Thursday, January 19, 2017

While Preparing for the Coronation: The Competency Hearings



Some of the funniest* moments of the desperate last-moment preparations for the Demolition Derby administration:

1.  Rick Perry thought the job he is going to have was all about being a spokesman for American oil and gas industries:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.
In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

2.  Mr. Perry's qualifications for the job appear ever so slightly different from the last two energy secretaries:

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.
For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

3.  Scott Pruitt, Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  hadn't checked what a safe level of lead in drinking water might be:

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency said at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he didn’t know one of the most basic things about drinking water safety. 
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked Scott Pruitt if “there is any safe level of lead that can be taken into the human body.”
The answer is a simple “no,” but somehow Pruitt didn’t say that. 
“Senator, that is something I have not reviewed nor know about,” said Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma.  
“I would be very concerned about any level of lead going into the drinking water or obviously human consumption,” he continued, “but I’ve not looked at a scientific research on that.”

4.  Betsy deVos, Trump's nominee to run the Education Department is a funny choice to begin with, given that she has no training or background in education.  But there was also this from her confirmation hearings:

Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, asked DeVos about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees services to students with disabilities. It has been a federal law since 1990. Kaine asked if all schools should meet the requirements of the law.


"I think that is a matter that's best left to the states," DeVos said. 
Further questioning from Kaine seemed to reveal DeVos's lack of understanding about IDEA. Later, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Democrat from New Hampshire, asked more pointedly about DeVos's knowledge of IDEA. 

"So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?" Hassan asked.
"I may have confused it," DeVos said.

Oh, and Ms. deVos believes that  grizzly bears might be a valid reason to have guns in schools.

But the most important snippet to take home is that Ms. deVos refuses to rule out not funding public schools (which cater to 90% of all students).   That, of course is the Demolition part of the Derby.

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*Only in the sense that I'd rather not bawl my eyes out, and sarcasm is the healthiest of the alternative coping mechanisms.

Added later:  And then there is Tom Price, here grilled by Elizabeth Warren.




Friday, January 13, 2017

On The Killing of The ACA


The Republicans are gonna kill it dead!  Like slapping a fly and then wiping the corpse off into the garbage bin, and presto!  All is good.

The peons can have their Medical Savings Accounts!*  That means having to save for medical expenses, though from pre-tax income, so if you make, say, $30,000 a year you are going to be in deep shit, because you won't be able to scrape together enough to fund much anything in health care. (Did I ever tell you how much my broken arm ended up costing me and the system?)

If real people weren't going to die because of this right-wing fox trot (hot trot? the trots?), the whole thing would be pretty amusing.  Our Dear Leader-Elect demands (demands!) instant killing of the ACA and instant replacement by something or other. 

Except that there's no way such instant acts are feasible.  The Republicans don't have a ready-made alternative, and even if they did, to install it would take at least several months.  That Trump doesn't understand that is blood-chilling.

What will be the consequences of the killing of the ACA?** 

Here's my prediction:  We are going to have roughly twenty million people without health insurance, again.  And no, dear Republicans, they can't just go into the ER and get treated for nothing.  The ER doesn't do radiation treatments for cancer or follow-ups or anything but the stabilizing of patients.  Without money, that is.

And here's my prediction:  People are going to die who wouldn't have died without this wonderful killing operation, and many of those voted for Trump.

Sometimes I am very very slow.  It took me this long to realize that all the anti-Obamacare stuff comes from the fact that it raises the taxes of those who earn over $250,000 a year!  Everything else is created by right-wing propaganda***
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*  There will be other stuff, too, such as the freedom to buy health insurance across state borders which will make all the sellers move to the state with lowest required contents for the package and highest allowed premia, and high-risk pools which will be utterly inadequate, because so many people will be put into them (such as anyone with a pre-existing condition or anyone over fifty?).

But what will go away (slap the fly) are free preventive care, free birth control and, most importantly, those subsidies for lower income people.

** A ballad should be made out of that.  (Let me tell you the story of the ACA and those who wanted her dead....)

***  The markets have trouble and the premia have risen rapidly in some markets.  But the premia rose more rapidly before the ACA and will rise more rapidly again.  It's crucial to separate the general maladies of American health insurance from the specific problems of the ACA markets.

Do Not Normalize The Trump Administration: The Case Of Chuck Johnson, Twitter Troll Extraordinaire



Do any of you remember the famous Twitter troll, Chuck Johnson?  He was so bad by doxxing people* and by  telling his acolyte trolls to harass and threaten people that he was finally permanently banned by Twitter.  And that takes some doing.

Ah, I remember him well, and that's because many of his tweets were the most out-and-out woman-hating, black-hating, Jew-hating tweets I ever came across.  Sadly, I didn't screen-cap them.

Why would I regret that?  Well, now he is among the powers that rule over us!

Would you have believed, say, two years, ago, that the white male supremacists in 2017 will be advising the incoming president on who to appoint to his team?

But that's where we are:

Charles “Chuck” Johnson, a controversial blogger and conservative online personality, has been pushing for various political appointees to serve under Donald Trump, according to multiple sources close to the President-elect’s transition team. While Johnson does not have a formal position, FORBES has learned that he is working behind the scenes with members of the transition team’s executive committee, including billionaire Trump donor Peter Thiel, to recommend, vet and give something of a seal of approval to potential nominees from the so-called "alt-right." 
...
In the months leading up to the election, Johnson, 28, used social media and his website GotNews.com to stump for the President-elect while also publishing misinformation on Trump’s detractors. Now, Johnson is helping to pick some of the leaders who may run the country for the next four years.

I'm sure Trump will be the president for all Americans when he gets advice from the likes of Chuck Johnson.  To see what Johnson thinks of blacks and of Jews, check out this Southern Poverty Law Center article.  Be forewarned:  It's not pretty.

The morale of this post:  DO NOT NORMALIZE THE TRUMP ERA.  RESIST.

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* By publishing the names and addresses of all sorts of people on Twitter.  In several cases the individuals thus treated had to leave their homes because of the threats of violence they received.  In at least one, and possibly two cases, the names given belonged to individuals who had nothing to do with whatever Johnson was fuming about, but who were still harassed and threatened.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump Speaks. The Peons Listen.



Trump's press conference was unique!  It was the weirdest ever!  Watching it from another planet would have been beautiful, tremendous!

It was all those very big things, not just because of the incoherence of this aspiring American dictator, as Charlie Pierce so beautifully noticed, but also because  our Dear Leader-Elect said things like these:

And the admirals have been fantastic. The generals have been fantastic. I've really gotten to know them well. And we’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program and perhaps the F-18 program. And we’re going to get those costs way down, and we’re gonna get the plane to be even better and we’re going to have to some competition. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing.

So we been very, very much involved -- and other things. We had Jack Ma, we had so many incredible people coming here -- they’re going to do tremendous things, tremendous things in this country. And they're very excited

...

I look very much forward to the inauguration. It’s going to be a beautiful event. We have great talent, tremendous talent. And we have all of the bands -- or most of the bands from the different segments of the military. And I've heard some of these bands over the years -- they’re incredible. We’re going to have a very, very elegant day. The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special, very beautiful
And on being asked about the most recent (unsubstantiated!)*  report on his possible connections with Russia:

Ok, first of all, these meetings, as you know, are confidential, classified. So I'm not allowed to talk about what went on in a meeting. But we had many witnesses in that meeting. Many of them with us. And I will say again, I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It did not happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents they got together -- sick people -- and they put that crap together. 

I have bolded the terms which I find fascinating, coming from the mouth of a president-elect of one of the most powerful countries on earth.**  Notice something interesting about them?   Well, other than a president-elect saying "crap" in a presser.

They convey no actual information.  They are intended to affect emotions.

But the most astonishing part of our Dear Leader-Elect's first press conference was none of that.  It was this:

At his presser today, Donald Trump confirmed the very worst fears of ethics experts, announcing a new arrangement for his business holdings that is designed to garner nice headlines but is unlikely to do much to reduce the possibility of conflicts of interest and, possibly, full blown corruption.
Trump did nothing to address the central ethical problem he faces: He will not divest himself of his holdings, only transferring control of them to his two sons.

He is gonna run the country and his sons are gonna run his commercial empire.  They will never (never!) tell their dad which government moves would benefit their enterprises, no foreign dignitary will never (never!) try to gain favors from Trump by, say, giving extra help to Trump's firms in other countries.  Nope!  And should it happen, we won't know, because Trump refuses to release any information on his finances.

Finally, Trump's temper tantrums against the press should frighten all of us.  The National Press Club has this to say about Trump's use of the term "fake news" whenever something critical of him is written:

“It is dangerous and unhealthy to declare a news item as 'fake news' to distract from facts that you may not like or don't favor your perspective. Our incoming president must treat the news media as the vital cornerstone of our democracy that it is. To label something as 'fake' in an effort to undermine news outlets endangers the trust granted journalists by the public and is antithetical to our country's values.
  
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* As noted in the New York Times article about those two pages Buzzfeed published.  And noted.  And noted.  And noted.  On the other hand, watch this.

** I have demoted the US from the most powerful country on earth, largely because it is now a loose cannon.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Further Tales From the Demolition Derby Administration: Ethics and the GOP, Katy Talento and Sid Miller


The one we are going to have under Dear Leader-Elect.  Interesting developments came and went while I lay moaning in the arms of Mr. Influenza, but one of them is worth a backwards glance, though it took place in the Congress and not in the transitioning team of the Trump administration.

That was the Republicans' failed attempt to spay, neuter and geld the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent and bipartisan entity created in 2008 in the wake of certain ethics scandals, and to leave in its place a zombie version answerable to the GOP.

Trump opposed that plan, probably because it came too soon.  The country is not yet open to looting, and to so openly prepare for it is in bad taste.  Besides, it's Trump who decides about looting the government coffers, not your rank-and-file Republicans, though they naturally will get their dibs.  That's because a demolition derby administration destroys institutions, not the material aspects of those.  The latter can be carted home, assuming that there will be no viable ethics investigations.

Or that is the reading of many on that gelding attempt.  Given that, why did the Republicans think they would get away with it?  How bad are they as politicians?  Or are they playing some n-dimensional chess game where failing on this aspect of looting is intended to make some slightly less open move more invisible?

Never mind.  The Republicans will have plenty of time for looting, after the demolition vehicles ride over everything.

Trump has not forgotten us, the little ladies, either, so he appointed a female health care staffer, Katy Talento,  to his team!  She believes that birth control of the type women control: the IUD and the pill, causes miscarriages and later infertility.

Her appointment smells of Mike Pence to me, the Vice President-Elect who wants to see women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.  Access to female-controlled birth control must be made more difficult for that plan to succeed.

Finally,  Sid Miller, the Texas agricultural commissioner, might be heading for a similar job in the demolition derby administration.  His shtick is to eradicate waste in the National School Lunch program which provides poorer children free lunches.

I though the idea of reducing waste in cooking and storing food was a wonderful and environment-loving initiative, but, alas, that's not what Sid worries about.  He stays awake at night because some children whose parents aren't poor enough might be eating free, nutritious meals at the taxpayers' expense.*

If that name, Sid Miller, rings a faint but ominous bell in your ears, yes, this is the same man whose Twitter account sent out this tweet in early November:





 That must give him bonus points for the USDA job in the mind of our Dear Leader-Elect.

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*  Where I grew up, free and nutritious school lunches were provided for all children, irrespective of parental income.  The idea seems perfect to me:  It guarantees at least one well-balanced daily meal for every child, it can be used to teach children to eat together, to have good table manners, and it rescues zillions of parents from the task of having to prepare separate lunches every day.  Most importantly, putting good food into children is a fantastic investment for the future of us all.

There are economies to scale from such cooking, too, and so the overall cost (funded from taxes) could well be less than the total cost of the US type system.

That's why I'm not upset about "misuses" of the US system. 







Friday, January 06, 2017

A Postcard From the Land of Influenza


I bought a ticket (a flu vaccination) not to travel here, but this year it failed to work.

Try something fun:  Say "influenza" with the kind of stuffed sinuses (sini?) which produce extremely colorful moments in my sickness.  The result is something deeply erotic.

And this is also fun:  I haven't had a meal this year!

But I'm finally on the mend, and send this postcard only to let you know why the silence on the blog.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Forgotten Topic of the 2016 Elections. Or How Echidne Almost Got Gaslighted.


We hardly discuss one of the most interesting aspects of the  2016 US presidential elections:  That the long picture gallery of all American presidents remained hundred-percent male.  Neither do we discuss why so many of us, both women and men, failed to see anything wrong with that, even while some others celebrated  the Trump victory by open pussy-grabbing or its verbal equivalents.

Imagine some other demographic groups, more than half of all citizens, calmly accepting (1) that none of its members has ever governed the country, and is very unlikely to do so in the near future!  It's not possible, my friends, except when it comes to women.

But when it comes to women, the majority of Americans,  equal representation is not an important goal.  Rather, it's outdated identity politics, at best only of symbolic worth.  The strength of that message  is mind-boggling, unprecedented and unpresidented.



How did it come about?


I argue that it is the result of gaslighting, a term which the American linguistic left adopted from psychological literature, and then adapted to political speech, often to silence someone.  Gaslighting is

manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent to is sow seeds of doubt in the subject, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

My friends, we have been gaslighted, through denial, misdirection, contradiction, lying and more.  It is particularly easy to gaslight those who are prone to self-inspection, to careful scrutiny of their own ideas and to careful attention to how others criticize them.  Indeed, I have eagerly abetted my own gaslighting!

It took Mark Lilla's New York Times article "The End of Identity Liberalism," on the horrors that is identity politics inside the Democratic Party to drop the scales from my eyes. He wrote:

Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold.
Notice the gaslighting in the sentence I have bolded:  The story of, say, the first female president, ever, would be a lazy story.  If we pick from the terms of the quote which defines gaslighting, this would be misdirection.  Yet nobody would have stated that the story of, say,  the first black president in South Africa would have been a lazy story.  

Later, in an uplifting appeal, Lilla wrote about the values we all can share:

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.

That might qualify as a lie, using the list of terms which define gaslighting,  because pre-identity liberalism was identity liberalism of the type where Lilla's own group had all the power, and because most issues do not affect the vast majority of Americans in exactly the same way.

Take Trump's infrastructure improvement promises (which he might renege on, as is his wont):  Those jobs are not going to go to all American adults, in their population proportions, but overwhelmingly to men, because construction industries are almost completely male (2).

My heartfelt thanks to Mark Lilla.  He opened my eyes and then I directed them to all the other material which almost got me gaslighted into believing that it doesn't really matter if women hold political power on the highest levels.  The rest of this post addresses some of them.


Monday, December 26, 2016

After Christmas Reading


This is pretty good, on advice to future historians who wish to understand the reasons Donald Trump broke the world.  If he succeeds in that endeavor.

This is hilarious, and nothing to do with politics.  It's also fake news, but who wouldn't like to know how cats clear houses of ghosts?