Questioning assumptions, left and right - We lead off with a pair of recent books, one striving desperately to undermine our confidence, and the other trying just as hard to snap us out of our fu...
23 hours ago
Incurable diseases from sickle cell to haemophilia now look as though they can be treated. ...
The defect that causes the devastating degenerative disease Huntington's has been corrected in patients for the first time. ...
Doctors say they have achieved "mind-blowing" results in an attempt to rid people of haemophilia A. ...
A French teenager's sickle cell disease was reversed using a pioneering treatment to change his DNA. ...
Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families.
It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations.
|Sinkum (click the pictures to enlarge)|
|Red, our pack bull ("Red Bull," get it?), in Sinkum|
|The dangerous Skimsands, looking towards the mountain pass|
|The Holy Nation has some of the richest farmland in Kenshi|
|Beginning to build the Phoenix Aerie, sanctuary for ex-slaves|
|Phoenix Rising in the Great Desert of Kenshi (click pictures to enlarge)|
|North Port at midnight|
|Starving North Port slaves at midnight, before my rescue attempt|
|The rescued slaves (disguised now, and well-fed) who joined our faction|
|Crossing the Great Desert|
These sons of bitches just can’t seem to face reality.
We didn’t know.
We hoped he'd act more presidential.
I mean, we knew Trump was an ignorant self-aggrandizing jackass with no experience in government at all, right. We knew that. We knew he was a liar, a misogynist, a con artist, an abuser, and a bully. We knew he was prone to uncontrolled rage and that there was no filter between his ego and his thumbs. We knew that. We knew all of that. Of course we did. Sure. That part was obvious. But see, we hoped – we hoped – Trump would somehow just magically become a dignified adult, suddenly imbued with reason and self-control and filled with knowledge and wisdom of how to actually run a government.
That is what they told us. That is literally what they told us. He’s just doing this to get elected. Once he’s president, you’ll see. He’ll straighten out, he’ll become…
Now, admittedly, we’re not really sure how any of that would happen, but we hoped it would.
We hoped it would.
Trump is the manifestation of all the worst aspects of modern America writ large, loud, florid, and proudly ignorant. A mindset that is shamelessly hypocritical, self-important and self-involved, wrapped in a flag waving a cross and obsessed with money at the expense of everything else, downing handfuls of Viagra not because we need it but rather for instant self gratification without effort, and a sneering dismissal of any debate that can’t be compressed into a Tweet as “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”
I’m not the first to note that Trump is what stupid people think a smart person sounds like and it doesn’t take much digging around on social media to find those who despite all evidence to the contrary still dogmatically believe in they’re going to get a unicorn...
Somewhere in the last half a century, we Americans traded Apollo moon ships for the Creation Museum and the ugly truth of the matter is that Donald Trump is a reflection of who we’ve become as a nation.
Trump is the utterly predictable result of decades of an increasingly dumber and dumber electorate. A deliberately dumber electorate, Idiocracy in action, a society that dismisses intelligence and education and experience as “elitism” while howling in drunken mirth at Honey Boo Boo and lighting their farts on fire.
Creationists don’t build starships.
In the Senate right now, Republicans are making rapid progress on repealing Obamacare and forcing more than twenty million Americans off the health care coverage rolls. They’re doing it by making a mockery of almost the entire legislative process. The law they’ve written is secret, even apparently from most Republican Senators. It will remain secret until after a score is released by the CBO. Then, presumably, it will be rushed for an immediate vote before anyone has had a chance to even look at the law or what it does. President Trump will sign it. And it will be done.
This is awful. But, really, stop saying it’s awful.
There is a perhaps understandable but entirely wrongheaded reflex to shout from the rooftops how this is simply wrong, how it’s not the way to legislate in any way in the public interest, how it willfully breaks all the norms of legitimate legislative behavior. But seriously, stop.
The process isn’t the wrong. The corruption of the process is evidence of the underlying political bad act.
This kind of griping operates on the premise that broadcasting a situation in which you have zero power and acting as though your attempted shaming will produce any positive effect will have some positive effect. It won’t. Broadcasting weakness is never an effective strategy. Always choose to fight on a different ground. It looks hapless to try to shame people with acts they are carrying out openly, eagerly and happily. You look stupid. This kind of shaming operates on the unstated premise that the targets of the shaming care or are in some sense failing to grasp the extremity and inappropriateness of what they’re doing. Stated as such, this is obviously not true. It’s a feature not a bug and all that. Pretending otherwise makes you look stupid, weak and hapless. Those are never qualities that political victories are made of.
Rhetorically, politically and in the simplest terms of reality, Republicans know there is no justifying this legislation. The public has already spoken. It is overwhelmingly unpopular. They are trying to do it in the dead of night because they know that. They convict themselves by their actions. Not because those actions violate norms but because they are evidence of knowledge of the underlying wrong. They are trying to slip it past everyone, do it by stealth and have all the details secret until it’s too late. That’s a political crime, a corrupt bargain. That’s the message, with all the rhetorical color that can be added to it. Don’t say that Republicans shouldn’t feel the license to act this way. They can do it if they want and it is entirely in character. Accept their freedom do it and label it for what it is. Adjudicate it at the next election. Make that clear.
What post-truth does is it paves the way for regime-change. If we don't have access to facts, we can't trust each other. Without trust, there's no law. Without law, there's no democracy. So, if you want to rip the heart out of a democracy directly - if you want to go right at it and kill it - what you do is you go after facts.
And that's what modern authoritarians do. Step one, you lie, yourself - all the time. Step two, you say it's your opponents and journalists who lie. Step three, everyone looks around and says, "What is truth? There is no truth." And then resistance is impossible and the game is over.
It is difficult to assess the relative danger of each of these stories, because in any normal administration any of them could consume weeks if not months of attention as the press and politicians ferreted out each loose end. In this case, each seems to be supplanted by a new self-inflicted casualty within hours. ...
Time and again, Trump’s errors have been dismissed—even, incredibly, by his own aides and defenders—as the work of a man who simply has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t understand the gravity of Flynn’s duplicity. He didn’t think firing James Comey would be a big deal. He didn’t intend to make a liar of his vice president; it just slipped out! Even in the case of the classified information, National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, while refusing to state that what Trump shared was classified, said the president wouldn’t have known its status either way. These repeated lapses, taken together, create a case that Trump is simply not up to the job of the presidency. ...
The president does not help his own case. While it is fashionable to compare Trump to Nixon—a comparison Trump recently seems to be courting, from his hobnobbing with Henry Kissinger to his “tapes” threat—Nixon was a far more careful, strategic operator. His lies took time, and secret tapes, to unspool. Trump, however, keeps confirming his critics’ suspicions to the entire world. When the White House insisted Trump had not fired Comey over the Russia probe, Trump said he had. When the White House rebutted the classified-info disclosure, Trump implicitly admitted it, tweeting that he had an “absolute right” to do so. Where Nixon insisted he was not a crook, Trump boasts of his crookedness 140 characters at a time. ...
In part, Trump benefits from a double standard. Because he is not a career politician and because his reputation for crassness was well-established before he ran, he received a pass for some of his actions. This is true even now. While Hillary Clinton’s careless handling of classified information was perhaps the decisive factor in her November loss, Donald Trump appears to have handled far more sensitive information far more carelessly, even if, as he says, he was within his legal rights to do so. Yet although his position is precarious he is not finished. It is much harder to remove an elected president than it is to defeat a candidate, for reasons both legal and cultural.
Monday - We learned that Barack Obama had warned Trump about hiring General Flynn, the guy fired in disgrace, because of his undisclosed ties to Russia, less than a month after Trump hired him as National Security Advisor.
Tuesday - Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who's been investigating this Russia stuff.
Wednesday - Trump met with Russian diplomats, including an accused spy, in the Oval Office (giving Russian photographers access, but not the American news media).
Thursday - Trump admitted that he'd fired Comey because of the Russia investigation (after having his representatives lie about it using two other, contradictory explanations first).
Friday - Trump threatened Comey with secret tapes of their conversations (while refusing to divulge whether or not those tapes actually exist).
Saturday - The Justice Department interviews Trump-friendly replacements for Comey.
Sunday - Mothers Day. Trump was golfing.
Monday - We learned that Trump gave the Russians in that meeting highly-classified intelligence information.
Today - We learned that Trump had asked Comey to shut down the investigation into Flynn.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo articulating the argument for why James Comey should be fired. I was just speaking to one of my colleagues who said that in isolation, Rosenstein’s memo was not totally off base. Comey has made a number of big mistakes as FBI Director. (You can see the memo at the bottom of this article.) But that is really beside the point. As an argument in the abstract to justify why Comey could be fired, it’s an interesting argument. As an explanation of why Comey was in fact fired it is flatly ridiculous.
We heard earlier from CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that President Trump decided he wanted to fire Comey a week ago and then tasked Jeff Sessions with coming up with a rationale. But we don’t need Zeleny to tell us that. It’s obvious that this a rationale and not an explanation.
The idea that Trump fired Comey because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton or set aside DOJ guidelines in a way that was damaging to her is clearly not true. Indeed, it is so transparently nonsensical that putting it forward as a rationale suggests a certain presidential indifference to what anyone thinks.
As an accomplished lawyer, Rosenstein may have been able to justify the memo as an argument within the four corners of the document. But he knew that he was preparing an argument for firing the FBI Director while the FBI is investigating the President and his top associates for colluding with a foreign power to subvert a US election. The theory isn’t the point. The nature of the act is. This is a massive abuse of office. It is a very plausible basis for impeachment, though its plausibility in that regard is irrelevant unless and until there is political will in the Congress to take that step. Impeachment is a political not a legal process. ...
Months ago Jeff Sessions recused himself from any involvement in the Russia probe. That recusal put the investigation in the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Whatever his reputation to this point, Rosenstein has zero credibility to run this investigation. The taint of corruption and disgrace on him permanent and irreversible.
Here’s the fundamental issue facing the country right now.
In criminal trials there are certain actions defendants can take from which judges will tell juries they can infer guilt. In a political context, this is one of those moments. We are now hearing word from White House officials that the White House is stunned at the backlash at Comey’s firing. Didn’t Democrats think he was doing a bad job? We’re even hearing commentators speculate that maybe this may have been a huge miscalculation. The White House didn’t realize how big a deal this was. In the final analysis I think this will be judged a major miscalculation – just not in the sense they mean. Frankly, no one is that naive. It doesn’t wash.
There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.
You’ve probably heard that the Kushner family was caught over the weekend literally selling visas to immigrate to the United States in exchange for funding a $150 million dollar New Jersey real estate project. [See this article.] The sale itself is actually legal. It’s part of a highly controversial and widely abused program which provides visas to foreign nationals in exchange for $500,000 investments in US projects which by certain standards are judged to create jobs in impoverished or economically distressed parts of the United States. It’s become a widely abused vehicle for real estate developers looking to fund luxury development projects.
Setting that controversy aside, what sets this apart of course is that Jared Kushner is the most senior advisor to the President of the United States, as well as being the President’s son-in-law. While nominally stepping aside from his family business, his family is in China openly trading on the Kushner family’s ties to President Trump to rake up money. As much and as quickly as possible. Kushner’s sister Nicole actually led the presentation. Reporters from the Times and the Post were on hand at the presentation in Beijing (where they were able to get in) and at a second in Shanghai (where they weren’t.)
Trump – as well as the Kushner family’s connection to him – was explicitly invoked as the “key decision maker” in getting the visas. A Times reporter posted this picture of the presentation to Twitter, which I’ve marked up to identify the people in the slide …
This is, needless to say, the most open and flagrant kind of monetizing of the Presidency – as bad as anyone could have imagined from the conjoined Trump/Kushner families. The fact that this ‘nationalist’, ‘crack down on illegal immigration’ White House is connected to cash for visas activities like this just adds a layer of oily crust to the corruption.
President Donald Trump questioned why the Civil War — which erupted 150 years ago over slavery — needed to happen. He said he would be "honored" to meet with Kim Jong-Un, the violent North Korean dictator who is developing nuclear missiles and oppresses his people, under the "right circumstances."
The president floated, and backed away from, a tax on gasoline. Trump said he was "looking at" breaking up the big banks, sending the stock market sliding. He seemed to praise Philippines strongman President Rodrigo Duterte for his high approval ratings. He promised changes to the Republican health care bill, though he has seemed unsure what was in the legislation, even as his advisers whipped votes for it.
And Monday still had nine hours to go.
"It seems to be among the most bizarre recent 24 hours in American presidential history," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. "It was all just surreal disarray and a confused mental state from the president." ...
"White supremacists, lost causers, states-rights activists could latch onto this,” said David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale University. “I don’t know if Trump even knows he’s doing it. You can be too ignorant to know you’re ignorant.”
President Donald Trump recounted an absolutely astounding detail about one of his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping in comments published by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday afternoon.
Apparently, Trump came into his first meeting with the Chinese leader, in early April, convinced that China could simply eliminate the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. Xi then patiently explained Chinese-Korean history to Trump — who then promptly changed his mind.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” the president told the Journal. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. ... But it’s not what you would think.”
Four quick observations about this:
- Trump thought China could fix North Korea until the Chinese president politely informed him that North Korea is in fact complicated.
- Trump seems to have required the leader of China to explain basic facts to him that he could have Googled, or at least asked one of the many US government North Korea experts about.
- Trump came to a profound realization about one of the most dangerous conflicts on earth after a 10-minute conversation.
- Trump is getting his information about East Asian affairs from the leader of America’s largest rival in the region.
"On day one of a Trump administration, the US Treasury Department will designate China a currency manipulator," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2015. In his Contract With the American Voter describing his plan for his first 100 days in office, he pledged: "I will direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator."
Well, it ain’t happening. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, President Trump said that he wasn’t in fact going to deem China a currency manipulator.
[Ezra] Cohen-Watnick is a 30 year old Mike Flynn protege from the Defense Intelligence Agency who was brought in by Flynn to serve as the NSC's senior director for intelligence programs. H.R. McMaster tried to remove Cohen-Watnick after McMaster replaced Flynn as National Security Advisor. In that goal, McMaster apparently had the strong backing of Mike Pompeo, the Director of Central Intelligence. But Cohen-Watnick appealed his ouster to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. Bannon and Kushner went to Trump and Trump decided that Cohen-Watnick should stay in his position.
White House factional politics are not in themselves necessarily of great interest. But having two aides with no national security experience overrule the National Security Advisor on a key NSC personnel decision is rather remarkable - even more so when the person in question apparently had the job only due to the influence of the former national security advisor who resigned in disgrace and now is reportedly the target of multiple criminal and counter-intelligence probes.
That set of facts in itself raises a lot of alarm bells. Did Flynn's influence still extend into the White House's inner circle early this month, weeks after he was fired? Is Cohen-Watnick that important a loyalist that Bannon and Kushner would refuse to see him dismissed? Was he doing work at their behest? ...
In this latest turn of events, Cohen-Watnick apparently scanned through highly classified material looking for something to justify Trump's ridiculous wiretapping tweet. He then found a way to get that material to Devin Nunes when Nunes visited the White House in the middle of the night. Nunes then returned to the White House the next day to present the information to Trump. Again, it's not altogether clear to me whether Nunes or Trump actually realized that the material was of little real consequence and had no bearing on Trump's tweets. However that may be, at a minimum Cohen-Watnick was using his access to highly classified information to mount a political pushback campaign against the various Trump/Russia probes and quite likely breaking the law to do so.
But Bart Gellman, who has a very granular understanding of the modalities and rules tied to handling this kind of material, suggests an additional possibility: that Cohen-Watnick et al. had this material because they were using their privileged access to the nation's top secrets to keep tabs on the FBI's investigation of Trump and his top associates.