Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Timothy Snyder "On Tyranny"

This is excellent, isn't it?

I especially liked this part:
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.

Monday, May 22, 2017

White House scandals, then and now

Funny, isn't it? Of course, the biggest 'scandal' in the eight years of Barack Obama was that he's black.

And this even minimizes the differences, given that Obama's 'scandals' took place over eight years. Trump has only been in office four months! (Yeah, it feels like so much longer, doesn't it?)

Stupid Watergate

As a roundup of the Trump administration, this is depressing as hell, isn't it? Very funny - and with a great label for these scandals ("Stupid Watergate") - but fundamentally depressing.

We did this to ourselves, and there's no easy way to get out of it now. Stupid Watergate is happening because stupid Americans gave him the election - not just those who voted Republican, but everyone (far more than those who actually voted for Trump) who couldn't be bothered to vote at all.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The truth about vaccines

He does a great job with this, doesn't he?

It's hard to believe that this bullshit is still going on, but then I posted a video about another measles outbreak just a couple of weeks ago. And we've still got Creationists, after all, even in the 21st Century.

Anti-scientific idiocy never dies, it seems.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fox News struggles to defend Trump

As you've no-doubt heard, former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed as special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

He was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who then notified Donald Trump one-half hour before it was announced in the news media. Trump doesn't seem very happy about any of this.

The whole thing's a mess, and it's still critically important that Congress investigate publicly. After all, the criminal investigation by Mueller will be secretive by necessity. And there's a lot we citizens need to know that might not reach the level of an actual crime (or, at least, a crime with enough evidence to prosecute).

But, as I noted Tuesday, it's just been one scandal after another. Every day, there's something new. And I thought it was funny - though not at all surprising - how Fox News has been desperate to defend this Republican president.

I wanted to point out this article in The Atlantic, too. It's another list of the past ten days of scandals - similar to, but slightly different from, the list I posted Tuesday.

The whole thing is worth a read, it really is. But what's it all mean? Here are a few widely-scattered excerpts:
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.

Again, I recommend that you read the whole article.

But the crazy thing is, none of this has stopped. Even today, TPM talks about "a small landslide of new news this morning." Yes, this morning. It's nearly impossible to keep up, isn't it?

Well, we Americans did this to ourselves, voting for an ignorant clown with a narcissistic personality disorder for president (or not bothering to vote at all, which is almost worse). And we gave control of Congress to the Republican Party, too - as we did most states (not to mention the Supreme Court).

This is a nightmare. No, it's much worse than a nightmare. At least you can wake up to escape a nightmare. We'll be living with the results of the November election for a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Can we impeach this guy yet?

Incredible, isn't it? We can't even keep up with this stuff!

I used to think that Donald Trump was golden for political comedians, but I'm starting to feel sorry for them now. After all, every time Seth Meyers gets a monologue prepared on the latest Trump scandal, there's another scandal just minutes before he goes on air.

Yeah, Trump gave the Russians classified information - stuff so secret that it hadn't even been shared with our allies, let alone with Congress. And after having his people lie about that (National Security Advisor McMaster, who took over for disgraced General Flynn, flat-out said that the story was "false"), Trump admitted it.

That's a big deal! Both the action itself and the lying about it were big, big deals, but now, that's just... yesterday's news. Because today, we hear that Trump tried to get FBI Director James Comey - the guy he fired because, as Trump eventually admitted, of the Russia investigation - to stop the investigation into General Flynn's ties to the Russians.

Can you keep all of this straight? It seems like every day there's a new impeachable offense from our Clown in Chief. And every day, Republicans in Congress try to ignore it, or minimize it, or otherwise avoid actually doing their duty.

This might help. It's the timeline Meyers mentions in the video above:

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.

Thank god for the holiday, huh? This is not normal. It's excessive even by Trump standards, don't you think?

How many different ways does Trump have to attempt to obstruct justice before the Republicans who control Congress will start impeachment proceedings - or even agree that we need a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this mess?

If Barack Obama had done any of this stuff, he would have been gone months ago.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

SNL: Lester Holt interviews Donald Trump

The funniest thing about this - and the scariest thing - is how true it is. That ice cream stuff, for example? It's both silly and completely inconsequential,... yet it's Donald Trump to a 't', isn't it?

Undying loyalty? Trump says he doesn't see anything wrong with asking for personal loyalty from the FBI director who was investigating him.

And Trump himself mentioned the Russia investigation when he explained why he fired James Comey (after a week of alternate explanations which began with trying to pin the blame on Rod Rosenstein).

It never stops, does it? Trump just gets crazier and crazier, and the Republican Party either ignores it or makes excuses for it, as they continue their own crazy destruction of America more-or-less behind the scenes.

Friday, May 12, 2017

And Stephen Colbert's audience goes wild

Funny, isn't it? It's not enough that Donald Trump throws tantrums like a child, but he's actually stupid enough to say something like this in public! Does our president know nothing?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

This week's constitutional crisis

These contain more details, and lots more humor, about Trump firing the guy who was investigating him for collusion with the Russians, which I noted yesterday.

Thank god for comedians, huh?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ravi Zacharias and quantum physics

This is about the bogus educational claims of Ravi Zacharias, rather than quantum physics itself (although "quantum" does seem to be the latest buzzword in pseudoscience and religion).

This is shorter than most videos by Seth Andrews, and I did think that the interview was interesting. Note that there are links to RaviWatch, and to the other videos mentioned, here.

Into the abyss

As you've heard, Donald Trump has fired James Comey, Director of the FBI, the guy who has been running an investigation into Russian interference with the recent election and possible collusion with Trump and his campaign team.

This is big news! This brings to mind the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of the Nixon administration, when President Nixon was desperately trying to stave off impeachment.

But this situation is potentially much worse - a hostile foreign power influencing our elections and possible blackmail reaching into the White House itself - and the details are even more incredible (and I say this as someone who has no respect for James Comey's actions during the campaign).

Here's Josh Marshall at TPM:
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 don't do something like this unless you have something to hide. It's the same reason why Donald Trump didn't release his tax returns. We all know that. You can't be so naive as to think otherwise.

What he's hiding, I don't know. And we may never know. The Republican Party certainly isn't eager to investigate. Yeah, the President of the United States might be colluding with Russia, possibly under blackmail by Vladimir Putin, and Republicans aren't interested.

Well, if Republicans cared about anything other than their own political ambitions, we would have noticed that by now, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Anti-vaxxers cause another measles outbreak

I feel like I should apologize for even posting this. As if there's not enough depressing stuff going on these days, huh?

And our idiot president supports these anti-vaxxer morons! What is happening to my country?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Net neutrality under attack, again

Aren't you glad you didn't bother to vote in November?

OK, OK, the few people who'll read this undoubtedly did vote, assuming that they were eligible, but I'm still pissed at the turnout. And for good reason, wouldn't you agree?

That link to leave a comment at the FCC is here. (On my computer, NoScript identified a cross-scripting attempt when I used that - which is the whole point of the link - so I had to grant it permission.) Then just click on "Express" to leave your comment to the FCC.

Or you can used the more involved method, which is also clearly described in this video.

One commenter on this video clip recommended the message, ""Preserve net neutrality and Title II. I specifically support strong net neutrality backed by Title II oversight of ISPs."

That will work as well as anything, certainly. You don't need much, just a clear statement of what we internet users want, which is "net neutrality backed by Title II oversight of ISPs."

The oily crust of corruption

Will the Trump White House end up as the most corrupt in history? Check this out:
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.

The article goes on to point out that reporters only happened upon this event (and weren't allowed into the Shanghai presentation at all). As it notes, "We see hints and shreds of evidence popping up – Ivanka Trump securing numerous trademarks for her company in China," but we are highly unlikely to have seen it all.

The Trump/Kushner families do seem to be cashing in on the Donald Trump presidency, don't they? But then, he is, himself. As he's been doing since the start of the campaign.

And speaking of corruption, here's an article about scientists being removed from the Environmental Protection Agency to make room for lobbyists industry representatives. I'm sure those industries will be very grateful to the Republican Party when it comes to campaign donations, don't you think? Even secret campaign donations? (And thanks to the Republicans on our Supreme Court, that's even legal these days.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

House Repubicans pass Trumpcare

The funny thing is that Republicans were lying when they were talking about 'Obamacare.' But everything they complained about - and more - is what they've done with 'Trumpcare.'

What hypocrites!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How the rest of the world sees us

Thanks to Jeff for the link!

The problem with monopolies

Read this. The headline is "Our Problem with Monopolies and Why Everything Sucks." I'm not going to excerpt any part of it here. But it's worth a read.

It's just a couple of anecdotes, nothing more than that. And it's funny, though it wasn't funny for them. But this is at least one of the problems with monopolies.

Remember, we witnessed this same stuff in the Soviet Union. Communism failed because of the inherent problem of monopolies, at least in part. Monopolies in a capitalist system aren't much better.

Of course, some things are inherently monopolistic. We call those things "utilities." They require effective government regulation and political consequences when they screw up too badly.

It doesn't matter much to me if monopolistic businesses want to join the ranks of utilities, with all of the regulation and restrictions that entails, or if they want to get out of the business of being monopolies (one way or another).

My argument is just that we should be actively seeking to eliminate monopolies which aren't considered to be utilities (and regulated that way).

Of course, the devil is in the details. Monopoly power is a problem even when one single company isn't the only option. The question should be more about the degree of market control, and we won't all agree about that.

Extremely large companies have many advantages, from economies of scale to political and economic power, so large companies tend to get larger. That's natural. And that's why we need an active effort to avoid monopolies.

I'm not claiming to have the solutions. It's not likely to be simple, and it's almost certainly not going to be just one solution. But it's something we need to work on. And it's one big reason why money is such a problem in our political system.

These companies have the money to get what they want - and prevent what they don't want - in our political system, especially after such destructive Supreme Court decisions as Citizens United. Well, that's the law of the land now. We're going to have to live with it while we seek to change it.

None of this is going to be easy, and it's all going to require compromises. But we've seen what being stupid, simplistic, and unyielding did to us in November, didn't we?

If we didn't learn from that, this is just going to get worse and worse as the Republican Party continues to dominate the American political landscape.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Surreal disarray and a confused mental state

Do you think the crazy can't get worse? Take a look at yesterday:
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.”

Fun, huh? And this presidency has barely begun!

Read the whole article. It's scary as hell. Trump seems to have completely lost his mind.