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Even Murderous Nazi Crackpots Have to Maintain Some Standards

[ 9 ] May 28, 2017 |

Jeremy Christian’s background is pretty much what you would expect. With one exception: he couldn’t quite bring himself to vote for Donald Trump. I mean, President Trump — that would be ridiculous!


How Your Beat Gets Sweetened

[ 57 ] May 27, 2017 |

As a follow-up to my post earlier today, I’d say this is checkmate for the Post:


Haberman does produce some useful stories because of her access and if she wants to present Kushner’s viewpoint in a story to sweeten the beat that’s probably a tradeoff worth making. But putting implausible, self-serving explanations from the Kushner camp up top and implying that they’re established fact (and explicitly presenting them as established fact when promoting the story) is another matter.

Gregg Allman, RIP

[ 49 ] May 27, 2017 |

Gregg Allman is dead at the age of 69. I don’t think anyone is surprised that he did not live into his 90s.

More Trump Budgeting

[ 63 ] May 27, 2017 |

Another target of the Trump budget is weather forecasting and research. Because who needs to know more about where a tornado might strike, the path of a hurricane, or an oncoming blizzard?

The main U.S. weather forecasting model, which has fallen behind the European model in its accuracy, has been called a “national embarrassment.”

In an inexplicable budget proposal that has floored the weather community, the Trump administration aims to reduce investments in programs that would improve this model and many others aspects of the nation’s weather forecasting.

Released Tuesday, the proposal slashes funding at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the National Weather Service, by 16 percent.

The proposal not only reduces investments in weather forecasting technology but also cuts programs that would enhance understanding of phenomena, such as El Nino, hurricanes and tornadoes. NOAA’s weather satellite programs would see reductions in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

That will show THE DEEP STATE not to mess with Trump!

Nothing to See Here!

[ 62 ] May 27, 2017 |

After the blockbuster Washington Post scoop about Kushner landed last night, the New York Times followed up to tell it like it is — that everything is just fine:

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.

As Yglesias observes, the spin Haberman et al. are accepting uncritically here is…not very plausible:

Documentary evidence or sworn testimony may emerge some day to confirm this characterization of events, but on its own terms it seems hard to believe for three reasons.

One is that it’s not clear why a Syria backchannel the Times is positing would require access to the Russian government’s secure diplomatic communication channels.
The other is that it’s not clear from the Times’ account why the backchannel was never established. In the Post’s story, Russia rejected the use of diplomatic channels as unworkable and then Kushner dropped the matter since the ability to evade US government surveillance was evidently key to whatever he wanted.
Last, the Trump White House simply lies very frequently. Sometimes they lie about obvious, easily checkable facts like how many people attended Trump’s inauguration or whether or NATO members owe a financial debt to the United States. When a group of people lie frequently, it seems sensible to discount their future self-serving but unverifiable claims.

The third point is particularly crucial. There’s nothing wrong with reporters printing the administration line, per se, but given that these people lie about everything unless a claim can be corroborated it really needs to be approached with a great deal of skepticism, skepticism that is notably lacking in the story. Davies is again relevant here:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.

The Vital Importance of Audit. Emphasised over and over again. Brealey and Myers has a section on this, in which they remind callow students that like backing-up one’s computer files, this is a lesson that everyone seems to have to learn the hard way. Basically, it’s been shown time and again and again; companies which do not audit completed projects in order to see how accurate the original projections were, tend to get exactly the forecasts and projects that they deserve. Companies which have a culture where there are no consequences for making dishonest forecasts, get the projects they deserve. Companies which allocate blank cheques to management teams with a proven record of failure and mendacity, get what they deserve.

I hope I don’t have to spell out the implications of this one for Iraq. Krugman has gone on and on about this, seemingly with some small effect these days. The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the Times breaking from its saturation EMAILS! coverage running a false “nothing to see here” story about Russia and Trump less than two weeks before the election or something:

Oh. And, again, let me note that the reporter who got spun like a top by the alt-right faction of the FBI also published one of the most egregious Clinton Rules “TROUBLING QUESTIONS CAST SHADOWS RAISED TROUBINGLY [lede] no wrongdoing whatsoever by anyone [graf 32]” stories of the campaign. Comparing the Clinton Foundation stories with this spinning for Trump and Kushner is a clear indication of real and ongoing problems at the NYT political desk.


[ 116 ] May 27, 2017 |

Looking through the Labour Manifesto, I noticed this passage:

Our manifesto is fully costed, with all current spending paid for out of taxation or redirected revenue streams. Our public services must rest on the foundation of sound finances. Labour will therefore set the target of eliminating the government’s deficit on day-to-day spending within five years.


Seriously, whether this is good politics in the British context, I have no idea. But I will observe that plenty of successful left politicians — most notably in the American context, FDR in 1932 — have used the language of fiscal responsibility. If it makes higher taxes and an expanded welfare state an easier sell politically, I’m fine with it.

I would also urge taking a look at the Manifesto (summarized here.) There are a lot of good ideas in it — I especially like the various measures directed at taxing very high, essentially cartel-rigged salaries. I don’t know to what extent (if any) role it’s playing in the tightening polls, but while Corbyn is not the ideal messenger and while too many Blarities are failing to back the leader of the party, I see no reason to think it’s an agenda that can’t be the basis for a governing majority in the future.

Another day in Trump’s America

[ 110 ] May 26, 2017 |

Two people were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as a man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.

A third passenger also was stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Officers arrested the suspect as he ran into the neighborhood near Providence Portland Medical Center in Northeast Portland, Simpson said. Police are still working to identify him and the people stabbed.

The man was ranting about many things, using “hate speech or biased language,” and at one point focused on the young women, Simpson said.

The suspect then turned on the passengers who tried to help, Simpson said.

“In the midst of his ranting and raving, some people approached him and appeared to try to intervene with his behavior and some of the people that he was yelling at,” Simpson said. “They were attacked viciously.”

One good Samaritan died at the scene and another at the hospital, he said. The third victim was undergoing evaluation, but didn’t suffer life-threatening wounds, he said.

“These were folks just riding the train and unfortunately got caught up in this,” he said.

“We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues,” Simpson said. “We don’t know if he’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol or all of the above.”

Evelin Hernandez, a 38-year-old Clackamas resident, said she was on the train when the man began making racist remarks to the young women. A group of men tried to quiet him, she said, and he stabbed them.

The attack occurred on a MAX Green Line train as it was heading east. A train remained stopped on the tracks at the Hollywood/N.E. 42nd Avenue Transit Center as police investigated.

Simpson said police want to talk to the young women and other witnesses to the rampage. They understandably left the scene, but can help fill in what happened, he said.

“It’s horrific,” he said. “There’s no other word to describe what happened today. For the victims, our thoughts and prayers are with their families. … For the witnesses, there is no other word.”

Friday marks the start of Ramadan, a month-long fast observed by most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

“Our thoughts are with the Muslim community,” Simpson said. “As something like this happens, this only instills fear in that community. We have already reached out previous to this incident to our Muslim community partners and the different imams about extra patrol during Ramadan. We want to reassure them that that will continue.”

Portland is home to a rough estimate of about 50,000 Muslims of different ethnicities.

Also, don’t speak Spanish in public if you would like to avoid being attacked by racist lunatics.

The Buffoon Doctrine

[ 51 ] May 26, 2017 |

Not longer after Trump decided to ineffectually fire a whole boatload of cruise missiles at Syria, I co-authored a piece on why “Trumpian Unpredictability” is no virtue.

Thus, for the United States, unpredictability carries enormous risks. That’s true for Nixonian calculated irrationality, too, but much more so for Trumpian unpredictability. Rivals and allies can easily interpret mixed signals from different voices in the administration and frequent high-profile policy reversals as evidence that the president does not mean what he says, that he has no idea what he is doing, or that he can change his mind on a whim. Intentionally fostering uncertainty reduces the credibility of existing commitments.

Unraveling the American alliance network by undermining confidence in Washington is probably the worst way to implement an America First policy. It undercuts a major source of American strength without gaining the benefits that might follow from strategic retrenchment — that is, of making deliberate decisions about what commitments are key to American security and which can be shed, while taking steps to ensure that unwinding those commitments don’t harm vital interests and alliances.

However, Trump’s bizarre international tour raises an important question: how much damage can one buffoon do to American leadership? Most of our readers know that Trump insulted allies, engaged in bizarre behavior, and generally made a hash of things. For what it’s worth, Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister of Montenegro said that Trump’s shove was no big deal. But he leads a country with a population smaller than the city of Washington, DC; Montenegro’s annual GDP is less than one quarter of the cost of the USS Gerald R. Ford. Trump could have pulled a Greg Gianforte on him and Markovic would have brushed it off. The important thing is that it was just another unforced error.

More important, Trump dressed down NATO members—yet again—for supposedly not paying their fair share. As I’ve argued before, Trump’s approach to burden sharing stems from deeply flawed understandings of the benefits of the US alliance system. And, as Andrew Moravcsik explains, the ledger itself looks very different when you take into account the de facto division of labor between the United States and the major European powers.

Collectively, Europeans spend more and deploy far more combat troops abroad than anyone except the US. Yet Europe’s real comparative advantage lies in the fact that it is the world’s pre-eminent “civilian superpower”. Its unique capacity to project economic and diplomatic power, often in situations where the US is powerless to defend its interests unilaterally, is just as essential to western security as American military might.

The EU is the world’s largest trading bloc — and Europeans know how to exploit it. Iran offers a recent illustration. Three decades of American sanctions hardly had any impact, since trade between the two countries is essentially nil anyway. Yet almost as soon as the Europeans imposed strong sanctions in 2014, Iran began to negotiate towards a nuclear agreement. Europe also provides two-thirds of the world’s official development assistance and is the largest funder of the UN and almost all other international organisations.

Indeed, given that Trump wants to mount a scorched-earth campaign against America’s diplomatic capabilities and its foreign-assistance program, perhaps Europeans should be dressing down the United States.

But the point isn’t just that Trump’s wrong on the merits. It’s that the merits are pretty much secondary to his conduct. Trump excoriated NATO members—and pointedly failed to mention America’s Article V commitment to defend NATO against aggression—at a ceremony commemorating 9/11.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. triggered NATO’s collective defense clause, known as Article Five, prompting alliance members to rally around their ally. It is the first and only time the clause has been invoked.

The unveiling of the World Trade Center memorial was meant to be symbolic of the United States’ commitment to the alliance — but Trump’s failure to mention Article Five left commentators doubtful.

Something like a third of the coalition troops killed in Afghanistan were from NATO member-states, or NATO partners, other than the United States. In other words, if Moscow hoped that Trump would cause needless frictions in the American alliance system, then it got its wish.

But we also should take a deep breath. While I believe that American institutions—at home and abroad—are more fragile than we often recognize, it’s going to take a lot more than these kinds of antics to bring NATO crashing down. Nonetheless, it is emphatically not a good thing that transatlantic cohesion depends on our allies taking the President of the United States neither literally nor seriously.

Image by Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Trump’s Man in Asia

[ 14 ] May 26, 2017 |

The thing about Rodrigo Duterte is that for an authoritarian like Trump, he says things that Trump would like to say himself but can’t yet. And you know President Pussy Grabber loves this.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte joked Friday that soldiers could rape up to three women, as he reassured them of his full support under his newly imposed regional martial law.

Duterte, who often peppers his language with man-on-the-street curses, made the comments in jest during a speech at a military base to lift the spirits of troops tasked with quelling what he says is a fast-growing threat of Islamist terrorism.

“For this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible. Just do your work. I will handle the rest,” he said.

“I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three (women), I will say that I did it.”

Of course, given that Duterte responded to the rape of his own daughter by calling her a “drama queen,” such horrible inhuman statements are hardly unusual. And this is why Trump loves the guy. Perfect guy to share some sexist jokes and the location of our submarines.

“These Are Not Very Bright Guys”

[ 112 ] May 26, 2017 |

Your major WaPo evening scoop of the day:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Hiring your notably unaccomplished son-in-law for a critical government job seemed like a great idea, what went wrong?

Our Qualified, Intelligent Political Leaders

[ 18 ] May 26, 2017 |

Mark Meadows, (Lunatic-NC) and critical player in TrumpCare passing the House:

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), — who played a pivotal role in including state waiver options in AHCA — hadn’t read the full report yet, but initially said he saw it as “good news.”

When reporters pointed out the portion of the CBO report saying individuals with preexisting conditions in waiver states would be charged higher premiums and could even be priced out of the insurance market — destabilizing markets in those states — under AHCA, Meadows seemed surprised.

“Well, that’s not what I read,” Meadows said, putting on his reading glasses and peering at the paragraph on the phone of a nearby reporter.

The CBO predicted:

“…the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive non-group health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all — despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums.”

Republicans insisted in the days after AHCA’s passage that the health care bill would not weaken protections for preexisting conditions, citing the plan’s high-risk pools for sick people.

Critics argue those high-risk pools are not adequately funded, though. The Center for American Progress projected, before House Republicans passed AHCA in May, that its high-risk pools “would fall short by at least $19.7 billion per year, or by about $200 billion over 10 years.”

The CBO analysis was likewise adamant that AHCA’s current high-risk pool funding isn’t enough to cover sick people if states use the mandate waivers.

After reading the paragraph, Meadows told reporters he would go through the CBO analysis more thoroughly and run the numbers, adding he would work to make sure the high-risk pools are properly funded.

Meadows, suddenly emotional, choked back tears and said, “Listen, I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it’s me. I’m not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody’s sister or father because I wouldn’t do it to myself.”

He continued:

“In the end, we’ve got to make sure there’s enough funding there to handle preexisting conditions and drive down premiums. And if we can’t do those three things, then we will have failed.”

Meadows indicated he would support less-conservative changes to provide more funding for high-risk pools in the Senate, if needed.

The man literally has no idea what it is his own bill or how it will affect people, despite people talking about this ever since this horrible idea began. But, hey, those people were liberals. And so are those CBO hippies so I’m sure the magic math behind TrumpCare will totally work. That’s Jesus math right there.

The New Republican Retirement Plan

[ 71 ] May 26, 2017 |

I know some of you are aware of this comment from new Republithug Greg Gianforte, but I think we have the Republican retirement plan summed up in a nutshell.

Gianforte is a big fan of citing Noah, as it turns out. In a 2015 talk at the Montana Bible College, he told the audience that he doesn’t believe in retirement because Noah was 600 when he built the ark. “There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today,” Gianforte said. “Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.”

He added: “The example I think of is Noah. How old was Noah when he built the ark? Six hundred. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”

I look forward to this justification being used by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to destroy Social Security if Republicans manage to hold onto the House and Senate next year.

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