Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 18

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Obviously, there's a lot more news that I haven't included here. Bad news comes out of the Trump administration and Republican controlled House and Senate too fast for me to keep up with it all. (I wonder if that's a strategy - overwhelm the public with so much that people can't be outraged about everything.)

And damn, these posts are so freakin' depressing. If I just quit giving a damn about other people, I suppose I could ignore Trump and all the damage he's causing and just enjoy my own comfortable little bubble. But these are literally life and death stakes. His Mexico City policy is going to kill tens of thousands of people. The new Republican healthcare bill could kill tens of thousands per year more.

How in the hell did we get here as a nation where we've voted in such horrible politicians? The 4th of July is coming up in just a couple weeks, and I'm struggling with how to celebrate pride in America when I'm so disgusted and embarrassed with the current state of government. Setting off fireworks and waving flags seem hollow when an incompetent proto-fascist demagogue like Trump is leading the nation.


HAI Press Release - Helicopter Association International Strongly Opposes President Trump's Air Traffic Control Privatization Plan

Helicopter Association International (HAI) today joined other national organizations in opposing privatization of the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system.

These organizations signed a joint letter to President Donald Trump, expressing concerns that the plan would directly and significantly benefit the airline industry while destabilizing the current successful ATC system and raising costs through user fees that would be passed on to consumers.

"All stakeholders on both sides of this issue acknowledge that we already have the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world," said Matt Zuccaro, president and CEO of HAI. "So what problem are they trying to solve?"

"This initiative appears to be an effort by the airlines for more control of the airspace and the airports," continued Zuccaro. "As we all witness the airlines struggling with their own internal technology issues and related problems, does it really make sense to hand over control of the best ATC system in the world to them?"

Related: Joint Letter from 16 Aviation Associations Regarding Trump's Proposal to Privatize Air Traffic Control (the letter mentioned above)

Related: PR Newswire - Airline Passenger Group Says Airline Control Of FAA Not The Answer

Related: National Air Transportation Association - Myths and Facts Surrounding Air Traffic Control Corporatization


Newsweek - Will Trump Visit U.K? After attack on Sadiq Khan, Theresa May Faces Calls to Cancel State Trip

[This was particularly shameful behavior from Trump. And baffling. How can you screw up foreign relations so badly with the U.K.? Who criticizes a mayor in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack?]

President Donald Trump's already controversial planned state visit to the United Kingdom has just become a whole lot more contentious. Multiple tweets attacking London mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of Saturday's attack in London that left seven people dead have led several leading British politicians to call for Prime Minister Theresa May to cancel the invitation.

"Sadiq Khan has shown dignity and leadership," said Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. "Theresa May absolutely must withdraw the state visit. This is a man insulting our national values at a time of introspection and mourning."

Those comments were slammed by senior Labour member of Parliament David Lammy.

"You are truly beneath contempt," he said in a series of tweets in reply to Trump. "You are just a troll. Show some bottle please PM. Cancel the state visit and tell Trump where to get off.

"You demean your office by misquoting and smearing the Mayor of a city that has just been attacked and is also the capital of your close ally. You besmirch the presidency, you taint previous Presidents with your behavior & you bring shame on your great country and its great people."

Related: The Guardian Editorial - The Guardian view on Trump's state visit to the UK: his invitation should be rescinded

Related: The Guardian - Trump's state visit to Britain put on hold: US president told Theresa May he did not want trip to go ahead if there were large-scale public protests


Industrial Equipment News - Energy Chief: Carbon Dioxide Not Prime Driver of Warming: His view is contrary to mainstream climate science.

Asked on CNBC's "Squawk Box" whether carbon emissions are primarily responsible for climate change, Perry said no, adding that "most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in."

Perry's view is contrary to mainstream climate science, including analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The EPA under President Donald Trump recently removed a web page that declared "carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change."


Nature Op-ed - Fight the silencing of gun research

In the half-century since the assassination of Martin Luther King, more civilians in the United States have been killed with guns than American soldiers have died in all US wars since the nation was founded in 1776. Currently, on an average day, about 300 Americans are shot and 100 die from gunshot wounds -- in murders, attempted suicides or accidents (see go.nature.com/2qnp4m2).
Yet the US government, at the behest of the gun lobby, limits the collection of data, prevents researchers from obtaining much of the data that are collected and severely restricts the funds available for research on guns. I have watched this first-hand, being one of a half-dozen or so gun researchers in the United States who has continuously published in this field over the past two decades.
Because of a two-decade stranglehold on US gun research, there are few, if any, scientific studies for people to refer to when promoting or countering proposed changes to gun control. Policymakers are essentially flying blind for what is currently classified as the third leading cause of US injury and death, after motor vehicles and opioids (see go.nature.com/2rpky2y).
Alarmingly, the gun lobby is increasingly aligning itself with a broad political movement that sees science not as a search for truth and understanding, but as a tool for promoting partisan agendas (see go.nature.com/2sderwh). The American Bar Association and many medical societies have spoken out on the firearm funding limitations imposed by Congress. Now all scientific associations need to add their voices.


Vox - World leaders tell jokes about Trump. But the implications aren't funny at all.

It's one thing when American late-night TV show hosts and online commenters make fun of President Donald Trump. It becomes something completely different -- and, frankly, alarming -- when world leaders mock the president.
But even though Turnbull thought his comments were off the record, he was still mocking the US president as a pompous clown in front of a room full of journalists and fellow politicians. When viewed in a wider context, that's more than a bit unnerving. This is an ally of the United States blatantly demonstrating that he doesn't take the president seriously.


Washington Post Op-ed - Trump said foreign leaders wouldn't laugh at the U.S. Now they're laughing at him.

"In the private conversations I've had with heads of states and ministers of foreign relations ... they all feel what Turnbull just basically came out and said: This is, by far, the least capable person ever to sit in the office and it's appalling they have to deal with him," said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a global risk-assessment firm. "Even in a country that really needs to have a good relationship with the United States, you're just not willing to deal with it. Your own ego will say, 'Screw this guy.' "


Vox - Trump wants to deport Iraqi Christians. A federal judge may have just saved them.: ICE officials arrested dozens of Iraqi Christian nationals over the weekend of June 10th in Michigan. The ACLU is fighting to keep them home.

When more than 100 Iraqi Chaldean Christians in Michigan were arrested and threatened with immediate deportation the weekend of June 10th, the Trump administration's oft-repeated promises to protect Christians around the world rang not just darkly hollow but demonstrably false. After all, local activists argued, deporting Christians back to the war zones of Iraq was tantamount to a death sentence.
"Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties," Kary Moss, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan told the Huffington Post soon after the arrests. "Our immigration policy shouldn't amount to a death sentence for anyone."


Vox - John Oliver: it's time for Trump to stop lying to coal miners

Oliver points out that the coal industry employs fewer people than JC Penny ("I didn't even know JC Penny had employees anymore!") but, to his credit, takes the suffering of coal communities seriously.

In fact, he takes it so seriously that he dares to tell them the truth. Oliver does two things that are rare in mainstream media reports about coal. First, he cites research showing that competition from natural gas and renewables, not Obama regulations, is killing US coal.

Second, he makes clear that the interests of coal miners and coal executives often diverge -- that it's coal CEOs, not coal miners, that Trump is close to. In fact, coal executives are in the process of trying to screw over retired miners as we speak.

Related: Washington Post Fact Checker - Pruitt's claim that 'almost 50,000 jobs' have been gained in coal [Spoiler - It's a lie.]


NY Times Op-ed - Paul Krugman - Pure Class Warfare, With Extra Contempt

he Senate version of Trumpcare - the Better Care Reconciliation Act - is out. The substance is terrible: tens of millions of people will experience financial distress if this passes, and tens if not hundreds of thousands will die premature deaths, all for the sake of tax cuts for a handful of wealthy people. What's even more amazing is that Republicans are making almost no effort to justify this massive upward redistribution of income. They're doing it because they can, because they believe that the tribalism of their voters is strong enough that they will continue to support politicians who are ruining their lives.
This bill does nothing to reduce health care costs. It does nothing to improve the functioning of health insurance markets - in fact, it will send them into death spirals by reducing subsidies and eliminating the individual mandate. There is nothing at all in the bill that will make health care more affordable for those currently having trouble paying for it. And it will gradually squeeze Medicaid, eventually destroying any possibility of insurance for millions.

Who benefits? It's all about the tax cuts, almost half of which will go to people with incomes over $1 million, the great bulk to people with incomes over 200K.

Related: Vox - The Better Care Reconciliation Act: the Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, explained


Vox - The health bill might pass because Trump has launched the era of Nothing Matters politics

Since taking office, his signature values -- showmanship, shamelessness, and corruption -- have spread like kudzu in official Washington. It's now a country where Cabinet secretaries go on television to lie and claim that a $600 billion cut to Medicaid won't cause anyone to lose coverage. It's a country where the speaker of the House introduces an amendment to erode protections for patients with preexisting conditions and then immediately tweets that it's just been "VERIFIED" (by whom?) that the opposite is happening. Republican senators who a couple of months ago were criticizing the House bill's Medicaid cuts as too harsh are now warming up to a Senate bill whose cuts are even harsher.

The watchwords of Trump-era politics are "LOL nothing matters." If you're in a jam, you just lie about it. If you're caught in an embarrassing situation, you create a new provocation and hope that people move on. Everything is founded, most of all, on the assumption that the basic tribal impulses of negative partisanship will keep everyone on their side, while knowing that gerrymandering means Republicans will win every toss-up election. If you happened to believe that Republicans in office would deliver on their health care promises, well, you might be interested in a degree from Trump University.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Responding to Article - Atheists Aren't Dogmatic

eSkepticThe latest issue of Skeptic magazine had an article with a few things I disagree with. Skeptic recently shared the article in their eSkeptic section, so you can read it even if you aren't a member of the Skeptics Society. Here's the link:

The Three Shades of Atheism: How Atheists Differ in Their Views on God

The authors conducted a survey to try to help categorize atheist beliefs and the percentage of atheists with those beliefs. They came up with 4 categories to characterize atheist responses. Unfortunately, I think their categories are flawed.

Gnostic-Atheism: Any explicit or implied characterization of the participant's position as certain or definite.

Agnostic-Atheism: Any effort made to distinguish between a "belief" and "knowledge" position; or participants who indicate that they are open to evidence: they describe their belief as malleable and open to changing based on new information, evidence, or "proof."

Ambivalent-Atheism: Any use of the phrase "I don't know" or "I am not sure," or similar characterizations of belief, without further explanation.

Other: Any statement that does not fit the criteria of the other categories.

The problem is, their definitions for 'gnostic-atheism' and 'agnostic-atheism' aren't mutually exclusive. You can be certain of something based on all the evidence you've seen so far, but still open to changing your mind if new evidence comes to light. I discussed this in detail in my essay, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge, so for this entry, let's just look at a few other knowledge claims as examples.

  • I am certain the Earth revolves around the Sun. However, if somebody showed me convincing evidence to the contrary (and it would take a hell of a lot of evidence at this point), I could be convinced to change my mind.
  • I am certain that the American Revolution took place in the late 1700s. However, with sufficient evidence, I could be convinced to believe that all of our history books were wrong.
  • I am certain garden fairies don't exist. However, I could be swayed by convincing evidence.

As long as we're using language in the normal way, 'certain' just means very, very high confidence. And there are lots of things were reasonably certain about, but could be convinced to change our minds on given sufficient contrary evidence.

The conclusion was especially galling:

Gnostic-theists would be individuals who equate their beliefs with facts, dogmatically insisting that they have positive knowledge of God's existence. Agnostic-theists would be individuals who accept the distinction between belief and knowledge, thereby demonstrating a degree of skepticism about their own position, and would indicate that their belief is based on faith, intuition, or an interpretation of natural phenomena. A 5-level, bipolar scale relating theistic and atheistic beliefs would be:
  1. Gnostic-Atheism
  2. Agnostic-Atheism
  3. Nonbelief
  4. Agnostic-Theism
  5. Gnostic-Theism

The scale represents maximum darkness at both ends, the domains of dogmatic thinking. Maintaining a skeptical attitude toward one's own beliefs can be a challenge but, as the achievements of science have shown, it is a better route to enlightenment.

Were any of my previous examples 'dogmatic'? Is it dogmatic to be certain the Earth orbits the Sun? Is it dogmatic to be certain that fairies don't exist? Is it dogmatic to be certain that leprechauns aren't real? Is it dogmatic to be certain magic unicorns are just fantasy? Why, out of all the mythical and imagined possibilities dreamt up by humans, do gods get treated differently, and why does saying you're reasonably certain that gods don't exist get you labeled 'dogmatic'?

Image Source: Skeptics Society eSkeptic

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Related Reading:
Answer to the Question - How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Evolution in Action - Visualizing Bacteria Evolving Antibiotic Resistance

e. coliNot too long ago, I came across a question on Quora, Evolutionary biologists usually say that organisms adapt to their environment. Does this not contradict Darwinism?. It seemed like a good opportunity to explain how natural selection adapts organisms to their environments, and especially to use a recent experiment involving e. coli. Here's what I wrote, with some very minor edits.

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I'm going to assume that by 'Darwinism', you mean natural selection. Organisms adapting to their environments is pretty much textbook natural selection, but let's go through an example to see what this means.

There was a very interesting experiment/demonstration last year involving bacteria and antibiotics. A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology made in effect a giant petri dish - a rectangle 2 ft x 4 ft. The unique aspect of this petri dish, besides its size, was that it was divided into regions with varying concentrations of an antibiotic. Either end of the rectangle was free of antibiotic. The next region in had the minimum concentration to kill the e. coli bacteria that were the subject of the experiment. Each subsequent region moving in increased the concentration ten fold, until the center region, which had a concentration 1000 times higher than what would normally kill e. coli.

e. coli experiment setup
Image Source: Screen Capture from Video Shown Below
(Click to embiggen)


So, the researchers seeded the antibiotic free ends with e. coli, and then let them grow, taking periodic photos of the petri dish, and combinging them all into a time lapse movie. I'd really recommend watching the whole thing. It's really very interesting, with more explanation than what I've provided here, and only 2 minutes long.


So, let's take a closer look at one instant to see what exactly is going on. At one point, the tray looked like this:

e. coli experiment screenshot 1
Image Source: Screen Capture from Video Shown Above
(Click to embiggen)


So, the antibiotic free ends are completely colonized by bacteria. The two regions with the lowest concentration of antibiotic have just begun to be colonized. There are several small resistant colonies, and you can see where each one of those colonies got their starts. What happened was that the original e. coli, with no antibiotic resistance spread across the agar until they hit the antibiotic. Since they weren't resistant, that was as far as they could go without dying. But those e. coli kept on living and reproducing, with mutations appearing throughout the population. In bacteria that just happened to be at the boundary of the antibiotic, who also happened to acquire just the right mutations to make them resistant to the antibiotic, they now had a whole new environment opened up to them and their descendants.

Notice that there's really no pattern to where those colonies got their starts. It was basically random, because mutations are random. No bacteria were trying to evolve. No bacteria were attempting to figure out a strategy to survive the antibiotic. Bacteria don't even have brains to try to do any of that. It was just whatever bacteria happened to be lucky enough to acquire the appropriate mutations by chance, an error at the chemical level when copying DNA.

Once those first resistant bacteria entered this new region, they spread. Then, once they hit the region with 10x the antibiotic concentration, they were contained again, until a few more bacteria happened to acquire the proper mutations by luck, and had a new environment opened up to them and their descendants. This repeated, until the bacteria were eventually colonizing the region with 1000x the concentration of antibiotic that would have killed the original e. coli that seeded the plate:

e. coli experiment screenshot 2
Image Source: Screen Capture from Video Shown Above
(Click to embiggen)


So, these e. coli were adapting to their environment. However, it wasn't any conscious intent, or Lamarckian type of use and disuse. It was random mutations creating variation in the e. coli populations. Whichever e. coli happened to be lucky enough to have mutations to survive the antibiotic were the ones that thrived. Any e. coli that weren't lucky enough to have those mutations were limited to their existing environments.

This experiment had a pretty strong selection pressure with the antibiotic, but the same principles are at work in nature with other selection pressures. Whatever individuals happen to be lucky enough to acquire by chance the mutations best suited to an environment will be the ones that have the most offspring, increasing the frequency of whatever mutation that benefited them. Multiply this over generations, with natural selection 'ratcheting' additional mutations, so that the population becomes better and better suited to the environment. That is what is meant by saying that organisms adapt to their environment.

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More info on the e. coli experiment:

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 9, 2017

What Would Happn if Everybody on an Airliner Jumped at the Same Time?

Vomit CometI recently came across the Quora question, If everybody on a Boeing 747 jumped at the same time, what would happen to the plane?. The first answer I read was spectacularly wrong, and most of the others were either guesses, jokes, or just generalities without much substance. So, I did what any good engineer would do and calculated it. Here's what I wrote.

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In general - not much is going to happen if everybody on a 747 jumps at the same time. Just from a big picture view - there is no major change to the external forces acting on the aircraft/passenger system. So, you would expect the combined center of gravity to continue along the same path. And since most people can't jump very high, and the aircraft weighs substantially more than the passengers, the aircraft isn't going to be affected much at all.

In general, when the passengers jump, they'll push the aircraft down slightly, in proportion to their own mass and how far they jumped up. Then, since the lift didn't go away on the aircraft, the lift will first slow down the aircraft's slight descent, then cause the aircraft to start to climb again as the passengers start to fall.

But we don't have to just hand-wave an answer. We've got equations - we can calculate what will happen. So, I made a super simple model of this, with one mass to represent the aircraft, and another to represent the passengers*.

According to Wikipedia, a 747-400ER can hold 660 passengers, and has max takeoff weight of 910,000 lbs. According to FAA Advisory Circular 120-27E, average adult passenger weight in the winter, including "a 16-pound allowance for personal items and carry-on bags" is 195 lbs. Assuming the plane is full of adults, and that they're not going to be holding their carry-ons when they jump, that's 179 lbs per passenger, or a total of 118,140 lbs for all the passengers combined. That leaves 791,860 lbs for the aircraft itself.

For the forces, I assumed that the passengers jumping would be applying a constant force 2x their weight for 0.2 seconds. For the lift on the 747, I assumed that it would remain unchanged. Granted, there will be a small change in angle of attack (not pitch) due to the changes in vertical velocity, but I assumed it would be negligible.

So, what actually happens? This:

Δh vs. t

For passengers jumping ~1.3 ft into the air, the airframe itself will dip ~0.2 ft (2.4 in). Unsurprisingly - that's the same ratio as passenger weight to aircraft weight (confirming that the combined center of gravity does indeed continue on the same path unaltered). As the passengers reach the apex of their leap, the 747 reaches the bottom of its dip, and they quickly come back in contact again in less than a second.

I did skip out on what happens when they come back in contact, since I only did a super simple model and didn't really feel like spending a lot of time on it. They won't come smacking into each other. Rather, it'll probably be something like a mirror image of the jump, where the passengers flex their legs as they land to cushion the coming back together.

And of course, if you change up the assumptions, this will all change accordingly, but this puts the whole thing into perspective, showing the magnitudes and general behavior.

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*Here's a fuller description of the simple model, attempting to put it terms that most people can understand. Like I said, I broke the system up into 2 bodies - one for the 747, and one for the passengers. Here's a diagram of the forces acting on each body (insert joke about spherical cows here):

Free Body Diagram

Note first of all that I'm only looking at forces in the vertical direction, since that's the only thing changing in this problem. Thrust and drag are staying constant, so the speed of the aircraft isn't going to change. Next, note that thanks to Newton's Third Law, we know that the force the passengers are pushing down on the 747 is the same magnitude but in the opposite direction as the force that the 747 is pushing up on the passengers. That's the magenta arrow on each body. Finally, note that that's the only force that changes during the entire problem. The weight of the aircraft is essentially constant. The weight of the passengers is essentially constant. And like I already explained up above, I assumed that the lift remained constant. So, here are graphs of what those forces look like, with an additional solid curve showing the net forces on each body (or the summation of forces, designated with the Σ label):

Forces on 747


Forces on Pax

Note that just before the jump, everything was in equilibrium, with no net forces. As the passengers jumped, they pushed down on the plane. Once they were in the air, that force, Fy_pax_to_747, went to zero, and then only lift and gravity were acting on the 747, and only gravity was acting on the passengers.

Next, we use Newton's second law, F=ma, to figure out the accelerations on the bodies. Since the force of the passengers jumping was modeled so simply as a constant force for 0.2 seconds, and all other forces were constant, the accelerations also all turned out to be constant.

a vs. t

For a constant acceleration, it's easy to calculate velocity, using the formula V2 = V1 + a*Δt. That produces accelerations over time that look like:

V vs. t

Finally, I used the velocities to calculate how far the bodies moved. I actually broke it up into 0.001 second increments, and did this linearly, with the simple formula h2 = h1 + V*Δt. That's not exactly accurate when velocity isn't constant. There are more exact formulas you can use, but when you break it up into such short segments, you're going to be very, very close. And with Excel, it's very easy to do this brute force approach. And doing that gave the graph I already showed up above, but which I'll repeat again here for completeness:

Δh vs. t

Image Source: NASA by way of Business Insider

Friday, June 2, 2017

H.P. Lovecraft - Overrated

I've recently been reading a collection of several H.P. Lovecraft short stories*. I was excited when I first bought the book. There are all these pop culture references on the Internet to the Cthulhu mythos, the Old Ones, "the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe" (Wikipedia), and beings "so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim" (Wikipedia again). Sounds like pretty deep stuff, like stories to make you really ponder the universe and humanity's place in it.

Well, I'm about halfway through the collection, and it's little more than B-movie quality plotlines. The monsters are basically just monsters, with a thin veneer of exposition about them being ancient aliens from distant corners of the universe. But that thin veneer doesn't really add much. Replace the alien aspects with more traditional magic, fairy tale, or fantasy elements, and the stories wouldn't really change. Once the monsters are finally unleashed towards the ends of the stories, they could just as easily be the Blob or a werewolf - generic, mindless killing machines.

But even worse is his writing style. There's a certain well known writing technique, Show, don't tell. Writers can go overboard with it or overuse it, but the point is to paint a picture with words, not just say what's going on. The classic example is, 'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.' Well, it seems that H.P. Lovecraft never got the memo. Do you know how to tell if a scene is supposed to be scary in a Lovecraft story? The narrator will tell you it's scary, or he'll throw scary sounding adjectives into an otherwise normal description of a scene.

Consider this paragraph, from At the Mountains of Madness:

The effect of the monstrous sight was indescribable, for some fiendish violation of known natural law seemed certain at the outset. Here, on a hellishly ancient table-land fully 20,000 feet high, and in a climate deadly to habitation since a pre-human age not less than 500,000 years ago, there stretched nearly to the vision's limit a tangle of orderly stone which only the desperation of mental self-defence could possibly attribute to any but a conscious and artificial cause.

Pretty scare ruins, huh. You can tell because they're 'monstrous' and 'fiendish' and 'on a hellishly ancient' landscape, in a 'deadly' climate. And just a bit later, we learn that ,"It was, very clearly, the blasphemous city of the mirage in stark, objective, and ineluctable reality." But take away those adjectives, and you're left with merely an unusual set of ruins.

Or consider this paragraph, from The Dunwich Horror:

Morning found Dr. Armitage in a cold sweat of terror and a frenzy of wakeful concentration. He had not left the manuscript all night, but sat at his table under the electric light turning page after page with shaking hands as fast as he could decipher the cryptic text. He had nervously telephoned his wife he would not be home, and when she brought him a breakfast from the house he could scarcely dispose of a mouthful. All that day he read on, now and then halted maddeningly as a reapplication of the complex key became necessary. Lunch and dinner were brought him, but he ate only the smallest fraction of either. Toward the middle of the next night he drowsed off in his chair, but soon woke out of a tangle of nightmares almost as hideous as the truths and menaces to man's existence that he had uncovered.

This text that Armitage is translating is supposed to be terrifying, but we only know that because the narrator says Armitage is scared, and in a rather conventional way of having nightmares. You know what I have nightmares about, still? College finals. Not particularly horrifying.

Or consider this from The Call of Cthulhu;

Johansen, thank God, did not know quite all, even though he saw the city and the Thing, but I shall never sleep calmly again when I think of the horrors that lurk ceaselessly behind life in time and in space, and of those unhallowed blasphemies from elder stars which dream beneath the sea, known and favoured by a nightmare cult ready and eager to loose them on the world whenever another earthquake shall heave their monstrous stone city again to the sun and air.

Again, we know this is scary, because the narrator tells us how scared he is, followed by an adjective laden description of what he's scared of. But take away the spooky adjectives (unhallowed, nightmare, monstrous) and replace the over the top nouns (the Thing, horrors, blasphemies) with more neutral descriptions, and it's not really terrifying.

I would have quipped that the only way Lovecraft knew how to make a scary setting was with a thesaurus, but here's an article where someone counted how many times Lovecraft used certain words in his stories, Wordcount for Lovecraft's Favorite Words. As that person put it, "One of the things any fan of Lovecraft discovers early on is that Lovecraft was very attached to certain words. We either laugh or groan every time we hear something described as 'indescribable' or called 'unnamable' or 'antiquarian' or 'cyclopean.' "

Granted, I am being a little harsh. Lovecraft obviously wouldn't have had a following if he didn't describe scenes at all. But there are way too many sections where he doesn't show us how the story is scary. He just tells us it's scary, and uses distractingly bloated prose to try to convince us.

I will say that the stories aren't horrible. The big problem is that my expectations were too high. There's such a huge Lovecraft following on the Internet that I was expecting great, when the reality is only mediocre to decent. They're worth reading just to see what all the hubbub is about, but don't expect deep thought provoking stories that make you face "the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe".


Out of the stories in the collection I'm reading, the two best by far are "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow out of Time". Despite the problems discussed above, they're actually pretty good and enjoyable to read. Just don't expect masterpieces.

And this review didn't even get into Lovecraft's racism, which was bad even for his time.

*The collection I'm reading isn't actually the product I linked to up above. The collection I'm reading is a 'bargain' book from Books-A-Million, The Essential Stories of H.P. Lovecraft, that I bought on a whim at the bookstore. However, for 1 novella and 6 short stories, it's $8 (I think I got it half off), while the complete collection I linked to, with 1 novel, 4 novellas, and 53 short stories is only $11.23, so I figured if anybody was actually going to follow the link and buy something, the complete collection was a much better deal. And for a nice hardcover, that's not a bad price. However, given that his writings are all in the public domain, you can read electronic versions for much cheaper, or even free. Here's one such collection, HPLovecraft.com - His Writings.

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 17

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Amid all the controversy, scandal, and potential corruption surrounding Trump's administration, it's important not to forget his official actions and policies as president, and all the damage that's causing.


Climate Change

As I've written many times before, climate change is the biggest issue facing the nation and the world right now. It's important enough to make me a single issue voter, at least for offices that can have any effect on climate change. That's what makes Trump's recent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement so infuriating. Granted, he was already doing a lot to damage U.S. efforts to combat climate change, but this was still a very big deal. Trump's actions on climate change are inexcusable.


Bad Astronomy - We'll never have Paris: Trump pulls the US out of international climate accord

And so, this is why I'm very unhappy with Trump pulling us out of the Paris Accord. It signals that we don't care about global warming, that we don't care about helping other countries with it, and together with Trump's other policies (like putting full-blown climate change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, for example), it's a huge flag showing that we're willing to cede energy leadership in the 21st century to other countries.

This is more than just foolish. It's contrary to everything the United States strives for as a nation. It shows that we stand against essentially the entire world when it comes to climate change. It also makes it clear that, once again, the U.S. as a nation will delay taking any real action to slow or stop global warming, action that we should've taken a decade or more ago.

This is a complete failure of leadership, across the board. It's also a threat to our national security.


Vox - The 5 biggest deceptions in Trump's Paris climate speech: It wasn't easy narrowing these down.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a speech announcing that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

It is a remarkable address, in its own way, in that virtually every passage contains something false or misleading. The sheer density of bullshit is almost admirable, from a performance art perspective. Trump even managed to get in some howlers that had nothing to do with climate change. He started by citing an act of terrorism in Manila that wasn't terrorism. He said, "our tax bill is moving along in Congress," but there's no tax bill. And so forth.

A proper fact-check would run longer than the speech itself. To keep this quick, I've selected the top five deceptions.

A note: I'm not calling these "lies," because that implies Trump knows they are false. It is far from clear that Trump understands anything about any of the issues at stake, or is even capable of forming stable beliefs as such (as I wrote here and here).

1) No, an agreement cannot be both nonbinding and draconian (Spoiler: Paris is the former)
2) No, Paris cannot be "renegotiated"
3) No, abiding by the agreement will not cost the US a bazillion dollars
4) No, China and India are not getting away with anything
5) No, other nations are not laughing at us behind our backs -- or they weren't, anyway

Related:


International Trip

The Nation - Our Embarrassment in Chief's Internation Trip Is No Laughing Matter

But let's not grade a guy holding the nuclear codes on a curve. Three days into the trip, and Trump's already shown the world that the United States is being governed by a brittle man-child. And if he manages to get through it without causing a major international incident, it will only be because foreign leaders have done a competent job dumbing down any complex diplomatic issues that may arise and feeding the insatiable ego of our embarrassment in chief.
...Peter Baker reported for The New York Times that "foreign officials and their Washington consultants say certain rules [for dealing with Trump] have emerged: Keep it short--no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch." The rest of the world appears to have concluded that our president is an idiot.
Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national-security adviser, is tasked with babysitting this erratic character through a difficult trip, according to CNN's Jake Tapper. But a source told Tapper that "it can be difficult to advise the President effectively given his seemingly short attention span and propensity to be easily distracted. You can't say what not to say," the source said, "because that will then be one of the first things he'll say." Trump seemed to confirm that on Monday, when he told Israeli reporters, "just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel" to the Russians when he shared highly sensitive intelligence with them in the Oval Office two days after firing his FBI director.


Vox - Trump's ally-angering trip abroad, explained in 7 images

President Donald Trump's first foreign trip is nearly over. Some events were near disasters; some went surprisingly well. But nearly all of them were deeply revealing about Trump, saying something important about his administration's policies and his own diplomatic style.
Now, Trump does actually have a point here. Technically, all NATO states are supposed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on their defense budget -- but only five of NATO's 28 members hit the target. This is an issue that past US presidents, including Barack Obama, have raised at NATO summits before.

But Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of NATO in the past two years, once threatening to not defend allies that didn't pay enough money -- something past US presidents never did, as it calls into question the foundation of the alliance itself.

Most worryingly, Trump pointedly did not mention Article 5 -- the provision of the NATO treaty that declares an attack on one to be an attack on all -- in his speech. This strongly suggested to the allies that he cared more about allies ponying up than actually defending them.

The US government never officially confirmed the country whose asset Trump compromised. But then, when fielding press questions with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump somewhat backhandedly acknowledged it.


Slate - Making Enemies Out of Friends: Trump's special antagonism toward Germany is stupid and dangerous.

The fallout from President Trump's disastrous trip to Europe continues to poison the trans-Atlantic climate. His comments about Germany have been particularly toxic--and, beyond that, stupid, reflecting no understanding of the country's strategic importance or its dreadful history.

Chancellor Angela Merkel stated the matter plainly in a speech on Sunday in Bavaria. Europeans "must take our fate into our own hands," she said, because the "times in which we could rely fully on others ... are somewhat over." This, she added, "is what I experienced in the last few days"--a reference to Trump's behavior in Brussels and Rome, where, among other bits of rudeness, he declined to pay even lip service to the pledge, enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, that the United States would defend any member of NATO that comes under attack.

While overseas, Trump had reportedly told Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union, "The Germans are bad, very bad. Look at the millions of cars that they're selling in the USA. Horrible. We're gonna stop that." Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the report, which appeared in Der Spiegel, but Trump's Tuesday tweet undercut the denial and underscored his complaint. It wasn't some loose remark, he seemed to be saying; he meant it.


The Budget

Nature - Trump budget would slash science programmes across government: Proposed cuts include 11% at the National Science Foundation, 18% at the National Institutes of Health and 30% at the Environmental Protection Agency.

US President Donald Trump released a revised budget plan on 23 May that would cut science programmes across the federal government in 2018. Biomedical, public-health and environmental research would all be pared back. / Those cuts, along with deep reductions in programmes for the poor, are balanced by a proposed 10% increase in military spending.
"This budget is terrible, and we're confident that Congress will ignore it," says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would face a cut of 18% in the Trump plan, from US$31.8 billion in 2017 to $26 billion in 2018... The White House wants to slash more than $1.2 billion from the CDC's budget, with the largest cuts coming from public-health preparedness programmes... The Trump plan would cut government funding for the US Food and Drug Administration by 31% from the 2017 level, to $1.9 billion... The budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be cut by about 11% from the 2016 level, to $6.7 billion. That would allow the agency to give out 8,000 new grants in fiscal year 2018, about 800 fewer than it awarded in 2016... The agency's Ocean Observatories Initiative, a collection of instrumented seafloor arrays, would be cut by almost 44%, to $31 million. The programme began full operations in June 2016, when real-time data began flowing in after nearly a decade of construction and development... Trump requested $19.1 billion for NASA, a 2.8% decrease from the 2017 level. The agency's science directorate would receive $5.7 billion, a drop of nearly 1%... Within that directorate, funding for Earth science would drop by 8.7%, from $1.92 billion to $1.75 billion. The budget would eliminate five Earth-observing missions... The US Department of Energy would receive $28 billion under the president's plan, a 5.3% reduction from 2016... The Office of Science would see its budget cut by 16%, from $5.3 billion in 2017 to just under $4.5 billion in 2018... The White House proposal would make good on promises to shrink and reorganize the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which would see its budget cut by more than 30% to $5.7 billion. Trump would slash spending on pollution-control programmes and research and development, eliminating about 23% of the agency's roughly 15,000 staff members along the way... The US Geological Survey would be cut by 13% from the 2017 level, to $922 million. That would include eliminating the entire $8.2-million federal contribution to the fledgling earthquake early-warning system on the US west coast... The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive nearly $4.8 billion, a decrease of about 17%, or $987 million, compared to 2017. The majority of the cuts would come from the agency's research activities and satellites.


Vox - The trillions in shocking cuts in Donald Trump's budget, explained

The budget broadly resembles plans put forward by now-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who as the House Budget Committee chair released a series of extremely aggressive budgets including trillions in cuts to programs for the poor. While Trump largely leaves Medicare and old-age insurance from Social Security unscathed, and boosts funding for border security, veterans, and defense, he cuts just about everything else.

What's more, his budget assumes an extremely unrealistic economic growth rate -- 3 percent, above the currently projected 1.9 percent -- due to the administration's tax plan. It appears the administration is counting on that growth both to pay for its spending in this budget and to pay for its tax cuts, meaning the budget doesn't really add up at all.

It's a startling, ambitious, and at times sloppy document that, for all its faults, clearly defines what the Trump administration wants to do with the federal government. And what the administration wants to do is dramatic, to say the least.

The cuts include:
  • All $880 billion in Medicaid cuts included in the Republican health plan that has passed the House, plus $610 billion in additional cuts due to adopting an even stingier formula for increasing Medicaid funding year over year. This amounts to a total cut to Medicaid of over 47 percent.
  • $191 billion in cuts from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, over 10 years. That's about a 25 percent cut. The administration claims it will achieve this by adding new work requirements, but it would effectively require kicking many people off the program or dramatically cutting benefit amounts.
  • $40.4 billion in cuts to the earned income tax credit and child tax credit over 10 years, programs that, along with SNAP, make up much of the US's safety net for poor people. Trump would require parents receiving benefits to submit a Social Security number to weed out unauthorized immigrants -- even those whose children are US citizens.
  • $21.6 billion in cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or welfare, over 10 years. That's a nearly 13 percent cut to the program, which has already been cut dramatically since the 1990s.
  • Huge cuts to most federal agencies: a 31.4 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, 29.1 percent cut to the State Department, 20.5 percent to Agriculture, 19.8 percent to Labor, 16.2 percent to Health and Human Services, 15.8 percent to Commerce, 13.2 percent to Housing and Urban Development, 12.7 percent to Transportation, and 10.9 percent to Interior.


Vox - 45 million Americans rely on food stamps. Trump wants to gut the program.: The administration's budget proposal would cut SNAP spending by a quarter.

If Trump had his way, though, the number of SNAP recipients would soon be drastically cut. The administration's first comprehensive budget proposal would trim SNAP spending by $191 billion over the next decade -- which is about a quarter of the program's funding.
In fact, researchers who study poverty and food policy say throwing people off SNAP is a silly idea because it's one of the government programs that really works. As the Trump Administration's own Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said earlier this week of SNAP, "You don't try to fix things that aren't broken."
SNAP is an effective recession buffer:

Again and again, researchers have found upticks in SNAP enrollment coinciding with recessions, which is why food stamps are referred to "automatic stabilizers." When the economy gets worse, more people enroll, helping them afford food; when the economy improves, they drop off the SNAP rolls.

One oft-repeated Republican party line is that benefits like SNAP discourage people from working. But according to the researchers who study SNAP, there's no good evidence that it acts as a work disincentive. In fact, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the majority of non-disabled, working-age households that start to get SNAP don't actually stop working.
There's also little waste and fraud in the program. Some 95 percent of federal dollars spent on SNAP go directly to benefits. The USDA also takes SNAP abuse very seriously, which is why the rate of SNAP fraud has declined dramatically over the years.


National Air Transportation Association - Statement on Trump Administration FY2018 Budget Proposal

Today, the Trump Administration released its full budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018, including recommendations for funding the Federal Aviation Administration. The proposal reduces FAA funding by almost $300 million below current levels for the fiscal year beginning October 1st.
Investment in our nation's aeronautical infrastructure is just as important to our long-term economic prosperity as tax cuts and increased defense spending. We cannot make the justification for ATC privatization a self-fulfilling prophecy by making cuts to important programs that need immediate funding. The proposed FAA budget would reduce spending on the modernization of our air traffic control system and continue what has been a six-year downward spiral in airport funding.

NATA continues to have significant concerns over proposals to corporatize air traffic control with its potentially detrimental impact on general aviation and rural investment. Targeted budget changes, including clear and unambiguous exemptions from the impacts of sequestration and government shutdowns, would be more effective than potentially destabilizing the world's safest, most complex air traffic control system. We urge Congress to continue to appropriately fund a modernization program that is delivering real benefits and to increase the investment in our airport infrastructure.


Health Care

NPR - CBO: Republicans' AHCA Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured

The revised Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will leave 23 million more people uninsured in 2026 than if that act, also known as Obamacare, were to remain in place.
The CBO's assessment shows that premiums could fall for some Americans, but it raises potential concerns about the bill. The agency reports that the bill could destabilize individual insurance markets in some states, leaving unhealthy Americans unable to buy insurance.
The act could make obtaining healthcare coverage prohibitively expensive for some sicker Americans, the CBO found.

That's because under the AHCA, states could get waivers exempting them from some Obamacare provisions, including what are called "essential health benefits" -- a list of basics like mental health and prescription drugs that the Affordable Care Act required plans to cover. States could also get waivers that allow insurers to charge more for people with preexisting conditions.

"Over time, it would become more difficult for less healthy people (including people with preexisting medical conditions) in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly," the CBO wrote.

Waiving essential health benefits could also make medical care much more expensive for people who are pregnant, addicted, or have mental health issues, and who live in those states that waive those benefits.

"In particular, out-of-pocket spending on maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services could increase by thousands of dollars in a given year for the nongroup enrollees who would use those services," the report says of people living in those states.

By far the biggest savings would come from Medicaid, which serves low-income Americans. That program would face $884 billion in cuts. Cutbacks in subsidies for individual health insurance would likewise help cut $276 billion. But those are offset in large part by bigger costs, including the repeal of many of Obamacare's taxes.

Related: Vox - CBO: Republican health care bill raises premiums for older, poor Americans by as much as 850%: The American Health Care Act would make a low-income 64-year-old in the individual market pay more than half his income for health insurance.


NPR - Trump's Restrictions For Abortion Funding Overseas Could Hinder HIV Prevention

The newly-released details of the Trump administration's version of the "Mexico City policy" are raising many questions about its impact not only on abortion but also on preventing HIV and infectious diseases like malaria.
"This is going to result in an increase in the number of unintended pregnancies, in the number of unsafe abortions, in the number of mothers dying, whether from pregnancy-related causes or HIV causes, and also in the number of infant and child deaths," says Geeta Rao Gupta, executive director for the United Nations Foundation's 3D Program for Girls & Women, which addresses the needs and rights of women.
Some research has shown that when the Mexico City policy is in force, abortion rates can rise. One study by Stanford University researchers, published by the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 2011, found that abortions in sub-Saharan African countries held steady at about 10 per 100,000 women every year from 1994 to 2000 during the Clinton administration, which did not enforce the policy. President George W. Bush reinstated the Mexico City policy in 2001, and from 2001 to 2008, there were 14.5 abortions per 100,000 women every year.

The study authors note that it's not possible to be completely certain about the reason for the rise. But they theorize that when women lose access to modern contraceptives like birth control pills because the clinics that provided them had shut down because of a loss of funds, some of the women may turn to unsafe abortions. In 2008, 47,000 women died from complications after unsafe abortions, according the World Health Organization.


Authoritarianism

Vox - Historian Timothy Snyder: Trump's lies are creeping tyranny: A historian on the danger of Donald Trump.

The way it works is that you first just lie a lot. You fill up the public space with things that aren't true, as Trump has obviously done. Next you say, "It's not me who lies; it's the crooked journalists. They're the ones who spread the fake news." Then the third step, if this works, is that everybody shrugs their shoulders and says, "Well, we don't really know who to trust; therefor, we'll trust whoever we feel like trusting." In that situation, you can't control political action and authoritarianism wins.
Frankly, we're in uncharted waters here. A lot of people believed in Trump because of his charisma and the simplicity of his promises and because, in many cases, they were facing real problems. What they believed in, unfortunately, has zero substance. It's very hard for people to recognize that. It's much easier for people to be fooled than it is for people to be unfooled.

Getting people out of a con takes a really long time, and I'm just not sure how that's going to work.

I think part of the problem with the Democrats is that they tend to look at the overall average and assume things are going well. But if you get down to the right fractal level, then in many parts of the country they're not. I think those people were intellectually vulnerable.
If people are poorly educated, if the state keeps pulling back from its role in educating people, there are less and less people to filter and make decisions for themselves.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Responding to Mike Huckabee's Over the Top Defense of Trump

Mike HuckabeeYesterday, I received a forward of Mike Huckabee's latest newsletter. You can read the whole thing on MikeHuckabee.com. It was really over the top - comparing Democrats to whiny children, dismissing evidence of Trumps malfeasance and Russian interference in the election, implying that Democrats don't have an elementary school level understanding of civics and presidential succession, and even a somewhat veiled threat of violence if Trump were to be impeached.

This is a perfect example of how way too many Republican politicians are putting party loyalty ahead of the good of the country, and actually defending Trump and making excuses rather than trying to get to the bottom of what could be some very, very serious misconduct or even criminal activity. Even in one section about 'The Consequences of Impeachment', Huckabee framed it as Republican vs. Democrat, implying that impeachment would be a purely partisan issue, rather than U.S. Senators and Congress members acting for the good of their country and the people they represent. Has it really come to this? Could Trump literally go shoot somebody on 5th Avenue like he bragged, and still retain the support of these Republican politicians? Has partisanship really become that bad?

To give a sense of the tone of the newsletter, here's the opening commentary.

Today's Commentary: The Scary Imaginary Bear -- Inconvenient Facts -- The Consequences Of Impeachment

Most parents know the experience of having children who refuse to accept that the time for them being the center of attention is over and they need to go to bed so the adults can get down to doing serious things. The children start whining and crying that they can't settle down because there's a bear under their beds. Eventually, the adults get so worn down from all the wailing and tantrums that they give in, grab a flashlight, and make a show of looking under the bed to investigate, just to triple-dog-prove that there is no scary imaginary bear under there. They hope this will finally make the children calm down and shut up. But it seldom works for long, since giving in just encourages more tantrums.

Why was I reminded of that universal parental dilemma when I heard that the Deputy Attorney General had given in to the endless, ear-piercing crying of Democrats and their media playmates and appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into their claims that the Russian bear had interfered in the election to tip it to Trump - claims for which we've seen about as much evidence as there is for a real bear hiding under your kids' bunk beds? Of course, the need for a special counsel took on new urgency, thanks to the past week's worth of "disturbing" stories about the Trump White House that have appeared in the adversary media - and never mind that they've all been based on unnamed sources and either proven false or flatly denied by everyone who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

Yes, Huckabee is comparing calls for investigation into potential criminal conduct of the President and his staff with whiny children afraid of imaginary monsters. What a class act.

Let me offer a couple points to put the talk of impeachment in perspective*. First, think back to George W. Bush. Liberals had no love for Bush, but there was no widespread support among Democrats for impeachment. Sure, Kucinich and Wexler and a handful of others may have brought it up, along with the more extreme members of the base, but there wasn't the type of widespread discussion among Congress members and Senators like is happening right now for Trump. And that's because this isn't mere political theater. If Trump really has done what various sources have said (and he himself has implied in tweets), this is a very serious situation. I will agree with Huckabee on one point - right now these are allegations, not proven facts. But they're very serious allegations, coming from respected sources, which is why they must be investigated.

Second, contrary to Huckabee's implications, most Democrats are well aware of who would become president if Trump were impeached or if he resigned. And frankly, as far as policy and legislation, Pence would be much worse for liberals. He doesn't have anywhere near the scandal, corruption, or other baggage tied to him. And, he's an experienced politician who's gotten things accomplished. If Trump were to resign today** and Pence assumed the presidency, Republicans would be able to focus on their legislative goals instead of Trump's scandals. And they would more than likely be able to push much of it through a lot faster than what they're doing now. And as much as liberals like me would hate the legislation that got passed, that's a trade many of us are willing to take if it meant getting Trump out of office. That's how bad Trump is for America. (Of course, not all liberals see it that way. Some are grateful that Trump's incompetence is keeping the Republicans from focusing on their legislative agenda, and want to see this drag on rather than give Pence a chance to push through that agenda. If you want to see an actual debate among liberals concerning this issue, and not Huckabee's strawman, take a look at the comments in this article from Why Evolution Is True, Comey memo: Is Trump finished?).

One of the things that disturbs me the most right now is this trend among right-wing politicians and pundits to demonize the press, which has gotten much, much worse in recent years. The press is not an 'adversary', as Huckabee puts it. They're not 'Fake News', or 'the enemy of the people', as Trump likes to put it. The founders of this nation recognized a free press as so vital to democracy that they enshrined it in the First Amendment. At this point, I don't think it's hyperbole to compare Trump to historical authoritarians. One of the propaganda tactics the Nazis used was the term 'Lügenpresse', constantly accusing the press of lying. They eroded the public's faith in the press, so that they could get away with everything they did and dismiss any news stories critical of what they were doing. I don't mean to say that Trump is the next Hitler, but it's scary that he can borrow propaganda tactics from them and get away with it, and that so many other Republican politicians go along with it. (The ugly history of 'Lügenpresse,' a Nazi slur shouted at a Trump rally)

And how can Huckabee, with a straight face and a clear conscience***, say "claims for which we've seen about as much evidence as there is for a real bear hiding under your kids' bunk beds"? Here's the official statement from the Department of Homeland Security:

And here are a couple stories on the consensus view of the intelligence agencies - the first link on the report of the combined findings of the CIA, FBI, and NSA, and the second link on intelligence chiefs' public statements:

To quote one portion, "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper affirmed an Oct. 7 joint statement from 17 intelligence agencies that the Russian government directed the election interference -- and went further. 'We stand more resolutely on that statement,' Clapper said during a Senate Armed Services hearing with the intelligence chiefs into the politically charged issue."

This isn't some wild eyed conspiracy theory by people in tin foil hats. It's the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community. Just stop and think about what that means - Russia, the country headed by Vladimir Putin, actively interfered in a U.S. election. Russia hacked into the computers of a major U.S. political party in an attempt to influence the presidential election. That is a major issue, and a major national security concern. And Huckabee is dismissing it because it's unflattering to his party? 'Irresponsible' isn't a strong enough word.

I think this entry has grown long enough, so I'm not going to address Huckabee's other points. I'm just exasperated that this is the current political climate in the U.S. Our entire intelligence community is in unanimous agreement about Russia interfering with the election. There are very serious allegations about our president committing misconduct or even criminal behavior. But politicians like Huckabee obfuscate, lie, or just flat out ignore these issues because of blind party loyalty. It's frustrating.


*To be clear, most Democratic politicians right now aren't calling for impeachment, but investigation into these claims. The talk now is that if the claims are true, then the actions are worth considering impeachment.

**Actually, as far as political fallout and what it would mean for the 2 major parties, the best case scenario for Republicans likely would be Trump voluntarily resigning quickly. It would remove his distractions, and get Pence in the driver's seat. And with as short as people's memories are, Trump would be a distant memory by the time midterms rolled around in two years. Worse for them is Trump staying in the White House, producing scandal after scandal, distracting from legislative goals, and likely hurting battleground Republicans in the midterms. Worst of all actually would be an impeachment - since it would be a drawn out process that would cause even more distraction and hurt Republicans even more in the midterms than just letting things go on as they are now. So in that sense, I can see the political strategy behind why Republican politicians would try to avoid impeachment. Though it's still disappointing that they're putting party ahead of country.

***I'm reminded of another Huckabee email forwarded I received and wrote about in the entry, A Response to Mike Huckabee's Misrepresentations of Planned Parenthood. So, I'm not particularly surprised by Huckabee being dishonest, though it's still disappointing, and frustrating.

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 16

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.


Washington Post - Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.

Related: Vox - Donald Trump is a serious threat to American national security


The latest Trump interview once again reveals appalling ignorance and dishonesty

As America continues to ponder whether President Donald Trump is obstructing justice by firing his FBI director in order to stymie an ongoing inquiry into his team's various bizarre links to the Russian government, the Economist delivered an interview with the chief executive that reminds us of the original and most basic horror of the Trump administration: The president of the United States has no idea what he's talking about.

And while Trump's own answers are so bizarre and meandering that it seems overwhelmingly likely he is speaking nonsense out of ignorance rather than rank dishonesty, the performance of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as his squire in the interview is disturbing on an entirely different level. Much as Trump has turned the political appointees at the Justice Department into facilitators of his lies about Jim Comey, Mnuchin acts as an enabler rather than a provider of adult supervision.

The sheer volume of things that Trump says over the course of the interview is mind-boggling, and practically beyond counting. At times he appears to be willfully lying in pursuit of some political agenda, or at least repeating a half-remembered partisan talking point.
It's hard to know what to say about this beyond the obvious: Regardless of the topic, the president has basically no idea what's going on. And his staff has given up on trying to bring him up to speed. Instead, they take advantage of his ignorance to try to sell him on selective misinformation -- or flattery from foreign leaders -- to park policy outcomes where they would like to see them.


National Post - White House advisors called Ottawa to urge Trudeau to help talk Trump down from scrapping NAFTA

White House staff called the Prime Minister's Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.

The unconventional diplomatic manoeuvre -- approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss -- proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.

But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump.


NBC News - Trump Establishes Vote Fraud Commission

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday creating a commission aimed at investigating alleged vote fraud -- a move that drew swift rebuke from civil liberty groups and liberal lawmakers amid worries the panel's work could seek to justify voter suppression.
"This voter commission is a clear front for constricting the access to vote to poor Americans, older Americans, and -- above all -- African Americans and Latinos," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "Putting an extremist like Mr. Kobach at the helm of this commission is akin to putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.
Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice said it studied jurisdictions accounting for 23.5 million votes in the 2016 election, and those jurisdictions reported an estimated 30 instances of suspected non-citizens voting. That equates to non-citizen voting in the 2016 election accounting for 0.0001 percent of the vote in these jurisdictions.


The Atlantic - Trump Wants 'Goddamned Steam,' Not Digital Catapults on Aircraft Carriers: "You have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out."

Navy officials were "blindsided" on Thursday, a spokesman told me, by President Donald Trump's suggestion that he has convinced the Navy to abandon a long-planned digital launching system in favor of steam on its newest aircraft carrier.

In a wide-ranging interview with Time magazine, Trump described his disgust with the catapult system known as Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, nicknamed EMALS, aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford. (Time has published only excerpts from the interview, not a full transcript.) The president described wanting to scrap EMALS, a key technological upgrade at the center of the multibillion-dollar carrier project, and return to steam.

Despite some high-profile failures in early testing, EMALS is now nearly complete and ready for sea trials. It represents one of three major initiatives in the Navy's push to go upgrade its weapons systems for the digital era.

Trump's insistence on steam is perhaps bewildering, but also consistent with some of his other views about technology. After all, the president has repeatedly talked about returning to America's golden age of manufacturing--an idea that's laughable, if regrettable, to anyone who has looked closely at the forces driving the global economy.

Related: Foxtrot Alpha - Trump May Have Just Derailed A Crucial Part Of America's Future Aircraft Carrier Fleet


NPR - Sessions Tells Prosecutors To Seek 'Most Serious' Charges, Stricter Sentences

In a memo to staff, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" -- a move that marks a significant reversal of Obama-era policies on low-level drug crimes.

The two-page memo, which was publicly released Friday, lays out a policy of strict enforcement that rolls back the comparatively lenient stance established by Eric Holder, one of Sessions' predecessors under President Barack Obama.

"This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety," Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement emailed to NPR. "Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war."
The memo also drew a long, scathing rebuke from Holder himself.

"The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime," he said in a statement. "It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety."


Vox - The Trump administration just took its first big step to escalate the war on drugs: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is encouraging federal prosecutors to lock up low-level drug offenders.

Trump and Sessions's "tough on crime" push defies some of the evidence we've seen over the past few years, which has found that tougher criminal justice policies aren't very effective.
Although it was never a big part of Obama's campaigns or speeches, his administration did take a number of steps to pull back the war on drugs. ... It shifted anti-drug spending to emphasize public health programs, like drug treatment, as much as approaches focused on criminal justice and national security.
All of this had the support of experts and the public, who widely see a public health approach as the right way to deal with drug problems like the opioid epidemic.
Based on Sessions's latest memo, this rhetoric, along with executive actions to match it, is what we can expect from the Trump administration over the next few years. The war on drugs may soon come roaring back.


Nature - Revamped 'anti-science' education bills in United States find success: Legislation urges educators to 'teach the controversy' and allows citizens to challenge curricula.

State and local legislatures in the United States are experimenting with new ways to target the topics taught in science classes, and it seems to be paying dividends. Florida's legislature approved a bill on 5 May that would enable residents to challenge what educators teach students. And two other states have already approved non-binding legislation this year urging teachers to embrace 'academic freedom' and present the full spectrum of views on evolution and climate change. This would give educators license to treat evolution and intelligent design as equally valid theories, or to present climate change as scientifically contentious.


The Guardian - Trump is deleting climate change, one site at a time: The administration has taken a hatchet to climate change language across government websites. Here are several of the more egregious examples

During inauguration day on 20 January, as Donald Trump was adding "American carnage" to the presidential lexicon, the new administration also took a hammer to official recognition that climate change exists and poses a threat to the US.

One of the starkest alterations to the White House's website following Trump's assumption of office was the scrapping of an entire section on climate change, stuffed with graphs on renewable energy growth and pictures of Barack Obama gazing at shriveling glaciers, to be replaced by a perfunctory page entitled "An America first energy plan".

In the more than 100 days since, the administration has largely opted for a chisel and scalpel approach to refashioning its online content, but the end result is much the same - mentions of climate change have been excised, buried or stripped of any importance.


The Hill - Privatizing air traffic control would pose new risks to national security

The push for privatization of the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has begun again. As we discuss this course of action, national security must be a top consideration.

As someone who has spent nearly 35 years in law enforcement, including serving as director of the U.S. Secret Service, I think there are several key law enforcement and national security questions that have been overlooked and need to be considered as we discuss the merits of bringing private entities into the air traffic control governance structure.

I believe strongly in the wisdom that can be gained from the private sector. Privatization of the air traffic control, however, would pose a multitude of chain of command issues, differing priorities, and perspectives that could potentially elevate risk and interfere with the end goal of ensuring aviation security.


NPR - Lessons On Race And Vouchers From Milwaukee

The Trump administration has made school choice, vouchers in particular, a cornerstone of its education agenda. This has generated lots of interest in how school voucher programs across the country work and whom they benefit.
Over the years, though, most voucher recipients have performed no better academically than their public school peers. In some cases they've done worse. So who exactly is benefiting? It's a question that has raised serious misgivings in Milwaukee's African-American community. So much so that some of the city's prominent black leaders today are divided.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Debunking GOP Talking Points - Foreign Aid and Factory Jobs

Republican ElephantRecently, I was forwarded an email from the Republican National Committee, with the subject line, 'Week 15: A Rebirth Of Hope, Safety, And Opportunity'. You can read the full text on DonaldJTrump.com, though without the images included in the email.

Now, the whole thing was bad, but I got hung up right from the beginning just in the introduction. Below is a quote of that introduction, followed by my response, calling out the GOP for their misleading remarks on foreign aid and factory jobs.

Over the years, traditional politicians have failed to put America First. Our factories have been shut down, our steel mills slowed, and our jobs were stolen away and shipped overseas.

Politicians sent troops to protect the borders of foreign nations, but left America's borders wide open. They spent billions of dollars on one global project after another, while failing to keep our citizens safe and allowing gangs flooded into our country.

President Trump is not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore, because from now on it's America First!

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all started working together to rebuild our nation, the nation that we so dearly love. Our jobs will come back home and dying factories will come roaring back to life.

Our country is seeing a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity. Americans are being taught to love their country and take pride in our great American land.

Let's start by putting this 'America First' talk in perspective. The American government already puts America first (or at least - the politicians' donors). The U.S. only spends around 1% of the federal budget on foreign aid. All this rhetoric about 'billions of dollars on one global project after another, while failing to keep our citizens safe and allowing gangs flooded into our country' is extremely misleading. It's talk like this that contributes to Americans having such a skewed perspective of the actual amount the U.S. spends (the average American thinks foreign aid is up around 30% of spending - Politifact). For example, here was the proposed budget from 2016 (source: Washington Post):

U.S. Foreign Aid as Percent Spending

The U.S. spends over $4 trillion every year. Billions of dollars going to foreign aid may sound like a lot, but it's not that big in the overall scheme of things. Cutting all that spending wouldn't have a very big effect on the overall budget, at all. Even if the budget was balanced, that type of spending cut would amount to only a 1% reduction in taxes.

Here are some more graphs putting this in perspective - first, how much the U.S. spends on Official Development Assistance as a percentage of gross national income (not spending, which is why it's a lower percentage than the discussion above), and then second, how that percentage has changed over the years (source: CompareYourCountry.org).

U.S. Foreign Aid as Percent GNI
U.S. Foreign Aid History as Percent GNI

As a percentage of GNI, the U.S. is one of the lowest spenders on foreign aid among developed countries - only spending around half of the global average, and only 16% of what the most generous nation, Norway, spends. You can look at the history, too. Back in the '60s, the U.S. donated almost 0.6% of GNI - more than 3x what we do now. Granted, because the U.S. is the world's largest economy, that still amounts to the most absolute spending (but not by a whole lot). But as far as what we could afford to spend, compared to other countries, and compared to what we've done ourselves in the past, the modern day U.S. is not particularly generous when it comes to foreign aid. We already donate a smaller share of our resources than practically any other developed country.

Even if you don't care about helping the poor and destitute in other countries out of common decency, you can still look at it pragmatically. For one, U.S. manufacturers make a lot of money through the export market. Boeing can't sell 787s to failed countries. There's not going to be a big market for high end American made goods in regions where people are too poor to afford them. If we can give these regions a boost to help them on the road towards development, they could be potential customers a few years down the road. There's also the consideration of political stability (for a historical example, do you really think WWII would have happened if not for the Treaty of Versailles and the economic disaster that was for Germany?).

More Info: Brookings Institute - Myths about U.S. foreign aid


There was another statement that seemed particularly naïve:

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all started working together to rebuild our nation, the nation that we so dearly love. Our jobs will come back home and dying factories will come roaring back to life.

Here's another figure (source: Economic Policy Institute). Take a look at American productivity. It's at record highs.

U.S. Productivity Growth History

Here's what the Cato Institute has to say about U.S. manufacturing. Note that the Cato Institute is a right-wing libertarian think tank.

Reports of the death of U.S. manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated. The fallacy that trade killed manufacturing has long been a pretense for protectionism and industrial policy. But by historic standards and relative to other countries' manufacturing sectors, U.S. manufacturing remains a global powerhouse.

Claims of "rapid deindustrialization" are misplaced and often based on the declining share of manufacturing value-added relative to the overall economy. Indeed, manufacturing's share of the U.S. economy peaked in 1953 at 28.1 percent, whereas in 2015 manufacturing accounted for only 12.1 percent of GDP. However, in 1953, U.S. value-added in the manufacturing sector amounted to $110 billion, as compared to a record $2.1 trillion in 2015 - more than six times the value in real terms.

Trade critics also tend to conflate manufacturing employment with the condition of manufacturing. But declining employment in a manufacturing sector that produces record-setting output year-after-year is a sign of greater efficiency, which frees human resources for other, higher-valued added endeavors. In 2015 the stock of FDI in U.S. manufacturing surpassed $1.1 trillion, more than double the value of FDI in China's manufacturing sector (and eight times the value in per capita terms).

Here's an article from the Cato Institute, Is Manufacturing Employment the Only Thing That Counts?. They started off with agriculture as an example. In 1910, agriculture accounted for 11.8 million jobs, and 31% of the entire U.S. workforce. Today, it has declined to just 2.5 million jobs, and only 1.6% of the workforce. But agricultural production hasn't gone down. In fact, it's gone up, keeping up with a growing population, and producing a surplus to export to other countries. Barring a catastrophe, there's no way we'll return to an economy where 1/3 of the jobs come from agriculture, because technology has made those jobs obsolete.

Now, back to manufacturing. Even though factory employment has fallen, the economic value added by the sector has continued to rise. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the United States set an all-time record for value added in manufacturing in 2015 of $2.2 trillion. Value added in manufacturing has risen every year since the recession ended in 2009. The United States is a competitive producer of a wide range of factory products, and ranks third as a manufacturing exporter behind China and Germany.

Given that the sector is growing year by year and is a major exporter, has the manufacturing base really been -- in the words of the White House -- "devastated"? An unbiased observer likely would conclude instead that -- as in agriculture -- fewer workers are doing a fine job of producing more goods of higher value.

Has the downtrend in manufacturing employment been driven primarily by globalization? No. An analysis in 2015 by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University showed that trade has, indeed, had a modest effect on manufacturing employment. The study found that roughly 13 percent of manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to international competition.

The other 87 percent of the decline, though, has come from greater automation -- robots and computers are reducing the number of workers required on factory floors. Just as in farming, productivity gains allow manufacturing employees to generate far more output than in the past. Many people would see this as progress.

U.S. manufacturing is doing quite well. There's no way that 'Our jobs will come back home', because most of them didn't go somewhere else. They simply evaporated due to things like CNC machines, robots, and other forms of automation. It's either naïve or dishonest to mislead unemployed factory workers into thinking that any type of government policies are going to bring those jobs back. (I could make a similar statement about the coal mining industry.)

This is a real problem. Factory workers are losing their jobs. Something obviously needs to be done to make sure they can find new jobs. But if you want to enact a realistic solution that's going to work and help these people, the first step is a realistic recognition of the problem. Solutions based on fantasy and wishful thinking aren't merely a waste of time - they're prolonging those people's suffering, and dragging down the overall economy for everybody else.


And that's just the introduction. I could have written just as much about pretty much every other subject in that email (and I could have written a lot more about manufacturing and blue collar jobs, too). It's just so frustrating and disheartening that this is an official email from what is currently the most powerful political party in the country. I don't know if they really believe what they write, or if it's just propaganda to try to drum up the base. Either way, it's not healthy for democracy or the country. Patriotic Americans should be denouncing these types of false narratives that do nothing to help the country and distract from the real causes of the issues we're facing.

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 15 - Time for Impeachment?

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Usually, this series is about a broad range of issues related to Trump. But this week, I'm going to focus on one abuse of power in particular that's so egregious, I think it is time to start talking seriously about impeachment. I know, Trump was damaging the country before. But bad policy and bad political appointees aren't impeachable offenses - that's what elections are for. And yes, a lot of his previous corruption and authoritarian tendencies were alarming and damaging to American democracy and government mores (demonization of the free press, nepotism, cronyism, conflicts of interest...), but they were only borderline worthy of impeachment, and the political reality is that Trump wasn't going to be impeached for giving his kids government jobs or flouting the emoluments clause.

But now, Trump has potentially crossed the line into obstruction of justice, by firing James Comey, the director of the law enforcment agency that was investigating his adminstration. Granted, it still has to be proven that that was Trump's intent, but that's certainly where all the arrows seem to be pointing right now. And if that does turn out to be true, then I say it's time to impeach Trump. That's an abuse of power beyond the pale, and the American people deserve far better.

Since this is such a huge issue, I'm going to quote more articles than normal on a single issue, and pull out more excerpts than normal from those articles.


Vox - Experts on authoritarianism are absolutely terrified by the Comey firing

"Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. ... This is the first clear warning sign that he's attempting to [act like one]."

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.

In the meantime, all we have to go on is what we know to have happened: The president fired the person who was investigating him and his associates.

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

"This is very common -- in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes," Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. "Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government."

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive's actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration's foreign ties.
Now, before you worry that the United States is going to go the way of Turkey or Russia, it's worth noting that the institutions checking Trump are far stronger than the ones in countries where democracy has collapsed. The courts, the press, and social movements have all done a pretty good job checking Trump's power so far; even Congress, by far the most Trump-subservient institution, has blocked some of his policy proposals and appointees.

But the Comey firing is by far the greatest test of the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump's authoritarian instincts so far. Whether American institutions keep up their strong performance in the face of this stress test may well determine its fate.

That actually doesn't happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we've started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world -- something that, in the wake of Trump's recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

This is what makes the firing of Comey so scary for these scholars.

Dismissing the head of a national law enforcement agency is extremely rare, both in the United States and in other advanced democracies worldwide. Only one prior FBI director, William Sessions in 1993, has been fired in the 82-year history of the modern FBI, and that was because of a protracted corruption scandal involving his alleged abuse of government resources for his own personal use.

Comey was fired, it seems, precisely because his FBI posed a threat to Trump's authority. Trump is doing exactly what new authoritarians do in the early stages of their leadership.
The Comey firing itself doesn't herald the death of democracy in America, not even close. But it is a watershed moment for the country's future nonetheless. What happens now will shape the future of American democracy -- if not its survival, then certainly its health and ability to function smoothly. Both Congress and ordinary Americans can shape it for the better -- or for the worse, if they just let this pass and do nothing.

At the end of our conversation, Chenoweth left me with one parting thought: "This is not a drill." I believe her.


The Atlantic - Two Dead Canaries in the Coal Mine

Just after election day, Ben Wittes and Susan Hennessey cowrote a post at Lawfare, the web site Wittes runs for the Brookings Institution, titled "We Need Comey at the FBI More Than Ever." It began by acknowledging that Comey was unpopular among many Republicans and Democrats, then made a case for retaining him in his post:
...[4 paragraphs worth of explanation here]...

In fact, for those concerned that President Trump will trample the rule of law--liberals and conservatives alike--Comey's fate is one potential canary in the coal mine.

That canary is now dead.


The Atlantic - Will Republicans Check Trump's Presidential Power?

Richard Nixon's dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor was met with bipartisan outrage. It's less clear whether the public, and its political leaders, will respond in kind to the firing of FBI director James Comey.
The question today is whether a deeply polarized nation can respond with equal determination to Trump's ominous assault on democratic accountability, which two legal scholars on Tuesday accurately described as "a horrifying breach of every expectation we have of the relationship between the White House and federal law enforcement."
A few Republicans frequently critical of Trump--among them Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Ohio Governor John Kasich--joined virtually all Democrats in raising alarms about Comey's sudden dismissal. But most GOP leaders issued tepid responses that minimized or obscured the core issue: Trump fired the law-enforcement official leading the investigation into his campaign for possible collusion with a hostile foreign government.

With that decision, Trump made clear his willingness to trample the formal and informal limits that have checked the arbitrary exercise of presidential power through American history. What's unclear is whether leaders and voters in both parties can summon as much will to defend those limits as they did after Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. If Trump can decapitate the FBI inquiry into his campaign without real consequence--such as an irresistible bipartisan demand for an independent counsel to take over the investigation--his appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.


Vox - This Harvard law professor thinks Trump really could be impeached over Comey

It's not too soon to put impeachment on the table.

It's absolutely fair to put impeachment on the table right now. I don't think it's likely, but there's enough smoke around to suggest that there might be impeachable conduct that we should worry about. Ultimately, this will turn on whether the Republicans decide they've had enough and draw a line in the sand with Trump. But that's a political decision, not a legal one.

An impeachment hearing is a sign that the Constitution is working, not a crisis.

Impeachment itself is not a constitutional crisis, because it's actually in the Constitution. And so an impeachment means, on some level, that the Constitution is working. It means presidential power is being checked or executive overreach is being punished by the instruments of law. When a president can break the law without fear of impeachment, then we should really be worried.


Vox - By firing James Comey, Trump has put impeachment on the table

Nothing we've seen credibly reported thus far about Trump and Russia would amount to an impeachable offense, and indeed, it's not really clear what allegations of "collusion" on the campaign trail would really amount to even if proven.

Firing the FBI director in order to obstruct an ongoing investigation would be different.

Anonymously sourced journalism is not the same thing as sworn testimony or hard evidence. But it's also indispensable to uncovering official wrongdoing. And Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning already brought forth plenty of evidence of wrongdoing:

[A long list of examples that I would encourage you to read by following the link above]

Some or all of this reporting may prove to be false. But it has all been published by credible journalists in credible publications. And it adds up to a very clear picture of a president deciding to fire an FBI director to obstruct an ongoing investigation and then stitching together a shaky rationalization for doing so.


ThinkProgress - Trump's firing of FBI director could be an impeachable offense, constitutional law experts say

Constitutional law experts say that while President Donald Trump's decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey was legal, it appears to be an abuse of power that could constitute an impeachable offense.

Trump's decision to terminate Comey, the head of the nation's top law enforcement agency, was announced Tuesday and sent shockwaves throughout the political sphere.

It's not unconstitutional for Trump to fire his FBI director as he has the authority to fire anyone in the executive branch, explained David D. Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement to ThinkProgress.

"But if he did so, as appears to be the case, because he is concerned that Comey's investigation of ties between his campaign and Russian officials might have implicated him in wrongdoing, it's tantamount to an obstruction of justice," wrote Cole, a constitutional law expert and professor who is on leave from the Georgetown University Law Center.


Politico - Behind Comey's firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia

President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn't call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters.

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn't disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

Trump's firing of the high-profile FBI director on the 110th day after the president took office marked another sudden turn for an administration that has fired its acting attorney general, national security adviser and now its FBI director, whom Trump had praised until recent weeks and even blew a kiss to during a January appearance.


Guardian Op-ed - Donald Trump acts like an illegitimate president for a reason

The American people did not really choose Donald Trump. His presidency exists without the support of the majority of voters and, in turn, without a true mandate from the American people. Trump walks and talks instead like an authoritarian, and seems to believe he is above the people and the law, and need not answer to either. He wants to be untouchable. He behaves with impunity and acts as if legal standards like obstruction of justice don't apply to him.

Firing the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, demonstrates a whole new level of defiance of the rule of law and our foundational system of checks and balances. More bluntly, it proves just how dangerous an illegitimate president is to our democracy. His actions do not only undermine the legitimacy and credibility of his presidency; they are a direct threat to our constitutionalism and our democratic legitimacy.

This seems like an obvious demand at this point, but it's worth stating clearly that now, more than ever, we need a special prosecutor appointed to look into the continuing drip, drip, drip revelations about Russia. But even more than that, the United States must regain our democratic legitimacy by ensuring that no citizen, president or otherwise, is above the law or above the American people.


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