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

Sea of lies Permalink to this item

Didn't quite rise to my "best of" reading list, but the 2022 book from Obama's former press guy, Dan Pfeiffer, is an entertaining read. In Battling the Big Lie; How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America, I kept waiting for the how-to punchline, which he did eventually get to. Shorter:

  1. Allocate your attention strategically.
    Don't feed the trolls.
  2. Share screenshots, not posts
  3. Don't spread disinformation
  4. Laughs travel as fast as lies
    C.f. TikTok star Abbie Richards and The Conspiracy Chart.
  5. Serve Your Revenge Cold
    "Stop trying to convert your MAGA uncle/dad/dentist/coworker/yoga instructor in the moment and, instead, go find two friends who aren't registered or even planning to vote and get them to vote."

It did also get the podcast-centric Crooked Media on my radar. Their pithy "About Us" at the bottom of the home page leaves me wondering how they came up with the name, and thought it was a good idea.

"Crooked believes that we need a better conversation about politics, culture, and the world around us—one that doesn’t just focus on what’s broken, but what we can do to fix it. We are a media network that showcases stories, voices, and opportunities for activism that inform, entertain, and inspire action, because it’s up to all of us to do our part to build a better world."

Not sure how to fit podcasts into my daily routines, but maybe? Dipping into the menu, under "Narrative," I see there's Another Russia, summer 2022 episodes centered on the 2015 assassination of "Putin's number one public enemy, Boris Nemtsov." "He was a relentless critic of Putin, corruption, and war in Ukraine," back before I was paying much attention to that, beyond the Crimean Anschluß. "His daughter, journalist Zhanna Nemtsova, and co-host Ben Rhodes tell his story to find out what happened to an entire country – and what happens next. Is another Russia possible?"

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

Who pays for asphalt and sulfur in the Yellowstone? Permalink to this item

That wasn't the headline for the other AP story that caught my eye this morning. No sign of threat from the hazardous train that plunged into Yellowstone River, regulators say. So that's, ah, good to hear. Seven cars were "mangled" in the bridge failure near the town of Columbus, MT, but Montana DEQ says their testing didn't show hydrocarbons are sulfur in the water. Who knew that "hot asphalt and molten sulfur" are shipped by rail?! I did not know.

"Right now, it's lookin' like it's giong to be a fairly stable incident..."

This New Tang Dynasty (?!) copy of the AP story has pictures of the collapsed multi-span through-truss. (Presumably, the pier failed before the trusses did.)

The best coverage I saw was from MTN News, on KRTV out of Great Falls, ad-framed by MSN. video with drone shots and reporter Haley Monaco's description.

Screenshot from bridge failure video

Four years ago, a derailment in a Spokane, WA railyard (that didn't reach my radar) prompted this Q&A: How dangerous is molten sulfur? It's usually transported at 290 degrees [Fahrenheit] to keep it from solidifying," it says there, without saying anything about tank car heaters. The US Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration has a 2014 white paper on Molten Sulphur Rail Tank Car Loading and Unloading Operations: Leading Practices in Industry, so that's good.

Who pays for rescue? Permalink to this item

Our local paper doesn't go to print on Monday anymore, but the daily email tells me "the latest issue of Idaho Press is now available online." (They tell me that about the Boise Weekly every day too, which seems odd.) The online version, managed by the Adams Publishing Group for 18 (!) named outlets in Idaho, served to me via, includes NATIONAL NEWS beyond what they include in print Tuesday-Sunday. It's biased toward a facsimile view, with what seem like too many bad choices for formatting. But I took the jump for my Monday morning news fix, and the lead story has a personal connection for me. Looking to share an unpaywalled link of the AP story, I found it on VOA News—the Voice of America, no less—and saw that there was more from the AP than what APG had set up.

When Wealthy Adventurers Take Huge Risks, Who Should Foot the Bill for Rescue Attempts? is the question, brought to the fore by OceanGate's recent misadventure. Non-spoiler alert: the story doesn't really find its way to an answer. It starts with a millionaire adventurer who had two expensive rescues, and one last attempted rescue before he went permanently missing in 2007, Steve Fossett.

The question could take other forms. When well-to-do adventurers take modest risks, who should foot the bill for rescue attempts? When ordinary people take ordinary risks, who should foot their bills for "accidents"? And so on.

We do have an answer for that last question: owners of motor vehicles in Idaho have to have insurance. The government of Nepal requires that Everest climbers have rescue insurance, the story notes. The Coast Guard's cost for the recent mission "is likely to run into the millions of dollars, [but] it is generally prohibited by federal law from collecting reimbursement related to any search or rescue service, said Stephen Koerting, a U.S. attorney in Maine who specializes in maritime law."

Ditto for the Idaho Army National Guard, as we found out 8 years ago, shipwrecked in the remote Owyhee River canyon. Along with my brief blog post, and a brilliantly illustrated "May Day" follow-up, I'm delighted to see that Mackenzie McCreary's (and my) account for The Argus Observer is still available online. Hip hip hooray for local news!

Stranded: Man recounts survival after canoe accident includes 4 of our pictures from the trip, starting with "the end of the canoe" in the Cabin rapids. "After it slipped away from the team," the caption says, delicately. After it swamped, and we swam for shore, and it wrapped around rocks, and so on.

Tom and Matt canoeing on a quiet stretch of the Owyhee

The US ANG members flying a Blackhawk through a snowstorm to fetch us out of the canyon were top-notch and professional. The Malheur Co. Sheriff and deputies, and the volunteers of the Malheur Co. Search & Rescue team likewise. We were effusive in our expressions of gratitude, as you'd imagine, and they were pleased to have us alive and well, as opposed to, you know.

2016 warning sign near the Boise River

Back home in Boise, where a mostly tamed river runs right through the middle of town, spring high water is a predictable hazard that comes with a warning written into City Code: If you enter (when told not to) and have to be rescued, you'll be charged for rescue efforts. An enhanced "KEEP OUT" sign.

More generally, it's an argument for a progressive tax system. Wealth has extensive privileges that need to be paid for, one way or another. If you needed an argument for a simpler tax system, it's that, too. Everyone is better served by fewer loopholes, easier compliance, and easier verification of compliance. Complexity favors cheating. Attacking (or defunding) the IRS favors cheats.

25.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Hospitality" with "friends" Permalink to this item

Jennifer Rubin op-ed, "Sheldon Whitehouse was right all along: The Supreme Court is corrupt." Not to put too fine a point on it. "[T]he best argument for court reform comes from Alito, whose arrogant, slipshod and unconvincing defense makes him the poster boy for serious court reform." Still, don't sell Clarence Thomas short!

Thom Hartmann considers the (self-answering) question: Have Billionaires Outfitted Justices with Golden Handcuffs to Stop “Liberal Drift”?

"The media is interpreting the relationship between rightwing billionaires and Supreme Court justices as good old fashioned corruption, as if they’re trying to buy votes. But what if, instead, it’s actually something far more insidious than that?"

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Travel by sea Permalink to this item

Long before my time, the essence of "mechanical engineering" was figuring out how to not have pressure vessels blow up, and kill people. Leonardo da Vinci had some thoughts about it, in his 1495 Codex Madrid I, "containers of pressurized air [] theorized to lift heavy weights underwater," according to Wikipedia. Later, there were boilers, steam, and the industrial revolution.

"However, with poor material quality and manufacturing techniques along with improper knowledge of design, operation and maintenance there was a large number of damaging and often Deathly explosions associated with these boilers and pressure vessels, with a death occurring on a nearly daily basis in the United States."

Quirky title case of "Deathly" there in the original. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers developed a Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, and mostly stopped the killing. In my pre-engineer days, I made an ignorant go at having an aluminum water tank made for a wood stove/solar hot water system for the mobile home I was living in. Domestic water pressure didn't have any lives at risk, but my fabricator and I learned that a lovely square-cornered cylinder of welded aluminum could not handle the truth, as it were.

That snippet of personal and technological history sprang to mind this morning, reading the Washington Post story about journalist Arnie Weissmann, who luckily missed the chance to go for a final dive with OceanGate. Titan CEO spoke of ‘discount’ parts, journalist invited on submersible says.

"Weissmann, editor in chief of Travel Weekly, said he was ready to accept an invitation from OceanGate for the June trip to explore the wreckage of the Titanic before a scheduling conflict arose. The May trip he took instead had its dive canceled due to bad weather, but Weissmann said he was struck by a conversation he had over cigars with OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush that has haunted him in the days after the submersible first went missing.

"As they puffed their Cuban cigars on the back deck of the submersible’s mother ship, the Canadian research ship Polar Prince, the night before the scheduled dive, Weissmann said Rush told him how he had gotten the carbon fiber used to make the Titan “at a big discount from Boeing.” Weissmann wrote in Travel Weekly that Rush said he was able to get the carbon fiber at a good rate “because it was past its shelf life for use in airplanes.”

And in the cheery epitaph Stockton Rush gave for himself (video on Twitter, embedded by WaPo):

"I'd like to be remembered as an innovator. I think it was General McArther who said 'you're remembered for the rules you break.' And, I've broken some rules to make this. I think I've broken them with logic and engineering behind me, the carbon fiber and titanium, there's a rule you don't do that, and well, I did."

Meanwhile, there was the parallel universe of that other maritime tragedy, too many hundreds of desperate migrants on an old fishing trawler out of Tobruk, Libya, that capsized before reaching Greece.

"As the Mediterranean became a stage for tragedy on June 14, a billionaire and several businessmen were preparing for their own voyage in the North Atlantic. The disappearance of their submersible as it dove toward the wreckage of the Titanic sparked a no-expenses-spared search-and-rescue mission and rolling headlines. The ship packed with refugees and migrants did not."

24.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Russo-Ukrainian War takes an eastward turn Permalink to this item

Did not have the start of a Russian civil war on my Saturday morning bingo card. Having read Serhii Plokhy's history of Ukraine, "The Gates of Europe," I'm now working on his 2023 book, The Russo-Ukrainian war : the return of history, and just finished chapters 3 and 4 ("Nuclear Implosion" and "The New Eastern Europe") this morning. Those describe the sequence of events after the fall of the Soviet Union, through the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations. There were nuclear weapons to sort out; divvying up the Black Sea fleet, and control of Sevastopol; the other countries out from behind the Iron Curtain beckoning to join NATO; Putin's Eurasian Union project to counter NATO (and EU) expansion; and especially Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity rejecting the Russia-friendly kleptocracy led by Victor Yanukovych. It was just days between Yanukovych fleeing Kyiv on February 21, 2014 and Putin's annexation of the Crimea, "which in turn served as the trigger for Russo-Ukrainian military conflict, the first stage of the all-out Russo-Ukrainian war."

And here we are, a decade on, Putin's mercenary frenemy Yevgeny Prigozhin calling the shots with fighting along the road to Moscow. (Prigozhin wasn't on Plokhy's bingo card either, I guess; he didn't make the book's index, at any rate.)

NYT infographic


"Meanwhile, flights out of Russia were selling out."
Washington Post

Not like I'm going to keep up the play-by-play, but since I started, as of just after noon MDT, the wildcard catering tycoon warlord said he wasn't going to Moscow after all. Just kidding. There was "an audio message on Telegram," after some sort of come to Jesus (or at least his senses) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Prigozhin said his forces had gotten within 200 kilometers of Moscow, and now “we turn our columns around and leave in the opposite direction to the field camps according to the plan.” The Washington Post could not immediately clarify his whereabouts. Prigozhin called his forces’ movement on Saturday — which began after Prigozhin called for Russians to join his campaign against President Vladimir Putin’s military leadership — a “march of justice.”

Some plan.

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

John Eastman was just saying Permalink to this item

The tick tock of accountability is about to ring for "the legal architect of Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election," as Politico subtitles its reporting of his reckoning, possible disbarment by the California State Bar, and, is that enough, really? It doesn't seem like enough. We all await word on whether he and his client will be criminally charged for the scheme.

"Duncan Carling, trial counsel for the California State Bar, emphasized that Eastman’s plan all along had been to avoid ever having a court pass judgment on the legitimacy of his effort to keep Trump in power. Eastman’s plan “was baseless, completely unsupported by historic precedent or law and contrary to our values as a nation”...

"Carling, in fact, noted that Eastman’s plan, by design, was never supposed to end up in court — precisely to avoid an adverse ruling. Rather, Eastman wanted key actors in the scheme to simply assert their power to take his preferred actions — and hope the courts would stay out of it, resorting to their typical hesitance to wade into conflicts between the other branches of government.

According to Eastman, however, his advice — no matter how unorthodox — was “tenable” legal advice, not something that should be punished, even if it turned out to be wrong or misguided.

Because he's a constitutional brainiac, don't you know.

"He contends there were legitimate, contested interpretations of the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 — which govern the counting of electoral votes — and that a “good-faith” dispute should not result in professional consequences."

"Good faith" has never been worked so disingenuously. He just wanted to "ensur[e] the election was properly and legally certified and votes were properly counted," his lawyer says. Politico saved the punch line for the last graf:

"Eastman also refused to back away from his suggestion last year to Wisconsin state lawmakers that it may be possible to decertify the 2020 election and remove Joe Biden. Pressed on this theory, Eastman agreed it would be “uncharted territory” but that he thought it was a legitimate potential outcome."

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

The Big Picture Permalink to this item

While House Republicans start to feel the oats, "successfully" censuring Adam Schiff for his role in outing their criminal former guy, and cooking up articles of impeachment for Joe Biden. The efforts at distraction are legion, but here's Fintan O'Toole to break through the noise with a piece for The New York Review: The Ultimate Deal; "Trump’s hoarding of official secrets is both breathtakingly careless and utterly calculated."

It's well paywalled beyond a teaser, but Dartagnan breaks it down for us on the Daily Kos, with the spoiler right there in the title: because he anticipated an opportunity to commit treason. Profitable treason, of course.

"Secrets are a kind of currency. They can be hoarded, but if kept for too long they lose their value. Like all currencies, they must, sooner or later, be used in a transaction—sold to the highest bidder or bartered as a favor for which another favor will be returned. To see the full scale of Donald Trump’s betrayal of his country, it is necessary to start with this reality. He kept intelligence documents because, at some point, those secrets could be used in a transaction. What he was stockpiling were the materials of treason. He may not have known how and when he would cash in this currency, but there can be little doubt that he was determined to retain the ability to do just that."

The Republicans' outrage about Adam Schiff, Hunter Biden's insufficient prosecution after a 5 year (!) investigation, about Bill Clinton's sock drawer, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, on and on, ad nauseum, are not serious in any way but one: they are chaff for the Trump family's treasonous, criminal enterprise. The bulk of them probably aren't thinking that way, but it has been the M.O. of unindicted co-conspirators Jim Jordan and James Comer and lots of others, for a long time.

Our member of the House, Rep. Mike Simpson, was one of the 20 Republicans who rejected last week's attempt to censure Schiff that included a call for a $16 million fine, posting a statement on Facebook for The Base to excoriate, and/or express their reading incomprehension. ("Then why did you vote against censure?" after he just said why.)

A week after Simpson's post, my reply comment is atop the stack of 134 (at least as Facebook shows it to me), with no responses from the rabble. (I came in 4 days after Simpson had posted, so I guess the moveable feast of outrage had moved somewhere else.) ICYMI, my Juneteenth blog post on Revenge politics, attempting to return to the big(ger) picture of how a lifelong criminal has hijacked the Republican Party, succeeding in large measure at hijacking the whole country for his pecuniary ends, to say nothing of his boundless, unfulfilled narcissism.

And now those 20 Republicans that helped table the first censure motion are back toeing the party line, the cuckolded servility to the treasonous Trump family business. The payoff for the Trump family has been, and continues to be huge, measurable in $billions. Beyond the worst fever dreams of false equivalency the Bidens, it hardly needs to be said. The keening about "overreach" and "weaponization" and "abuse of power" is obviously absurd, but oh so fervently acted out.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, the first Mexican-American Florida woman elected to Congress brought the bill, in this, her first year in office. RollCall reports she said "the measure was meant to help restore the public's trust in Congress." Is it a triumph of disingenuousness, or naïvité? At the least, she's fallen in with bad company.

“I’m not on Ethics but I think that they have a good start," she said, citing the work of special counsel John Durham, who investigated the FBI's handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election to help Trump.

Anyone else want to get in on the show? Of course.

"Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert offered a privileged resolution on Tuesday to impeach Biden, a measure that could allow her to go around House GOP leaders to bring it to the floor.... Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has also introduced impeachment resolutions that would target other members of the administration, and reportedly could soon move ahead with a privileged resolution to impeach FBI Director Christopher Wray. She has also introduced resolutions to impeach Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, and Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia."

Boebert and Greene are apparently fighting over who would get an impeachment of Biden in first. Greene wanted folks to know that "I made it clear to the conference that I have introduced articles of impeachment, literally since Joe Biden's first day in office," and "I have been talking about it with everybody forever. Literally, everyone. Forever, 'til I'm blue in the face. See me? I'm blue in the face."

Palate cleanser: Daniel Goldman.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Samuel A. Alito Jr. misleads his readers Permalink to this item

With the assistance of the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial side has long been a friend to plutocrats, and despicable opinions. Reported in the Washington Post:

"Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took issue with questions raised by the investigative journalism outlet ProPublica about his travel with a politically active billionaire, and on Tuesday evening, he outlined his defense in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal.

"Yet Alito was responding to a news story that ProPublica hadn’t yet published.

"Alito’s Journal column, bluntly headlined “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers,” was an unusual public venture by a Supreme Court justice into the highly opinionated realm of a newspaper editorial page. And it drew criticism late Tuesday for effectively leaking elements of ProPublica’s still-in-progress journalism — with the assistance of the Journal’s editorial-page editors."

The WSJ's paywall will keep the circulation limited, at least, while ProPublica's story—published 5 hours after Alito's prebuttal—is freely available. Thanks for the publicity, Sam. Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court. Six figures worth of fishy corrpution, which Alito—whoopsadaisy!—did not put on his annual financial disclosures.

Sam Alito's prepaid fishing expedition

Talk about return on investment! Big ol' Paul Singer, the hedge fund billionaire and Alito benefactor, at left in the vacation photo, has had business before the court at least 10 times. (And yeah, there's a timeline for that.)

"In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion."

At least it wasn't 5-4, hmm? And oh, look, "Leonard Leo, the longtime leader of the conservative Federalist Society, attended and helped organize the Alaska fishing vacation." How much credence should we give to a man who testified under oath in his confirmation hearing that "Roe v. Wade was an important precedent of the Supereme Court," to signal he was good to go, and then... argued that "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," and "must be overturned" once there was a majority to overturn it?

In his defense, ha ha, Jonathan Turley, esteemed apologist for various right wing causes, including not impeaching Donald J. Trump for his political extortion of Ukraine back in the day, says Alito was just upholding performative nonsense. He never promised a rose garden. He "accept[ed] the law of the land," which, ok, that is a higher bar than some of the right-wing bothers with. One by one, the extremist nominees "succeeded in repeating nothing but verbal nullities." Have you heard the one about the Scorpion and the Frog?

Turley finishes with a flourish from the quotable Otto, Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, Fürst von Bismarck, Herzog von Lauenburg: “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” (Apparently Bismarck didn't know Alaskan fishing trips were a thing.)

A bit of accountability Permalink to this item

Jeanette forecast that "a slap on the wrist" would be featured in the response to Hunter Biden's plea deal, and we were not disappointed. In the spam bucket, from "Hunter Biden GUILTY," subject line: "Hunter gets a slap on the wrist." I am addressed as "Patriot," naturally. The enclosed "poll" is just Yes/No, and not "ZOMG ON A SCALE OF 1 TO A MILLION, HOW OUTRAGED ARE YOU?!?!" But do send money to the RNC, wouldja? "Elect Common Sense" out of NJ is trying to fundraise too, under the subject "Hunter Belongs in Jail" (inexplicably not in all caps, unlike the lede sentence in the box, "HUNTER BIDEN IS A FREE MAN!" That one has a red LOCK HIM UP button. And hey, no "slap on the wrist," they missed the memo.

Purported sender Donald Trump Jr. ( also addressed me as "Patriot," of course, pumps the party organ's greatest hits in bold, black, italics, with A FEDERAL INDICTMENT FROM BIDEN'S DOJ (what, no underline?) and oh, whoops, this one ISN'T about Hunter Biden, no wrist-slapping here. The sig box says it's from/for "Team Elise, a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Elise for Congress and E-PAC," so everybody's getting in on the go.

Never mind that Hunter Biden faced years-long scrutiny, and pointedly got less than special treatment in this. Harry Litman, in the LA Times: Is the Hunter Biden plea deal really a slap on the wrist? Not remotely. And from my favorite daily historian, Heather Cox Richardson: "Rather than going easy on Hunter Biden, there are signs that prosecutors treated him more harshly than is typical for similar crimes," such as Roger Stone and his wife settling a $2 million unpaid taxes civil case with the DOJ last year; not charged criminally, not even given probation. "Justice reporter for NBC News Ryan Reilly noted that it is very rare for prosecutors to bring the addict in possession of a weapon charge they used against Biden. In the past it has been used to find a charge that will stick or alongside charges concerning violent crime." (It is just a bit precious for the GUNS ÜBER ALLES team to get fussy about Biden having a gun for two weeks, and not actually using it, by any account.)

"Representative James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, promptly accused “the Bidens” of “corruption, influence peddling, and possibly bribery” and called the deal “a slap on the wrist.” Throughout the day, right-wing figures have insisted that the deal is proof that President Biden is using the Justice Department to shield his family and to persecute his enemies."

Of course the big orange former guy had something to blurt out in his private echo chamber in ALL CAPS, with THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN and CROOKED and MARXISTS & COMMUNISTS ALL, do you not feel pity for the DOJ coming after him to HIT ME FROM ALL SIDES ∓ ANGELS WITH BULL....!

The angels of our better nature nag at him so fiercely he's pulling back on obscenities? Also, the Department of Justice has his number. Finally. Also the State of New York. And Georgia.

On the other hand, the government of Oman ("with which Mr. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, cultivated ties while in office and which plays a vital diplomatic role in a volatile region") is for at least $5 million, and Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund is the grift that keeps on grifting, $2 freaking billion and counting. The CROOKED LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE IN OUR COUNTRY. Sort of. Not to put too fine a point on it:

“This is as blatant as it comes,” said Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit group that has investigated Mr. Trump’s foreign deals. “How and when is he going to sell out U.S. interests? That is the question this creates. It is the kind of corruption our founding fathers most worried about.”

"What would you say if you saw it in another country?" Brendan Nyhan asks us to consider. Or to make it even easier for Republicans, what would you say if Hunter Biden did it?

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

They say confession is good for the soul Permalink to this item

First of all, it's nice to hear from the former guy that he knows he's not president any more. That puts him ahead of a lot of his followers, and the quisling talking points.

Second of all, "do you remember" is a serious perjury trap for him. Not that his "testimony" to Brett Baier is worth of bucket of warm spit for anyone old enough to remember the Helsinki debacle walkback when he tried to edit a "not" into his garbling capitulation to Putin. Blame it on the TelePrompTer operator.

"Brett. There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things and it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document, I didn't have document per se, there was nothing to declassify, these were newspaper stories, and magazine stories and articles."

So, ah, let's go over what "document" means? Baier says "I'm just saying what the indictment says." You know, the allegations of purported fact that you and your crack attorneys are going to have to answer in court? Cue projection:

"These people are very dishonest people, they're thugs. They're thugs, if you look at what they've done, to other people, what they've done t—and overturned in the US Supreme Court, these are thugs"

"Because I had boxes..."

Yeah, we saw the pictures. What was it about those boxes that kept you from turning them over, in response to the subpoena? Baier's just reading through the indictment (and I'm wondering, has Trump read it for himself?!), and asking why didn't you just comply with it, rather than telling your lawyers to say you'd complied when you hadn't? (You know, the whole obstruction of justice problem.) What was so bloody special to you about "your boxes"?

"Before I send boxes over I have to take all of my things out—these boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things, ah, golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things, I would say much much more–

Screencap of Brett Baier, interviewing Trump

"Iran war plans?" Baier interjected, with laser focus.

"not that I know of, but, not that I know of but everything was declassified and Biden didn't have the right to do that because he wasn't president nor did Mike Pence by the way have the right to do that because he wasn't president."

As Brian Tyler Cohen elaborates in the post-interview play-by-play, in addition to confessing to the alleged crimes, he seems to think justifying the criming is all he needs to do. ("I was very busy"). BTC:

"And look, I'm not here to give any free legal advice to Donald Trump but someone on his payroll might have considered reminding him that he has the right to stay silent."

Brit Hume, Fox News' "chief political analyst," struggled to analyze his way through this conundrum, and maybe stumble upon a preview of the defense strategy?

"His answers on the matters of the law seem to me to verge on incoherent... It was not altogether clear what he was saying."

Juneteenth, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Revenge politics Permalink to this item

In spite of carefully avoiding the "sign me up for your newsletter" checkbox in my correspondence with Rep. Mike Simpson, I seem to be on this list. The latest things he wanted me to know about:

Said statement boxed and outlined, and posted on Facebook, where the "tak[ing of] serious issue with Representative Schiff's previous actions to push an agenda that proved to be false" did not satisfy the folks who noticed he voted to table the censure motion. Simpson explains that the House "has historic procedures to handle complaints," in a bipartisan manner through the House Ethics Committee. Fair enough? Not for Chris Washburn:

"Big mistake……BIG!!!!! Can’t wait until the next election!!!! Mikes got to go!!!!"

Or, ah, Troy Bruce:

"Censure would not be revenge politics. It would be setting a president to all politicians to be honest. Something it seems both party's could learn a lot about."

"Sic." That earned a reply from BJ Wolfe, "perfect Comment [8 thumbs up emojis] Perfect [4 flag emojis]" There were a very few supportive comments for our congressman. Sly sarcasm from Matt Towser ("He was the one that said the election was stolen and pushed that false narrative right?"). But the vast majority were indignant about his bad vote, or wanted to know WHY? Right there below his statement explaining why:

"No matter how profoundly we disagree with another member's conduct, we must follow this process because this is the United States of America, and we extend due process to every citizen no matter what their job or position is. We need to remember that if we engage in revenge politics, we can expect the same will be done to our members when we no longer hold the majority. At some point, this needs to stop, and we need to focus on solving theproblems facing America instead of relitigating the same issues over and over."

Joshua Long did take the trouble to quote the "revenge politics" part, above his reply:

"Losing strategy. Has anyone told this Fudd that we're at war? That there is no coexistence with communism, he either fights or is conquered?

"When you have a beast pinned, you pull its teeth, or it's gonna eat you when you let it up.

"Hopefully the next one who holds his office realizes the nature of this conflict. The communists aren't interested in fair play. They are on a mission of conquest."

Yes, well, speaking of (former) "communists," there was the 5 volume report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on RUSSIAN ACTIVE MEASURES CAMPAIGNS AND INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 U.S. ELECTION.

"Paul Manafort's connections to Russia and Ukraine began in approximately late 2004 with the start of his work for Oleg Deripaska and other Russia-aligned oligarchs in Ukraine. The Committee found that Deripaska conducts influence operations, frequently in countries where he has a signficant economic interest. The Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations....

"Pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs with deep economic ties to Russia also paid Manafort tens of millions of dollars and formed strong ties with Manafort independent of Deripaska.

"Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer...

"Prior to joining the Trump Campaign in March 2016 and continuing throughout his time on the Campaign, Manafort directly and indirectly communicated with Kilimnik, Deripaska, and the pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine. On numerous occasions, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik. The Committee was unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik or with whom Kilimnik further shared that information. The Committee had limited insight into Kilimnik’s communications with Manafort and into Kilimnik’s communications with other individuals connected to Russian influence operations, all of whom used communications security practices. The Committee obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election. ...

"After the election, Manafort continued to coordinate with Russian persons, particularly Kilimnik and other individuals close to Deripaska, in an effort to undertake activities on their behalf. Manafort worked with Kilimnik starting in 2016 on narratives that sought to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the U.S. election."

This excerpt is just part of page 6 of 966 of the PDF of the 5th volume. I'll confess I haven't read the whole thing, but suffice to say that collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign (and administration) is a well-established fact.

I am at least old enough to remember May 16, 2017 when then-president Trump admitted to sharing top-secret codeword information with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the Oval Office, with only Russian press present to cover it. Eliot Cohen noted in The Atlantic that the consequences were "only beginning." Four months into the four year term.

TASS photo. Can you believe it?

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

Who let the dogs out Permalink to this item

West Bonner School District logo

Well this is turning out super double plusgood. The attempt to install one-time Democrat turned Republican extremist and two-time loser Branden Durst as Superintendent of the West Bonner school district in far north Priest River, Idaho has hit a snag. In spite of knowing "all the applicable terms" (which "kind of shocked [the] audience") for his job interview, it turns out that Durst does not have the required qualification of four years of full-time, certificated employment in a school. So...

"Durst plans on applying for and obtaining an emergency provisional certificate — a workaround that would allow the superintendent appointee to work in the position for up to a year, after which he would have to apply to extend his emergency authorization or reach the minimum qualifications for an administrator certificate with an endorsement as a school principal, superintendent, or director of special education."

Reminds me of that long way of saying "no": lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. Also, you can get an "emergency provisional certificate" that substitutes for four years of work?!

It seems that Durt's main qualification is that he's "a senior analyst of education policy research" for the Idaho Freedom Foundation anarcho-libertarian advocacy organization. The IFF declares its mission "to make Idaho into a Laboratory of Liberty by exposing, defeating, and replacing the state's socialist public policies." And what could be more "socialist public policy" than a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools? At any rate, the West Bonner trustees held an eight minute meeting Wednesday afternoon in which they

  1. Struck an agenda item calling for Durst’s appointment to be rescinded, and
  2. Voted to table the contract discussion, citing concerns of “improper and unprofessional” conversations from within the district with legal counsel.

Yes, citing concerns, let's rethink this. At some future date.

Our sandwich menu Permalink to this item

Cautionary tale and assessment from Jill Lawrence on the Bulwark: “Threading the Needle” on Trump Is a Dangerous Game. "You can protect national security. Or you can protect Trump. You can’t do both." Lawrence reviews the tap dancing of the crowded field of presidential contenders and senate weasels who don't want to alienate any of The Base who are fine with sacrificing national security and what functioning justice system we have for their minority rule.

"We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone."
Special Counsel Jack Smith

My spam bucket currently illustrates several of her examples, ever-fundraising on outrage. J.D. Vance going to stop all DOJ nominations. Ted Cruz, under the subject "Trump Indictment Alert [Must-Read]" starts with RUSH EMERGENCY SUPPORT TO TED CRUZ >>, damn, without even a spoiler alert. Cruz wants your money to help him "expose Merrick Garland, Joe Biden and the entire Deep State apparatus," which, oddly enough, is actually working right out in the open. Hello, Jack Smith! Lawrence concludes (with my emphasis and extra paragraph breaks):

"Trump is unfit for office, and more prominent Republicans should be saying that flat out without burying it in baseless assaults on the pillars of U.S. democracy.

"Journalists sometimes use a “truth sandwich” technique to elevate facts above lies. The first and last statements are the truth and the false claim is buried in the middle, knocked down coming and going.

"What we’ve seen to date from these Republicans tepidly, timidly criticizing Trump is more like a lie sandwich: The acknowledgement of his misdeeds is surrounded by dishonest attacks on everybody and everything else. That’s got to change, and it won’t if Christie is the only Republican presidential candidate acting like it’s an all-or-nothing moment for America."

idaho's junior Senator, Jim Risch, isn't big on much, but he likes to puff himself up on national security topics from time to time. His official website's whizzy new front page slider is currently featuring his "Effort to Lower Prices at the Pump," countering "Biden's Woke Military," "Combat[ing] 'Smash-And-Grab'," "Invest[ing] in America's Forests and Watersheds," and "Implement[ing] Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act." Under the Issues menu, regarding Constitution, Crime & Judiciary, this direct statement:

"Those who violate our laws must be held accountable for their actions and punished for their crimes. I believe the punishment imposed by our judicial system must be appropriate to the crime to discourage and deter future criminal behavior."

Amen! If only he could say that out loud, at the right moment. He's mostly been sticking to the Chuck Malloy recommendation of keeping your head down and working undercover. In November, 2017, Malloy excoriated Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, and promoted Risch, even as "federal indictments [were] starting to come out of Washington, D.C.," and there was no telling "if [Trump would] even survive his term in office." (That Lewiston Morning Tribune piece is on Risch's website too, minus its copyright notice and byline, in case the paywall stops you.)

Having kept his head down, Risch is now the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he's on the Select Committees on Intelligence, and Ethics. For what good that does anyone.

15.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

House Un-American Activies Permalink to this item

That headline popped into my head this morning and I had to use it for something. Which is not hard to come up with these days. I did have to look up the 1945-1975 original to figure out to manage the capitalization, which is... awkward. But god forbid we should decapitalize our homage to Amerigo Vespucci. The Wikipedia entry includes detail of four precursors, and much, much more. HUAC flamed out when the execrable Sen. Joseph McCarthy—"who had no direct involvement with the House Committee"—did, in the late 1950s. By 1959, the committee was being denounced by former President Harry S. Truman as the "most un-American thing in the country today," and I wasn't really following anything political until the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1960. When I was 5.

The atAdvocacy News summary of the CBS News that the House rejected the bid to censure Adam Schiff:

"20 Republicans joined with Democrats to kill a Trumper-led effort to punish Rep. Adam Schiff over his tireless efforts to investigate Donald Trump. They did so not because they approve of holding the disgraced ex-president accountable for any of his many crimes but because they are EXTREMELY unwilling to set the precedent of levying multi-million dollar fines against a fellow member of Congress. Given the atrocious behavior exhibited by most congressional Republicans, one can understand why they would not want to open that door."

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna [R-FL-13] introduced H.Res.489 - Censuring and condemning Adam Schiff, Representative of California's 30th Congressional District. last week, "for herself, Mr. Gaetz, Mrs. Boebert, Mr. Moore of Alabama, Mr. Hern, Mr. Burlison, Ms. Hageman, Mr. Norman, Mr. Langworthy, Mr. Mike Garcia of California, and Mr. Luttrell," with a false premise about Special Counsel John Durham's report having "revealed" something, followed by WHEREASes into la la land. It ends with a big kicker, proposing a kangaroo court of the Committee on Ethics to have an "investigation" that would find Schiff"should be fined in the amount of $16,000,000."

The House tabled it yesterday, 225-196, with our Congressman, Mike Simpson, one of the 20 Republican YEA votes. Good on him for that. Republicans Darrel Issa and George Santos voted "PRESENT," along with five Democrats (DeSaulnier-CA, Escobar-TX, Ivey-MD, Ross-NC, Wild-PA). Five (3R, 2D) NOT VOTING, and it all adds up to a surprisingly wide margin.

Of course, extremists don't just give up in these days of shouting lies ever louder. "Following the vote to table the resolution, Luna said she would try again next week," the CBS report says. And this:

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said earlier Wednesday that he would vote [and did in fact vote] to table the resolution because he considered the proposed fine against Schiff to be unconstitutional. Though he added that he thought Schiff "acted unethically."

"The Constitution says the House may make its own rules but we can't violate other (later) provisions of the Constitution," Massie tweeted. "A $16 million fine is a violation of the 27th and 8th amendments."

Massie said later Wednesday he was told "a Constitutional version will be offered now."

Still ending with if it is determined by an investigation, one wonders? Libelous accusations are a dime a dozen.

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

Inherit the whirlwind Permalink to this item

It's safe to say the whole nation is suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. As much as you try, you can't not look at the remains of the car crash as you go by on the freeway, or not look at the dumpster on fire in the alley. Our historic moment is captured in kaleidoscopic coverage, such as the NYT update stack on yesterday's arraignment. My highlights:

Twice impeached and now twice indicted (with two more indictments likely to come); update "elect a clown expect a circus" to "elect a criminal, expect indictments."

Maggie Haberman said it was "striking how little energy this speech — and this crowd — had. This was essentially a rally, yet he barely walked the stage. He pumped his fist and mouthed, “Thanks.” I’ve never seen him linger for such a short amount of time." Lingering, yes. Like orange on the collar, or a bathtub ring in the gold shower.

The claque's rallying cry BUTTER EMAILS has moved from pathetic to pathological. Brilliant headline for the sidebar on that: Hillary Clinton’s Emails: A Nation Struggles to Unsubscribe. No amount of factual reporting or objective analysis that these "two episodes are vastly different legal matters" will make it stop. It's not about facts. It was never about facts. "Even Chris Christie," blamed the DOJ "for not charging Hillary Clinton." (I guess since she's not a former president, the "insufficient indictment" theory can be combined with the new "principle" that "former presidents are above the law," without contradiction?)

Tornado shelter sign, Denver airport, 2018

What is absurdly contradictory is the GOP crickets about the incestuous hiring and security clearance override ending up with Jared and Ivanka Trump's off-government emails (and WhatsApp messages). "CNN reported [in 2018] that Kushner was communicating with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman using WhatsApp."

Reid Epstein's short take that "This speech is unsurprisingly focused on Trump’s own legal travails, but it is remarkable how much of what he has been saying in recent weeks has focused on himself, rather than on making any kind of case about what he’d do if elected for a second term." I don't think "remarkable" means what he seems to think it means. There's nothing remarkable about Donald J. Trump focused on himself.

Doug Mills' shot of "the crowd here at Bedminster [] grown very quiet" behind the bunting and against a black background has a very SciFi feel. Is it The Truman Show, or A Boy and His Dog that I'm thinking of? "Black comedy," for sure.

More Haberman: "Trump appears to be trying to keep a lid on his anger, which people in touch with him say has been coming in episodes over the last few days." And, "Trump’s motorcade is rolling into Bedminster as [the cover of the Mark James song,] “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley plays over the loudspeakers." Bravo to the soundman making that choice. A song "about a mistrusting and dysfunctional relationship."

As luck would have it, we just watched the PBS rebroadcast of the 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind last night. Courtroom drama! Megalomania! Aging pol slightly off his rocker! Willfully ignorant townsfolk calling for a lynching! New media right there in the courtroom bringing drama direct to the masses! Compare Glenn Thrush's capture of yesterday's drama between "a Tense Trump and a Poker-Faced Smith," also in black and white:

"After a 50-minute courtroom encounter unlike any other in the country’s history, Mr. Trump exited by a side door recessed in dark wood paneling, but not before allowing himself a curious peek over his shoulder at the 40 or so reporters crammed into the room.

"About a minute later, Mr. Smith and his team walked to the opposite side of the room and left wordlessly. He did not look back."

And, inevitably, after exiting the side door recessed in dark paneling, Trump flew out of Miami and back to Newark, to go to his golf club and "give a speech and hold a fund-raiser with top donors." It's always about (other people's) money for the sad "billionaire."

In her June 13 Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson considers the history of non-prosecution for crimes against the nation, from the traitors that launched the ignoble cause of the Civil War, to the treasonous Richard Nixon, (skipping the Iran-Contra perps and whitewashers, hello Bill Barr!) to the audacity of Nevada's Cliven Bundy clan (with its most active perpetrator, Ammon, now "of Idaho," unfortunately), and finally to the "dampen[ed] enthusiasm" and turnout of former guy's protesters, what with the "more than 1,000 people who participated in the events of January 6 have been charged with crimes, and many have been sentenced to prison."

Holding a former president accountable for an alleged profound attack on the United States is indeed unprecedented, as his supporters insist. But far from being a bad thing to stand firm on the rule of law at the upper levels of government, it seems to fall into the category of “high time.”

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

Old man yells at cloud Permalink to this item

Reading through Cory Doctorow's pitch for Saving the news from Big Tech with end-to-end social media, when I came to the part about Facebook having locked in users (because they like interacting with each other—their "friends"—through the platform), and advertisers (all those eyeballs!), and then "making it[self] a substitute for [publishers'] web presence, rather than a funnel to drive traffic to their own sites."

"Facebook caps this off by downranking any post that includes a link to the public web, forcing publishers into the conspiracy to make "Facebook" synonymous with "the internet."

"Then, in end-stage enshittification, publishers' reach is curtailed altogether. They are told – either explicitly or implicitly – that they have to pay to "boost" their material to reach the subscribers who asked to see it."

He refers to that as "social media ransom," which is to say "tech finds a way to steal money from publishers no matter how they make that money." Commanding 51% of every ad dollar, he says. And 30% of every in-app subscription dollar.

"And social media companies demand danegeld ("verification," "boosting," etc.) from publishers who want to reach the audiences that asked to see their materials."

That explains the whole "boost" business. And the deprecation of "the public web" explains why the (very) occasional posts I put on Facebook, teasing to the blog here don't produce much result. There's no money in it for them. I am not the customer. I am chum. (I'm not making any money here, and they're not making any money directly from me, but I serve my purpose as lubricating the lock-in.)

"What can we do about this? The answer lies in the founding ethic of the internet itself: the end-to-end principle... the job of the network is to transmit data from willing senders to willing receivers, as efficiently and reliably as possible. One expression of end-to-end is Network Neutrality, the idea that carriers shouldn't be allowed to slow down the data you request unless the service you're trying to use pays for "premium carriage."

The more formal version of Doctorow's series is on the Electronic Frontier Foundation site; here's the final episode of the six(?) part series, with links to the previous items at the end: To Save the News, We Need an End-to-End Web.

PS on my headline: Know Your Meme.

West Side Story Permalink to this item

The Daily Kos teaser to Tess Owen's piece for Vice News, Proud Boys Too Upset About Bud Light to Care About Trump's Indictment caught my eye. Story is "all indications suggest the far-right gang remains focused on targeting the LGBTQ community, and have so far brushed off the charges against Trump."

"Just three years ago, Donald Trump was the Proud Boys’ North Star. The yellow-and-black clad far-right street-fighters were prepared to mobilize, get into brawls, risk criminal charges—even conspire to overthrow the government—all in his name."

It seems all those criminal charges, prosecutions, guilty pleas and verdicts, and jail time are having some deterrent effect. That, and it's always easier to punch down, which they're doing by targeting Pride Month, drag shows, Bud Light and so on.

The story brought to mind the Jets and the Sharks going at each other over "turf," and you know, the racism. At any rate, reason to read about the background of what turned into (and still is) a gigantic hit (the good kind of hit), on Wikipedia. 16 major productions, 66 years and still going. Conceived before I was, the idea started as East Side Story about Catholic "Jets" and Jewish "Emeralds," and was the nexus for two of the greatest composers in history, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Get a load of this:

"Bernstein composed West Side Story and Candide concurrently, which led to some switches of material between the two works. Tony and Maria's duet, "One Hand, One Heart", was originally intended for Cunegonde in Candide. The music of "Gee, Officer Krupke" was pulled from the Venice scene in Candide. [Arthur] Laurents explained the style that the creative team finally decided on:

"Just as Tony and Maria, our Romeo and Juliet, set themselves apart from the other kids by their love, so we have tried to set them even further apart by their language, their songs, their movement. Wherever possible in the show, we have tried to heighten emotion or to articulate inarticulate adolescence through music, song or dance."

"To articulate inarticulate adolescence," how perfect is that? The current production of The Proud Boys v. LGBTQ+ does not have Bernstein and Sondheim to make it zing, but we do have Randy Rainbow, thank goodness for him.

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

We don't need another zero Permalink to this item

It's just a sound bite, so maybe there's exculpatory context? But it seems unlikely. Mike Pence's brand of religion and ethics seem wholly performative, and unmoored from, you know, right and wrong? He did the Right Thing, bigly, on January 6, 2021, so good on him for that, but it's not enough by itself. From Saturday's Newshour Weekend Mike Pence, former U.S. Vice President:

"[A] former president, like every other American, is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Attorney General Merrick Garland stop hiding behind the special counsel and stand before the American people and explain why this indictment went forward."

Yes, our system of justice is presumed to presume innocence. (This works much better for white—and orange—people than people of color, but let that be for the moment.) The second sentence is straight off the rails. Hiding behind the special counsel? If we presume Pence is not utterly ignorant (you would really hope), he would have to be familiar with the purpose of a special counsel to isolate an investigation from political influence. Bad faith from him, at the best.

Secondly, no explanation is needed. You can read the indictment. (You should read the indictment.) Res ipsa loquitur.

Or he could talk to Bill "Dodgy Stopped Clock" Barr. Barr was on Fox News Sunday today (Newshour Weekend told me), and had this to say:

"We have to wait and see what the defense says and what [is] proved to be true, but if even half of it is true[], he is toast." I mean, it's a pretty, it's a very detailed indictment, it's very very damning."

8.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy indictment day! Permalink to this item

It's mind-boggling to hear the indignant decrying of Trump's enablers over the "weaponization" of the federal government to, ah, enforce laws? Without fear or favor? Just a reminder that this is not the former guy's first indictment; nor is it the last one he'll see. The whole façade of "the party of law and order" is suddenly crumbling to dust.

House Republican conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik called the indictment “the epitome of the illegal and unprecedented weaponization of the federal government.” Ron DeSantis said it was “the weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.” Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy tweeted that House Republicans would “hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”

Not that they're sharing talking points or anything. Jim Jordan's House Judiciary Committee account tweeted "WITCH HUNT" for a little variety. And other House Republicans of low caliber were even less lawful and ordered. In the NYT roundup:

"Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies, predicted that the former president would prevail against the charges, and that his rivals would be imprisoned."

Update: In the next-day NYT omnibus coverage, House Republicans are rallying behind Trump, adopting his false narrative about the indictment, "suggesting falsely that Mr. Biden, not a grand jury made up of American citizens, had charged him with crimes as part of a political vendetta." Steve Scalise joins McCarthy and Stefanik in the crooked claque. And the even darker side of extremism will be well-represented.

One member of Congress, Representative Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, hinted at a major backlash, in a cryptic tweet that appeared to refer to Mr. Trump as the true American president — “rPOTUS,” an acronym sometimes used by his supporters for “real president of the United States” — referenced the scale used in military maps, and told his followers to “buckle up.”

6.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cabled news networks Permalink to this item

Robert Reich extends his insight about the demise of CNN. From last August's firing of Brian Stelter to the month-ago "town hall" featuring "whatever [Trump] wanted," it's been a steep slide to oblivion.

"In recent months, its ratings have hit record lows. In March, CNN hit a three-decade nadir in viewership. In May, its primetime show ratings fell 25 percent from the year before."

What Brian Stelter said as he was being pushed out the door (along with John Harwood and Jeffrey Toobin) last summer:

"It’s not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue. It’s not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It’s required. It’s patriotic. We must make sure we don’t give platforms to those who are lying to our faces."

Apparently the leadership team read that as an Opposite Day warning, and see how well that worked. Reich refers us to Tim Alberta's feature piece fresh in The Atlantic, Inside the Meltdown at CNN. "How did it all go wrong?" Alberta mentions Chris Licht's previous gig, "producing a successful late-night comedy show," and it reminded me that yeah, he was the showrunner and executive producer of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. "Best known as," his Wikipedia page still says this morning. That also quotes his stirring first-day memo to all employees. "First and foremost, we should, and we will be advocates for truth."

"All of these concerns, it turned out, were warranted."
Tim Alberta

Or was it a "move to the ideological center"? The trouble is, if you measure the "center" by the Overton window, it comes out halfway between the two major political properties, without regard to "truth." What's the midpoint between truth and lies? What's the counterpoint to the continuous blast of distortion, hyperbole, and lies of Donald Trump in general, or that noisome campaign rally devolved into "a WWE match before the first voter asked a question" in Manchester? (It was complete with an audience of "diehards, fanboys, [and] political zealots" at the far edge of the truth v. lies spectrum.)

"Vince McMahon himself could not have written a juicier script: Trump was the heroic brawler—loathed by the establishment, loved by the masses—trying to reclaim a title wrongly taken from him, while Collins, standing in for the villainous elites who dared to question the protagonist’s virtue, was cast as the heel. “She’s not very nice,” Trump told the studio audience, pointing toward [Kaitlin] Collins while she stood just offstage during the first commercial break."

5.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Stay woke, my friends Permalink to this item

Thunderstorms gather over the Boise Front, May 30, 2023

Heather Cox Richardson's June 4 Letter from an American connects the all-too-obvious dots of the current axis of evil that threatens democracies around the world. From the heart of eastern Europe, where centuries of warfare have failed to establish a religion that could live up to its supposed ideals, the tragi-comic Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, awarding the First Degree of the Order of Glory and Honor from the Russian Orthodox Church to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, thanks to his “great attention to the preservation of Christian values in society and the strengthening of the institution of family and marriage.” (Is there a Second Degree honor, I wonder?)

The beating heart of the Trump sychophancy, the Conservative Political Action Conference, has now met twice in Hungary (including just last month), and fêted (rhymes with fetid) Orbán at their meeting in Texas 10 months ago. Deep in the heart of Texas, "the crowd roared, whooped and gave a standing ovation," "[seeing] in Orbán a kindred spirit – a blunt weapon to wield against liberal foes."

They so love a blunt weapon. "Rarely has the alliance between nationalist parties across the Atlantic been so bold, overt and unshackled," David Smith wrote for The Guardian. CPAC-in-Texas' lineup also featured Steve Bannon, and Majorie Taylor Greene, who enthusiastically said the unquiet part out loud:

“When I said that I’m a Christian nationalist, I have nothing to be ashamed of because that’s what most Americans are.”

Truth be told most Americans (54% in an October, 2022 Pew Research poll) "have not heard or read anything about Christian nationalism"; those willing to respond about their "unfavorable or favorable?" view of it said "unfavorable" by 5 to 1.

If they want to catch up on their hearing and reading, they could start with Susan Stubson's op-ed for the New York Times last month: What Christian Nationalism Has Done to My State and My Faith Is a Sin.

"Wyomingites got a very real preview this past legislative session of the hazards of one-size-fits-all nationalized policies that ignore the nuances of our state. Last year, maternity wards closed in two sparsely populated communities, further expanding our maternity desert. Yet in debating a bill to provide some relief to new moms by extending Medicaid’s postpartum coverage, a freshman member of the State House, Jeanette Ward, invoked a brutally narrow view of the Bible. “Cain commented to God, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” she said. “The obvious answer is no. No, I am not my brother’s keeper. But just don’t kill him.”

"Brutally narrow" is a bit too charitable for an exactly wrong reading of the most basic lesson in the book. Ward took Cain's side against God's indictment.

As luck would have it, the CPAC shindig in Texas happened the weekend before the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago retrieved 33 boxes of bric-à-brac and stolen documents, many of which were marked CONFIDENTIAL (30 of them), SECRET (53), or TOP SECRET (17). The indictment clock is ticking down, and it's starting to drive the former guy a little batty. This, posted to his Falsehood Antisocial, after Mike Pence was let off the hook for the handful of documents he was holding: "That's great, but when am I going to be fully exonerated, I'm at least as innocent as he is." No question, eh.

HCR goes on to talk about the other Florida Man, the lesser autocrat-in-waiting, with his perverted remake of Churchill's famous speech after the evacuation of a third of a million Allied solders from Dunkirk:

The political career of Florida governor Ron DeSantis is the epitome of Orbán’s “Christian democracy” come to the United States. DeSantis has imitated Orbán’s politics, striking at the principles of liberal democracy with attacks on LGBTQ Americans, abortion rights, academic freedom, and the ability of businesses to react to market forces rather than religious imperatives. Last week he told an audience that “the woke mind virus represents a war on the truth so we will wage a war on the woke. We will fight the woke in education, we will fight the woke in the corporations, we will fight the woke in the halls of congress. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. We will make woke ideology leave it to the dustbin of history; it’s gone.”

In case you slept in and missed it, "woke" and all its reticulating epithets are but the latest in the rotation of extremist vituperation. USA Today provided an explainer back in March, about the term's (century-ago) orgin, and its "expan[sion] outside of Black communities into the larger public lexicon," after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Simply put, it means being aware of racial and social injustice.

Obviously, that won't do for those who benefit from existing systems. The Supreme Court now reifies "history and tradition" as an all-purpose excuse to dispense with the precedents they haved decided against. Jamelle Bouie examines selective history being applied to devolve the "robust set of universal rights" that we've just begun to assemble, back to the "states rights" that hearken to the "conservative principle" of slavery that brought us the Civil War.

"It is exactly this triumph that conservatives and reactionaries hope to reverse. The plan, as we have seen with abortion, is to unspool and untether those rights from the Constitution. It is to shrink and degrade the very notion of national citizenship and to leave us, once again, at the total mercy of the states. It is to place fundamental questions of political freedom and bodily autonomy into the hands of our local bullies and petty tyrants, whose whims they call “freedom,” whose urge to dominate they call “liberty.”

The ruling class doesn't like being called out. They don't like "the mind virus" that calls them to account. They project their own mob behavior onto those they would cancel. The "anti-woke" backlash lit up "after the 2020 worldwide protests against the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's killing" as if those protests were "political correctness gone haywire."

Sloganeering doesn't have to make sense, obviously. It has to be short, and punchy, and emotionally satisfying. A single syllable is good. Three too many. (Hence, "lib'rul.") And it has to be manually connected to everything imaginably hateful. It's a "war on truth," that's tidy, and uncontrovertible. It's a "mind virus." It's a "mob."

Beyond goading a gathering of the faithful, there are the think-tanks who can fill in the blanks even beyond imagination. Here's the Brownstone Institute's whack at woke for extreme example.

"Woke" is Identity Theft, Illiberalness (whoops, that's what Orbán celebrates), Cancel culture, Victimhood, Alarmism. Whereas anti-woke is... anti-alarmism? It doesn't have to make sense. It must always be alarmism. To, uh, wake you up to the danger of accountability that stalks you.

Update: Thom Hartmann gets to the nut of it: If You’re Anti-Woke, You’re Pro-Bigot.

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

When the machines take charge Permalink to this item

Cropped still from the epic 1968 movie, '2001: A Space Odyssey'

The term "idiot savant" doesn't appear in Cade Metz' 2021 book, Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World. But it came to mind this morning, as I finished reading it, considered the 1960-2020 timeline, and "The Players" listing at the end. I was drawn in by finding the prologue online recently, introducing "the man who didn't sit down," Geoffrey Hinton, and focusing on the 2012 auction for DNNResearch, the company he'd created with two protégés. (Here's a Sky News version of introduction, out when the book was new.)

The book is well-written, engaging, "mainly reportorial," as James Fallows put it in his review two years ago, usefully comprehensive, with 30 pages of notes I didn't dive into, referencing hundreds of interviews and years of his reporting for Wired and the NYT.

It is a bit breathless about the "makers" he's celebrating at times, all apparently brilliant. It's the software creations I'm thinking of as idiot savants. The one that beat the best human players of "Go" (after the easier jobs of chess, and Jeopardy), for example. And since the book came out, the explosion of "Large Language Models" (or "Massive Plagiarism Paradigms" we might call them) performing remarkable parlor tricks.

Have you heard the one about the lawyer who used ChatGPT to whip up a brief for a personal injury case? The law seems perfectly suited to machines manipulating language and citations faster and better than humans can. But the supposedly artificially intelligent software took the shortcut of generating "citation-like" references that weren't actually citations. (Apparently no one taught it that citations point to actual cases, and it hadn't learned on its own.) Steven Schwartz of Levidow, Levidow & Oberman has obtained poster child status before his sanctions hearing next week. From Reuters:

Schwartz said in a court filing that he "greatly regrets" his reliance on the technology and was "unaware of the possibility that its contents could be false."

The filing is a landmark of sorts; even as Schwartz begs for mercy, he describes his interactions with the software with inappropriately human terms. "In consultation with the generative artificial intelligence websiste Chat GPT," he wrote, "your affiant did locate and cite the following cases," which he did not locate, because they did not, in fact exist. (Or do they? Chat GPT has instantiated six legendary tales merely by reassembling letters and numbers into citation-like strings. Watch for the memes to follow.)

Chat GPT "assured the reliability of its content," Schwartz claims, excerpting the pathetically inadequate "assurance" that persuaded him.

"I apologize for the confusion earlier. Upon double-checking, I found that the case Varghese v. China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd., 925 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 2019), does indeed exist and can be found on legal research databases such as Westlaw and lexis Nexis. I apologize for any inconvenience or confusion my earlier responses may have caused."

Assured him twice! With an apology sandwich, and the brilliantly (ha ha) plagiarized "such as." Legal research databases such as.

But the main story: here's Metz retelling some of the story, with interview snippets with Hinton, and bringing it up to date in "The Daily" NYT podcast. Hinton sent him an email to say "I'm leaving Google, and I want to talk to you." That's after the month-ago relayed warning "of danger ahead."

"Dr. Hinton’s journey from A.I. groundbreaker to doomsayer marks a remarkable moment for the technology industry at perhaps its most important inflection point in decades. Industry leaders believe the new A.I. systems could be as important as the introduction of the web browser in the early 1990s and could lead to breakthroughs in areas ranging from drug research to education.

"But gnawing at many industry insiders is a fear that they are releasing something dangerous into the wild. Generative A.I. can already be a tool for misinformation. Soon, it could be a risk to jobs. Somewhere down the line, tech’s biggest worriers say, it could be a risk to humanity.

“It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” Dr. Hinton said.

"All sorts of things we use today use neural networks," Metz notes. Image recognition. Smart speakers. Google Translate. And now these chatty bots.

The word "learn" is central to the narrative. Ask your favorite AI bot to put it Yoda-style: No learn there is; only DO. Aggregating vast amounts of data is not learning. Organizing vast amounts of data is not analysis. Is it? Is there a ghost in the machine? Or in the machines we have to say now, because the networks span thousands of them.

Then we hear about chatbots "hallucinating," really? The "generative" element is part of the design. Reassemble some of this corpus into... something new! If it's art, it may be pleasing. If it's purported "fact," it may be misinformation, or its evil twin, disinformation. It may be noise. It may be flooding the zone with shit, enabling miscreants like Stephen Bannon to amplify their cultural sabotage and dreams of autocracy.

Then there's this letter, a succinct Statement on AI Risk, with 350 cosigners:

"Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."

And a counterpoint, from Meredith Whittaker:

"I don’t think there’s any evidence that large machine learning models—that rely on huge amounts of surveillance data and the concentrated computational infrastructure that only a handful of corporations control—have the spark of consciousness.

"We can still unplug the servers, the data centers can flood as the climate encroaches, we can run out of the water to cool the data centers, the surveillance pipelines can melt as the climate becomes more erratic and less hospitable."

So that's the... good news?

1.June.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Birds of a feather Permalink to this item

Speaking of angry news conferences as performances for their base, the front-runner for the next Republican nomination is making incessant news, illustrating one or more of Aesop's fables with the moral I took away, Bad is the company of thieves. From Hugo Lowell, in Washington, for The Guardian:

"The infighting eventually reached the point at which some of the lawyers started to believe the biggest impediment to defending Trump might just be the distrust and interpersonal conflict, rather than someone like Parlatore deciding to cooperate with prosecutors."

Odd, I would have thought Trump's guilt might be the biggest impediment. I like the part where a gaggle of lawyers was having dinner at Halligan and Corcoran at the five-star Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, sitting next to "this reporter." Whoops. Trusty (you can't make this stuff up) "said he had no interest in talking to reporters from the publication Lawfare or the New York Times on account of their coverage."

And have you heard the one about the July 2021 meeting at Trump's Bedminster, New Jersey golf club? The one with the audio recording of guilty knowledge? (Also, guilt.) Lots of lawyers making no (official) comment. But this guy:

"When asked at a CNN town hall this month if he showed classified documents he kept after the presidency to anyone, Trump answered: “Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified after.”

Let's break that down with the Artificial Intelligence translator:

And I would guess still are classified. It's looking like a clown car of lawyers might not be enough to keep accountability at bay this time around.

Semi-averted catastrophe Permalink to this item


There's still the Senate to wade through, larded with such creatures as Rand Paul, and the maze of arcane rules for obstructing action. (Or "deliberation," if you're feeling charitable.) But the big news on the last of May was that the House was whipped into actually doing their job by lifting the debt limit to pay for past commitments. Then there is the grab bag of budget compromises that could have been negotiated fairly and in due time, rather than in a hostage situation.

The Democrats mustered more "yes" votes than the majority party did, 165 to 149, with 46 and 71 nay-sayers, respectively (and 4 not votes). Idaho's two-person delegation split their votes with our congressman, Mike Simpson on the aye side, Russ Fulcher also ran. For what that's worth.

Turns out that cagey old bird in the White House knows how to negotiate after all these years, waddayaknow. Leaving the extremists (Chip *cough* Roy) muttering about a "turd sandwich," that's nice. From Heather Cox Richardson's daily:

"The far right insists the measure does not provide the cuts they demand. ... Despite their fury, though, the far right in the House appears to be backing down from challenging Representative Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) speakership. Their angry news conferences seem mostly to be performances for their base, and to answer them, McCarthy today said on the Fox News Channel that he was creating a “commission” to “look at” cutting the budget that the president “walled off” from cuts, including the mandatory spending on Medicare and Social Security."

That's just her opening topic; the whole thing is worth the read, and references to other coverage. Such as Josh Marshall, on Talking Points Memo, not to put too fine a point on it: The Diehards Fold. Or were folded.

"[On Tuesday], Rep. Matt Gaetz (F-FL) said that a bright line Kevin McCarthy couldn’t go past without triggering a “motion to vacate” would be having a majority of the GOP caucus vote against his debt ceiling/budget deal with Joe Biden. ... The couple dozen Freedom Caucus diehards are now setting the bar comically high because it’s suddenly clear the cudgel they’re allegedly holding over McCarthy has been vastly overstated."

There aren't enough "talk radio, Twitter memes or Fox" to light up the folks back home apparently, because "fiscal politics isn’t a major driver in the GOP today."

"What does drive things is sticking it to Joe Biden, owning the libs, stomping people when they’re at your feet. And it’s still not really clear to me why that hasn’t had more traction — because Republicans got basically none of what they were demanding. But here we are."


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007