The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


PRAWN Blog: Good Behavior

 PRAWN Blog: Good Behavior: Saw a few ads for the second season of the TV show “ Good Behavior ” and saved an episode and finally saw it today. The two main char...

Good Behavior

Saw a few ads for the second season of the TV show “Good Behavior” and saved an episode and finally saw it today. The two main characters Letty Raines (played by Michelle Dockery) and Javier (played by Juan Diego Botto) would clearly, if you asked them, state that they are villains, but that they’re trying to go straight.
Now, the villainy of Rainers and the past she’s trying to get away from is that she’s a shoplifter as well as a con artist. I spent the first few years of the 80s working in a department store in the security division. I just performed back-room support tasks, but listened in as my co-workers told tales of detecting and stopping shoplifters.
So I was interested to see what Raines’ techniques would be. I was mildly disappointed to see that they consisted of just walking into a shop, grabbing items, tossing them into her purse and walking out. She doesn’t have to deal with any surveillance, no tags on the clothing setting off alarms as she tries to leave, nothing. No art, no cleverness, no real challenge or drama to it.
Now, I understand why this is. Criminals really enjoy crime shows. They obviously don’t like seeing fellow criminals getting foiled or being punished, but they do enjoy seeing and learning from the techniques that the fictional criminals use. I also understand that there are probably some retailers underwriting part the advertising for the show and so the writers of the show don’t want to show any techniques that people might then use against their sponsors.
Eh, it’s a bit of a let-down. I’ll probably keep watching the show anyway, but I’ll have to settle for the complete lack of style on one of the villains parts in it.


Pulling the wool over the President's eyes

I thought this statement was kind of fascinating. A reporter asks “Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) to give her just one example of Trump trying to work with Democrats.”

Collins: [President Trump] has had Democrat senators into the White House time and again, early on, talking about health care, attempting –

Tur: In what way did he reach out? Give me one way he reached out on healthcare other than a conversation?

Collins: It starts with conversation, and he was shut down immediately by Senator Schumer and the others, in saying that they weren't going to support anything called a repeal of Obamacare. They worked to put more money into the individual marketplace, but that was it. At which point he had no choice, but to turn to the Republicans, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan. We in the House sent a pretty darn good repeal and replace that didn't get through the Senate, but it takes two people and Senator Schumer –

So Trump “had no choice” but to work with McConnell and Ryan, who agreed with him that the ACA/Obamacare was hopelessly broken and needed to be torn down entirely and replaced wholesale. It wasn't that the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was stubborn, it was that Schumer didn't agree on the scope or the shape of the problem. Schumer felt that the problems with the ACA were small and fixable. Trump went with the far more dire and apocolyptic view pressed by the Republican Senate and House leaders. How did those two views end up being substantiated? Here's the view presented by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway in late July, after Trumpcare failed to win passage in the Senate:

CONWAY: The president will not accept those who said it's, quote, time to move on. He wants to help the millions of Americans who have suffered with no coverage. They were lied to by the last president. They couldn't keep the doctor. They couldn't keep their plan.
We’ve met with the ObamaCare victims at the White House several times now. They’re real people, they’re suffering.

Okay so first off, yes, Trumpcare had crashed and burned with unanimous Democratic “No” votes and three rock-solid Republican “No” votes in the Senate, so yes it was and still is “time to move on.”
Second, it's kind of interesting that Conway doesn't cite any problems that require tearing down health care coverage for 20-plus million people. All of the CBO estimates for all of the Republican replacement plans in both the House and Senate called for removing at least 20 million people from their ACA health care plans. Trump apparently just wanted to extend coverage to even more people.
Were the American people lied to by President Obama? Well, that “they couldn't keep their plans” was pretty obvious to anyone who was seriously following the debate over the ACA in the first place. If you had crummy, inadequate individual coverage that had really high deductivles and lots of rules you had to follow in order to make a successful claim, then yes, such plans couldn't be kept. The ACA insisted that plans had to be comprehensive and had to cover a variety of health conditions and deductions were lmited by regulations. The prior individual coverage was good if you were young and healthy and were unlikely to ever make a claim and only really cared about the price you were paying.
Very interesting that Conway feels the need to assert that “Obamacare victims” were “real people.” Apparently, they had to search for people who weren't covered and their numbers appear to have been so small that Conway feels the need to assert that there were indeed such meetings.

Okay, so what about people on the other side of the question, people who urged a “No” vote on ACA repeal? How did ordinary citizens react to the failure of Trumpcare? Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was one of the three Republican “No” votes and her return to Maine was described in a local paper:

Friday morning, as she wearily walked off her plane at Bangor International Airport, Collins stepped out into a terminal gate packed with passengers waiting to board their outbound flight.
She recognized no one. But several of them recognized her and began to applaud.
Within seconds, the whole terminal was clapping, many people rising to their feet as their sleep-deprived senator passed.
Never before, throughout her two decades and 6,300 votes in the Senate, had Collins received such a spontaneous welcome home.
It was absolutely extraordinary,” she said. “It was just so affirming of what happens when you do the right thing.”

So yeah, sounds to me as though Trump was given bum information by the Republican House and Senate leaders. Had the amateur president any real knowledge of the situation or the ability to separate BS from real facts, he might have gone with Schumer and the Democrats to achieving a real solution to a real problem. 


Israel as the new Goliath

So Jewish people holding flags with the Star of David were not permitted to take part in a gay pride parade. The explanation from the parade organizers tells us that the decision had nothing to do with Jewish people and everything to do with the policies of the Israeli government as regards Palestinians. Statistics show that the Republican Party is very solidly pro-Israeli and the Democratic Party is about a third pro-Israel, a third pro-Palestinian and a third undecided. If there's any one single individual that has caused this situation to come about, that would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By ignoring the President's role in foreign policy and speaking to Congress without President Obama's permission, Netanyahu strongly contributed to making support for Israel a partisan issue. 
But the heart of the issue is shown in the below story and it shows that Israel has become a ruthless, iron-booted occupier. A Palestinian village within Israel's borders had received solar panels from Holland. After the panels had been supplying power to the village for a year, Israel abruptly removed them, giving notice only when the removal of the panels was halfway complete, thereby giving the village no opportunity to appeal the decision. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel was seen as the scrappy, resourceful David to the Goliath of the surrounding Arab states. Now Israel appears to be the Goliath that is stepping on Palestinians.


President's speech on pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord

Okay, just read the President's speech on climate change and on his pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.

1. Is the economy "coming back?" The latest jobs report is not horrible, but not really that impressive. There is no sign of a Trump boom and good reason to worry.

2. He goes through a series of promises kept, one of which is "putting in place tough new ethics rules." Erm, yeah. About those "tough" rules, the Trump Administration has already made 16 exceptions, a number that, in five months, is equal to Obama's over eight years.

3. One commitment that was very clearly not kept was the commitment to not touch Social Security or Medicaid. As AARP puts it "The proposed [AHCA/Trumpcare] legislation would also make huge cuts to Medicaid by taking $880 billion out of the program by 2026" and SSDI benefits are slated to be cut as well. Yes, the President keeps his promises, but in a highly selective manner. Some promises he takes seriously. Others, not so much.

4. The promise to renegotiate the Paris Climate Accord is dead on arrival. Won't happen.

5. From the speech: "The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries..." Erm, no. Preventing global warming is good for all humans on the planet. "Climate change resulting from rising greenhouse gas emissions is expected to lead to increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns over the next century that will, among other things, significantly affect human livelihoods. Since the beginning of this millennium, natural hazards, such as hurricanes, have triggered disasters, which have reversed years of development work." In fact, climate change is already making us sick. The Navy is very much aware that rising seas pose an enormous danger to coastal military bases.

6. The WaPo has an extensive fact-checking piece that thoroughly debunks the speech.

Update: People have asked how serious the President is on this issue.  I really don't think there's much room for doubt. He's taken the same position consistently since 2012, that global warming is a hoax. His position may be completely cynical, but he's held for a long time.


Fake News and the sites I use

I posted a link to a Daily Kos piece that praised the NY Times for doing a really good job with a piece that examined Syria’s actions in the chemical attack that President Trump felt obliged to respond to with an attack by 59 drones. Then, I posted a piece from Crooks and Liars that took the NY Times to task as the paper was now supporting a climate change denier. A commenter said: “The NY Times does not promote climate denial.“ and “Do not believe everything you read, especially if the source is a sleazy tabloid like this one.”
I read the piece that C&L criticized and am unimpressed. The author starts off by suggesting that the Hillary Clinton campaign somehow misread or didn’t fully grasp the poll numbers and so was blindsided by the 2016 election results.
But that’s not true. Clinton was maintaining a small, but steady lead over Trump. Trump was trying very hard, but couldn’t bridge that gap. The real problem was that FBI Director Comey came out of the blue with supposedly new emails that he hadn’t yet examined himself. That threw a giant monkey wrench into the campaign and pushed Trump over the top.
From there our author goes on to call into question the authority of climate science and suggests that we should be much more cautious about claims that sound too certain.
My own view on certainty is that if you feel someone is wrong, it’s up to you to show where and how the person is wrong. If you’re simply saying “don’t be too certain,” then you’re just trying to create doubt and confusion and yes, you count as a denier. And yes, back in late 2002, early 2003, the NY Times ran some editorials that were skeptical of the Iraq War, but they also published Judith Miller’s “OMG! Saddam Hussein’s got WMDs!!!” stories on their front pages. So yes, on balance, their promotion of the Judith Miller pieces outweighed their cautious editorials and they promoted the war.

Okay, so how do we properly judge news sources? I regularly check a number of sources that have weird names, Balloon Juice, Hullabaloo, Informed Comment and Talking Points Memo. I once told a right-winger that some information I was presenting came from the magazine called Mother Jones. He thought that was a stupid name and so therefore, my information must not have been any good.
If we say that we can’t tell how good or bad the reporting on a blog is by the name of the blog, in other words, if a quickie, surface examination is insufficient, how are we to tell how reliable a source is?
One major criteria of mine is whether the blog gives you a way to verify what they say. If the blog regularly provides links to their sources and quotes their sources accurately, that’s a very good start. If the blog sometimes just quotes the terribly provocative thing that was said without even bothering to add editorial comments, even better. Media Matters is especially good on this. They’ll frequently just allow the provocative comment to stand by itself without any further editorial comments from them.
Modest editorial language is a plus, but sometimes the provocation really calls for some serious cussing. If a blog generally shows restraint, but occasionally lets loose (Balloon Juice does this) with Not Safe For Work (NSFW) language, then that’s a pretty good sign their information is reliable.
And of course, there’s the matter of track record. Dean Baker was an economist that I became familiar with in the late 1990s. He decided in 2002 that the US had a housing bubble (the bubble had actually started in the late 1990s, it took Baker a while to figure it out). The NY Times columnist Paul Krugman agreed with him. These two became rather tiresome with their constant warnings that when the bubble burst, it was going to be awful. Well, sure enough. It burst in late 2007 and the result was indeed awful. So yeah, I give these two lots and lots of credibility.

There’s no such thing as a source that’s always right. So developing a list of reliable sources is a waste of time. Even the lefty sources that I like and regularly check can be wrong. There are many tests that one can apply to news stories to see whether they’re credible or not. The NY Times is often right, but they can be wrong as well and we can run tests to see whether they’re right or not. I’ve mentioned a few such tests. I’m sure that I regularly apply a few others that I can’t recall at the moment.


Suggestion that we intervene in Syria against ISIS

My major problem with it is of course that it would be an utter quagmire as the US has no natural allies in Syria, except perhaps the Kurds and they’re only in the Northern part of that country. We’d get bogged down again even worse than we were in Iraq. But, an even worse problem is that the Daesh/ISIS problem is largely solved anyway.

Let’s put this in terms of World War II analogies. Everyone knows about the battles of Stalingrad (Nazi Wehrmacht vs the Soviet Union), Midway (Imperial Japanese Navy vs the US) and El Alamein (The Nazi Afrika Corps against the British), where the German/Japanese advances were stopped. Then there were three battles where the Axis powers might possibly have been able to stop the Allies and reversed the course of the war, but didn’t and victory for the Allies was never really in doubt afterwards. These were Kursk (In the Soviet Union), Guadalcanal (In the Pacific) and the Normandy Landings (France).

The situation with Daesh right now is comfortable after the Kursk/Guadalcanal/Normandy stage. Daesh has lost a great deal of land and people. They’re hanging onto a part of the city of Mosul, the Western part, but they’ve lost much else of their Iraqi territory. There’s even talk of their leaving Raqqa, their capitol in Syria.

Are there further battles the US may wish to fight in the region?

The main conflict in Syria’s civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, against an array of rebel groups aiming to oust him, including some that have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

This is a battle the the US really doesn’t want to get into, even though we’re obviously involved to some degree anyway. It’s really not clear that we wouldn’t be better off by simply abandoning the region. The main thing keeping us there is the oil supplied by the Gulf monarchies and global warming/climate change is a strong motivation to get ourselves off of fossil fuels anyway. The Saudi Arabians see the writing on the wall and have determined to get themselves out of the oil-supplying business during the 2020s.

No, we don’t need to send troops into the Mideast. We don’t need to throw US troops into a war against Daesh that Daesh has largely lost anyway and we really don’t want to “gin up” a conflict against Russian/Iranian forces.