Thursday, September 19, 2019

CEOs do not work for tips. What about those who do.

Here is a teaser for what I will be posting tomorrow morning.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978. Typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time.

The story is grimmer if you’re working for tips or trying to get benefits granted to employees or trying to share in the gains in corporate profits since the 2008 crash. Tomorrow I will post more about life at the economic bottom of the new service (“gig”) economy and what this means for the future of work in America.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bob Lord explains why Biden is opposed to Medicare for All

Bob Lord is a frequent contributor to Blog for Arizona. Below is a guest post at emptywheel.net, copied in full.

BIDEN’S OPPOSITION TO MEDICARE FOR ALL: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BILLIONAIRES, BABY

September 18, 2019/18 Comments/in emptywheel /by bmaz

[Editor’s Note – this is a guest post by a friend of ours here at the Emptywheel Blog, Bob Lord. Bob is a longtime tax and finance attorney with some very salient thoughts on why the centrist Democrats are pushing back so hard on Medicare For All. One other note, we here at Emptywheel have purposefully not engaged on behalf of any particular candidate in the primary process, but the issues in play are fair game.]

By Robert J. Lord

Joe Biden has lots of reasons why he opposes the Medicare for All plan favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The cost runs too high, the former vice-president tells us. People will have to give up their private health insurance. People will lose the right to choose their health insurance provider.

The list goes on, but do these reasons reflect Biden’s actual worries? Surely, he’s seen the studies that show Medicare for All would drive costs down, not up, as removing health insurance company profits and administrative costs from American health care totally changes the system’s accounting dynamics. Yes, an expanded Medicare would require administrative expenses, but nowhere close to the expenses that our current system requires.

Biden also knows Americans would welcome the chance to swap their private health insurance for Medicare. Don’t believe me? Speak to someone between the ages of 60 and 64 who’s relatively healthy. Ten to one she has her fingers crossed hoping to make it to age 65 without a major health challenge, so she can qualify for Medicare and never have to confront the insufficiency of her wonderful private insurance plan.

And very few Americans, we must keep in mind, choose their health insurance provider. Most of us get insurance through our employers. Employers choose the least expensive plan for all employees collectively, without regard to the needs and desires of individuals.

Given that Joe Biden’s stated reasons for opposing Medicare for All don’t pass the smell test, what could be the real reason for his opposition?

Could Biden simply be beholden to the health insurance industry and Big Pharma? Perhaps, but I suspect that something larger — the overall wealth of our wealthy — may be at play. After all, it’s not like health insurers and pharmaceutical companies are going to have his back come general election time.

Consider the difference between how Joe Biden, on the one hand, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, on the other, view the billionaires and centimillionaires who make up America’s super rich. Sanders believes the greed of America’s billionaire class threatens the social fabric of our country and has proposed a significant increase in the federal estate tax on grand fortunes. Warren has proposed a 2 percent annual wealth tax on all fortunes in excess of $50 million.

Biden’s differences with Warren and Sanders go deep. He has assured his rich donors — at big-dollar fundraising events — that their lifestyles will not change if he’s elected. Biden, whose donor list includes at least 13 ten-digit fortunes, has made it clear that he doesn’t think billionaires bear any more responsibility for America’s woes than any of the rest of us.

Just this week, he voiced his opposition to policies that would make it harder to become a billionaire.

But why would billionaires and centimillionaires particularly care whether we have Medicare for All versus the Obamacare-with-a-public-option plan Biden favors?

To answer that question, consider the fundamental difference between Obamacare and Medicare for All: who pays. Under Obamacare, individuals pay for their health care, through the insurance premiums they pay and their out-of-pocket expenses for the charges their insurance policies don’t cover. The government subsidizes insurance for lower income Americans through Medicaid, but the bulk of health insurance costs are paid by individuals or their employers.

The public option, Biden’s proposed fix to Obamacare, won’t change any of this. Even if every American healthcare consumer chose the public option, putting the private health insurance industry out of business in the process, individuals still would be responsible for their own health care costs.

Medicare works differently. Under Medicare, the government insures healthcare costs directly. Individuals don’t pay premiums or co-pays. Instead, tax dollars fund the cost of the program.

All this means that the transition from Obamacare to Medicare for All would transfer the burden of health care costs from health care consumers, who share in costs based on how sick or healthy they happen to be, to taxpayers, who would share in costs based on their respective incomes and tax rates.

The great majority of Americans live their lives as both health care consumers and taxpayers. Under Medicare for All, they would see an elimination of both insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. They would also see a tax increase, but ordinary Americans would save substantially more in health care costs than they’d pay in increased taxes.

But those billionaires and centimillionaires on Joe Biden’s donor list? Their tax increases would dwarf any savings they see in personal healthcare expense. Some could see seven figure tax increases.

Viewed through the billionaire lens, Biden’s loud opposition to Medicare for All makes distinct political sense. He needs billionaires to fund his White House aspirations, which still drive him three decades out from his first presidential run in 1988. He’s not only convinced himself that his billionaire supporters pose no threat to our social fabric, he even seems to believe that any health care reform that puts the squeeze on billionaire fortunes does pose a threat.

All in all, a classic case of why ambition often blinds us. In a 2018 speech, just a sentence or two after saying the billionaires he’s courting aren’t a problem, Biden lamented that the income gap in America is yawning.

What Biden’s ambition won’t let him see: Billionaires don’t exist in isolation. We have approximately 700 billionaires today in the United States. We have a larger number of half-billionaires and a still larger deep-pocket cohort of centimillionaires. And so on. Which leaves our top 1 percent controlling close to half the country’s wealth and the country with an income gap that Biden openly recognizes is “yawning” and, obviously, a problem.

In other words, those billionaires Biden’s won’t let himself see as a worry really are inseparable from the yawning income gap that he knows is a problem.

Sanders and Warren, by comparison, are clear-eyed. They can see that when the gap is so yawning that treatable or preventable injuries and illnesses are killing Americans who can’t afford healthcare and bankrupting millions of others, the only answer is that society — through taxation — must assume the cost of healthcare. Other countries, like Canada, recognized this reality decades ago.

And when America’s billionaires, with Joe Biden as one of their many mouthpieces, stand in the way of that process because they don’t want their taxes to increase, their greed tears at the fabric of American society.

Joe Biden can’t see that. His two leading rivals sure do.

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bob previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Law. Bob’s work focuses on the relationship of tax law to inequality. He contributes to both the Inequality.org website and to OtherWords, the Institute’s national syndicated editorial service. Bob also is a staff member at Blog For Arizona, the leading political blog in Arizona.]

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Charles M. Blow reports evidence for Joe Biden's 'antiquated view' on race

If you are absolutely convinced that Joe Biden is the only candidate capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020, then you will not like what follows. But spare me your ire. I am going to go all out and all in for whichever Democratic candidate emerges from the scrum (aka primary debates). But we cannot afford to hide problems with any of the candidates. So …

Former Vice President Joe Biden is known for his gaffes. Some are dismissible (as are gaffes by other presidential candidates), but others cannot be blown off so easily. Charles M. Blow at the NY Times takes Biden to task for his “antiquated” view about race as revealed in his off-hand remarks. Blow claims that Joe Biden Is Problematic. No amount of growth or good intentions will change this fact.

All five of these things are simultaneously true:

Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner and may well be the nominee.

He is by far the favorite candidate among black voters.

He was a loyal vice president to Barack Obama, and the two men seem to have shared a deep and true friendship.

He, like the other Democratic candidates, would be a vast improvement over Donald Trump.

And, Biden’s positioning on racial issues has been problematic.

I’ll spare you all the Biden statements cited by Blow and provide some excerpts.

In the most recent Democratic debate, in his response to a question by a moderator, “he seemed to suggest that black people lack the natural capacity to be good parents:”

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

His language reveals a particular mind-set, one of a liberal of a particular vintage. On the issue of race, it is paternalistic and it pities, it sees deficiency in much the same way that the conservative does, but it responds as savior rather than with savagery. …

[Big snip]

… it’s not what Biden says in prepared remarks that’s problematic, it’s what he says off the cuff and under pressure that to me reveal an antiquated view on racial matters and racial sensitivities.

It was the way he advocated for the 1994 crime bill, a bill that contributed to America’s surging mass incarceration, which disproportionately affected black and brown people in this country.

The bill did some good, but the harm it did cannot be overlooked or understated. Rather than fully owning up to to the disastrous aspects of the bill, Biden has over the years bragged about it and defended it.

It was in the way he described then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 as an African-American who was “articulate and bright and clean.” Clean? As opposed to what?

This critique of Biden isn’t personal. I bear no ill will for the man. But, a fact is a fact, and no amount of growth, change or well-intentioned good-heartedness has the ability to erase it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Why Trump does not have a dog

Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report on pathological fear of dogs by western autocrats. Trump notoriously worries about losing his hair piece. (wigging out, as they say). Now we have evidence, kind of, of a similar fear exhibited by British PM Boris Johnson. New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz picks up the story: Queen Trains Corgis to Attack Boris Johnson If He Ever Comes to Palace Again.

LONDON (The Borowitz Report)—Queen Elizabeth II has trained her corgis to attack the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, if he ever comes to Buckingham Palace again, palace sources have confirmed.

For Johnson, who recently suffered another setback involving a dog, the news that the Queen was prepping her beloved canines to eviscerate him was just the latest indication of his precipitous fall.

The Queen reportedly supervised the corgis’ training herself, instructing them to lunge at Prince Charles, who wore a shaggy yellow wig for the exercise.

“When the corgis tore into Charles’s trousers, the terror in his eyes was palpable,” one observer said. “The Queen looked very happy.”

Although the Queen has been publicly tight-lipped on the subject of Johnson, a royal source indicated that she was heard muttering “that lying bastard” when the embattled Prime Minister appeared on television this week.

There’s only room for one unelected ruler in this country,” she reportedly added.

Cancelling primaries is a GOP act of desperation

Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and Bill Weld take a position on the GOP cancelling its own primaries. They say We are Trump’s Republican challengers. Canceling GOP primaries is a critical mistake.

You, we, have a stake in this one because our own state’s GOP has cancelled its primary - thus preserving Trump as the only Republican on the national presidential ticket. In so doing the AZ GOP has signed onto every lie, every deplorable behavior, every act of corruption, and all high crimes and misdemeanors committed daily by the sitting Pettydent. In so going, the AZ GOP is complicit in the wrecking of our democracy. Read on.

Aw, but before you do, let me digress slightly. I regard the cancellation of GOP primaries as an act of desperation. The GOPlins pushing this claim they are saving money because their anointed king is sure to win anyway. But King Donald is in trouble as Steve Benen reported: Latest polls point to real trouble for Trump’s re-election prospects.

Earlier in the summer, Donald Trump hosted a news conference with farmers and ranchers, who heard the president talk about how impressed he is with himself. “A strange thing is happening: My numbers are going up,” the Republican claimed about his standing in the polls. “Someday, you’ll explain that to me.”

It wasn’t at all difficult to explain: Trump’s numbers weren’t improving. He just made it up.

As the summer nears its end, conditions have grown worse for the troubled president. The latest Gallup poll, for example, shows Trump’s slipping from 44% to 39% since July.

[Trump] published a tweet yesterday [Sep. 10] that was nearly perfect in its encapsulation of his deeply strange worldview: “ABC/Washington Post Poll was the worst and most inaccurate poll of any taken prior to the 2016 Election. When my lawyers protested, they took a 12 point down and brought it to almost even by Election Day. It was a Fake Poll by two very bad and dangerous media outlets. Sad!”

First, shortly before the 2016 election, the final Post/ABC poll showed Trump trailing by about 3 points and Trump ended up losing the popular vote by about 2 points. That’s hardly evidence of “the worst and most inaccurate poll of any taken.”

Second, the news organizations did not receive a complaint from Trump’s lawyers.

Third, the idea that the Washington Post and ABC News deliberately altered polling data to satisfy complaints from Trump and his legal team is hopelessly bonkers.

An analysis the Post published in July continues to ring true: “Trump is incapable of accepting that most Americans don’t like him.”

His sycophants know this and the polls are scaring them sh!tless . That’s why they are engaging in this act of desperation - avoiding the competition in the marketplace of ideas, as argued below, by cancelling their own primaries. Now read on.

Mark Sanford was governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011. Joe Walsh represented Illinois’s 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. Bill Weld was governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. All three are seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

The three of us are running for the Republican nomination for president in a race that will inevitably highlight differences among us on matters of policy, style and background. But we are brought together not by what divides us but by what unites us: a shared conviction that the United States needs a strong center-right party guided by basic values that are rooted in the best of the American spirit.

A president always defines his or her party, and today the Republican Party has taken a wrong turn, led by a serial self-promoter who has abandoned the bedrock principles of the GOP. In the Trump era, personal responsibility, fiscal sanity and rule of law have been overtaken by a preference for alienating our allies while embracing terrorists and dictators, attacking the free press and pitting everyday Americans against one another.

No surprise, then, that the latest disgrace, courtesy of Team Trump, is an effort to eliminate any threats to the president’s political power in 2020. Republicans have long held primaries and caucuses to bring out the best our party has to offer. Our political system assumes an incumbent president will make his case in front of voters to prove that he or she deserves to be nominated for a second term. But now, the Republican parties of four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — have canceled their nominating contests. By this design, the incumbent will be crowned winner of these states’ primary delegates. There is little confusion about who has been pushing for this outcome.

What does this say about the Republican Party? If a party stands for nothing but reelection, it indeed stands for nothing. Our next nominee must compete in the marketplace of ideas, values and leadership. Each of us believes we can best lead the party. So does the incumbent. Let us each take our case to the public. The saying “may the best man win” is a quintessential value that the Republican Party must honor if we are to command the respect of the American people. Cowards run from fights. Warriors stand and fight for what they believe. The United States respects warriors. Only the weak fear competition.

Across the aisle, the Democratic primary challengers are still engaged in a heated competition of debates, caucuses and primaries to give their voters in every corner of our country a chance to select the best nominee. Do Republicans really want to be the party with a nominating process that more resembles Russia or China than our American tradition? Under this president, the meaning of truth has been challenged as never before. Under this president, the federal deficit has topped the $1 trillion mark. Do we as Republicans accept all this as inevitable? Are we to leave it to the Democrats to make the case for principles and values that, a few years ago, every Republican would have agreed formed the foundations of our party?

… They conclude:

In the United States, citizens choose their leaders. The primary nomination process is the only opportunity for Republicans to have a voice in deciding who will represent our party. Let those voices be heard.

Friday, September 13, 2019

CEOs demand Senate action on gun control

538’s significant digits morning email reported on the letter signed by CEOs of corporations, large and small, demanding Senate action on gun control.

145 CEOs
The pressure is mounting to act on gun control. The CEOs of 145 companies sent a letter to members of the Senate on Thursday stating that inaction is “simply unacceptable.” The companies represented include Uber, Twitter, TOMS and Airbnb. “Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded,” the letter states. The leaders are calling for stronger background checks, in addition to a red flag law. [NPR]

145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass ‘Common-sense, Bipartisan’ Gun Laws. Go to the NPR report and scroll down to see - and scroll through - the letter.

The Times also reported the CEO’s action charging the Senate’ inaction as ‘Simply Unacceptable’: Executives Demand Senate Action on Gun Violence. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable,” the corporate chiefs urged senators in a letter. For example:

To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” said Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss, a company whose denim jeans have long been a symbol of America. Mr. Bergh spent the last several days trying to cajole his peers into joining him and gun control advocates like Everytown, which is funded in part by Michael Bloomberg. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now,” he added. “C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now.”

Mr. Bergh said he was encouraged by the conversations. “The tide is turning,” he said, citing a spate of recent polls that show a majority of Americans in both parties support background checks and red flag laws. “People were starting to be much more open-minded,” he said, even when the discussion didn’t conclude with a signature.

You can get a copy of the letter in pdf form.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

US should rename FWS as Fish and Wildlife Safaris

Here’s a item from 538’s significant digits morning email.

$400,000 to kill a rhino
Some of y’all need new hobbies. A Michigan trophy hunter is planning to import the body of a rare black rhino he paid $400,000 to kill in Namibia last year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will issue an import permit to Chris D. Peyerk despite the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricting the import of trophies of endangered animals. There is some dispute about whether this rhino belonged to a species that is “critically endangered” or just “vulnerable.” [The Associated Press]

That was the short version. Here’s some of the AP article, US to allow trophy hunter to import body of rare black rhino.

The Trump administration says it will issue permit to a Michigan trophy hunter to import the skin, skull and horns from a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Africa.

Documents show Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township, Michigan, applied last year for the permit required by the Fish and Wildlife Service to import animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Peyerk paid $400,000 to an anti-poaching program to receive permission to hunt the male rhino bull inside a Namibian national park in May 2018.

The numbers of black rhinos have been increasing in recent years with stricter conservation management, but dozens are still illegally poached each year for their horns, which are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine and as a status symbol. The horns are composed largely of the protein keratin, also the chief component in hair and fingernails.

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” said Laury Parramore, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

So the FWS has officially bitten the apple grown by Safari International - the organization of head hunters headquartered in Tucson.

Records show Peyerk was represented in his effort to get a rhino permit by John J. Jackson III, a Louisiana attorney who provides free legal assistance to trophy hunters through a nonprofit group called Conservation Force. He is also a past president of Safari Club International, a trophy hunting group that has lobbied the Trump administration to loosen import restrictions on endangered big game animals.

Jackson was appointed in 2018 to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory board set up by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to help promote trophy hunting. Jackson said he sees no conflict between advising the Fish and Wildlife Service on policy issues while also petitioning the agency on the behalf of his legal clients.

And that’s why I renamed USFWS to US Fish and Wildlife Safaris.

Sharpie-gate, Part 2. Why it matters so much.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains how Trump’s weather campaign takes a potentially dangerous turn. I’me going to spare you the history that was splashed all over the front pages last week and jump into the middle where Benen explores the implications of Trump corrupting government agencies to satisfy his narcissistic need not to be wrong about anything.

I can appreciate why some news consumers grew weary of “Sharpie-gate” last week, but the NOAA’s statement on Friday afternoon put the story on a very different level. What was a farce about a president who couldn’t tolerate having been proven wrong became a drama about a president corrupting government agencies that rely on credibility to be effective.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a good piece last week, taking stock of the instances in which “government officials have wheeled into action in an effort to make Trump’s lies, errors and obsessions into truths,” and on Friday afternoon, the president added an unusually brazen example of the phenomenon.

[Scriber: I’ll review Sargent’s list below.]

I care when Trump lies about issues such as hurricanes and public safety; I care more about Trump roping in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to participate in his fraud.

Much of the country now realizes that the president has a strained relationship with reality and an intolerance for truth, but not to put too fine a point on this, we still need the NOAA to tell us the truth.

Not politically convenient truths, not truths intended to satisfy certain constituencies, not truths that incorporate the weather into some kind of misguided food fight, but the actual truth.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that former top officials from the NOAA – veterans of Republican and Democratic administrations – were “dismayed” by what had transpired, with the agency obviously having succumbed to White House political pressure. The article added, “They say NOAA’s action risks the credibility of the nation’s weather and science agency and may even risk lives.”

The Washington Post added some additional details, including the fact that the National Weather Service in Birmingham felt compelled to issue its tweet “after receiving a flurry of phone calls from concerned residents following Trump’s message.”

In other words, the president delivered a false warning to the public, people who assumed the president was right grew concerned, so the National Weather Service told people the truth. For its trouble, the NWS’s commitment to accuracy was denounced on Friday afternoon by the federal agency that oversees it.

The same article added that the NOAA privately warned its own staff not to contradict Trump – despite the fact that Trump was wrong.

The Post quoted one NOAA meteorologist who said, “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring.”

Trump has publicly diminished a heretofore credible agency to satisfy his delicate sensibilities. To think this embarrassment is limited to a crude drawing on a map is to overlook just how far the president and his team took this potentially dangerous charade, and what this tells others throughout the U.S. government – scientists, intelligence officials, diplomats, et al. – about what happens to those who provide facts at odds with the leader’s preferred script.

It’s Not just Sharpie-gate: 7 other times officials tried to fabricate Trump’s ‘truth’, notes Greg Sargent of the Washington Post (noted by Benen above).

As you’ve heard, President Trump displayed a chart that appeared to be doctored with a Sharpie to retroactively demonstrate that he had been right when he falsely warned that Alabama was threatened by Hurricane Dorian.

This has set in motion a very D.C.-style mystery, though with a Trumpian twist: Who, multiple news organizations have asked, doctored the chart? It’s a good question.

But it’s also illuminating to look at this as part of a much larger pattern: Again and again, government officials have wheeled into action in an effort to make Trump’s lies, errors and obsessions into truths, in some cases issuing “official” information explicitly shaped or doctored to do so.

By my count, this has happened at least seven times:

  • In January 2017, after the media reported on Trump’s paltry inaugural crowd size, resulting in enraged but preposterous pushback from Trump, he dispatched then-press secretary Sean Spicer to tell multiple lies buttressing his stance. As Glenn Kessler crucially noted, some of these were part of a prepared White House statement. Trump also ordered his then-acting National Park Service chief to hunt for helpful photographic evidence. The NPS does not estimate crowd sizes, and the official was shocked, but he carried out Trump’s request, finding nothing.
  • After Trump repeatedly alleged widespread fictitious voter fraud in 2016, the White House set up an official commission to “study” the issue. When it flopped, a dissenting member explicitly declared the motive was to make Trump’s lies true. Remember that this was rooted in rage at losing the popular vote.
  • When Trump declared before the midterm elections that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with migrant caravans, multiple officials tried to bolster this claim by offering an official-seeming statistic about terrorism arrests that was entirely spurious and proved nothing of the kind.
  • When Trump vowed a surprise 10 percent middle class tax cut before the midterms, officials were caught off guard, but nonetheless sprang into action to try to create the impression this was a real promise by, for instance, discussing a nonbinding pledge. The tax cut never happened.
  • To justify suspending the credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta after he annoyed Trump, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders shared a video that experts determined had been deceptively edited to make Acosta look physically abusive toward a press aide.
  • To fear-monger for his wall, Trump repeatedly told stories about traffickers tying up migrant women and silencing them with tape. After The Post flatly debunked Trump’s assertion, a top border official circulated an internal request for “any information” that would support the claim.
  • To buttress Trump’s distortions of the migrant threat, the Department of Homeland Security produced a slick official presentation about the border that claimed nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists had been blocked from entering the United States. But this number had nothing whatsoever to do with efforts to cross the border, a distinction multiple officials also dishonestly fudged.

It’s not like this is one of the big, foundational lies Trump regularly tells to support the entire narrative of his presidency, such as the claims that he was totally exonerated by the special counsel probe, or that China is paying his tariffs, or that he inherited a horrible economy and converted it into the greatest economy in the history of this country.

By contrast, this was in all probability a mistake. Yet Trump has now kept this story going again, raging on Twitter that “certain models” did say Alabama might be hit. For what it’s worth, that’s a downgrade from another Trump rage-tweet claiming that “almost all models” said this.

Why bother? One likely explanation is that Trump sees admitting error as a form of fatal weakness. As I detailed in my book, Trump has a long history of crafting illusions about himself, going back to his reality TV days and his spinning to New York tabloids, and it was a natural transition for him to segue into wielding rank disinformation as a political weapon, as a species of power.

In this telling, admitting to having gotten something wrong on the facts is akin to allowing for the existence of such things as controlling factual reality and sincere, fact-based argumentation in search of genuinely agreed-upon truths.

What’s so galling about all this is that presidents have a formidable range of sources of good-faith information-gathering and empirical inquiry at their disposal. Yet Trump sees no discernible value whatsoever in all of that — if anything, he sees that apparatus as an instrumental weapon to undermine the very possibility of those things.

So, you see, Sharpie-gate presents a very revealing look into the mind and methods of Trump. He just cannot be wrong.

Want more?

NOAA was shoved into Commerce instead of Interior by then President Nixon. He had some beef with Wally Hickel according to reporting by Rachel Maddow last night. Now, Commerce Chief Threatened Firings at NOAA After Trump’s Dorian Tweets, Sources Say. That would be Wilbur Ross.

You see, I cannot just let this go. You have the Pettident (sick) twisting the government to buttress his own butt-Fing version of reality. Remember, Rick Wilson’s “Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.” That is what is happening to our government.

When doing nothing is better than something - especially if the something is Trump's support of pseudoscience solutions for gun control

Will Fitbits and Apple watches predict mass shootings? Why in hell would we even ask that question? This is a crackpot scheme to let the Pettydent appear to be doing something about gun control even though he opposes everything that most Americans want. Judd Legum in a Subscribers Post, The dystopian solution, at popular.info explains how “Trump seeks to avoid both real action and the appearance of doing nothing. ” Might following the money have something to do with it? Read on.

In the wake of mass shootings that took the lives of dozens of Americans last month, Trump does not want to take basic steps, like expanding background checks, that are supported by nearly all Americans. Trump also opposes slightly more aggressive efforts, like banning military-style assault rifles, that are supported by solid majority of Americans. And Trump wouldn’t even consider steps that would put a real dent in gun violence, like using buybacks and other policies to reduce the total number of guns in the United States.

Trump briefly seemed open to taking action during a particularly deadly August, but quickly reversed course after a phone call with NRA president Wayne LaPierre. Instead, Trump has latched onto a controversial proposal “to study whether mass shootings could be prevented by monitoring mentally ill people for small changes that might foretell violence.”

The plan was reportedly created by The Suzanne Wright Foundation in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass murders at the request of Ivanka Trump. The foundation was established by Bob Wright, the former chairman of NBC who is a friend and major donor to Trump. The proposal, known as Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes (SAFEHOME), would explore “whether technology like phones and smart watches can be used to detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent.” It’s part of a larger proposal pushed by Wright called HARPA, which seeks “to come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems.”

This is just plain nuts at so many levels.

A major problem with the idea is that mental illness is not a significant predictor of mass violence. A 2015 study of “235 people who committed or tried to commit mass killings” found “only 22 percent of them could be considered mentally ill.” That’s similar to the rate of mental illness in the general U.S. adult population (19%). A separate 2015 study found “only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues.”

And, of course, there is zero evidence that monitoring information from the Apple Watch of someone with a mental illness will predict anything. Nevertheless, the proposal has gained steam as Trump seeks to avoid both real action and the appearance of doing nothing.

Mass surveillance, powered by the government and Big Tech

The details of the Wright plan are disturbing. According to the draft proposal, SAFEHOME would “advanced artificial intelligence to try to identify changes in mental status that could make an individual more prone to violent behavior.”

How will this happen? The proposal suggests employing “a number of widely used technologies…including Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home.”

These technologies would then have to be deployed at scale, with the data being sent through large technology companies to the government, with the goal of predicting mass shootings. The vision is a massive surveillance system of an undetermined subset of Americans deemed to be mentally unstable. (The initial proposal is to spend $60 million on a pilot program using volunteers.)

"The proposed data collection goes beyond absurdity when they mention the desire to collect FitBit data. I am unaware of any study linking walking too much and committing mass murder. As for the other technologies, what are these people expecting? ‘Alexa, tell me the best way to kill a lot of people really quickly’? Really?” George David Annas of SUNY Upstate Medical University told Gizmodo.

There is no mystery

Geoffrey Ling, the lead scientific advisor to Wright’s project, defended the plan. “To those who say this is a half-baked idea, I would say, ‘what’s your idea? What are you doing about this?” Ling asked.

It’s not a mystery how to reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. This country has a lot of mass shootings because it has a lot of guns. The United States has just over 4% of the world’s population but more than 40% of its guns.

A New York Times analysis found that the United States has 270 million guns and 90 mass shooters (defined as a shooter with four or more victims) between 1966 and 2012. No other country had more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters over the same time period.

Manufacturing guns
Making All Guns for America

The same kind of analysis again demonstrates that America’s mass shooting problem is not a symptom of mental illness.

If mental health made the difference, then data would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do people in other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.

Wright and wrong

SAFEHOME is not the first time that Bob Wright has been involved in pushing pseudoscience and outright misinformation. Wright also co-founded the organization Autism Speaks after one of his grandchildren was diagnosed with the disorder.

While the organization finally abandoned discredited anti-vaccine science in 2015, Wright himself is still publicly pushing a potential link. This is what Wright said in an appearance on The Today Show in 2016:

Wright, who co-founded Autism Speaks with his wife, Suzanne, said “there is no definitive answer” to whether vaccines cause autism…

“We have not been able to determine that autism is caused by vaccines. However, there are lots of issues having to do with the vaccine safety program that I got into very deeply, with no agenda, early on in autism,” he said.

He said vaccine companies pay out tens of millions of dollars worth of damages each year in lawsuits, although not specifically tied to autism cases.

Vaccines do not cause autism. But suggestions to the contrary by Wright and many others, despite the scientific evidence, have convinced some parents not to vaccinate their children. That has lead to outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases.

Other bad ideas

SAFEHOME is not the only idea the Trump administration has that won’t curb gun violence. It has also floated legislation that would “expedite the death penalty for people found guilty of mass killings.”

Most mass shootings are not prosecuted federally, so this legislation wouldn’t even apply. Further, many mass shooters die during the crime, either by shooting themselves or in a firefight with authorities.

More broadly, the punishments for murdering multiple people are already quite severe. It is not realistic to think that making a seldom-used federal penalty for mass shootings harsher would do anything to deter potential mass shooters.

That’s not the point, however. It’s another proposal that seeks to give the impression that Trump is doing something about mass shootings.

And that is why doing something is worse than doing nothing, especially if the something is being pushed by the Pettydent for the sake feeding his narcissism, his hatred of real science, and one of his rich donors.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Trump screws up again. This time he blames the weather service and press for his being an incompetent weather man.

The NY Times has a chronology of Trump’s total mishandling of the path of hurricane Dorian as it was going to hit the U. S.: A Presidential Storm Leaves Forecasters Rebuked.

Of all the scandals that attach themselves to Donald Trump, perhaps the most ludicrous is (a) Trump’s misinformation about the path of Dorian (into Alabama), (b) the vigorous partisan defense of that nonsense by Trump and his enablers, (c) the refutation by the national weather service (NWS), and (d) the ordering of the NWS ’s parent, NOAA, to countermand the weather service professionals in defense of the dotard in the White House who wielded a Sharpie to remake reality more to his liking.

You really have to laugh. If you don’t think all that is funny, then you are doomed to shedding lots of tears over what our nation has become. Life is too short for that. Laugh instead. Laugh at how deeply the enabling of Trump has penetrated our government.

Withs regard to that last point, when you think of Trump’s enablers, what comes to mind are leaders of the Republican party (in the Senate, for example) or cabinet members. But this story indicates that the rot has spread more deeply and downward into into our government.

Here are excerpts.

The hurricane was accelerating away from the Mid-Atlantic coast. In the Bahamas, victims were picking through the devastation. In the Southeast, they were cleaning up debris. And in Washington, President Trump waged war over his forecasting skills.

On Friday, for the sixth straight day, Mr. Trump continued his relentless campaign to prove that he was right when he predicted that Hurricane Dorian could hit Alabama regardless of what the scientists said, a quest that has come to consume his White House and put his veracity to the test.

And once again, Mr. Trump’s government came to his aid. Late Friday afternoon, the parent agency of the National Weather Service issued a statement declaring that its Birmingham, Ala., office was wrong to dispute the president’s warning that Alabama “will most likely be hit” by the hurricane despite forecasts to the contrary.

“The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time,” the parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said in the statement.

Neither the White House nor NOAA responded to inquiries about whether the statement was issued at the direction or in consultation with the president’s aides. But it followed a concerted effort by Mr. Trump and his team to use the levers of government to back up a presidential claim that has been widely discredited and ridiculed, including posting outdated weather maps and having his homeland security adviser issue a statement backing him.

It started on Sunday when the president warned on Twitter that Alabama, among other states, could be hit by the storm “(much) harder than anticipated.”

In an attempt to head off panic, the Birmingham forecasters quickly sent out their own tweet, assuring residents that they were not, in fact, in harm’s way. “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” the local office wrote. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Angry at the mockery that followed, particularly on cable television and social media, Mr. Trump has ever since sought to justify his contentions to the point that he even called on his homeland security secretary to display a map in the Oval Office that appeared to have been altered by a black Sharpie pen to suggest Alabama was in the potential path of the storm.

James Spann, a popular TV meteorologist in Birmingham with more than 400,000 Twitter followers, publicly vouched for the professionalism of the forecasters.

“@NWSBirmingham has a brilliant staff of experienced atmospheric scientists that have helped to save countless lives in my state over the years,” Mr. Spann tweeted after the NOAA rebuke. “They were thrown under the bus today by their parent agency. I stand behind NWS Birmingham 100 percent.”

Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, called NOAA’s statement “utterly disgusting and disingenuous,” emphasizing that Weather Service employees had nothing to do with it.

Rear Adm. David W. Titley, a retired Navy officer who previously served as NOAA’s chief operating officer, was even more scathing about his former agency. “Perhaps the darkest day ever for @noaa leadership,” he tweeted. “Don’t know how they will ever look their workforce in the eye again. Moral cowardice.”

The president’s continuing efforts to vindicate his assertion has proved uncomfortable or bewildering in Alabama for allies and meteorologists alike. While Mr. Trump fueled a snowballing national news story, the state’s governor and members of Congress largely steered clear of the topic this week on social media, leaving it to local meteorologists to straighten out any confusion.

Brad Arnold, a storm chaser from Huntsville, Ala., said that his group had seen earlier models predicting that the storm could strike the state, but they held off on posting anything on their Facebook page because hurricane models can — and did — change quickly. Even after the president forecast the storm to include Alabama, Mr. Arnold said he did not get the usual onslaught of messages that come when a storm is on the way.

“There was no panic,” said Mr. Arnold, 30. “There were not people rushing to the grocery stores or going to get gas.”

Mr. Spann was among those weather professionals who wanted nothing to do with the politics even as they sought to correct the misimpression left by the president. After he retweeted Mr. Trump’s post with a correction, Mr. Spann pushed back against critics who claimed that he was bashing the president.

“I have zero interest in politics,” he tweeted. “Dorian will not affect Alabama in any way. That is not a political statement.”

Jason Simpson, the chief meteorologist at WHNT, the CBS affiliate in Huntsville, said he tried to reel in partisan commentary on his Facebook page after he saw other posts getting “a little bit incendiary on the sides.”

Weather is complicated, he said in an interview on Friday. “My point was, you should never listen to a politician for the weather, anyway,” Mr. Simpson said. “That’s why we have the National Weather Service.”

And what was the weather in Alabama this week? “Bone dry,” he said. “It hasn’t rained in six days.”

No, Mr. Simpson, only one side had it wrong. That would be the president forcing elements of his administration to behave unprofessionally in defense of his own PR blunders.

Contrary to what I said in my lead in, this is no laughing matter. Trump has brought his own version of a swamp to Washington.

"Buy the official Trump marker, which is different than every other marker on the market, because this one has the special ability to drive @CNN and the rest of the fake news crazy!” Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, tweeted, adding the hashtag: “#KeepMarkersGreat.”

So I leave you with this riddle: What do you get when you combine “Trump” and “Swamp”?

Answer: A Tramp in a Swump.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Firearm Follies - This is the best essay on America's gun love that you will ever read

But before we get to that, Washington Post (conservative) columnist Max Boot lists 14 reasons I’ll vote for any Democrat over Trump.

When asked earlier this month whether he could support Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren if one became the Democratic presidential nominee, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was noncommittal. I have the utmost respect for Bloomberg, whose fiscally conservative and socially liberal views closely mirror my own, but I will vote for any Democratic nominee, even Warren or Sanders, despite my profound disagreement with their far-left agendas.

If I needed any further confirmation, it came during the second half of August. This was by no means the worst period of the Trump presidency, but it nevertheless offers a snapshot of why President Trump cannot under any circumstances be reelected. Here are 14 of the lowlights:

—Trump reversed his support for background checks for gun buyers — supported by 93 percent of Americans — under pressure from the gun lobby.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of Trump’s erratic and unpresidential behavior recently, but it gives you the flavor of a presidency whose defining features are crassness, cruelty, incompetence and — most of all — sheer craziness. I may not agree with Warren or Sanders on most issues, but I am confident they would not do any of the offensive and even impeachable acts that Trump commits with mind-numbing regularity. That is reason enough to vote for them, even if I would prefer a more moderate alternative. Saving U.S. democracy from a mad king matters more than the specific policies of his successor.

Oops. Where are the other 13? You don’t need me to list them. I have no doubt that you can list them without help from either me or Boot. But, if you need a reminder, check out Boot’s post.

Flags and flowers

I picked the one on gun control because illustrates so well the gelatinous stance taken by the president. And it fits the other Washington Post essay by opinion writer Paul Waldman musing about what would happen If we actually told the truth about guns.

Flags, Flowers, Fear, Fables, and Falsehoods

I rank this photo with its flags and flowers right up there with thoughts and prayers. All four of these things will not bring about resurrection of those departed - that is, those dispatched by one of America’s assault rifles, perfectly legally, natch. The one thing that distinguishes the United States from all other countries is that there are more guns than people. The data are irrefutable - unless you’re a gun lover or a Republican Senator. With apologies to those who plant flags and flowers after another of the dozens and dozens of mass shootings, I must point out that these acts, this planting of flags and flowers, serve the planter and not the plantee. They diminish fear but at the cost of the fables and falsehoods.

I was going to select some excerpts but I found this so compelling that I’m going to reprint it all right here. You can consult Waldman’s essay for the links to the evidence. Emphases below are from the original report.

With that introduction, now on to Waldman’s essay.

It’s beginning to feel like we’re living in a darkly satirical novel about the near future, when mass shootings have become so frequent that they’ve become part of the daily routine, one more unpleasant but unavoidable thing to worry about like traffic jams or thunderstorms. Every week or two, there’s another slaughter — sometimes more than one on the same day — after which we just repeat our preferred responses, then prepare to do it all again, and again, and again.

The latest massacre — 7 dead and nearly two dozen injured in Texas — is the latest in a long list from that state alone. In that state, the governor encourages people to buy more guns and a new set of laws now allow you to take your gun to church and prohibit landlords from banning guns in rental properties. I’m sure Texans feel safer already.

For those of us who try to argue for change in our country’s laws to somehow slow this parade of torn flesh and stolen lives, the debate itself has a maddening quality to it. Most of the arguments gun advocates make are so disingenuous, so divorced from the facts, so downright ludicrous that it’s simply impossible to believe that they themselves believe them.

So imagine if you could administer truth serum to the gun advocates whose desires have shaped our gun laws, to force them to tell the truth about guns. What would they say?

The first thing they’d say: The rote response we give after every mass shooting is just playacting. President Trump will say, “We’re looking at a lot of different things. We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts,” but he’s not going to do anything. He’ll claim that he’s going to stand up to the National Rifle Association, but then he’ll cave. Republicans in Congress will make sure no bill offering even the mildest controls on gun ownership will pass, even if it’s supported by 93 percent of the public. We may offer up our “thoughts and prayers,” but our main thought is “Can’t we talk about something else?” and our prayer is that voters don’t decide to change the situation we’re in.

They’d also say, When we argue “We have a mental illness problem, not a gun problem,” we cringe a little at how dishonest we’re being. We know there are people who struggle with mental illness in every country on Earth, just as there are men prone to violence against their wives, and men who get fired from their jobs, and men with hate in their hearts. We know that what makes America different is all the guns.

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.

And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.

Finally, here’s the most fundamental truth of all the gun advocates would admit if you forced them to:

All this death and misery? The thousands of gun homicides and gun suicides and mass shootings? We don’t like it, sure. But it’s a price we’re willing to pay. We love our guns so much that we think all that horror is something the rest of you should just have to put up with. Maybe there’s some amount of gun deaths that would make us say “I’m willing to accept some inconvenience and limits on my gun rights to do something about this.” Would 100,000 dead Americans a year be enough? Five hundred thousand? We don’t really know. But whatever that number might be, nearly 40,000 per year, what we currently experience, isn’t enough. One mass shooting after another after another isn’t enough.

That’s what the gun advocates would say if you gave them truth serum. And there might even be one or two things advocates of more restrictions would have to admit if you did the same to them, such as Yes, I actually would like to ban guns, even if I know it’s not going to happen.

Me too, Bro. Will America ever get over its fornication with fire arms?

Scriber on vacation

The Scribers are on vacation and traveling for the first half of September. Blog posts will be infrequent.