Archive for the ‘Republican knavery’ category

It’s Working. Let’s Work More

June 27, 2017

Following up today’s news on the delay in the Senate health care vote…

Keep calling, and don’t restrict yourself to your senators’ DC offices.  Each and every senator has several in-state offices. They’re populated mostly by actual staffers, not interns.  Real people answer the phones — and if the one nearest you doesn’t pick up, you can call on down the line till you find someone at home.  They’re often less crazed and more ready to listen, even to opposing views.

My own experience:  my wife’s family has a place in the Bath-Boothbay stretch of the Maine coast, and several family members who live up around the Penobscot Bay area.  So I used that as the base from which I called Senator Collins’ Portland office, the one she lists as serving the county in which my in-laws hang.  I told the nice lady who answered that I was grateful to the senator for coming out in opposition to the bill, that I agreed with her that it was bad for Maine, and that I was calling both to thank her and to emphasize that cosmetic changes to the bill won’t alter its underlying effects, which will still be bad for Maine.  We talked about this for five or ten minutes and it was an actual conversation.

How much effect will it have? Not that much. She knew I was only partly attached to Maine, so that’s a discount right there.  But at least it lets that office and perhaps the senator know that we’re paying attention, and that we will continue to do so.  And the fact that this was a conversation, an actual accumulation of reasons to worry about the bill matters quite a bit, I think.

So the moral of the story:  you don’t have to bash down the front door to reach someone who can reach closer to power.  There are back doors, listed (with phone numbers) on every senators’ web page.

Use them.

Image:  Gerrit Beneker Telephone Operator (A Weaver of Public Thought), 1921.

While Weasels Gnaw Our Flesh

June 18, 2017

Just a quick hit to remind everyone that while the criminal investigation of Trump and co. widens, they’re still pissing on us at every opportunity, and calling it rain.

So how’s this: it’s going to be legal again/stay OK for profit-making higher ed to rip off their students/protect the banksters:

The U.S. Department of Education is hitting pause on two of the Obama administration’s primary rules aimed at reining in for-profit colleges.

Department officials said they will block a rule, set to take effect next month, that clarifies how student borrowers can have their loans forgiven if they were defrauded or misled by their college. The plan was first reported by Inside Higher Ed Wednesday.

The Trump administration will pursue a do-over of the rule-making process that produced that regulation, known as borrower defense to repayment, as well as the gainful-employment rule. The latter holds vocational programs at all institutions and all programs at for-profits accountable when they produce graduates with burdensome student loan debt.

Given that college debt is one of the most iron-clad ways to crush upward mobility, this is another move by Trump and the grotesque DeVos to ensure that the current class structure in the United States remains intact.

Putting this in the long view:  the GI Bill, followed by the prioritization of public higher education in the 60s by leaders like Governor Pat Brown of California and Governor George Romney of Michigan, put first class advanced education and training within reach of an unprecedented amount of Americans.  The retreat from that ideal led by (mostly but not exclusively) Republican state governments, beginning with Reagan in California and then in the White House, have incrementally narrowed that opportunity.  Now, the combinatio of cost and constraints on access meant that the debt involved makes higher education as much or more a burden as it is the engine of a better life.

Today’s Republican party is just fine with that.  DeVos is not an outlier; this isn’t on Trump, or only on him.  The idea that higher ed (or education in general) is a business in which students are the product on whom to make a profit is utterly destructive of either a democratic ideal or any plausible concept of social justice.  And it is the core tenet of today’s radical conservatives calling themselves members of the Party of Lincoln.

One last thought:  I had dinner last week with a Democratic Party senior statesman.  He told me that in his view we’ve made the mistake of thinking better policies are argument enough for elections.  They’re not; we surely know that now, right?

Instead we have to convey something more, the framework in which specific good policies can work.  DeVos’ current obscenity gives us a hint as to what that might be. Republicans throw obstacles in the way of Americans making better lives.  Democrats are — and we should say so as loud as we can — the party of opportunity.

At least that’s my take.  I know it’s hardly original.  But whatever the particular frame you may favor, I think one of our biggest needs right now is to find a way to both describe and be (ever more) the party that can lay claim to affirmative allegiance, and not just the true fact that we are better than the other side.  Your feeling?

(Oh — and happy Father’s Day, all.  This thread should be open enough to tell us your plans, completed or still in prospect, for the day.  Mine? Pick up one of the rib-eyes on sale at Whole Paycheck today, and smoke it in the Weber egg.)

Image: Winslow Homer, The Country School 1871

Could He Spell “CAT” If You Spotted Him The “C” And The “A”?

May 23, 2017

As a follow up to Betty’s post below, I’d like to look at the other thing that bothered me about our Donald’s grotesque Yad Vashem/Mean Girls yearbook note.

Here’s Trump’s deathless prose:

It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing and will never forget!

Now remember what else we’ve heard about Fearless Leeder’s work reading habits:

President Trump is getting ready to embark on his first international trip later this week and officials have encouraged him to stay on script, despite him having trouble doing so in the past, briefing him with single-page memos as well as maps, charts, graphs, photos and have purposely included his name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,”

And add to that the fact that there is virtually no hint anywhere that the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon has ever read a book for pleasure, or ever will:

His meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.

No go back and read that note, a written work he had to produce himself, on the spot, inscribed by hand.*

Diagnosing at a distance is always a mug’s game, and I’m not going to do it here.  I’m not going to say that Donald Trump is functionally illiterate.

But I am going to say that nothing on the record rules that conclusion out, and his Yad Vashem embarrassment is the latest straw in the wind to suggest that Houston, we have a problem.

To get a sense of what it means to say an adult is functionally illiterate, I took a fast look at a report from 2002 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Please note, again, I’m not a literacy expert; I haven’t studied up on this issue; I’m just reacting to the sense that something was more than egregious in Trump’s note — it was off.  So take this next quote as representative of some sort of recent informed thinking about literacy, and not as the distilled essence of a body of knowledge to which your humble blogger makes no claim.

The NCES report bills itself as a “first look” at the National Adult Literacy Survey of about 25,000 Americans conducted several years before this write up.  To contextualize its findings, the report’s authors described the definitions of the five levels of literacy across three domains — prose, documents [as in, parsing forms], and quantitative operations.

So how did this survey categorize the two lowest tiers of literacy in the prose category:

Level 1: Most of the tasks in this level require the reader to read relatively short text to locate a single piece of information which is identical to or synonymous with the information given in the question or directive. If plausible but incorrect information is present in the text, it tends not to be located near the correct information.

Level 2: Tasks in this level require readers to perform single, relatively simple arithmetic operations, such as addition. The numbers to be used are provided and the arithmetic operation to be performed is specified. Some tasks in this level require readers to locate a single piece of information in the text; however, several distractors or plausible but incorrect pieces of information may be present, or low level inferences may be required. Other tasks require the reader to integrate two or more pieces of information or to compare and contrast easily identifiable information based on a criterion provided in the question or directive.

Again, I’m not going to say that Trump’s demonstrated reading skills match these brief, rather formal descriptions.  But that Yad Vashem note leaves me little confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the written word, whether he’s consuming or producing prose.  There’s no reference to the place he’s in.  There’s no response to the content of any exhibit or display he may have encountered.  There’s not a single detail.  It’s a rote response to a prompt: write something about your visit in our visitor book (or some such).

Those surveyed with weak or almost non-functional literacy skills found themselves confined to a narrowed life, or worse — the NCES analysis notes that “Nearly half (41 to 44 percent) of all adults in the lowest level on each literacy scale were living in poverty, compared with only 4 to 8 percent of those in the two highest proficiency levels.”  If Donald Trump had fallen victim to that kind of constraint, it would be appropriate to feel pity, and even anger on his behalf; surely as a society we should do anything we can to ensure that as near as possible to everyone masters the basic skills needed to make it through the day in 21st century America.

But, of course, Trump has never suffered as a result of his inadequacies.  He is instead, as much as it pains me to type it, President of the United States.  That’s a job in which much better than functional literacy is, basically, a requirement.  POTUS, after all, has a kind of broad brief, a lot of issues to cover.  Most of the background information most presidents have used to guide their thinking across the range of their duties comes in written form.  Obama, a well-documented avid reader, still used hours of reading at night to keep up.

Trump isn’t doing that. It doesn’t appear he could do that if he wanted to.  His mind appears to be a reflection of that fact — or rather, reading is a habit that trains the mind. If you can’t or won’t tackle a text more complicated than a one pager of bullet points with your name in most of them…then you can’t think at the level events in the world demand.

In other words…Trump can’t do the job he’s got.  Because he’ll still act with the powers of that position, that’s not good.

TL:DR — WASF…and we need to get this malicious reboot of Chauncey Gardner out of power as soon as possible.

Oh.  One last thought.  If I’m right, and Trump is as he appears to be, not cognitively up to his responsibilities, there are lots of people in his own party who’ve known this for a long time.  And yet, come last summer, all but a very few lined up behind him.  If he’s not fit for power, they aren’t either, not because they’re not smart, but because they fail as patriots.

/rant over

*To add: I found Trump’s performance reading his Islam speech to be a similar signal of problems with the written word.  It seemed halting, almost frightened, as if at any turn the ‘prompter would put up one of those SAT words to gnarly for his brain to process in time for his mouth to catch up. YMMV

Image: Boris Grigoriev, Woman Reading, c. 1922.

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

May 22, 2017

While we focus on the various obvious bathetic catastrophes (from blowing secrets to the Russians to the big man’s collapsing in a heap after a mere one day on the road) committed by the shitgibbon and his band of merry (but never gay — oh no! not that) men, it’s important to keep at least some attention on the rolling, very real damage the Trump administration wreaks on a daily basis.

I’m so far behind on a book project that I can’t really keep up, and I certainly can’t blog with anything remotely resembling depth and insight, so I’m going to try instead to throw up quick posts as various bits of policy news cross my magpie’s field of vision.

This morning’s treat comes via a Saturday story in FTFNYT.*  Under Scott Pruitt, it seems, the EPA has become the Captain Renault of environmental regulators: everything has its price, and the Captain is always eager to make a deal:

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon, in a letter dated Feb. 22 and obtained by The New York Times, said it was “re-evaluating its settlement posture.” It no longer intended to move ahead with the extensive emissions-control system, second-guessing the E.P.A.’s estimates on the size of the violation, and it was now willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation.

The administration’s response?

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article.

Want to bet on how it will turn out?

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

The Interior Department, meanwhile, announced this month that it would reconsider a separate rule limiting the burning of unwanted methane gas from wells drilled on federal and Indian lands, a process called flaring. That announcement came the same day the Senate narrowly rejected industry calls to repeal the same rule.

Interior officials have also announced their intention to repeal or revise a contentious rule requiring companies like Devon to take extra steps to prevent groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a drilling technique in which chemicals and water are forced into rock formations.

You get the idea. Pruitt has a history of working with Devon Energy; the administration has both a pro-extractive industry bias and powerful faction and the always reliable motive of f**king with anything that Obama accomplished.  Some of what the shitgibbon’s people aim to do can, no doubt, be delayed, obstructed, tied up.  Much, perhaps most will go through, at least over the next year or so, up until the pressures of the next election begin to bite.

So:  constant vigilance and trust no Republican. They’ll load up anything they can on anything they can, transferring public goods (clean air, clean water, anything not nailed down) to private hands.

Over to y’all.

*Publication of such stories  is why I continue to subscribe. Their political desk is…dodgy…but they still field more fine reporters than just about anywhere else I can think of. YM, as always, MV.

Image: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the Library of Congress, 1896.

Why I Hate The NY Times, Part [n]*

March 24, 2017

This paragraph:

There is most likely a middle way. Republican lawmakers might be comfortable with a system that shifts more of the costs of care onto people who are sick, if it makes the average insurance plan less costly for the healthy. But making those choices would mean engaging in very real trade-offs, less simple than their talking point.

“Republican lawmakers might be comfortable…”  Think of the assuptions not in evidence required to write that phrase.  Think also of the cluelessness in what comes next:  those who buy insurance are seen here in the Republican frame, as two binary populations, the healthy and the sick.

That would be  the “virtuous”  healthy paid less than the molly-coddled, feckless sick.  That the same people might occupy both identities at different points of their lives seems not to have occured to this Times writer, Margot Sanger-Katz — whom I’ve noted before has an odd willingness to couch her Upshot explainers in weighted and coded language.

As seems to be hers and several Times-folk’s penchant, much of the story from which I extracted above is perfectly fine, an actual explainer of what Essential Health Benefits do and why they’re important. She even notes that in a system without a required benefit package–

…the meaning of “health insurance” can start to become a little murky.

Well, yeah, as it doesn’t actually insure against unanticipated risks.  I’d take issue with the meekness of her critique here, that is, but at least she suggests to the fragile sensibilities of her tender readers that perhaps a minor problem might result here.

Which makes the passage I quoted up top both weird and revealing: cheap insurance for the healthy and soak-the-sick policies for those with the misfortune to suffer the ails that impinge on just about every human being, sometime or other is a pretty damn good example of a murky notion of health insurance.

That is: the habit of mind, the reflexive and seemingly unconscious acceptance of a right wing tropes that lead both to conclusions unsupported by the evidence and an inability to grasp what one has actually just said.  This happens a lot at The New York Times. Happened a lot there too, over the crucial months of 2016.  Which goes a long way, IMHO, to accounting for the predicament we’re in now.

*Where [n] is an arbitrarily large number.x

Image:  Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Christ Cleansing Ten Lepers, c. 1035-1040.

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

Unlimber That Gas Mask

March 4, 2017

Amidst all the attention grabbing stuff — you know, just a president accusing his predecessor of high crimes — the Trump administration proceeds with impressive consistency with moves designed to make the world worse, Americans sicker/poorer, and their inner circle enriched.

Next week, it’ll be the air-we-breathe’s turn:

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

I don’t want to go all-apocalyptic on this news, in part because I want to sleep more than four hours tonight, and more because there are some secular processes underway that reduce the impact of Trump’s and Republican willingness to destroy the climate and give Americans respiratory diseases — think the long-term losing market battle coal is waging against everything else, and the advances in transportation tech that will help mitigate the license to ill being granted the domestic auto industry. (I’d note that those car companies based in countries that do impose efficiency rules will now get an advantage over the big three that could very likely hit the domestic industry hard in a decade or less…rather like the way Japanese car companies were poised to take advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth in Detroit.)

But even with that rather meagre reed of hope, there’s no way to spin this as anything but craptastic news for both the global and every local environment.

Every act this administration takes; every law this congress takes is the fruit of a poisoned tree: an election manipulated by foreigners, and undermined by domestic law enforcement.  There’s no room for negotiation here.  Step one: 2018.

Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Gas masks for man and horse demonstrated by American soldierc. 1917-18