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

Boxing Day stable genius Permalink to this item

Christmas has come and gone, and the echoes of its patriots insisting on Merriment are fading into the mists of time, but the impeachment of Donald John Trump lives on. Here's a stocking stuffer: House counsel Douglas Letter wrote in a filing on Monday that the House may need to impeach the president again if new evidence comes out. Say, if former White House Counsel Don McGahn is compelled to testify. The D.C. Circuit Court has already said he must; we await word from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals next Friday.

Did POUTS take a whole day off there, brooding in his Florida swamp? At any rate, he was back the day after:

“Look, the House is supposed to do all of this work on witnesses and documents BEFORE they send the articles over to the Senate, not to call in new witnesses, go through new documents - that work is supposed to be done in the House.” @KatiePavlich @foxandfriends

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2019

It's quintessential. Quoting one of his @foxandfriends as if she were a reliable source. (The "journalist" who did puff pieces on the "brave Russian gun rights pioneer" Maria Butina back in 2014, one wag commented.) Whining about his mistreatment. Instructing others how to do their jobs. And glossing over his high crime of obstruction, while pretending that "new" witnesses and "new" documents are somehow cheating, all in a third-person "many people are saying."

Still from RftRoL video

But Michael Richard "Mike" Pompeo, John Robert "John" Bolton, John Michael "Mick" Mulvaney, and Rudolph William Louis "Frudy" Giuliani aren't "new." They're the same old grifters who have been in on the con from the get-go. The pixels on the hundreds of documents that would answer 71 obstructed subpoenas are yellowing with age.

A little birdie told me that there's a nice 30-second spot set to run nationwide on Fox on Monday, paid for by Republicans for the Rule of Law. Their three questions:

What Are They Hiding? If the president did nothing wrong, what does he have to hide? If they tell the truth, what is he afraid of?

23.December.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The hits keep coming Permalink to this item

Yesterday's sunset

So far in 2019, Trump has made 7,725 false or misleading claims. That's over half of the 15,413 total for the less than 3 years he's been president. PolitiFact announced the 2019 Lie of the Year, Trump's claim that the whistleblower got this Ukraine call “almost completely wrong” — a statement it called “more ridiculous than wrong.” More from Week 162:

"Unlike his recent predecessors who faced [impeachment], Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, Trump showed no remorse; rather as the vote was occurring, Trump blasted impeachment and his political opponents in a two-hour meandering speech at a campaign rally in Michigan. Even by his standards, his rhetoric was mean and petty...

"Republicans continued to stand by Trump like sycophants. The hubris of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham, saying their minds were made up and the Senate impeachment trial would not be fair, led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold the articles of impeachment, refusing to transmit them before Congress recessed for the holiday break. Reporting continued to expose Trump’s strange ties to Russia, while in plain sight Trump allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin while continuing his frosty relationship with Ukraine...."

"Frosty." That's one way to put it. Both before and immediately after the July 25 phone call that got Trump perfectly impeached, he and his minions were working overtime to keep $hundreds of millions of aid approved by Congress from flowing to Ukraine, furthering the interests of Russia, and its aggression that got it kicked out of the G8. As more details come out (even as much remains redacted), thanks this week to the effort of The Center for Public Integrity through the Freedom of Information Act, the details of Trump's betrayal of an ally and service to Russia come into focus.

Here's Mike Duffey at the OMB, relaying instructions to hold DoD movement of the funds just an hour and a half after the July 25 call.

A more seasoned point of view Permalink to this item

My two experiences of being an "older" student came back to me as I read James Hatch's remarkable piece, My semester with the snowflakes~. After working in a factory and traveling out west, and a summer half-wasted by mono, I spent a year in Madison, proving to myself I could be a good student if I wanted to, and learning how to sail. I put that to use in my first teaching job, as a sailing instructor for the summer. That made me technically a sophomore when I arrived at the University of Idaho, but it was the first year of my relocated life, and a go at what I thought my "major" would be. As I've occasionally summed it up, I majored in foosball.

Long story shorter, after wandering through a degree and then running a small business, I came back to school for what a bit of counseling and coloring my parachute turned up to be my aptitude: engineering. By then I was in my mid-20s, definitely "older," even if it's now laughable to imagine that as anything with "old" in the title. But I was no longer distracted with the adventure of living on my own and all things possible. I had a very specific objective, and met it in two years of nothing but engineering courses, solidly founded on the eclectic foundation of my first time through, coursing through science, philosophy, art, architecture, chemistry, biology, and botany.

After some years working as a mechanical engineer, I returned to school older still, now in my (gasp) mid-30s. That time it was graduate school, and it was at one of the great institutions of the world, Leland Stanford Junior University. Most of my fellow Masters students were "older," but few as older as I was. But that experience that Hatch writes about, in a group that had surmounted a "difficult vetting process." I don't remember immigrant stories as much as I remember working with other students from other countries who had come to the U.S. for the best it had to offer. Yes, the professors ranged from remarkable to outstanding, but the experience seemed more about the caliber of my fellow students, and how we all wanted to work together to do more, to be more, to excel.

It was such a different cultural milieu 30 years ago, though. Partisanship had not devolved into blind rage, facts had not been accosted by alternative facts, and the latter had not been made the coin of the realm for a solid third or more of the ruling elite. We were on the verge of the end of the Cold War! The last President of the U.S.S.R., Mikhail Gorbachev visited Stanford while we were there!

I digress. I'm really just here to recommend you go to Medium and read that remarkable, and heartening piece by James Hatch, a 52-year-old freshman at Yale, and consider that there is still hope in higher learning.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our nexus of domestic terrorism Permalink to this item

Following the release of the Washington state House of Representatives' report of an investigation into Washington state House of Representative member Matt Shea, the House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox announced that Shea had been suspended from their caucus and removed from his House committees. We'll see what the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI make of it of the report. I suspect they both already have a pretty good-sized file on Shea. From the "Risk Assessment," section 9:

"Evidence documented in this investigation has directly linked Representative Shea to the planning and carrying out of one armed conflict against employees of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Law Enforcement Officers. Representative She was involved in two additional conflicts by calling upon his supporters within the Patriot Movement to show up, along with himself, and stand against government authorities. These callups resulted in armed militia members and other supporters responding as a show of force against US Government officials and were undertaken to achieve Representative Shea's political objectives involving land rights and gun rights issues."

Until now, Shea's fomenting domestic terrorism had produced "no negative repercussions," and has only gained stature among the so-called Patriot Movement. (You can just about hear them saying HELL YEAH as they read of the "accomplishments" the report documents.) The investigators conclude that "it is more probable than not that Representative Shea is likely to plan, direct and engage in additional future conflicts that could carry with them significant risk of bloodshed and loss of life," and that Shea is "a present and growing threat of risk to others through political violence."

One of the documents in the report is the now almost 4-year-old (and overdue for an update) High Country News infographic and story, The hidden connections of the Sagebrush Insurgency. And HCN picked the news of the Washington House report on Crosscut, updated with the Minority Leader's response, and his statement that Shea "absolutely should resign."

The Idaho Statesman's Cynthia Sewell highlights our own Representative Heather Scott's role in the adventures, "more than a dozen references" to her in the report. She's been a reliable "Patriot" cheerleader, at least.

As Washington's Patriot news goes national, found this helpful site (and Twitter account): Meet Matt Shea. "Just excerpts and quotes from real news stories. You can't make this stuff up."

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

How Trump lost one evangelical Permalink to this item

Just a couple months ago, Emma Green wrote under the headline Nothing Will Persuade White Evangelicals to Support Impeachment, but yesterday, it was How Trump Lost an Evangelical Stalwart. Just one, though.

That one guy is Mark Galli, currently editor in chief of Christianity Today, a magazine I never heard of before yesterday that was founded by Billy Graham. Galli is set to retire in two weeks, and he's going out with a splash. It's shown as an "editorial," but signed by him, and by his own account, his sole opinion.

I saw the piece yesterday, before the CT website crashed (I guess; it worked then, and it works now, Friday afternoon), and was distracted by the gratuitous swipe at Democrats before the author got on to his main point, having to do with high crimes, depraved amorality, betrayal of his oath, damage to the country, and so on. The Constitutional remedy is to remove him from office for cause. That some people also label the cause as "profoundly immoral" is a curious sidelight.

In the interview, Galli uses the same abusive husband metaphor that came up in the debate on Wednesday, but with a revised ending.

Then he starts to become violent, and dangerously violent. He’s still a good provider. He still loves the kids. But nobody would say, “You need to weigh this!” They would say, “Get the man out of the house immediately.” The moral balancing no longer applies.

Yes. He also acknowledges the profound "damage that this association with Trump might do to Christian witness." Just now. It's just become clear now, three years into the term, four years after the start of the racist, xenophobic campaign, after the Access Hollywood tape, after the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, after his campaign manager, and fixer, and so many others have gone to jail. It's just now becoming clear that there might be a problem with the "political expediency."

And there, half way down the page, goddamn it, the casual, and yes immoral accusation that Democrats are motivated by malevolence.

"They just vehemently hate Donald Trump."

As if it were an explanation of why the Democrats have taken action. How exactly did he determine that about all of "them"? That wasn't the topic of conversation, though, he just sloughed it off and moved on, to oh, yeah, "that doesn’t take away from the fact that what they discovered is actually true." How generous of him to concede that point.

If you think I'm taking this badly, guess who else is not Mark Galli's #1 fan: POUTS himself, who "lashed out" as he does, "unleash[ing] a torrent of holiday fury" before decamping to his Florida swampland for the holidays. "ET" is now "a far left magazine, or very ‘progressive,’ as some would call it," by presidential decree.

Coordinated inauthentic activity Permalink to this item

That's the catchy phrase in Ben Collins' tweet about Facebook having taken down "600 accounts tied to the Epoch Times' parent company Epoch Media." Inauthentic activity was reportedly coordinated between 89 pages, 156 Groups, 72 Instagram accounts. Somebody came up with $9.5 million in ads to make it go. "The Epoch Times is a pro-Trump conspiracy site."

Let's not bury the lede as far as Collins did, or eliminate it altogether, as Facebook did: The fact-checking site Snopes first revealed [this] network in October.

"Snopes left Facebook’s fact-checking program in February. Snopes’ vice president of operations, Vinny Green, said at the time that “it doesn’t seem like we’re striving to make third-party fact-checking more practical for publishers — it seems like we’re striving to make it easier for Facebook.”

"Green told NBC News that Snopes alerted Facebook to the BL’s network several times since October, but did not receive a response."

Here's his NBC News story on a network "run by Vietnamese users posing as Americans, using fake photos generated by algorithms to simulate real identities." It managed to garner 55 million followers. It doesn't say how many unique humans were in that following, nor how vast their credulity was.

"Epoch Media Group, which runs The Epoch Times, is run by practitioners of Falun Gong, who believe the world is soon headed for a judgment day, where all those labeled as Communists will be sent to hell."

And this nugget:

"Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, conducted a 40-minute interview in Trump Tower with The Epoch Times in May."

Time has no meaning here Permalink to this item

Went to check the good old Naval Observatory to see when the moment of the solstice will be, and, the nightmare:

This US Naval Observatory Website is undergoing modernization and will be offline starting Thursday, 24 October 2019. The expected completion of work and return of service is estimated as 30 April 2020. Please visit https://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/about-us and submit a Requirements Form to the USNO PAO if the information you are seeking is not accessible via another means.

Half a YEAR for modernization?! Holy cow. In the meantime, weather.gov hasn't been broken yet, but I worry. Here, the Cleveland, Ohio office has a page on The Seasons, the Equinox, and the Solstices which tells me in the "News Headlines" stack that Winter Begins (Solstice): Saturday, December 21, 2019 @ 11:19 PM EDT. It's not rightfully news, but it is about to happen. Also, Eastern Daylight Time? That's an odd thing to say. And why are "Seasons" and "Solstices" plural, and "Equinox" singular? (The text does refer to the events "referred to as Equinoxes," go figure.)

Sunrise/sunset/full moons datagraphic for Boise, ID

Never mind that invitation to the "complete listing" of astronomical events from the U.S. Naval Observatory. Try again halfway through spring! Fortunately, last end-of-year, I banked up my sunrise, sunset, and nautical twilight times for 2020 and 2021, and I can keep my daily sunrise graphic spinning for the local sailors in spite of the USNO downtime.

As for the question about tomorrow (or the next day), what do you do when your website breaks? Pull out Ye Olde Farmer's Almanac, I guess, to see that they say Saturday, December 21, 11:19 pm EST. That's a more plausible timezone. Down east, it'll be the wee hours of Sunday, and here in the Mountain TZ, 9:19 pm, Saturday. Fine. Our sunsets have already started slipping later (2 min. better than the nadir), but sunrise keeps getting later for a while. To the nearest minute, we'll be stuck on 8:18 am from Dec. 28 through January 9.

A clear view of college sports paraphernalia Permalink to this item

Working to solve other email problems, I came across an email purportedly sent by "Idaho e-Mail News" but actual sender address of mail@neulionnetwork.com (and filtered as spam). It's succinct, with a legit link to a page on the University of Idaho website about the topic in the subject line: Clear Bag Policy Begins 1-1-2020. The small version of the policy graphic is tagged with tracking code (helpfully commented in the message source), so nmnathletics.com can detect that I opened the message (and retrieved the image). Like most all the commercial messages you and I get, eh.

What's odd to me is what the hell is this NeuLion College (asserting a copyright on what they sent me, no less), in Sanford, Florida, and why are they telling me about the U of I's new security policy for "all events in the Kibbie Dome [sic] and for events on the Moscow campus with 500+ attendance"?

Author's photo, Feb. 2017

"front office sports," abjuring Title Case for some reason, reported a year ago that NeuLion College Becoming Its Own Company Is Paying Off. Something something "marketing prowess and analytical capabilities" technology provider.

The domain name of the purported email sender, neulionnetwork.com, does not appear to be legit, which is a good way to get filtered as spam. So much for marketing prowess. www.nmnathletics.com has a broken home page, ©2015, "powered by NeuLion College." Looking up the MTA's IP address out of the email headers, I see its orgname is "NeuLion College, LLC" and if I want to complain about abuse, I should tell abuse@tierpoint.com. (TierPoint, LLC is in St. Louis, Missouri FWTW.) neulion.com redirects to www.endeavorstreaming.com which is about pro sports. The subbrand, NeuLion, is not a college; it provides its services to colleges and universities. The Endeavor "about" page touts 650+ employees, 14 office worldwide, 4 global operations centers.

I must've got on their list by buying tickets to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival almost 3 years ago; that's the last time I was inside the Kibbie Vault, or anything vaguely connected to UI sports. Kind of freaky for them to keep track of me all this time, but maybe not as freaky as considering our mob cultural situation right now, in which backpacks, large purses, oversized tote or mesh bags, reusable grocer [sic] bags, drawstring bags, camera bags, binocular cases, printed plastic bags, fanny packs and diaper bags are now PROHIBITED from large public events.

Graphic policy

Also, check the FAQ for the further list of prohibited items: Clear backpack? Huh uh. No Outside food or drinks; Lighters and flammable fluids; Illegal drugs; Projectiles; Glass containers; Coolers or ice chests; Weapons of any kind; Cameras with lenses larger than 4”; Flash photography or video; Laser pointers; Balloons; Alternative transportation (bicycles, scooters, skateboards, etc.); Noisemakers (cow bells, horns, etc.); Animals of any kind, except service animals; Strollers; Umbrellas (unless they fold up and fit below your seat); Aerosol cans; Selfie sticks. No go, Joe! Don't be a... Vandal?

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

TRUMP IMPEACHED Permalink to this item

Might as well join the parade of newspapers across the country running banner headlines! It's big, big news, even if it might be a clanging gong signifying nothing in the end. It's the first moment of consequences for the first three years of undignified, lawless, and often unhinged behavior by the most autocratic leader of this country that any citizen alive has ever known.

Today's Idaho Press front page at our house

I was glued to the screen for the beginning (with the rules wrangling, and then the beginning of the speechifying), switched to regular life through the vast and repetitive middle, and then for the end, the final vote on the two Articles of Impeachment, as they passed with the greatest number of votes of any impeachment yet. (And as The Daily Show noted, it was the first popular vote that Donald Trump ever won.) 230-197 voted the first, Abuse of Power article, and 229-198 voted the second, Obstruction of Congress article. The margin of Andrew Johnson's impeachment far surpassed Trump's: 126 to 47 (with 17 members not voting), a week before the 11 (!) articles were spelled out, concluding with "bringing disgrace and ridicule to the presidency" for the stuff in the previous ten. If we were going by that standard, Trump was indeed impeachable on day 1, for that speech he gave on Jan. 20, 2017.

Tulsi Gabbard, supposed contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, made her special and inexplicable mark on the process by voting "present" on both. Justin Amash, the lone independent in the House, having left the Republican party in disgust, voted for both articles. Freshman and soon-to-call-himself-Republican Jeff Van Drew (NJ), and Collin C. Peterson (MN) voted NAY on both, and Jared Golden of Maine joined them on the 2nd article.

That left... 7 votes shy of 435 in both cases. Four seats are vacanct, and three representatives didn't vote: Democrat José E. Serrano (NY-15), and Republicans Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and John Shimkus (IL-15). Serrano is retiring, and has health issues; Shimkus is retiring and is "on a long-planned trip to visit his son in Tanzania, where he’s serving in the Peace Corps" (per the NY Post) and Duncan Hunter, having pleaded guilty to illegally using campaign money for his personal expenses "was warned by the House Ethics Committee not to vote again." There's a rule blocking those convicted of a serious crime from voting on the House floor, who knew?

Here I was watching the scoreboard for 218 to pop up, when 216 is a majority of the 431 current members, and 215 would have carried the day. There were more than a dozen votes to spare.

As the Republican members pointed out over and over and over and over and you get the idea, it was THE MOST PARTISAN IMPEACHMENT EVAR because why is that, again, exactly? Only one (formerly) Republican member of Congress voted in favor of it. In Debbie Lesko's four minutes, she started by talking about getting away from her abusive husband, which was an interesting tack she didn't really explore. But a lot about this is SO UNFAIR and NO PROOF and NOT ONE OF THE WITNESSES, and NOT ONE OF THE WITNESSES and so on. THE WHOLE THING HAS BEEN RIGGED, that charming companion to "Government is Broken" coming from the people who broke it.

To a woman and man, including our congressman, Mike Simpson, the Republicans in the House toed the party line. His statement laments that "a group of Democrats"—as in 230 and 229 of them—"have taken their displeasure with the results of the 2016 presidential election and plunged our nation into a vicious debate, one that started before the President was even sworn into office. Facts are sacrificed for political grandstanding, the personal character of opponents is impugned, and the media tells whichever side of the story it prefers."

Some of the media—Fox News is not the only offender, but it's the most egregious, and salient one, given the president's viewing habits—are indeed telling whichever side of the story "it prefers," but for the most part, there is ample, fact-based reporting on what's going on, and it is possible to discern the truth. I'm sure Mike is smart enough to do so, even as he chooses to take a different direction in his public statements.

Yes, it was an exercise in majority power, and more organized resistance than the Democratic Party often musters. The NY Times' interactive plot of Democrats vs. "2016 presidential margin" shows 30 Dems were elected in districts where Trump won, the 2018 mid-term referendum on Trump's presidency that put the gavel in Nancy Pelosi's hand.

Thumbnail of NYT's infographic

That does not mean it was unwarranted. Impeachment is something that Donald J. Trump truly earned, for once in his life.

Letter to my Congressman, Mike Simpson Permalink to this item

This makes the third letter I've written to him on the subject of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump. His first two responses were more or less the standard GOP talking points, "haven't seen evidence warranting impeachment" and "let's get back to the business of the country" were and are his main argument. This time, he went first, in his press release yesterday, Why I Voted Against Articles of Impeachment. On that page on his House website, if you have a Facebook account, you can respond with your own comments, as I just did:

As you know from our previous correspondence, Congressman, I disagree with your stated point of view. It is false to claim that there is no evidence of the president's abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. As you know, the Special Counsel's report documented criminal obstruction. And as you know, the House Intelligence committee amassed a body of evidence that informs the Articles that were passed yesterday. The most direct fact witnesses, including acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney, former NSA John Bolton, and others were blocked from testifying by the president, and the Trump administration refused to answer ANY of the subpoenas for documents.

That the president's obstruction is blatant, and public does not make it any less of a high crime.

Even in the face of that obstruction, we have ample evidence. In large measure, this is due to the bravery, integrity, and honesty of those who did answer subpoenas and testify.

Your facile dismissal of what just happened as a "political circus" is beneath you. (There were elements of cheap theater, to be sure. Your colleagues Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan, Doug Collins and others put on shameful displays.) Your attempt to deflect criticism by saying the House has more important things to do is disingenuous in the extreme. You know the House has sent a great deal of legislation to the Senate, where the Majority Leader has refused to do HIS job and move the work forward.

You and the Republican members of Congress are enabling a lawless autocrat who has and continues to do significant damage to the federal government, to the people of this country, and to our nation's international standing, at great cost to our ability to protect our interests and advance our positive values.

Remember what you said in October, 2016? You said Trump is UNFIT TO BE PRESIDENT, and you could not support him.

Given that he was elected (narrowly, and by action of the Electoral College if not the direct will of the people), it was incumbent on all of us to give him his chance to govern, and so we did. We've seen what resulted. Ongoing service to Russia's interests over ours. Casually divulging classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office. Firing an FBI director for the temerity to pursue investigation of Russian interference in our elections. Unilateral dictation of tariffs that have disrupted the US and the world economy. Shameful treatment of refugees at our borders. Our Kurdish allies in Syria abandoned, and our military made to retreat. Thousands and thousands of lies shouted out in endless political rallies, inciting mob behavior that shocks the conscience.

From the Russian Foreign Ministry-supplied photo

And this year—I wish I could say "finally," but given the GOP complicity, even impeachment will not be the end of this—using Ukraine to advance a conspiracy theory to damage a political rival, while that country is being overrun by Russian aggression.

Withholding the aid that was approved by Congress, and authorized by the Department of Defense, was so shocking that MULTIPLE people inside the administration who witnessed the act in that July 25 phone call reported what they saw as shocking wrongdoing.

Trump's hand-picked enabler in the office of the Attorney General tried to quash the dissent, but failed. Thanks to the whistleblower, and to others with first-hand knowledge of what happened, we were shown enough evidence to move forward with impeachment. (Fortunately for Ukraine, with the bribery exposed, the aid to Ukraine was finally released, in part, and the appropriation authorization extended into this fiscal year. This is further evidence, not exculpation.)

This "most partisan ever" process has been most partisan because what integrity there may still be within the Republican party has been cuckolded by the man that—you were right back in 2016, Mike—IS NOT FIT TO BE PRESIDENT.

Impeachment Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Oh the humanity Permalink to this item

In her column today, Michele Goldberg exhorts us all to get out and be seen today, protesting the president's lawlessness and in favor of impeachment. She also notes that impeachment is "certainly more popular than Trump himself." He does have some important dark corners of support, however, not the least of which is the perfidious majority leader of the U.S. Senate, who quickly dismissed the idea that there should be a genuine trial with consideration of facts, and hearing from the witnesses who have the closest knowledge of the high crimes and misdemeanors Trump has committed. We don't need no stinkin' witnesses, Mitch McConnell says.

Well. Not for a kangaroo court, we don't. Not to establish that the president has obstructed Congress' lawful attempt to investigate his actions. That's obvious. And it's increasingly obvious that were "Mick" Mulvaney, Mike Pence, John Bolton, and others who were in the mix to testify truthfully, a significant majority of the American people would be demanding Trump's removal. Perhaps even the so-far solidly partisan Republican senators might remember that they swore an oath to the Constitution and not just to their own and their party's interest.

Now comes the president in written form, if you can believe that, just over 5 pages of petulant whining, lies, slander and raving about the supposed conspiracy against him, "the partisan impeachment crusade," "the Impeachment Hoax," "the Russian Witch Hunt," representing "an unprecedented and unconsitutional abuse of power by Democrat [sic] Lawmakers, unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history." It's a scam! A charade! A coup! A colossal injustice! A mockery! A perversion of justice and abuse of power! (Did I say that already?) A fantasy!

He cc'd the Senate and the House on his letter to the Speaker of the House. I can just imagine him and Stephen Miller cooking this thing up with Trump dictating and Miller typing hard to keep up, then refining the litany of aggrievement to make sure it was relatively typo-free. Just a bit of that good German capitalization of nouns here and then to respect the Drumpfian forbears.

And if you want to know what really pisses him off, he'll tell you: "Perhaps most insulting of all is your false display of solemnity."

"One hundred years from now, when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another President again."

There's no way it takes a hundred years to sort this out. I'm thinking the November 2020 election could well do the trick, but as far as the psychopathology goes, this presidential epistle like none other in the history of the world will be mounted and dissected in short order. This is presumption, privilege and narcissism personified in a way we could not have imagined.

And now we get to watch the whole of the Republican Party pay dutiful obeisance to this deranged, criminal sociopath. It should be quite a Christmas season.

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

Idaho tuition freeze next year Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sensenbrenner, of the Office of Circumlocution Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did not see this coming Permalink to this item

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

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

Image from InventWood site

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

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

Additional storage Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

Record-setting Twitter binge Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

@GretaThunberg screen shot

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

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

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

C-Span grab

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

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

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

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

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

House Judiciary Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

And closing with a message to his Republican colleagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler alert: yes, yes, and dire.

The committee's impeachment debate continues, this morning.

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

How is this playing in Russia? Permalink to this item

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

Image from the Moscow Times, credit 24.kg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One other thing Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

Whodunnit? Permalink to this item

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

Wow. This is pretty incredible.

In under 5 short minutes, @RepSwalwell lays out the entire & clear case for impeachment in undeniable terms#ImpeachingHearing
pic.twitter.com/eF46Tmwokr

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

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

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

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

Family photo, 1962

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom of the barrel Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily outrages Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Laughingstockings Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 4, 2019

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

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

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

So, take your pick: laugh, or cry.

The Bizarro President Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I RECEIVER THEZRBRESERVE THE RIGHT TO OBJECT. PEROPPORTUNITY TO CAUSE G, I'M FURNISHING YOU WITH A DEMAND ON MINORITY HEARINGS ON THIS SUBJECT SIGNED...

The Gentleman will suspend.

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

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

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

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

SECTION I. THE PRESIDENT’S MISCONDUCT

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

SECTION II. THE PRESIDENT’S OBSTRUCTION OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES’ IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY

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

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

The new crusaders Permalink to this item

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

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

New snow today

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

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

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

Two elections away from a solution Permalink to this item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007