Monday, June 18, 2018

June links

This has been an interesting month. Real things are happening. The long-awaited Inspect General's report about the FBI has been released. Trump and the despotic leader of North Korea insulted each other and almost torpedoed their summit, but then it was back on. Of course Trump is acting like he's saved the world from a huge threat without caring about the details, reality, or truth. But that's not new for him. Trump is never about substance or reality. It's about the show and ratings.

FBI official taking the fifth. Congress wants testimony from Andrew McCabe (probably for partisan show). However, the Department of Justice is considering charges against him, so he'll probably take the fifth in front of Congress.Normally, I'd think that is terrible, but considering he's likely to be facing charges, it makes good sense. I'm not sure why, but I have a somewhat good impression of McCabe. Maybe because he hasn't showboated or thrown anyone under the bus. However, the current director of the FBI demoted him, so it seems like there is something questionable there. And the reaction from the new FBI director? 'We need more rigorous training in being fair.'

How bad is James Clapper? Clapper is one of the many boogeymen according to those in conservative circles who believe in the horror of the 'deep state.' There's him, Comey, Loretta Lynch, Brennan, Rosenstein, and probably countless others. What exacting did Clapper do to earn that reputation? I had to look it up because no one was repeating it, just that he was evil. Supposedly his huge sin was lying to Congress about the NSA data gathering programs. His real sin was saying that Trump is a liar and unserious (my paraphrase). In this write-up of an interview, Clapper makes a lot of sense. Michael Flynn was probably played by the Russians, the Russians probably did tip the election, but we're probably going to survive this and come out stronger afterward. Sensible and reasonable.

Round-up on Inspector General's report. CNN has a series of short, readable clips about the significance of the report. Alan Dershowitz, legal savant and media whore, blasts Comey based on information from the report. Nice to know that Dershowitz has an infallible sense of how to handle fraught situations. He thinks Rosenstein has to recuse himself, and then oversight will fall into the lap of someone who will oversee the Mueller probe with perfect judgment. No, wait, there shouldn't even be a special counsel because there are people in the Justice Department who can handle the investigation without bias... if we're lucky enough that they're the ones who are appointed to do it and nobody interferes with them, like firing them or pointing a biased person in to supervise them.

Educated observer's report on Russia. Just the kind of rationality we need to read sometimes. Strip away hype, fear, and posturing, and you get this kind of reporting. It's great to have non-hyped, non-scary reporting about Russia.

Educated analysis of Pax Americana. This is a fairly long read as my links go, but worthwhile in that it asks questions and looks behind the explanations and mythology of US policies. I read it with an eye to what realistic expectations should be, not idealized expectations. After all, we live in a real world with many dangers, and you have to respond to danger in ways that are effective.

History lesson about altruism. The US helped a lot of countries through the Marshall Plan, and benefited from the peace and prosperity it fostered. Or we could have had a lot more communism.

Resegregation via charter school. Some places in the US, segregation never ended. Now there is a new way to create it or support it, and it's funded via tax dollars.

Football kneeling protest. I'm a supporter of this protest, which I find to be very dignified and respectful. In fact, I can't find anything disrespectful in it. I liked this statement from one of the leaders of the Philadelphia Eagles about the controversy around the protest. I compare this with the insults leveled at players, and it's no contest whom I respect more.

Helpful information for a rare situation. A woman was recently killed by an alligator in Florida. This report tells how to avoid that (stay far enough away from waterfront at dusk, nighttime, and dawn), how to run, and how to fight if you need to. Not much to remember. Good advice.

Copy-paste internet threat. I didn't realize this was a thing. I don't believe the threats made against me over the internet. A few people may be savvy enough to figure out who I am, but very few. So the threats are so likely to be rubbish that I've never worried. But it's incredible and ridiculous to find out there is a meme of threat--a veritable script that people copy and adapt. I guess it's too much work to make up your own bizarre threats, so just borrow something.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Spies from the FBI, oh my!

Since it was leaked that the FBI had an informant contact members of the Trump campaign, Trump has been trying to frame it as though his campaign was infiltrated and spied on for political purposes. This is most likely a mountain of hogwash, as it so often is when Trump opens his mouth or gets on twitter. The guy is such a glib liar that he probably only accidentally utters the truth. As a person who cares deeply about truth, I find this appalling. Trump, on the other hand, finds lies to be completely normal.

So Trump says his campaign was being spied on, and he calls it 'Spygate.' What do others, who perhaps remember what truth means, say about this?

There's an interesting contrast between this article from Huffpost and this one from Fox News. The Huffpost article focuses on a former Trump aide who's embarrassed by his conspiracy theorizing. The Fox article, starting at the headline, exaggerates the FBI operation as a 'web of informant contacts.'

If you swallow the story that this was politically motivated spying, then it looks terrible. Trump wants people to swallow that. Along those lines, Trump regularly claims that the Russia issue is a hoax, ignoring all the parts of it that are real and are known to really have occurred. Again, Trump doesn't care about the truth, just his narrative.

Trey Gowdy, as a former prosecutor, has some idea what is required in an investigation. He has spoken clearly that he supports this part of the FBI investigation:
"Based on what I have seen, I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia..."
But conservatives can't agree on this, not even at National Review. To some of them, the FBI crossed a line that must not be crossed! They don't bother to say what intelligence agencies or the FBI are supposed to do when there is somewhat credible information of foreign influence on a campaign. Only that it is forbidden to investigate by covertly asking questions of the campaign.

Well, that argument is so weak that it crumbles as soon as someone asks what the FBI should do when it hears of criminal activity like hacking our elections. Critics are left sounding as though they want the FBI to 'stand down' -- not do anything. Maybe the FBI should go on twitter and label it all a hoax. Maybe the FBI no longer needs to do investigations and work to protect the US and enforce the laws, but can become a post-reality entity where truth is optional and random. But I'd kind of prefer them to continue the role they had before reality TV took over the presidency and so much of the electorate.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May links 2

Conservative Supreme Court prunes worker rights. I appreciate both sides of this argument in general, but I think this isn't a good ruling. If we want a strong middle class in this country, we need support for workers. That's how we got the middle class.

Shootings. An account of what the school shooter from Santa Fe, TX said and did while killing his victim. Not a vantage point we usually get. Some details of police actions. Young Texans will probably not being leading marches for changes in gun laws. Accounts from first responders to the Las Vegas shooting. There were a lot of first responders, and it was more like a military battle because the shooter was so well armed and prepared.

More on Russia. For reference. The fake ads that Russians put out. So many that they are condensed in zip files. I don't really want to look, but I know I should. Mueller apparently used a Russian oligarch for a sensitive mercy mission. Not scandalous. Background on an undercover FBI informant who tried to find out what was happening in the Trump campaign. Trey Gowdy, in his sometimes-straight-sometimes-hack way, says that the FBI use of an informant in the investigation was appropriate. Great background and historical perspective on Russia.

Memorial Day reflection. When war becomes mundane and most Americans become detached, wars can linger and not be resolved.

Sessions changed immigration enforcement. Revealing and fascinating article about how Jeff Sessions (the Attorney General) is changing immigration enforcement. Chilling, surprising.

Background on fentanyl. I have some knowledge of fentanyl, but this was instructive even to me.

Timeline on scandal. Trump friends Michael Cohen and Elliott Broidy were gathering a lot of money. At this point in the investigation, it may be a partial timeline, but it's already long.

Revealing more sexual harassment. University of Southern California is being sued over the behavior of one of its gynecologists. Surprise - complaints were ignored.

More on the gold standard. One of my pet peeves is people who dogmatically think that the gold standard is workable. Another revealing story about FDR and his odd relationship with the gold standard.

Well, then don't act like one. Lawyer claims he's not a racist after his non-racist rant went viral. And that kind of rant isn't popular in New York City, the home of large number of immigrants.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Commentariate must decide forum preferences

Ok folks. Some of us have discussed creating our own forum where we can have our discussions without concerns about the paywall. I started looking at some options. Here are three: (To see the detail, click on the image.)

1. Disqus. Advantages: We all already know it. Disadvantages: Nanny filter (possibly). Discussions deleted after 7 days by Disqus.

SPOKE TOO SOON ON THIS. SORRY.  It turns out that you can't create any new channels. Their documentation talks about how to do it, but you can't actually do it anymore. Instead, you have to find a channel where you already fit, and do your discussions there. THANK YOU SO MUCH, DISQUS, FOR NOT UPDATING YOUR DOCUMENTATION.

1 Alt. We migrate en masse to The Atlantic discussion group on Disqus, as recommended by johnny sunshine.

2. Bravenet. Advantages: Pick the way you want to view the discussions (topics). This includes a threaded view. Disadvantages: We have to trim posts once we get to 1000, but this will probably be less frequent than Disqus. When you're reading the messages, they aren't threaded as they are in Disqus, but they do have an easy-to-follow order.

3. Boardhost. Advantages: Best batch of tools for formatting and managing. Unlimited number of posts and visits. Disadvantages: No threading. The list of responses is simply chronological, so you can't reply to a specific comment without copying their comment into yours, and your reply gets put at the end of the list.

All these services are free, for now. All let people start new topic discussions, so any of us could start a new topic thread. All have admin tools. All have advertising, but I didn't get to see if it's annoying or not.

So, everyone, please discuss and say what you prefer. If anyone has other suggestions, please do the exploration of the features and let us know. It's certainly possible that there are better free services out there, but I don't have the time to hunt them down. Plus it has been aggravating. (Oh, you want threading, well, PAY UP!)


Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Tony White asked me to put up this page for Bloomberg commenters to organize their strike. This is a one-week strike of commenters at Bloomberg View (maybe now called Bloomberg Opinion) arising from them putting up a pay wall. It's mostly an experiment to see if anyone other than the commenters here care.


1. Continue to get new people signed up.
2. Commenting is allowed and encouraged this week. Show that our words enhance the comment threads.
3. Continue to search for and try new sites to continue the unique conversation without the issue of paywalls. See this post.
4. Started the month with about 37 people signed up.


Tony White                                                   
mountaintraveler (Traveler)                         
Yak Hearder                                                 
Howard Craft
Fish heads
Sir Tainley
Keith Fenton
Epstein's Mother
Covfefe is my slave name
Johnny sunshine

Joe Brady
Zack Smith
M. Faizal Rasol
Dean Achison
The Contentious Otter
Justin Woodall
Working Class Dog


Please sign up by leaving a comment on this page.

Very important: You don't have to register at all to sign up or comment. After writing your comment, follow these directions, as shown below:

1. Scroll down to the comment box and enter your comment there.
2. Click on the toggle by Name/URL.
3. Enter the name you use for Disqus.

Everything else with the comments is self-explanatory.

About the trolls who might feel interested in signing up, you can guess how much shit I'll put up with on my page. Be respectful or begone.

Even More Important

Tony has been the leader but with a huge openness to ideas and help across the board. I'll be updating this page to put important info at the top.

How to Reply to Comments

This site has limited capabilities for handling replies. Basically it's just a straight list of comments. Sorry, but that's what is available. If it's important to cite what you're replying to, name the person and quote their comment.

The BV Commentariate Mission Statement

We the "BV Commentariate" adamantly and vigorously oppose the new Bloomberg paywall. It is detrimental to both Bloomberg and its subscribers. Our strength lies in the promotion of readership for which Bloomberg benefits through greater advertisement exposure. Our unique and diverse group adds life, zest and value to every article. Our Motto is "Tear Down this Wall."

1. When "on strike " all members are very, very, strongly urged to withdraw comment activities from Bloomberg Opinion on or View. (It is our major leverage)
2. While commenting during a strike is heavily frowned upon, it will not be grounds for "Dismemberment".
3. Anyone who signed up will only be removed upon their request.
4. Anyone can signup either here or by "in discussion request" to any existing member.
5. Posting during a strike is acceptable for the following:
a. To protest the paywall.
b. To attempt to get a commentator in discussion to join our group.
6. Shills and trolls must renounce their shillish and/or trollish ways before joining.

Points of discussion not yet agreed upon:

- Whether to go for zero fee, to pay one dollar/year will alienate many.
- We aren't freeloaders. No, we are uncompensated contributors who add wit and added dimension and spice to each article.

Test out our new guestbook
Top item on the right side of the page.

Guidelines for Writing the Daily Posting

It makes a great impression that we have a lot of people willing and able to express their reasons for wanting an open Bloomberg View/Opinion. It's a reflection that we're all literate (Yay!) and involved. This is so much a group effort, and getting more so.

Guidelines for the official daily commenter:
1. Comment as early as possible on all articles from The Editors.
2. Comment as early as possible to a few additional articles that are likely to be popular. Don't spam everything.
3. Include the list of supporters/strikers.
4. Invite people to join and give the website.

Thanks everyone. But remember, Tony White is in charge, hahahaha. Do as he says.


1. Daily posting, with responsibility shared among those willing to write. Since we're commenters, there are a fair number willing to write.
2. Strike against commenting. Members ideally shouldn't comment except in response to the group's daily post. However, a couple of comments are OK. 
3. Trying to recruit new members. 
4. Starting the strike with about 18 group members.
5. The quality of the comments threads suffered, especially from midweek through the end of the week.


1. Daily posting by multiple members as a reminder of the strike and of the value of good commenters.
2. This was a period where people were encouraged to comment as a reminder of the value of our voices.
3. Many commenters are leaving, so the quality of the threads is clearly diminished.
4. Started the week with about 26 people signed up.


1. Daily posting by multiple members as a reminder of the strike and of the value of good commenters.Commenters are also were encouraged to comment as a reminder of the value of our voices.
2. Strikers were expressing hope to find a new home for the Commentariate.
3. Started the week with about 34 people signed up.

This was the first daily posting announcing the strike. Kudos to our fearless leader, Tony White:

STRIKE! To the editors of Bloomberg View

We are a group of commenters who highly value the comment threads on Bloomberg View. We [naming ourselves the Commentariat] are announcing to our fellow contributors of Bloomberg View that the names listed below will be protesting the Pay Window policies enacted by Bloomberg Business this past week  on May 3, 2018. We are therefore notifying our fellow writers that we will, sadly, not be participating in this week's discussions. We do this not in selfish promotion, but in the desire to keep all our opinions open and free. As contributors to the success of the opinion pages, we justly feel unfairly treated to be charged for that success. BV is killing the proverbial golden goose. While we understand Bloomberg Business has to have revenue sources, doing so on the backs of the contributors is unjust and unwarranted. Please join us in protesting the paywall which will result in the demise of free and open discussion among all ideologies and incomes.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reactions and Plans

                  To Sign Up:  STRIKE CENTRAL IS HERE
Bloomberg Opinion/View Commenters' strike May 7 - May 13

To Comment on an Current Issue: The Commentariat is HERE

This page is for those who participated. For feedback and planning.

Please comment below. You know the drill, I hope. I'll repeat directions anyway.

Very important: You don't have to register at all to sign up or comment. After writing your comment, follow these directions, as shown below:

1. Scroll down to the comment box and enter your comment there.
2. Click on the toggle by Name/URL.
3. Enter the name you use for Disqus.

Everything else with the comments is self-explanatory.


Monday, May 7, 2018

The Commentariate - Comment here during the strike

Go there to sign up for the strike or share strike information.


We may quote from articles and comments. All quotes are for discussion and sharing of opinions, obviously, and therefore are made under fair use guidelines.

#1  From the editors today:
In the world according to Trump, the president knows what he’s doing, and it’s working just fine. Be the bully and keep them guessing. Apply this to allies as well as rivals — because in the end what’s the difference? Disdain institutions that the U.S. spent decades building — because what did they ever do for us? In the real world, this approach will prove enormously damaging to the country, as well as to America’s friends.
#2 Bernstein:
[paraphrase] Trump's cabinet is in chaos. He's fired people with no coherent plans for replacements.  
 #3 Ponnuru:
[paraphrase] What's hype in the media coverage of Trump? 1. There's a constitutional crisis. 2. Some act (like firing Mueller) will end the Trump presidency. 3. Stormy Daniels doesn't matter. (To millions, including millions of supporters, it does matter.)
 Commenters, ADD YOUR OWN TOPICS. Let the commenting begin. It'll start slowly.

#4. Sunstein:
Summary and analysis of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, with a historical framing. 
"Even if a candidate for president did not collude with a less-than-friendly foreign power, or have any relationship with it, presidential obstruction of an investigation into that issue would be a serious offense — from the standpoint of the impeachment clause, at least as serious the first Article of Impeachment against President Nixon."
#5. CNN:
[I'm not a big fan of CNN. I just tuned in to see primary result, but they have a huge story about payments to Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer and fixer.] "In a memo posted online Tuesday afternoon, Avenatti alleged that Cohen received the following payments after the 2016 election: approximately half-a-million dollars from a company linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin; nearly $400,000 from pharmaceutical giant Novartis; $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries and $200,000 from telecommunications conglomerate AT&T."

Friday, May 4, 2018

Thursday, May 3, 2018

May links: cleaning up from April

Korean peace? Don't be too hopeful yet. North Korea has pattern of reneging, or getting stubborn.

Syrian peacce? The role France may play.

Trump's fixer. Michael Cohen, who handled a payment and non-disclosure agreement for a paramour of Trump, also worked for Sean Hannity. It might be involve real estate, but maybe it's another fix-it situation. Time will tell, and I'm not convinced it is just real estate.

Parties and race. This article chronicles how the Dems signed up with blacks long before the 60's. Contrast this bravery with the craven behavior of most Repubs. Also from Vox: White evangelicals tolerate racism and character flaws in Trump. An explanation about Kanye West and Trump.

Forge and frame, inc. Software now makes it possible to fake someone's words and facial expressions in a video. What a bonanza for computer-capable liars and fake news generators.

What competence looks like. Saving all but one person when a jet engine falls apart, piercing the plane in the passenger compartment. The dive to lower atmosphere for more oxygen, the successful landing. Even calming the passengers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

No effect from the weakening dollar. The dollar has been getting weaker, so are we exporting more? Not really. Good explainer for why.

Healthcare cost containment. California may try it. Good!

Russia-related stories: McCabe's wrongdoing at the FBI. I want to hold on to this resource about the Inspector General's report and see what happens. Was he conniving? Was he thrown under the bus? Also this articleComey notes about Trump. His private memos, written to document the weirdness of Trump's communications with him, are now public. Who's the liar? Trump's legal team. Trump has hired Guiliani for his Russia strategy team. Another Russian tactic. (I almost , typed 'Soviet.') Use international committees to harass emigres in other countries. And to think that my favorite shills think that Russia is good and the US is a war-mongering horror. Russian meddling. A link to the House Intelligence report. A real report, not a Nunes tissue of lies.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The state intervenes... too much

The Alfie Evans scandal didn't get a lot of news site attention from the MSM, but it did in the conservative media. A bit of background if you don't know the story (which means that you follow the MSM and thus miss some news stories):

Alfie was born in Britain about 23 months ago. About 6 months after his birth, his health was declining and he was found to have some unknown wasting disease that was shrinking his brain. He's been on life-support since December 2016. The doctors decided treatment was futile, and removed life support. A hospital in Italy offered to take him, which the parents wanted, but this was blocked by the British courts, who also posted guards to prevent his parents from removing him from the hospital. He died at the hospital on 4/28/18 approximately 5 days after being removed from a ventilator.

Superficial review and reaction

Initially I viewed this case of one of people blindly holding on to hope, screaming for everything possible to be done, and ignoring the evidence that it was hopeless. I think most of the news stories played out this way, along with most of the comments. So my initial reaction was to back up the scientific findings and stress the reality of the situation. Alfie was not going to recover. He was not conscious at all, and would never become conscious. He had no prospect in life except being connected to life support and having seizures as they gave him therapy in trying to keep him alive. That was the hard truth that so many people seemed unable to accept.

I agreed that hospital was right to declare treatment futile. I disagreed with the British court preventing the parents from taking Alfie to Italy. There seemed (to me) little chance of significant harm to Alfie. But the judge was overly concerned that he'd die in transit, and that seemed appalling to the judge. I disagree, but at least I understood the rationale, and I didn't think the judge was a monster. Many others did.

The public outrage at the hospital and the British courts was huge, which I didn't understand. Now I do.

When should courts overrule parents?

If you look at the story through the lens of what was good for Alfie and what was medically possible, the parents seem out of touch, and the hospital and courts seem sane, realistic, and reasonably kind.

However, if you look at the story through the eyes of Alfie's parents, it appears very different. They want to do whatever they can for their son. The hospital says they can't do anymore. The parents are distraught, seek other opinions, but are legally and physically blocked from taking their son to another location for treatment.

This is the outrage. They love their son, want to care for him, have never been abusive to him, but their rights as parents were shut down in favor of the court's opinion. I felt this was wrong, but at first I didn't feel the outrage of it.

The mistake of the court was to take away the rights of the parents to decide the child's treatment. Almost all parents will consider carefully, help, nurture, notice how the child responds, comfort, and minimize suffering. Most parents can do this better than a judge can because they are intimately connected to the child.

Not all parents are like this, however. Some are abusive or negligent. For those parents, it makes sense for the courts to intervene. However, Alfie's parents were neither abusive nor negligent. They cared more than anyone else. But at the end, these parents, who dearly loved him, were barred by police from caring for their son in the way they desperately hoped to.

That was the wrong. Not against Alfie, but against his parents. And it was a fairly grievous wrong, to take the decision away from them in such desperate circumstances.

Media focus

Media tended to focus on how it wasn't certain what caused Alfie's decline, and how his last hope relied on getting care elsewhere. Some attacked the British National Health Service (NHS) for its policy to withdraw life support. Some didn't attack the NHS, but faulted the courts for siding with the NHS against the parents and the child's 'last hope.' It became a cause within Britain, but perhaps even more among American conservatives. Their spin, motivated by animus against socialized medicine such as the NHS, regularly contained lies and didn't accurately report the reality of Alfie's condition. The media regularly used words like 'murder' and conservative commenters copied that. Very few gave consideration to the personal, ethical, moral, and financial issues in giving life support for extended periods.

The American Conservative is typically a more thoughtful source of the conservative perspective. But even here, Dreher puts his thumb on the scale. When the NHS wants to end artificial life support, it's described as "forcibly euthanizing the disabled." But should his parents make the decision, it's letting "Alfie die a natural death." Interesting difference in wording considering the actions are the same.

The American Spectator is probably more typical in its invective. The doctors are incompetent and the state is tyrannical. This isn't measured analysis, it's war against tyranny. It's no wonder so many echo these arguments when they're not presented with any counterarguments. Just one side of the story. If you're not practiced in questioning, it's not going to happen.

Luckily, the comments section for the Dreher argument had other thoughtful alternatives. Another columnist for the American Conservative focused more on the parents, and was also fair to the doctors. In the comments section for the American Spectator, anyone dissenting was blasted. Well, that's just another week in the culture war. I wonder what this week will bring?

Alfie on a ventilator, with his dad

Monday, April 23, 2018

This better be my last post about Benghazi!

It sucks that I'm still writing about Benghazi. It sucks that the issues surrounding Benghazi haven't been settled. It sucks that information about  Benghazi hasn't been thoroughly thrashed and set to rest. It's a living demonstration of the partisanship that there hasn't been a clear, concise, thorough, and uncontested report of what happened. It reflects on secrecy and cover-your-ass dissembling by the Obama administration and partisan point-scoring, innuendo, and hyperbole by the GOP.

This latest bout of Benghazi research was prompted by a comment on the stand-down order. Politifact says that the story of a stand-down order is mostly false. It pointed to a report of a House Intelligence Committee, and I decided to read it. It's actually pretty readable, less than 30 pages, and doesn't get bogged down. It seems to be mostly a fact-finding mission--the kind of report I've wanted to see.

From my own research during the summer of 2014, I figured that the stand-down story had some major holes in it, primarily that it was simply a 20-minute delay, not a stand-down. But there's not enough drama with a delay, so the story was juiced up.

The report confirmed what I had suspected (win for me!). There was a delay as the station chief tried to gather more info and more support, but it was a minimal delay, per pages 19-21 of the report.

However, drama sells. Partisan audiences are hungry for scandal that fits their biases. So we get books and even a movie based less on evidence and more for giving the crowd what it wants. Trey Gowdy (GOP representative) is too cowardly to tell the whole truth either:
"The best I can do is tell you what the witnesses say, and then you can decide who you think is more credible."
Let me translate that:
'I don't think the story is credible, but I'll cling to the thin thread of evidence because it's politically expedient.'
He does admit that leaving earlier wouldn't have saved the lives of the two diplomats who died in the compound. I'll be remembering this to refute the yahoos who repeat that specious claim.

But back to the report. It was good to find out about roadblocks, and how the team that flew in from Tripoli was stuck at the Benghazi airport until they found one local group that seemed trustworthy enough. The attack on the CIA annex was unusually precise and coordinated, and deadly, with two more Americans killed there. Then everyone evacuated to the airport, along with the body of the ambassador who had been missing. That mystery was resolved in less than 10 hours, even in dangerous territory like Benghazi.

Some GOPers wouldn't sign on to the report. I guess it blew up too many of the talking points they wanted to clutch. Gowdy was one of those who refused. That guy--sometime he goes up in my estimation, and sometimes he scrapes the bottom.

One final sentiment: it was worth my time to research this and find what seems to me like the actual truths. Truth is worth the effort.


Extras.  National Review declares there's evidence for the stand-down order... and neglects the evidence that refutes it. Convenient omissions? From WaPo: Who is more credible--the Benghazi CIA station chief, or the author of the sensationalist book?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April links 2

Red flag laws for guns. Florida passed one after the Parkland shootings. Vermont just did because they had a very close brush with a school shooter arrested as he was planning his shooting spree. Indiana has had one for a while due to random shootings in a neighborhood.

Also, here is a resource on studies of efficacy for certain policies about guns.

Comey's nasty book. I'm not a fan of Comey, who seems mealy-mouthed to me. However, he had enough backbone to stand up to Trump, which not everyone has. His new book seems to have a lot of filler, some of it being creepy. However, he does reveal a non-surprise: Trump trying to spin the Russian hacking.

US/French/British strike on Syria. Interesting detail. How they faked out the Russian/Syria air defenses. A broader discussion. The US isn't striking hard because it needs to have room to ramp up if Syria continues chemical warfare.

History lesson about the end of the gold standard. One of the important moments of history. However, the US hadn't really kept to the gold standard anyway. Fiat currency has its problems, but the gold standard was simpler impossible to make work.

$21 Trillion missing. A Russian shill wrote that the Pentagon had lost $21 trillion. This was just a shill, so he didn't have any real thought in his comment. Consider this: $21 trillion is a huge amount of money that might have worldwide implications. Just imagine the US having double its current debt, but nobody cares. I pointed this out to the shill. He lamely replied "Well, it's from Forbes."

I have to look into this some more, but I've got to clear those tabs off my browser. So here's the dump: Michigan, missing money, truth in accounting, more Michigan,  maybe some details, Reuters. I don't have a link to the Forbes article because it wasn't particularly readable.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

History for Amnesiacs: What Mueller is investigating

The idiotic talking point among some conservatives is that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate, and was from the beginning. There wasn't any real evidence that deserved investigation. It's all been fake news and a conspiracy by the deep state. Many even call it a coup.

I read this so often that I made a list of the evidence that thoroughly justifies an investigation:

  1. The Russians hacked the DNC and gave the hacked emails to Wikileaks, thereby affecting the election. It may not have changed the outcome, but it was an attempt to do so, and was criminal activity. 
  2. The Russians hacked state voter databases. They probably hacked more than that too. 
  3. Trump has had a lot of contacts with Russians over the years.
  4. Many Trump advisers have had a lot of contacts with Russians.
  5. Trump advisers had contacts with Russians during the campaign. Sessions didn't fully disclose this information.
  6. Trump denied the meddling of the Russians and appeared ready to lift sanctions. 
  7. Trump fired the FBI director who was overseeing the investigation. 
  8. The fired FBI director recounted Trump asking for loyalty and for a pass for one of his former advisers.

That is plenty to warrant an investigation. The Mueller investigation should be happening, and should continue.

Some talking-point parrots trot out lawyer and presumed Democrat Alan Dershowitz as an ally. However, Dershowitz doesn't agree that there isn't evidence. He writes:
But there was plenty of evidence that Russian operatives had tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and perhaps other elections, in the hope of destabilizing democracy. Yet, appointing a special counsel to look for crimes, behind the closed doors of a grand jury, was precisely the wrong way to address this ongoing challenge to our democracy.
Dershowitz follows up with this overstatement:
It [the Mueller investigation] has politicized our justice system beyond repair... In our age of hyperpartisanship, the public has understandably lost confidence in the ability and willingness of our leaders to separate their political views from their law enforcement decisions.
...Let Congress now appoint a nonpartisan commission to conduct a transparent investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence our elections. Let the special counsel suspend his investigation until the nonpartisan commission issues its report. If the report identifies crimes and criminals, there will be time enough to indict and prosecute. Right now, we need the nonpartisan truth, because we aren’t getting it from the special counsel.
Ahem, what is the evidence that Mueller isn't working on providing nonpartisan truth, also known as the truth?

 If anything, Congress has shown that it can't be trusted to seek and share the truth. Remember the dueling memos?

No, I'd much rather that Mueller continue. As for Dershowitz, I saw him described as a publicity whore hound. Wait, that's from 1989. I'm sure he's overcome that tendency by now.

Whatever. Mueller should continue, wrap up as soon as possible, and issue a detailed report of the facts.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April links

I was away for the month of March with only a tablet, and not in the mood for typing on that infernal non-keyboard. I did read a few interesting items, and a few more since I returned home.

Closing the racial achievement gap. According to Charles Murray, this should be impossible because it's inherent in the genomes. An intensive program in New York City has had very good results. However, skimming the published scientific paper, it's not clear that the gap was erased, just that they were heading that way.

North Carolina's blatantly discriminatory voting act. Struck down, but uggghhhh! This couldn't happen in the Supreme Court hadn't decided that the Voting Right Act was no longer needed. Well, that was a partisan decision, not an honest judicial finding. I read elsewhere that the legislation disallowed the types of IDs that were more common among blacks. Yes, very blatant.

Voter fraud investigation in California. I wonder a lot about California, partly because I nearly became a voter there but bailed out before I committed an actual illegal act. This investigation may be ongoing, but hasn't turn up much. However, I like to watch whatever I can in CA.

Korean strategies. From March. This story is a bit slow, but still an easy read and fairly informative on different ways to view the situation in Korea.

Nazi story. A profile of a leader of a white supremacy group that was involved in Charlottesville.

Unexpected interference in business. Suppose the socialism wasn't the worst enemy of business. Instead, it was a thin-skinned blowhard who ended up as president.

Capsule picture of what's wrong with Trump. This story rings so true to me. Trump as an impetuous glad-hander who doesn't know what he's doing.

Iran's presence in Syria. Very informative story about why Israel is bombing airfields in Syria, and who has missiles where.


Monday, February 26, 2018

February links 2

Just a quick list.

Account of a Russian troll in the St. Petersburg troll factory.

This article about world leadership spurred me to reflect on the sad state of world leadership. But could be worse.

The partisans in Florida are angry with the sheriff of the county where the school shooting happened. Not because he did his job poorly, but because he's going about gun rights orthodoxy. Related. And another.

A big attack by Syrians and Russian mercenaries on a Kurdish/US base. Surprising, but no escalation. No hype about it either.

Finally, the Dem memo countering the sad Nunes memo was released. No surprises here either. A nit-picky critique of the memo.

The Dems in California want someone louder and more progressive than Dianne Feinstein. Eye roll. These are the Dems that go to the state conventions, not the whole of Dem voters.

A dialog I want to read about deficits and debt.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our American gun culture

I've thought about guns all my adult intellectual life, which actually started at age 12-13. I've observed the American cultural traits and myths about guns. First, I have to say that guns are pervasive in American culture. Not as pervasive as food or cars or television, which are practically universal. But about as common as: voting, home ownership, and exercising regularly.

Our latest example of toxic American gun culture was a school shooting with 17 people killed. This is no surprise in the US. We have so many mass shootings, though the death toll isn't usually that high.

Gun rights advocates come up with so many excuses. It's never the goddamn huge availability of guns. It's never the worship of guns to blame. It's always mental illness, or a tenuous connection to the Democratic party, or bad parenting, or liberalism to blame.

I'm not having any of it. The gun rights advocates own these shootings. They are the ones who fight EVERY SINGLE REFORM.  They fight any improvement to background checking (NICS), until there's another mass shooting. They don't try to improve reporting. They don't want the system checked, its flaws revealed. They need the background check as a scapegoat. Many of them don't even support the background check, but feel it was imposed on them. That leads me to wonder if they want totally open sales with no limits on who can buy guns.

Maybe some do. Maybe they think it's a constitutional right, like free speech and freedom of religion. However, my freedom of religion doesn't give me the capability of killing even one person, much less riddling scores of people with bullets. Possibly that's a defect in our Bill of Rights--that gun ownership can't be restricted. Or perhaps I should say that 5 Supreme Court justices decided that's what the 2nd amendment meant.

But the interpretation of the 2nd amendment is only part of the problem. There is a whole cultural issue. In some quarters, you aren't a man if you don't own a gun. You aren't a man if you can't legally own a gun. You aren't an adult if you don't own a gun. Ownership is a right, not a privilege. It's a right, with no attendant responsibility to have training, or good handling. They belief anyone who speaks about good handling is infringing on sacred rights. That anyone who questions the gun culture is unpatriotic and infringing on sacred rights.

My god, more people may worship guns than attend church. That's how pervasive the gun culture is in the US.

Please note, though, that I don't think every gun advocate is part of the toxic gun culture. Many support reasonable reforms. Even more would support reforms if enough Democrats made clearly that they respect the right of sensible, responsible citizens to own guns. However, they aren't loud enough in their support of reasonable reform. Too often, their primary concern is not losing their gun rights, not safety.

Then there are the full-fledged nutcases. They resist all restrictions. They don't even trust restrictions due to mental issues. They would rather mentally ill people have full access than risk being labelled as unable to purchase due to mental impairment.

Frankly, my opinion is that our standards for mental impairment are seriously too tight. Many more people need to be disqualified due to mental impairment. We need to have a procedure for health professionals to report dangerous people, have their gun rights curtailed, and have procedures to follow up. We need the same for family members to report someone who is dangerous, and have their rights curtailed. Most of all, we need to encourage families and all parts of society to support this--to agree that safety is more important. To say "yes, we are committed to preventing dangerous people from having and using guns." I want that to be a whole-society commitment. That is the only rational basis for a healthy gun culture instead of the current toxic culture.


Extras. An example of a gun advocate who blames anything and anyone but except the proximate cause. A conservative supports the kind of measure I talk about. It even has a name - Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO. However, he writes as though these orders are common, but they aren't.

The FBI is accused of mishandling warnings about the shooter. I wonder how deluged the FBI with warnings, and whether the number far outweighed their ability to check. The right wing and alt-right have so many liars who keep them well-supplied with fake stories.

Update 4/7/18. Here's one of the fake stories. The most visible, talkative survivors are actually actors, according to lying stories floating around on the right. And many who repeat those stories don't give a damn that they're spouting lies.

Friday, February 16, 2018

February links

Good news for Dems. A court ruled that Pennsylvania was gerrymandered to benefit Republicans illegally. Therefore, when the new district lines are redrawn, the Dems may pick up several easy wins.

Do nothing Congress. A poli-sci professor reads the signs and predicts that Congress won't do much this year. Congress probably won't pass a budget resolution and therefore can't use reconciliation to pass bills with only 51 votes in the Senate.

Vain hope on immigration. This item was more meaningful before the Senate failed to pass any immigration deal today. In the House, a group of 48 reps are trying to reach an immigration agreement.

The story behind the Clinton's email server. A reporter read all the notes about the email server, and shares what he learned. Clinton was weird and backward when it came to using electronics, and that was the main consideration--how to kludge up something she could use. That is so sad. For the info, skip down to 'Act One.'

Trump's budget. Good graphics. I have to check more, such as the highly important question of the projected deficit.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

No natural law

I never studied  the concept of natural law, and was familiar with it mostly from conservative writings. Natural law justified discrimination against gay sex, and maybe many of the ideas against equal rights for women and against contraception. Ugh.

Recently, I read this fascinating article about natural law, ethics, and evolution. Finally, a clear explanation of the concept of natural law:
Step one: look at what happens ‘always or for the most part’ in nature to determine its laws. That investigation will reveal the natural and proper ‘functions’ of organs and activities: those that Nature, so to speak, ‘intended’. (If Nature is just another name for God, then the talk of ‘intent’ can even be taken literally.) Step two: use the resulting observations to determine what we ought to do – and especially what we ought not to do – according to whether it was found to be ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ in step one.
So natural law told us to look at nature, see what 'normal' was by function, and also identify what varied from 'normal.' Oh dear, it looks bad for gay sex.

However, the article moves along and points out that variation is not only normal in nature, it has also been instrumental in the evolution of all living things. Variation itself is not abnormal, but necessary and (can we say this) good:
If no abnormalities had occurred in the past 4 billion years, you and I would still be bacteria. 
That's pretty convincing, at least to me. I'm not a fan of ethical systems that demonize gay sex. I'm happy to see huge gaping holes shot into natural law. I'm not sure the rest of the article hangs together as well, but I definitely enjoyed the beating it gave to natural law. (Take that, Clarence Thomas!)


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Memo frenzy: sequel 1

The Nunes memo (text here) hammers on the Steele dossier, how biased Steele was against Trump, how the dossier was used to spy on an American whose rights were thus abridged, and, hey, the targeted individual worked on Trump's campaign.

The memo was heartily cheered by the Trump faithful. Their narrative is that the whole 'Russia thing' is fake news, stirred up by media, abetted by deep state leakers and a very biased FBI and Justice Department. Both of those departments should obviously be cleared out, with all these anti-Trump conspirators sent to jail.

The Nunes memo supported this narrative by positing the FBI used the perfidious Steele dossier to get a warrant to spy on a loyal American (Trump adviser Carter Page), violating his civil rights. Those who want to take that narrative even further into territory even Nunes can't go, they say that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign and giving that information to Obama.

The Nunes is centered on the claim that the FISA court judge wasn't told that the dossier was opposition research. Dems dispute this. Am I going to believe Nunes? Not a chance. I'm looking forward to the actual verbiage that Dems points to as backing their claim that the judge was informed that the dossier had political origins.

The duplicity of Steele is a fair target. He didn't fully share his motives. His work was sloppy and uneven, and he broke faith with FBI by leaking to the press while he was very engaged with the FBI.
Did the FBI know the origin of the Steele dossier, paid for by Clinton and the DNC? Did they dig for the information? How did the FBI frame the information from the dossier? Were they clear on its origin at oppo research? Did the judge have full information? It is a reasonable question whether the court would have granted the FISA warrant if the judge had been fully informed.

The Nunes memo is also disputed because it ignores that the FBI was already investigating Russian hijinks prior to the creation of the Steele dossier. What other information had the FBI gathered? Nunes pretends there was none. Trump loyalists pretend there was none--as though there were no Russian hijinks at all. Dems claim there was other evidence.

If there was no evidence of hijinks, then there is no reason to spy on Carter Page. However, if there were Russian hijinks along with evidence that Carter Page was involved, then there's a good reason to spy on Page. Interestingly, Page hasn't been a big figure in the whole issue of Russian meddling. The current inquiry isn't centered around Page, but around multiple connection points between the Trump campaign and Russia. Also, Russian meddling -- can we take it as granted that there were a lot of Russian dirty tricks? Do we need a laundry list of them?

So the question of whether Russian meddling was real is paramount. If it was real, if there were sources showing Russian meddling, and not just the fervid, well-paid work of one biased spy, then the investigations appear to be justified.

If Russian meddling was real, then Russia deserves the sanctions put on it. And it would have been wrong to remove those sanctions, as it appears Trump was ready to do. In fact, the whole coziness of Trump, many of his advisers, and Russia appear to be frightening, as though rules and laws don't matter.

One other observation about the memo. Nunes claims twice that FBI and DOJ knew the Steele was being paid by DNC, but is actually vague on the point. It doesn't say who in the FBI and DOJ knew this. It is also vague on what was known, using the phrase "knew political actors..." This vagueness may indicate that there is no written evidence that the information was known at that time at the FBI and DOJ.

Is this applicable to the memo? To the strategy?

Extras. Reaction from the director of the FBI. Reaction from the New Yorker. Here's an interesting point. Carter Page was already on the radar of other news organizations before the leak from Steele: Huffpost early Aug 2016, ABC July 2016, and Slate July 2016.

Because of the memo frenzy, Congress didn't do the work they needed to in the run-up to the end of the most recent continuing resolution, so we're facing another shutdown. Way to go, boys!

Guess what! There was verbiage to the effect that the dossier was political. It was footnote, and Nunes knew about it. What a fucking liar he is.

More extras that I forgot. Conservative theories and reaction to them. Super-great wonderful interactive graphic about who is who in the Russia investigation. Gowdy splits the difference in conspiracies. An unofficial Dem rebuttal is rebutted. Scathing review of the memo because the critique is very sharp, not because the language is hyped. WaPo timeline I might want to refer to.

Finally, a much better memo from Senator Ron Johnson. Reasonable tone, reasonable questions. Download the memo and the internal FBI communications. This is what a decent congressman does. Nunes is a sideshow.

More and better extras. A long, detailed profile of Carter Page. Impressive unless it's full of Russian disinformation. Another more important memo, also about the Carter Page surveillance, but so much more solid.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Memo frenzy

House Republican Devin Nunes, who did some underhanded shit to cover up for Trump last spring, now has a new plan. He's claiming that he has secret information that shows how the FBI and maybe Justice Department (DOJ) had conspired to illegally surveille on the Trump campaign, and other such nefarious acts.

It's a bunch of hogwash. Nunes doesn't have new information -- that's my prediction. He has a hodge-podge that he's carefully piled up to make the FBI look as bad as possible, mostly by editing out info that shows the FBI doing their job, while playing up anything that makes them look bad.

I have no inside info at all, so my prediction of the contents of the memo are based on existing leaked information that is all over the press. Both the Washington Post (link above) and Reuters have detailed stories about what is in the memo. Nunes' memo shows the FBI used information from the Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants to surveille Carter Page. Maybe there's a bit of a surprise, and someone else from the campaign was watched too.

Maybe there will be some innuendo that information was shared with the Clinton campaign. You know, hints that it was possible, but no definite evidence that such illegal information sharing actually happened.

It will leave out the information that Papadoupolous told a Danish Australian somebody that he was getting dirt on Clinton from the Russians. That this info was given to the FBI, and they obtained warrants based on that, and maybe other sources too. How this leads to a warrant to watch Carter Page--that I don't know right now. That interesting piece of the puzzle will probably be revealed sometime.

The memo probably pretends that there wasn't anything to worry about the Russians and the Trump campaign until all that misleading info from the Steele dossier, and that was the excuse to spy on the Trump campaign.

True and Not True

However, parts of the Steele dossier have been verified as true, parts have been shown to be wrong, and parts are very scandalous and the kind of delicious misinformation that some source enjoyed feeding to a gullible mark.

Too many Trump supporters would love to pretend that there is nothing to see in Trump's closeness to the Russians. There was no Russian misbehavior. Instead, the misbehavior was on the part of the Obama administration and its subverted spy network embedded in the FBI and DOJ.

What a cynical ploy this is. The Dems on the committee want to blow the whole issue open with their own version of the events. But somehow it's OK for the GOPers to publish their case, but not for the Dems to do the same. I wonder why? This is so obviously partisan that no one should see it any other way.

If and when Nunes' memo is published, there will be hew and cry, and hundreds of journalists will be working to dig out as much of the rest of the story as possible. We \probably won't have to wait very long to find out all the mitigating information that the Dems wanted to tell but weren't allowed to.

Hide and Seek

High-ranking officials in both the DOJ and FBI don't want the memo released either:
“We have grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said.
They'll be painted as part of a Dem-aligned spy group within these agencies. Maybe they don't want certain embarrassing details out there. Maybe they don't want internal methods revealed. Maybe they're pissed off about being accused when they were doing their jobs and looking into Russian influence.

Are Trump and Nunes hoping the hew and cry will be enough to shut down the Mueller investigation? Maybe that's what they hope, but I doubt it will happen. I doubt there is much that will smudge the investigation. Mueller will continue to work meticulously gathering the information that's out there, and maybe parts that are currently hidden--though I don't think there will be any more major revelations. I'm so looking forward to the detailed reports--reports are full of real evidence, honestly collected and presented without partisan spin.

What if the memo contains much more than I thought? Then I was wrong and will need to reevaluate. However, if it contains what I've outlined here, this memo is perhaps the biggest example of a shiny object so far in this presidency. A nothing-new-here that dominated the news cycle for several weeks, and that was called "shocking" and "far worse than Watergate." Yep, that's what I'm predicting: a bunch of GOP hype-tripe pretending to be shock and awe.


Extras. Is it a coincidence the Trey Gowdy is calling it quits? Gowdy may be an intense conservative, but he seems to have limits on stupid partisanship.

The head of the CIA, a conservative appointed by Trump, says that he's expecting more interference by Russians in the midterm elections. Fake news, I guess.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Reverse auction in Congress

This is an explanation I developed in my comments on political threads, but I'm finally writing it here. On many issues, the GOP leadership has the choice of two negotiation partners. It can negotiate with the House Freedom Caucus (a more conservative group) or it can negotiate with Dems.

Both the Freedom Caucus and the Dems will try to barter votes for concessions. The GOP will be able to play them off against each other and lower the degree of concessions.

This dynamic was first apparent when the GOP were late again getting to the appropriations bills last September. Dems helped them out by providing votes to pass a clean continuing resolution to keep funding as is. In December, it was the Freedom Caucus' turn to provide the votes, with a clean bill again being passed.

Neither the Dems nor the Freedom Caucus gain much in these clean bills. Many of them want to use their leverage (their votes) to gain concessions. Dems want protection for DACA young people (children brought to the US as illegal aliens). The Freedom Caucus has a big roster of wants, including no concessions on DACA, tougher immigration measures, and more military readiness.

With the 1/19/18 appropriation deadline coming up, both the Dems and the Freedom Caucus were vying to be the partner. The Dems thought they had a deal, but it fell apart. The Freedom Caucus swooped in and made a deal for almost a clean bill--few demands at all. That bill passed the House just one day before the deadline.

The Freedom Caucus agenda is a better fit in general for the GOP. But this is complicated by the slim GOP margin in the Senate, and some very independently-minded GOP senators. Several senators, such as Lindsay Graham and Jeff Flake, want to do an immigration reform deal that is more liberal than what the rest of the GOP senators want. (This is how the Dem deal fell apart. The Dems negotiated only with Lindsay Graham, and the deal was spiked by Trump.) Do Graham and Flake have to willpower to stand strong and send the Freedom Caucus deal to defeat? I rather doubt it.

I think Graham and Flake will have to settle on a lesser immigration deal in the near future, or maybe no deal at all. Democrats have been threatening a filibuster and hinting at a government shutdown if they don't get a deal on DACA. I predict any shutdown will fail. The Dem leadership probably realizes this, so I don't think they would attempt anything more than a token shutdown at most.

Shutdown threats are a blunt instrument, and not useful for getting major changes in potential legislation. Making an advantageous deal is going to be hard for the Freedom Caucus or the Dems. The best deal may be for them have secret talks with as many allies in the GOP establishment as possible, be prepared to make concessions, and then take what they can get. However, this strategy is certain to piss off true believers among the supporters, and get the politicians labeled as sell-outs. But that's the breaks when you negotiate from a position of weakness and you aren't the only potential partner. If someone is ready to trip you and underbid you, you need to be ready to do the same.