machine, not as big as the one that plowed the two parking lots, but something. An ATV with a blade, maybe. There was a call for shovel volunteers, 5pm, just before the Christmas Eve service at church, and it would have been a fun gang, perhaps. Two others had already come and cleared off the interior walks around the building, and when I arrived, middle of the afternoon (which seemed like a better time to do it), those walks were nicely clean and wet, with the temperature inching above freezing. But the long, straight sidewalk along Garrett St. was deep in the 8" of snow, settling lower, heavy, wet. A couple of sets of footprints tracked on it, but when it had been light and fluffy and so not badly packed.

Shoveled sidewalk, no big deal

In other words, a good time to shovel.

I put my back to it, figured I would at least make an end-to-end path one shovel wide to prevent more hikers from packing the snow and making it icy/hard.

Maybe a little wider... five feet? The sidewalk's a bit more than that, but that's my standard, from the concrete sidewalks that surrounded my childhood home. 5 x 5, so I did that. Growing up, walking to school, I measured the length of my stride as it stretched to a reliable 5 ft. in two steps. I could count on it. When I finished, I walked the length of my work, and came up with 156 steps, 78 pairs, 39 times 10, call it 400 ft.

I grew up shoveling snow, and I didn't always enjoy it, but a good snow was an economic opportunity. After our own sidewalk and driveway was shoveled, I could go wildcat the neighbors, and see who would pay me to shovel theirs. Being a small kid was an advantage for pricing; sympathy raised the rate. The more snow there was, the longer it took, and the greater the sympathy. I remember $5 as a possibility, which (sorry if you've heard this before) was a lot of money back then. Years later, when I had a job at minimum wage, I made $1.60 an hour. $5 in 1963 was worth what $40 is today. A $5 job would've been an epic snowfall. One or two bucks was more usual, and coins mattered.

Anyway, those 5ft. square blocks of concrete, the sidewalk, were the smaller part of the job, because the lots were narrow. The wider, and inevitably longer driveways were the heavy lifting. Our driveway was a monster. Dad built the two-car garage of his dreams (and mine too; it had a great play loft) right to the required 4 or 5' setback at the back of the 140' lot. It must be more than 100' to shovel from curb to garage door. (Trees hide a chunk of it and half the garage on Google Maps at the moment, and the Milwaukee Co. Assessor's server is on holiday.) After the driveway squeezes by the house, it expands to two cars wide.

The lots were narrow, though. Looks like they're right at 40', just enough room for a tiny setback strip, a one-car driveway, and two bedrooms upstairs. Eight squares of sidewalk, 16 steps if there isn't 8" of snow to slow you down. My volunteer job yesterday was Wisconsin-caliber snow, and ten lots' worth of sidewalk. Not quite (because the corner lot is bigger), but almost, from our house all the way up to the corner.

Nice to know I've still got it in me.

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

Just another super massive supercluster up there Permalink to this item

Don't know BGR or the fellow who tweeted about this story, but a worthy blurb about the discovery of "a huge cluster of galaxies" heretofore obscured by "the huge clouds of dust and gas that exist in our home galaxy of the Milky Way," even if the clickbait about "Earth's backyard" in the headline is nonsensical. "[I]ts existence came as a surprise to even the most seasoned star gazers," and burying the lead (and link to the source) down in paragraph three:

“This is one of the biggest concentrations of galaxies in the Universe – possibly the biggest in the neighbourhood of our Galaxy, but that will need to be confirmed by further study,” said Matthew Colless, Professor at ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics said of the discovery.

Thomas Jarrett (UCT) image

The link is to the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik. In that, we read that the discovery might tidy up some observed anomalies:

"The gravitational attraction from this large mass concentration in our cosmic neighbourhood may have an important effect on the motion of our Local Group of galaxies including the Milky Way. It may also help to explain the direction and amplitude of the Local Group’s peculiar velocity with respect to the Cosmic Microwave Background."

And thanks to the European Southern Observatory, you can enjoy an original, 1280 x 1240px image on Flikr without the annoying warp-zoom effect done for the BGR post, even if there is no actual caption information. It's mind-boggling, even if it's just more BGR clickbait, leveraging the Creative Commons licensing from ESO. Looking... through ESO's Top 10 Astronomical Discoveries ("so far"), it's not there. The nebulae image collection is a fun place to browse, though. (Didn't stumble upon the image in question, however.)

Sometimes what you can't see is more remarkable than what you can. Too bad I don't have the means to enjoy the 73MB original of A Hole in the Sky (let alone what's behind it). Meanwhile, there's plenty more to do at the MPE:

"Follow-up observations are needed to unveil the full extent, mass, and influence of the Vela supercluster. So far this region of the sky is sparsely sampled, while the part closest to the Milky Way has not been probed because dense star and dust layers block our view. Planned observations with the new radio astronomical facility MeerKAT will in particular help to map this obscured region and further optical redshifts will be obtained with the new large-field-of-view multiobject-spectrograph, Taipan, from Australia."

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

Onward Christian soldiers Permalink to this item

Photo taken today

Whatever he was or was not, there's no disputing that Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a literary genius. Just as success has many fathers, there are various groups willing to claim Dickens as their own long after he can lodge any protest. It comes as surprise news that Christians imagine he's one of theirs; my adopted tradition says he was unequivocally Unitarian. And even more relevant for the moment, that his novels reflected the central ideas of 19th century Unitarianism. From the year-ago UU World: Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion. A Christmas Carol, we're told, was written shortly after Dickens joined a Unitarian church," and the one of his works "most representative of his Unitarian beliefs."

"All Dickens’s novels reflect the central ideas of nineteenth-century Unitarianism: the belief that Jesus was a human being who exemplified a truly religious life; the rejection of materialism and the doctrine of necessity; the rejection of a God of stern judgment; a disdain of theological controversy; the rejection of dogma; an inclusive rather than an exclusive religion; and an emphasis on doing good works."

Yes, "Christmas" was there in the title (and very good for its sales, I'm sure), but Jesus did not factor into the story in any way, shape, or form, other than having a birthday (observed).

It's hard to know how to classify the story that Breitbart's fake news and propaganda organization and so-called Fox News took upon themselves to impress Centerville Elementary School's non-drama into its latest episode of the war on Christmas. To read that a Jewish family was blamed for the cancellation of a school play, and as a precaution, "pulled their child out of school and headed out of the area for a bit" is horrific, at least.

Don't these people have anything better to do? Don't their advertisers have any sense, or shame?

Dottore molto famoso Permalink to this item

In perhaps the last act of his professional career, Ike Swetlitz, reporting for STAT ("fast, deep, and tough-minded journalism" from "inside science labs and hospitals, biotech boardrooms, and political backrooms") provides more of the most excellent wit and wisdom of Dr. Harold Bornstein, a.k.a. "Trump's Doctor," from three hours' worth of interview.

He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

As best I recall, no, "they" did not share that one with us. But it seems like it would have been a good idea for us to know. The good news about presidential health in general is that

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

(Fun fact: even with a bench deep enough to fill both sides of a baseball game, we've never gone past Veeps. Nine of those have been promoted on death or resignation of the boss, and two have served temporarily as acting President.)

In spite of the comedic aspects (and that picture from NBC News which keeps coming back, such as on the Yahoo! News bit linking to STAT), it's actually a pretty friendly, generous portrait of the guy. There are worse things to be than quirky.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Winner take all Permalink to this item

The tagline above Tina Nguyen's piece for Vanity Fair, "Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America," is You Are What You Eat, which seems about right. I'd heard (and tweeted, didn't I?) about the Trump Grill(e)ing, but hadn't read the whole thing until this morning, after it was meta-featured in Columbia Journalism Review (h/t to Twitter's "news highlights" [sic], no less).

You should read the CJR piece first; Ms. Nguyen's piece is a very tough act to follow. We know the sublime rarely provokes great art; enlightenment and satisfaction, that "Happiness" our founding fathers and mothers made it possible for us to pursue is all the same, all One, the Dr. Bronner's label of literature. Whereas the vast unhappy family that is America at the end of 2016 has myriad opportunities for provocatory inspiration.

Photo today

The "good" "news" in CJR is that in spite of the obvious-in-retrospect tweeted contempt from the Big Man himself (protecting his brand, that's all), the writer has not yet been doxxed, and said the threats she feared have not materialized. She's a little sheepish about what seems outsized praise "for someone who has strong opinions about burgers and eating eyeballs."

First there was super-sizing, now we'll have out-sizing. At least the foreboding behind the lead-up to the companion piece by Dana Priest, eight steps reporters should take before Trump assumes office, evaporated. It's not about protection against malicious trolls, but about all the work journalists have to do. Right after dinner, and Tums cake, and brushing your teeth twice.

Back in the tower, surrounded by too many gawkers, too much gold trim, too many mirrors making the place look larger than it is, and "sitting at a wobbly overflow table outside the restaurant," we are all facing flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings presented as something made special by gaudy window dressing. The ornate frames of "generic scenes of pastoral life and cuckoldry inside" capture both the Greatness we have been invited to aspire to ("again") and the baroque promotion of banality to nobility.

Billionaires and retired generals (who Donald Trump knows more than) are going to be running the country, greatly, bigly. We are going to have So Much Winning.

Here comes pseudo-economist Lawrence Kudlow to head the Council on Economic Advisors, for example, because we Just Haven't Tried Supply-Side Economics hard enough yet. Déjà vu, and not in a good way. This takes confirmation bias to a new level, the high art of new millennium economic cuckoldry coming our way.

"Kudlow’s core doctrine is that upper-bracket tax rates are the primary driver of economic growth, and that even minor changes in the level of taxation on the rich have enormous consequences on growth. In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31% to 39.6%, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that Presdient Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases…will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000."

Links in the Jonathan Chait's original for New York magazine, and of course, there's more, more, more.

“The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points,” he predicted in 2002. ...

"He began to insist that the housing bubble that was forming was a hallucination imagined by Bush’s liberal critics who refused to appreciate the magic of the Bush boom."

Nothing describes the 2001-2009 economic trajectory quite like "Bush boom."

"...Kudlow’s crank theories have a key advantage over the crank theories propounded by, say, the Jim Jones cult: They confer massive windfall benefits upon society’s richest individuals. His unwavering fealty to supply-side theology is the very characteristic that proves his ideological bona fides and qualifies him to give Trump advice — and the content of Kudlow’s advice can be known in advance with absolute certainty, and it will not waver no matter what happens in the world. And so, even in the face of failure after failure, Kudlow has retained his place in Republican politics, and the Republican Party is as devoted as ever to its doctrine of upper-class tax reduction. The sales pitch may change, and other aspects of the product may change, too, but the core strategy never does. If you put Republicans in office, the Kudlows of the world will be designing their policy agenda, and the agenda will be designed around lower taxes for rich people. And Kudlow will insist it worked."

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

War on Christmas Permalink to this item

Noticed this disclaimer on NPR's story about the attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin:

"This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops."

I appreciate that, and NPR's credibility as a trustworthy source of information. The number of people reported dead (12), and wounded (48) is one of those things that takes a while to learn, even as the precise number does not measure the enormity of another act of terrorism. Does it matter whether (or how) the person driving the truck into a crowd was mentally ill? It will matter in German politics that he was, or was not an asylum-seeker from Pakistan.

It will matter for the tens of millions of refugees around the world. One act (or another) will be used to conveniently categorize them all as a threat, a reason to build higher fences, a reason to just say no, no, no to the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We are no longer interested in the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; we have quite enough of our own, it seems.

With apologies to Emma Lazarus.

Still searching for intelligent life Permalink to this item

Carolyn Porco remembered that it was 20 years ago today that Carl Sagan left us, and posted this, on her Facebook page:

"[H]is death came as incredible shock. I cried when I learned the news. He was a gigantic figure in our world, and an inherently kind and respectful person, someone with whom I had the pleasure of conversing about science and life, from my days as an undergraduate to the very end. I knew I would miss him and his wisdom."

Her 1999 review of a (forgettable, in her telling) biography is still on the Guardian's site, and stands as a beautiful eulogy for a brilliant and inspirational scientist, the "Pied Piper of the Space Age": First reach for the stars.


Election Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

No more rules Permalink to this item

Many hours later, I finally saw a lead on Twitter that prompted me to go back to the page for today's episode of the Diane Rehm Show and find out what it was that Newt Gingrich had said that the other guests were responding to, before the breaking news interrupted.

The former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was on the show, and had just fired for a lot more effect than a Turkish assassin. From the transcript of his time on the show:

REHM: You've said we shouldn't be surprised about the possible conflicts of interest we're discussing here today. How come?

GINGRICH: Well I think for two very different reasons. First, you have somebody who is a billionaire, and we have not really dealt with this relative scale of wealth in the White House in some ways since George Washington, who may have been the wealthiest man in the colonies. So historically this is an unusual amount of economic interest and virtually impossible to isolate.

I mean, you can't say that Trump Tower is not the Trump Tower or the Trump hotel is not the Trump hotel, and you can't say that the kids who run it aren't his children. So you go through all -- you can do contortions, but the fact is these are facts, and they're obvious. Second, the -- it's [an] interesting story. The whole anti-nepotism thing is Lyndon Johnson's reaction to Bobby Kennedy ... [I]t was a very narrowly focused bill really in reaction to a particular personality thing.

Prior to I think it was 1964 ... no one ever worried about it. I mean, it wasn't something which came up. ... [The president] has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon. I mean, it is a totally open power, and he could simply say look, I want them to be my advisors, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period. And technically under the Constitution he has that level of authority.

Pause for just a moment here, and never mind Rehm's measured interjection that this "strikes me as rather broad and perhaps ought to be in the hands of the Congress rather than within his own hands, Mr. Speaker."

Gingrich is saying that the president can give permission to anyone in his administration to do whatever he likes, and if it's against the law just issue a pardon. Why not? That rumbling you're hearing is the founding fathers rolling over in their graves. But wait! Professor Gingrich can speak for them, too.

GINGRICH: Well the founding fathers deliberately granted the president unequivocal ability to pardon, and they did so in reaction to the British use of going back after people legally and persecuting them by changing the law after they had done something. So there was a very deep sense that you had to fear government and that government could be the enemy, and the founding fathers were walking this tightrope.

(He's a history professor, not a lawyer? Coincidentally, the issue of changing the law after the fact, a bill of attainder, is addressed in the same Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution that comprises the emoluments clause we're all learning about.)

GINGRICH: They wanted a government strong enough that it could defend America against foreigners, but they wanted a government controlled enough that it wouldn't threaten Americans, and that's part of what this balance of power is. And if you read the Federalist Papers, they were quite what they were doing and why they were doing it.

REHM: On the campaign trail, did you talk with voters about this? I mean, did they simply say whatever his financial arrangements are is fine with me?

GINGRICH: Well I think it was -- I didn't walk around and ask them about it, but I think it was pretty clear that he was a billionaire. I mean, he said it all the time, his opponents said it all the time. And I think that there was a general sense that the president, you know, had the ability -- that this was going to be a billionaire presidency. I mean, it's not -- I don't think anybody who voted for him was not aware that he was a very, very successful businessman.

REHM: On the other hand, is there any role for the Congress to play here?

GINGRICH: Well sure. I mean, I think first of all the Congress always can hold hearings and can examine any kind of, you know, any kind of conflict of interest. I think second, the Congress can try to figure out how do you do this. My point is we have never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work, and we're going to have to think up, you know, a whole new approach.

I've suggested that people who are widely respected, like Attorney General Mukasey, might -- that the president-elect might want to form a panel who are sort of a review group, if that makes sense, and that the panel would monitor regularly what was going on and would offer warnings if they get too close to the edge. I think it's a -- you know, it's a very real problem. I don't think this is something minor. And I think certainly in an age when people are convinced that government corruption is widespread both in the United States and around the world, you can't just shrug and walk off from it. It's an issue that we have to think through, and we have to find a solution for.

REHM: What about the Emoluments Clause and all these business interests that Mr. Trump has around the world?

GINGRICH: Well, the Emoluments Clause is a very real concern. What it would suggest is that the president could not take any kind of -- although it says they can take things with the specific, explicit approval of the Congress. That's the only circumstance under which they can be involved in accepting things from foreigners. And of course it was designed to avoid the very real danger of foreign governments trying to bribe Americans. So I think it's a very real challenge.

REHM: So it sounds as though, Mr. Speaker, you are saying the Congress is going to have a very busy time in the next few months.

GINGRICH: Oh absolutely, and I think they should. I mean, look, I think that legitimately we have to -- we have to wrestle with this question that we've never had anybody quite like this.

REHM: I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank you, Newt Gingrich.

James Thurber, professor and director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University; author of "Obama in Office: The First Two Years"; co-editor with Antoine Yoshinaka of "American Gridlock: The Sources, Character and Impact of Political Polarization" responded:

"Well, Speaker Gingrich's statement that wealth trumps the rule of law -- basically, that's what he was saying -- is jaw-dropping. I can't believe it. He's a historian. He should also know that we did not want to have a king. And a king, in this case, is somebody with a lot of money that cannot abide by the rule of law. You know, Newt Gingrich, in 1995, when he took over the House of Representatives, he was Speaker, he pushed through many provision that if they were applied to this president I'm not sure he could take office. The anti-nepotism rule, lots of conflict of interests, definitions, it was quite something in 1995. And I think he's forgotten about that."

Another of Rehm's guests, Richard W. Painter, professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007 under the George W. Bush administration noted that "There is no billionaire exception in the Constitution of the United States."

I'm afraid we're out of time.

Waxing nostalgic Permalink to this item

ICYMI, two absolute gems from The Daily Show, starting with the happier of the two: The sit-down with Trevor Noah and President Barack Obama.

Number two (no pun intended) is the "Fresh off the Gloat" segment two days later, featuring "Truth Trump" on the post-campaign trail. Now that he's got the prize he was after, Trump is not even bothering to pretend he was sincere for his rally audiences. Lock Her Up?

"Forget it. That plays great before the election, noooow, we don't care, right?"

Drain the swamp?

It's "funny how that term caught on," it seemed hokey to him at first, "then I started saying it like I meant it."

Noah: "You can feel the audience going... 'are we in on this?'"


Breaking Permalink to this item

Very start-of-WW I vibe today, Russia's ambassador to Turkey assassinated in Ankara. Growing up in the 60s, WW II got all the attention, and WW I was ancient history. Was Russia on our side back then? Wikipedia says yup, and it was the "Russian Empire" back then. The Empire was overthrown "by the short-lived liberal February Revolution in 1917," which was before the U.S. had joined the fray, declaring war on Germany in April, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in December of that year.

It was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo that kicked things off back in the day.

"The Austrian Empire followed with an attack on the Serbian ally Montenegro on 8 August. On the Western Front, the two neutral States of Belgium and Luxembourg were immediately occupied by German troops as part of the German Schlieffen Plan.

"...Luxembourg chose to capitulate, and was viewed as a collaborationist state by the Entente powers: Luxembourg never became part of the Allies, and only narrowly avoided Belgium's efforts of annexation, at the conclusion of hostilities in 1919. On 23 August Japan joined the Entente, which then counted seven members. The entrance of the British Empire brought Nepal into the war.

"On 23 May 1915, Italy entered the war on the Entente side and declared war on Austria; previously, Italy had been a member of the Triple Alliance but had remained neutral since the beginning of the conflict. In 1916, Montenegro capitulated and left the Entente, and two nations joined, Portugal and Romania."

Saturday Night Live sendup

All of that confusion and killing years before the U.S. was at war, and how could history matter if the U.S. wasn't the lead actor?

Now we have Turkey, and Russia, and Syria, all foreign, distant places with alphabets we can't hardly read, and foreign languages, and none of them in the G7, more confusion and killing, and we're friends—best friends?—with Росси́я, whether or not we can spell their name.

And in meta-news... we were listening to this morning's Diane Rehm Show when that breaking news was interjected, and the obvious association occurred to one of her guests same as it had to me. I tweeted the CNN report (with video and still images of the assassin), and learned what it's like to be slightly popular in that medium. All sorts of people I don't know retweeted my short comment and the link to CNN, a few adding comments of their own. (One less than affirmational reply: "bullshit"; what is that supposed to mean? And what if dozens or hundreds of people got nasty at me for a terse comment and hyperlink?)

At a minimum, it's time to disconnect the ridiculous variety of Twitter email notifications configured by default.

Pins and needles Permalink to this item

Today's the day the Electoral College gets "together"... in 51 separate locations. "Typically at the capitol," which would be The Capitol for the three from D.C.? They cast two votes each, one for president, and one for vice-president, and

"They will then prepare what is called a “certificate of vote” with the results, which is then mailed or delivered via courier to the National Archives, where it becomes part of the nation’s official records, and to Congress."

Yeah, that's right, mailed. Or by courier. (On horseback? Bicycle? UPS? FedEx? A State official with a briefcase handcuffed to his or her wrist on an airplane?)

Then on the Feast of the Epiphany, no less, Friday, January 6th, 2017 Anno Domini, at 1 pm Eastern Time, members of the House and Senate—the new Congress, just sworn in three days prior—will meet in the House to count the votes. Still Vice President and President of the Senate Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to preside over the count, "during which every state’s vote is opened and announced in alphabetical order."

Somebody's surely done the math and determined which state will put Donald over the top, if the Electors follow their nominal script. And if they don't, who's next in line, and next...

But are the 51 gatherings secret ballots? I wouldn't think so. Checking on our local crew, I see Kimberly Kruesi's report for the AP says whoever shows up to be our hodge-podge foursome meets at high noon, "in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office, on the second floor of the Idaho Capitol in Boise. The event is open to the public." Just downtown; if there were an element of suspense to the vote here, I would go watch.

There is that one thing whereby half our college class was disqualified, and the remaining two electors having to vote in replacements. With that remedial round, it'll be three votes to cast in our state, not just two. That'll be exciting.

At any rate, I guess we'll hear before the end of how many Trump-designated Electors have jumped ship, and whether or not the United States of America has jumped the shark.

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

Not so cheap high Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan's latest op-ed is tightly polished, on the bad habit we can't seem to kick: The Narcotic of Trump. It was the next thing I wanted to fetch off of when we ran into the paywall just now, our "friends and family" subscription run out. I didn't last 24 hours without my usual fix, and for the first time since they tried their partial paywall (for the columnists, mostly, a decade ago?), we're now helping fund the gray lady again. Real news matters more than ever.

Is it really all about the dopamine? If so, we could be in big trouble.

"[H]is 17.3 million followers wake up every day eager for a shot of unfiltered Trump. It’s a dangerous codependency. “Saturday Night Live”? “Unwatchable!” Vanity Fair, after a scathing review of a Trump restaurant? “Dead!” The slaughter of civilians in the ancient city of Aleppo? Nothing. The real-world consequences of weaponized hatred are no concern for a man with a shameful incuriosity and a profound lack of empathy."

Excerpt of graph of Russia's market from the Forbes contributor

It's almost too breezy and too easy talking about this while the actual slaughter continues. As do the plans for the looting back here. While we are mesmerized by the "showmanship and cheap drama, put-downs and promises — the stagecraft of the world’s most powerful narcissist," we are ready for the "oil oligarchs, climate change deniers and Goldman Sachs tycoons brought in to do the real work."

"The Koch brothers didn’t support Trump. But they got their dream team of hold-back-the-clock fossil fools and corporate sycophants. The bullet-headed nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, is against expanding the minimum wage for all the poor souls who voted for Trump. The Energy Department nominee, Rick Perry, vowed to eliminate that very agency. And he sits on the board of the pipeline company that wants to carry oil directly under a tribal water supply in North Dakota."

And speaking of dopamine, if you're riding the post-election Trump bump in the U.S. stock market, you should see what the Russians are getting for Christmas! If you're working for wages on the other hand, well maybe there will be some clean coal in your stockings.

When you need a tire Permalink to this item

It wasn't as much brand loyalty, as the original deal: a convenient store, and a chain of affiliates around the region where we drive. Tires, and snow tires that they'd swap out for free once a year. Flat repair we hardly ever need. (Except... those two times on Seven Devils Road, and no Les Schwab in the neighborhood. The Riggins Chevron is nice.)

The semi-annual pitch for "gee, you should get some other work done on your car and we could do it today" was just one of those bad jokes your crazy relative tries too many times. We've got a mechanic we trust for that kind of stuff. (Who, it turns out, did not have a high opinion of the "you should get some work done" joke, either.)

When the snow came earlier this month, I weighed the inconvenience and annoyance of waiting at the store for possibly hours, against the convenience of having them do the work, and decided to just change the tires myself. Good to be reminded why it's nice to have someone else do that manual labor, once in a while. But then that wobble in the front end, oh right right right (or right left right, ha ha) that had started just before summer tire time, the mechanic said "feels like a tire," and sure enough when we put on the others. Then out of mind all summer and fall.

Took it to the closest Les Schwab to get their professional assessment, as it were, and one of our good summer tires thinking we could just limp along with that, but no, they won't mix regular and snow tires, which I guess is a good idea. After waiting most of an hour, an impossibly young tire jockey called me to the front desk to say that the balance was good, and he didn't find any leaks, and whaaaat? Apparently my very specific description of symptoms got garbled in transmission. "It's not a balance problem," I said, describing the symptom again, "and I didn't say anything about a flat. You could have felt it just going from where it was parked into the bay." "Well I didn't feel anything," he said, a little too proudly. "We could take it for a drive..."

And this gem: "Snow tires are only good for two or three seasons." That was news to me, discussing 15 year-old tires that had been fine for almost 14 of those.

The test drive turned out to be with a more-experienced and less-annoying guy, halfway around the parking lot was plenty and obviously, it was a bad tire, and we really ought to get a whole new set, never mind that these didn't have 14,000 miles on 'em (or that three were still OK), they're 15 years old. They had some replacements in stock—just 4 left!—and "they're the same model you had," which didn't seem like a great sales pitch just that moment.

One of the new tires, and snow

Fifteen years of price ups, it would all be... $560 and change. Crap, did I even want to put that much money in this beater? (It's old enough to drink now, even though still on its first 100k miles.) Let me think on that... and shop around. Big O, also in the neighborhood has a website that wasn't too annoying or dependent on scripting, but inevitably about "what's the phone number." I called, they had one choice for $520, anything cheaper? Here's a set for $408. No point in getting "high mileage" tires if they're going to age out instead, let's do that. They could have them there inside an hour or so. He called back way sooner than that, I drive over after lunch.

At the store I notice the showroom is full of tires, and... one chair, huh. No popcorn, no free coffee, no TV, newspapers, magazines. But I brought a book, and no one was in the chair, so I made myself comfortable. Oh, there's my car on the lift already. And oh, it's done. That was quick, and the bill was $359.09. $200 less than Les Schwab offered.

Go Big O, and let it snow.

16.Dec.16 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Golden rallies Permalink to this item

My reliably extreme Conservative HQ daily headlines have not lightened up since Trump's surprise semi-win. There is still some Obama administration to go after all, and (not that they've been crowned, but still) uneasy sits the crown. Earlier this week: "Attorney General Loretta Lynch And The Suicidal Demand For “Tolerance” Of Islam"; "Should Hillary be Prosecuted — VOTE HERE" (a click-bait ad); "Transition to Trump: Conservatives prepare for confirmation battles"; "Hacks Of Democrats Were A Public Service Not A Disinformation Campaign"; "Transition to Trump: Tillerson for State Trump’s boldest choice yet"; "Today Turkey is More Foe than Friend of America" "Trump’s Administration Is [sic] More Conservative Than Reagan’s"; "The Mental Dismemberment of Children: Part Two"; "Russia Meddles in Our Elections — But the ‘Hacking’ Claim Is a Farce"; "How Populism Can Rejuvenate American Conservatism’s Ideas"; "The Mad Search for Pro-Trump Columnists"; "Judge Napolitano: Election Fraud in Detroit Looks 'Organized, and Government Involved'"; "What's Trump up to on foreign policy?" "Media Research Center Launches ‘Save the Snowflakes’ Campaign"; and on and on.

I took the clickbait so you don't have to on Trump Just Shared These 11 Words of Warning for the USD and Gold to see that GOLD AND SILVER baby, it's the way to go. There's even an IRS "Loophole" to move your IRA or 401k to Gold. (I did not take the second level clickbait on for the "It's FREE" kit they want to give me.)

But the lead, on the day after the surprising post-election stock market rally chilled a bit on the news from the Federal Reserve's move, and perhaps a bit of vertigo from the DJIA approaching 20,000, was Obama’s Fed Stifles Trump Market Rally And Economic Recovery Plans.

The "plans" were to have a stock market rally? On top of the +60% we've enjoyed over the last ten years? (Or +200% since the March, 2009 nadir.) Also, if you're putting everything in silver and gold, why should you even care? Higher interest rates and inflation would be "a good thing." Anyway, post-market-move prognosticators telling you why something happened are a dime a dozen and the nonprovability of any hypothesis gives them a perfect track record.

There is always an explanation. And if you've got a political bent, why not make it conspiratorial? It's not just "Obama’s Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen" that's the problem, either: the 10 Fed governors voted unanimously to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 to 3/4 percent, thanks to ample good news:

"[T]he labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace since mid-year. Job gains have been solid in recent months and the unemployment rate has declined. Household spending has been rising moderately but business fixed investment has remained soft. Inflation has increased since earlier this year but is still below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and in prices of non-energy imports."

The CHQ staff correctly reports that "This is only the second time in a decade that the Fed has raised rates, which it kept at near zero throughout the Obama presidency." Did, uh, anything else happen in the last decade? In December, 2006, the Fed Funds Target Rate stood at 5.25%. In the following year, it was lowered three times, to 4.75% in Sept. 2007, 4.5% in October, 4.25% in December, and then twice in January, 2008, to 3.5%, and 3.0%. By Election Day in 2008 it was down to 1.0% as the global financial system was cratering, and eight years ago today, it was brought to 0–0.25%, just about as low as you can go. (Similar rates have gone negative in other countries, but not ours.) A year ago today, it was nudged up to 0.25–0.5%, after 7 straight years at rock bottom.

Fed Funds Effective Rate, 1986-2016

The effective rate (shown above) is what actually happened after the Federal Reserve's attempts to stimulate and soothe the economy, by turns, to manage inflation in the Goldilocks zone. Not too much, not too little. The global economy has just had a 8 year course of the danger of deflation, even if the U.S. was spared most of the worst of it. (Shorter: deflation is worse than modest inflation.) Oh, and what Steve Bannon had to say to the Hollywood Reporter, that's kind of a crazy postscript if you're looking to position yourself as the voice of reason, which, ok, you weren't.

ICYMI, here's what the Dow Jones Industrial Average has done during Obama's time in office. No wonder the gold bugs hate him so much. After the wild early years (which were also great for sales of guns and ammo, and presumably whiskey), gold fever has chilled down to a measly twenty-something percent for the two terms. 2 or 3% a year is better than a savings account, but it ain't 12%/year by a long shot.

DJIA and SPDR Gold Trust from Jan. 2009 to date, charted by Google

E.C. kerfuffle Permalink to this item

If you voted here in Idaho, you would have noticed that under the names of presidential and vice-presidential candidates, there were lists of four electors for each. Three days from the momentous vote that the electors from the various states will get together and actually elect our next president (if they can, and if not, pass the job on to the House of Representatives), this bizarre news story in the local paper: Two Idaho Electoral College electors are to be replaced, because they work for the federal government, and—who knew?—federal workers are barred from serving. You could look it up, in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution:

"[N]o Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector."

Turns out that two of the four that Idaho appointed by action of the Nov. 8 ballot were not actually eligible, and someone noticed. The Secretary of State, pretty much our Responsible Person brought it up, and told the Statesman “We said you need to check this out and see what you think. We’ll leave it up to you.”

We'll leave it up to you?! What the hell?

State GOP Chairman Stephen Yates, has an even less useful opinion than that, and ok, no actual formal role in any of this process. Well, except for actually “put[ting] forward the names of four electors,” half of whom are not qualified. It's in the hands of the Secretary, who's "leaving it up to you," without it being apparent which "you" he's talking about.

What Yates added: “No one can know for sure who will or will not show up until the appointed time.”

That's a bit more generic (and incredible) than the newspaper story, which says that Layne Bangerter of Melba, the chair of Trump’s campaign for Idaho, and who works for Sen. Mike Crapo, will be replaced by Rod Beck; and Melinda Smyser of Parma, who works for the other Idaho Senator will be replaced by her husband, Skip Smyser. That is, if the other two electors agree.

"Per state law, their fellow electors, Caleb Lakey of Kuna and Jennifer Locke of Coeur d’Alene, will vote on their replacements Monday. They meet at noon in the governor’s Capitol office."

And after those two people vote in the other half of Idaho's electors, they get to vote for president and vice-president. Maybe some founding fathers envisioned it working just this way. Is this a great country, or what?

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

Party of cant Permalink to this item

Spotted in the spam bucket, and while it could have been flushed, I think it's worth watching the opposition messaging and fundraising. So, this, pretending to be from the Speaker of the House, but in fact from Team Ryan, which is "a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Ryan for Congress, Inc., Prosperity Action, Inc., and the NRCC." Pretending to be about a "survey," but of course it's the econonomy, stupid. "Friend," it addresses me.

"Here’s what I want you to know: Because of the hard work of Republicans like you, we finally have a chance to put our country back on the right track.

"Your donations, your efforts to get out the vote, and your support on Election Day for Republicans up and down the ticket are the reasons we can turn our ideas into action in 2017.

"We have so much to do. For the last 8 years, the Democrats in Washington have been moving our country in the wrong direction. Their big government, top-down policies have left us a big mess to clean up.

This is a man enjoying an amnesia of convenience. He lived through the 2008 financial meltdown with the rest of us. He knows full well what a big mess to clean up looks like. He and Mitt Romney ran on that program back in 2012 and didn't get it done. Four years on, we're four years better off. Significantly lower unemployment, significantly higher markets, more people with healthcare insurance, and hey, Republican politicians are all doing better than ever, tirelessly marketing doom and gloom and bald-faced lies, as they get ready to make America great—even greater—for the 1%.

He's coooked up a $3 trillion care package for the people who need it least, funded by expanding the deficit. By $3 trillion, coincidentally.

Meanwhile, back in Mr. Ryan's home state, what does the Governor have to say about the big mess they're in?

The future's so bright in WI: more people are employed in 2016 than ever before, % of people working one of the highest in the country.

— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) December 16, 2016

Thanks, Obama.

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

Abnormality of the day Permalink to this item

Christina Wilkie's tweeted photos of the mostly white, male tech CEOs meeting with the PEOTUS made me think of one of those jolly "how many things can you find wrong in this picture" games.

Photo of tech CEOs meeting in Trump Tower, scraped off Twitter

Here are the ones I spotted:

1. The cheesy "President Elect Donald J. Trump" logo on the display (and all the name placards). (Is he going to put "Trump" on the Presidential Seal, too?)

2. The twin flags, not lending twice the patriotism to the atmosphere.

3. Jeff Bezos.

4. Donald J. Trump.

5. A bottle of water for every participant? Please.

6. The three children cum business associates of Donald J. Trump, not pretending to cover their eyes to avoid conflicts of interest.

Five days until the election Permalink to this item

December 19 is shaping up to be potentially momentous. Brian Beutler says The Electoral College Should Do What It Wants. We've learned, he says, that

"Trump is highly sensitive about the fact that he lost the popular vote by a margin of millions, and his Electoral College margin is historically low. He and his supporters want to claim a mandate, and feel threatened by the awareness that he will preside over a term of minority rule.

"Thinning that electoral majority even further, through GOP protest votes, would be a small but useful public testament to both his unfitness for office and the lack of public confidence in his ascent to power."

He doesn't think the E.C. is going "to make some random person president," just send a message. Worst case, throw it to the House, and... do you suppose they would be brave enough to not install Trump? We've seen a lot of House members (Idaho's Raúl Labrador among them, although he's apparently gung-ho for Trump, especially if he might get an Apprentice position) willing to sabotage whatever. This would be the main chance for a lot of them.

Given the run of abnormality we have going, "the greatest show of Electoral College rebelliousness in U.S. history" sounds about right.

Jonathan Chait, on the other hand, says we should fight Donald Trump with normal politics (never mind that none of that has worked yet) "not crazy Electoral College schemes." "Denying Trump the presidency through an Electoral College coup is not a procedurally legitimate response," Chait says, because our presidential election is "quasi-democratic."

The quasitude is what brings queasitude.

But Chait argues that changing the popular/state-wise election result is a "hopeless and questionable tactic," and we should instead be talking about "protection and engagement of normal politics." "Protecting normal politics means securing space for traditional opposition methods," as opposed to the "alarmingly authoritarian style" of Donald Trump. "The task at the moment is to build up and defend democratic institutions."

"[E]ngaging normal politics means fighting Trump like a normal opposition party. For all its control of the levers of power, the GOP is extraordinarily vulnerable to a popular backlash. Trump enters office with the lowest support of any recent president, by a huge margin. During their honeymoon periods, Trump’s predecessors have all enjoyed high favorability, from George W. Bush (+27) to Bill Clinton (+40) to Barack Obama (+64.) Trump sits at an incredible -21 right now. And this is before he has done anything to try to carry out his (mostly ludicrous) promises.

From the Pew Research Center report

Minus 21%?! Halfway down the first section of the Pew Research Center report from Dec. 8, Low Approval of Trump’s Transition but Outlook for His Presidency Improves, after the lower overall (and most partisan variance in) approval and enthusiasm during transition, a surprising 60% who think he'll work "very/somewhat" effectively with Congress (thanks to almost 9 out of 10 Republicans who expect that), and glory be to the highest, Republicans are confident in Trump's abilities "across the board." He'll use military force wisely (84%), handle an international crisis (79%), prevent major scandals (77%), manage the executive branch effectively (84%). Back to Chait:

"Yes, he eked out a victory against an extraordinarily unpopular opponent, but Trump remains an undisciplined political novice, whose two primary advisers (Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon) also lack any experience in government. He is already enmeshed in scandals while trying to undertake a deeply unpopular domestic agenda based on tax cuts for the rich and giveaways to big business. He will do a great deal of damage to the country, but the prospects for democratic political response could hardly be more promising. Democrats need to stop fighting the last election and start planning to win the next one."

But protecting our political institutions and thinning Trump's electoral margin are not incompatible. We can do both; and the latter will serve the former. For those who want to argue that the Electoral College was a brilliant innovation by our founding fathers, part of what made us great the first time (and not, you know, about slavery), this would help demonstrate its relevance.

If it can't demonstrate its relevance, let's go ahead and get rid of it.

No expectation of privacy Permalink to this item

The general public is using email these days... so they have to know about spam, and they'd better know something about phishing lest they have a crash course in malware. The pop culture lexicon gets techy, just like pop culture. Sidebar in the arresting NYT story about How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the US provides a mini-explainer (quoted at right).

What is phishing?
Phishing uses an innocent-looking email to entice unwary recipients to click on a deceptive link, giving hackers access to their information or a network. In “spear-phishing,” the email is tailored to fool a specific person.

The in-depth report from Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane, "based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response," is illustrated with the quaint 1972 filiing cabinet featured in the Watergate burglary, next to a 2016 computer server. The text describes the September 2015 call from the FBI to a DNC tech-support contractor who thought it might be a prank.

The DNC's "fumbling encounter with the FBI" and "the low-key approach of the FBI meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top DNC officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems." But hey, Conservative HQ breezily opines that the hacking was "a public service." (CHQ and its editor, George Rasley haven't yet weighed in on whether having Trump's national security adviser “inappropriately sharing” classified information with foreign military officers in Afghanistan and Pakistan seven years ago was similarly a public service, or whether maybe we should LOCK HIM UP. It was just unknowingly careless, and no actual or potential damage to national security, so no harm, no foul. “If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today,” Flynn said while shouting for Trump, but what do you know, that actually isn't true. Just campaign rhetoric.)

Rasley cites an October piece by Fox News' Cody Derespina, the 7 biggest revelations from WikiLeaks release of Podesta emails, which don't amount to all that much that I can see. Mostly embarrassing bits of fluff. The one security item was about how "we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to [ISIS] and other radical Sunni groups in the region."

Conversely, "the claims from Obama’s CIA" [sic] are "dismissed as 'bullshit'" by the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, "a close associate of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange." We could for sure take that to the bank.

NYT reporters Lipton and Shane also have a story on Democratic House candidates targeted by Russian hacking, with "thousands of pages of documents stolen by hackers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington available to Florida reporters and bloggers." The DCCC documents also fed reporting and blogging about races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina. ICYMI down in the body,

"Cybersecurity consultants believe the hacking of the DCCC took place around March or April of 2016 after a staffer clicked on a so-called phishing email."

Things are humming along Permalink to this item

DOE says Homey don' play dat: not going to name names for the convenience of a Trump administration whatever, asking for "the names of career employees and contractors who have attended U.N. climate talks over the past five years. It also wants emails about those meetings."

(What is it with these people and emails?)

In other energy news, the Belle Fourche pipeline you never heard of before ruptured and spewed more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek, according to its operator, one of the Wyoming-based True Companies companies. A spokeswoman said "it's not yet clear why the monitoring equipment didn't detect the leak" according to the AP.

Another of the True Companies, Bridger Pipeline LLC made big news two years ago when a smaller leak—just 42,000 gallons of oil—went into the Yellowstone River, and left Glendive, Montana's city water supply smelling like oil.

Those two True Companies companies and its Butte Pipe Line in Montana and Wyoming combine for 1,648 miles of conduit in three states, "Since 2006, the companies have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, most of which was never recovered." Not sure if that's counting this latest one or not; it's either half the total, or half again as much.

From the 2014 Quadrennial Energy Review memo

There are a lot of pipelines around the continent, and stuff happens. The Bridger and Butte have been on the big picture map that includes conduits to and/or through Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Anacortes, Vancouver (B.C.), Montreal. In April, 2013, Brigham A. McCown wrote about the rhetoric vs. reality of pipeline infrastructure, starting with the observation that "at no point in our nation’s history has the role and future of our national pipeline infrastructure been subject to more careful review and scrutiny."

Our 2.6 million miles of pipeline (enough to wrap around the earth 100 times) have – for decades – transported the lion’s share of our nation’s needed energy, chemical, and water resources. For most of that time, this infrastructure has remained “out of sight and out of mind.”

Yup, until they leak. Or somebody wants to build a new one in somebody's backyard, or over or under their water supply. But... "The fact is, there is simply no replacement for the efficiency, safety, and expansiveness of our pipeline system." If you don't care for pipelines, consider the alternatives:

"When compared to trucking, pipeline transportation is a staggering 16 times safer than rail, and 189 times safer than trucks when comparing freight tons shipped. To take it a step further, according to USDOT statistics, pipelines are 451 times safer than rail on a per-mile basis. The disparity between pipeline and highways becomes even more stark, with pipelines a full 29,280 times safer on a per-mile basis."

He goes on to extol the "strong government oversight by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration," which he was in charge of during the George W. Bush administration.

He's undoubtedly correct that our pipeline infrastructure is essential, and staggeringly safer than rolling alternatives. Along with handicapping the chances that (a) something will still go wrong, and (b) it will be detected before, say, 176,000 gallons of crude oil leak out into the creek, we wonder about the chances that a new, inexperienced adminstration will put some clueless hack in charge of the operation and decide that one man's PHMSA "oversight" is another man's job-killing regulation that needs to be scaled back.

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

Radioactive decay Permalink to this item

It is not normal for an incoming adminstration to send a stack of questions to an executive branch agency, asking for the names of employees and contractors who have worked on specific issues. Of course, it's not normal to try to appoint leaders who campaigned on the promise to eliminate the agency they'd be in charge of either.

"The third one" that Rick Perry couldn't name when he imagined himself being elected President and eliminating cabinet-level agencies, but seized up on stage was Energy. Having been laughed off the national stage, the joke is now on us. He's supposed to be a the next Secretary of Energy! That's assuming Trump doesn't pull the football away, and the Senate doesn't vomit Perry back to obscurity.

Ho ho ho.

December 2016 photo

Does the Department of Energy look after anything important? The design, testing and production of all our nuclear weapons? Nuclear nonproliferation? The Strategic Petroleum Reserve? Protection of energy infrastructure against cyber and physical attacks, programs for worker health and safety, training and procedures for emergency response and preparedness, and fighting the effects of climate change? The Ames, Argonne, Brookhaven, Fermi, Idaho, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Energy Technology, Renewable Energy, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, Princeton Plasma, Sandia, Savannah River, SLAC and Thomas Jefferson National Laboratories?

Donald Trump thinks Rick Perry should be in charge of all that. Because... IDK, there's oil in Texas?

The nomination is not quite as astounding as this headline in the Washington Post: Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump. "[S]cientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference." And this, from the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 earth and climate scientists in attendance:

"Lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund — which provides legal assistance to researchers facing lawsuits over their work on climate change — will be holding one-on-one consultations with researchers who think they might need help from a lawyer. And the organization’s table in the AGU exhibition hall is piled high with booklets titled “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists.”

“We literally thought about it the day after the election,” said Lauren Kurtz, the legal defense fund’s executive director. “I have gotten a lot of calls from scientists who are really concerned. . . . So it’s intended in some ways to be reassuring, to say, ‘There is a game plan; we’re here to help you.’”

"The 16-page guide contains advice for government researchers who believe their work is being suppressed, as well as how scientists should react if they receive hate mail or death threats. ..."

The CSLDF and AGU are co-hosting a Climate Science Legal Symposium tomorrow at the AGU, and the CSLDF's blog notes that Trump has added lawyers with a history of harassing climate scientists to his transition team.

In other news today, scientists report that the Arctic just had its warmest year on record "by far."

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

Downgraded intelligence Permalink to this item

The president of Boise State University, Bob Kustra, who deserves credit for advancing what used to be Boise Junior College into arguably the lead institution of higher education in the state (with provisional apology to my alma mater up north), has a weekly radio show, "Reader's Corner," that he keeps up when he's not boostering Idaho's "largest university and fastest-growing research enterprise." (Someday he might have his About team put the $200 million invested on "academic, residential and other student-centered projects across campus" ahead of the $70 million in envy-inducing athletics facilities, but not yet.)

A moment from the episode broadcast on December 9 jumped out at me while I was stuck in clusterbungled traffic in downtown Boise this week. Leveraging the death of Castro, they reran the 2012 interview with Jim Rasenberger for the paperback edition of his book on the Bay of Pigs, "The Brilliant Disaster." Eight minutes in, Kustra quoted a then-recent Ross Douthat op-ed railing about "our reckless meritocracy."

"In meritocracies ... it's the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks that lower-wattage elites [Kustra chuckled at this phrase] would never seem to contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects or become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world..."

Douthat's instructive context was the creative finance debacle, and the too-smart-for-our-own-good geniuses who came up with credit default swaps. Mention of Robert McNamara connected the dots for Kustra, but Douthat's actual topic was the "revolt against the ruling class that our meritocracy has forged" and the search, back in November 2011, "for outsiders with thinner résumés but better instincts" to fill the role of Republican nominee for President of the United States. Those were the good old days. Michele Bachmann imagined she could be a contender, and Herman Cain had a moment in the lead.

There are more dots that could have been connected if KBSX had done more than spin a golden oldie. We have now found someone more outsidery than Herman Cain, with arguably worse instincts. Donald Trump's rap sheet is thicker than what we've seen of his résumé. Nothing could be more instructive for the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of a man who pretends being "very, very rich" makes him "smarter than the generals" than his tax returns for the last 10 or 20 years. If Trump had objected to releasing them on trade secret grounds, we might be more impressed. (What we did find out—that he avoided paying taxes for many years by losing almost a $billion of other people's money—was pretty impressive though.) As it stands, we're just the victims of one of the greatest cons of all time, certainly the greatest of the many cons that Trump's career comprises.

This pit we've climbed into is the Bizarro-world zenith of anti-meritocracy.

Kustra's and Rasenberger's chuckling, fatuous derision of "the best and the brightest" of the Kennedy administration and the mistakes we've had 55 years to dissect with perfect hindsight is a bit of creamy ironic filling. The president. Of a university. "Brilliance can be a double-edged sword" Rasenberger said, a theme of his book, proceeding to confound brilliance with "never having failed." (You know, like Tesla, and Einstein, and Edison, and NASA never failed.)

"Maybe presidents should have some 'not very brilliant' people in their administration, sort of regular guys, I don't know, like me, I'm available," Rasenberger joked. Ha ha. Really bright and really successful people "are not well-enough acquainted with Murphy's Law."

You're not as smart as you think you are!

We're now balancing Trump's personal (and self-serving, but I repeat myself) incredulity with the professional assessments of our Central Intelligence Agency the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the other umpteen intelligence agencies we've now stood up. The public part of the performance has been the Donald-Vlad "mutual admiration society," as Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau put it for the Times:

In December 2015, the Russian president called Mr. Trump “very colorful” — using a Russian word that Mr. Trump and some news outlets mistranslated as “brilliant” — as well as “talented” and “absolutely the leader in the presidential race.” Mr. Trump called Mr. Putin “a strong leader” and further pleased him by questioning whether the United States should defend NATO members that did not spend enough on their militaries.

For its part, the FBI is slightly more skeptical than the CIA that the "evidence adds up to proof that the Russians had the specific objective of getting Mr. Trump elected." Maybe they were just trying to toss a spanner in the works of democracy, and pre-discredit an expected Clinton regime. Differences in the "nuances." And of course the FBI has that higher standard of proof for law enforcement and prosecution, which is why James Comey's pre-election announcements were limited to how there wasn't any there there in Clinton's email story, BUT WAIT MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING, oh, no, JK, never mind.

Someone with the nom de plume "Forsetti's Justice," who says he (I suppose) "grew up in rural, Christian, white America," describes the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural culture for AlterNet. The argument is that the left-right consensus that "Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America" is bunkum.

"What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies."

That was the Trump campaign strategy, as a matter of fact: fears, myths, and lies. The dog whistles were heard loud and clear across the heartland, with just (barely) enough effect to tip the result. Truly, a "landslide," that geomorphological process by which unconsolidated soil and loose debris, lubricated by copious mud, slumps to lower elevation and greater entropy.

What better sign, signal and policy program could there be for the next act than a woman with no experience in public education (other than contributing to a campaign to turn it into a corporate profit center) as our next Secretary of Education?

The president of the American Policy Center, "one of the nation's leading experts on Agenda 21 and its assault on property rights and personal freedom," Tom DeWeese, riffs from Beggers [sic] Night to an Ayn Rand mash-up of freaky fiction from Victor Hugo. You know I'm not making this up; how could you make this up? We're talking about the mental dismemberment of children, people.

"But as I watched this wonderful experience" [DeWeese writes, after describing children and their families out begging for candy in our happy little pagan tradition] "a thought went through my head and anger seeped in to my happy feelings. I kept thinking about the following Monday when these children would be forced into the local school house, away from their loving parents and into the control of a system that was designed to take advantage of their innocence and rob them of their trust. My anger grew as I thought about how these young children, taught by their parent’s love to feel secure around others in authority, are to be subjected to a dictatorial federal system that has been transformed away from teaching basic academics to one that instead, focuses on controlling and remolding the children’s minds."

I'm not a psychiatrist, but this man appears to have some very serious problems. I definitely don't want him near any young minds. Mediocrity would be a Giant Leap Forward from this starting point.

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

Your hair-on-fire moment Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016

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

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) December 10, 2016

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

Winners and losers Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man on the cover Permalink to this item

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

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

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

Montage from Time magazine

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

And with a longer view:

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

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

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

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

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

Violating terms of service Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom caulk us Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

Civil service Permalink to this item

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

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

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

Federal employees by agency datagraphic from The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

Foreign agents Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ultimate political football Permalink to this item

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

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

So far, so good.

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

Ginkgo in gold, Nov. 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The Twitter presidency Permalink to this item

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

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

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

How the Grinch stole Christmas Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from summer, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clutching at strawmen Permalink to this item

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

Wut? Counties?

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

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

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

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

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

Carelessly unaffordable acts Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer people playing politics, that'll be great.

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

Post-factual election results Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential election 2016, mapped by county, by Mark Newman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trumporama Permalink to this item

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

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

Welcome to our new reality.

Photo from this morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special KKK Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go with the flow Permalink to this item

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

Spring flood

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

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

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

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

Right now.

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


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007