Sunday, February 3, 2019

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pay No Attention

The Hindenburg is crashing but the GOP wants you to look at the fender-bender in the parking lot.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris is raising the possibility of eliminating private health insurance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other prominent Democrats are floating new and far-reaching plans to tax the wealthy. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for state legislation that would reduce restrictions on late-term abortions.

Democrats, after two years largely spent simply opposing everything President Trump advocated, are defining themselves lately in ways Republicans are seizing on to portray them as far outside the American mainstream.

Casting Democrats as a scary and radical force is giving a fractured Republican Party a common thrust at a time when Trump’s standing even within his own party has started to dip. And it is giving Democrats a bit of the heartburn that Republicans have been grappling with for more than two years.

“There is legitimate concern among Democrats about policy and rhetoric that comes out of the very far left,” said Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “Yes, they hurt. It gives Republicans fodder to continue this train of thought that Democrats have become a socialist party. . . . They pounce on anything someone in our party says and make it seem like it represents the whole party.”

Oh for Dog’s sake, Ed.  Stop helping the Republicans.  (He’s famous for that, by the way.  It’s what gets him on cable TV as a Very Serious Commentator.  Plus they pick up his airfare.)

The reality is that after two years of Trump and generations of right-wing nutsery, the progressive movement is gaining real ground not just among Democrats but among the rest of the country as well.  (If you think either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were card-carrying progressives, you need to recalibrate your Liberal meter.)  Ideas such as Medicare for all, higher taxes on the wealthy, and asylum for immigrants are about as radical as the 1956 Republican platform.  But then, we all knew Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were radical liberals.

It’s also worth noting that the GOP is going after two of the women who have announced for the 2020 presidential race, and their newest fund-raising piñata is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who has the crazy idea of raising the top marginal income tax rate to 70% (which is 21% less than what the Republicans were content with in 1956.  If anything, she’s going too easy on the rich).  But it’s those crazy womenfolk that are going to ruin this country, by gum.  Remember the last time those Dems ran a woman for president?  Look what happened!

This is first in a series of many, many “Democrats in Disarray” articles we’re going to see from the hand-wringers, egged on by the folks in the GOP who are looking for anything to distract our attention away from the disaster in their own laps, and it’s only going to get more strident as the race heats up.

Your Lyin’ Eyes

From the Washington Post:

A day after ridiculing his top intelligence officials as “passive and naive” and claiming they were ignorant about world affairs, President Trump on Thursday said the media had fabricated a conflict and that the officials were “misquoted” by the press after a public congressional hearing that was carried live on television.

[…]

“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office,” Trump tweeted, with a picture of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others seated around the Resolute Desk. The officials “told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media – and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.,” Trump wrote. “Their testimony was distorted press….”

“I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday,” the president added. “A false narrative is so bad for our Country. I value our intelligence community. Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!”

The hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee was public and carried on multiple TV networks. Coats, speaking on behalf of the other five witnesses, submitted 42 pages of written testimony on a wide range of security threats. Video of the hearing was posted on the committee’s website.

“They said that they were totally misquoted, and they were totally — it was taken out of context,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters. “I’d suggest that you call them. They said it was fake news, which frankly didn’t surprise me.”

So how could they be misquoted when it was on live TV?

Forget impeachment, folks.  This is Amendment XXV time; the part where the president is incapable of carrying out the duties and so on.  Of course, he’s been that way since Day 1, so…

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Still Cold Up There

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the utilities in the Twin Cities are asking their customers to turn down their thermostats to 63 F during the Polar Vortex so as to not strain the system.  At this writing it is -27 F in Minneapolis.

That’s cold.

The good news is that the vortex will pass and by Sunday the high in Minneapolis is expected to be 44 F.  That’s a 71 degree swing to the warm side.  For now.  It’s still winter, and my memories of living at that latitude include snow and ice up to and beyond Mothers Day.

The Nerve Of Some People

From the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab,” sparking a fierce backlash online.

McConnell was speaking about H.R. 1, legislation that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their agenda since retaking the House earlier this month.

In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.”

“So this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy,’” McConnell said, describing the legislation as “a political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”

OMG, those Democrats want to make it easier for more people to vote!  Holy crap!  Do you know what will happen if that actually happens?  The Republicans may lose because there are more Democrats than there are Republicans, and if there were elections that weren’t riddled with all sorts of Jim Crow-style restrictions aimed at minorities and the poor, the GOP would be so screwed — not like they are now.

Charlie Pierce:

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

Remember, he had it in for Barack Obama from Day 1, and of course there’s Merrick Garland.  So yeah, Mitch, go throw yourself and your carapace down a well and rot.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Distressing Numbers

The national polls are showing that Trump and the Republicans took it in the nuts as far as approval ratings go after the shutdown and looking off to 2020.

The fact that the Democrats are having a wide-open race and is attracting just about anyone who can be seen as left of William Weld onto the field shouldn’t really matter at this point.  No nominee who races to the front a year before the Iowa caucuses stays there for long, and when there’s an incumbent president up for a second term, it has to be about him and what he’s doing, not the flavor of the month from the Democrats.

But what really bothers me is that after two years of criminal corruption, serial lying, institutionalized bigotry, and basically turning every core belief that we’ve established as a country and society on its head, there are still 28% of the electorate who would vote to re-elect Trump.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Agree To Disagree

There’s Trump and his assessment of threats from overseas, which seem to consist of brown people under the age of six from Central America, and then there’s the people he appointed to run the intelligence services and actually read and evaluate the information they’ve been getting from their assets overseas.

CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

He said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”

That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons.

It was not the first time that U.S. intelligence has determined North Korea is not on the path to surrendering its weapons. And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements.

The statement on North Korea drew extra attention coming ahead of a planned summit meeting next month between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Their first summit last year ended with a vague agreement that contained few concrete goals and deadlines.

The distance between the intelligence community and the White House extended to areas that have ignited fierce political debates in Washington.

None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.

Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result.

So when the people who really know what’s going on are at odds with a president who refuses to read anything that doesn’t have pictures or coloring instructions, what happens when the non-nuclear North Korea launches an ICBM at Guam or the defeated ISIS loads up another 757 and heads towards the new World Trade Center?  Are we going to suddenly realize that building a mythical wall across the Sonora desert was a huge waste of resources and criminally negligent?

That’s Hot

As we’re taught in elementary school science class, when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer in the Southern.  So while we’re going through extreme cold in the Midwest, they’re getting extreme heat in Australia.

As a polar vortex hits the U.S. Midwest, the extreme opposite is happening in Australia. The heat wave has parched landscapes, triggered damaging wildfires, pushed demand on the power grid to the brink and toppled significant records, Capital Weather Gang’s Angela Fritz wrote last week.

Temperatures soared to 116 degrees on Thursday in Adelaide, South Australia. That’s the highest temperature for any capital in Australia, according to Fritz. In the southeastern corner of the country, overnight temperatures were as high as 96 degrees — the warmest overnight lows for January anywhere in the world.

Australia’s climate has warmed by about 2 degrees since 1910, leading to more frequent heat waves and severe drought conditions, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Eight of Australia’s top-10 warmest years on record have happened in the past 13 years.

So if the climate-change deniers are having wondering where the global warming is, they need to be aware that yes, indeed, the world is round and that there’s more to the climate than what’s happening in their own home town.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

No Thanks, Howard

Eugene Robinson speaks my mind:

Just what we need, another ego-crazed billionaire with zero experience in government who thinks he is destined to be president. What could go wrong?

Howard Schultz, the man who put a Starbucks on every corner, said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday that he is mulling a run for the White House as an independent. Schultz admits he’s “not the smartest person in the room,” but he must be smart enough to know he can’t possibly win.

He is quite capable of reelecting President Trump, though.

[…]

I have to wonder if he, like Trump, might be using the threat of an independent candidacy as leverage. The Democratic Party has moved leftward. Schultz has views that he describes as “centrist” — he’s more pro-business than the major Democratic contenders, worries vocally about the mounting national debt, claims that “Democrats are proposing . . . free health care for all, which the country cannot afford,” and blames “extremes on both sides” for bringing the nation to its parlous state.

The inference is that Schultz might be more likely to run, and persist in running, if it looks as if an ideological progressive such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is likely to win the Democratic nomination. Schultz may be hoping to get the attention of Democratic donors and influencers, and shift the intraparty debate in a more moderate direction.

Or — and I fear this is more likely — he may just be surfing a great big wave of pure ego.

I think anyone who can sell burned coffee grounds at $4 a pop may be a marketing genius, but it doesn’t make him presidential.  And while I have no idea who the nominee will be any more than the next guy, this little ego trip has shitstorm written all over it.

That’s Cold

Just because I live in South Florida doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the people who live up north where some of the coldest weather in a generation is taking hold.

Forecasters expect Wednesday’s high temperature (yes, the high) to be minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago and Minneapolis. If the forecast holds, that would be Chicago’s lowest high temperature for a single day since officials began keeping records. An expected low of minus 22 was expected to approach, though not surpass, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago. Officials predicted that wind chill readings could plummet to minus 50 in Chicago and minus 60 in Minneapolis.

“This is what you would expect when you get into central and northern Canada,” said Brian Hurley, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The vortex, a brutal mass of cold air within strong bands of circulating winds, has spread southward from its normal location near the North Pole in recent weeks, bringing arctic weather to the middle of the United States. Such weather events have become more common in recent years; scientists are not sure why, but some suspect a link to climate change.

I can hear the climate-change deniers now: “Hey, what happened to all that global warming, snowflakes?  Har-de-har-har.”

The answer lies in the difference between local weather and climate.

Climate refers to how the atmosphere acts over a long period of time, while weather describes what’s happening on a much shorter time scale. The climate can be thought of, in a way, as the sum of long periods of weather.

Or, to use an analogy Mr. Trump might appreciate, weather is how much money you have in your pocket today, whereas climate is your net worth. A billionaire who has forgotten his wallet one day is not poor, anymore than a poor person who lands a windfall of several hundred dollars is suddenly rich. What matters is what happens over the long term.

Even on a day when it is colder than average where you live, the world as a whole is frequently warmer than average, which you can see for yourself on these daily maps from the University of Maine.

While climate scientists expect that the world could warm, on average, roughly two to seven degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century — depending on how quickly greenhouse-gas emissions rise — they don’t expect that to mean the end of winter altogether. Record low temperatures will still occur; they’ll just become rarer over time.

One 2009 study found that the United States saw roughly as many record highs as record lows in the 1950s, but by the 2000s there were twice as many record highs as record lows. Severe cold snaps were still happening, but they were becoming less common.

Some recent cold spells have been caused by a dreaded weather system called the polar vortex. There’s growing evidence to suggest that the polar vortex is appearing outside the Arctic more frequently, because of changes in the jet stream that are attributed to the warming atmosphere. These changes help frigid air escape from the Arctic and swoop southward.

Climate change brings about weather extremes more often.  2018 was one of the warmest years in recent memory — remember the heat waves last summer?  So the cold is getting colder, the heat is getting hotter, and it’s only going to get worse the more carbon we dump into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, seeing the current temperature in Minneapolis of -4 F is cold comfort for knowing that tomorrow night the low is predicted to be -25 F without the wind.

And even though it’s a comparatively balmy 49 F in Miami at the moment, I’m not gloating.  I’m scared.

Monday, January 28, 2019