2018/11/14

NY Times makes major screw-up


On the 21st of September, the New York Times published a story suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had seriously proposed wearing a wire in meetings with the President. Criticism of the story was so swift and severe that by the end of the day, Matthew Rosenberg (he covers intelligence and national security for the Times) said: “Enough already: @adamgoldmanNYT & @nytmike broke an important story that advances our understanding of a crucial moment. It’s no plot by pro-Trump forces. It’s good reporting.”

Actually, it’s hard to imagine how the story ever got off the ground when:

Rosenstein disputed this account.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement.

Now, when someone denies a story in which they are accused of taking an action, it hardly means they're innocent. But it does mean that the story needs to be backed up with serious evidence. If the news source doesn't have that stronger evidence, the story needs to stay in the reporter's desk drawer or computer to await the day when better evidence is available.

But the story was based on second-hand, hearsay sources. When the story says of their sources:“The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials...” then that means that nobody who was quoted was actually in the room when Rosenstein said what he allegedly said. That means that Rosenstein's word trumps anything the paper's sources said.

Was the story “important?” Good Heavens, if the story can’t even be substantiated as accurate, then no. By definition, it isn’t important.
Also, it’s not as though a story about hate and discontent and chaos in the early days of the Trump Administration is “news” in any meaningful sense of the word . People generally knew that. No, nothing was “advanced.”

Good reporting? Hardly. This fails Journalism 101.

Was the story consequential? Unfortunately, yes it was. The President immediately accused Rosenstein of having been “hired” by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

ThinkProgress reports that:

The news story has Washington on edge, amid fears that the report may push the mercurial president to fire Rosenstein — an action he has long been rumored to be considering. Such a move would have knock on effects on the ongoing Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an investigation being led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

And Sean Hannity of Fox News said that Rosenstein was "leading a silent coup against Trump."

Liberals and conservatives evaluate news differently. A conservative commenting in my local paper dismissed a piece of evidence I produced because it came from a magazine called “Mother Jones.” Obviously, he thought, nothing serious could come out of a news source with such a silly name.
Liberals have little use for knowing where a news item came from. It’s not completely irrelevant, but it’s not among the top five pieces of evidence we need to evaluate a story. In addition to whether a story follows the rules of just plain good journalism as we saw in the story I just cited, then if it's accurate, it will be re-published by several different sources as each of those sources will be expected to do their due diligence to verify the story. Also, if the story is accurate, the other sources are likely to add other details to it.

If a story is crap, it won't go anywhere. The host of Infowars, Alex Jones, came up with the bizarre notion of humanoids, who are “like 80 percent gorilla and 80 percent pig and they're talking." Never heard of this story? Exactly. If the story had any credibility, it would have been re-published by other sources. As it was, it didn't survive getting outside the “hothouse” of Infowars.

2018/09/13

US Democratic vs Nazi platforms

Dinesh D'Souza made a film that Don Jr. saw and clearly, that was Don Jrs. only exposure to the material because he swallowed D'Souza's propaganda wholesale.

"Don Trump Jr. Calls Democratic Party 'The Real Nazis' After Watching D'Souza's Mess"

Okay, so let's look at what the Nazi Party platform of 1920 was:
  1. Unification of Greater Germany (Austria + Germany)
  2. Land + expansion
  3. Anti-Versailles - abrogation of the Treaty.
  4. Land and territory - lebensraum.
  5. Only a "member of the race" can be a citizen.
  6. Anti-semitism - No Jew can be a member of the race.
  7. Anti-foreigner - only citizens can live in Germany.
  8. No immigration - ref. to Jews fleeing pograms.
  9. Everyone must work.
  10. Abolition of unearned income - "no rent-slavery".
  11. Nationalisation of industry
  12. Divison of profits
  13. Extension of old age welfare.
  14. Land reform
  15. Death to all criminals
  16. German law, not Roman law (anti- French Rev.)
  17. Education to teach "the German Way"
  18. Education of gifted children
  19. Protection of mother and child by outlawing child labour.
  20. Encouraging gymnastics and swimming
  21. Formation a national army.
  22. Duty of the state to provide for its volk.
  23. Duty of individuals to the state 
Points 1 through 4, 16 and 21 are specific to Germany's concerns at the time.
Points 5 through 8, 15, 17 and 23 sound just like the Trump Administration today.
9 through 14, 18 to 20 and 22 okay, these sound like items Democrats could agree with. Not so sure about point 11, though. Some nationalization would be good, but lots of Democrats are strong believers in capitalism. 22 is also pretty much straight socialsm. Not really sure either 10 or 12 survived very long then or would survive under Democrats today. Michelle Obama would especially approve of 20.
It's a pretty mixed bag. Certainly Democrats would agree with some of the values expressed, but Don Jr. sounds as though he's citing a very one-sided version and doesn't have enough historical knowledge to really make careful distinctions.

2018/09/07

Iran invasion


I first looked into the idea of invading Iran back in 2003, after Baghdad fell, in response to neocons saying "Real men go to Tehran." Situation hasn't changed much. The pressure on the moderate president Hassan Rouhani is certainly having a political impact, and international business is being forced away from doing business in Iran, but as Rouhani gets less popular, it’s the anti-American hard-liners in Iran that politically benefit.

I said at the time that the US needed a "Colonial Corps" to successfully occupy Iraq. What we urgently needed at the time and what we’ll need to occupy Iran is a large group of paramilitary administrators to run things at the municipal level. A piece from the Modern War Institute says: "Right now the US military does not have personnel with deep specialization in conducting or overseeing the type of occupation that Karle argues is an unfortunate necessity of being prepared for all possibilities."

Also, US air operations have been ongoing for the past 25 years, meaning that tool has gotten pretty worn and dull. But as in Iraq, battlefield success is only the first step. Iranians are trained, organized and ready to undertake extended guerrilla war.

First, if I were to invade Iran, there are a couple of possibilities we can eliminate. Strike from Afghanistan? That country isn't really secured as the Taliban is alive and well and there have been battles around Farah, right about where a US invasion of Iran would jump off from. 

Strike from Pakistan? The country puts up with our using them as a supply dump for Afghanistan and even that has caused friction in the past.

Strike from Iraq? The country is modernizing under it’s newly elected leader Muqtada al-Sadr, but there are definitely troubles there. A large American presence in the country could be disastrous. It would a big risk to our supply lines.

Strike past the Strait of Hormuz and from the Persian Gulf? American military people believe the US Navy would prevail, but clearly, for the Navy to launch an attack from the Gulf would require some extensive fighting beforehand. It’s possible Iran would block it off and leave our naval forces stranded in the Gulf with no re-supply able to get in. Even a temporary cut-off would be a humiliation.

If I were in charge, I'd hit their beaches right above the Gulf of Oman, the town of Chabahar appears to be a good landing spot. Kerman is a substantial city that's well short of Tehran and there are nuclear plants North and West of there. That's about 600 miles from Chabahar, some of the terrain fairly smooth, some rocky and fairly elevated. Our supply lines would be getting attacks long before our forces reached Kerman. Our Army may make it over a thousand miles more, all the way to Tehran, (about 1,800 miles from Chabahar).

But we'd need to guard every mile of that supply line or, at the very least, to deliver all supplies in armed convoys. What would be the consequences of an insufficient force to cover supply lines? The Iraqi ammunition dump of Al Qaqaa was looted after the Army passed by and left too small a detachment to guard it. To get the necessary troops to guard the supply line, we'd need to institute a draft. That would be hugely unpopular!


2018/08/12

More on US and Iran deal

The US Ambassador to Britain sobs a great gusher of crocodile tears about how Iran cares so little for the opinions of its people. "Iranian protesters were chanting that 'the nation is begging, while the master lives like God.'”  Not that the US has any sort of problem with income inequality or that the current presidential administration was any sort of shining example of that [/snark]. Newsweek: “The politically powerful rich get to pay low taxes, while the politically marginalized poor bear the burden but can do nothing about it.”

Iran "is sponsoring Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon." Hizbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet positions. They're hardly just "terrorists." 

Iran "is arming militants in Yemen." The Hindu says Yemen is "among the poorest in West Asia" and that the United Nations is calling the Yemen situation "the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis." Yemen has now suffered "three years of relentless bombing." The piece doesn't even mention Iran, meaning that Iran is not playing a meaningfully serious role there.

Yes, the US President decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement three months ago. "The decision was not taken lightly." Erm, actually, it was. The President did not present any real reasons for pulling out. There was no real debate on the issue and no non-supporters have been converted into supporters. The reasons given by the BBC are 1. Shredding the Obama legacy, 2. A pivot to Netanyahu and 3. New faces in the room. None of these count as weighty or serious reasons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made extended remarks on why the US wanted to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran. I have to say, I wasn't the slightest bit impressed. The editorial by the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Wood, isn't any more convincing.

2018/07/23

President Trump: "I got this now"


I was very struck by this quote:

[President Trump] was more easily swayed by advisers, more easily put in one direction or another. And now, sometime around the turn of the new year you could feel, really, him feeling more emboldened, more understanding of what the job was, sort of some level of, "I got this now," and that is what has changed and that's not small.

Problem is, as this announcement by the Press Secretary very clearly demonstrates, the President doesn’t “have it” at all. He’s no more responsible or aware of the needs of the office or has any more gravitas then when he was first inaugurated. As Think Progress starts off:

Perhaps three of the most consistent hallmarks of Donald Trump’s administration were on display Monday at Sarah Sanders’ press briefing. In a single announcement, the administration demonstrated wild hypocrisy, pettiness toward critics, and total incompetence.

Their first justification was that security clearances have been “politicized.” This is right after it was revealed by the just-released justification for the FISA Court to authorize surveillance of Carter Page that the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes lied for explicitly political purposes. Nunes complained that the FBI had covered up the political origins of the Steele Dossier. The just-released applications showed that they did no such thing.

Another charge was that several people with clearances “monetized, their public service and security clearances.” This is from an administration where the President’s daughter has received copyrights from China for “baby blankets, towels, curtains, picture frames, furniture and rugs.“ Also, Donald Trump owns a hotel in Washington DC that many feel violates the Emoluments Clause. So the Trump Administration really does not have the moral high ground here.

This charge is such a complete and utter joke -

Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia — or being influenced by Russia — against the President is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making baseless these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

We’ll have to wait for the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is actively investigating these precise charges, but the Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III had to recuse himself from any Russia dealings because of numerous unreported contacts between himself and Russian officials.

Was the President “influenced by Russia”? Well, consider that a week after the President and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, spent over two hours in a private discussion and that members of the President’s own staff know virtually nothing about what the two of them said, yeah, I’d say that falls under the heading of improper influence.

Lots of miscellaneous problems here as well, including the criteria for revoking security clearances. Merely criticizing the President isn’t one of the legitimate reasons for pulling someone’s security clearance. Sorry, I just don't think the President has "got this now" at all!

2018/07/09

The President's real problem


The NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd put out a piece called "For whom the Trump trolls" yesterday (No link because the NY Times charges if I read more than five pieces a month). Dowd is a columnist that bloggers have refused to review since, back in 2013, she blamed President Obama for what was certainly a crappy situation, but one that had nothing to do with his skills as president.

The fact that Ms. Dowd conveniently overlooks when comparing Obama's performance to that of past presidents is that he is the only one who has ever had to deal with an out-of-control abuse of the filibuster process. It's a lot easier to get a majority of your party's senators onboard in support of controversial bills when all you need is a majority, not a super-majority.

As of 2013, Obama had been in office long enough, Dowd really had no excuse not to know this, but she played the "mean girl" anyway.

Now she's saying that President Trump has a "Twitter addiction." I told my younger brother that, who lives in New York City and he replied "She didn't figure that out five years ago?"

Here's a good discussion of behavioral problems and "addiction" that makes it clear that addiction really isn't the right word in a lot of cases, nor should we blame the actual video games. The piece reminds me of when I read a Dear Abby letter a few decades ago. A woman complained of having an "Internet addiction" and by her description, it was clear that yes indeed, she had many problems, but like the gamers in the Kotaku piece, if the internet hadn't been her undoing, something else would have.

In the case of the President and Twitter, he clearly has a lot of problems, but Twitter is merely a tool and isn't responsible for anything. As someone pointed out, he made a comment concerning Senator Elizabeth Warren that started off as a rape “joke,” then turned into an ethnic insult and then just trailed off, the audience laughing uproariously the whole time. He also insulted Congresswoman Maxine Waters, saying she was at an IQ level that amounted to mental retardation. No, Dowd is wrong. The real problem with the President is that he’s just a complete asshole.

2018/06/26

Response to press conference

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders goes into a lengthy defense of President Trump and his policies.

My responses:

First off, "white supremacist" is more of just a plain old, accurate description of President Trump than it is an over-the-top insult. Basic problem with the Press Secretary's defense of the President is that it presents Trump as someone that the actual person bears no resemblance to.

Second, I find it quite interesting that Sanders has to go all the way back to May 2017 when Kathy Griffin presented a stunt photo (depicting Trump as beheaded) in order to find examples of "unfairness" towards him. As a matter of fact, public reaction to Griffin's stunt was so strongly negative, she essentially didn't have a comedy career for over a year. People now consider that she's spent enough time in penance that she's now rehabilitated and she's now doing comedy again.

If, on the other hand, we were to look for examples of a fascist, white supremacist-style policy on Trump's part, the policy of separating the children of brown people* from their parents on the Mexican border is a current, today, right now example.

*Most of the current group of migrants comes from Central America, where they're fleeing violence, gangs, drugs, etc.

2018/06/11

Superheroes and diversity



Just because I like to occasionally riff on stuff that’s not of earth-shattering importance.

Look at superheroes. We all got very excited about the recent Black Panther film, and the first black superheroes. The film took in more than $1.3-billion worldwide, proving once again that there is a huge black market.
Some people argued that it wasn’t a big deal. There were always black superheroes. What about Blade, Hancock, Cyborg and Iron Man’s sidekick? Black people should stop being greedy, I mean, there are at least five black superheroes. How many do you they want? Well, do you know how many there are in total? Marvel lists 7,000 official characters. DC Comics claims to have more.
So five out of a possible 14-15 thousand?! Yes, black people, you should be satisfied with that. Know your place.
Yeah, back in the late 40s, early 50s, we saw superheroes like Superman, Captain America, Batman, Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, etc. In the 60s, we got another wave. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk.

There have been cool characters since, the new X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, etc.), the re-booted Swamp Thing, his occasional foil John Constantine, The Endless (Dream, Death, Desire, etc.), the new Teen Titans (Cyborg, Raven, etc.). But yeah, as most of the possible powers and character types have been used up (The Legion of Superheroes has made some appearances in DC TV shows, but characters like Shadow Lass and Triplicate Girl are kind of ridiculous and hard to find useful employment for), it’s hard to assemble diverse teams today without deciding to, say, turn Nick Fury from a white character into a black one.

Spider-Man has done a good job with diversity. The initial character Peter Parker is getting a bit aged. Marvel ages its characters about a year for every seven years that pass in the real world. Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four, was born in the mid-60s but is only in his tweens today. So even though Parker was a high-schooler back when he was invented, he’s long since graduated college and is running his own company.

So, time for a new Spider-Man, one who isn’t quite so old. Marvel decided to make the younger Spider-Man black. Hmm, how to get a female Spider-Man? Well, Gwen Stacey was Peter’s first love and she died tragically back in the 70s, so how about a Gwen from a different dimension who received spider-powers instead of Peter? Niches can be found, but it takes some imagining to fill them without just throwing all-new characters at people.
Ms. Marvel is filling another niche. Captain Marvel was a blond male. When he died, Ms. Marvel, a blond female, took over. The blond female has since taken up the Captain Marvel name while the name of Ms. Marvel went to a Muslim Pakistani teenager (She wears a very modest outfit and her comic goes into her family and background). So again, Marvel is trying to introduce new characters without just coming up with completely all-new creations.
But I agree. There aren’t enough females and not enough non-white characters. Superhero comics and their movie and TV spin-offs need to do better.

-------
In order to look up any of the characters I've named, go here for Marvel character and here for DC characters. 

2018/06/07

Response to an LTE


Interesting LTE in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 5th. Yes, I believe the writer meant “underlying” belief as opposed to “underlining,” but yes, I sort of halfway agree that the election of this President was a “disastrous abnormality.”

Has the election of Donald Trump been a disaster? Absolutely! The separation of children from parents at the border with Mexico puts us in a moral league with Nazis and the KKK, with the lowest of the low. The US did not sink to such a low moral level during World War II when citizens of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps. George Takei, who played “Sulu” in the “Star Trek” of the 60s, describes his experience as a child when he was in such a camp and he makes it clear that there was no separation of families at that time.

As former VP Joe Biden once said: “Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” How does the Trump budget look? As a pundit in The Hill put it:

President Trump’s budget proposal is an affront to decency, economics and, at a basic level, math. It is full of both broken and false promises. It forces those who have the least to suffer the most and those who have the most to contribute the least. It is, in a word, unconscionable.

How are Trump’s people on foreign policy? On May 21st, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a lengthy speech to a friendly audience on policy towards Iran. “Over 26 minutes, Pompeo articulated a strategy that can best be summarized as, ‘Do everything we say, or we will crush you.’" The speech did not present any rational objection to Obama’s Iran policy, despite the President having objected to it for a number of years and having criticized it in the bitterest of terms.

Was the election of Trump an “abnormality?” That’s much harder case to make. Al Jazeera said back in May that the issue of white supremacy applies from South Africa to Gaza to the Trump Administration and their supporters. “...apartheid in South Africa was just one of many expressions of a worldwide race-based system of domination and privilege that to this day feeds wealth and prosperity to the selected few whites at the top.”

The President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., clearly reads and occasionally responds to people like “Vox Day,” a pseudonym for a white supremacist and anti-gay science fiction writer. Here’s a “cute” quote from Vox:

On the education of women: “Ironically, in light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

The theory of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the campaign of 2016 was that Americans were primarily concerned about the economy. A lo of his supporters were, but it appears that racial resentment played a big role, too.  

Was the Trump Administration “planned by an outside source using the magic deception of the web?” Well, Chris Matthews of MSNBC thinks the Mueller investigation is driving the President absolutely crazy. Trump’s claim that he can pardon himself (It isn’t against the Constitution for a president to pardon himself, but it’s a fundamental precept of English common law that “no-one should be a judge in his own case”) and various co-defendants are facing great pressure to cooperate in the investigation, which strongly suggests that there’s lot of substance behind charges that the Russians interfered in the election of 2016.

The letter-writer goes on to list the positive accomplishments of the Trump Administration

1. “historic low unemployment.” True. CNN-Money reports that unemployment is very low., but that was in October of last year, at the end of a “85-month” expansion where unemployment steadily dropped. In the included chart, there’s no obvious change in the trend line when the Obama presidency dropped off and the Trump presidency began.

2. “destruction of ISIS.” Again, true. From the New Yorker: “Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S.-led coalition of sixty-nine nations and four partner organizations that has orchestrated the military campaign against ISIS and provided air power in both Syria and Iraq. Since 2014, its lone goal has been to end the caliphate...” What this quote makes clear is that Trump didn’t begin anything new. He just continued what was already in progress.

3. “nuclear breakthrough negotiations with North Korea.” Is the Trump Administration carrying out any sort of long-range plan to do this? Uh, no. “...the American president has refused to do substantive work ahead of the scheduled negotiations. As one senior administration official, put it, ‘He doesn’t think he needs to’ prepare.” Was there any substantive work on the President’s part prior to this? A review of the past year and a half doesn’t show anything impressive. There are certainly signs of diplomacy taking place and we certainly don’t know everything that’s going on behind the scenes, but National Security Adviser John Bolton’s statement that North Korea should follow the Libya model for denuclearizing was certainly not helpful and in fact, was cited by North Koreans as a reason to cancel the planned summit. This stumble makes me doubt that anything else behind the scenes is any more sophisticated or informed.

So, no. I’m not terribly impressed by President Trump’s performance. Out of the three items cited here, two of them were simply continuations of Obama’s policies and the third appears to be due more to factors outside Trump’s control than by anything he’s planned.

2018/05/22

Trump Administration and Iran deal

So the piece here links to a speech by Mike Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, in which he specifies the complaints that the US has with the nuclear deal that President Obama made with Iran and several other countries. In light of the extreme corruption of the Trump Administration, it's pretty laughable to read about the administration complaining of Iranian corruption.

The complaints about the deal are that it has sunset provisions far in the future, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a deceptive presentation where he failed to acknowledge that all of the problems he identified were from before the deal with Obama was made, the inspection regime is somewhat short of absolute perfection, a sum of money that properly belonged to Iran was returned to it and Iran is now engaged in a (cue the dramatic music) "march across the Middle East."

Absolutely none of this constitutes a good reason to cancel the deal. All of it is either outside the deal or can be made better only by working within the existing framework.

The sanctions policy that Pompeo proposes is all stick, no carrot. It depends on getting Russia, China and Europe to agree that the current deal is fatally flawed and that the current deal has to be thrown out and replaced. President Trump has pursued a blundering and incoherent foreign policy that can't convince anybody of anything. See especially his failure to convince anyone that his opening up a new embassy in Jerusalem was a "step towards peace."

Here's an amusing sentence from Pompeo's list of demands: "Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East." Erm, uh, okay. This brings to mind all of the "warnings" that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler who would send has panzer divisions storming across Saudi Arabia if he wasn't stopped right away.

Yeah, essentially, Pompeo's proposals sound like Iran should give up all foreign involvement and just pull everything back. As a wag said in the Maddow piece: “I’m still a bit surprised Pompeo didn’t demand that Iran agree to open a Trump-branded golf course in Teheran (sic) and pay for the wall with Mexico.”

Update: Further arguments as to how ridiculous Pompeo's arguments are. 

2018/04/05

Anger and division in America


So, after I put a comment onto Facebook, I will then, weeks or months later, take select comments and put them onto prawnworks, where they'll be permanently archived. Having been a history major back in college, I use that second draft to correct spellings, flesh out or clarify comments a bit more and sometimes do a bit of research to answer questions the comment may raise. I did that last thing with the following.

Vice President "Pence laments 'a time of too much division and too much anger in America'"

I thought "Hmm. Okay." It took me about half a minute on the search engine to locate conservatives being angry and divisive.

Here's a link to NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch claiming that "There were people rushing the stage and screaming 'burn her.'"

That didn't sound like any protest group that I've ever been part of and I've been to quite a few liberal protests. I put another half-minute into another search and sure enough, Loesch was lying:

That's another easily provable lie, at least according to multiple videos and eyewitness testimony from Wednesday's event. The clearest video, above, shows Loesch calmly leaving the stage while the crowd chants, "Shame on you!"

After a New Times photographer put out a call on Facebook, five attendees sent footage they shot of the aftermath of the town hall. One video begins immediately after the town hall ends and shows Loesch walking off the stage surrounded by other participants and security. She then walks away and out of the arena. At no time does anyone in the audience approach her, and there's certainly no evidence that anyone ever "rushed the stage."

"She walked right in front of me and people yelled at her and chanted, 'Shame on you!' Nobody rushed the stage," says Ryan Yousefi, the New Times reporter who covered the event.

So yeah, the Vice President is correct. There's a lot of anger and division in America right now. It was obvious that he intended to have his listeners think, of course, that it was all the fault of liberals and not of his own side.

2018/03/29

Wonder Woman/Conan

From the late 1950s to the mid 1980s, DC Comics did an irregular genre of stories labeled “imaginary stories” and largely appeared in Superman comics during the 1960s. These were stories that occurred outside of the regular continuity. Marvel Comics did something similar with the What If? Series from the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This largely explored different team-ups and storylines, also outside the regular continuity.
It appeared at first that the Wonder Woman/Conan crossover comic was an effort that would be similar to the “imaginary” and “What If?” stories, but actually, the story ends up being entirely consistent with both continuities. Hmm, how to explain the confusion without giving away too much in case folks would like to read the miniseries? Suffice to say, Yanna is not Diana and Conan doesn’t sleep with either one of them.

BTW, I followed the story of American women trying to get Wonder Woman accepted as a universal symbol of feminism (She was an honorary UN Ambassador for a brief period) and notice that her outfit in this miniseries has been de-Americanized. She maintains the familiar red and blue color scheme and the “W” motif, but it’s no longer star-spangled and seems more Greek than American.

2018/03/04

Has the NRA had its day?


FILE - People hold candles during a vigil downtown for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016


Columnist J. Peder Zane in "Frightened children should not be driving national policy on a deeply divisive issue" (Mar 1) asks why we don't have good data on mass shootings. I don’t agree that it's because they're rare. Out of the 10 deadliest shootings since 1966, we’ve had five mass shootings including and since the 2012 Sandy Hook slaughter at an elementary school. No, it's because the 1997 Dickey Amendment specifically prevents federal agencies from taking positions that are favorable to the side that wants to see further restrictions on guns.

Do people who favor safety from uncontrolled guns take a "knee-jerk reaction" and accuse the NRA and their followers of having a "collective guilt" over such shootings? I suppose they do, but the NRA has had many years since the mass shooting at the Columbine High School in 1999 and at Sandy Hook in 2012 to come up with any sort of answers as to how to deal with mass shootings other than to flood the country with still more guns with ever less accountability. The NRA answer has proved to be a very poor one and the Dickey Amendment prevents us from examining the liberal answers to gun safety.

Zane finds the display of raw emotion on a CNN broadcast distasteful, but the NRA has had its day and doesn't want to surrender any control over gun policy, so I'm not sure what else we're supposed to be doing. Zane wants us to focus on homicides in general, but most mass shootings take place using semi-automatic rifles and the national conversation is currently about mass shootings.

Either/or versus both/and


"In the days following the shooting, evidence mounted that the Parkland rampage was not a failure of gun laws but law enforcement." Why can't the conversation be about both? The shooter had access to a weapon that was more suited to a battlefield than it was to any reasonable civilian purpose because the NRA supports civilians having such weapons. Yes, not responding to many calls before the shooting was inexcusable. I don't know the story on that.

Yes, it would have been nice had the law enforcement people on the spot marched bravely into a place where a likely-suicidal gunman was mowing people down as quickly as he could. A piece from NBC News says:

Peterson was the first member of the Broward County Sheriff's Office to report the gunfire, DiRuzzo said. He also gave the local SWAT team keys to the building where the shooting happened, drew diagrams of the campus for them, and helped school administrators access security videos, DiRuzzo said.

This indicates to me that the first responders realized that stopping a heavily-armed shooter with no fear of dying was an extremely dangerous and most likely suicidal move and that an armed and armored SWAT team was far more suitable for the task. Simply having had guns wasn’t sufficient to ensure the lawmen would have survived had they gone in. There are ways to motivate people to rush into certain death on the battlefield, but it’s asking too much to expect regular civilians to do that.

Solutions?


Nobody I know is in favor of a total ban on all guns. We favor things like reducing magazine size to no more than six or ten bullets because, if we do a cost-benefit analysis, it's fun and amusing to have more than that, but mass shooters really like having 30 to 50 bullets that they can fire without reloading. The few seconds it take to change out magazines can be critically important for people on the other end of the barrel to either escape or to rush the shooter. The Chicago Tribune reminds us that: “The man who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 was subdued after he stopped to reload his pistol, which had a 33-round magazine.” Smaller magazine size could directly and immediately save lives by complicating the jobs of shooters.

Yes, I and many others are in favor of rewriting the Second Amendment so that it more reasonably balances the interests of the NRA and their critics. We’d like to rewrite it so that we balance the interests of the NRA, sports shooters, hunters and those who need guns for self-defense with the interests of those who would like to see an end to mass shootings.

2018/02/22

Should teachers be armed?


President Trump suggested arming school teachers as a response to school shootings.

I guess one of the problems I have with arming teachers and expecting them to take a bullet for their students is the piece that ran in a local paper about restaurant service. "Seven of 45 called waiters to show them something on their phone usually about having problems with WiFi and wasted five minutes of waiter time." If you need to request the password in order to get onto the restaurant's wifi, then the time that uses up is the fault of the restaurant. Otherwise, if I'm having difficulties with the wifi, I consider it my responsibility to stock up a few stories on my phone or tablet that I can then read if the wifi isn't working. It's not the responsibility of waiters to know all about my technical devices. Not their profession, they're not trained to know anything about that.

I believe the same principle applies to teachers. Teachers are not soldiers or bodyguards. Not their job, not their profession. For that matter, it wasn't the job or profession of soldiers to rebuild Iraq. A soldiers job is to kill bad guys. For rebuilding another country, we need a paramilitary or protected "Colonial Corps" of people who can administer cities, towns and villages. We can expect all human beings to go above and beyond the call of duty on rare and exceptional occasions, but let's not ask teachers to carry guns. Let's stick to having them stay within their chosen professions and expertise. 

A photo of Israeli schoolchildren and what appeared to be an armed teacher gave an inaccurate impression that Israeli teachers are armed. No, the "teacher" was actually a bodyguard. On the occasion that Israeli schoolchildren take a field trip to a possibly dangerous location, they're accompanied by armed guards. The piece goes on to examine Israel and how it keeps schoolchildren safe.

And no, no one goes to school to open fire at because it's in a "gun free zone." They go to the school because they want to shoot up the school. Period. Full stop. Gun free zone or not, the shooter often intend to die, so if a person pulls out a gun to stop them with, they're probably going to welcome being killed.  USA Today listed a whole series of times that a mass shooter has struck at a military base from 1994 through 2014

Teachers are under-equipped and underpaid. They often have to purchase school supplies out of their own salaries. When I was in the Navy, I paid for absolutely nothing that I needed to perform my duties with. Everything I needed was supplied by the service. Most jobs in the US work that way and have done so since the Industrial Revolution began (which was right after the Civil War). I think most teachers would object to adding being armed guards to their already-heavy load of duties.

How well-equipped are classrooms now? Remember the students who had to come to class in heavy coats? Just last December, a high school in Baltimore, due to an aging heating system breaking down, had students report with coats and blankets in order to continue their studies. As long as something like this happens anywhere in the country, then no, we don't have the resources to add firearms training to teacher schedules.


Suppose teachers are armed. Note that President Reagan was surrounded by armed people in 1981 and suffered wounds from a shooter anyway. What's the difference today? Are bodyguards or the Secret Service braver or more self-sacrificing? No, it's because when a high-value target is going to be out in the open, the Secret Service locks down the whole area. I was in a similar lock-down when I and my sister visited Ireland in the late 90s. We were strolling down the street and all of the sudden, we noticed black-uniformed, heavily-armed guards lining the street at about 10 or 15 yard intervals. I looked around and sure enough, there was an armored car delivery being made. Clearly, they still recalled the days when they had to worry about IRA attacks. 

And hey, good on Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who brings up the very good point that arming teachers means that it could be difficult for first responders to distinguish between teachers trying to defend their students and the actual shooter.

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the bullets fired by the shooter traveled 300 yards to reach their targets. Those bullets were traveling downwards and the shooter had more than one window to shoot from. Returning fire was possible, but only if one was a professional sniper with a high-powered rifle. Having people armed with pistols in the crowd would have made absolutely zero difference.




2018/02/18

Most divisive president in US history


Here’s a tweet from President Trump that was just put out today.

Why on Earth would Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran provoke an investigation? There was never the slightest question as to where the money was originally from. The Shah of Iran had paid for US weapons. The delivery of those weapons was canceled because of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Their $1.7 billion was frozen and released by the nuclear deal of July 2015. Nor has there been any question that Iran has held up its end of the deal. President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were not completely happy with all of the relationship between the US and Iran, but Tillerson could not cite any way in which Iran was not keeping the agreement.

This is divisive because there’s no reason for this complaint beyond just making trouble and raising unwarranted doubts about the last president. 

 
But what really got to me was this one.

 
So the President says people should report suspicious individuals. Okay. That’s a reasonable requirement. But this is kind of “victim blaming” language as it suggests that people who knew the Florida shooter were slacking off and not alerting authorities.


On January 5, 2018, a person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to report concerns about him. The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

The FBI admitted that the tip really should have been acted on and that it was their fault that it wasn’t.

Was there another factor that might have contributed to Nikolas Cruz taking his legally-acquired AR-15 to the Parkland school? Well, yes! The fact that it was legal for him to acquire an AR-15 in the first place!

A little over a month after his inauguration, on Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump signed HJ Resolution 40, a bill that made it easier for people with mental illness to obtain guns.

As the president observed, the shooter demonstrated signs that he was “mentally disturbed.”

Now, the spokesperson for the FLOTUS, Melania Trump, said 

 
But this wasn’t a case of the President being attacked. It’s a case of the Republican Party passing a bill and the President signing it that contributed to the shooting in Parkland, FL. It hardly counts as an attack when people point this out. It’s called “assigning responsibility.” Did Trump takes responsibility in the manner that the FBI did? Uh, no.

 
I think the phrase "Walk and chew gum" applies here. I think the FBI is more than capable of handling their investigation of Trump along with responding to tips. 

What gets to me is that there's no admission by Trump that he engaged in victim-blaming. No admission that he was wrong to say that people “Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” They DID report! And there was more than one report. Trump just blames the FBI for a fault that they themselves admitted to.

This is not a President who will ever accomplish anything good. He’s far too wrapped up in trying to see to it that he never gets blamed for anything, even when something is obviously his fault. Signing the bill that permitted people with mental problems to obtain guns anyway was clearly something he could have refused to do. It was the fault of the Republican Party to pass such a bill in the first place, but that doesn’t absolve Trump in any way. It’s his signature on the bill.

I very seriously do not believe the US has ever had a more divisive president! 








2018/02/10

Are federally-funded pregnancy health centers the answer?

Of course, it's entirely possible for anti-choicers to construct centers that provide medical services for women. Obviously, if Planned Parenthood was serving a wealthy population with cash to spare, Planned Parenthood might never have come into being. Any pregnancy health centers needs to be funded either by voluntary contributions with no expectation of financial returns or they'd need government funding.  But with a little over a million abortions in 2011, is it at all likely that voluntary contributions will be forthcoming on the necessary scale? A major point that anti-choicers made was that they don't need to as there are  federal community health centers.
But Abby Johnson, a Catholic and former Planned Parenthood facility director, told the Register that the nation’s approximately 10,000 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) could absorb clients from any Planned Parenthood closures. However, she said these health centers are “not the whole package” women need, because they have material, physical and emotional needs that only pro-life medical centers can provide comprehensively. 
Also,
House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan succinctly and calmly laid out the case for redirecting taxpayer dollars from abortion goliath Planned Parenthood to federal community health centers at a CNN townhall Thursday night.  
So hey, not a problem, right? Instead of having women depending on that icky Planned Parenthood for needed pregnancy-related medical health services, just refer them to the federal community health centers. Simple, right? Well, those same centers, while serving around 27 million people at 10,000 centers, are under serious financial pressure and are having to impose hiring freezes and a little over half of them may have to lay off staff.

Planned Parenthood depends on Medicaid reimbursements, but they're not the government and therefore aren't quite as vulnerable to political pressure as the federally-funded health centers are. So no, the anti-choice movement really doesn't have an adequate answer to the pregnancy-related health care services that Planned Parenthood provides.

2018/02/03

President Trump and racism

This exchange between our President and a "career intelligence analyst who is an expert in hostage policy" is about the best example I've seen as to how someone can be a racist without being a really obvious, "out" or up-front racist. That is, without being a bedsheet-wearing night-rider who burns crosses on people's lawns or who openly uses the n-word.
It was her first time meeting the president, and when she was done briefing, he had a question for her.
"Where are you from?" the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.
New York, she replied.
Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said.

After some back and forth, he was finally satisfied when she revealed she was of Korean descent. Trump wondered aloud why she wasn't working on negotiations with North Korea.

What Trump did here was to assume that everybody acts without any regard for professionalism or any sort of objective viewpoint. That everybody acts in a race-conscious manner to advance the interests of their own race. 

Personally, I like comic strips like "Baldo," 
"Edge City"


and "Jump Start,"


strips about, respectively, a Latino, a Jewish and a black family. In all three cases, the families are aware of and take pride in their heritage. In none of these cases would these families regard their heritage as overriding their professionalism or their patriotism. For a racist like Trump, we're all in a "zero-sum game," where one group is constantly battling other groups for advantage, where people get their life missions from their ethnicity.

Update: 
Sigh! Okay, how do we distinguish racists from non-racists? Let’s look at an example.
Sessions invokes'Anglo-American heritage' of sheriff's office
Washington (CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday brought up sheriffs' "Anglo-American heritage" during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington.
"I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people's protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process," Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement."
"We must never erode this historic office," Sessions continued.

The addition of “Anglo-American heritage” was an ad lib by Sessions. Anglo-Americans might have historically invented modern law enforcement, but is there anything special about the way Anglo-Americans actually enforce the law in practice? 

Let’s look at the 2002 movie "Bend it like Beckham," we follow the adventures of two young English women (That's why they call it football and not soccer) who play soccer on the same team. On the field and in ways that relate directly to the game, they're very much alike. At home, because one is Anglo-Saxon and the other is a Sikh, they're very different. 

Same thing with law enforcement. Soccer is not a sport that’s restricted to any nationality or ethnicity, and in America, conducting law enforcement is not specific to Anglo-Americans. Soccer and law enforcement are alike in the way that any ethnic group can do them and they’ll all do it in the same manner.




2018/01/24

Lara Trump and the Women's March


Hmm. So Lara Trump (Daughter-in-law of the President) has several “proofs” as to why participants in last Sunday’s Woman’s March actually had nothing to complain about.

1. "Melania is incredible" Well, the last we heard of Melania's cyber-bullying initiative was in September and the last I heard, no one from the community that deals with that subject had heard anything from her in terms of her seeking any advice from them. So it's hard to give her any credit when she's invisible on her chosen issue.

2. "Democrats, they are okay with all women as long as you have their same opinion on things." Is Lara suggesting that wearing a skirt is sufficient reason for feminists/Democrats to support a woman? Certainly, Mike Huckabee has suggested that. He thinks that because his daughter (Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Press Secretary) is female, she should get support from feminists.

3. "the Women's March wasn't just about women. It was more of a hateful, anti-Trump protest" Yeah, that was kind of the whole point of it. As a participant in both this years and last years marches, I agree that our disagreement with the President was a very major reason for both marches.

4. "He has a woman as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Education"

   4.a. The National Review had a headline on Kirstjen Nielsen "Left Fails to Praise Trump's Nomination…" (See point 2 about Mike Huckabee) But Neilsen was apparently amazed to hear that Norway had mostly white people in it. She's also never met a Dreamer. She was in the room for President Trump's "shithole" comment but gee, just can't seem to recall the word he used. These and many more details at this link.

   4.b. As to the Department of Education, yes, we've gone over and over Betsy DeVos. She tries to present herself here as a daring and innovative outsider. Her results though, have been less than impressive.

[DeVo] has yet to fill senior staff positions, and it’s widely known that numerous prominent Republicans having turned down offers. She has struggled to acclimate to the proverbial big ship that turns slowly. Perhaps most significant, she failed to persuade the committees of jurisdiction in Congress to approve her and the department’s budget request, which would have slashed funding to other initiatives in the name of expanding DeVos’ pet cause, school choice. It amounted to an embarrassing repudiation of a president and a secretary in their first year, when there is traditionally the most political capital to spend—especially considering Republicans control both the House and Senate.

So yes, Trump has appointed women to high-level positions, but are those appointees anything for feminists to feel pride in?

5. "He had the first woman run a successful presidential campaign, with Kellyanne [Conway]" Yeah, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into how much of Trump’s “successful presidential campaign” was the result of good campaigning and how much was Russian influence, how much was white-collar crime and how much was cyber crime.

6. "Women's unemployment is at a 17-year low right now" When an economy does well or poorly at the beginning of a presidential term has a great deal to do with what happened in prior years. A big national economy is like an oil tanker. It’s a really big and hard-to-steer ship which takes a lot of energy to move. Changing course is difficult. It’s far from clear that Trump deserves much credit for economic good news. When does a president deserve credit? The Obama stimulus is a good example. Nearly $800 billion was pumped into the economy in short order and the economy very quickly became a success story. Eventually, Trump will be able to claim credit, but that will take awhile.

So, the big, final, ultimate conclusion that Lara Trump reaches is: "And, yet, these women out there are so anti-Trump. And I don't even think they know why. They just think that's the thing to do." Yeah, Twitter had a field day at that, many users asking who Lara even was.

Why did I march? The event that caused me to completely give up on the President and to conclude that he simply didn’t stand for American values was his reaction to the alt-right, torch-lit march in Charlottesville. By defending the march, Trump made it clear that he stood for Third Reich values.

President Trump’s war on climate change science has resulted in a staggering amount of straight-out censorship. As to the current effects of climate change:

We are now seeing the impacts of climate change everywhere. None of us thought that we would find huge changes taking place in the oceans, which have been largely ignored. But the range shifts [migration of plants and animals] there are 10 times that of land. Also, we are seeing diseases coming from ocean systems, like outbreaks of vibrio poisoning [bacteria that occur naturally in warm coastal areas]. We think of these as being tropical but we are now seeing outbreaks in colder waters like the Baltic and Alaska.

"Trump talked big about the opioid crisis, but he's failing to lead on that, too" “He did appoint a commission. I think those people did a pretty good job. They were smart, they listened, they came up with a lot of good ideas. And they’ve been ignored entirely.” There’s plenty of agreement on what to do, but spending money that way conflicts with the big Republican tax cut that was passed in December.

Vice President Pence was warned that Trump’s abrupt, unilateral decision to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jordan sees nothing positive in that decision and much to be concerned about. It was announced in December that "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Wednesday that the Palestinians will no longer work with American peace negotiators...”

It’s only when people get all of their news within the right-wing bubble that Trump’s presidency looks like a success.