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erronis's Journal
erronis's Journal
December 25, 2018

Rebecca Solnit: The Trump era won't last for ever. But we must do our part to end it


A hopeful piece to wish in the New Year.

I see the rage all around me, but painful emotions can coexist with activism – and millions of Americans are stepping up


I keep the newspaper clipping inside a Milan Kundera novel: it shows demonstrators in Prague in 1989, one of them carrying a badly chipped bust of Stalin around whose neck hangs a placard that says nic netrvá věčně: nothing lasts forever. It’s not a war cry, nor a prophesy, but a bald statement of fact at the moment when the Soviet bloc Stalin had been critical in establishing was falling apart and Czechoslovakia was liberating itself.

It must have seemed like forever to those who lived under totalitarianism until all of a sudden “forever” crashed and burned. People worked to make it so at terrible risk; some were imprisoned, or otherwise punished. Some died. They worked without knowledge of how and when their efforts might matter, and the faith that drove those activists is still stunning to contemplate. I think of that history when I think of our present predicament in the United States.
The latest major Trump resignations and firings
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I know a lot of us have rage fatigue and moral exhaustion from a little over a year and a half of the hell of Donald Trump’s ascendancy. I know that seeing the vulnerable crushed, and the sabotage of the things that we fought for from reproductive rights to climate policies, and in particular the recent efforts to destroy small children weighs on most of us. I see and hear the dismay all around me at what is happening to this country, but dismay and devastation are emotions, and painful emotions can coexist with active strategies. Active strategies may be the best response to those emotions, not to take care of oneself but to forget oneself in responding to the larger crises. Slaves were devastated by slavery; Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were not felled by that devastation but driven to act by it, and they did not confuse their devastation for despair. Americans like quick results and predictable outcomes, and in pursuit of those things squeeze out room for the unknown and the unknowable. Despair is an analysis of sorts, a conclusion that nothing can be done; it is usually premature.

A year ago it did not seem likely that Mexico would elect a left-wing president and sweep into power hundreds of progressive candidates, many of them women, but that happened on the first day of this month; with that clean sweep the country may have rewritten what for many years seemed to be a grim destiny. Most countries on earth have survived nightmare regimes: South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Argentina come to mind. They ended for many reasons, but they ended in part because people did not regard the regime’s power as infinite, eternal, inevitable; they resisted even when resistance was dangerous and victory seemed impossibly remote.

We are not in such an era, though many fear we are close. Some among us are losing their rights—ICE is going after naturalized citizens and the atmosphere of intolerance is encouraging a terrible rise in hate crimes and harrassment nationwide. At this point each week seems bleaker than the ones before, and a great many people worry that we are gradually adjusting to a loss of rights and rule of law. But there are two forces at work now. There’s that of Trump, who won a minority victory in a corrupted election and works to represent the wishes and feed the rages of a minority of Americans, the authoritarians, racists, and misogynists.


The Trump era will not last forever. How it will end we do not know, because how and when it ends is in part in our hands. Waiting for it to end is not a strategy. Working for it to end is, and in the meantime preserving what we can of the rule of law, the rights of everyone in this country whatever their immigration status, the environment, the institutions that benefit us from public schools to scientific projects. And more than protecting what we had, building what we lacked: I believe Trump came to power because people were indifferent and inattentive.

Quite a lot of people are now neither. If they were dozing, they are now wide-awake; if they were indifferent, they are now passionately engaged. In organizing, in working on electoral campaigns, in standing up for what they believe in. Millions of people have found that justice and truth and human rights are key to their own lives, even when they themselves are not directly menaced; millions have found that they care passionately about public life and public institutions; millions have stood up to make this an era that is truly unprecedented in the level of activism, in both sheer numbers and in the geographical scope of this engagement, from small towns in all fifty states to major cities. People are ready. They are ready for someone, something, to pull the alarm so that they can step it up. They are where my hope resides now.
December 19, 2018

Judge Sullivan Was Prepared For Potential Flynn Perjury and Fraud On The Court


I don't know about how everyone else feels, but to me this blog is an incredible resource and timeline of all the criminality and corruption, in the US and around the world.

Okay, that was quite a morning at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in DC in regard to the Flynn plea and sentencing. In the windup this morning, well before the proceeding began, I cautioned that Flynn and his attorney Rob Kelner would have to back off the right wing Fox News Trumpian nonsense they stupidly included in their sentencing memo. See this report from Marcy on the sentencing memo, and this one as to how the FBI 302’s the Flynn team stupidly demanded be made public ate them alive. And, they really did.

There is already simply a ton of discussion on the Flynn proceeding today, I will leave that to others. But there was one little nugget I say from, I think, Glenn Kirshner, as almost a throwaway comment, on MSNBC that Judge Sullivan insisted Mike Flynn be sworn in before proceeding today. I was not really ready to write about this until confirming it from others in the courtroom this morning. I have now received that corroboration from multiple sources. In fact, Judge Sullivan directly said he was doing so because “he was doing basically an extension of the plea colloquy”. Wow!!

What Judge Sullivan effectively did was set the first real “perjury trap” to date in the greater Mueller investigation (despite the idiocy purveyed relentlessly on Fox News and by Rudy Giuliani). And it was a federal court and judge that did it, not Mueller or his deputies. Emmet Sullivan was loaded for bear today on multiple fronts, but this is one the media does not seem to have caught on to yet.

December 19, 2018

What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency - The Atlantic


(My emphases/bold)

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump reached deep into his arsenal to try to deliver votes to Republicans.

Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”

These measures failed to carry the day, and Trump will likely conclude that they were too timid. How much further might he go in 2020, when his own name is on the ballot—or sooner than that, if he’s facing impeachment by a House under Democratic control?

More is at stake here than the outcome of one or even two elections. Trump has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited presidential power and democratic rule. During his 2016 campaign, he praised murderous dictators. He declared that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be in jail if he were president, goading crowds into frenzied chants of “Lock her up.” He hinted that he might not accept an electoral loss. As democracies around the world slide into autocracy, and nationalism and antidemocratic sentiment are on vivid display among segments of the American populace, Trump’s evident hostility to key elements of liberal democracy cannot be dismissed as mere bluster.
The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority.

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

It seems likely that this is part of his playbook (how do you say that in russian?)
December 18, 2018

Guardian: A torrent of ghastly revelations: what military service taught me about America


Excellent reflection on the author's changing attitudes.

My first and only war tour took place in Afghanistan in 2010. I was a US Marine lieutenant then, a signals intelligence officer tasked with leading a platoon-size element of 80 to 90 men, spread across an area of operations the size of my home state of Connecticut, in the interception and exploitation of enemy communications. That was the official job description, anyway. The year-long reality consisted of a tangle of rearguard management and frontline supervision.

f boot camp had given me a keen awareness of my country’s violence and the overcompensating sentiment that went with it, my experience in school at Twentynine Palms took longer to register. For a while, all I retained was unrelated impressions: a sulphuric stench that would come with the rain, something of which, years later, I would get a second whiff during the wet sand season in Afghanistan, or the sight of meth-heads and tweakers (that’s what we called them) on the public bus I’d take to Walmart where I’d buy items like cheap portable irons or rechargeable Bluetooth headphones. They were alive with death, and their deathliness had an aggression to it, one that burned with a spirited rage.

It is exhausting having to declaim the same talking points over and over again: that the majority of the US official adversaries were once clients and allies. That almost every intervention comes with an ex post facto assessment from the government acknowledging the failure of the mission. That investigative reporters and historians almost always unearth internal documents betraying motives that not only run counter to public rationales but undermine all claims to humanitarian intent. That the US supplies the world with a preponderance of its weapons and fuels a plurality of its animosities. That the US is the only power to have ever dropped the bomb, that it did so twice, and that it did so not to end a world war (a war that was about to end anyway) but to launch what became a half-century-long cold war on superior footing. While not alone as a global malefactor, the US is the world leader in conventional foreign invasions since 1945, with 12; has engineered at least 38 coups or regime changes since the Spanish-American war of 1898; and has offered direct military support and training to dozens of governments with no regard for human rights. The US incarcerates the most people today, both in absolute and relative terms. It has incarcerated the most people for at least 30-odd years, and it either led the world in its incarceration rate or trailed closely behind the Soviet Union and South Africa for the preceding decades. As early as 1976, one study described America’s rate as the “highest in the world and still rising”. By any standard, the US empire ranks among the world’s most formidable producers of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to defend such all-consuming production on liberal democratic grounds.

En route to Afghanistan, I read the American political theorist Michael Walzer. Back then, I was still a reluctant believer in the gospel of American righteousness, and when Walzer wrote that the global fight against terrorism was “not backward looking and retributive, but forward looking and preventive”, that was enough to keep me faithful. Walzer had come after a more vulgar procession of neoconservative evangelists like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan. These were the men who had ushered me to the right as an idealistic high school student, and I became quite the campus missionary when, weeks into my freshman year of college, the two towers fell. I became an opinion columnist and an op-ed editor for the school newspaper, where I penned romantic paeans to the democratising missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of my final contributions was a sombre explanation of why I felt obligated to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and don the uniform. But by the third month of my deployment, even the subtle apologetics of Walzer struck me as dangerously absurd. If only Walzer and others could see what I saw. If only those who saw it with me could really see it.

December 17, 2018

Boffins don't give a sh!t, slap Trump's face on a turd in science journal


A pair of boffins are in hot water after the image of president Donald Trump made an unexpected cameo in a paper on how to gather animal DNA from their poop at scale.

The paper, which was published in Nature Scientific Reports, discusses the difficulties of gaining high-quality DNA samples from wild animals in a non-invasive way.

Feces is the obvious option, but it is dominated by DNA from other organisms, such as bacteria – so the authors proposed a way to enrich the desired animal's DNA from the sample.

However, the pair also buried an Easter egg in a figure depicting the method, which shows a baboon sitting next to an average-sized turd. And on that turd, is a tiny image of the leader of the free world.

For those of you that can get twits,

And the actual paper from Nature:
(Methylation-based enrichment facilitates low-cost, noninvasive genomic scale sequencing of populations from feces)
December 9, 2018

When the subjective overrides the objective


It is a frequently repeated truism that Donald Trump is a narcissist, but if that is true, how did someone with such a repellant trait gain the highest office in the land, and what does it even mean to say someone is a narcissist?

Another commonly heard remark, while, not precisely narcissistic, is an indicator of how we got to our present predicament. It is not unusual to hear someone say, “I might have voted for Hillary, but I just didn’t like her.”

My response: “You didn’t like her? So what? The election is not about you. It is about the country. Whether we like a candidate is not important. Would you like to have a beer with Hillary? Not important. Citizens of a democracy are supposed to ask themselves what would be better for the country.”

Thinking about the country requires an awareness of civics — how the government works — and of history — how we got where we are. It requires people to reach considered conclusions about what would be good beyond their own narrow horizon. The better candidate might institute policies hurting one’s self-interest, but improving the nation — for example, raising taxes to pay for education or infrastructure improvements. Whether we like a candidate is less important than whether the person would do a better job for the country as a whole. Certainly, the list of presidential candidates whom I have liked over the years is a short one, but that doesn’t mean I have not had the obligation to choose which one was better for the country. In a fit of pique, I cast my first presidential ballot for comedian Dick Gregory rather than for Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey. It was a juvenile gesture that was more about me than about the good of the country. Humphrey did not lose because of my vote, but it would be a different world if he had won.


“Mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that ferment for a few centuries; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s and the internet age,” Andersen wrote. “The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.”

A famous quote of an adviser to President George W. Bush, attributed to Karl Rove, though he denies it, chillingly foreshadowed the way that politics untethered from a belief in objective reality can be hijacked by authoritarian leaders. The advisor disparaged journalists who remained part of the “reality-based community.” Ours is a time when those in power can create the facts, according to the adviser. That the facts created by the Bush administration — the Iraq war, the Great Recession — constituted disasters of a historic dimension is a new fact that the American people are still grappling with.
December 6, 2018

An interest in keeping the health care status quo


The great majority of Americans — 70 percent or more — support the idea of “Medicare for All” as the answer to the fragmented, expensive and inadequate system of insurance-based health care we now have. That’s enough support to scare the companies that make tons of money off that broken system, so they have formed an alliance to once again fend off what most Americans want: a sensible universal health care system. They call their alliance the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF).

Members of this “partnership” include America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the association of 1,000+ companies that sell commercial health insurers to many millions of Americans; the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) whose members also sell commercial health insurance; the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), an association that promotes the business interests of companies that sell health insurance; the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the association of drug companies; the Federation of American Hospitals, an association of for-profit hospitals; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers an association of “200 of the world’s top commercial insurance and employee benefits brokerages”; the National Retail Federation; the American Medical Association (AMA); the American College of Radiology (ACR); and several others.

It is clearly dominated by those who make money — lots and lots of money — from our current health care system that relies on insurance. This is not a partnership that will ever reach the conclusion that we need a truly universal, efficient system like Medicare for All. Based on the partnership’s own internal documents, the group will campaign specifically to “change the conversation around Medicare for All,” then “minimize the potential for this option in health care from becoming part of a national political party’s platform in 2020.”

The whole point of the partnership is to play around with a few changes at the edges of our current system to mollify the people demanding change, while preserving the status quo under which many Americans get inadequate care that in some cases, actually causes their deaths. If they succeed, Americans will continue to suffer when they can’t afford commercial insurance premiums and go “uncovered” with the health consequences that follow; when they choose high deductible policies because they can’t afford better coverage and end up sick, dead or deeply in debt; when they can’t afford the medicine they need and skip it or cut down the dose and end up sick or dead; when they stay up nights surrounded by bills and try to figure out how to pay rent, buy food and still get the health care they need; when they do go get care that they cannot afford and end up so deep in debt that their lives are altered for the foreseeable future; when they delay going to a doctor to avoid a cost they really can’t afford and the delay makes them far sicker or kills them.

November 29, 2018

KHN: Democrats Taking Key Leadership Jobs Have Pocketed Millions from Pharma

Top House Republican also received more than $1 million from drugmakers since 2007.

Three of the lawmakers who will lead the House next year as Congress focuses on skyrocketing drug costs are among the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, a new KHN analysis shows.

On Wednesday, House Democrats selected Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland to serve as the next majority leader and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina as majority whip, making them the No. 2 and No. 3 most powerful Democrats as their party regains control of the House in January.


High drug prices surfaced as a major campaign issue in 2018. With almost half of Americans saying they were worried about prescription drug costs last summer, many Democrats told voters they’d tackle the issue in the next Congress. But the large amount of money going to key Democrats, and Republicans, raises questions about whether Congress will take on the pharmaceutical industry.

In the past decade, members of Congress from both parties have received about $81 million from 68 pharma PACs run by employees of companies that make drugs and industry trade groups.

November 5, 2018

Propublica, WaPo: How Congress Stopped Working


Today’s legislative branch, far from the model envisioned by the founders, is dominated by party leaders and functions as a junior partner to the executive, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and ProPublica.

To document this transformation, the Post and ProPublica analyzed publicly available data from the House and Senate, committees, and members of Congress, dating back several decades. Some institutional decline began 25 years ago, but the study showed that the steepest institutional drop came in just the past 10 years.

This is exactly what I have experienced. The sourness of the politicians started around the time of Gingrich (gawd, he's still polluting), and reached its height with McConnell.

I don't know if a Democratic House can fix this as long as the repuglicons are doing everything they can to destroy democracy.

September 28, 2018

Can Yale withdraw Kavanaugh's law degree, and if so would he lose his judgeships?

I know this wouldn't happen, but it is fun daydreaming.

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