Monday, July 30, 2018

I didn't do it... but if I'd done it...

Team Trump's rhetoric is starting to sound like the Cell Block Tango.
They had it coming, they had it coming!
They had it coming all along!
I didn't do it, but if I done it
How could you tell me that I was wrong?
Seriously, go through the ten iterations (at least) of Trump's story and tell me that it doesn't remind you of those lyrics, particularly Rudi Giuliani saying, "The President wasn't in the meeting, and oh by the way, collusion is not a crime."  (So even if he had been in the meeting, what would be the big deal?)

The "they" who "had it coming", of course, are the Democrats, who are the greatest threat this country has ever faced.  Seriously, that's what Hugh Hewitt says.
Electing Democrats to a majority in the House or the Senate ... would be a disaster: Impeachment, demands for massive income tax hikes and the effort to abolish ICE would follow, while also throwing the military rebuild into reverse and the economy into paralysis because of the inability of business to predict the future with anything like certainty.
In other words: simply ignore the fact that the president of the United States conspired with a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process, that this interference very likely tipped the scales in his favor... just ignore all that.  Because the Democrats will raise taxes.

Oh, the horror.  Surely it is worth risking the legitimacy of our entire democratic process, our world-wide reputation for being the good guys, for being a nation where the rule of law applies, to keep taxes low.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that Hewitt would surely have made the exact same argument if Democrats had been the ones who lowered taxes, except that then the boogeyman would be the deficit.  Remember the deficit?  Of course you don't remember the deficit.  What deficit?  There was never a deficit.  Witch hunt.  Fake news.  Oh, look, a kitten!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

For at least one Trump voter, heaven is about new appliances

The Washington Post has a really great in-depth profile of evangelical Christian Trump voters in one small Alabama town, and Daily Kos did a terrific analysis.    There's not much I can add, except to say that I think both pieces are worth reading in their entirety, especially the original Post piece.

The part of that piece that really struck me was this:
She rubbed her sore knee, which was caked with an analgesic. 
“In heaven, I won’t have any pain,” Sheila said. 
“No tears,” said Linda. 
“I think it’ll be beautiful — I love plants, and I think it’ll be like walking in a beautiful garden,” said Sheila.  ... “I’m going to be in my kitchen,” Sheila said, imagining heaven would have one. “I think it’s going to be beautiful to see all the appliances.”
I find it soul-crushingly sad to see a human being whose world is so small that the greatest thing she can think of to aspire to even in the afterlife is new kitchen appliances.  I don't really want to judge a person's desires, but I have a hard time believing that Sheila's yearning for a new Frigidaire comes entirely of her own free will.

[UPDATE] Maybe there is a God after all, and he has a dark sense of humor.  We have a range hood which we hardly ever use.  The control panel consists of half a dozen membrane type-buttons all in one monolithic unit mounted inside a slot cut into the hood's a stainless steel housing.  This evening I was making dinner and the lights in the range hood started to flutter on, like a scene out of a B-horror movie.  I went to push the button on the panel to try to turn the lights off (they were already off, at least as far as I knew) and the whole panel popped off and vanished inside the unit (it was apparently attached with epoxy) with the lights now on full bright.  I had to pop the circuit breaker to turn the lights off.  So maybe heaven is a kitchen full of new appliances with life-time warranties.  In an eternal afterlife, that would be a helluva deal.

Fire TFR update: from bad to worse

A week ago I reported on an unprecedented number of fire-related temporary flight restrictions in southern Oregon.  This is what the situation looked like this morning:

As you can see, what used to be half a dozen separate TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) have merged into one monster TFR (though they are still officially listed separately).  And it's still only July.  It will likely be at least 2-3 months before it rains.  Welcome to the new normal.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Republican's three-step plan

Republicans have a three-step plan to try to protect Donald Trump from facing the consequences of collaborating with the Russians.

Step 1: Deny that it happened (c.f. "Witch hunt")

Step 2: When there is evidence that it happened deny the evidence (c.f. "Fake news")

Step 3: When the evidence becomes undeniable, deny that it was ever a big deal.

To those currently implementing step 3, I pose the following question: if it was never a big deal, why bother with steps 1 and 2?  Why not just come right out and admit it from the beginning rather than attempt to cover it up?  Enquiring minds want to know.

The wheels on the bus go round and round

I don't know if the wheels are actually coming off the Trump bus yet, but at least a few of the lug nuts might be starting to loosen up a bit.  It has been pretty clear from the outset that Donnie pater not only knew about the Trump Tower meeting before it happened, but was eagerly anticipating its results.  The Trumps have been digging themselves into a pretty deep hole by insisting otherwise, and that hole has now gotten a lot deeper now that Michael Cohen has flipped because the evidence of Trump's malfeasance is no longer purely circumstantial.  At the very least, at some point Trump is going to have to answer the question: what exactly were the circumstances that led you to say this on June 7, 2016:
“I am going to give a major speech on — probably Monday of next week [June 13] — and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” Trump said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative, and very, very interesting.”
And also, what were the circumstances that led you not to follow through on that promise?  Was it purely coincidence that that the June 9 meeting, which produced no results, just happened to take place between when you promised a "major speech" about the Clintons and when you failed to follow through on that promise?  If it wasn't the Tower meeting that led to all that, what was it?

I can't help but marvel at the irony that Trump, the supposed master negotiator, may be brought down by the incredibly stupid mistake of promising something before he was sure he could deliver it.  If he hadn't done that, he might have been able to maintain plausible deniability.  Sometimes you have to take risks, but the Second Rule of Business is that you should only take risks when you have to. Trump didn't have to.  He could have waited two days until he knew if the meeting was going to be fruitful or not.  But Trump has the patience of a six-year-old, and so he took this risk gratuitously and recklessly simply because he felt like it, and thus gave up plausible deniability.  What a maroon.

In other news, some Republicans are starting to call for Trump's impeachment.

Friday, July 20, 2018

I've never seen anything like this before

Speaking of ominous developments, have you noticed how much  more often you hear the phrase, "I've never seen anything like this before" in reference to the weather nowadays?  Well, now it's my turn.  For those of you who don't know, I'm a private pilot.  I got my license in 1996 so I've been flying for over 22 years.  This is a map of south-western Oregon as it showed up on my flight planning software this morning:

(This is not what I would actually look at to plan a flight.  I've turned off all the aviation-y things that would normally show up, like airports.)

See those red circles?  Those are Temporary Flight Restrictions, commonly known as TFRs.  They are places you can't fly for various reasons, like if the President is in town.  But those are not presidential TFRs, they are fire-fighting TFRs.  Those are not uncommon this time of year, but usually there are only one or two of them in any given area.  Today in this part of Oregon alone there are ten.

I've never seen anything even remotely like this before.

Three ominous developments

Ominous development #1: Bank of America (and, apparently, only BofA) has started asking its customers whether or not they hold a dual citizenship.

Ominous development #2: The Trump administration is moving aggressively to strip U.S. citizenship from anyone who lied on their application, even if the lie was immaterial or inadvertent.  The last time anything like that happened was during the McCarthy era.

Ominous development #3: The Washington Post published an op-ed by a former Trump administration official arguing that birthright citizenship is a "historical and Constitutional absurdity" and should be abolished.  To defend this position he has to argue, of course, that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't actually mean what it plainly says, what the people who wrote it said it says, and what everyone has agreed for 150 years that it says.  But we've known for a long time that those who travel in Trump's circle have no qualms about rewriting history.

I think there's a quietly hatched plot somewhere deep inside the vast right wing conspiracy to eviscerate the fourteenth amendment and expand the government's power to strip people of their citizenship beyond all historical precedent.  It is, of course, all based on lies, but that is just a standard part of the right's play book.  They have used this strategy very effectively to move the needle on gun rights and abortion, so there's no reason to believe it won't succeed on citizenship.

Anyone who has any kind of paper trail linking them to another country should be very afraid.  You may have a dual citizenship and not even know it.  You may not even be able to renounce it once you find out.

My grandfather had no idea he was a Jew until the Gestapo knocked on the door one day and told him.  This is how these things begin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Republican voters are completely insane

If you were hoping that Helsinki might be Donald Trump's Joseph-Welch moment, think again.  Donald Trump will not suffer any negative consequences from his disastrous and treasonous remarks.  This is why:
A new tracking poll from Reuters/ Ipsos on Tuesday showed that rank-and-file Republicans not only continue to support President Trump but refuse to believe he’s doing anything wrong. The most galling number from the survey is: 71 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of Russia... 
Overall, more than half of those polled (55 percent) disapproved of Trump’s handling of Russia and agree (59 percent) with U.S. intelligence findings about Russian attempts to tamper with the 2016 election. But, also worrying, is the fact that only 32 percent of Republicans believe that Russia attempted to intervene in the election.
This is really getting scary.  I used to think that Trump's claim that he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it was hyperbole.  I'm not so sure any more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I don't even know what to say here

Oh my.  Sharp-eyed CNBC reporter Christina Wilkie noticed that in a photo of the written prepared remarks of Trump's lame rollback of his catastrophic Helsinki news conference, there was a line that was crossed out.  But it wasn't crossed out all the way, you could still see what it said in the image.

Here's a close-up (flipped 180 degrees so the text is right-side-up):

It says, "Anyone involved in that meddling to justice."  (Obviously, the words "should be brought to" can be interpolated there.)  So now we know that Trump specifically does not want to see the people who attacked the U.S. brought to justice.  Gee, I wonder why.

On a not-wholly-unrelated note, former CIA director John Brennan pointed out that having a private meeting with Putin on his home turf with no one else in the room might not have been the brightest thing Donald Trump has ever done because Putin may have recorded the private conversation (gee, ya think?) and Trump may have said something stupid (gee, ya think?) that Putin can now use as leverage against him.

(This just occurred to me: Trump's lawyers are fighting tooth and nail to keep him from having to talk to Robert Mueller because they just know that if he does Trump will say something stupid.  But they were on board with having him give two hours to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors?  What were they thinking?)

A worst-case scenario is starting to look frighteningly plausible.

But what about the witch hunt?

Donald Trump is frantically backpedalling on his treasonous remarks at yesterday's Helsinki news conference.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
In other words, Donald Trump wants you to believe that what he meant to say was the exact opposite of what he actually said.

OK, let's give the man the benefit of the doubt.  It's a high-pressure situation.  He's old and has no stamina.  The difference between "would" and "wouldn't" isn't all that big (except for, like, being antonyms, but why split hairs?)

So now he accepts that Russia might have interfered with the 2016 election.

So, um, what about the witch hunt?

Remember the witch hunt?  Donald Trump has been tirelessly flogging two mantras since the day Robert Mueller was appointed in the wake of Trump's firing of James Comey: 1) there was no collusion between the campaign and the Russians, in no small measure because 2) the whole investigation was a witch hunt.  There is nothing for Mueller to find, no wrong doing of any sort by any party.  The whole investigation should be shut down with all deliberate speed.

But now:
I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.
That is a major concession.  That is an acknowledgement that the investigation was not a "witch hunt", that we really were attacked by a foreign power.   So does that mean that Trump is contrite for having made such an egregious mistake?  Does that mean that he is now going to take the Russians to task for attacking us?  Hell no.
"Could be other people also. A lot of people out there,” Trump said, reading mostly off a sheet of paper, before a meeting with Republican members of Congress at the White House.
And of course, there is still Mantra #1:
“There was no collusion at all,” he added, dismissing the notion that his campaign coordinated with Moscow in 2016.
 So let's take stock.  The President of the United States has now acknowledged that:

1.  We were in fact attacked by Russia, and that therefore...

2.  He was wrong when he repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a witch hunt.  However...

3.  He has not yet explicitly acknowledged #2.  In fact, to the contrary, he is still trying to deflect attention away from Russia by suggesting on no evidence whatsoever that it "could be other people."

And yet, he still expects us to take him at his word that there was "no collusion" between the campaign and Russia.  You know what?  It's a moot point.  There is open collaboration between the Trump administration and Russia!

Imagine if Hillary or Obama had done what Trump is doing.

Remember this day

If you remember nothing else about this extraordinary time in American history, remember this day, and remember this quote: “Dan Coats came to me and said they think it's Russia.  I have, uh, president Putin, uh, who just said it's not Russia.  I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be."

Let that sink in.  "I don't see any reason why it would be."

So... president Trump does not accept Russian interference in the 2016 election even as a hypothetical possibility, let alone as a by now excruciatingly well-documented fact.  He can't think of any reason why Russia might want to interfere with our election, never mind that Putin admitted in that very same news conference that he wanted Trump to be president.  And then there is the fact that his own intelligence agencies say that Russia interfered, members of his own party say Russia interfered.  Russia's innocence is less tenable than O.J. Simpson's.

The Constitution defines treason as "adhering to [the] enemies [of the United States and] giving them aid and comfort."  If this isn't treason, I don't know what is.

There are clearly only two possible outcomes now: either Donald Trump will go down in screaming flames, or the United States of America will.  There are no other options left at this point.  Trump's supporters need to think long and hard about which option they prefer as they decide what to do next.  This is about to get seriously ugly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Roe is a distraction. The real problem is much, much worse.

The United States of America has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with its own ideals.  The disconnect between "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" on the one hand, and chattel slavery on the other, cannot result in anything other than some pretty severe cognitive dissonance.  But despite being deeply rooted in contradictions, the history of this country has nonetheless been one of steady (albeit all too often agonizingly slow) progress towards greater personal freedom and empowerment for all of its people, indeed for all of the people of the world.

All of this social progress has been built on a foundation of material prosperity driven by industriousness and technological advancement, which, in turn, was built on a bedrock of respect for objective truth.  We were able to invent the airplane and the transistor and put men on the moon not because "We're America, bitch", but because we had people who understood physics (and political science!), an understanding which once commanded respect.

No more.

Liberals should not delude themselves: Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, whereupon 242 years of social progress will begin to be methodically and deliberately unmade.  It has already begun, with the recent evisceration of the power of labor unions.  Roe v. Wade will probably be next to go; even if the court doesn't reverse it outright, they will twist the meaning of "undue burden" beyond the recognition of native English speakers.  And conservatives will celebrate, blissfully unaware that they have been the victims of an elaborate con.

You see, the fact of the matter is that opposition to Roe has nothing to do with a principled stance of defending a "right to life."  It is perfectly evident to anyone who looks at conservative policies today that they don't really care about life, they only care about birth.  If they really cared about life, they would care about health care and early childhood development and public education, and not ripping children from their parents.  But they don't.  After a woman has given birth, both she and her baby can go to hell for all that modern conservatives seem to care.

What is less evident is that even the semi-plausible concern for the "rights of the unborn" is a recent invention.  Modern conservatives would have you believe that Roe was a fringe decision that was immediately controversial.  It wasn't.  It was a 7-2 decision, and it was years before anyone thought to try to get it overturned.  And even then it was not a principled stance fighting for the "rights of the unborn" (what's next, fighting for the rights of the unconceived?), it was a cynical ploy to try to unite Protestants and Catholics to get them to vote for political candidates who would support segregation and be friendly to business.

All this is academic, though, because the abortion debate has been successfully and irredeemably (and, let is be ever-mindful, falsely) framed by conservatives to advance a wholly different agenda.  But the loss of personal reproductive freedom is just the tip of the iceberg.  In order to achieve this victory, conservatives have made a deal with the devil.  In exchange for lower taxes and less regulation and less government constraints on racial gerrymandering, they abandoned the truth.  They have allowed all manner of crackpottery -- birtherism, misogyny, and a dizzying variety of denialisms, from climate change to the Holocaust -- to don the mantle of respectability.  And that will ultimately cost us much, much more than our freedom.

To cite but one example which is not, as far as I can tell, on anyone's radar screen, having been totally eclipsed by all the hysteria over abortion (which is exactly what conservative strategists intended, by the way): Brett Kavanaugh has expressed the view that internet service providers have a first-amendment right to exercise editorial control over the content they deliver, and so it is not only wrong as a matter of policy for the government to impose net-neutrality rules, it is unconstitutional.

The utter absurdity (to say nothing of the extreme danger) of this position should be immediately obvious, and it would be immediately obvious if we still lived in a society that valued truth and education, but we don't.  Kavanaugh's argument is that the Internet is like cable TV: because a cable operator can decide what channels to offer, and ISP should be equally free to decide what web sites its users should be allowed to access.

That might be a valid argument if the internet had been privately developed, but it wasn't.  The internet was developed by the government with taxpayer dollars, which is to say, by the People.  There are other fundamental structural differences between cable TV and the Internet too: cable TV providers typically have to pay for content.  ISPs don't.  Furthermore, cable TV providers are subject to government regulations on what content they carry, and have been since their inception.

Brett Kavanaugh would throw all that precedent out the window and put both cable TV and the internet forever out of the reach of public regulation by declaring both to be morally equivalent to printing presses.  Except that they aren't.  The internet in particular is not a printing press.  Web servers are (the modern equivalent of) printing presses.  The internet is not the means of producing content, it's the means of delivering it.  It is the modern equivalent of the postal service, access to which is enshrined in the Constitution as a public right.  (Originalists insist that the Constitution keeps pace with technology when it comes to weapons, but not when it comes to communications.  Originalists are hypocrites.  What else is new?)

I am able to write this blog and you are able to read it only because of net neutrality.  Yes, this blog is hosted by Google, but if Google tried to shut it down I could move it somewhere else.  That is the beauty of the internet.  It enables free speech like nothing else before it in human history, not even the printing press.  But if your ISP decides to block access to then there is nothing you or I could do about it.  That would be the very antithesis of free speech.  Editorial control is something that should be practiced by content producers, not distributors.  Editorial control practiced by content producers is free speech.  Editorial control practiced by distributors is censorship.

Brett Kavanaugh either does not understand this, or he does and is willing to intentionally disregard this truth to promote the business interests of large telecommunications companies.  Either way, it should disqualify him from a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  But I haven't heard any politician or advocacy group advance this argument.  Everyone is acting like deer in the headlights of Roe v. Wade.

The abortion debate was never anything more than a cynical ploy by conservatives to get people who care about freedom, social progress, and truth to take their eye off the ball.  And you know what?  It worked.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Trump is a personality cult

If you want proof that Donald Trump has become a cult of personality look no further than this story in the LA Times:

Workers in this town may become victims of Trump's trade war, but they're behind him 'no matter what'

Jimmie Coffer, a machine programmer at the nation’s largest nail-making plant, voted for Donald Trump partly because he was confident he would bring manufacturing jobs back to America. 
So the 39-year-old factory worker was shocked last month when 60 of his co-workers were laid off after the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on the steel his company imports from Mexico. Now, as his bosses cut back hours and warn they may have to let 200 more workers go in the coming weeks, he worries he may lose his job as a result of the president’s policies. 
But Coffer is still gung-ho about Trump. 
“I support him 100%,” he said last week. “In fact, I’d like to shake his hand. He’s doing a great job.”
So... Donald Trump is enacting policies that have the exact opposite effect of what they were supposed to have; instead of promoting manufacturing in the U.S., Trump's tariffs are actually pounding the last nail into its coffin.  And yet, the victims of this economic destruction still support Trump "no matter what".  Simply because he's Trump and not Obama.  That is the very definition of a personality cult.

I try to be respectful of other people's point of view, but I am having a really hard time marshaling any sympathy for people like Coffer.  Anyone who follows a person "no matter what", even to their own manifest financial ruin, deserves what they get.

I wonder... when Coffer and all of his friends and neighbors are out of work and have depleted their life savings and are living on the street (because, you know, the social safety net is an evil liberal conspiracy), will they still be following Trump "no matter what"?  Is there really no price too high to pay to have a white guy in the oval office?

[UPDATE]: Just now stumbled across this:
Conservative radio show host Joe Walsh said Thursday that he’s “pretty damn sad” some of his callers dismiss President Trump’s “lying” because he’s “their guy.” 
“On my radio show earlier this [week], I asked Trump supporters if they were ok with Trump lying so much,” Walsh said in a tweet. “I told them that I wasn't.”  
“The consensus? The vast majority of callers said they're ok with all Trump's lying because he's ‘their guy,’ ” Walsh continued. “Their response left me pretty damn sad.”
To which I say:  I'm pretty damn sad about it too, Joe.  Now, how about taking some personal responsibility for the world you and your fellow conservative talk show hosts have helped to create?