Archive for the ‘Things that actually matter’ category

Reds Under The Bed

December 10, 2016

The non-revelation that Vladimir Putin actively tried to select the next US President — and succeeded — has been pretty well covered by now.  I just want to add one question that’s been bugging me all day:

What did the Trump campaign do, and when did they do it?

We do know a few things.  Michael Flynn was both a national security advisor to the Trump campaign and has ties to the Russian propaganda apparatus.  Former Trump campaign head Paul Manafort has worked for Russia and allied states, and has a rich, long-held trove of contacts with the state apparatus there.  Donald Trump himself famously asked Putin to hack Hillary’s emails.  I’m sure if we had the same access to Trump’s, his campaign’s and the RNC’s communications that we had to Hillary’s and her team’s, we could well have some very interesting reading.

Short of that, it seems a basic question to ask of the Trump circle.  Did any of them conspire with a foreign power to manipulate (steal) the election?

The fundamental crisis we face, of course, is that a foreign power fucked with our election, which ended in the result sought by an adversary.  But while that’s the obvious disaster,  it gets worse if the Russians had active co-conspirators within the Trump camp.  That moves them from illegitimate, to traitors.

513px-giotto-kissofjudas

That may seem a stretch — but given the extremely well documented Russian connections that obtained in the Trump campaign through the crucial months of the general election, it’s seems to me that it’s imperative we get real answers as to who did what to whom over here.  This is where I hope Marty Barron has his people working (I’ve given up on Dean Baquet).  And I hope there are folks at the CIA pissed off enough to help out.

Whoever does it, this really is a time that puts the idea of the elite press to the test.  Either they cover Trump and all his high crimes and misdemeanors, or they give up, and the American experiment lurches to its increasingly imminent collapse.

I live not in expectation, but in hope.*

*Hope is the thing with feathers. The one Dick Cheney kept trying to shoot out of the sky.

Image: Giotto, The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas)betw. 1306 and 1308.

If You Don’t Know Who The Patsy At The Table Is, Dear Trumpkins…

November 28, 2016

...it’s you:

Again and again, President-elect Donald Trump presented himself as the coal miners’ candidate. During the campaign, he promised to bring coal back into the economy, and jobs back into struggling Appalachian towns.

But now some in coal country are worried that instead of helping, Trump’s first actions will deprive miners — and their widows and children — of the compensation they can receive if they are disabled by respiratory problems linked to breathing coal mine dust.

That’s because buried in the Affordable Care Act are three sentences that made it much easier to access these benefits. If Trump repeals Obamacare — as he vowed to do before the election — and does not keep that section on the books, the miners will be back to where they were in 2009, when it was exceedingly difficult to be awarded compensation for “black lung” disease.

coal_mining_18th_c

This is by no means a done deal, given that at least some coal-country legislators (Joe Manchin, for one) have declared their support for retaining this in whatever comes out of the health care catastrophe the GOP is determined to commit.  But McConnell is, as usual, mum on the matter, and if I were a coal mining family depending on the pittance they do get (top payment for a miner with three dependents: $1,289/month), I’d be getting ready not for hard times — they’re already here — but worse.

update — obligatory post soundtrack:

The key change the ACA implemented in black lung cases was to shift the burden of proof: instead of a miner having to prove that the work caused the disease, under the new rules,

If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise.

This wasn’t a case of free money all around. As reporter Eric Boodman writes,  “In 2009, 19 percent of claims for black lung benefits were successful; in 2015, that percentage had jumped to 28.” That’s a big jump — but hardly evidence that the black lung compensation process is a wild government grab of beleaguered coal company assets.

Those companies hate the rule, with a spokesman telling Boodman that it’s created “a supplemental pension program” rather than the compensation for occupational disease, which is as fine a bit of high priced turd polishing as I’ve seen in a while.

TL:DR?  Think of this as Mencken’s rule in action:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Trump voters in coal country — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky — were promised their country back.

What will they receive?

The shaft, deeper and darker than any hole miners have dug in the hunt for what will continue to kill them where they stand.

Image: Léonard Defrance, Coal Mining, before 1805.

The Siberian Candidate

July 28, 2016

The Trump story of the morning appears to be a clumsy attempt to walk back yesterday’s folly/treason.  The ferret-headed Benedict Arnold now says he was just kidding.

In the reality-based universe this looks ridiculous, a twelve year old bully’s gambit to duck out of trouble when his mouth makes a promise the rest of him can’t back up.

In a political world described to the electorate but a media community that is either complicit (Fox, et al.) or cowed into ineffectuality (at best), it’s at least a solid move by Trump, and maybe more so.  He gets two main benefits out of what should be a candidacy-killing blunder.

The first is a refocusing of attention onto the Hillary email story, never mind that the actual hack — and the evil thereof –was not on Clinton’s server but was instead an attack against one of America’s two major political parties.  To all those — I spoke to one yesterday — who see Hillary as guilty, guilty, guilty, any means necessary to bring her down is just fine, and this story helps fuel that hunger while reminding everyone, yet again, that Hillary is the worst ever traitor/murderess/spy/arglebarglegabblegibberish….

The second, and even more potent benefit to Trump is the distraction his invocation of Russian spycraft offers the media.  This is classic misdirection. Focus on the more sensational, but ultimately off-the-point element of a story instead of the meat of the matter.

That would be, of course, how Trump has already, and will likely continue to pay off on Putin’s investment in his sorry ass.  Josh Marshall wrote an elegant bill of indictment a week ago, and Adam L. Silverman has gone into some detail on the extraordinary damage Trump is wreaking on more than a half a century of American geopolitics.

To do the TL:DR — Trump increasingly depends on Russian money as more and more of the major players in the western financial system have learned to their sorrow that he’s a litigious deadbeat.  That means that Trump doesn’t have to be a witting agent of the Kremlin; he’s already been bought and paid for (and, as Adam has noted, he’s long curried favor with/genuinely supported Russian authoritarians).

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._28_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_12._Judas'_Betrayal_-_WGA09213

You can see how much vig he’s paid already:  threats to NATO and other allies, the signals he’s sending on Putin’s ambitions in the Baltic, Chamberlain-esque appeasement in his seeming willingness to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, explicit changes the GOP position on Ukraine in an unequivocal shift towards the Kremlin line.

Does Trump believe in any of that, independently of a Russian handler? Who knows and who cares.  The threat Trump’s Russian connections poses to US and world security exist whether or not he’s a dupe, a useful idiot, a debtor, or (easily the least likely, IMHO) an actual witting asset of the FSB.  The real story lies in two strands and two only.  First:  follow the money.  What does Trump owe to whom? Where does/can he lay his hands on cash these days?

Second:  look at what Trump has done and proposes to do.  Not the conditional BS — how great it would be if Putin hacked HIllary.  The real stuff, the weakening of the western alliance, down-the-line support for Kremlin actions and arguments.

This is a test of our political media, one I’m afraid is already being flubbed.  Trump is a good — no, a great — three card monte player.  The patter conceals the real action.

This is how a Siberian Candidate gets the job done.

For our part, it’s a matter of keeping the story alive as much as we can in every venue we can: calling representatives, hitting social media, writing letters to the editor, and above all, talking to voters who need help seeing what’s at stake in this election.

Image:  Giotto di Bondone, Judas Receiving Payment For His Betrayalbetween 1304 and 1306.

Trump’s Supreme Court

May 18, 2016

William_Hogarth_004

Here’s the list of potential Trump nominees,:

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has released a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he’s elected to the White House.

Trump’s picks include Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado and Raymond Gruender of Missouri.

Also on the list are: Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas. Trump had previously named Pryor and Sykes as examples of kind of justices he would choose.

Reading through the TPM comments on the post there on this subject, it seems like we’ve got some cherce* ones here.

Any of our legal types care to chime in?

*Cherce.

Image:  William Hogarth, The Court c. 1758.   I know that I’ve used this before.  But it’s just perfect whenever the topic of GOP jurisprudencerecklessness comes up.

They Are Who We Thought They Were, Part Deux

May 16, 2016

The CIA really, really doesn’t want us to know just how badly it can f**k up:

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

Das_Geheimnis_-_Le_secret

Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident. [Via the esteemable Charles Pierce.]

As the aforementioned Mr. Pierce writes

A democracy cannot survive if its people believe they are being played for marks. It can survive for even less time if they turn out to have been right.

Shitty cops are bad enough.  Shitty secret police…

Feh.

Image: Felix Nussbaum, The Secret, 1939

How’s This For A Solution For Mass Incarceration?

April 26, 2016

Pay folks decently?

Here’s a new report that concludes, as The Washington Post reports, that:

..raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour could prevent as many as half a million crimes annually, according to a new report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, a group of economists and researchers charged with providing the president with analysis and advice on economic questions. (h/t Washington Monthly)

On the other hand:

…spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration — a massive increase — would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent, according to the report.

William_Hogarth_018

More (and, dear FSM, better) police would help too, the report suggests.  Here’s a fact I didn’t know:

Research consistently shows that departments with more manpower and technology do a better job of protecting the public, and the United States has 35 percent fewer officers relative to the population than do other countries on average….

Spending an additional $10 billion to expand police forces could reduce crime by as much as 16 percent, they project, preventing 1.5 million crimes a year.

Ultimately, the point being made through the data is that locking lots of folks up is — my gloss here — the mark of prior failures.  Or, if you’ve got the Obama gift for seeing the policy opportunity as well as the yawning need, you’d look at it this way:

In the report, the CEA argues for a broader analysis of the problems of crime and incarceration, touching on subjects that seem unrelated to criminal justice, such as early childhood education and health care. The authors of the report contend that by helping people get by legally, those other elements of the president’s agenda would be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration.

Ya think?

Image: William Hogarth, Prison Scene from A Rake’s Progress, 1732-35

Roberts, Race and Physics

December 23, 2015

I’ve been stewing for a couple of weeks about what was said by Fat Tony and Chief Justice Roberts during oral arguments on Fisher v. University of Texas, the latest attack on affirmative action.

Scalia’s hankering after the good old jurisprudence of Plessey v. Ferguson receive much notice, but I was (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my day job) at least as troubled by Roberts’ musing on the importance of diversity to a physics classroom.

Much of Roberts’ train of thought was no doubt shaped by prior jurisprudence on the criteria by which preferences could be accepted, but his specific choice of the physics classroom as a presumed space in which diversity would not show a particular benefit to the assembled students seemed to me to reflect a common and pernicious mistake, and error about both the practice of science and the ways diversity actually produces its effects.

So I wrote about it — and The Atlantic put it up on their site today.  Here’s a taste:

Roberts’s question about the “benefits” minorities might bring into a physics classroom suggests a classroom in which nothing outside physics may usefully impinge. That is, at best, a fatally narrow view. Roberts is thinking only about the answers, not the process of arriving at them. Actually doing science involves everything about the person doing the work—as, for example, the way Einstein turned his anger and pity for his father, a casualty of the rat race, into the goad that led him to so much of modern physics.

The piece turns on two stories: that told by Einstein in what he called “Notes for an Autobiography” and another, by the physicist Kaća Bradonjić, whose history I learned last week at a Story Collider performance.  She talked about childhood, war, exile and general relativity — and it was both wonderful, and the crystallizing narrative that captured, for me, the difference between thinking about physics (any inquiry) as a body of results, and physics (any inquiry) as it’s being done, contingent in time, space, and the individual minds and lives of the people doing it.

Wright_of_Derby,_The_Orrery

Anyway — y’all might enjoy, and if you’re interested, now you know where to go.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, The Orrery, c. 1766

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