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unraveling

27.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Where normal people come for normalcy Permalink to this item

I'm guessing Nampa's first-term state senator has no idea who Marty Trillhaase is, and precious little awareness of Idaho's political history. Born in California, educated in North Dakota and Biola University (originally the "Bible Institute of Los Angeles"), he's brought his longing for christian nationalism to Idaho. There are "four types of people involved" in the "culture war" we're in, he says. (And yes, it's a shooting war, in case you hadn't noticed.)

He counts himself in the first category: "Those who know it's happening." Not merely "watching it happen," definitely not "want[ing] to stop it from happening," and not expecting to be "at the end [] wondering — what happened?"

Before pursuing the swarm of bees in his head, consider what set him off in the north Idaho Lewiston Tribune opinion section: What scares Labrador, Moon and Lenney? (That's former congressman and failed candidate for governor, now Attorney General Raúl Labrador; former state representative and failed candidate for Secretary of State, now chair of the state Republican party Dorothy Moon.)

The general topic is yes, right-wing extremism, but the specific issue is the prospect of ranked choice voting, and "the prospect of reopening the election system," which is to say the Republican primaries that the party closed a decade ago, on our way to "the ideological fringe."

"As Idaho’s elected leadership has moved more to the right, it has grown less responsive to — even contemptuous of — the more diverse electorate. Armed with such political impunity, the GOP-led Legislature even went so far as to attempt repealing the right of citizens to circumvent lawmakers through the initiative process. Only the Idaho Supreme Court stopped them."

Not that the Supreme Court's 2021 rejection fully stopped them; in this year's session there was a push on to amend the state constitution to fix the problem of uppity citizens trying to initiate (or reject) legislation by themselves. It didn't get through this time. It will be back next year, I imagine.

With the not-yet neutered power of the people, the Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition proposes to let Idaho voters decide whether or not they want ranked choice voting.

Dot Moon's job is rank partisanship, so her apoplexy at the idea is no surprise. Raúl Labrador holds a statewide office and swore an oath to serve the people and the constitution of the state, but the campaign promise he's been keeping is to be a rank partisan for extremism. As Trillhaase puts it:

"Labrador’s office is charged with conducting a legal review of the proposed initiative. He certainly does not want to explain how he can do that in good faith when he was involved in rigging the game in the first place. Besides, he now has openly displayed his bias against reform."

There is no constitutional requirement for good faith, after all. Which brings us around to Lenney's answer to the question, "what are you afraid of?"

Just "the Lord God Almighty (e.g. Luke 12:4)" he wrote, before skipping to "the vein of the late Francis Schaeffer" (almost 40 years late) and the culture war he's fighting. Pat Buchanan is "venerable" in his estimation. From Buchanan's 1992 "religious war going on in this country" speech to the RNC, "fast forward 31 years and we see the battle lines etched in flames like never before." Do we want "the Idaho way of life" as he concocts it, or "the next blue hell hole"? His vision is

"a state where their children are educated, not indoctrinated; where elections are free and fair; where traditional family values still exist; where law and order actually mean something; where sacrificing babies on the altar of Molech is unthinkable; where the legalization of drugs that hurt our society and our kids while tearing at our very foundation is not tolerated and where normal, hard-working people come to escape the ravages of liberalism run amok on the West Coast....

"It’s between normal people who want to live their lives in freedom and peace, and psychopaths who seek to annihilate every cherished conviction."

You know, the "absolutely irrationally crazy," who want kids to be slaves "to the transgender woke culture of death," "a place where mentally ill people defecate in the streets."

"Because that’s where we’re headed if we allow ranked-choice voting, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the unfettered slaughter of Idahoan babies through abortion, and the legalization of drugs in our state."

Checking my Luke, I see the point of Luke 12:5 (actually) is to fear (that) god, because he "has authority to throw you into hell." Luke 12:7 says "the very hairs of your head are all numbered," so there's that.

26.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some justice handed down Permalink to this item

While the Conspirator in Chief remains at large, his leading camp followers are starting to pay the price. Top of Marc Johnson's blog just now is a good place to start, with the story about Frank Church, the CIA, FBI, and Idaho politics: The Last Honest Man ... Read it and be reminded that

"Decades on, it's easy to see that the lies and distortions heaped on Church in 1980, much of it coming from a network of conservative ideologues determined to bend the Republican Party in new and destructive ways, was a preview of the politics we live with today."

In his "Additional Reading" section, a link to The Bulwark's piece with Four Messages in the Big Sentence for Oath Keeper Stewart Rhodes . 18 years for Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, and a dozen for Kelly Meggs. Rhodes' lawyer pointing out the blindingly obvious fact that his client was a mere "participant"; the head man has not yet been put in the dock for his crimes. A message to Donald Trump:

Capitol police officer Harry Dunn, a defender of the Capitol that day, concurred with Rhodes’s lawyers: “[They] argued that Donald Trump is the root of the problem,” Dunn told CNN, “and I totally agree. Let’s get him next.”

Take the jump for the other three messages.

An existential threat to our democracy Permalink to this item

Margaret Hoover had Charlie Sykes on Firing Line, last Friday, May 19. Thanks to Marc Johnson for highlighting the show I'd missed, on Facebook. My notes from watching.

"We [at the Bulwark] share one principle: that we need to defend democracy; that Donald Trump and what he represents is an existential threat to our society, and that we need to raise that alarm."

"We thought that America was immune from history. We thought that all of our institutions would hold. We thought of all these checks and balances..."

Hoover, a bit of a speech on her way to a question for "the media":

"Former president Donald Trump continues to present a unique threat to the country. But he also presents a unique challenge to media, and to how the news media and print media cover him. He is the GOP frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He consistently lies. He degrades our political discourse. He displays dangerous authoritarian tendencies, including invoking an attack against the Capitol in order to overturn the 2020 election...."

Sykes adds to her list, first and foremost that "he tried to overthrow the government, has been indicted now, and a jury has found that he sexually abused a woman and then defamed her." His point being that Trump is not a normal candidate. And...

"Journalism was broken in many ways by Donald Trump."

No one was prepared for someone who "lies with the fluency of Donald Trump; who will, if you turn the camera on, will subject you to a fire hose of disinformation." The "normal rules of journalism," applied to his abnormality "will create a radical asymmetry."

Has created a radical asymmetry. Hoover pulls up a clip of early Rush Limbaugh talking to William F. Buckley Jr., and giving away the show that he had embarked on. "Limbaugh was quite honest in that clip," Sykes said. "It was all about ratings..." "He was fundamentally a man without principle, who would then become a champion for politicians without principle."

And here we are, "living in the world that Rush Limbaugh created for us," gifting Donald Trump with a "reptilian instinct that he honed..."

No offense intended to any actual reptiles in the audience.

Nor any to the 70 million years' extinct velociraptors mentioned in regard to the unthinkable happening; "Trump 2.0 will be like when the velociraptors learned to open doors."

23.May.23 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Who loves the commute? Permalink to this item

Coincidentally, perhaps even ironically, I read Paul Krugman's latest, Working From Home and Realizing What Matters early this morning, before preparing to ride across town to a meeting.

Since leaving the cube farm two decades ago, my "commute" has been across the hall into what passes for a home office at our place. As those of us able to do it quickly learned, it's easy to get used to, and eventually hard to imagine giving up.

It's a reminder that not all of economics is dismal; as Krugman puts it, the purpose of an economy is to serve human needs.

22.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tastes like chicken Permalink to this item

I'm old enough to remember when Mitch McConnell decided to sabotage the Constitution by denying to even consider Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court because it was too close to the 2016 election... and then rammed Amy Coney Barrett in like greased lightning before the 2020 election. 38 days is ample, we found out.

That springs back to mind after reading former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich's suggestion for dealing with the manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling. He says Biden should IGNORE the debt ceiling. Just keep paying the bills. No "X-date."

I'm also old enough to remember the Reagan administration, although not with the same clarity that Reich recounts from October, 1985, when then-Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III stared down congressional debt ceiling brinksmanship, perhaps "technically" broke the law, according to the Comptroller General, who "[could not] say that the secretary acted unreasonably given the extraordinary situation." (The good old days of honest circumlocution.)

Reich opines that the House Republicans' (the extremists, especially, but abetted by the get-along old guard such as Idaho's Mike Simpson) "only commitment is to power — gaining dominance over, and submission from, Democrats, progressives, putative “coastal elites,” and so-called “deep state” bureaucrats."

"For them, this is not play-acting. It’s not for show. It’s for real. If they don’t get their way, they’re prepared to blow up the economy.

"In fact, as the so-called X-date appears to loom ever closer, their demands have escalated. And as Biden appears ready to give in to some of those demands, the demands will continue to escalate.

"Which is why it’s critical for Biden to stop negotiating.

"Meanwhile, he should continue paying the government’s bills and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should continue using every bookkeeping scheme imaginable to find the means to pay those bills.

"And they must never declare an “X-date.” And must never default."

20.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Truth and Consequences Permalink to this item

"Prove Mike Wrong" turned out to be not that hard (I guess, I don't actually know how much work Robert Zeidman put in); the loser took it to arbitration... and lost that, too. It's all "a big cover-up to a much bigger picture," Mike complained. "This is all a sham, and we're gonna go to court." That's shorthand for Zeidman taking him to court. Giddy-up and good luck with that.

Arizona's trumpish Kari Lake is still trying to turn her 2022 election loss around, and brought a a star witness—for the defense. "[H]er attorneys, who mostly bumbled around and had to be schooled by Judge Thompson in how to try a case. “I feel like I’m teaching a seminar up here,” Thompson said

And poor Rudy, tutti frutti, groused outside the courtroom about the "fascist tactics" that have "seriously impinged" "your" [sic] rights. Inside the courtroom, he's going to have to prove his claim of poverty to avoid having to pay to produce his emails for discovery, defending himself against a libel complaint from Georgia pollworkers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss.

Advice from a madman Permalink to this item

Reasonable Republicans (to the extent there are any) have largely abandoned the field to the kakistocrats. Our long-time congressman, Mike Simpson, for example. 7 terms in Idaho's House, 3 as its Speaker, and now in his 13th term in the big House, closing in on 40 years of public service, and he's been turned into a spectator for the momentous spectacle of American decline. The House Freedom Caucus, founded by "Mick" Mulvaney, Jim "Gym" Jordan, Ron DeSantis, Mark Meadow, Idaho's junior house member Raúl Labrador, and others, was a sorry joke to begin with, and it has gone downhill since. How do you top seditious conspiracy in the end? The game of chicken using the debt ceiling to hold Congress and the country hostage is self-sabotage of the lowest order, giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

The rest of the world shakes its head at a once-great country squandering its advantage to idiocy. From the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington’s Domestic Drama Is Threatening Its Global Leadership.

At the tail end of the Trump administration, ProPublica and the Washington Post reported on the legacy of debt it was leaving behind. Just like all those failed businesses of his, except now on a national scale. $7.8 trillion over the course of one term. Give Covid-19 credit where due: the boost in deficit spending, after the decade of recovery from the 2008 "financial engineering" debacle brought the debt-to-GDP ratio up close to World War II's peak. After the 2017 round of looting, with the usual, despicable cover of the ever-failing trickle-down trope—half a century of failure, and counting—the party snapped back to its anti-spending, anti-government roots. Its new leader has his own record of a half-century of failure, getting away with fraud and grifting, abetted by the credulous and the criminal. "I alone can fix it," he said, as the fix was put in.

His swan song (we can hope!) could be the Trump Family Motto: I'm allowed to take things, ok? "Allowed," as in I've always gotten away with it. So far. On his private social media channel he barked instructions that

“REPUBLICANS SHOULD NOT MAKE A DEAL ON THE DEBT CEILING UNLESS THEY GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the ‘kitchen sink’).”

and chipped in a partisan lie, as he so loves to do:

“THAT’S THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS DEALT WITH US. DO NOT FOLD!!!”

The way Democrats "dealt" with his administration was to raise the debt ceiling three times, without drama, threats, or sabotage.

H/t to Heather Cox Richardson's May 19 daily for the writing prompt and good reference links to highlight and share. She also mentioned she's on the list! of 500 Americans banned from going to Russia, when, I mean, who wants to these days?

Clouds over the Boise front, May 17

17.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The last throes of Putin's fascism, and the Russian empire Permalink to this item

Along with somewhere between a quarter million and a couple million others, we've been "taking" Professor Timothy Snyder's course at Yale, via the recordings of last fall's class now on YouTube, with lecture material on his substack. Here's the syllabus (and a convenient link to the first lecture) on the latter: The Making of Modern Ukraine.

I've also been reading one of the nine (!) books (four of them his own) that he lists in that: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, by Serhii Plokhy, currently a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard. I see there's a 2021 revised edition; I've got the 2015 original. As Elizabeth Jones puts it for the Council for European Studies' Ukraine Series, "the current contest between East and West in Ukraine has a very long history," and Ukraine has "immense geographical, economic, political, cultural, and religious diversity," little recognized in any of my prior education in this country.

The Guardian has a fresh interview with Plokhy this month, talking about his new book, covering the most recent, bloody history. The Russo-Ukrainian War; The return of history is next.

“As a historian, I knew the answers. I mean: I can’t tell you – and I don’t say in the book – what will happen tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. But the frame that I’m using is to look at this as one of many wars of the disintegration of empire, and from the perspective that the great powers have lost every single war that they have been fighting since 1945, from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan.”

With his substack newsletter, Timothy Snyder, today: Missiles over Kyiv; Fascism and Self-Defense, starts with last night's barrage, my emphasis added:

"Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital with six kinzhal ("hypersonic") ballistic missiles, three other ballistic missiles, nine kalibr cruise missiles, six shahed drones, and three orlan drones. The attack began just after three o'clock at the morning, and the explosions kept the city awake for hours.

"Though the scale was unusual, this was the eighth such Russian attack on Kyiv this month alone. It is an outrage among other outrages, a terror attack among other terror attacks. In this awful war, Russia claims the right to terrorize the Ukrainian population. It attacks Kyiv and other cities not because it seeks to destroy military targets, but because it wishes to kill and injure civilians, or to destroy infrastructure so that civilians freeze and starve. ...

"[J]ust as the Russian state abuses the word "terrorism" while practicing terrorism, it abuses the word "fascism" while practicing fascism. By claiming that its invasion of Ukraine was somehow against fascism, the Putin regime made it harder to point out that its own actions are fascist. Indeed, the total nonsense of the Russian invasion is fascist. It depends on a celebration of will over reason -- and an elevation of violence as the natural form of politics. That is what fascism is."

16.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Russian asset Permalink to this item

With Special Counsel John Durham's $multi-million, 4 year investigation done, dusted, and thudded, Bill Barr completes his second once-in-a-lifetime cover-up of executive corruption of the highest order. This time, the criming was pretty exposed into plain sight as it went along, as masterfully recapitulated by Thom Hartmann: Trump Couldn't Possibly Be a Russian Asset...Could He?

Thirty years of evidence. Just about anything in the grab-bag is enough by itself. Starting with once-upon-a-time campaign manager Paul Manfort. The private yuk-it-up with the Sergeys in the Oval, after he fired the FBI director. Helsinki.

The list goes on, all beyond John Durham's beggared imagination. Experiencing it while it was unfolding, one gobsmack after the other, you could lose sight of the big picture. Hartmann's review is worth the read.

The right side of history Permalink to this item

Apple blossoms

Robert Reich celebrates passing the baton to a new generation of leadership. Six minutes of his conversation with Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones is worth a look. Reich asks him why he's optimistic:

"Hope is a discipline... hope is birthed every time we resist."

"We recognize the pain, and we find solace in communities that are engaged with us. The opposite of oppression is community. We know the fight will be long. We can’t burn out.”

The wrong side of history Permalink to this item

Another ginormous scandal out of the last administration, which we do hope will be the nadir of our political lifetimes. (With CPAC continuing to sit on Victor Orbán's knee, it's still possible that "the worst is yet to come," as Junior's gf promised so memorably, before the fall.)

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy is in the news. The nice thing about a big ticket lawsuit is the discovery. Here's Giuliani sued by former associate alleging sexual assault and harassment, and stuff. Way more lurid stuff than we're ever going to get out of Hunter Biden's laptop, I'll bet you. Punchline in the dek:

Claim also alleges ex-mayor said he was ‘selling pardons for $2m, which he and Trump would split.’

Makes me wonder whatever happened to Lev and Igor, who apparently did not pony up for pardons. (You could look it up. Igor got a year, more than a year ago; and Lev got 20 months "and stuff" last June. Coincidentally, the "stuff" included $2,322,500 in restitution, which he should have spent on a pardon instead.) But I digress.

OR DO I ZOMG?! Browsing NOELLE DUNPHY v. RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, GIULIANI PARTNERS, LLC, GIULIANI GROUP, LLC, GIULIANI SECURITY & SAFETY, LLC, JOHN and/or JANE DOES 1-10, Lev pops up for "a late dinner" on page 16, just after Rudy's alleged first sexual assault (illustrated with a screenshot from the film Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, which it says "depicts Giuliani acting in a similar manner to how he acted with Ms. Dunphy").

91 allegations in, page 16 (of 70), we come to H. Giuliani Loads His Email Account Onto Ms. Dunphy’s Computer. Say what now? At least 23,000 of his emails. For example?

96. For example, Ms. Dunphy was given access to emails from, to, or concerning President Trump, the Trump family (including emails from Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump), Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former FBI director Louis Freeh, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, Secretaries of State, former aides to President Trump such as Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Kellyanne Conway, former Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Jeff Sessions, media figures such as Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson, and other notable figures including Newt Gingrich, presidential candidates for Ukraine, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the Ailes family, the LeFrak family, Bernard Kerik, Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, and attorneys Marc Mukasey, Robert Costello, Victoria Toensing, Fred Fielding, and Joe DeGenova.

That ought to just about cover it. In case you fetch that complaint yourself, be advised it's NSFW.

Rudy's dangle was "$1 million per year plus expenses," which never materialized. Allegation 10 says "Giuliani and his Companies callously tossed Ms. Dunphy aside, never paying her for the work she performed, and leaving her traumatized by the abuse she had suffered."

It's possible she may yet get some of her back pay.

14.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Money always finds a way Permalink to this item

The folder-dateline is May 11, but the story about how Russia's rich get their luxuries now was on the front page of the newspaper this morning. (Amazing how quickly the news cycle spins stories out of sight.) The whole story is summed up in the dek: "More than a year into Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the web of global trade has adjusted to Western sanctions, with a network of middlemen sending cars, electronics and more to Russia." Car seat heating pads transiting the United Arab Emirates are featured. Imagine trying to explain heated car seats to someone in Dubai.

"The web of global trade has adjusted, allowing the Russian leader to largely deliver on a key promise: that the war would not drastically disrupt the lifestyle of consumption for Russian elites."

Job #1 is keeping the elites satisfied, with "indirect" or "parallel imports," "circuituous routes," "an open secret thing," an Afghan salesman, Tajikistan, Turkey, China, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Iran all get a piece of the action, and the western car company C-suite people put on their best Seargant Schultz routine. Take it from "a man who gave his name as Aik":

“Dubai is a three-in-one. You go on vacation, you buy a car for yourself, and you buy some to resell.”

And even if GM and Volvo see nothing, nothing, "international statistics" see something. The math is spelled out in the story. Car exports from the EU to Russia were €5B in 2021, dropped to 1B in 2022. EU exports to Kazakhstan up 4x to more than €700M; to the Emirates +40%, to €2.4B; to Armenia more than quintupled to €$712M.

13.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Next gen leadership Permalink to this item

A couple days ago, Heather Cox Richardson's (May 10) daily started with the charges against George Santos. She noted he put in a "not guilty" plea, "was released on $500,000 bail and immediately began to fundraise off his arrest." As one does.

She also noted that the third-ranking (so to speak) Republican in the House, Conference Chair Elise Stefanik has championed Santos in ads as “the next generation of Republican leadership.” She's not wrong. Finish the paragraph:

"And [Wednesday], while the House Republicans were in the midst of a press conference about their plan to crack down on unemployment fraud, news broke that one of their own has been charged with it. Ironically, Santos is a co-sponsor of the bill."

Image from Boise R greenbelt, water on path, May 12

Who says irony is dead?

Not "Gym" Jordan, now (somewhat ironically) chair of the House Judiciary Committe, and more importantly, of the "Weaponization of the Federal Government" subcommittee, winner of the 2023 Truth in Congressional Advertising trophy. ICYMI, ZOMG HUNTER BIDEN'S LAPTOP, still and all.

The latest and greatest report hasn't been getting much traction, other than perhaps in its "crafting propaganda for right-wing media; perhaps that was his intention here." You think?

"Despite the breathless allegations in it, the 65-page document seems to prove that the former intelligence officials who said the news story about the laptop had the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation effort believed what they were saying and went through the proper channels at the Central Intelligence Agency to clear their statement. The person who did appear to be trying to make a political statement was Trump’s loyalist director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe."

HCR said Marcy Wheeler broke it down on Twitter, provided the link (and others to Twitter) in a stack at the end. But it appears Twitter is no longer interested in my clicks (which have been close to nil in any event). I got a "page isn't redirecting properly" error, Firefox suggesting that "This problem can sometimes be caused by disabling or refusing to accept cookies." That would explain it; my list of sites from which I refuse cookies has one member.

The breakdown doesn't appear to be posted on Wheeler's own site, where the list currently includes The Media’s Past Indifference to Trump’s Past Abuse of Pardons Invites Him To Do It Again, and Some of George Santos’ Alleged Crimes Resemble Trump’s Suspected Crimes.

It's that "next generation of Republican leadership" thing. We never did get quite to the point where Don the Con tried pardoning himself. If he he finds his way back into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave by hook and by crook, we will get there.

At any rate, the emptywheel post about resemblance notes that "the scam" of charges 1-5 on Santos, "directing political donations to a private company — is the same scam that Daily Beast recently reported Herschel Walker to have engaged in." And not too different than "the same kind of solicitation fraud for which Trump is being investigated."

12.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This game of chicken Permalink to this item

Sent a third message to my congressman, Mike Simpson. He answered the first one promptly, to say yay, the House "did its job" and now it was up to the Senate. He has yet to answer the second. I'm not holding my breath for this one, either. I don't know how much leadership he has left in him.

I understand the most recent Republican president has now said we should go ahead and default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. (All his experience with bankruptcy has been good for him, apparently?)

It seems the logical conclusion of the strategy of Republican sabotage and brinksmanship. Another government shutdown. Quite possibly triggering a global recession.

Last I heard from you, Congressman, you said something like "the House did its job."

You know that isn't true. How far are you willing to go along with the extreme right faction of your party, in violation of your oath to servie this country and its constitution, Mike?

I fear there is no limit to the damage this factionalism can do. We need your leadership.

11.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Unless you're a very stupid person" Permalink to this item

In the same week that a jury of his peers (as we say) found that there was a preponderance of evidence that our Former Guy was liable for sexual abuse and defamation against E. Jean Carroll, CNN saw fit to give the toad a platform for a "town hall." As Andrea Bernstein of ProPublica reported from the courtroom:

"And then the questions [for the jury] went on from there. There was a questions about damages. There was questions about defamation. Did Trump defame E. Jean Carroll when he called her — when he said that it was a con job and a hoax? And the jury said, yes, there was defamation, yes, there was actual malice and said that Trump had to pay $5 million."

The MAGAt burrowed further into the mud last night, repeating his pathetic attacks to draw "laughter and applause" from his claque. (The "generally adoring crowd ... laughed heartily at [his] jokes, clapped lustily at his insults and thrilled to his every puerile flourish," with "star-struck flaccidity," as Frank Bruni put it.) Carroll's lawyer says there could be a third lawsuit as a result. (The second one, for defemation, is still pending; t-rump "has argued in that case that he cannot be sued because he made those comments in his official capacity as president.")

There aren't enough hours in the day to read through all the recaps, so I'll just excerpt Bruni on the demented showing. It included not just the same old lies and repetitive "stupid"ity, but also more lying about lying.

"In response to question after question, on issue after issue, [he] denied incontrovertible facts, insisted on alternative ones, spoke of America as a country swirling down the toilet, spoke of himself as the only politician who could save it, framed his presidency as one that outshone all the others, projected his own flaws and mistakes on his critics and opponents, expressed contempt for them and claimed persecution.

"He was, in other words, a font of lies keeping true to himself, ever the peacock, always cuckoo. The evening made utterly clear — just in case there was a scintilla of doubt — that his latest, third bid for the White House won’t be any kind of reset, just a full-on rehash. And that was inevitable, because someone like [him] doesn’t change. His self-infatuation precludes any possibility of that."

Do members of the Republican Party have so little self-respect that this is enough for them?

10.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Representative Republicans Permalink to this item

It's not so much a horse race as it is the rodeo clown show and bull ride. There is a lot of bull getting ridden around the ring these days. Props to CNN for waiting much of the way through their story about George Santos taken into custody with a 13-count indictment to roll it out:

"During his victorious campaign last year, Santos ran according to the Republican midterm playbook, hammering his Democratic opponent over crime and inflation. The message resonated in the New York suburbs, where GOP candidates flipped four seats on their way to winning a narrow House majority.

"But as Santos’ past came under closer scrutiny, with large chunks of his official biography revealed to be conjured from nothing, he increasingly adapted the persona of a right-wing troll."

Yes, so speaking of "crime," Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the Trolls, said he'd "look at the charges" before saying whether or not Santos should be removed from his fun House. He must've been caught off guard; the talking point will soon be that "in our system of justice, Mr. Santos is presumed innocent until proven guilty."

New York Republicans, at least, were ahead of the game, and can now "reiterate" their calls for Santos to step down. But Rep. Blake Moore of Utah still wants to slow play it. "Let the ethics investigation play out," Moore said. You can't be too careful, eh. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, formerly eased out of his Secretary of Interior stint for misusing that position expressed surprise that Santos "made it as long as he did," and still wants to defer to the Ethics Committee. Here's the corker: Santos can remain in Congress even if he's found guilty of one or all of the 13 charges.

"Nothing in the Constitution’s requirements for congressional office bars individuals under criminal indictment or conviction from serving, except for the 14th Amendment prohibitions for certain treasonous conduct committed after a member has taken the oath of office."

9.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

$5 million of accountability Permalink to this item

If the perp were the multibillionaire he pretends to be, this is barely walking around money, but still, it's better than nothing. The jury awards $2M for the sexual abuse; $20,000 (?!) in punitive damages for the willful, wantonly negligent, reckless disregard of the rights of Ms. Carroll; $2.7M for damages and a reputation repair program; and $280,000 for acting maliciously, out of hatred, ill will, spite, or wanton, reckless, or willful disregard of the rights of another.

The guy who wouldn't testify in the civil trial against him (because you know he couldn't testify without perjuring himself five ways to Wednesday) is whinging his usual complaints. It's a capital-H Hoax. Steve Katz highlights the inevitable self-own in the farrago of falsehoods spewing forth:

"We have allowed false and totally made-up claims from troubled individuals to interfere with our elections, doing great damage."

The misanthropic principle Permalink to this item

Back when the world was new(er), there was a magazine named after its company, which was in the relational database business. Informix Magazine. This came to my attention via Jeanette's chop box rescue at our local Library! where she volunteers to process donations. The name rings a bell, because I'm sure I once used their software, even though I couldn't remember exactly how, or for what. The personal transcript of my cube farm days provides a further clue: in July, 1988, I took a class with 12 hours' worth of "Data Adventure - Informix, Statit." Wikipedia has the timeline and logos from back in the day. The "Informix" name and an IPO came about in 1986, so it was the new, new thing when I took the class. (And it ran on the hp-ux workstations we all used for engineering.) Digging deeper, I see I wrote a program in C to post-process failure and throughput numbers fetched with Informix, to feed to Statit, with labels for its companion, Grafit, to make p-charts; along the way to improving quality control in the manufacture of disk drives.

The 'Ascential' corporate signature

The Wikipedia timeline ends with a two-part merger into IBM; first the "database subsidiary," Informix Software, then the remnant that flew under the name "Ascential Software," briefly. What a name, eh? Ascent-ial, get it? If you didn't, their beautiful corporate signature swooped it home. Up and to the right, as we used to say. For the Informix pre-merger annual report in 2000, the art department put their fork in the road on its cover. Literally.

Cover image of Informix Corp. 2000 Anuall Report

Metaphorically, it's a target-rich image in a plain landscape that would be dreamily familiar to denizens of the Bay area. Springtime in rather nondescript hills of California (with no hint of development beyond the highway itself), distant clouds over the sign, blue sky up higher. Ascential, to the left (??), is really more straight ahead, and up to the future. Informix disappears in a sharp, righ curve. The scene is blurred, as if we're at speed... and aiming straight at the sign? Which fork are we taking?!

The first page FINANCIAL SUMMARY data is overlaid on another fork image, motion-blurred headlights over an artsy printed circuit. Revenue had peaked over $1 billion in the dot-com boom of 1999, but then dipped in 2000. With "charges" for "merger, realignment & other charges, litigation settlement expense and write-off of acquired research and development," net income was minus $98 million.

The salutation to stockholders, customers, business partners and employees works the "road" theme, optimistically. After coming "a long way in 2000," two separate companies were "each moving in a clear direction," with great expectations based on "an unyielding focus, outstanding products, great people, clear strategies and significant opportunities in dynamic markets." The whole year was a downer, but Q4 had "substantially improved financial performance." After the restructuring, the two "operating companies" were "each taking a different road."

Just to hammer it home, the full color imagery on the next pages feature a rail turnout, motion-blurred passenger trains, and... a crossroads in a much dryer part of California. Devoid of development, traffic, or signage. Dreamy. Could go either way. Is this a good dream, or a bad dream? We're not sure yet.

Anyway. Before all that whizzed by, the Fall 1997 issue of Informix Magazine had a feature on "Dilbert," starting with a beautiful Courtney Winston photo of the artist, Scott Adams, pretending to look up from his work, wearing a button-down blue denim shirt emroidered with lightning-flanked Dogbert, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre. Adams is in the perfect bloom of his adulthood, and rising celebrity, joking about his strategy for "world domination" that he'd had since he was a fetus. The article is festooned with his copyrighted cartoons, and more images of him and Dilbert schwag, posing and mugging.

Knowing what we know now, all these forks later, there is all the tragic foreshadowing of a first act. Last millennium, there was the possibility of a TV show, then maybe a movie, then... not. After "week and weeks and weeks" in an MBA marketing class, he "hadn't learned a thing that wasn't intuitively obvious to the casual observer." "So much of marketing is just plain common sense—and yet so few people seem to do it well."

People. They're the worst. They abuse research. "Without getting into the minutiae of it, I would say that under-reliance and over-reliance on resarch are two of the biggest problems." Ha ha. The gushing interviewer wasn't going to save him from himself.

"One reason why "Dilbert" is so powerful is that it is universally true—everybody recognizes their companies absurditites and enjoys seeming them illioried in the funny pages. What are some of your favorite workplace-related targets right now?"

Non-creatives who think they're creative. CEOs. Secretaries. Technology imbeciles. Gullible co-workers. And what about the idea of the "network computer"? (I had to look that up; it was made by Oracle just about then and did not take the world by storm.)

"You have to understand that there's really no limit to how stupid people can be. You can take a bite out of that market, of course—but there's a totally unreachable group that are baffled by even the simplest concepts of existing technology. You probably just can't ever get to them."

Was there anything else he'd like to say to tout his latest book?

"I'm particularly fond of my prediction that someday we'll be able to use stupidity as a clean energy source."

7.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How do we think about toxicity? Permalink to this item

The "description" I came up with for the blog a long time ago was "politics, religion, economics, engineering, life." That seems to have durably covered what tends to grab my interest, even if it's too broad to be compelling. Reading Vox's promise and peril of AI, according to 5 experts brought to mind another axis that has certainly been threaded through the writing here.

If I'm going to talk about AI, let me start with a non-disclaimer: none of what I've presented as my writing on this site was generated by a thing. That used to go without saying, of course. But still. Peter Kafka (*ahem*) by breezily declaring "At this point, you have tried ChatGPT." In my case, I have to say, not really. When it first made a splash, I connected and tried to start a conversation, and it went nowhere, and then it was overloaded, and then it and all its pals were insisting on an account sign-up, or some other commitment I wasn't willing to make. I mentioned it on Facebook, but there's no incentive to look up the particulars. Many other people have reported amazing, semi-magical utterances, with no particular binding to accuracy. It's hard for me to see what's useful about that, other than the entertainment value of a parlor trick.

The expert whose caught my eye was James Manyika, SVP of technology and society at Google, responding to the question How can you make AI responsibly? Is that even possible?

"You’re trying to make sure the outputs are not toxic," he begins, and right away, I don't know. I would certainly try to do that if it were me building the thing, but I have no reason to expect everyone would do that. He said the output of Google's Bard is "not necessarily the first thing that [it] came up with." They throw out some answers?

"[We] pre-assess them for safety, for things like toxicity. And now we don’t always get every single one of them, but we’re getting a lot of it already.

"One of the bigger questions that we are going to have to face, by the way — and this is a question about us, not about the technology, it’s about us as a society — is how do we think about what we value? How do we think about what counts as toxicity?"

That's a big question for politics, religion, economics, engineering and life, alright. "[I]nvolving ethicists and social scientists to research those questions" sounds a little precious when technology will inevitably be weaponized.

Gary Marcus, entrepreneur and emeritus professor of psychology and neural science at NYU describes the problem more directly, with my emphasis added:

"It’s unreliable and untruthful. We’re making it faster and have more coverage, but it’s still unreliable, still not truthful. And for many applications that’s a problem. ...

"ChatGPT’s sweet spot has always been making surrealist prose. It is now better at making surrealist prose than it was before. If that’s your use case, it’s fine, I have no problem with it. But if your use case is something where there’s a cost of error, where you do need to be truthful and trustworthy, then that is a problem."

A bigger problem than AI, in fact. Our first go at a surrealistic president didn't turn out so well, for example.

May the Fourth, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Five 'Proud Boys' found guilty (+one pleaded out) Permalink to this item

The BBC view of "world news" says four were convicted of seditious conspiracy (just short of "treason"), and five of obstructing official proceedings, "alongside other felonies." 10 charges fell by the wayside, but that's fine. And if you get all the way down to the bottom, you'll read that

"The government's case in the Proud Boys trial relied in part on another Proud Boy, Jeremy Bertino, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and testified for the prosecution."

Photo of pizza man by Chris Tilley, Associated Press

Speaking of treason and the leader of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election in an autogolpe, Robert Reich responds to the latest news of January 6 fallout: Trump committed treason and will try again. He must be barred from running. It's the 14th Amendment vs. a demagogue who wants to chew your pizza before you get a bite. This:

“In 2016, I declared I am your voice,” Trump said last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a line he repeated at his first 2024 campaign rally, in Waco, Texas, a few weeks later. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

versus 14A, section 3, "Disqualification from Holding Office":

"No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

The New York Times covered the Proud Boys verdicts too, of course, with a nice video of Merrick Garland's victory lap at his presser. They have the phrase oft-heard of late that the sedition charge "is rarely used," except that's not true lately now, is it? The charge "harks back to the Union's efforts to protect the federal government against secessionist rebels during the Civil War," and here we are again.

As noted, six members of the Oath Keepers "militia" were previously convicted of sedition in our new civil war. We just need to round up the top guy.

Even his "manifesto" was a tawdry little thing Permalink to this item

Critic-at-large A.O. Scott deconstructs the swan song of smaller-than-life Tucker Carlson. Turns out it was "an unusually long (almost 200 words)" text message, an uncharacteristically "grammatically coherent, cleanly punctuated missive, without an abbreviation, emoji or autocorrect snafu in sight." There's almost a moment of redemption. Carlson writes that, while watching "a group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least,"

"[S]omewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be."

He shakes it off, apparently with confidence that this concern about being as bad as people he hates for the politics is a momentary distraction, and beneath him. As Scott puts it:

"The “shoulds” indicate that Carlson isn’t really bothered — is still actually gloating — but is aware that this reaction poses a problem."

The remarkable thing is not that Carlson is way gone over a bridge too far; it's that finally, in this one instance, there was a bridge too far for Fox News to follow him.

3.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How to deal with deadbeats Permalink to this item

Part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Heather Cox Richardson explains where that came from. And the day before, she outlined the attempt by the House extremist faction, its feckless leader, and the go-along Republicans like Idaho's Mike Simpson attempting to hold the credit of the United States hostage to leverage their budget wish list.

Props to Chuck Schumer for a better acronym for the bill the House managed to squeak through: the "Default on America Act." DOA.

HCR's May 1 edition segued to SCOTUS shenanigans, which ran long. It includes mention of the bill introduced by Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) last month, the Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act, "a bill to reform Supreme Court ethics that gets around the separation of powers issue by requiring the court to write its own code of conduct and appoint an official to review potential conflicts and public complaints."

That would be nice.

Meanwhile, our most activist high court is going to have another whack at the landmark 1984 decision, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, and probably gut the precedent of business regulation it set. With a 6-2 "conservative" panel to decide it, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recusing herself for having been on the circuit court that first heard the case underlying the challenge. Imagine that, an ethical SCOTUS recusal! And imagine yet another long-standing precedent discarded like yesterday's garbage because all the conservatives who pledged allegiance to stare decisis at their confirmation hearings only meant "when it suits us."

Yesterday, I saw that Robert Reich made an "originalist" suggestion for how to deal with the House's ransom note: Ignore them and rely on the Constitution.

"[I]f House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, [Mr. President,] you are obligated by the U.S. Constitution and your oath of office to ignore the debt ceiling and continue to pay the debts of the United States.

"Should they wish, let the radical Republicans take you to court.

"Even the Republican radicals on the Supreme Court will likely support you. No “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution could read that document differently.

"The Constitution makes it clear that Congress’s power to borrow money does not include the power to default on such borrowing."

2.May.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I thought juice jacking was about a drink Permalink to this item

Ars Technica has been a quietly reliable source since the late 1990s, and now I see it's 15 years after the parent of Condé Nast bought it up. Their story about a thing I somehow didn't know was A Thing is an interesting read: Those scary warnings of juice jacking in airports and hotels? They’re mostly nonsense.

Warnings have bounced around for more than a decade after "proof of concept" was demonstrated more than a decade (and countless generations of phones) ago. And now, Dan Goodin writes, it's become one of those chain letters that just won't go away, never mind that there are no facts to support a widespread threat.

"State and federal authorities and hundreds of news outlets—none of them with any expertise in cybersecurity—have generated a continuous feedback loop. This vicious cycle has done little more than scare the public into eschewing charging stations when there’s wide consensus among security professionals that there’s no reason for anyone other than high-asset targets of nation-states to do so."

One less thing to worry about. For now. Keep your software up to date.

Everything everywhere all at once Permalink to this item

Give it up for Roy Wood Jr.'s set at the White House Correspondents Dinner this past weekend. "We gotta get Tucker Carlson back on the air, Mr. President, because there are millions of Americans who don't know why they hate you."

If you haven't seen it, it's worth a half hour. Almost 13 minutes in, the setup, complimenting Ron DeSantis for "getting people riled up over stuff they can't understand. Don't nobody—they don't know what critical race theory is... they can't even define, like crypto or NFTs."

There was a funny jab at Democrats trying to explain things (ok, Trump scandals) while he said Republicans can't explain what CRT is. And then the two minute walk.

"Some Black folks might meet you halfway. But you gotta tell the truth, you can't lie to Black people. Call it what is. Anti-CRT policies are an attack on Black history, and an attempt to erase the contributions of Black people from the history books.

"That's what it is. You are trying to erase Black people, and a lot of Black people wouldn't mind some of that erasure as long as that Black person is Clarence Thomas.

"A billionaire name Harlan Crow is flying Clarence Thomas all over the world on unreported trips, like an Instagram model, taking Clarence to the Maldives and the beaches and all. Paid for his mama's house, this billionaire, paid for Clarence Thomas's mama's house. I got—I got to give it up to billionaires. Billionaires, boy, y'all, y'all are relentless. Y'all come up with something new to buy. Like just when you think of everything you could buy on Earth, a billionaire will come up with a new thing. Y'all bought space rockets. You bought Twitter.

"This man bought a Supreme Court Justice. You understand how rich you have to be to buy a Supreme Court—and a Black one on top of that? There's only two in stock. And Harlan Crow owns half the inventory.

"We can all see Clarence Thomas, but he belongs to Harlan Crow.
And that's what an NFT is."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007