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The Times speaks with two tongues

The New York Times speaks with two tongues. Today it’s running an article about an EPA scientist who was pressured to downplay the fact that the EPA removed actual scientists from its review panel so it could replace them with lobbyists. The Times reporter observes:

Dr. Swackhamer’s testimony came two weeks after the dismissals, which were met with fierce pushback from a scientific community that saw it as evidence that the Trump administration is seeking to weaken the role of academic science in environmental policy.

That criticism has sharpened in recent weeks, after the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the energy secretary, Rick Perry, openly questioned the established science of human-caused climate change, and as the E.P.A. has taken down websites about climate change. Scientists have also expressed concern that Mr. Pruitt has staffed his senior offices with several former senior staff members of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent denier of human-caused climate change. Mr. Jackson also came from Mr. Inhofe’s staff. (Emphasis added)

via The New York Times

It’s good that the Times clearly stated that it’s “established science”. But here’s the question: If human caused climate change is established science, and it is, why did the Times hire a climate denier to spill disinformation on its editorial page. Perhaps they should add a flat-earther.

A plug

My wife and I went to a play at the Goodspeed Opera House today, and as we had some time to kill before the show started, we consulted Yelp, and settled on *2 Wrasslin’ Cats’. I can’t vouch for the food, but my wife says the coffee was good, and the ice cream I had was great. But I wholeheartedly recommend it, and these pictures tell why:


I didn’t see any real live cats, but the inside is all over cats:

We lefties have to stick together. If you’re in the area, it’s a great place to stop for a coffee or a snack. I should add that when the owner overheard my wife saying that it was my birthday, he refused to take payment for my ice cream. We made that good in the tip jar, but it was a nice gesture considering he’d never seen me before.

Friday night rant

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t blogged for quite a while, and I realize that the world is a poorer place as a result. So, back in the game for a few minutes at least.

This week the Democrats lost two special elections, and the losses perfectly illustrate the problems we’re going to have in the future. To paraphrase Cassius: the fault, dear Democrats, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

I gave money early and often to Jon Ossoff. If you did also, you know what a friend he became, as I got an email from him at least 4 times a day for weeks. When it became apparent that he might win, the DCCC moved in to “help”, and the result was sadly predictable. It’s instructive that the Democrat in the South Carolina race, who everyone pretty much ignored, actually did better than Ossoff.

I can’t add much to what’s written here about the Ossoff race and the Democratic establishment in general. Watch the commercial embedded at that link, and ask yourself why the Democrats thought serving up that mush would win them any votes. Donald Trump is Pres**ent. He’s the issue, not deficits or excessive spending, and when was the last time you heard a Republican blame “both parties” for anything? And isn’t it time that we, as Democrats, stop talking about deficits in the same uneducated fashion as the Republicans? We could have used a bigger deficit over the course of the last few years. Every rational economist agrees. If we can’t come up with a good way of snappily explaining the use of deficits, than we should at least shut our mouths about them. But the larger point is that Democrats have no narrative. They stand for nothing, not even the things people like that the Democrats have done. They constantly seek the ever more rightward defined “middle”, where no one actually lives.

The Democrats will enter the 2018 election cycle convinced they can win because they are not the party of Donald Trump. They will have nothing to sell to the voters besides that. They will gladly risk alienating all the resisters in order to secure those Wall Street dollars. They will once again be victimized by the consultant class that produced Ossoff’s commercial. We saw that here in Connecticut in the last election. So many of our candidates used that state money to buy the services of political consultants whose first priority was lining their own pockets, by, for instance, paying themselves to print and mail pointless and often counter productive leaflets. The Democrats have not seemed to notice that the Republicans have won by being pretty much in your face about what they stand for. Well, actually they’ve been in our face about what they pretend to stand for, but the point is that they aren’t constantly trying to appeal to a non-existent middle. I would suggest Democrats go back and look at what Democrats stood for (domestically) in 1968. They might be surprised to find that most of them were indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders.

What these elections show is that there is a role for those of us in blue districts. We have to start pressuring our Congresspeople to take back the DCCC, DNC, and the DSCC, and, for that matter, the ossified Democratic leadership in the House. Pelosi’s personal politics are fine, but she always seems to find a way to hand those institutions to the most right wing Democrats she can find. Everyone is talking as if it’s a done deal in 2018; that the Democrats will take the House. If they do, and I doubt that they will, it will be in spite of themselves, and they will proceed to do their best to make sure their stay in power is brief. After all, the Democrats always take great pains to lose in years divisible by 10 (Cast your memory back; it’s true). Redistricting is such exhausting stuff; better to let the Republicans do it. If they don’t take the House, you can bet your bottom dollar there will never be another remotely fair and free election in this country. Don’t pay any attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in that North Carolina case; once they get their hands on a properly packaged voter suppression bill they’ll give it a pass, and every red state in the country will pass something similar to whatever they green light.

End of rant.

On another note altogether, if you’ve had trouble cataloging Trump’s lies, here’s a handy guide. It’s the abbreviated version, since it starts with Inauguration Day. Anyway, it would be handy to have on hand if you need to educate a Trumper.

Nothing new under the sun

This Russia stuff got me thinking, and it occurred to me that backdoor election related dealing between Republicans and our ostensible rivals may not be an invention of the Trumpers.

There is a rather strong argument to be made that the Reagan campaign engaged in some slippery dealings with Iran during the 1980 election campaign. The circumstantial evidence is rather strong. The Reaganites accused Jimmy Carter of plotting an October surprise. That surprise would have been a deal of some sort with Iran to free American hostages, who had been held for about a year at that point. The deal never happened, at least not in time for the election. Coincidentally, the hostages were freed on the day Reagan was inaugurated, so he never had to deal personally with the issue. I remember thinking at the time that the timing seemed awfully odd. Then, years later, we learned that Reagan was selling arms to our supposed enemy. The stench was overwhelming, and there is a lot of other evidence supporting the proposition that the Reagan people had direct contact with Iran during the campaign and promised them it would be worth their while to keep the hostages until after the election. Here’s a bit, but if you search the net, you’ll no doubt find more reputable arguments that support the theory. Congress made a half hearted attempt to investigate, as the article at the link notes, but was never in possession of some of the evidence referenced in the linked article.

So, while not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it is certainly more probable than not that the Reagan campaign conspired with Iran to influence the American election. Spreading fake news was not an option at the time, there being no social media. It is a fact that Republicans have had no scruples about the methods they employ to win elections. In addition to treason, they are prone to selectively disenfranchising people, which, when you stop to think about it (and so few people do) somewhat undermines the democratic experiment.

The only difference between the Reaganites and the Trumpies is the level of competence. The Reaganites were pros, setting Reagan aside, since he was more or less a spokesperson. (The thinking being, I guess, that if you can sell Borax, you can sell inequality. ) There isn’t much competence in the Trump White House and unlike with the Reaganites, Trump doesn’t behave and won’t step aside to let the big boys do their jobs.

There may be another difference this time around. When Reagan was caught selling arms to Iran, a clearly impeachable offense, the media and political establishment were skillfully distracted by Ed Meese’s confession that the money from the sales were illegally diverted to the Nicaraguan contras, but that Reagan knew nothing about that. It turned the debate away from Reagan’s admitted treason to a relative side issue, but it worked. Again, the Trumpies are not as skillful as the Reaganauts. Try as they might, they don’t seem to be able to get anyone off the scent, except the folks at Fox and Friends.

Random thoughts on Comey day

We live in trying times for part time bloggers. I have been staring at my keyboard, trying in vain to come up with a word to describe what I have seen today, which is really just a clear cut example of what we’ve seen from Republicans for years. The word “hypocrisy” doesn’t quite cut it. It merely gives the faintest hint of what was on display today. The term “intellectual dishonesty” is even weaker tea for the cousin of hypocrisy that was also on display. Where is Shakespeare when you need him?

One must wonder if there is anyone stupid enough, even the simpletons that attend Trump rallies, who actually buy the argument that your boss isn’t telling you what to do when he says he “hopes” you will do something. Is there anyone whose native language in English, and has the slightest knowledge of the Trump personality, who thinks that when Trump told Comey that “I want your loyalty” he was actually asking Comey to be loyal to the country?

What we saw on display from the Republican senators and Trump allies was hypocrisy incarnate, and intellectual dishonesty of staggering proportions.

There is a silver lining in every cloud. It is always possible that the media will, after today, lose its previously unshaken faith in the “maverick” John McCain, who proved himself both craven and senile. As I watched his questioning my jaw dropped. There’s no point in parsing it; it made no sense. Comey obviously tumbled to the fact that McCain is a confused old man whose mind had seen far better days, though even those days were never all that great. Now, I can feel for the guy. I’m a geezer too, though newly minted. Who knows, at some point, I too may be spouting nonsense. Okay, so maybe I’ve been spouting nonsense for years, but not that kind of nonsense, though it is a bit chilling to think that McCain is only 14 years older than me, and that I may be drooling like him in that number of years. Oh, and while I’m on McCain, he never was a maverick, and while he sometimes (like the loathsome Susan Collins) talks the talk, he never walks the walk. Not when it matters, at least.

I understand that there were those within the punditry who were shocked that Comey felt the need to memorialize his conversation with Trump because given “the nature of the person. I was honestly concerned he might lie ”. It’s not that they dispute his point, it’s that you’re not supposed to say out loud that Trump is a liar; you’re supposed to sugarcoat it. Need one now point out that Trump’s lawyer is currently lying on his behalf, and we can expect some lying tweets early tomorrow morning, unless Trump is so tired that he once again unknowingly gives away the game.

We are truly living in a poorly written novel.

Well, I told you they were random thoughts. At least I put them down in diagramable sentences, which is more than the popular vote loser can do.

You really, really couldn’t make this up

If this is true, then there is truly no one in charge:

Because Trump is now completely uncontrollable by his staff, he has now scrapped plans for a “war room” to spout the requisite propaganda rebutting the FBI director’s own charges against him and instead will be responding himself, live, on Twitter.

Washington Post reporter Robert Costa told MSNBC on Tuesday that the president would directly respond to Comey on Twitter as the testimony is underway.

“I was just talking to some White House officials this morning and their view is that the president himself wants to be the messenger, his own warrior, his own lawyer, his own spokesman,” Costa explained. “Some outside people, some surrogates will be available.”

“But the president is expected to be tweeting on Thursday in response to Comey, not to stay quiet during the testimony,” he added. “Because he himself wants to be the one driving the process.”

The odds that the sitting president will tweet something indictable are, and this is probably the first time in history this sentence has ever been used, nontrivial.

via Daily Kos

No wonder he couldn’t find a competent lawyer. Are there no grown ups at the White House that can take his phone away?

Someday I’ll tell you I told you so

I believe I’ve made this observation before, but I want to repeat myself, so when it happens, like Trump I can say “I told you so”. What brought this to mind was the editorial in this morning’s Boston Globe, which, in the course of dissing Trump’s twitter mania, made oblique reference to an extremely troubling aspect of the mind of Trump:

One interesting question is why Trump dropped the pretense about the ban. Is this merely a case of a president who can’t keep his story straight? Did Trump decide he wanted to strike a resonant chord with his base, legal consequences be damned? Or has he made a more complex calculation that tweeting now will let him say “I told you so” if the Supreme Court doesn’t reinstate his order and a terrorist attack somehow involving one of those Muslim nations then occurs in the United States? The profound cynicism shown by this administration about governing makes nearly anything possible.

via The Boston Globe

If a president were to intentionally embark upon a course of conduct designed to induce a terrorist act, he or she could hardly improve on Trump’s behavior over the course of the last few months. It is safe to conclude that Trump wants a terrorist attack. Moreover, I think we can safely conclude that some of those around him, such as Steve Bannon, would welcome such an attack too. After all, a few American lives (so long as they themselves are spared) is a small price to pay for the opportunity to increase the fear level here at home. What an opportunity to destroy the remnants of our civil liberties and our republican (mind that small “r”) form of government. Remember how Bush seized the opportunity afforded by 9/11 to grab power and run roughshod over our liberties? Multiply that by 10, and you come close to what you’d get from Trump. No doubt they would count on the reaction being like it was after 9/11: total support for the president.

Ah, but there might be the rub. It would be ever so helpful if the Democrats would help inoculate the body politic against fascism by claiming loud and long right now that Trump wants a terror attack here. But obviously they would never do such a thing, unless Trump is quite explicit in a pre-attack tweet. Far be it from the Democrats to be so impolite, not to mention speak with one voice. But there is still a shred of hope. When the attack comes, Trump will make George W look like Lincoln. The first thing he’ll do is crow about how right he was to want a travel ban, etc. Remember his self congratulatory tweet after the Orlando shooting? If he’s obnoxious enough, and given his already low popularity, he may not be able to parlay the attack into a safe, secure fascistic dictatorship.

A terror incident would suit Trump’s purposes as much, if not more than, it would suit the purposes of the terrorists. At bottom, they are not enemies, they are allies. Each gets something they want out of terrorism.

Caveat: It need hardly be said that when I use the word “terrorism” I refer only to actions taken by dark skinned persons of the Muslim faith. When white men do these things it is because they are screwed up disturbed loners. In such cases, the proper response is to urge all Americans to carry guns at all times, because then nothing could possibly go wrong.

That’s the way you do it

I’ve got my doubts about France’s new president, Macron, but I must say I like this:

Standing next to Putin, Macron told Xenia Fedorova, the head of the Kremlin-financed channel RT France, that her reporters had been denied access to his campaign headquarters before the vote because they had been acting not as journalists but as propagandists.

France 24 provided English subtitles of Macron’s complete reply, but even without them, many viewers of the exchange were struck by Putin’s visible discomfort when the French president described Russia Today and Sputnik — which are both financed directly by the Kremlin — as, essentially, Potemkin news organizations.

“When news outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists. They are influence operations,” Macron said, as Putin shifted uneasily from side to side. “Russia Today and Sputnik were influence operations during this campaign, which on several occasions told lies about me personally and my campaign.”

Macron added that he considered the blatant rumor-mongering by the two outlets — which included promoting false claims that he had a gay lover and an off-shore bank account — to have been part of an attempt to interfere in France’s democratic process.

“I will never give in to that,” Macron said. “Never.”

Instead of reporting on his campaign, Macron said, the two Kremlin-funded outlets aimed at readers outside Russia had simply published “serious falsehoods” and “lying propaganda.”

via The Intercept

Far be it from me to suggest that any of our right wing news outlets are financed by the Russians. Why should they bother, when we have licensed homegrown propagandists to do it for them. Perhaps its time that the Democrats take a page from Macron’s book, and start incessantly calling out Fox News for what it is: a propaganda network in which those on the tube and behind the camera are “acting not as journalists but as propagandists”.

Redistribution, Republican style

Dean Baker sets the record straight about the Republican’s alleged aversion to redistribution:

Matt O’Brien’s Wonkblog piece might have misled readers on Republicans views on the role of government. O’Brien argued that the reason that the Republicans have such a hard time designing a workable health care plan is:

“Republicans are philosophically opposed to redistribution, but health care is all about redistribution.”

This is completely untrue. Republicans push policies all the time that redistribute income upward. They are strong supporters of longer and stronger patent and copyright protection that make ordinary people pay more more for everything from prescription drugs and medical equipment to software and video games. They routinely support measures that limit competition in the financial industry (for example, trying to ban state run retirement plans) that will put more money in the pockets of the financial industry. And they support Federal Reserve Board policy that prevents people from getting jobs and pay increases, thereby redistributing income to employers and higher paid workers.

via Beat the Press

Dean often cites these examples of redistribution to the rich. He should think about adding the Republican support for privatization of public schools, which, in the end, is simply another scheme to funnel tax dollars into the hand of the rich. The fact that the end result will be a nation of poorly educated working class stiffs is a feature, and not a bug, from the Republican point of view.

Subtle passes for Trump

Donald Trump has often claimed that our NATO allies are not paying what the owe. Normally, the way he phrases what he says, he leaves the impression that they owe the money to the United States. I’ve often wondered what he is talking about, and have searched in vain for explanations in the newspaper articles that cover those speeches. The reporters neither take issue with his statements nor endorse it, but of course, by failing to enlighten their readers, they leave the impression that there is some truth in what Trump is saying. This, of course, would appear to be highly unlikely if you’re a seasoned Trump watcher, since pretty much everything that falls out of his mouth is a lie. A good example here in today’s Boston Globe, in which the reporter gamefully tries to make the case that Trump has been somewhat “presidential” on his trip, judging of course by the new Trump scale. (It might be nice to adopt a “what would we be saying if Obama had done this” frame of reference.)

Here’s what the Globe reported:

Trump’s rhetoric on NATO, a favorite punching bag during the campaign, was probably modified the least during the trip. In Brussels Thursday, he sternly lectured assembled alliance leaders.

“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump said, as many of them stood uncomfortably listening. The speech included a cutting remark about the gleaming building where he was giving his address.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful,” Trump said, of the building that cost $1.2 billion. His intent was plainly to contrast its splendor to the alliance’s parsimony on defense.

European observers had hoped for a more concrete commitment to the mutual defense clause at the center of the treaty — that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. Trump’s staff tried to assuage allies.

Which leaves the reader pondering. Is Trump right? If so, doesn’t he have a point? But if he’s wrong, precisely what is going on here?

Well, as one would expect, Trump has no point, as Josh Marshal points out:

There are two funding issues with NATO. A few years ago, NATO decided to require all member states to spend 2% of GDP on defense spending. The great majority of member states currently spend less than 2%. The ones who do meet that number are the US and a handful of states mainly on NATO’s eastern periphery. But they have until 2024 to reach that goal. So even on the terms of the agreement itself, they’re not behind.

But the key point is that these are not payments owed to the US. They are spending on each country’s own military. There are lots of reasons for that, not least of which is keeping the alliance a real alliance and not one superpower military along with other armies which are either so small or have such low readiness that they don’t add to the force the US can bring to bear on its own.

The relevant point is that that this is a relatively new agreement, which most of the key states are increasing spending to meet – though some faster than others. They’re not behind schedule. They have until 2024.

Separately there are direct contributions from each member state to NATO’s joint operations, costs of the specifically NATO activities etc. – a bit under $1.5 billion. The US pays by far the largest share of that. But that’s because the contributions are based on a formula that broadly tracks national wealth. The US pays 22%, Germany pays 14.6%, France 10.6%, Britain 9.84%. So it’s judged on the basis of ability to pay.

In any case, these are pretty piddling amounts in the big picture: the US direct cash contribution to NATO is 2 or 3 hundred million dollars a year. Trump himself should hit that number with Mar-a-Lago visits soon.

via Talking Points Memo

Would it be so hard for the print media to put a condensed version of this into their stories to, you know…, make sure their readers know the facts? We often hear people bemoaning the ignorance of the American people (e.g., most Americans think a huge percentage of our budget goes into foreign aid), but why is that ignorance surprising when those to whom we look to provide context rarely do so?