Thursday, December 08, 2016

Back to the Dark Ages, when Galileo's hypothesis was a crime

Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.

DEC. 7, 2016, New York Times

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

(Continued here.)

Pascal's wager and climate change

Many people have heard of Pascal's wager, but not many know it under this name. Pascal's argument goes as follows (my poor synopsis):

I have two choices: Whether to believe in God or not to believe in God.
  • If I believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God exists, I go to heaven and win.
  • If I believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God does not exist, I neither win nor lose.
  • If I do not believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God exists, I lose because I go to hell.
  • If I do not believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God does not exist, I neither win nor lose.
Thus, argues Pascal, it's better to believe in God and live life accordingly, because that way you will possibly win and not lose.

Some have argued that recognizing the science of climate change is the same way. To wit:
  • If we recognize the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is correct, we avoid its possible drastic consequences.
  • If we recognize the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is incorrect, we neither win nor lose.
  • If we do not believe the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is correct, we lose because the planet devolves into a hellish nightmare.
  • If we do not believe the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is incorrect, we neither win nor lose.
Of course, those who believe that climate change science is bunk have argued against this line of reasoning. But then, as Vox Verax has said time and again, belief is too often stronger than evidence-based logic: It's one of the conundrums of human nature.

— LP

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Trump flunks his first foreign policy test

By David Ignatius Opinion writer December 6 at 7:30 PM, WashPost

Whatever else future historians say about Donald Trump’s early foreign policy moves, they’re likely to note the erratic and, in many ways, self-defeating nature of the president-elect’s initial dealings with China, the country many analysts view as the United States’ most important long-term rival.

Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.

Worse, Trump’s fulminations about China come just as his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining the United States’ standing with allies in Asia. Trump, in effect, is ceding economic ground to China at the very moment he claims to be taking a harder line. Is this a cool, calculating strategy from the dealmaker? It looks to me more like a hot mess.

Trump’s phone call Friday with Taiwan’s president needn’t have created this crisis. The Chinese at first seemed willing to give the inexperienced Trump a pass — blaming the precedent-altering call on “petty” maneuvering by Taipei. Beijing presumably recognized that this wasn’t the time to pick a fight, and Trump should have adopted the same stance.

(More here.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

By Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward December 5 at 6:47 PM WashPost

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

(More here.)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Victory of ‘No’

The GOP’s unprecedented anti-Obama obstructionism was a remarkable success. And then it handed the party to Donald Trump.

By Michael Grunwald,
December 04, 2016

On January 29, 2009, the whittled-down and beaten-up Republican minority in the House of Representatives gathered for a strange celebration of defeat.

The Democrats had just drubbed them at the polls, seizing the White House and a 79-seat advantage in the House. The House had then capped President Barack Obama’s first week in office by passing his $800 billion Recovery Act, a landmark emergency stimulus bill that doubled as a massive down payment on Obama’s agenda. Even though the economy was in freefall, not one House Republican had voted for the effort to revive it, prompting a wave of punditry about a failed party refusing to help clean up its own mess and dooming itself to irrelevance.

But at the House GOP retreat the next day at a posh resort in the Virginia mountains, there was no woe-is-us vibe. The leadership even replayed the video of the stimulus vote—not to bemoan Obama’s overwhelming victory, but to hail the unanimous partisan resistance. The conference responded with a standing ovation.

“I know all of you are pumped about the vote,” said Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip. “We’ll have more to come!”

The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything. Their conference chairman, a then-obscure Indiana conservative named Mike Pence, underscored the point with a clip from Patton, showing the general rallying his troops for war against their Nazi enemy: “We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time! We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!”

(More here.)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Last Diplomat

TM note: Terrific reporting. I know most of the Americans mentioned, including Robin Raphel, and I think these reporters got it right.

As Robin Raphel worked for the State Department in Pakistan, her brand of traditional diplomacy ran into the new realities of covert surveillance. The collision turned her life upside down.

By Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett, WSJ

Just before 8 on the morning of Oct. 21, 2014, Robin Raphel climbed into her Ford Focus, put her purple briefcase on the passenger’s seat and began the 20-minute drive from her house in Washington to her office at the State Department.

It was a routine Tuesday. The main event on her schedule was a staff meeting.

Raphel swiped her badge at the revolving security door and headed to her office where she placed her briefcase on the floor and sat down to check her email. Later, as she joined her colleagues in a conference room to discuss office schedules, her mobile phone, which she had left at her desk, began to ring. It was Slomin’s Home Security.

When she didn’t pick up, the operator called her daughter Alexandra, who raced to the house to check the doors and windows. When Raphel returned to her desk, the phone rang again. It was Alexandra, in a panic.

Burglars hadn’t set off the alarm. It was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Raphel grabbed her purse and ran out. She left behind her purple briefcase—one she had bought at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad—with a bag of carrots and a Rubbermaid container full of celery sticks inside.

As she pulled up to her yellow-brick house, Raphel saw agents going in and out the front door, walking across the oriental rugs she had trundled back from tours in South Asia. They boxed up her two computers, Alexandra’s iPad and everything else electronic. In the basement, they opened the drawers of a mahogany file cabinet she had picked up during a posting in London. They pulled out a stack of files.

(Continued here.)

Friday, December 02, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same

by Leigh Pomeroy
Dec 1, 2016

It is now several weeks following the unexpected result of the presidential election. Both those who celebrated and those who decried its outcome have mostly settled back into their normal lives and the annual challenge of the not-as-long-drawn-out-as-the-campaign Christmas shopping season.

Few predicted Mr. Trump’s victory, including the once infallible number-cruncher Nate Silver and his vaunted website, FiveThirtyEight. Yet one young tour manager in Italy did. Let me explain.

My wife and I took a nine-day tour to Tuscany just before the election. It was blessed by fine weather, and we hit all the highlights of the nearby areas, including Florence, Siena and Pisa as well as the less well known sights of Cinque Terre, Lucca and San Gimignano. Despite being fall, it was still tourist high season, and we were surprised not only at the crowds but at the large number of Chinese among them. This shows you how the world is changing.

While Italy was essentially a U.S. campaign-free zone, I was still curious as to how the Italians were viewing the circus going on in this country. Towards the end of our stay, I finally got up the courage to ask our young tour manager, Alice (pronounced “A-li’-chay”), what she thought.

“You are about to make a big mistake,” she warned. “You are about to elect another Berlusconi. Don’t elect a businessman.” She was referring to the former playboy businessman Silvio Berlusconi, who served three terms as Italian prime minister between 1994 and 2011, when he resigned from office due to poor performance of the economy and amidst charges of corruption, conflicts of interest and sexual improprieties. In 2012 he was convicted of tax evasion.

I was struck by Alice’s comment in two ways. First, at the time Hillary Clinton was leading comfortably in nearly all the polls and appeared to have the election well in hand. Second, that Alice compared Mr. Trump to Mr. Berlusconi so readily, but then I guess that’s how anyone might view an election in another country — that is, comparing it to the circumstances one knows.

Of course, Alice turned out to be presciently correct, at least on the election part. We’ll see as to the other.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump the president-elect is evolving to be somewhat different than Mr. Trump the candidate. The boisterous, populist bellicosity has mostly been toned down, and he seems to be backing off from some of his more extreme policy stances.

Though I did not vote for him, I agree with him on several issues, like not privatizing Social Security and Medicare and looking harder at international trade agreements before accepting them lock, stock and barrel.

One of the great ironies of Mr. Trump’s “build the wall” position is that, by pushing for and signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mrs. Clinton’s husband exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico. That’s because NAFTA encouraged the export of cheap grain, particularly corn, to Mexico, thus forcing small Mexican farmers off land that was no longer profitable into the cities looking for work. When there was none to be had, they then looked north to the United States for economic opportunity.

At one time the border between the U.S. and Mexico was more porous. Mexican workers could come across and return home fairly easily, resulting in a freer-flow of labor. But because of NAFTA more Mexicans were coming and staying. As a result, the U.S. tightened its border policies to clamp down on illegal immigration. Yet this only made matters worse as once in the U.S. no one wanted to return home to Mexico then attempt to come back again.

Unlike the European Union, which encourages the free-flow of both goods and labor, NAFTA promoted only the free-flow of goods. The consequence is that NAFTA benefitted large agricultural producers and manufacturers in the U.S., but it hurt laborers in both countries, just as many of its critics had warned.

So to a certain extent NAFTA led to Mr. Trump’s election. That said, a wall is not a practical solution from a humane, environmental and economic point of view. A more practical solution is to pursue another of Mr. Trump’s proposed policies: Renegotiate NAFTA.

I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day, so I’m thinking about what I should be thankful for: First, that the godawful campaign is over. Second, that money didn’t win the election, as Mrs. Clinton outspent Mr. Trump by about two-to-one. And third, that it appears we will have yet another peaceful transition of power on Jan. 20 for the 44th consecutive time, if my counting is correct.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More Whites Die Than Are Born in One-Third of States

Trend is reshaping the social, political and economic landscape of the U.S.

By Janet Adamy, WSJ
Nov. 29, 2016 10:31 a.m. ET

More white people are dying than being born in about one-third of the states, a new peak in a trend that is reshaping the social, political and economic landscape of the U.S.

Research released Tuesday by the University of New Hampshire found that the number of states where white deaths outpace births has climbed rapidly over the last decade, rising to 17 in 2014 from just four in 2004.

These states extend beyond rural areas known for their withering populations to include those with large metropolitan areas, such as California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as well as otherwise growing Sunbelt destinations like Nevada and Arizona.

The figures exclude residents moving from state to state and the arrival of immigrants. In a handful of these 17 states, the white population still rose in recent years because whites moved in, said Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer and sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who co-wrote the research.

And in all but Maine and West Virginia, these states are still seeing more births than deaths overall thanks to growing Latino, black and Asian populations.

White women are having fewer babies, and drugs, alcohol and suicide have helped push up the mortality rate among middle-aged whites.

The result is a rapidly changing country where fault lines around social programs are expected to shift as Republican president-elect Donald Trump moves into the White House. Older white Americans are becoming increasingly reliant on Medicare and Social Security, while younger minority groups are making up a greater share of those tapping job training and the U.S. education system.

(More here.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On climate change, is anyone listening?

Scientists warn increasingly rapid melting could trigger polar ‘tipping points’ with catastrophic consequences felt as far away as the Indian Ocean

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”

Climate tipping points occur when a natural system, such as the polar ice cap, undergoes sudden or overwhelming change that has a profound effect on surrounding ecosystems, often irreversible.

In the Arctic, the tipping points identified in the new report, published on Friday, include: growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.

(Continued here.)

The Election was rigged: It favored Trump

By Tom Maertens
Nov 26, 2016
Mankato Free Press

More than two weeks after the election, there are still several million uncounted paper ballots, according to the Cook Political Report, principally in California.

Hillary Clinton currently leads the popular vote by 2 million; MPR estimates that her national vote margin could be in excess of 2.5 million. Percentage-wise, this is greater than that of seven candidates who won the presidency, including Kennedy and Nixon, and is roughly in line with George W. Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004.

Despite Clinton winning the popular vote by a wide margin, Trump will be elected president in the Electoral College, a system set up when slaveholders dominated the constitutional convention that led to the election of eight slaveholders among the first 10 presidents.

Donald Trump repeatedly said during the campaign that the election was rigged: it was — in his favor.

Civil rights advocates have long charged that the Republican Party instituted voter suppression laws in states where it controlled both the legislative and executive branches. These included restrictions on voting hours, closing polling places, and passing restrictive voter ID laws — allegedly because of rampant in-person vote fraud, which is completely false.

This program was facilitated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which made Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) inoperable. That ruling freed states previously found to have engaged in systematic vote suppression from the obligation to submit proposed changes to their voting procedures to the Department of Justice.

Following “Holder,” 868 polling stations were closed throughout the South, overwhelmingly in poor or mostly black areas.

The investigative journalist Greg Palast, along with his co-author, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has written about Interstate Crosscheck, a program run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to ferret out double registration or double voting in 30 different states.

Palast’s investigation in Rolling Stone found that Interstate Crosscheck wrongly targets people with African-American, Latino and Asian names for suspicion of double voting. In addition, although it is supposed to match first, middle and last name, plus birth dates, along with the last four digits of a Social Security number, Palast found that a quarter of the listed names on the state rolls lacked a middle-name match, that the system ignored designations of Jr. and Sr., and that Social Security numbers weren’t included on any of the lists he obtained.

One tally found that while the program flagged 7.2 million possible double registrants, no more than four voters were charged with deliberate double registration or double voting.

Palast believes that the Crosscheck system wrongly purged some 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls, including 449,922 in Michigan (Trump won by 13,107); 270,824 in Arizona (Trump won there by 85,257); and 589,393 in North Carolina (Trump won by 177,008).

Republicans also systematically gerrymandered voting districts to favor Republican candidates, as in Wisconsin, where Democrats won 51 percent of the votes but Republicans got 60 percent of the seats. Federal courts reversed some of those laws, including in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The election was also rigged by Russian intervention, using their catspaw, Wikileaks. The intelligence community, private cyber security experts and Microsoft all believe that Russia was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails — which Trump encouraged — and then WikiLeaks released. Nothing particularly scandalous emerged, except that politicians engage in politics, but the Russians correctly judged the news media hoopla that resulted.

New York magazine reports that several voting-rights attorneys and cyber security experts believe they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked, as well.

Most ominously, the election was rigged by FBI Director James Comey, who put his thumb on the scale repeatedly during the election. As the Washington Post wrote, “First, the FBI director, James B. Comey, put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters.”

Additionally, pro-Trump agents within the FBI put out the false claim that the FBI was preparing to indict Clinton.

These stories were hyped by the partisan media, including Fox News, which blared the claims for days, before they were retracted. But as the ubiquitous Kellyanne Conway remarked, “The damage is done to Hillary Clinton.”

What we can expect, now that the Republicans will control all of the levers of power in Washington, is that they will take their voter suppression campaign national.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

(Original here.)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Before ‘fake news,’ there was Soviet ‘disinformation’

By Adam Taylor November 26 at 6:00 AM, WashPost

On July 17, 1983, a small pro-Soviet Indian newspaper called the Patriot published a front-page article titled “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” The story cited a letter from an anonymous but “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” that suggested AIDS, then still a mysterious and deadly new disease, had been created by the Pentagon in a bid to develop new biological weapons.

“Now that these menacing experiments seem to have gone out of control, plans are being hatched to hastily transfer them from the U.S. to other countries, primarily developing nations where governments are pliable to Washington's pressure and persuasion,” the article read.

The Patriot's article was subsequently used as a source for an October 1985 story in the Literaturnaya Gazeta, a Soviet weekly with considerable influence at the time. The next year, it ran on the front page of a British tabloid. After that, it was picked up by an international news wire. By April 1987, it was suggested that the story had appeared in the major newspapers of more than 50 countries.

The problem? The story was patently false.

A variety of credible experts quickly came out to say that the idea that AIDS had been deliberately or inadvertently created in a laboratory was ridiculous; even the president of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences went on the record saying AIDS was of natural origin. Yet even after the Cold War was over and the threat of AIDS became more widely understood, the idea that the disease was man-made persevered around the world.

The conspiracy theory even persisted in the United States: A 2005 study found almost half of African Americans believed that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was man-made.

In the parlance of 2016, we would probably refer to the Patriot's front page story as “fake news.” It's not so dissimilar to the flimsy or outright false stories that spread online in the United States this year. There may be a shared Russian link too: This week, a number of groups alleged that a Russian propaganda effort had helped spread these “fake news” stories to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton's chances in the 2016 presidential election.

But during the height of the Cold War, these false stories were referred to as something else: “disinformation.”

(More here.)

7 big areas where Jeff Sessions could change policy at DOJ

By Danny Vinik,
11/18/16 08:01 PM EST

Sen. Jeff Sessions was an instantly divisive figure when President-elect Donald Trump named him as his next attorney general: conservatives and immigration hardliners welcomed the choice, while civil-rights groups and Democrats spent the day attacking the pick, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren saying his selection would be a “compromise with racism,” and Sen. Cory Booker saying, “I am concerned that he possesses ideologies that are in conflict with basic tenets of the Justice Department’s mission.”

In part the critics’ focus was on controversial past comments by Sessions, such as accusations that he said the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union were “un-American,” and joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until I learned they smoked pot.” But much of the concern is what he’d actually do as AG: that he’d undermine civil rights protections, prosecute more undocumented immigrants and allow companies to go wild with mergers.

So what could he really do? Some cabinet-level jobs have limited power to affect the country, either because of their narrow mission or the slow rule-making processes needed to make major changes in public policy. Not so the Attorney General. Though sitting on top of the vast Department of Justice bureaucracy, the AG has wide discretion to shift American policy in huge ways simply by how he prioritizes its limited resources—which cases the office chooses to prosecute and which ones it lets go. It runs dozens of agencies, including the powerful FBI, DEA, and the immigration courts. And it also, insiders say, exerts huge influence on the White House’s own sense of its power.

"At every cabinet meeting, they are the person who everyone goes to and says what are range of options,” said a former Bush administration official. “Being able to cabin or expand the range of options available to the executive branch is a very powerful capability.”

(More here.)

In Putin’s Russia, it just got easier to find the perpetrators of Stalin’s purges

By David Filipov November 24, WashPost

MOSCOW — A Russian human rights group has published a database containing personal information about nearly 40,000 members of the notorious security force that carried out Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s purges, shedding light on an ugly stretch of history the Kremlin would prefer to remain hidden.

The archive, culled from the records of Stalin’s security forces (the NKVD) and posted on the website of Memorial, the human rights group, for the first time names those who carried out some 700,000 executions from 1935 to 1939 during “The Great Terror.” Russian President Vladi­mir Putin has in recent years revised Stalin’s legacy, emphasizing the dictator’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II and turning the Soviet Union into a world power.

The details of the purges, in which Communist Party leaders and rank-and-file citizens were summarily tried and convicted, usually on trumped-up charges, have been erased from school textbooks and public discourse.

(More here.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

By Craig Timberg November 24 at 8:27 PM, WashPost

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

(More here.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

After Years of Turmoil, Republican Tax Overhaul Picks Up Speed

GOP brings hard-fought experience to effort to pass rate-lowering, base-broadening revamp

By Richard Rubin, WSJ (Original here.)
Updated Nov. 20, 2016 12:29 p.m. ET

Republicans’ race to rewrite the U.S. tax code on the heels of this month’s election relies on years of work that is suddenly—and quite unexpectedly—poised to pay off.

A 2017 tax overhaul would be a case study in the benefits of dead ends and behind-the-scenes preparation. Failure would show again how hard it is to reshape the U.S. tax system, even with rare political momentum and one-party control of government.

Republicans have long sought a rate-lowering, base-broadening revamp of the tax code, fusing differing business interests within the GOP coalition. Corporations would get a rate cut and lighter taxes on foreign income. So would small businesses, who report profits on their owners’ individual tax returns. Individuals would get those lower rates and simpler annual tax filing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is this another Chinese plot, Mr. Trump?

The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends

By Chris Mooney and Jason Samenow - November 17 - Washington Post

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic.

It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

But in fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.

At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.

(Continued here.)

Mr. Trump: If you won't listen to the scientists, please listen to the military

Military Leaders Urge Trump to See Climate as a Security Threat

Dozens of military and defense experts advised the president-elect that global warming should transcend politics

By Erika Bolstad, ClimateWire on November 15, 2016

It may well end up in the paper shredder, but a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders sent Donald Trump’s transition team a briefing book urging the president-elect to consider climate change as a grave threat to national security.

The Center for Climate & Security in its briefing book argues that climate change presents a risk to U.S. national security and international security, and that the United States should advance a comprehensive policy for addressing the risk. The recommendations, released earlier this year, were developed by the Climate and Security Advisory Group, a voluntary, nonpartisan group of 43 U.S.-based senior military, national security, homeland security and intelligence experts, including the former commanders of the U.S. Pacific and Central commands.

The briefing book argues that climate change presents a significant and direct risk to U.S. military readiness, operations and strategy, and military leaders say it should transcend politics. It goes beyond protecting military bases from sea-level rise, the military advisers say. They urge Trump to order the Pentagon to game out catastrophic climate scenarios, track trends in climate impacts and collaborate with civilian communities. Stresses from climate change can increase the likelihood of international or civil conflict, state failure, mass migration and instability in strategically significant areas around the world, the defense experts argue.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When President Trump Goes to War

A new commander in chief will soon face hard decisions about how and when to deploy America’s military might. What principles should guide him?

By Eliot A. Cohen, WSJ
Nov. 18, 2016 10:25 a.m. ET

President-elect Donald Trump does not speak softly, but he clearly believes in military power—what Theodore Roosevelt called “the big stick.” Like all of his predecessors, however, he will soon discover that it isn’t enough to brandish armed force: He will find himself having to use it.

On Jan. 20, Mr. Trump will inherit three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and the global campaign against various jihadist movements. He will also have to make decisions about other flashpoints that could, willy-nilly, drag the U.S. into armed conflict: Iran’s efforts to dominate the Persian Gulf, North Korea’s drive to build a nuclear-armed long-range missile, China’s aggression in the South and East China Seas and, yes, his friend Vladimir Putin’s bullying of our NATO allies in the Baltics.

As he prepares to take office, Mr. Trump needs to do some hard thinking about 21st-century warfare and strategy. I should say that, along with many other Republican national-security experts, I publicly opposed Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, and I have not been encouraged by the start he has made in assembling a national-security team for his administration.

For all my concerns, however, I have no reason to think that Mr. Trump is eager to wage war. He is smart enough to be aware of its hazards. But even a president as averse to the use of military force as Barack Obama ended up being a war president: He massively expanded targeting killing with drones, intervened to overthrow the Libyan regime, prolonged the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan and has now re-engaged in Iraq to take on Islamic State. Mr. Obama no doubt felt that he had little choice, and Mr. Trump will feel the same pressures.

(More here.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Science will survive

It appears that science may take a beating under the Trump administration and with the GOP (God Ordained Pharisees) still controlling Congress. But this is certainly not the first time in history when those in power have placed belief above facts and reality. The planet has survived thus far despite it being meddled with by homo sapiens, and we at Vox Verax suspect it will continue awhile longer (catastrophic climate change and/or nuclear war notwithstanding).
The Top 10 Websites for Science in 2016
By Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience
November 14, 2016 
Let's be honest, the Internet is chock-full of garbage information, and this messy situation is only getting worse. At RealClearScience, our job is to separate the wheat from the chaff in the world of science, to bring you high-quality articles from dependable sources. While we trust all of our go-to sources, some do stand above the rest. Here are the top ten websites for science of 2016.
(The list is here.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Allan Lichtman and David Brooks agree with Vox Verax: Trump won't last the first term

‘Prediction professor’ who called Trump’s big win also made another forecast: Trump will be impeached

By Peter W. Stevenson, November 11, Washington Post

Few prognosticators predicted a Donald Trump victory ahead of Tuesday night. Polls showed Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead, and much of America (chiefly the media) failed to anticipate the wave of pro-Trump support that propelled him to victory. But a Washington, D.C.-based professor insisted that Trump was lined up for a win — based on the idea that elections are “primarily a reflection on the performance of the party in power.

Allan Lichtman uses a historically based system of what he calls “keys” to predict election results ahead of time. The keys are explained in-depth in Lichtman’s book, “Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2016.” In our conversations in September and October, he outlined how President Obama's second term set the Democrats up for a tight race, and his keys tipped the balance in Trump's favor, even if just barely.

At the end of our September conversation, Lichtman made another call: that if elected, Trump would eventually be impeached by a Republican Congress that would prefer a President Mike Pence — someone whom establishment Republicans know and trust.

“I'm going to make another prediction,” he said. “This one is not based on a system; it's just my gut. They don't want Trump as president, because they can't control him. He's unpredictable. They'd love to have Pence — an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I'm quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook.”

So while Republican voters clearly came home before Nov. 8 — network exit polls show 90 percent of GOP voters cast ballots for Trump — it's less clear that the party leadership is on board. (Lichtman actually isn't the only person to predict a Trump impeachment; this morning, the New York Times's David Brooks suggested that a Trump impeachment or resignation was “probably” in the cards sometime within the next year.)

(Continued here.)


Meet Trump's Cabinet-in-waiting

He’s expected to reward the band of surrogates who stood by him.

11/09/16 02:56 AM EST, Politico

President-elect Donald Trump does not have the traditional cadre of Washington insiders and donors to build out his Cabinet, but his transition team has spent the past several months quietly building a short list of industry titans and conservative activists who could comprise one of the more eclectic and controversial presidential Cabinets in modern history.

Trumpworld has started with a mandate to hire from the private sector whenever possible. That’s why the Trump campaign is seriously considering Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil, as a top contender for Interior secretary, or donor and Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary.


Interior secretary

Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil, is seen as a top contender for Interior secretary.

Trump’s presidential transition team is also eyeing venture capitalist Robert Grady, a George H.W. Bush White House official with ties to Christie. And Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., is said to be interested in the job.

Meanwhile, a person who spoke to the Trump campaign told POLITICO that the aides have also discussed tapping Sarah Palin for Interior secretary. Trump has said he’d like to put Palin in his cabinet, and Palin has made no secret of her interest.

(Continued here.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

From Reagan to Bush II to Trump

When Ronald Reagan was elected I thought it would be disastrous for our country, and I was right: For his tax policies began the great and still growing rift between the middle and lower classes and the very wealthy.

When George Bush II was elected I thought it would be disastrous for our country, and I was right: For the lies, deceit and self-interest of his administration led us into the terrible, wasteful and destabilizing Iraq War, and precipitated the economic meltdown of 2008.

Because Donald Trump has been elected — or so it seems as the Electoral College still needs to vote — I predict he will attempt to dismantle everything we've tried to do to protect the environment and upgrade our energy systems from the 19th and 20th century fossil fuel model to the 21st century sustainable, carbon-neutral, pollution-free model.

Ironically, those who voted for Trump will probably suffer the most due to the GOP reward-the-wealthy-at-the-expense-of-everyone-else economic policies. Meanwhile, the U.S. will lose its standing in the world as a responsible, trustworthy international leader.

— LP

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump’s shocking victory is a sickening event in the history of the United States


By David Remnick, NOVEMBER 9, 2016

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

(Continued here.)

Living in an alternative universe

In Trump, U.S. Puts a Climate Denier in Its Highest Office and All Climate Change Action in Limbo

His anti-regulatory stances, support of unfettered fossil fuel production, and his threat to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, send ripple effects worldwide.

NOV 9, 2016

Donald Trump's astonishing victory has turned the world of climate action upside down, setting back U.S. environmental policy and threatening the international drive to cut carbon pollution and slow global warming.

The stunning upset by Trump, who has routinely suggested that climate change is a hoax, threatens to unravel President Obama's climate action agenda, built on executive orders and regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon clampdown at power plants. Trump has vowed to "cancel" the Paris climate agreement, but could cripple it by merely retreating from the U.S. commitment. As the world's second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide pollution, the U.S. could render the global treaty meaningless, at a time when scientists are urging nations to quickly raise their ambition, or risk an escalating climate crisis.

Leading up to the election, the gulf between Trump and Hillary Clinton on climate and energy was wide and the stakes couldn't have been higher. But the campaign was not fought on those issues. And despite environmental groups pouring an enormous amount of money and people power into the race, they were unable to break through with the message that climate action is urgent.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Trump will not last a first term

If he is in fact inaugurated, Trump will not last a first term in office. Why? Because one of his nefarious business dealings, whether it's Trump University or something else, will cause him to be indicted. And on that alone, let alone a conviction, the House will vote to impeach and the Senate will vote to convict in a rare bipartisan move, elevating Mike Pence to president.

Remember that you heard it here first.

— LP

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Breaking: FBI Director Comey says agency won’t recommend charges over Clinton email

By Tom Hamburger November 6 at 3:29 PM, WashPost

FBI Director James B. Comey notified key members of Congress Sunday afternoon that after reviewing all of the newly discovered Hillary Clinton emails the agency stands by its original findings against recommending charges.

Comey wrote that investigators had worked “around the clock” to review all the emails found on a device used by former congressman Anthony Weiner that had been sent to or from Clinton and that “we have not changed our conclusions expressed in July.”

(Original here.)

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign

If you agree with her on policy, vote with a clear conscience about the server.

Updated by Matthew Yglesias@mattyglesias Nov 4, 2016, 9:35am ED

Some time ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisers decided that the best course of action was to apologize for having used a personal email address to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state. Clinton herself was, clearly, not really all that remorseful about this, and it showed in her early efforts to address it. Eventually aides prevailed upon her to express a greater degree of regret, which they hoped would lay the issue to rest.

It did not. Instead, email-related talk has dogged Clinton throughout the election and it has influenced public perceptions of her in an overwhelmingly negative way. July polling showed 56 percent of Americans believed Clinton broke the law by relying on a personal email address with another 36 percent piling on to say the episode showed “bad judgments” albeit not criminality.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

(More here.)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Donald Trump’s Companies Destroyed Emails in Defiance of Court Orders

By Kurt Eichenwald On 10/31/16 at 7:00 AM

Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records.

This behavior is of particular import given Trump’s frequent condemnations of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, for having deleted more than 30,000 emails from a server she used during her time as secretary of state. While Clinton and her lawyers have said all of those emails were personal, Trump has suggested repeatedly on the campaign trail that they were government documents Clinton was trying to hide and that destroying them constituted a crime. The allegation—which the FBI concluded was not supported by any evidence—is a crowd-pleaser at Trump rallies, often greeted by supporters chanting, “Lock her up!”

(More here.)

Five things I learned about Russia last week

I was in Sochi all last week with a healthy fraction of the Russian foreign policy elite. Here's what I learned.

By Daniel W. Drezner October 31 at 9:05 AM, WashPost

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts hasn’t completely recovered from the jet-lag that comes with leaving Sochi at 2:30 in the bleeping a.m. to get back to the United States. But enough brain function has returned to make some observations about what I learned from my days in Sochi at the

1) Russian-American relations are going to be bad for a good long spell. Regardless of the nationality or ideological predisposition of the participant, everyone attending Valdai thought this to be true. Bloomberg’s Marc Champion offers up a concise summary of the mood at the conference.

The most disturbing part of this is how easy it is for both side to engage in an Airing of Grievances. By now Russian officials have a hardened line of discourse about How We Got Here that starts with the end of the Cold War, goes on to Kosovo, proceeds to Iraq and the dissolution of the ABM Treaty, continues through the 2008 Bucharest Summit about NATO enlargement, and then ends with some shots at U.S. policy in Libya and Syria. From Vladimir Putin on down, the brief against America is clear, concise and pretty damn compelling to Russians.

American interlocutors have their own doppelgänger version of this narrative, of course. It usually starts with Putin’s crackdown on internal opposition, goes on to Georgia, focuses a lot on Ukraine and Syria, notes Russian support for some unsavory Western politicians, mentions Moscow’s pressure on the Baltic states, perambulates around cyber, and closes with rumored interference in the U.S. election. Bear in mind that anyone attending Valdai is by definition pretty far from being an anti-Russian hardliner, and yet this is an easy brief to put forward.

(More here.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.

Updated by Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann Jul 18, 2016, 10:50a

Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.

While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.

Consider, as a sign of the party’s decadence, how quickly Bob Corker, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party elite — the center-right chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — caved in to this horribly miscast party standard-bearer. Trump’s campaign has been filled with statements whose ignorance and bombast have appalled the establishment. Then a ballyhooed foreign policy speech in late April was widely panned by experts across the foreign policy spectrum. ("A very odd mishmash"; "strident rhetoric [that] masked a lack of depth.") Corker’s response? He praised "the broadness, the vision" of the speech.

When Corker subsequently praised Trump's disastrous press conference in Scotland as "one of his better events" — this was the press conference that mainly showcased Trump's golf resort, and in which Trump praised the UK's vote in favor of Brexit in strongly pro-Europe Scotland, after earlier demonstrating he did not even know what Brexit was — the cave-in was complete.

Corker, of course, was not alone. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fell in line quickly, and while House Speaker Paul Ryan hedged his support for a while, he also joined the Trump team. The Republican Party was about to nominate the most inexperienced, unpopular, and temperamentally unsuited major party presidential candidate in the history of American politics, and there was nothing the establishment could do about it beyond trying to contain the political damage.

(More here.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What a contrast!

LP note: I was struck by reading this piece by President Obama vs. Donald Trump's rhetoric in the current presidential campaign.

It is too bad that the president is just now, at the tail end of his second term, coming into his own. Not that he hasn't done great stuff. But his naïve optimism at the beginning of his first term was blown apart by the Republican Party and their supporters whose chief goal was not to govern for the betterment of the country and its people, but rather to try to bring him down.

Because of this destructive behavior, they end up with Donald Trump as their candidate. Yes, they got what they deserved.

Today, President Obama is no less smart but he's more wary, more battle-tested and more a realist. And surprisingly, he hasn't lost his optimism, but he realizes that not everyone is onboard with him for their own reasons — faith? power? money? — rather than logic, science and doing good for all — three of the founding pillars of our country.

This piece is an extraordinary example of how a president should think. From reading it you'll wonder what he's going to be doing next, and what impacts he has yet to make on this world.

Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive

by President Barack Obama

WHEN WIRED ASKED me to guest-edit the November issue, I didn’t hesitate. I know it’s the height of election season, and I happen to have a day job that keeps me pretty busy. But given the chance to immerse myself in the possibility of interplanetary travel or join a deep-dive conversation on artificial intelligence, I’m going to say yes. I love this stuff. Always have. It’s why my favorite movie of last year was The Martian. Of course, I’m predisposed to love any movie where Americans defy the odds and inspire the world. But what really grabbed me about the film is that it shows how humans—through our ingenuity, our commitment to fact and reason, and ultimately our faith in each other—can science the heck out of just about any problem.

I’m a guy who grew up watching Star Trek—and I’d be lying if I said that show didn’t have at least some small influence on my worldview. What I loved about it was its optimism, the fundamental belief at its core that the people on this planet, for all our varied backgrounds and outward differ­ences, could come together to build a better tomorrow.

I still believe that. I believe we can work together to do big things that raise the fortunes of people here at home and all over the world. And even if we’ve got some work left to do on faster-than-light travel, I still believe science and technology is the warp drive that accelerates that kind of change for everybody.

(The article is here.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Third party candidates offer unrealistic alternative

by Tom Maertens
Mankato Free Press

Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party candidates, say they are running on a platform of fiscal restraint, social freedom and limited involvement overseas.

The two former Republican governors, from New Mexico and Massachusetts respectively, also favor downsizing government and balancing the budget, but differ from mainstream GOP policies in that they support legalizing marijuana and abortion rights.

After that, they veer off into the ozone. Their party platform says they would:
  • Eliminate public schools in favor of private education or home schooling.
  • Abolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
  • Abolish the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the federal income tax, which would be replaced by some sort of regressive national sales tax or value added tax.
  • Repeal the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 and let corporations offer even lower wages.
  • Eliminate the Department of Education along with government support for college students.
  • Eliminate the EPA and virtually all environmental regulations, including those governing air pollution and global warming, and those prohibiting dangerous chemicals in drinking water.
It is hard to imagine a platform more favorable to the polluting plutocrats, such as the Koch brothers: no income taxes and no environmental regulations. They would be free to destroy the land, the air and the water in pursuit of their second hundred-billion dollars.

Gary Johnson claimed in 2011 that he takes the long-term view of climate change. “In billions of years,” he said, “the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.” This is another form of climate-change denial.

Johnson also believes that health care should be handled by the private sector, which would mean the elimination of veterans’ hospitals, for example.

He is a strong supporter of Citizens United and believes corporations should be able to spend unlimited funds to influence elections.

Johnson describes himself as a social liberal, but as governor of New Mexico, he ended collective bargaining for state employees and cut off Medicaid funding for abortions deemed medically necessary.

It’s clear Johnson doesn’t know much about foreign affairs, either. He has been unable to answer simple questions about Syria and foreign leaders during interviews. Johnson and Weld oppose “entangling alliances” with other countries or attempts to “act as policeman for the world,” which would mean, among other things, pulling back from NATO and other global alliances. The United States has defense pacts with 69 countries which make up around 75 percent of the world’s economic output.

Johnson and Weld also support a balanced budget amendment that would prevent the government from incurring additional debt, a simplistic solution that sounds good to some, but would eliminate an important counter-cyclical economic tool.

As for Johnson’s tax plan, The Tax Foundation estimated that it would reduce federal revenue by $4.4 trillion to $5.9 trillion over 10 years. That is much like Trump’s tax plan, which The Tax Policy Center said would reduce revenue by $6.2 trillion over 10 years, while bestowing tax benefits on the wealthy, like Trump himself. Hillary Clinton’s plan, in contrast, would increase revenue by $1.4 trillion by increasing taxes on the top one percent.

Johnson also wants to eliminate the corporate income tax, which is nominally 35 percent.

In actuality, some two-thirds of U.S. corporations did not pay any federal income tax from 2006 to 2012, according to a Government Accountability Office study. Profitable U.S. corporations paid, on average, an effective federal income tax rate of 14 percent over the slightly shorter period from 2008 to 2012.

Johnson is on track to win perhaps six percent of the national vote, and much more than that in some states, but has no chance of winning the election. That makes a vote for Johnson/Weld a protest vote. This is attractive to some as a demonstration of moral purity; they can ever after disclaim responsibility for what happens.

It’s not clear which major party candidate would be hurt more by a big third-party vote, but voters should keep in mind what happened in 2000, when Ralph Nader, the Green party candidate, received 92,000 votes in Florida, a state in which Bush allegedly beat Gore by 537 votes. The subsequent recount ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which threw the election to Bush.

It’s hard to imagine that a President Al Gore would have invaded Iraq and run the economy into the ground with unfunded programs like the Prescription Drug bill and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Protest votes can have unforeseen consequences.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

(Original here.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trump is the Frankenstein outcome of GOP attempts to delegitimate government

Trump didn’t invent the ‘rigged election’ myth. Republicans did.

By Elizabeth Warren, October 18 at 5:20 PM, Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.

Cratering in the polls, besieged by sexual assault allegations and drowning in his own disgusting rhetoric, Donald Trump has been reduced to hollering that November’s election is “rigged” against him. His proof? It looks like he’s going to lose.

Senior Republican leaders are scrambling to distance themselves from this dangerous claim. But Trump’s argument didn’t spring from nowhere. It’s just one more symptom of a long-running effort by Republicans to delegitimize Democratic voters, appointees and leaders. For years, this disease has infected our politics. It cannot be cured until Republican leaders rethink their approach to modern politics.

Anyone with children knows that whining about imaginary cheating is the last refuge of the sore loser. But GOP leaders have served up such a steady diet of stories about imaginary cheating that an Economist-YouGov poll shows that 45 percent of Republican voters believe voter fraud is a “very serious problem,” and 46 percent have little or no confidence that ballots will be counted accurately. They hold these views even though there is literally no evidence — none, zero, zip — that widespread voter fraud is a factor in modern American elections. A recent study looked at around a billion ballots cast in the United States from 2000 through 2014 and found only 31 instances of impersonation fraud at the polls.

(Continued here.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

A 5th party candidate gains traction

Media Suddenly Very Interested in Evan McMullin


It has been over two months since conservative Evan McMullin launched his independent bid for the White House that he doesn't think is just about being a "spoiler". However, ever since FiveThirtyEight wrote earlier in the week that he could be just that, the rest of the MSM seems to be noticing him more.

McMullin has been getting some coverage, but most of the chatter about him until now would have been missed if you weren't following a bunch of the #NeverTrump crowd on social media. Now we've got media stalwarts like The New York Times and the BBC writing about him.

Why all the fuss now?

Some of it certainly has to do with his rise in the polls in Utah, making him more newsworthy than he was a couple of weeks ago. If you're still operating under the presumption that the media is genuinely interested in news pertaining to this election, it's a plausible theory.

(Continued here.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

The GOP is history. What about the country?

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer October 13 at 5:23 PM, WashPost

Politics is an enduring feature of human life, but political parties are mortal. This week we watched the beginning of the end of one of the United States’ great, illustrious parties. The Republican Party, as we knew it, is dying.

The death of a party is not so unusual. Scholars divide U.S. history according to six distinct party systems, each responding to a particular political era. Sometimes parties retain their names but morph ideologically, like the Democratic Party, which went from being Southern, pro-slavery and pro-Jim Crow to the opposite. On other occasions, parties collapse entirely, as did the Whig Party in the mid-19th century, torn apart by divisions over slavery. (In fact, in an interesting parallel, the fall of the Whigs was hastened by the rise of a party called the Know-Nothings, dedicated to stopping what was then seen as uncontrolled immigration.) Whatever the form of the Republican Party’s collapse, it will be messy.

Sunday’s debate may have been the watershed moment. As many commentators and some of his own strategists noted, it was pretty obvious what Donald Trump needed to do — apologize, be contrite, and then strike broad themes of change, bringing back jobs and putting the nation first. Ideally, he would have reached out to women — the group of voters he desperately needs to win the election.

Instead, Trump did the opposite. He minimized his behavior as “locker-room banter,” accused Bill Clinton of much worse and paraded the former president’s accusers at a news conference. Since then, things have spiraled downward. Trump’s strange, self-defeating strategy has led to speculation that his real ambitions lie beyond the election, when he may set up a conservative media network to rival Fox News.

(More here.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

Surrogates explaining away Trump’s sexual behavior only seem to make things worse

By Katie Zezima October 13 at 5:24 PM, WashPost

Waves of aides and surrogates have fanned out in recent days to defend Donald Trump after the release of a video in which he brags about forcing himself on women and subsequent allegations that he groped or kissed multiple women without their consent.

But in trying to justify or dismiss the reports, many of Trump’s defenders only seem to be making the situation worse.

Trump’s top supporters, many of them middle-aged or older men, have tried to explain away Trump’s behavior in terms that range from puzzling to offensive — angering people in both parties and complicating the Republican nominee’s attempts to move past the controversies.

Trump and his surrogates have brushed off his crude remarks about sexual assault on the 2005 videotape as “locker room” banter, infuriating many who say it is not how most men actually speak to one another. Some, including former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, have described Trump’s comments on the video as typical male behavior in general.

(More here.)