Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Don’t Blame Them

Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, trotted out another excuse for Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russians: it’s all the Secret Service’s fault.

The U.S. Secret Service on Sunday denied a suggestion from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer that it had vetted a meeting between the president’s son and Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign.

Donald Trump Jr. has acknowledged that he met in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was told she might have damaging information about his father’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me,” Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s legal team, said on Sunday on the ABC news program “This Week.”

In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow’s comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump’s son and two senior campaign officials.

“Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time,” the statement said.

And even if he was under their protection, their job is not to vet visitors for their motives.  It’s just to make sure they don’t endanger the life of those under their protection.

The Secret Service has been under a lot of pressure the last few years, including some shake-ups and scandals, brought on in no small part by budget cuts and the stress of protecting the first black man elected president.  Therefore I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a bunch of trained killers carrying weapons not happy with you.  Just a thought.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Reading

Trump Family Values — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

In the September 11, 1989, issue of The New Yorker, a twenty-eight-year-old writer named Bill McKibben published a lengthy article titled “The End of Nature.” The previous year had been especially hot––the country suffered one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl, Yellowstone was ablaze for weeks––and some Americans, including McKibben, had taken note of the ominous testimony that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, gave before a Senate committee, warning that, owing to greenhouse gases, the planet was heating up inexorably. McKibben responded with a deeply researched jeremiad, in which he set out to popularize the alarming and still largely unfamiliar facts about climate change and to sharpen awareness of what they implied for the future of the planet and humankind:

Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.

By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash with our perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.

Last week, a hunk of Antarctica the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons, hived off from the Larsen C ice shelf and into the warming seas. Such events now seem almost ordinary—and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, in the Times, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as seventeen feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.

Around the time that this event was taking place, Donald Trump, who has lately detached the United States from the Paris climate accord and gone about neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, was prowling the West Wing of the White House, raging Lear-like not about the fate of the Earth, or about the fate of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was dying in captivity, but about the fate of the Trump family enterprise. In particular, he decried the awful injustice visited upon him and his son Donald, Jr., who had, in a series of e-mails last June, giddily advertised his willingness to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, to receive kompromat intended to undermine the reputation and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He did not mention another participant in the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist, who admitted to the A.P. that he had served in the Soviet Army, but denied reports that he was ever a trained spy.

The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr., to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny. This was unfair to Fredo. On Twitter, Donald, Jr., had spoken in support of cockeyed conspiracy theories and once posted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles, writing, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. . . . Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”

Still, the President, loyal to nothing and no one but his family, argued that “a lot of people” would have taken that meeting. Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community did not whistle their agreement. They were quick to say that such a meeting was, at best, phenomenally stupid and, at worst, showed a willingness to collude with Moscow to tilt the election. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., told the Cipher Brief, a Web site that covers national-security issues, that Trump, Jr.,’s e-mails are “huge” and indicate that the President’s inner circle knew as early as last June that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.” In the same article, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said that the e-mails were probably “only one anecdote in a much larger story,” adding, “I can’t believe that this one exchange represents all there is, either involving the President’s son or others associated with the campaign.” Intelligence officials speculated that the tradecraft employed in setting up such a meeting was possibly a way to gauge how receptive the Trump campaign was to even deeper forms of coöperation. In any case, the proper thing to have done would have been to call the F.B.I. Now the country is headed toward a “constitutional crisis,” Clapper said, and the question has to be asked: “When will the Republicans collectively say ‘enough’?”

Good question. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, business leaders such as Stephen Schwarzman and Carl Icahn, and a raft of White House advisers, including the bulk of the National Security Council, cannot fail to see the chaos, the incompetence, and the potential illegality in their midst, and yet they go on supporting, excusing, and deflecting attention from the President’s behavior in order to protect their own ambitions and fortunes. They realize that Trump’s base is still the core of the G.O.P. electorate, and they dare not antagonize it. The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.

In the near term, if any wrongdoing is found, the Trump family member who stands to lose the most is the son-in-law and consigliere, Jared Kushner, who accompanied Donald, Jr., to the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on an epic scale is a mystery. But such is their self-regard. It is said by those close to Kushner that, if he fears anything, it is to repeat the experience of his father, Charles, who, in 2005, pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, and spent fourteen months in an Alabama penitentiary.

Preserving Religious Freedom — John Nichols in The Nation on how Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) turned the “religious liberty” argument on its head.

Can Democrats defend the most basic premises of the Bill of Rights in a Republican-controlled House that is run by hyper-partisan Speaker Paul Ryan and that, at Ryan’s direction, so frequently dances to the authoritarian tune of a Trump administration that disrespects and disregards the Constitution?

Yes, they can. Congressman Keith Ellison just prevailed in a high-stakes struggle to defend freedom of religion as it is outlined in the First Amendment, and as it has been understood since Thomas Jefferson explained it in his final letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptists: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

One of the most right-wing members of the House, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would, in fact, have made a law respecting an establishment of religion. Franks, a staunch defender of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel by Muslims, sought to require Secretary of Defense James Mattis to “conduct two concurrent strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”

The amendment targeted only Islam and was so vague in its referencing of “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” that it invited abuse. The amendment also mandated that one of the two reviews be conducted by “non-governmental experts from academia, industry, or other entities not currently a part of the United States Government”—opening up the process to further abuse.

Ellison responded with a stinging rebuke. “This amendment stigmatizes people simply because they practice a specific religion,” the Minnesota Democrat told his colleagues. “The idea that Congress is seriously considering an amendment that legislates stigmatization and hate in direct contradiction of the Constitution is outrageous.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, recalled historic instances of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. and warned that “when we single out a group of people and treat them differently, shameful and regrettable abuses and mistreatment follow.”

“If we haven’t already learned from our tattered past, when will we?” asked the congressman.

Ellison also raised concerns about the message that adoption of the amendment would could send at a time when American Muslims already face violence and discrimination:

Rep. Franks’ NDAA amendment ordering a ‘strategic assessment’ on Islam goes against everything we strive to be. By ordering the Department of Defense to scrutinize a single religion, identify leaders for some unknown purpose, and determine an acceptable way to practice, Congress is “abridging the free exercise of religion,” which is constitutionally impermissible.

The FBI reported a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015—the same year Asma Jama’s face was slashed with a beer mug while she was eating dinner at an Applebee’s in Minnesota. Her attacker admitted in court that she attacked Asma simply because she was Muslim and not speaking English.

This rise in hate crimes isn’t a surprise. Our president began his campaign spouting hate, said Islam hates America, and promised to ban Muslims. His rhetoric has contributed to the growing movement of hate in our country, and I have no doubt that some of the most notorious racist, anti-Muslim voices will be a part of the non-government assessment demanded by this amendment.

With support from Muslim groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, and his congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues, Ellison struck a chord in the House, convincing 27 Republicans to join 190 Democrats in opposing the amendment.

That meant that 217 House members embraced their oaths to defend the Constitution, while 208 Republicans rejected the dictates of First Amendment. It is, of course, unsettling that so many members of the House cast votes that were in conflict with the Bill of Rights. It is equally unsettling that victories of this sort come in the context of continued assaults on individual rights and civil society. But it is encouraging, in these times, that bipartisan support for freedom of religion prevailed.

“We should study what drives people to terrorism. But this amendment didn’t do that. Not equally,” Ellison tweeted after Friday morning’s vote. “Glad so many of my colleagues agree.”

Florida Mythology — Adam Weinstein in the Washington Post dispels the tall tales about the Sunshine State.

Ordinarily at this point in the slow, hot summer, American journalists would be out of stories and looking to Florida — my allegedly strange longtime home — for “weird news” inspiration. We don’t have that problem this year, because America elected a part-time Florida Man as president. But Floridians still have to deal with an unearned reputation as a nexus of the bizarre and the tragic. “Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe,” Susan Orlean famously wrote, “but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.” Here are five common myths about America’s sun-soaked southerly proboscis.

Myth No. 1
Florida is a cultural wasteland.

Per Gawker, “The middle of the state is a cultureless void from which crystal meth (or, like, moving away) is the only escape.” One can find defenses of individual cities (for example, Jacksonville) or particular coastal hot spots, but one of the most-Googled questions related to Florida is nonetheless “Why is Florida so trashy?,” and that seems to reflect the nation’s general sentiment.

Sure, we’re the land of Disney World and Universal Studios and stucco and strip malls. We have that weird double existence that characterizes a lot of frontier or colonial destinations: We’ve been stereotyped as the exotic “other,” then we capitalized on the stereotype’s allure to drive the local economy, then we lost track of what was real and what was just a reductive stereotype. Now, it all blends together. As they said in our old tourism ad from the “Miami Vice” days, “The rules are different here.”

But Florida’s proud, contrived role as a lazy, breezy, escapist state of nature yields something nobody could have predicted: lots of cultural heroes, large and small. Consider these icons: Southern-rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doors frontman Jim Morrison, Flo Rida, Johnny Depp, Tom Petty, Norman Reedus, Zora Neale Hurston, Tao Lin and Kate DiCamillo. Don’t say we never did anything for you.

Myth No. 2
Florida is separate from the Deep South.

According to the Sun Sentinel, “Florida is not the South.” If you wanted graphic evidence, the Miami New Times supplied 19 maps in 2015 “That Prove South Florida Is Not Really the South.”

It’s possible that we have more Mets fans than Queens, and it’s certain that we have more Mets fans than Marlins fans. But if you’ve ever traveled down the Panhandle’s Redneck Riviera to eat oysters in Apalachicola or made a pilgrimage to watch college football in Doak and the Swamp, you know there’s a lot of twang to go with the Tang. There really is a place called the Flora-Bama, situated exactly where you’d expect, and it really does host an annual mullet toss (the fish, not the hairdo, but you always see some of both).

The cliche about the differences between northern Florida (red-state rednecks) and South Florida (pasty invaders and “Latins”) aren’t right, either. Drive a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale, and your car will have to yield for horses. Remember Bob Graham , the soft-lilted cowpoke who served for decades as a left-center governor and senator? He’s a Miami native. Yes, you can grow up sounding like that in Miami. Even South Florida’s deep-blue urbanites can see social and cultural remnants of the South — for instance, the state park that used to be a blacks-only beach , and neighborhood divisions that persist years after Jim Crow.

That’s all of Florida, in its beauty, ugliness and guilt. We are completely Southern. We are also completely Yankee, completely Latin American and completely committed to believing in mathematical impossibilities.

Myth No. 3
Florida is ready for the next big hurricane.

Cutler Bay Florida is hurricane ready!” declares one municipal ad; last year, Florida’s “top finance and insurance regulators” confirmed to the Miami Herald that the state was indeed prepared for another hurricane season. Oops.

Named storms are a seasonal fixture, but until Hurricane Matthew gave us all a serious scare last year, Floridians hadn’t had a real blow since 2004 and 2005, when they got blitzed by six hurricanes. Since then, the state’s population has grown by 15 percent — meaning at least 2.5 million new residents have probably never lived through a storm of significant size, much less a Wilma or an Andrew. And complacency abounds, even among old-timers. “That is a very scary thought from an emergency manager’s perspective,” Orlando’s emergency manager said, back in the middle of our mostly storm-free decade.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is light on real storm experience, too. Scott appointed an out-of-state Walmart executive as his emergency preparedness director in 2011 amid a push to privatize some of the state’s disaster response programs. (Little of that privatization has materialized.) Scott’s administration is also accused of barring state-employed scientists from discussing climate change or sea-level rise. It’s not easy preparing 20 million people for one disaster when you’re busy pretending another disaster doesn’t exist.

Myth No. 4
Floridians are impossibly divided along political lines.

In 2015, southern Floridians threatened to secede from the rest of the state, citing political differences with northern Floridians. And prior to last year’s presidential election, pundits observed that the contest could be decided by Florida, “the Divided Sunshine State.” It has been conventional wisdom since the 2000 recount that Florida is hopelessly split along political lines. Apparently, we’re a purplish state with a reddish government and bluish social tendencies.

But both sides are united by a love of the market. Indeed, the pro-business tendency is no less powerful among liberals, from South Florida — where many a real estate developer, D or R, has had a historically easy path to a mayorship — to Tallahassee, where even deep-blue Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls are known to boast about the size of their business tax repeals . One party wants pro-business decisions made by bureaucrats, and the other party wants pro-business decisions made by transnational consortiums owned by shell corporations. Accordingly, Florida has been rapidly rising on lists of business-friendly states in recent years, even making the top 10 in a recent CNBC ranking.

We got there through a long, two-party effort.

Myth No. 5
The Florida housing market has learned its lesson.

That the Orlando Business Journal wants to let you in on “4 lessons learned” from Central Florida’s real estate bubble, and Florida Today is already advising caution for home buyers based on the last big real estate bust, might make you think Florida has learned its lesson when it comes to inflated markets. But it doesn’t look that way.

Between 2003 and 2007 was a hell of a time to be a Floridian: It seemed like everyone was a mortgage originator or a house-flipper. Obviously, that all ended, and a lot of people lost their butts on a “correction” in property values. Problem solved: Many Floridians don’t even have enough money to place another bad bet.

But once again, the Florida real estate market is doing great. There’s a boom in sales and prices, and buyers have a lot of options — if they have half a million bucks or more to spend. In South Florida, even modest, fixer-upper apartments in sad neighborhoods are getting plucked up by cash buyers looking for rental income. Big-money and foreign investors are bidding up prices, perhaps precipitously so, on luxury and high-rise properties. (Zdravstvuyte, Russian friends!)

What happens when the dollar strengthens, the Trump real estate name fizzles and those investors look to dump their stock? Oh, probably another implosion, and three and even four generations of working family members living under one roof.

Doonesbury — Talk of the town.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Long Did That Take?

If you were wondering when the Trumpists would blame all of their troubles on someone else, you’re too late.

  • There’s an emerging strategy to turn this back around on the Democrats.
  • An extreme example of this approach is Roger Stone, who texted Axios: “The president can turn the tables and dominate the dialogue by ordering the indictment of [James] Clapper, [John] Brennan, [Susan] Rice and [former president Barack] Obama for the wholesale unconstitutional surveillance of Americans… I would seriously arrest [and] perp walk every one of these criminals, making as big a show of it as possible.”
  • Although Stone is a longtime confidant of Trump, this in no way reflects the strategy preferred by current White House staffers. With that said, there are already internal conversations about turning this into a conversation about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the way they handled sensitive intelligence.

The next bet will be on when there’s a call to impeach President Obama.

But His E-mails

Call it Shakespearean, call it Sophoclean, or just plain karmic, but I find it supremely ironic that a presidency that got elected on the basis of raising a huge hue and cry over Hillary Clinton’s e-mails is on the verge of collapse because of their own e-mail trail.

As for the “homina-homina” explanations by the various Trump defenders — “Well, nothing came of the meeting, the Russian lawyer didn’t really have anything” — the fact that Trump Jr. took the meeting with the full knowledge of what was promised is problematic enough.  If you aim a gun at someone with the intention of shooting them but the gun jams or you miss, it’s still attempted murder, or at the very least assault.

The inner circle at the White House is sounding like they know their time there is being measured in billable hours and that an administration that came to town planning to “shake things up” and “make history” is on the verge of collapse.  Even Vice President Pence is putting distance between himself and the shambles in the West Wing and probably wondering to himself if Jerry Ford left behind any notes.

The last thing these people care about now is how to run the government and do what they were ostensibly elected to do.  Healthcare?  Immigration?  Education?  Infrastructure?  The war(s)?  Those are mere distractions; they’re bringing out the long knives and going after each other now, and the peoples’ business — as if they ever really cared about it in the first place except for what they could get for themselves — will languish.  At some point the whole thing will collapse.

When it does, maybe — just maybe — enough people will realize that despite all the warnings, all the jokes, all of the debates, and all of the assaults on the lives of the innocent, we are the ones who brought this all on ourselves.  He never should have been given the chance in the first place, and we have only ourselves to blame.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Reading

How Stupid Do They Think We Are? — Charles P. Pierce on getting rolled by the Russians.

Well, now we know what Rex Tillerson’s job really is. He tells the administration’s bedtime stories so we can all sleep peacefully because everything is under control, dammit. (Don’t make him come upstairs again!) Friday’s story was of the meeting between El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago and Vladimir Putin of the dead eyes and, according to Daddy Rex, everything went swimmingly. Pressed, old Vladimir was, on the subject of his having allegedly ratfcked the 2016 election on behalf of the president.

Pressed, I tell you. From NBC:

Tillerson said Trump opened the more than two hour meeting by questioning Moscow’s cyber intrusions in America’s political system. The two had a “very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson said. Putin continued to deny Russian involvement.

Pressed, by cracky!

Tillerson departed the briefing room after leaving unanswered questions about whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of election meddling.

That seems to be something of an omission, at least to this untrained observer.

During the meeting, there was little relitigating of past negativity, Tillerson said adding “We’re unhappy, they’re unhappy.” Instead, the question was “how do we start making this work?”

Wait? How do we make what work? How do we make Russian ratfcking work? How do we keep the Russians from ratfcking our elections? I think Putin might possibly be the wrong person to whom that question should be asked, but I am not an oil baron in charge of the country’s diplomacy.

ABC News has a longer, and even more ambiguous, account from Secretary Tillerson:

“The president opened the meeting by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in 2016 election. Putin denied such involvement as he has done in the past,” Tillerson said during an off-camera briefing today in Hamburg, Germany. “The two leaders agreed this is of substantial hindrance. They agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the U.S. and our democratic process as well as other countries.” Tillerson added that both presidents acknowledged the “interference in the democratic processes” in the United States and other countries and that they would “create a framework” to deal with such cyberthreats and how those tools are used in infrastructure and terrorism.

So I guess we’re going to work with the Russians to keep the Russians from ratfcking future elections. And the president* promises “further work” on getting a commitment from a dead-eyed career spook that he will not ratfck American elections any more? What are the odds of that “further work” ever happening? What are the odds that the president* even remembers this commitment by breakfast tomorrow?

Putin and Trump’s meeting lasted about two hours and 15 minutes — far longer than the planned 30-minute duration — and Tillerson said the meeting was “very constructive” with both leaders possessing a “positive chemistry” and not “relegating” often to one another. First lady Melania Trump came into the meeting after the first-hour mark but “couldn’t get through” to both leaders, Tillerson said. Both presidents exchanged views on the nature of U.S.-Russia relations and the future.

Well, I certainly am relieved to hear that. I’m glad that the president* didn’t allow an attack on our democracy to harsh everyone’s mellow. This is positively surreal, this is. The Russians know what they did and they’re quite happy with the result. With this guy in the White House, they have no earthly reason not to do it again and again, both here and all over Europe. This isn’t Cold War rhetoric. It’s pure power politics of the kind in which Russia has engaged through czars and commissars.

This isn’t Cold War rhetoric. It’s pure power politics.

Vladimir Putin didn’t rise in the KGB, and survive the collapse of the Soviet Union to become his country’s presiding autocrat, by surrendering golden opportunities when they simply are handed to him. Now we are supposed to believe that, not only will Putin stop using tactics that worked so gloriously in 2016, but also that Putin will work with the president* to make sure Putin doesn’t get away with it the next time.

I used to wonder how somebody could go broke running a casino. I don’t wonder that anymore.

Caribbean Tourism on the Block — Juan Cole in The Nation on how climate change will have an impact on the islands.

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten—Franklin, middle-aged inhabitant of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, cocked his head when I asked him about climate change. “There is already a lot of flooding because of storm surges in hurricane season,” he said, his ebony brow creased. “If the sea level rises four feet, then Philipsburg is gone.” Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side of the island, Sint Maarten, a major receiver of cruise ships, with its Front Street a collage of high-end shopping and outlets for island specialties like guavaberry liqueur. The UN estimates that the oceans will rise at least four feet in the next eight decades.

The picturesque Caribbean, with its turquoise waters and sun-kissed white sand beaches, conjures images of happy family vacations, heady rum cocktails, and nighttime calypso rhythms for most outsiders. Its economy has become heavily dependent on tourism, with nearly 30 million arrivals annually—rivaling the number of permanent inhabitants (around 40 million) of these islands. The tourists bring in $35 billion a year. Sint Maarten receives about 1.5 million cruise-ship visitors a year, and half a million tourists who fly in to Princess Juliana International Airport. Tourism now accounts for 80 percent of Sint Maarten’s economy.

Precisely because of this dependency on a tourism centered on beaches and wildlife, the Caribbean is among the areas of the world most vulnerable to the deadly effects of climate change. This menace is caused by the burning of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane. Saint Martin, divided into a French north and a Dutch south, is a poster child for this looming disaster.

Tadzio Bervoets, the energetic young head of the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation in Philipsburg with Bruno Martins good looks, told me, “Climate change is already affecting Sint Maarten’s environment.” He points to unusual dry spells and unseasonable torrents. “I have even seen times recently,” he remarked with amazement, “when part of the Great Salt Pond has dried up. I could walk on its bed.”

Bervoets’s personal experience with the Great Salt Pond, a landmark in Philipsburg, is supported by scientific research. Data collected on the island of Barbados over 40 years show that both daytime and nighttime temperatures have steadily increased. Scientists say that as the islands heat up more moisture will evaporate from the soil and from ponds, and fresh-water aquifers may not be so easily replenished. Clay soils will dry out and crack, which will cause them to lose even more moisture.

Environmentalist Victor Peterson concurred about the issues. A former politician and now building engineer for the Westin Dawn Beach Resort and Spa, he complains, “Simpson Bay has been filled in to some extent by developers. The lagoon has shrunk and marine life has been damaged.”

The concerned citizen, Franklin, took me along the main artery connecting downtown Philipsburg with the resort area of Simpson Bay, stopping to show me the artificial stone culverts installed by the local government to drain off flood waters, which sometimes make the road impassable. He was clearly skeptical that Sint Maarten’s government would be able to deal with the substantially increased storm surges that will be caused by sea-level rise and stronger hurricanes. (Hurricanes are produced by warm water, and the warmer the water, the greater their intensity). In 1995, the island was wrecked by Hurricane Luis, and it took years to rebuild.

Storm surges also threaten public health, inasmuch as they can release polluted water. The Great Salt Pond, Sint Maarten’s largest inland lagoon, now suffers from an inflow of sewage and leakage from a trash landfill on Pond Island in its center. This pollution, including heavy metals, menaces the birds that stop over and breed there, such as the laughing gull, and threatened local species, including the white-cheeked pintail, Caribbean coot, and ruddy duck. “There have been massive marine-life die-offs in recent years,” Bervoets said, possibly from a lack of oxygen in the pond. Because of landfill leakage, when the pond is occasionally drained into the ocean, “toxins go into the sea and beaches have to be closed,” he explained.

Bervoets argues that in Sint Maarten “we must mitigate climate impacts. We have to protect coral reefs and mangroves, which offer protection from storm surges.” His organization is monitoring a government-designated Marine Park a mile and a half offshore, especially its coral reefs. He says, “It is important to put a dollar amount to the value of such resources.” The Nature Foundation estimates that the resources in the Marine Park are worth at least $50 million. Peterson over at the Westin agrees about the issues, blaming development in part and warmer seas in part. “Conch beds and other marine habitats have already been damaged compared to when I was a boy,” he said. “Mangroves have been removed.”

Coral reefs attract and protect fish, helping fishermen, and are a favorite tourist feature for snorkelers and divers. A Nature Foundation report noted of Sint Maarten’s reefs, “They are also a very important ecosystem for the local and global biodiversity.” Bervoets said, “We have seen coral bleaching because of heat stress.”

Corals are symbiotic, cohabiting with a kind of algae that live in the coral’s tissue, and are capable of photosynthesis, turning light into energy. These single-celled algae also promote calcium formation, extending the coral reef. Unfortunately, they do not deal well with extra-warm water. And the industrialized world’s addiction to burning gasoline in automobiles and coal and natural gas for electricity is heating up the earth, including its oceans. The high temperatures interfere in the algae’s ability to carry out photosynthesis, thus damaging the coral.

Another threat to Sint Maarten’s rich marine life is an increasingly acidic ocean. Bervoets says, “We have seen lobster and conch shells thinning because of acidification.” Conch fritters and lobster feature prominently in Sint Maarten’s cuisine, and tourists on travel sites can often be observed asking which restaurants prepare them most tastily. Extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed over time by the oceans, though much will remain up there for tens of thousands of years. When it goes into the sea, CO2 produces acidity, threatening marine life (sort of like pouring hydrochloric acid in a goldfish bowl, but on a global scale). The middle-aged Peterson agrees about the deterioration.

At the Sint Maarten Westin resort, Peterson is responsible for overseeing one of the island’s (and the Caribbean’s) major green-energy projects so far, the 2,600 Lightway solar panels on its roof. He said that the owner, Columbia Sussex Corporation, had them installed in 2013-14 for some $5 million, having become convinced they would pay for themselves in as little as four years. The panels, from China, have a capacity of nearly 800 kilowatts and produce 1.2 million kilowatt hours a year (enough to power 100 homes). Most Caribbean islands, Saint Martin included, depend on expensive imported petroleum for electricity generation. Of course, burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change, so the Caribbean is unwise to feed this beast.

Unlike Aruba, St. Eustatius, and some other islands, Sint Maarten has made few strides toward implementing green energy outside the one resort. Peterson blamed the lack of general progress on solar energy on the government-owned Sint Maarten electrical utility, GEBE, saying it was his impression they feared a loss of revenue. Bervoets observed that Sint Maarten has plans to get two megawatts from solar panels. “Land is at a premium, so we will concentrate on rooftop installations,” he said. He was referring to GEBE’s letter of intent on the installation of 2 megawatts of solar, which it could triple over time to 6 megawatts. The Sint Maarten side of the island has an installed capacity of about 100 megawatts, so at this pace it will be a while before the island’s energy is green.

The new administrative offices of the government of Sint Maarten, since 2010 a distinct country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sit on Pond Island in Philipsburg in the middle of the Great Salt Pond. Across the street, at the Festival Village concert venue, youth staged a pulse-pounding “Buss da Chains” concert on the eve of July 1, Sint Maarten’s Emancipation Day. But Bervoets complained that since it became constituent country of the Kingdom, there have been frequent changes of government on the island, which have interfered with consistent environmental policy. “We therefore need voter education,” he said, on the challenges this generation faces.

Speaking of needing voter education, read this and weep.

You’re Too Young to Retire — Carl Reiner has some advice for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Dear Justice Anthony Kennedy,

I would like to start with congratulatory wishes on your forthcoming 81st birthday.

As someone who has almost a decade and a half on you, I can tell you this: It may well be that the best part of your career has just begun. As a nonagenarian who has just completed the most prolific, productive five years of my life, I feel it incumbent upon me to urge a hearty octogenarian such as yourself not to put your feet up on the ottoman just yet. You have important and fulfilling work ahead of you.

When I turned 81, I had finished “Oceans Eleven” and was gearing up for “Oceans Twelve” while also writing another book, which led me to a cross-country book tour.

I know what it means to be your age. I know the problems that come with the journey. But these are not ordinary times, and you, sir, are anything but an ordinary man.

The country needs justices like you who decide each case with fairness and humanity, and whose allegiance is to the Constitution of the United States of America, not to a party line. You have always voted your conscience, and defended the rights and liberties of all our citizens.

I’m sure you’ve considered the various options, as we all do when we reach a certain age. After all, although our lives are different, I’m sure there are similarities. I get up in the morning, and if I’m not in the obits, I eat breakfast. You get up, meet with your clerks and engage with them in spirited discussion about the constitutional ramifications of the important cases at hand. I engage in spirited discussion with my publisher about the release order of my next three books.

You have lunch and I have lunch. You return to your chambers and I to my desk. At day’s end, you go home to ponder the important decisions you will be making tomorrow. I go downstairs and join my friend Mel in front of the television, and we ponder out loud how many steps Vanna White will take when walking over to the letter board tonight after leaving Pat Sajak’s side. (F.Y.I., it is usually six, sometimes seven, rarely eight, but never nine.)

Imagine if you retired from the bench. What would your days be like? Here’s a scenario: You revisit your carefree years, rent a red Volkswagen and travel through Europe, stopping in Paris for coffee and a croissant on the Champs-Élysées, then on to the Amalfi coast, where you’ll sail to the waterfalls of Marmorata and the Emerald Grotto.

How would you feel, while reading your newspaper, seeing a headline that read “Roe v. Wade Overturned”? Do you see how this could ruin a good meal? A good life? A great country?

I believe I’ve made my case. It’s now 1 a.m., and I am going upstairs to my computer to tweet out my thought of the day, because I can. I have the freedom to do that because of people like you who are committed to protecting our liberties and our Constitution.

I thank you, as all our fellow citizens will.

Respectfully,

Carl Reiner

 Doonesbury — On the market.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Time For Real, Right?

I admire Martin Longman and read his work with respect and consideration, but even he must get tired of writing an article that once again predicts the imminent downfall of the Trump administration.

It’s not just health care and tax reform that are in peril. If Trump attempts to raise the debt ceiling using nothing but Republican votes, he will fail, too. If he tries to pass appropriations bills without any Democratic support, the government will either shut down or be funded on continuing resolutions that keep Obama’s priorities in place. He will not get an infrastructure bill without significant Democratic input and support.

Not only can he not govern successfully using this strategy, he cannot govern at all. This is why I foresaw that his administration would crack up on the shoals sometime this summer, and certainly no later than September when the fiscal year ends and the debt ceiling becomes critical.

Most concerning was the prospect and likelihood that he had painted himself into a corner and would discover that he had no way of recovering from the mess he’d made. As McConnell’s plan for Obamacare repeal faltered, he began warning his caucus of exactly what I am explaining now. But it was too late and the plan was never going to work anyway. The only thing that McConnell had to use in support of a bill that the people hate was the direness of the consequences of failure. But either he doesn’t understand the severity of the problem or he was unable to communicate it effectively enough. Perhaps it’s just not salvageable on any level, since the only way to delay their fate is to pass a bill that would strip 22 million people of their access to health care.

The consequences will begin to pile up now. Trump will lash out in ever more confusing and bizarre ways. And then the indictments and plea deals will start to flow in from Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s shop. By Thanksgiving, if not before, the nation will be confronted with the urgent need to remove Trump from power and I suspect there will be more consensus about it by then than most people can imagine right now.

But if there’s one thing that Trump has managed to do in defiance of all of this as well as gravity itself, it is to stay afloat.  I would love nothing more than to see him gone.  But as long as there are men and women in the halls of Congress who will support him, at least in front of a TV camera, and as long as there are those in the GOP base who think it’s about damn time we had a president who didn’t stand on fussy old protocol and knows that WWE is real, he will be going nowhere.

As Steve M points out, trying to remove him by invoking Amendment XXV basically lays the groundwork for a coup d’etat anytime a president does something the other people don’t like.  Impeachment is the only way out, and history has taught us that a president can’t be impeached unless the opposition party holds the majority in the House and the Senate.  So until that happens — the earliest would be January 2019 — this disaster will, as we used to say, keep on truckin’.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Reading

American Dignity on the Fourth of July — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

More than three-quarters of a century after the delegates of the Second Continental Congress voted to quit the Kingdom of Great Britain and declared that “all men are created equal,” Frederick Douglass stepped up to the lectern at Corinthian Hall, in Rochester, New York, and, in an Independence Day address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, made manifest the darkest ironies embedded in American history and in the national self-regard. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass asked:

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

The dissection of American reality, in all its complexity, is essential to political progress, and yet it rarely goes unpunished. One reason that the Republican right and its attendant media loathed Barack Obama is that his public rhetoric, while far more buoyant with post-civil-rights-era uplift than Douglass’s, was also an affront to reactionary pieties. Even as Obama tried to win votes, he did not paper over the duality of the American condition: its idealism and its injustices; its heroism in the fight against Fascism and its bloody misadventures before and after. His idea of a patriotic song was “America the Beautiful”—not in its sentimental ballpark versions but the way that Ray Charles sang it, as a blues, capturing the “fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top.”

Donald Trump, who, in fairness, has noted that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job,” represents an entirely different tradition. He has no interest in the wholeness of reality. He descends from the lineage of the Know-Nothings, the doomsayers and the fabulists, the nativists and the hucksters. The thematic shift from Obama to Trump has been from “lifting as we climb” to “raising the drawbridge and bolting the door.” Trump may operate a twenty-first-century Twitter machine, but he is still a frontier-era drummer peddling snake oil, juniper tar, and Dr. Tabler’s Buckeye Pile Cure for profit from the back of a dusty wagon.

As a candidate, Trump told his followers that he would fulfill “every dream you ever dreamed for your country.” But he is a plutocrat. His loyalty is to the interests of the plutocracy. Trump’s vows of solidarity with the struggling working class, with the victims of globalization and deindustrialization, are a fraud. He made coal miners a symbol of his campaign, but he has always held them in contempt. To him, they are luckless schmoes who fail to possess his ineffable talents. “The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump once told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination—or whatever—to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.’ ”

Trump is hardly the first bad President in American history—he has not had adequate time to eclipse, in deed, the very worst—but when has any politician done so much, so quickly, to demean his office, his country, and even the language in which he attempts to speak? Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more. He tells a lie. He tells another. He trolls Arnold Schwarzenegger. He trolls the press, bellowing “enemy of the people” and “fake news!” He shoves aside a Balkan head of state. He summons his Cabinet members to have them swear fealty to his awesomeness. He leers at an Irish journalist. Last Thursday, he tweeted at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came . . . to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” The President’s misogyny and his indecency are well established. When is it time to question his mental stability?

The atmosphere of debasement and indignity in the White House, it appears, is contagious. Trump’s family and the aides who hastened to serve him have learned to imitate his grossest reflexes, and to hell with the contradictions. Melania Trump, whose “cause” is cyber-bullying, defends the poisoned tweet at Brzezinski. His righteously feminist daughter Ivanka stays mum. After the recent special election in Georgia, Kellyanne Conway, the counsellor to the President, tweeted, “Laughing my #Ossoff.” The wit! The valor! Verily, the return of Camelot!

Trump began his national ascendancy by hoisting the racist banner of birtherism. Since then, as candidate and as President, he has found countless ways to pollute the national atmosphere. If someone suggests a lie that is useful to him, he will happily pass it along or endorse it. This habit is not without purpose or cumulative effect. Even if Trump fails in his most ambitious policy initiatives, whether it is liberating the wealthy from their tax obligations or liberating the poor from their health care, he has already begun to foster a public sphere in which, as Hannah Arendt put it in her treatise on totalitarian states, millions come to believe that “everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

Frederick Douglass ended his Independence Day jeremiad in Rochester with steadfast optimism (“I do not despair of this country”). Read his closing lines, and what despair you might feel when listening to a President who abets ignorance, isolation, and cynicism is eased, at least somewhat. The “mental darkness” of earlier times is done, Douglass reminded his audience. “Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.” There is yet hope for the “great principles” of the Declaration of Independence and “the genius of American Institutions.” There was reason for optimism then, as there is now. Donald Trump is not forever. Sometimes it just seems that way.

Making the Grade — The Miami Herald editorial board.

Every traditional public school in Miami-Dade County made the grade, and not one of those grades was an F. It’s a gratifying and hard-won accomplishment for schools chief Alberto Carvalho and his team, School Board members, educators in all capacities, parents and, of course, the students. And it’s a first.

The achievement is the result of a slow but steady march to the day when the state Department of Education would release the annual school grades and every school in the county would receive a passing grade. That glorious day arrived last week.

Success came despite the challenges — or maybe because of them. There are schools with large numbers of students living in poverty and low parental engagement. About 70 percent of students district-wide get reduced-price or free lunch because they come from low-income families. And more than 72,000 students are learning English. All are indicators of students facing the most hurdles to academic success. The district amped up the focus on them. “We put in counselors and coaches,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. “ We put in new supports for fragile schools.”

The district earned a B average overall; two-thirds of all schools received a grade of A or B. Almost 20 years ago, there were 26 F schools in Miami-Dade.

School grades are weighted most heavily toward students’ scores on standardized tests, with graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced courses also factored in. What makes the school district’s no-F achievement even more remarkable is that since 1999, when the tests were first administered, state legislators have tinkered and rejiggered and generally messed around, making the test always more difficult — arbitrarily setting back some students’ progress — and harder to administer. The introduction of computers, for instance, was a disaster, plus many poor students had little experience with such technology in their homes.

In fact, the only failure in the district’s good-news story is that of the state Legislature — again. As reported by Kristen Clark of the Herald/Tallahassee new bureau, because of the new education reform law, Senate Bill 7069, passed during the session, 650 charter schools throughout the state, privately managed and independent of schools districts, could be entitled to receive as much as $96 million from school districts’ taxpayer funds for construction and maintenance. At the very least, lawmakers imposed certain financial and academic standards before many of these for-profit schools can receive funds.

There’s more: Superintendent Carvalho rightly laments new restrictions placed on the use of federal Title 1 funds. Public-school districts are expected to distribute this funding for schools with poor and at-risk students to private and charter schools, as well. In addition, under a new state-imposed formula, the Title 1 money that remains with the district must be spread further throughout the district, clearly with the potential to dilute the beneficial impact these funds have when concentrated in the neediest schools.

“SB 7069 rewards publicly funded schools that don’t have a track record of lifting failing students,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. He later added that “These funding levels and restrictions will endanger the progress we have made.”

It’s a legitimate fear. For this sweeping law that will likely undermine hard-won gains like those in Miami-Dade, lawmakers have earned an F.

How to Get an Asteroid Named After You — Marina Koren in The Atlantic.

Mary Lou Whitehorne was at a work conference in 2007 when her colleagues surprised her with an asteroid.They were at an annual meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Calgary. Whitehorne, a member of the organization and a longtime science educator, was standing outside of a pub, engaged in a conversation, when a coworker called her inside. He had a special announcement to make: A small asteroid, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, had been named after Whitehorne.“I was completely floored and completely speechless,” Whitehorne says.

Whitehorne’s colleagues had waited about two years for the name to be approved. Asteroids can’t be named for just anything or anyone; there’s a careful selection process with lots of rules, managed by an international organization in charge of collecting and sorting observational data for asteroids. The organization is the Minor Planet Center, which is run out of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts, and under the purview of the International Astronomical Union, an organization of professional astronomers.

The first asteroids to be discovered, in the early 1800s, were named for figures in Roman and Greek mythology, like Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta. Astronomers ran out of those options fairly quickly, so they started looking elsewhere. Today, most asteroids are named for people, both real and fictional, and the rest for places, animals, plants, and other natural phenomena. The discoverers of asteroids are responsible for proposing the names—but there are rules, and their proposals can get denied.When a new asteroid is first spotted, the Minor Planet Center gives it a provisional designation composed of the the year of discovery and two numbers. If astronomers successfully study and confirm its orbit, it gets a permanent numeral designation that corresponds with the object’s place on the chronological list of previous discoveries. The discoverer then has 10 years to suggest and submit a name for the object, including a short pitch for why the name should be accepted. A 15-person committee at the International Astronomical Union judges the name and, if it approves, publishes it in a monthly newsletter.The names should be “16 characters or less in length; preferably one word; pronounceable (in some language); non-offensive; and not too similar to an existing name” of an asteroid, according to the Minor Planet Center’s website.

There are guidelines for certain kinds of asteroids. Objects that cross or approach the orbit of Neptune, for example, must be named for mythological figures associated with the underworld, while objects right outside of Neptune’s orbit get named for mythological figures related to creation.

Asteroids can’t be named for pets, but there’s at least one named for a cat, allowed perhaps because the cat itself was named for a Star Trek character. In 1985, an astronomer received approval to name his asteroid Mr. Spock, after the cat that had kept him company during long hours at work.Discoverers can’t sell the chance to name their asteroid, but naming contests are allowed. In 2012, NASA asked students to name (101955) 1999 RQ36, a near-Earth asteroid and the target of a robotic mission, OSIRIS-REx, which launched last year. They picked Bennu, for the Egyptian mythological bird resembling a heron.Whitehorne’s asteroid was among a number of asteroids discovered by three astronomers doing comet surveys in 2004. Her colleagues knew of the trio and their work, and asked them whether they could claim one in Whitehorne’s honor, to celebrate her years of contributions to the field. Whitehorne started out 30 years ago as a volunteer amateur astronomer at a small planetarium in Halifax, her hometown. Not long after, she jumped into astronomy and science education, working with students and teachers and developing programs and curricula for schools across the country. In 2015, she became the first female fellow at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a position created to recognize the contributions of long-serving members.

Whitehorne has seen only a photograph of her asteroid, which is about three-kilometers across. It’s too faint to see with her backyard telescope. She calls it her “orbiting tombstone.”

“I am mortal and I am going to die, but my name is going to be on the asteroid as long as there’s human civilization and society on this planet,” she says. “Every once in a while I think about that and think, my goodness, what have I done?”

 Doonesbury — Safe.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“Look! A Kitty!”

You know why the White House sent out that warning about Syria and chemical weapons the other night, don’t you?

Well, if your attempt to screw 22 million people out of healthcare was cratering, if the special counsel investigating your ties to Russia was closing in, and your popularity was a notch or two below the clap, you’d look for a distraction, too.

Fake News

Trump dummied up a cover of Time magazine glorifying himself to display at all his properties.

The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least five of President Trump’s clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” the big headline said. Above the Time nameplate, there was another headline in all caps: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!”

This cover — dated March 1, 2009 — looks like an impressive memento from Trump’s pre-presidential career. To club members eating lunch, or golfers waiting for a pro-shop purchase, it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered. Even when he was just a reality TV star, Trump was the kind of star who got a cover story in Time.

But that wasn’t true.

The Time cover is a fake.

There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.

In fact, the cover on display at Trump’s clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.

And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.

“I can confirm that this is not a real TIME cover,” Kerri Chyka, a spokeswoman for Time Inc., wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

How pathetically needy do you have to be to do this kind of stuff?  I get it if you’re a twice-divorced narcissist who needs the attention and adoration of your golfing buddies so you can brag about the Air France flight attendant who winked at you in the TSA line, but seriously, no one buys the act, or the trained-cat hair hat and dye job.  Nice picture, fella; sorry about your tiny little whatever.

As president, this is the kind of thing that goes on in North Korea.

Friday, June 23, 2017

To Those Of You Who Bought It

Charles P. Pierce on what Trump voters got in their deal.

Hello, suckers.

Yeah, you. All of you. All of you people who’ve been buying what the radicalized Republican party has been selling you since Reagan rode out of Trickledown Gulch back in 1980. All of you who easily gobbled up the fictions about welfare queens, and “crazy checks,” and big black bucks buying T-Bone steaks, and, most recently, of immigrants come to steal your jobs and cut your throats in the night. All of you who worried so profoundly about your neighbors who were black, or Hispanic, or Muslim that you handed the government to the people who have been picking your pocket and selling off your birthright for going on four decades.

And, especially, all of you morons who bought what the inevitable product of 30 years of fear-driven democratic malpractice was selling across the country in 2016: that he had a plan that would lower costs, cover everybody, and not touch Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare.

Today is not the day for you to ask for my understanding as to how you’re going to afford Grandma’s chemo now that she’s busted the lifetime cap on her insurance. Today is not the day for you to ask for my sympathy for Grandpa who’s going to get his ass hoisted out of his rest home and dropped onto the couch in your basement family room because his Medicaid ran out. Today is not the day for you to moan into TV cameras about how Cousin Clyde with the opioid problem has to go back to sticking up tourists for his fix because the little hospital up by the mountain closed.

Not today. Not this particular Thursday. Maybe by Monday.

The Senate unveiled its big secret tax-cut plan on Thursday morning. It also contains some elements dealing with healthcare that will make the lives of millions of sick and elderly Americans immeasurably worse, but, since it’s actually a tax-cut bill, and it actually does cut taxes for the wealthiest among us, then I guess you can say the strategy was a success. And they say the Republicans can’t govern. Hah.

Of course, it’s as bad as we all thought it would be. It virtually zeroes out Medicaid down the line – letting it “die on the vine,” just the way Newt Gingrich recommended 20 years ago. It forces low-income people to pay more for policies once called “street-surance” back in the day. (John Grisham should sue these guys.  They stole the entire plot from The Rainmaker.) There’s a lot of “handing back to the states,” which can be translated as “Give Sam Brownback more money to hand out to his donors.” The bill is such a transparent sham that one of its provisions, the repeal of the tax on investment income for wealthy individuals and families, was made retroactive to the end of last year. There is no reason on god’s earth to make this retroactive unless your main purpose is to shove more of the nation’s wealth upwards. Which is what this bill is primarily designed to do.

Let me put it in measurements that are particularly of interest to me. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 16 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s Disease. Right now, in 2017 dollars, the estimated costs of treating and caring for AD patients is $236 billion dollars. Of that, $154 billion is picked up by Medicare and Medicaid. Tell me now how that gap is made up by a plan that virtually eliminates Medicaid entirely by the time we get to 2025. Churches? Families? Winning the Lotto?

A cure?

Fat chance.

So, yeah, suckers. This is what you voted for. In fact, this is what you’ve been voting for, over and over again, ever since the Death Valley Days of jellybeans and missiles to the mullahs. This bill is the pot of gold at the end of Paul Ryan’s personal rainbow. This bill is everything that every young conservative brought up in the luxurious terrariums of wingnut welfare is taught to revere from the first day of his political gestation, right down to its playing-to-the-cheap-seats whack at Planned Parenthood.

This bill is the pot of gold at the end of Paul Ryan’s personal rainbow.

So far, four GOP senators have said they cannot vote for the bill. They are Ron (Shreds of Freedom) Johnson of Wisconsin, Aqua Buddha from Kentucky, Mike Lee, the konztitooshunal skolar from Utah, and Tailgunner Ted Cruz. They can’t support it (at the moment) because it isn’t repeal-ish enough for them. (Translation: The bill still coddles the poor and infirm beyond the limits God intended when He wrote the Constitution.) Now, as the redoubtable Digby often points out, if they were to torpedo this plague ship, it wouldn’t be the first time the wingiest members of the tribe saved the day. But my money stays on the notion that they will find enough crazy ideas in the House during reconciliation to satisfy the likes of these four. As for the vaunted Republican “moderates,” I have no faith in them whatsoever. I think Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will get bought off by an increase in the bill’s stingy provisions regarding the opioid epidemic. Some version of this creature will stalk its way into law.

I’m sorry, but I can’t let the suckers off the hook on this particular Thursday, not when I know in my bones that, in a year or so, there are going to be more expeditions into The Real America in which we hear sad tales about the closing of rural hospitals, and medical bankruptcies, and children who died because the insurance company denied them a life-saving treatment. There will be all kinds of reasons postulated for this terrible state of affairs. “Culture” probably will be one of them, and it will be the stupidest one of all.

What will not be mentioned is that many of these people brought their tragedies on themselves, that voting has consequences, and that using a presidential election to hock a collective loogie at “The Establishment” and at Those People is a particularly dumbass way to participate in democracy.

Have a nice day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Is He Or Isn’t He?

Either Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice, or no he’s not.  That’s the view(s) of one of his minions/lawyers, Jay Sekulow.

During an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace, Sekulow defended Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

“He takes the action that [the Attorney General’s office] recommended and now he’s being investigated by the Department of Justice,” Sekulow complained. “He’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the terminations!”

“You’ve now said he is being investigated after saying [he isn’t],” Wallace observed.

“No, he’s not being investigated!” Sekulow shot back.

“You just said he’s being investigated,” Wallace noted.

Sekulow tried again to say that the president is not under investigation, but Wallace interrupted.

“Sir, you just said two times that he’s being investigated,” the Fox News host said. “And he’s not just being investigated for firing Comey, there’s also what he said to Comey when Comey was still the FBI director.”

“I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth,” Sekulow complained. “When I have been crystal clear that the president is not and has not been under investigation.”

“You do not know that he has not been under investigation, sir,” Wallace pointed out. “Actually, what I’m trying to get is a straight answer out of you.”

Sekulow argued that it would be impossible to indict the president for wrongdoing “because there is not an investigation.”

“Oh boy, this is weird,” Wallace interrupted. “You don’t know whether there is an investigation. You just told us that.”

Not to be outdone on the WTF trail, Newt Gingrich — remember him? — is telling everyone that the president can’t be indicted for obstructing justice because he’s the president.  But this is the same Newt Gingrich who led the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton for obstructing justice.

I think what they’re saying is that Trump is under investigation for not being under investigation and can’t be indicted for obstructing justice but can be impeached for it.  Got that?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If Only He Would Shut Up

One of the takeaways from the Washington Post piece about Trump now being under investigation for obstruction is that he probably wouldn’t be if he kept his mouth shut.

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

We know that Trump talks to a lot of people.  He’s on the record for telling the Russians in the Oval Office that he got rid of “that nutjob” Comey, and he picks up the phone and talks to just about anybody who will listen.  (He’s probably chatted with Rachel from Credit Card Services about this whole mess.)  We know he did this before he was elected and of course there’s the power-barf level of tweets that come forth every morning.

What’s important about that is that now that he’s in the White House, there are laws governing how those conversations are recorded such as the Presidential Records Act, basically making everything he does a piece of public property.  And anyone he talks to can be called as a witness.

It’s ironic that Trump accused Comey of being a leaker.  If Trump hadn’t gone on TV and told Lester Holt that he fired Comey over the Russian thing, we wouldn’t be here.

Nixon had his secret tapes and they were his undoing.  Trump has his big mouth, and that may be his.

Bonus Track: On another note, Trump’s big mouth may engender trouble for the Republicans’ stealth plan to repeal Obamacare.

House Republicans are angry with President Trump for blurting out an inconveniently candid view of their health-care bill, Politico reports today. Trump reportedly told a closed-door gathering of GOP senators that the House repeal-and-replace bill is “mean” and called on them to make it “more generous.” This promptly leaked, and a lot of people are noting that Trump undercut House Republicans politically and provided Democrats with ammo for a thousand attack ads.

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