Archive for the ‘Trump Crime Syndicate’ category

Lest We Forget (End of the American Century Update)

July 28, 2017

One thing’s for sure: whatever fresh hell the Trump White House offers up each day, one community in our great society has to be unbelievably grateful.  Scaramucci is just the latest gift to surpass understanding delivered w. a sMooch* by an administration whose signature accomplishment seems to be The Late Night Comedian Full Employment Act of 2017.

See, e.g., exhibit A, Stephen Colbert:


Here’s the thing, though.  For all our (my) attempts to remember what actual ordinary politics were like, it’s hard to keep up with the massive fail that lies behind so much wonderfully immolating wit.

The Mooch isn’t just a Master of the Universe about to discover that presidential-level politics is not the same as the rigged casino from which he came.  He is the communications director, ultimately the outward facing representative of executive power in the United States.  In Beijing news studios last night, some poor folks had to figure out how to express the essence of Scaramucci’s autofellatio image to a Chinese public trying to make sense of the state of affairs across the Pacific.  In Berlin, government officials are (I’ll bet) as I type attempting to figure out who remains in DC to talk to, when a one week administration veteran seeks to bring down the FBI on the President’s chief of staff.

All of which is to say that this is so far from normal you couldn’t see ordinary DC politics from where we now find ourselves with a fully functional James Webb Space Telescope.  Scaramucci’s hilarious, awful, unspeakably revealing rant is indeed funny as hell.  It’s also the mark of an American government that cannot represent American interests in the world.  We’ve traded actual engagement with the day to day business of running the most powerful country in the world for an extended Game of Thrones cosplay fantasy.

This is how empires fall:  a surface wave of bathos obscuring the deep, ongoing, and never normal tide of malice, incompetence and chaos.

On the upside, my son and I have tickets to see Colbert live next month.  That should be fun.

*See what I did there?

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.

Must Have Been The Brown Acid…

May 12, 2017

…the flashbacks seem so real.

At 8:32 this morning, the usurper occupying the Oval Office tweeted this:

I have several reactions.

First, this:

(For all you kids out there, that’s Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, demonstrating how she managed to “accidentally” create an eighteen minute gap in the Oval Office tapes, perfectly placed to eliminate some very interesting discussion of Watergate matters.)*

Second: A question for the legal minds here:  Bob Bauer has an interesting piece over at the Lawfare Blog assessing where Trump has reached on the obstruction of justice spectrum, clearly written before the shitgibbon released the tweet at the top of this post.  He argues (as I, a non-lawyer, read him) that there is an emerging fact pattern consistent with obstruction, but further focused inquiry would be needed to generate an actual case.  So, does this new tweet, explicitly threatening a potential witness in such an obstruction, advance the argument that the president is engaged in an actual, legally-jeopardizing attempt at obstruction?

Third: “Subpoena” has such a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it.  I shouldn’t still be surprised, but I am: how dumb do you have to be to announce the possibility of evidence that one had no prior reason to suspect might exist?  This tweet from Garry Kasparov is so spot on:

And with that, it’s back to the 18th century for me! (Isaac Newton, musing on the virtues of government debt…)  Have at it, y’all.

*Ancient tech nerd that I am, I am totally grooving on the IBM Selectric there. What fabulous machines…

The Great Vote Fraud Data Mistake…A Cautionary Tale

May 11, 2017

Just in time for the latest, greatest Shitgibbon pursuit of all those not-good-people who got to vote for his opponent, Maggie Koerth-Baker brings the hammer down.  She’s written an excellent long-read over at Five Thirty Eight on what went wrong in the ur-paper that has fed the right wing fantasy that a gazillion undocumented brown people threw the election to the popular-vote winner, but somehow failed to actually turn the result.

The nub of the problem lies with a common error in data-driven research, a failure to come to grips with the statistical properties — the weaknesses — of the underlying sample or set.  As Koerth-Baker emphasizes this is both hardly unusual, and usually not quite as consequential as it was when and undergraduate, working with her professor, used  found that, apparently, large numbers of non-citizens 14% of them — were registered to vote.

There was nothing wrong the calculations they used on the raw numbers in their data set — drawn from a large survey of voters called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The problem, though, was that they failed fully to handle the implications of the fact that the people they were interested in, non-citizens, were too small a fraction of the total sample to eliminate the impact of what are called measurement errors. Koerth-Baker writes:

Non-citizens who vote represent a tiny subpopulation of both non-citizens in general and of the larger community of American voters. Studying them means zeroing in on a very small percentage of a much larger sample. That massive imbalance in sample size makes it easier for something called measurement error to contaminate the data. Measurement error is simple: It’s what happens when people answer a survey or a poll incorrectly.1 If you’ve ever checked the wrong box on a form, you know how easy it can be to screw this stuff up. Scientists are certainly aware this happens. And they know that, most of the time, those errors aren’t big enough to have much impact on the outcome of a study. But what constitutes “big enough” will change when you’re focusing on a small segment of a bigger group. Suddenly, a few wrongly placed check marks that would otherwise be no big deal can matter a lot.

This is what critics of the original paper say happened to the claim that non-citizens are voting in election-shaping numbers:

Of the 32,800 people surveyed by CCES in 2008 and the 55,400 surveyed in 2010, 339 people and 489 people, respectively, identified themselves as non-citizens.2 Of those, Chattha found 38 people in 2008 who either reported voting or who could be verified through other sources as having voted. In 2010, there were just 13 of these people, all self-reported. It was a very small sample within a much, much larger one. If some of those people were misclassified, the results would run into trouble fast. Chattha and Richman tried to account for the measurement error on its own, but, like the rest of their field, they weren’t prepared for the way imbalanced sample ratios could make those errors more powerful. Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner, the Harvard and University of Massachusetts Amherst professors who manage the CCES, would later say Chattha and Richman underestimated the importance of measurement error — and that mistake would challenge the validity of the paper.

Koerth-Baker argues that Chatta (the undergraduate) and Richman, the authors of the original paper are not really to blame for what came next — the appropriation of this result as a partisan weapon in the voter-suppression wars.  She writes, likely correctly in my view, that political science and related fields are more prone to problems of methodology, and especially in handling the relatively  new (to these disciplines) pitfalls of big, or even medium-data research. The piece goes on to look at how and why this kind of not-great research can have such potent political impact, long after professionals within the field have recognized problems and moved on.  A sample of that analysis:

This isn’t the only time a single problematic research paper has had this kind of public afterlife, shambling about the internet and political talk shows long after its authors have tried to correct a public misinterpretation and its critics would have preferred it peacefully buried altogether. Even retracted papers — research effectively unpublished because of egregious mistakes, misconduct or major inaccuracies — sometimes continue to spread through the public consciousness, creating believers who use them to influence others and drive political discussion, said Daren Brabham, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who studies the interactions between online communities, media and policymaking. “It’s something scientists know,” he said, “but we don’t really talk about.”

These papers — I think of them as “zombie research” — can lead people to believe things that aren’t true, or, at least, that don’t line up with the preponderance of scientific evidence. When that happens — either because someone stumbled across a paper that felt deeply true and created a belief, or because someone went looking for a paper that would back up beliefs they already had — the undead are hard to kill.

There’s lots more at the link.  Highly recommended.  At the least, it will arm you for battle w. Facebook natterers screaming about non-existent voter fraud “emergency.”

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election: The Polling, 1754-55

This Is How Republicans Are Going To Get People Killed

February 16, 2017

This happened:

A hearing in El Paso County in Texas went from ordinary to “unprecedented” last week when half a dozen Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at a courthouse where an undocumented woman was seeking a protective order against the boyfriend she accused of abusing her.

The woman, a citizen of Mexico who was living in El Paso had been driven to the courthouse by a victim’s advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse where she had been living.

She left under arrest.

This is a disgrace, and an incredibly dangerous one.

Most obviously: anyone w/out documents facing a threat from their partner, former or present, has just been told that the legal system, cops, anyone, are no longer available to them. They’re on their own. They’ve got a target on them, as their abusers now know that they can act without fear of official action.

Some of them will die. One third of the murders of women in the US are committed by an intimate partner.

640px-a_very_bad_man_-_ephraim_kingsbury_avery

Increasing the pressure to stay in an abusive relationship tees up more victims. Making it harder — or impossible — to seek official help locks people in danger.

The chilling effect extends beyond the home. If reporting a crime puts you in contact with officialdom; if agreeing to testify does so…and so on. You get the idea. The risks of trying to engage public safety resources have just shot up for immigrant and minority communities — from an already no-fun base.

ICE, Trump, and the Republican party: accessories before the fact to harm, murder and misery.

Every day, down every avenue, these folks have got to named, shamed, and fought.

Image: Unknown artist, A Very Bad Man — on the trial of Ephraim K. Avery for the murder of Sarah Maria Cornell. 1833.

Odds and Ends

December 21, 2016

Consider this a proof-of-life post.  I went into a renewed Trump slough of despond a few days ago and am only now crawling out.  My reaction these last several days is summed up by this, fresh from my son’s vault of amusing internet clutter:

I’m climbing out of my funk in a couple of ways:  for one, by forcing myself to focus on work (and disconnect, insofar as I can, from Twitter).  Turns out that a deep dive into the story of Edmond “Comet” Halley as the father of life insurance does wonders for the mood.

Then there’s the promise of action.  My spouse is not letting up, and she’s making sure I’m going to march and all that.  The mood’s grim around here, but not abject.  I count that a win.

Then there’s all of you who read this.  Your company is  a light against the darkness.

And, though I may be a hopeless optimist on this one, I think the press is getting just a little better.  Not enough, yet, but the combination of obvious corruption, the overwhelming evidence of a tampered election, and the terror many are beginning to feel as the sheer slapdash incompetence of the Trump junta becomes ever more obvious has woken at least a few in the elite press.  Relentless pressure on social media, letters to the editor and so on will help.  That’s something the less crowd-loving among us (me!) can do, pajama-clad, in our basements.

And when all else fails, there’s the absurdity of it all.  That doesn’t make it better, of course, but it does give us something to gawp and cackle at.  Exhibit A?  This insight from the physician who attested to the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon’s Yuuuuuugely perfect health:

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

They. Can. Just. Keep. On. Dying.

That’s the perspective I seek in my medical professionals…

BTW — check out this gem from the good doctor:

“It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president, not for a second,” Bornstein, 69, said in his Upper East Side office of the 70-year-old Trump. He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

Reassured yet?

Last, because I love you, and I couldn’t resist this when I saw the shot, how about this edition of….

SEPARATED AT BIRTH

and…

Kitten Tikka Masala is unamused by Trump, and doesn’t care who knows it.

Thread, this one, open it is.

Image:  Yousuf Karsh, portrait of Winston Churchill, December 30, 1941.

The Trickster God Is Toying With Us

December 12, 2016

There really can’t be any further doubt:

On Friday night, Mr. Trump’s transition team insulted the American intelligence community by saying that officers had misrepresented the threat of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the Iraq War, meaning that they should not be trusted with their conclusion of Russian meddling in the presidential election.

In a new twist, Mr. Trump will meet on Monday with Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, to discuss the job of director of national intelligence, a senior transition official said. [h/t TPM]

The sound you hear is every H-P veteran shrieking in shock and despair.  This is screaming-of-the-lambs scale horror, Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn madness.

cthulhu_sketch_by_lovecraft

Fiorina’s picture is in the dictionary next to “Fail Upward.”

To speak the obvious: she has, as far as I know, exactly zero professional intelligence training, and nothing in her work (or, for the last several years, unemployment) record suggests she’s mastered what you’d want America’s eyes on the secret world to possess.  There’s no way to justify appointing Fiorina to this position unless you take Trump at his word and believe that he believes there’s simply no reason to bother with anything so frivolous as data, information, or knowledge of the world, our friends and adversaries alike.

Coyote is laughing…but at least this gives us all an excuse to revisit this old favorite:

Image: H. P. Lovecraft, Cthulu sketch1934