Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hope And No Change With Trump

After the disaster that was Hurricane Scaramucci blew through the White House last month, it looks like long-time Trump loyalist Hope Hicks will be named as the Trump regime's new Minister of Propaganda.

President Donald Trump has struggled to find staff that will work with him. Famously, he blew through a communications director Anthony Scaramucci in less than two weeks. Perhaps that is why he’s decided to name longtime loyalist Hope Hicks to the post.

The Daily Caller cites a White House insider that revealed 28-year-old Hicks has accepted the position. The former model has stayed close to Trump’s side, though largely out of the spotlight. She has been doing “strategic communications” for Trump since entering the White House, according to her Twitter biography.

Hicks drew criticism in July after it was disclosed that her salary is equal to the senior-most aides in the White House, despite having little experience.

Hicks previously worked for Trump and was named among the top 30 under 30 by Forbes.

GQ's Olivia Nuzzi profiled Hicks last year, Trump's personal press secretary, who had zero political experience (like her boss!) and found herself thrust into the role, is extremely reclusive and has remained so while the professionals all have fallen by the wayside for not being sufficiently loyal to Dear Leader.

Hicks's big job in politics started—not that long ago—with a comparatively tiny gig in Trump Tower. In 2012, two years after she'd graduated from Southern Methodist, Hicks was working for a New York PR shop when she was dispatched to help one of the firm's major clients: Ivanka Trump.

At the time, Trump's daughter was expanding her fashion line, and Hicks was enlisted to pitch in—and even do a bit of modeling, appearing online in a practical mint-colored dress, black clutch, and heels, all from the Ivanka Trump collection.

Hicks grew close to Ivanka and began dressing like the heiress, who seemed worthy of the emulation. Ivanka was that rare female corporate leader who is also kind to other women, and she affected an air of competence that seemed to temper the boorishness of the Trump brand. Conveniently, as Hicks ingratiated herself to Ivanka, she won over The Donald as well—helped by the eager-to-please disposition she'd displayed since childhood.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, as a kid, she was an athlete and a model who—after appearing in a Ralph Lauren ad—told a local magazine she intended to be an actress. By high school she was swimming, rowing, and captaining the lacrosse team. (She'd go on to play on SMU's club team.) Kylie Burchell, Hicks's lacrosse coach, recalled her as one of the only players to abide by a no-alcohol policy. “I think the girls were annoyed at her a little bit,” she said. “She was trying to be a leader. She was showing by example what to do.” She wasn’t always so earnest, however. In her senior yearbook, she mistakenly attributed the words of Eleanor Roosevelt—“The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams”—to Jimmy Buffett.

That Hicks, a pretty young lady from a tony town, would gravitate toward PR after college might have seemed obvious. Warranted or not, the PR Girl has become a kind of stereotype—the land-bound stewardess of the aughts. A profession thought to require little more than the ability to walk in a pair of Louboutins and harass people via e-mail. But the sorority-girl caricature wasn't what Hicks had in mind, or in her pedigree. In addition to her father, Paul, who directed PR at the NFL and now works for the D.C. power firm Glover Park Group, both of Hicks's grandfathers worked in public relations.

After meeting Matthew Hiltzik, a New York PR shark, in 2011, Hicks landed a job at his firm. It was here that she began working with Ivanka, putting her in the orbit of The Donald, who was quickly impressed. “I thought Hope was outstanding,” Trump told me, recalling his decision to tell Hiltzik that he was poaching Hicks to work for him. In Trump's telling, Hiltzik was powerless to deny him what he wanted. “I wouldn't say he was thrilled,” Trump told me, “but, you know, we give him a lot of business.” (Hiltzik says the parting was amicable all around.)

So Hicks joined the team at Trump Tower in October 2014, without any idea her new boss intended to become president. Or that she had just signed on to his campaign.

Now the "PR girl from Connecticut" is more than happy to manage Trump's messaging machine just a day after Trump sided with neo-Nazi white supremacists in Virginia.  And she's more than happy to still work for the man.

It tells you everything I need to know about her and the rest of Trump's employees.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Last Call For The Man We Warned You About

I've been around for a few decades, growing up in the Reagan years, high school in the Poppy Bush Desert Storm era, and college and entering the workforce during the Clinton years and the dot com bust and I've never been under the illusion that presidents could fix everything.  Dubya showed me they have limitations, and that the best outcome is somebody who truly cared like Obama, that's as good as we're going to get.

But I've never been party to a person in the Oval Office who I considered a sworn enemy.  Dubya was a jackass and I started this blog to help make sure he wasn't succeeded by a Republican, and I went through Obama's highs and lows, but I never felt that the person in the White House was irredeemable garbage.

Then Trump came along and kept proving me wrong on a daily basis, and today is the day I became despondent about the future of my country, this planet and myself.

The man in the Oval Office is an unapologetic white supremacist-enabling bigot narcissist of the worst order.

President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations — equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after Mr. Trump spoke.

Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist leader who participated in the weekend’s demonstrations and vowed to flood Charlottesville with similar protests in the coming weeks, was equally encouraged. “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth,” Mr. Spencer tweeted.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a Democrat, wasted little time in accusing the president of adding to the divisions that put an unwanted spotlight on the normally peaceful college town.

“Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism, and two of our finest officers were killed in a tragic accident while serving to protect this community. This was not ‘both sides.’”

No word in the Trump lexicon is as tread-worn as “unprecedented.” But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private. The National Economic Council chairman, Gary D. Cohn, and the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again engulfed a White House in disarray.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” Mr. Trump told reporters, who interrupted him repeatedly when he seemed to equate the actions of protesters on each side.

He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.” And of the demonstrators who rallied on Friday night, some chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, he said, “You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”

This is a man who openly defends neo-Nazis in the most insidious manner, by equating them to those who oppose them.  It's a tactic long-used by these scumbags, one as old as America itself, an equivocation that empowers hate by normalizing it.

And now we have somebody in the White House doing it openly and brazenly, with no regard for anyone but himself.

We have seen the face of evil.  I thought Bush Senior was a bad man who occasionally did good things, I thought his son was led astray but that he never truly hated the country, he just looked the other way too often and let the David Dukes and Richard Spencers of the world in the door.

Trump put them in his goddamn White House staff.  He is an evil man, and anyone who thought that somehow Clinton would be worse needs to have a good, long talk with the shreds of their own conscience and with the ghosts of their tattered credibility.

Donald Trump is an evil man.  Full stop.  If you wondered how the people of Germany became lost to the Third Reich following World War I, you are living it right now as an American.

Trump Watches The Trump Watchers

If Trump has his way, the Department of Justice will be doing just that.  In the regime's latest authoritarian move, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is requesting information on 1.3 million internet visitors to an anti-Trump website accused of aiding the organization of dozens indicted on felony rioting charges while protesting Trump's inauguration in January.

The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump, the Los Angeles-based Dreamhost said in a blog post published on Monday. 
Dreamhost, a web hosting provider, said that it has been working with the Department of Justice for several months on the request, which believes goes too far under the Constitution.

DreamHost claimed that the complying with the request from the Justice Department would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses to the government, in addition to contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors to the website, which was involved in organizing protests against Trump on Inauguration Day. 
“That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamHost wrote in the blog post on Monday. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”

When contacted, the Justice Department directed The Hill to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment but provided the filings related to the case.

The company is currently challenging the request. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday in Washington. 
“In essence, the Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website,” the company’s general counsel, Chris Ghazarian, said in a legal argument opposing the request.

Yeah, this seems like a textbook case of First Amendment rights being willfully violated in order to support the government's case that clearly violates...First Amendment rights.

This is not what democratically elected leaders do, this is what authoritarian tyrants do.

How long before Trump demands the information on anyone who has visited one of the news sites of the companies that employ the media figures he openly views as his enemies?  How do the people claiming that white supremacy views must be protected as political free speech/vile speech still support the regime after this?

The answer's pretty clear, and it's clearly ugly.

Hunting The Mythical Swing Voter

Over at the NYT Upshot, Nate Cohn argues that not only does the Trump 2016 voter who voted for Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 exist, but that there were enough of them to decisively help the GOP to near total power since 2010, including shifting the 2016 Rust Belt swing states into the red column. Who are these voters?  Angry, white, without a college degree, and they blame Obama for failing them.

THEY HAD SOURED ON MR. OBAMA Just 29 percent of white, no-college Obama-Trump voters approved of his performance, and 69 percent disapproved. Similarly, 75 percent said they would repeal the Affordable Care Act. Only 15 percent believed the economy had improved over the last year, and just 23 percent said their income had increased over the last four years. 
THEY LARGELY BACK THE TRUMP AGENDA The Obama-Trump voters generally support Mr. Trump’s key campaign pledges on immigration, police, infrastructure spending, trade and the environment. This isn’t too surprising: Surveys conducted long before the 2016 election showed that a large share of white working-class Democratic-leaning voters backed the conservative-populist position on these issues. 
THEY’RE NOT NECESSARILY RELUCTANT TRUMP VOTERS Among those who voted in the 2016 primary (65 percent of the Obama-Trump vote), 54 percent of Obama-Trump voters reported backing Mr. Trump in the Republican presidential primary, according to the C.C.E.S., a sign that many of them are pretty strong and consistent supporters of Mr. Trump. Only 9 percent supported another Republican, less than the share that supported Mrs. Clinton or Bernie Sanders. 
Taken together, the data indicates that Mr. Trump had considerable and possibly unique appeal to an important slice of Democratic-leaning voters. Mr. Trump adopted a platform tailored to white working-class Democrats. In doing so, he neutralized many traditional Democratic lines of attack against typical Republicans like Mitt Romney. Many of these voters backed him in the primary and seemed to prefer his brand of populism, suggesting they probably would have backed Mr. Trump no matter which Democrat he faced. 
MANY NOW CONSIDER THEMSELVES REPUBLICAN-LEANERS A Pew Research Center panel study found that fully 18 percent of white working-class voters who leaned Democratic as late as December 2015 reported leaning Republican by December 2016. That timing is significant: It implies that these voters continued to tilt toward the Democrats all the way until the 2016 campaign. 
Similarly, the C.C.E.S. found that 45 percent of Obama-Trump voters identified as Republican-leaners in their postelection study. 
The voters who both voted for Mr. Trump and say they lean Republican have probably taken a big step toward becoming consistent Republican voters. They seem relatively difficult for Democrats to lure back. 
RACIAL RESENTMENT WAS A BIG FACTOR Using this and other data, political scientists have argued that racial resentment is the strongest predictor of whether voters flipped from Mr. Obama to Mr. Trump, and the biggest driver of Trump support among these voters. 
Yes, racial resentment is the strongest predictor of the Obama-Trump vote in this survey data. White, working-class Obama voters with racially conservative views were very likely to flip to the Republicans. For example, Mrs. Clinton won just 47 percent of white Obama voters without a college degree who disagreed with the idea that “white people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.” In contrast, she retained 88 percent of white Obama voters without a college degree who agreed that white people have certain advantages. 
Nonetheless, voters with high racial resentment did not necessarily represent the preponderance of the Obama-Trump vote, because Mr. Obama had already lost nearly all such voters by 2012. To take the prior example: 49 percent of white, no-college Obama-Trump supporters at least somewhat disagreed with the notion that white people had certain advantages. 
MANY REMAIN PERSUADABLE The C.C.E.S. found that 26 percent of Obama-Trump voters identified as Democrats in their postelection study, while 35 percent were Republicans and 37 percent were independents. Including those independents who lean toward a party, Republicans led by a wider margin of 45 percent to 30 percent. Even so, that’s a significant share who continue to identify with the Democratic Party despite voting for Mr. Trump. 
Democrats were probably still winning a lot of these voters in 2016. The results speak for themselves to some extent. Jason Kander lost his Senate race in Missouri by just three percentage points, even as Mrs. Clinton lost by 20 points. Even Democrats who didn’t run ahead of Mrs. Clinton over all — like Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin or Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania — nonetheless ran far ahead of Mrs. Clinton in traditionally Democratic, white working-class areas.

Cohn adds that the Democrats now have to decide how much of their resources they need to dedicate in order to win at least some of these voters back, because until they do, Cohn says, the Democrats are effectively done.

It's an argument made by others, mostly in support of Bernie Sanders, but Cohn goes further to say that the Dem problem is systemic and Sanders would have lost to Trump as well.

The problem with that is when you believe the issue is systemic, the solution has to be systemic too.

What that means is that Cohn is strongly suggesting that in order to be competitive, Democrats have to make a sea change to attract voters that harbor no small amount of racial resentment. Trump was able to leverage that resentment into massive distrust of the Obama administration and Democrats in general.

The problem is that this will come at a cost, and the cost will be borne by black, Latinx, and Asian voters and candidates.  I've said before that this path is suicidal for the Dems and so far Trump is making it incredibly easy to make the Democrats be the party of inclusiveness in comparison by simple dint of Trump's overwhelmingly awful racism, if not open support of white supremacists.

Whether or not the Democrats will do the right thing remains to be seen.  Making the gains Cohn says that the Democrats need at the expense of non-white Democratic voters is something that I wouldn't put past the party, but that leaves us in a "what is the greater good" scenario that only threatens to leave the GOP gains over the last seven years as locked in, allowing even greater damage to civil and voting rights.  If those GOP gains continue through another presidential cycle and 2020 state redistricting battles, the Dems could be wiped out.

So what do we do as liberals and Democrats here other than continue to vote and support the party?

The answer is right now, I don't know.  The normal political discourse in America is shattered.  And that terrifies me more than Trump does.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Last Call For Hatred Unleashed

Yeah, I know today's coverage has been all about Charlottesville and the nasty neo-Nazi problem we have in the country and in the White House, but it bears repeating that the FBI and DHS warned the White House of white supremacist attacks back in May and Trump hasn't lifted a finger.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in May warned that white supremacist groups had already carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy. 
Even as President Donald Trump continues to resist calling out white supremacists for violence, federal law enforcement has made clear that it sees these types of domestic extremists as a severe threat. The report, dated May 10, says the FBI and DHS believe that members of the white supremacist movement “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.” 
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other members of the so-called alt-right, sparked violent clashes over the weekend. A woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by a car that drove into a crowd of people protesting the rally. 
James Alex Fields Jr., the driver of the vehicle that struck Heyer, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. 
Since the outbreak of violence over the weekend, President Trump has been heavily criticized for not condemning racist groups. “We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST,” he tweeted
The FBI, on the other hand, has already concluded that white supremacists, including neo-Nazi supporters and members of the Ku Klux Klan, are in fact responsible for the lion’s share of violent attacks among domestic extremist groups. White supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement,” reads the joint intelligence bulletin. 
The report, titled “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,” was prepared by the FBI and DHS. 
The bulletin’s numbers appear to correspond with outside estimates. An independent database compiled by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute found that between 2008 and 2016, far-right plots and attacks outnumbered Islamist incidents by almost 2 to 1.

I take that back, Trump did lift a finger to do something about the white supremacist threat in America: he directed federal law enforcement to ignore it.

The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters. 
The program, "Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE, would be changed to "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.

Now begins the bloody harvest as America reaps the whirlwind that Trump helped to sow.

The Revenge Of Both Sides

The Wall Street Journal editorial board bravely reminds us that while Nazis are bad, bad people who caused at least one death in Charlottesville....

The particular pathology on display in Virginia was the white nationalist movement led today by the likes of Richard Spencer, David Duke and Brad Griffin. They alone are to blame for the violence that occurred when one of their own drove a car into peaceful protesters, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.

...maybe those Nazis had a point about the evils of political correctness and diversity!

The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.

That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions.

Sigh.  Always gotta punch some hippies.  Steve M has more.

Trump set the gold standard on "both sides" over the weekend, and again, what the neo-Nazi assholes really wanted was white America openly questioning whether or not diversity is worth it anymore if it leads to violence from white supremacists.

That's exactly what we're getting, and it's happening on purpose.  It's being driven by Trump, and being driven by a reason. Jeff Sessions and the GOP in Congress will work to enable it.  It's the same story we've seen before: weaken the federal government to the point where efforts fail, then "re-examine whether the effort is worth taxpayer dollars".

"We have to take a serious look at diversity" is code for "We have to end the civil rights era."

Take that to the bank.

Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

The reaction from the neo-Nazi scumbags to the deadly terrorist violence they carried out in Charlottesville over the weekend?  Hey, it's a win for us thanks to Trump.

It was a deadly weekend of rage-fueled street battles. And after the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., leaders of white nationalist groups claimed success.

“It was a huge moral victory in terms of the show of force,” said Richard B. Spencer, the far-right figure who had come to Charlottesville to speak at Saturday morning’s “Unite the Right” rally.

The declaration from Mr. Spencer, in an interview late Saturday, was typical of the man who has rhetorically elbowed his way into the national conversation with his use of Nazi language and his unalloyed contention that America belongs to white people.

And indeed, the demonstrations in Charlottesville were perhaps the most visible manifestation to date of the evolution of the American far right, a coalition of old and new white supremacist groups connected by social media and emboldened by the election of Donald J. Trump.

Yet it is by no means clear what the demonstrations mean for the future of this movement and what, if any lasting effect, they will have. Will the overt displays of racism return the extreme right-wing to the margins of politics, or will they serve to normalize the movement, allowing it to weave itself deeper into the national conversation?

I understand the rhetorical question here, but it's one that needs to be directly asked of Donald Trump this morning.  These awful people count the weekend as a win because Trump condemned violence "on many sides" on Saturday.  That's exactly what his allies in the white supremacist movement wanted, and he gave it to them.

We achieved all of our objectives,” Matthew Heimbach, a founder of the Nationalist Front, a neo-Nazi group that bills itself as an umbrella organization for the white nationalist movement, said in an interview Saturday. “We showed that our movement is not just online, but growing physically. We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America. We had zero vehicles damaged, all our people accounted for, and moved a large amount of men and materials in and out of the area. I think we did an incredibly impressive job.”

Jason Kessler, a Charlottesville conservative and the main organizer of Saturday’s rally, has been fighting for months against the City Council’s plan to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park, which once bore Lee’s name.

Although he is a relative newcomer to the white nationalist movement, Mr. Kessler is well known in his hometown. He has attacked the city’s status as a sanctuary for immigrants and has waged a public battle against Wes Bellamy, the black vice-mayor of Charlottesville and one of its city councilmen.

For weeks, a flier for the Unite the Right meeting made its way around the internet. It featured Pepe the Frog-styled soldiers bearing Confederate battle flags, and promised featured speakers like Mr. Spencer and Michael Hill, president of the Southern pro-secession group League of the South.

And why wouldn't they be thrilled?  Actual, literal white supremacists giving Nazi salutes and chanting Nazi slogans being falsely equivocated to Black Lives Matter and the Left is what they've wanted for years, and that's exactly what Trump did Saturday.

Compare that to Charlottesville's mayor, Michael Signer, who called these assholes and Trump out for their roles in the death of Heather Heyer.

Trump has surrounded himself with white supremacists like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, and as at absolute minimum they need to be fired.  Maybe that will happen soon, but I doubt it.  We've seen Bannon in particular in trouble before, only to be saved by Trump focusing his anger on somebody else who has "failed" him in some way as Bannon's allies outside the White House promise retaliation if Bannon is fired.

Of course the core problem remains Trump and the tens of millions who voted for him knowing full well that he had tied himself to white supremacists, and had no problems supporting him up until this weekend.

Those are the people who are the real problem.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Last Call For The Battle Of Lexington

Here in Kentucky, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is signaling that the awful events in Charlottesville this weekend will be the catalyst to accelerate his own plans to remove two Confederate monuments in the middle of town.

The mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, is taking action to remove two Confederate-era monuments from his city's former courthouse after the deadly clashes in Virginia. 
Mayor Jim Gray revealed his intention Saturday after the attack in Charlottesville. He said he planned to announce it this week, but the incident prompted him to declare his intentions earlier. 
Violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters left three people dead in Charlottesville, including a woman killed when a driver plowed into a group of counterprotesters. Dozens more were injured. 
In a series of tweets, Gray said that he will ask the the city council to support his petition for removal of the monuments to the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission on Tuesday. 
The statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge are on the grounds of Lexington's former courthouse, which is set to become a visitor's center
John Hunt Morgan served in the Mexican-American war, and fought for the Confederacy until his death in 1864. John C Breckinridge, who was the 14th Vice President of the US, owned slaves. 
In a tweet, Lexington's mayor said "we cannot let them define our future."

Good for Mayor Gray, who if you recall ran against Rand Paul in 2016 for the US Senate.  Gray lost by 14 points, but he's still Mayor of Lexington, and it's about time that he made this move. I'm hoping the City Council will back him on this, after this weekend I would hope that backing would be unanimous.

Hopefully GOP Gov. Matt Bevin won't interfere, especially since Bevin has long called for the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol Building, and I have vowed never to set foot in Frankfort until that reminder of slavery is gone. I haven't yet, but maybe, just maybe, that monument to barbarism will come down as well.

Meanwhile In Propaganda This Week...

Trump is on Week 2 of his vacation, but if you're wondering if he's busy or not, he's got his hands full with new Trump campaign ads naming Democrats and journalists as "the President's enemies".

These Enemies of Dear Leader must be dealt with by the People, because they are Enemies of the People as well.  Join us in defeating our Enemies today!

Unless of course you're supporting those enemies.

It will not go well for you if you do, citizen.

Sacasm aside, Trump is naming American citizens as his enemies in a campaign ad that's being run more than 3 years before the next presidential election.  On top of that he's taking credit for his predecessor's economy, which he repeatedly blasted as a failure in 2016.  Democratically-elected leaders don't do that. Autocratic dictators do that.

But this is where America is in 2017.

Sunday Long Read: Plastic Fantastic

This week's Sunday Long Read is from Aeon Magazine, as environmental scientist Dr. Rebecca Altman journeys with her grandfather to the site of his first major job: the Bakelite plastic plant in New Jersey, where America's plastic revolution began.

In 1962, the same year Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, my father started his first job at this factory. He was 22, his black hair buzzed short, accentuating the characteristic patch of white just above his hairline. He had just graduated from the chemical engineering programme at the University of Rhode Island, and was hired even though URI did not yet offer classes in plastics production.

Union Carbide assigned him as a process engineer. Within four years, at the age of 26, the company promoted him to supervisor of their polystyrene department, a position he held for a couple years until taking over the production of phenol, formaldehyde and hexamethylenetetramine, the chemicals used to make Bakelite. They gave him a good salary and a small office with a door. When closed, it could dampen the din of the incessant machines. But he spent most days in the plant. His shirt and tie carried home the saccharine smell of styrene and Acrowax, the powder sifted onto the finished polystyrene pellets to keep them from sticking. For a time, he commuted by bicycle past the junkyards before pedalling down Baekeland Avenue. When the union went on strike, he worked the 12-hour graveyard shift. By the close of 1963, The New York Times Magazine reported, Union Carbide had made 1 billion lbs of plastic in a single year.

My father spent a decade at that job, spanning the period in which my three older siblings were born. By spring 2013, on the day we visited, only a few buildings remained. We happened to meet a uniformed employee who showed us a manhole cover bearing the Bakelite logo, the only known company artifact on-site. He had salvaged it and placed it by the central flagpole, in grass taken over by Canadian geese. It once marked a portal into the dense network of underground wires and pipes that, like roots, conveyed power and resources to the plant’s many branches. I stood between my father and the geese trying to imbue the round, rusted disc with significance. But all I could see were goose droppings.

Visiting the old Carbide site made me wonder why we call industrial factories ‘plants’ in the first place. Most plants strike me as an extreme landscape, invasive, grown beyond the human scale. They look like an impenetrable thicket of pipes and valves, canopies of stacks and distillation columns with an understory of brick and catwalks, scaffolding and tanks.

But little else can thrive in their presence. I’m reminded of the Locke Breaux Oak that, since the 1600s, had grown in Taft, Louisiana. Union Carbide built a chemical plant nearby and, beginning in 1966, it likely made the styrene my father coaxed into polystyrene. When the plant was built, the oak was 36 ft around its trunk and 75 ft tall, with branches that spanned 170 ft across. But by 1968, it was dead. So I’m left wondering: how is it that two seemingly opposed concepts – factories and flora – came to share the same word?

The related term, factories, is a shortening of manufactories, an example of how places are sometimes named according to what actions – manufacturing – are performed there. Hence smelters smelt. Paper mills mill paper. Ironworks work iron. Refineries refine petroleum. But plants don’t follow the same logic. The corollary would be plantations.

Interestingly, Union Carbide’s Taft plant sits along the 150-mile corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which was once lined with antebellum plantations. The hundred or so petrochemical plants along the Mississippi were constructed on former cotton, indigo and sugar plantations, and now produce, in addition to chemical feedstocks and plastics, synthetic versions of the crops once raised by forced labour: rayon, dyes and artificial sweeteners. The descendants of former slaves now share a fence line with some of the most polluting industries in the nation.

However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, calling factories plants predates the conversion of US plantations into petrochemical production. I put the question to an environmental historian, several sociologists, a linguist, two science and technology scholars, and a plastics expert – all of whom uncovered pieces of its origins, but were otherwise stumped by how factories became plants. Might it have a Latin root? Does it refer to how the first factories converted plants (such as cotton) into commodities? Was it a clever metaphor – to plant a business, to sow profit – that spread organically? Did its use emerge in that chasm between technological change and the evolution of adequate terminology to describe it?

Even the linguist said I’d dug up an etymological mystery, one that hadn’t yet revealed its source. And while my (re)search continues, I wonder how phrases become taken for granted, adopted without thought, and their origin largely unknown to generations who rarely question the way things have come to be.

The same could be said about plastics.

As the world heads forward into new technology, plastics are still with us after a century and will still be with us centuries later.  That's both the promise of the technology, and the curse.  We still need plastics today, and that means we need the oil that plastics come from.  New plastics are being invented from biological sources, but petrochemical-based plastics are ubiquitous today and will continue to be for some time. We talk about replacing oil as a source of energy all the time.

What we don't talk about is replacing oil as a source of plastics.  We need to have this conversation on a far more regular basis.

Happy Birthday To Us

The blog turned nine years old this week, and it's impressive to say the least that my thoughts on politics, Barack Obama, the housing bubble and Bush administration is still around.

Related image

It's because of you guys, of course.

Thanks. :)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation is now closing in on White House personnel, and the goal now is "who will sing first to avoid prison?"  It's the classic scenario: talk to the cops or risk going down in flames if you say nothing.  Eventually somebody will start singing like Pavarotti at the Met.

In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump’s decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.

That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

No interviews have been scheduled, but in recent weeks Mr. Mueller’s investigation has appeared to intensify. Late last month, he took the aggressive step of executing a search warrant at the home of Paul J. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, in Alexandria, Va. Legal experts say Mr. Mueller may be trying to put pressure on Mr. Manafort to cooperate with the investigation.

Although it has been clear for months that Mr. Mueller would interview Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, Mr. Mueller’s recent inquiries come as Mr. Trump is heading into the fall pushing his priorities in Congress, including a tax overhaul, with the constant distraction of a federal investigation.

Ty Cobb, a special counsel to the president, declined to comment, saying only that the White House would “continue to fully cooperate” with Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. He has frequently said that the White House will cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation and that he hopes it will be completed quickly. Mr. Priebus did not return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Mueller has expressed interest in speaking with other administration officials, including members of the communications team. But Mr. Trump’s allies are particularly concerned about Mr. Mueller’s interest in talking to Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who worked closely with Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s confidants at the White House say Mr. Trump was never fully convinced that Mr. Priebus would be loyal to him.

Before, the focus was on former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.  Now the focus is on Trump's former WH Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.

Shortly after the November election, Mr. Priebus was made chief of staff, and he was involved in the major decisions the president made during the transition and in the first six months of the administration. Mr. Priebus made a point of being in most meetings and tried to be aware of what the president was doing. Mr. Trump fired him last month.

Mr. Priebus can potentially answer many questions Mr. Mueller has about what occurred during the campaign and in the White House. Mr. Priebus appears on the calendar of Mr. Manafort on the same day in June 2016 that Mr. Manafort and other campaign officials — including Mr. Trump’s eldest son and son-in-law — attended a meeting with Russians who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to two people briefed on the matter. It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus and Mr. Manafort did meet that day.

According to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation, Mr. Comey met with Mr. Priebus at the White House on Feb. 8 — a week before Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump cornered him in the Oval Office and asked him to end an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. In Mr. Comey’s meeting with Mr. Priebus, Mr. Comey told Mr. Priebus about a Justice Department policy that largely bars discussions between White House officials and the F.B.I.about continuing investigations in order to prevent political meddling — or at least the appearance of it — in the bureau’s work, according to the law enforcement official.

It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus ever relayed that message to the president. Mr. Trump’s Republican allies — including the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan — have said that Mr. Trump may have asked Mr. Comey to end the investigation because he was a new president who did not understand the subtleties of how the commander in chief should interact with the F.B.I.

Mr. Priebus may also be able to help prosecutors verify crucial details about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Comey. According to testimony Mr. Comey provided to Congress, Mr. Priebus knows that Mr. Comey had the one-on-one encounter with Mr. Trump on Feb. 14, when Mr. Comey has said Mr. Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation. Mr. Trump has said that the meeting did not occur and that he did not ask Mr. Comey to end the inquiry.

Between the two of them, Trump could be in a lot of trouble.  We'll see what happens, but it's clear with the news that Manafort is cooperating with Mueller and the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation, the window to cut a deal is closing fast.

Priebus will almost certainly talk.  And then things get interesting.

Weekend (White) Warriors

Meanwhile here in Trump's America, we're having open Nazi rallies in Virginia to celebrate the victories of white supremacy over the last year, and let's face it, they won themselves an entire US federal government. They have a lot to cheer about with this regime while they're marching with torches in hand.

Hours before a noon rally was set to begin Saturday, violent skirmishes broke out between bands of white supremacists and counterprotesters who have converged on this college town around the issue of a Confederate statue.

Men in combat gear, some waring bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs and sticks and makeshift shields fought each other in the downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed each other with chemical irritants and plastic bottles were hurled through the air.

State police and Charlottesville police in riot gear were stationed on side streets but were not in the most concentrated areas where protesters and counterprotesters were brawling. Gov. Terry McAuliffe had placed the National Guard on standby but they, too, were not in the downtown area where the morning clashes were occurring.

By 11 a.m., several fully armed militias and hundreds of right wing rally goers had poured into the small downtown park that is the site of the planned rally.

Charlottesville officials, concerned about crowds and safety issues, had tried to move the rally to a larger park away from the city’s downtown.

But Jason Kessler, the rally’s organizer, filed a successful lawsuit against the city that was supported by the Virginia ACLU, saying that his First Amendment rights would be violated by moving the rally.

Tensions began Friday night, as several hundred white supremacists chanted “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” as they carried torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus.

The fast-paced march was made up almost exclusively of men in their 20s and 30s, though there were some who looked to be in their mid-teens.

Meanwhile, hundreds of counterprotesters packed a church to pray and organize. A small group of counterprotesters clashed with the marchers shortly before 10 p.m. at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.

One counterprotester apparently deployed a chemical spray, which affected the eyes of a dozen or so marchers. It left them floundering and seeking medical assistance.

Police officers who had been keeping a wary eye on the march jumped in and broke up the fights. The marchers then disbanded, though several remained and were treated by police and medical personnel for the effects of the mace attack. It was not clear if any one was arrested.

The march came on the eve of the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of groups from around the country whose members have said they are being persecuted for being white and that white history in America is being erased.

The Saturday rally is being held at noon at Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, home to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville voted to remove earlier this year. The statue remains in the park pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.

Anyone who is shocked or thinks this is unfathomable after the Obama administration?  Let the fact America happily elected the most hostile regime towards civil rights in generations as a direct response to America's first black president sink in.

This is merely America reverting to form, and that form is that of a country that became the most powerful in the world by exploiting black and brown bodies for 400 years and continues to do so today with the government of the United States fully in control of a Republican Party completely dedicated to continuing this arrangement.

Expect a lot more of this in the years ahead.  We're long overdue.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Last Call For There's Always One

Gotta love House Democrats who think that right now the biggest target to be swinging at in the Trump regime is...Nancy Pelosi.  Meet Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas, who's more interested in seeing Pelosi gone in 2018 than any of the GOP.

Things weren’t always so tense between Vela and Pelosi. Vela, who’s represented Texas's 34th District since 2013, is a relative newcomer to the ranks of Pelosi critics. Back in 2014, she visited Vela's district at his invitation and the two toured a detention facility there. According to a transcript of a press conference from the leader’s office, Pelosi was complimentary of Vela.

“Congressman Vela is such a tremendous intellectual resource on this because this is something we have to be very smart about,” Pelosi said. About a month after the visit, Pelosi met with a delegation of border mayors and local officials Vela had brought to Washington.

“She was very helpful during that time,” Vela told BuzzFeed News. It’s only much more recently their relationship crumbled.

Earlier this year Pelosi even appointed Vela to be the Blue Dog representative to leadership at the start of the current Congress. The role involves voicing the opinions of the Blue Dogs, a group of moderate Democrats, to leadership.

But then he quit.

Vela told BuzzFeed News he decided to leave it due to a hike in dues for new members of leadership. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, told BuzzFeed News there is not an additional dues requirement for the Blue Dog representative to leadership. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which handles dues, did not comment.

“I just decided I didn’t want to be on leadership at the front end. I felt like I was better off working this cycle outside of leadership,” Vela said.

Vela has had his disagreements with Pelosi in the past, but he said he supported her for leader as recently as last fall, when 63 other Democrats voted against her.

“I think she’s provided tremendous value to the Democratic caucus. And I think her tenure has been historic,” Vela told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “But I think with respect to the issue of winning the House majority back in 2018, and given her negative effect on swing voters and Republican moderates, there’s no way she’s worth the trouble in the context of gaining the majority in 2018.”

That’s just Vela, friends in Congress say. He’s the type of person who is not shy about his thoughts on a matter once he has made his mind up.

“My own estimation of him — he has a backbone of steel,” California Rep. Juan Vargas said of Vela. “It’s best to go talk to him and try to convince him of your position, not to try to force him to do anything because if you do, it completely backfires. … But he’ll always listen to you.”

And Vela hasn’t saved his quick turnaround ire for Pelosi alone — his closest friends are no exception.

Vela abruptly left the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2013, accusing some of his colleagues of supporting a Senate immigration bill he opposed “without blinking.” He also charged Pelosi at the time with pressuring the CHC to back it.

Pelosi’s spokesperson disputed Vela’s characterization and said the approach to the bill was decided in “close consultation” with the full caucus.

The bill never got a vote in the House, but Vela took something of a gap year and distanced himself from CHC over the affair. Eventually, other members were able to talk him into returning. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva said he and other members convinced him it was “better to be inside the tent.”

Immigration is a deeply personal issue for Vela, who represents a border district. Conversations with him often include tales of undocumented immigrants and their struggles.

“One thing that I admire about Filemon, I don’t always agree with his positions, but you know, he’s fierce about his positions, and he’s fearless about standing up for the things that he believes in, which I think our constituents really want,” New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham told BuzzFeed News.

Despite his penchant for strong language (for example telling Trump in an open letter last year to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass”) and picking fights with his own Democratic colleagues and leaders, Vela’s network of friends on Capitol Hill is large.

He’s known for going out of his way to fundraise for other members. Vela is in near constant touch with many of his colleagues, often texting them or chatting with them on the floor. By his estimate, approximately 100 members of Congress have visited his district — which is bordered by Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico — for various events. “Helping other members is just something that I really enjoy,” Vela said in an email.

And in person, his demeanor doesn’t seem to match his rhetoric. Vela is far more reserved than his public statements would lead people to believe.

But he has an approachable quality about him that’s noted even by fellow politicians. Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, said he was “impressed” on a trip to Vela’s district by how excited his constituents were to see him at small restaurants they stopped in for take out. “He knew everybody on a first-name basis, and they knew him on a first-name basis, and I thought that was good retail politics,” Neal said.

Asked if he has leadership ambitions of his own, Vela said: “With respect to my own leadership aspirations, I think that many of the members that I have helped are better postured to lead this caucus. But then again, you never know what the future holds so it is important to always be prepared.”

If all this seems familiar, this is the exact Sen. John McCain/Sen. Rand Paul "Maverick!" playbook, only written for Dems.  Vela has an agenda, and it's to beat up on Nancy Pelosi and her "San Francisco values" at home in Texas and to vote with her in Washington. He doesn't really dislike Pelosi, but he sure likes to pretend he does.

It's pretty effective in a red state like Texas if you're a Democrat, I guess.  I mean, why should the Republicans be the only party to get to "run against the leadership" and stay in power?

Might work if the Dems were actually in power though.  Just saying.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

There's no doubt now that former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is cooperating with both Senate Judiciary Committee investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.  Whether this means Manafort has cut a deal, we don't know yet.  But the Trump regime is definitely treating Manafort like somebody who ratted out their guilty boss, and they can't backstab him quickly enough in front of the press.

President Donald Trump would have you believe that Paul Manafort wasn’t all that involved with his campaign, and for good reason: Behind the scenes, Trump’s aides fume that the former campaign chairman is at least partially responsible for the president’s deepening legal woes
“I know Mr. Manafort. Haven’t spoken to him for a long time, but I know him,” Trump said of his former top campaign aide on Thursday. The president was reacting to news that a dozen FBI agents had raided one of Manafort’s four homes late last month and carried off tax documents and banking records, as The New York Times reported on Wednesday. “That’s pretty tough stuff,” Trump told reporters. 
The president and his White House staff have for months minimized Manafort’s role and time on the 2016 presidential campaign, repeatedly describing it as a “very short period of time.” 
Trump’s attempt to downplay his relationship with Manafort left out some pertinent facts, however. 
Manafort was integral to the Trump campaign’s efforts to secure Republican delegates at last year’s convention. He reportedly remained in touch with the White House as late as April of this year, and helped craft the administration’s early strategy to counter allegations that it colluded with agents of the Russian government during last year’s election. 
According to sources close to the president, many on Team Trump blame Manafort for special counsel Robert Mueller’s divergence from election interference and foray into the private finances of the president’s family, and political and business associates.
Though Trump himself has engaged in a number of opaque foreign business deals, his aides believe it was Manafort’s work in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere that set off the special counsel’s alarm bells—and got him digging into issues only tangentially related to alleged Russian election shenanigans.
The terms “shady” and “sketchy” come up most frequently when senior veterans of Trump’s campaign discuss the earlier work done by Manafort, the campaign’s former chairman. (This is the kind of work that has in decades past included Manafort’s lobbying for some of the worst human rights abusers, killers, and dictators of the Cold War era—work Manafort did with longtime Trump consigliere Roger Stone at their well-connected K Street lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly.) 
What they don’t know is whether Mueller has “turned” Manafort or simply obtained information during his investigation that has led to pertinent election-meddling developments, and what—if anything—Manafort would have to offer or interest Mueller and his team.

Pretty soon they'll tell us Manafort was really working for Clinton and Obama as part of a plot to bring down Dear Leader Trump.  But like I keep saying, the Trump regime is certainly acting like Manafort has the potential to badly damage Trump, and all of it keeps coming back to that June 9, 2016 meeting with Manafort, Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. involving Russian nationals shopping dirt on the Clinton campaign.

I said earlier last month that the revelations about that meeting were the turning point in the Mueller and Senate investigations, the "end of the beginning" as we moved into the realm of the case against Trump becoming serious.  When news of that meeting leaked, the Trump regime went into panic mode and has yet to leave it.

According to two senior officials, White House suspicions toward Manafort were turned up to eleven after the news broke last month of a Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. Manafort was present at the now-infamous confab, as was President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump’s advisers spent a good chunk of the month of July wondering and wildly speculating who could have leaked such damaging information—and Manafort’s name was a recurring theme
Maloni, the Manafort spokesman, stressed to The Daily Beast that Manafort had voluntarily disclosed the Trump Jr. meeting to Senate investigators (as had been previously reported) before Mueller or his team ever asked about it. 
And as the spotlight around Manafort continues to grow, there are still some in Trump-world who insist the president has nothing to worry about from his former campaign chairman, no matter what comes of the Mueller probe. 
“The raid on Manafort’s home on the very day that the special counsel knew he was meeting with Senate investigators is a pressure tactic designed to induce Manafort to testify against the president, which is never going to happen,” Manafort’s former partner and current pal Roger Stone insisted to The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Paul is 100% loyal to the President.” 
Stone has publicly gone to bat this week for his ex-partner, and in more ways than one. Earlier this week, the Trump-endorsing supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer published online its big story headlined, “TRUMP ADVISOR SEX SCANDAL—PAUL MANAFORT’S SICK AFFAIR.” 
“It’s very disturbing. I felt very badly for him last night,” Stone told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Nobody has to see their personal flaws splashed over the front pages. I’ve been there.”

I'm betting the completely amoral Manafort is about as loyal to Trump as Trump has been to him (or anybody for that matter) which is to say "not in the least".  Remember, Trump's long-time modus operandi is to turn on anybody and everybody he can find that he can blame for his own failures. (Ask Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions or Mitch McConnell how that works out.)

That was eventually going to catch up to Trump, and it's starting to look more and more like Manafort sold him out (or tried to at any rate).

We'll see where this goes, but the effort to smear Manafort and to change the subject back to Clinton and reopen the investigation into her emails is the clearest sign yet that the Trumpies are coming undone.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Last Call For Suppression With No Discretion

Republicans at the state level know that the Trump regime will never challenge them on outright voter suppression of registered Democrats and groups that vote Democratic in elections, so they've given up trying to be subtle about it as and are blatantly disenfranchising Democratic precincts in states like Indiana today.

State and local Republicans have expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas, an IndyStar investigation has found, prompting a significant change in Central Indiana voting patterns. 
From 2008 to 2016, GOP officials expanded early voting stations in Republican dominated Hamilton County, IndyStar's analysis found, and decreased them in the state's biggest Democratic hotbed, Marion County.

That made voting more convenient in GOP areas for people with transportation issues or busy schedules. And the results were immediate. 
Most telling, Hamilton County saw a 63 percent increase in absentee voting from 2008 to 2016, while Marion County saw a 26 percent decline. Absentee ballots are used at early voting stations. 
Population growth and other factors may have played a role, but Hamilton County Clerk Kathy Richardson, a Republican, told IndyStar the rise in absentee voting in Hamilton County was largely a result of the addition of two early voting stations, which brought the total to three.

"It was a great concept to open those (voting stations)," Richardson said, adding that the turnout might have increased with the addition of even more voting machines.

Other Central Indiana Republican strongholds, including Boone, Johnson and Hendricks counties, also have added early voting sites — and enjoyed corresponding increases in absentee voter turnout. 
But not Marion County, which tends to vote Democratic, and has a large African-American population
During that same 2008-16 period, the number of early voting stations declined from three to one in Marion County, as Republican officials blocked expansion. 
Some Republicans blame the dearth of early voting in Marion County on a lack of local funding. "I have never received any type of message that the individuals in charge of Marion County have any interest in spending the money (to expand satellite locations)," said Jim Merritt, chairman of the Marion County Republican Party.

More early voting stations for Republican precincts in suburban white Republican counties, fewer early voting stations for Democratic precincts in urban black counties.

Any questions about how Republicans plan to maintain a stranglehold on local and state elections in the states they control now, regardless of demographics over the next generation?

Mike Pence helped the Indiana GOP win.

He's going to help them win in all 50 states.

He's going to do it by preventing black people from voting.

Do you get it now, guys?

A Fissile Missile Pissing Contest, Con't

Over at Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis argues that North Korea won its game of nuclear chicken some time ago, and that the world will have little choice but to come to the negotiating table and give Kim Jong Un what he wants, no matter what Trump blusters about.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over. 
Also: I told you so. 
There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed. 
These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.” 
Authors rarely get to pick titles, and almost never like them, but I think the editors at FP got this one about right. It is about as subtle as a jackhammer, although even so the message didn’t seem to sink in.

The world must now deal with a nuclear North Korea, and it must deal with Pyongyang soon or risk a fatal miscalculation that could cost tens of millions of lives.

Let’s walk through the evidence. 
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests. That is really quite a lot. Looking at other countries that have conducted five nuclear tests, our baseline expectation for North Korea should be that it has a nuclear weapon small enough to arm a ballistic missile and is well on its way toward testing a thermonuclear — yes, thermonuclear — weapon. 
A lot of people got the wrong idea after North Korea’s first nuclear test failed, and subsequent nuclear tests seemed smaller than they should be. There was a common view that the North Koreans, well, kind of sucked at making nuclear weapons. That was certainly my first impression. But there was always another possibility, one that dawned on me gradually. According to a defector account, North Korea tried to skip right toward relatively advanced nuclear weapons that were compact enough to arm ballistic missiles and made use of relatively small amounts of plutonium. That should not have been surprising; both Iraq and Pakistan similarly skipped designing and testing a more cumbersome Fat Man-style implosion device. The disappointing yields of North Korea’s first few nuclear tests were not the result of incompetence, but ambition. So, while the world was laughing at North Korea’s first few nuclear tests, they were learning — a lot. 
And then there is the issue of North Korea’s nuclear test site. North Korea tests its nuclear weapons in tunnels beneath very large mountains. When my research institute used topography data collected from space to build a 3-D model of the site, we realized that the mountains are so tall that they may be hiding how big the nuclear explosions are. Some of the “disappointments” may not have been disappointments at all, and the successes were bigger than we realized. I think the best interpretation of the available evidence is that North Korea accepted some technical risk early in its program to move more quickly toward missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. 
The fact that North Korea’s nuclear weapons used less fissile material than we expected helps explain the second judgment that North Korea has more bombs than is usually reported. The defector claimed that North Korea’s first nuclear weapon contained only 4 kilograms of the limited supply of plutonium North Korea made, and continues to make, at its reactor at Yongbyon. (For a long while, experts claimed the reactor was not operating when thermal images plainly showed that it was.) The North Koreans themselves claimed the first test used only 2 kilograms of plutonium. Those claims struck many people, including me, as implausible at first. But they were only implausible in the sense that such a device would probably fail when tested — and the first North Korean test did fail. The problem is North Korea kept trying, and its later tests succeeded. 
We also must take seriously that North Korea has perhaps stretched its supply of plutonium by integrating some high-enriched uranium into each bomb and developing all-uranium designs. North Korea has an unknown capacity to make highly enriched uranium. We’ve long noticed that the single facility that North Korea has shown off to outsiders seems smaller than North Korea’s newly renovated capacity to mine and mill uranium; we naturally wondered where all that extra uranium is going. (My research institute thinks it might be fun to estimate how much uranium North Korea enriches based on how much it mills, if you know anyone with grant money burning a hole in her pocket.) 
Unless the intelligence community knows exactly where North Korea is enriching uranium and how big each facility is, we’re just guessing how many nuclear weapons the country may have. But 60 nuclear weapons doesn’t sound absurdly high. 
The thing is, we knew all this already. Sure, sure it isn’t the same when I say it. I mean, I am just some rando living out in California. But now that someone with a tie and real job in Washington has said it, it is news. 
The big question is where to go from here. Some of my colleagues still think the United States might persuade North Korea to abandon, or at least freeze, its nuclear and missile programs. I am not so sure. I suspect we might have to settle for trying to reduce tensions so that we live long enough to figure this problem out. But there is only one way to figure out who is right: Talk to the North Koreans.

We don't really have much of a choice right now, do we?

Of course, we don't have much of a State Department or President right now either.  Hell, we don't even have an ambassador to South Korea.

I assume China, South Korea, and Japan will need to step up and handle this mess.  America doesn't even have the people to do so right now.  Our diplomacy is nearly worthless and the rest of the world will press on in spite of our apparently uselessness in situations like these.

Take your pick as to whom the Leader of the Free World title belongs to these days.  North Korea has just proven it's no longer the United States in that chair.

Fast-Growing Fascism

It's totally strange how the response to the nation's first black Democratic president was the Republican party going full-on authoritarian with white nationalism at its core and seeking to completely undo Obama's entire memory, let alone his presidential legacy.  No surprise then that years of "Democrat voter fraud!" screaming now has a majority of Republicans backing the end of federal elections should Dear Leader Trump declare so.

Slightly more than half of Republicans say they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if President Trump proposed it to make sure only eligible American citizens can vote, according to a new survey. 
According to a poll published by The Washington Post, 52 percent of Republicans said they would back a postponement of the next election if Trump called for it. 
If Trump and congressional Republicans proposed postponing the election to ensure only eligible citizens could vote, support from Republicans rises to 56 percent. 
Pollsters found 47 percent of Republicans think Trump won the popular vote.

A majority of Republicans, 68 percent, also thinks millions of illegal immigrants voted in the presidential election and 73 percent think voter fraud happens somewhat or very often. 
The poll was conducted from June 5 to 20 among 1,325 Americans. The survey focused on the 650 respondents who said they identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party.

Clinton of course won the popular vote by 3 million or so, but apparently we've reached the point where open fascism and dictatorship is now acceptable to the majority of the voters belonging to the party in power as long as doing so maintains their power.

Needless to say, keep a close, close watch on Mike Pence's "Voter Integrity Commission".  That's where the real voter suppression will be in 2018 and 2020, I fully expect tens of millions of registered Democrats to have their voting registrations purged while Republicans cheer "democracy" in action.

Democracy was overrated anyway, right?

A body politic that elected and re-elected a black president has to be dismantled, of course.  It can never be allowed to happen again.  Trump, Pence, Kris Kobach and the rest of the GOP will make sure that it's all but impossible for the Democrats to win ever again.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Last Call For Zuck Trucks Amok

So what exactly is Facebook founder and gazillionaire Mark Zuckerburg up to with his "listening tour" across the country these days?  Vanity Fair's Nick Bilton tagged along for some answers, and it may actually be that he's not running for anything.

A couple months ago, I received a text message from a friend containing a brief video clip that caught me utterly by surprise. It depicted a man giving a rousing speech at Harvard in front of an audience of thousands, who listened rapturously despite the beating rain, as he enumerated the various policies that the average American needed to adapt in our increasingly volatile world. “We need affordable childcare,” the man said, before noting the plight of a younger generation who “will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks.” It seemed less of a commencement address than a stump speech. A few seconds later, my friend texted me again to say, “I think he’s running for president.” 
The man in the video was Mark Zuckerberg. And his oration at his old stomping grounds appeared to solidify a whole lot of political speculation and Internet gossip. A few months earlier, a whisper campaign began to mount regarding the Facebook C.E.O.’s potential political aspirations. Zuckerberg, after all, was sending out some strong signals: Facebook had updated the company’s proxy statement to allow him to run for office and still maintain control of his company. Then Zuckerberg, a former atheist, said that he believed religion is “very important.”. And then there was the most controversial intimation—Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution to meet “people in every state in the U.S.,” which spurred a series of bizarre campaign trail-style imagery. At the time, I wondered aloudif Zuckerberg, who turns 35 in two years, would indeed (try to) be our next president. In a funny way, it almost seemed like a demotion. Yet over and over again, various sources told me that Zuckerberg had grander plans in life and wanted to be “emperor.” 
The reaction to the rumors, though, were sometimes stranger than the potential of a Zuckerberg presidency. On the left, a lot of people applauded the notion of a tech genius running for office, especially in the wake of an ignoramus like Donald Trump. Some in the alt-right reduced the prospect of Zuckerberg, who is of Jewish heritage, in the White House to horrifying racist screeds. And then there were those in Silicon Valley who momentarily wondered aloud about Zuck’s calculation before concluding—perhaps after back-channeling with Zuckerberg’s communications team—that there was absolutely no way he would run for president, that he was really just hauling across the country in order to get to know The People. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has since taken to Facebook (where else) to deny that he’s running for office. 
So, if he’s not running for president, what exactly is Zuckerberg doing? Nathan Hubbard, a former executive at Twitter, recently posted a series of tweets outlining his theory for what Zuckerberg has been up to during the last few months—and it’s a theory that a lot of people in Silicon Valley subscribe to. “Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected,” Hubbard wrote on Twitter. “Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.” 
I’ve spoken to several Silicon Valley executives and tech journalists about this theory, and it makes a fair amount of sense. People at Facebook have also privately told me how they were caught completely off guard by the role that the social network played in the election. But while this sounds entirely plausible, it doesn’t explain why Zuckerberg would amend Facebook’s proxy statement.

In the updated S-1 filing, this provision is invoked several times, explicating that Zuckerberg can take a “Pre-Approved Leave,” which translates as “any leave of absence or resignation of the Founder that is in connection with the Founder serving in a government position or office.” One person who interacts with Zuckerberg on a regular basis theorized that maybe Zuckerberg is leaving open the option to run for office one day in the very distant future, or that he could try running for lesser office to better understand how government works. But again, this is all just conjecture and speculation. No one really has the faintest clue what Zuckerberg is up to, which all amounts to fairly genius politicking for a political neophyte. Mike Pence, in fact, might want to give it a try.

So here's the exit question folks: which is more frightening?

One one hand there's the notion that Zuck wants to run the country like he's running Facebook, as the ultimate Silicon Valley dudebro who thinks tech can solve everything. On the other hand there's the notion that he's lost control of his social network behemoth and not even he knows how to fix the fake news spewing volcano that he's helped to unleash under the body politic.

Neither scenario exactly fills me with confidence.
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