May 31, 2017

Fairly Unbelievable

"Fairly unbelievable" is how White House press secretary and Melissa McCarthy impersonator Sean Spicer described how the president would describe his relationship with Angela Merkel. Honest.
Q. Sean, where do you see the states of the US-German relationship right now? And how important is that relationship to the president and the American public?
A. I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7. 
Cool, huh?

Fairly unbelievable could also be used to describe a whole lot of other stuff in the news, coming from or about this administration.

For example, could the Department of Homeland Security be making public information on  domestic violence victims and children who have been trafficked? Fairly unbelievable, I know, but it seems to be true.  DHS, you recall, created the Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement (VOICE) office,  at the president's request and to further his efforts at casting illegal immigrants as the rapists, murderers and drug dealers he told us about as a candidate. To go along with VOICE, there was a database, called DHS-VINE (Victim Information and Notification Exchange) where people can track the cases of the bad hombres who are committing crimes against white Americans, above and beyond being in the country illegally.

Unfortunately, the database includes the names, addresses and other information of illegal immigrants who happen to be crime victims themselves, including domestic violence and trafficking victims - which means that it will allow their abusers to keep tabs on them, when they were released, and so on.
"We're concerned that DHS does not seem to be seriously considering the concerns of victims of crime," says Archi Pyati, chief of policy for the Tahirih Justice Center. The inclusion of survivors' information, she says, is a violation of federal law protecting the information of people applying for special visas or other protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking.  
DHS says it will remove the information, although pressure will be kept on them to make sure it happens.

Or, this example. Could it be possible that about half of president Trump's Twitter followers are fake? Fairly unbelievable, I know, but it appears to be true. There's this software called Twitter Audit, which allows an analysis of any Twitter user's followers to determine if they're real users (people who actually have profiles, and who tweet) or bots or otherwise added to pad the all-important bottom line. You can buy those, if you're so vain.  Anyway, Trump's analysis shows he has about 51% fake followers. According to this article,
This isn't the first time someone has pointed out that a good portion of Trump's Twitter following is fake, but what's interesting is that its fakeness seems to be increasing. In January, journalist Yashar Ali ran an audit on Trump's Twitter account and found that 68% of his then 20 million followers were real. Now he's at 30 million followers, but only 51% are real, which means of 10 million followers Trump has gained since January, about 8.3 million are fake. 
The article also notes that President Obama has both more followers in total than Trump (89 million to 30 million) and a much higher percentage of real ones (79% to 51%). Nothing unbelievable about that...

Or, how about this one? Could Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross really be as clueless as he sounded, talking about the reaction in Saudi Arabia when Trump was there?  Watch the video, or take a look below at a transcript of his interview with Becky Quick:
Ross: There's no question that they're liberalizing their society. And I think the other thing that was fascinating to me: There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard. Instead...
Fairly unbelievable?  You betcha!  Ross doubled down:
Quick: But Secretary Ross, that may be not necessarily because they don't have those feelings there, but because they control people and don't allow them to come and express their feelings quite the same as we do here.
Ross: In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood. And at the end of the trip, as I was getting back on the plane, the security guards from the Saudi side who'd been helping us over the weekend all wanted to pose for a big photo op, And then they gave me two gigantic bushels of dates as a present, as a think you for the trip that we had had. That was a pretty from the heart very genuine gesture and it really touched me.  
In theory? Seriously? Is he Secretary of Commerce, or Secretary of Comedy?

And finally, I leave you with these tweets, which nicely summarize our fairly unbelievable president.
Read the first series (they're in reverse sequence) to understand Trump's opinion on unnamed sources used in articles about him or his administration.

And then, of course, this retweet by the president two days later, speaks for itself.

May 29, 2017

Tidbits and Trivia (v3)

A quick look at some un-fact-checked facts, quotes and trivia:

  • Pee privilege. Ah, yes, Northern Arizona University is in the news again. You recall we last heard about the school because of the gender-neutral terms which students in the English program were to use. Now, it's all about that pee. Signage appeared asking people to think about whether they have pee privilege - you know, not having to question whether you should use his or hers, or not having to fear for your safety while doing your duty, so to speak. Several media outlets picked up the story, with what you would likely guess was unrestrained incredulity, but the folks at Campus Reform let us know that, while the signs were put up, they were "NOT authorized" by the school. 
  • It seems 27 Trump administration folks have a net worth of $2.3 billion, or about the same as the net worth of  86% of all counties that voted for Trump - combined - according to financial disclosure statements. Perhaps even more frightening, in an analysis done by the Washington Post and referenced in the article linked above, one third of American households combined have essentially no net worth; many have negative net worth.  How does that happen?
  • "If you think you're great, something is seriously wrong with you." So says Marina Abramavic, the Yugoslavian performance artist. Hmmm...
  • The Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar panels on its roof. When all's said and done there will be 80 of them, which should save $8,000 a year. 
  • And finally, according to a study reported on, 95% of all Americans shopped at Walmart in 2016; 84% shopped at Target. I did neither. 

May 28, 2017

Sunday School 5/28/2017

We only had time for one classroom today, and
NBC's Meet the Press was the winner. 

Not surprisingly, there was a whole lot of conversation about the Trump administration's latest mess, the disclosure that Jared Kushner is a focus of (but not currently a subject of) the Russia investigation. 

Joining Chuck Todd on today's show? Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, and John Kelly, head of Homeland Security.

Todd's first question to Corker was a good one:
Can you think of any good reason to do that (ed note: putting together a backchannel possibly using Russian facilities) in a transition period between one presidency over another?
Corker is apparently a master at spin, if this response is any indication. See if you can find the answer to the question buried in here somewhere:
Look I think Jared has said he's more than willing to answer any and all questions. They reached out to us yesterday to make sure that we knew that was the case and I'm sure he's willing to do so. I look at what the reports have said about asking questions of him. It seems to me that he's, based on just the reporting that you and others are making he's not a target and so I think I would just wait. Sounds like he's more than glad to talk about all of these things and instead of getting wrapped up into a lot of hyperbole, as these things can sometimes do, I think talking with him directly and getting him to answer any and all questions as he said he would do would probably be the prudent course of action.
Willingness of the witness blah blah blah has nothing to do with Corker's opinion, does it? Todd tried again, and here was Corker's second dodge.
Again, I think it's best to talk directly with these people. I know that from a military standpoint, obviously we have ways of deconflicting with Russia on things relative to Syria. Again Chuck, because I just don't know, these things or these sources are not people who are willing to give their names. It's just hard to respond to thinks like this. Again, you know, no names attached, no dates attached. Look, let's let this unfold. I've spent a lot of time with Jared. He was over just recently in a bipartisan way, briefing us on the upcoming trip. They achieved all of their goals. He seems to me to be a very open person and again, I'd let him speak for himself when the time is right on all these issues and at that time we can actually render judgment on the reality of what did or didn't take place.
The Syria connection? Corker said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the guy who says our values don't matter all that much when it comes to diplomacy, needs time to get Russia to help with Syria, and so we can wait on punishing Putin and the gang on the election interference, which we'll do, honest, but sometimes we need to slow down.
We care about diplomacy in our country. We want to make sure that it works. We want to give it every opportunity. And to wait a few weeks at the request of the secretary of state to see if he can change things in Syria seems to me to be an appropriate thing to do. That's what we've done. But next work period we plan to take it up.
I would have thought that a multi-hundred-billion-dollar arms deal would have helped with Syria, but maybe that's me. That the head of the Foreign Relations Committee doesn't have any sense of urgency about any of this? Maybe that's all him.

And while Corker seemed pretty laissez-faire on the whole Jared thing, I was even more surprised that our Homeland Security guy, John Kelly, was even more so:
I know Jared. He's a great guy, decent guy. His number one, number one interest, really, is the nation so you know there's a lot of different ways to communicate, backchannel, publicly with other countries, I don't see any big issue here relative to Jared.
When pressed, he went on
Well, you know it was before the government was in place during the transition period, I think, from what I understand. And I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they're good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do. 
Well, alrighty then. As you think about his answers to the Jared questions, understand his opinion on leaks about details of the Manchester investigation.
I don't know where the leak came from. But I will tell you this, as I always do in cases like this, I immediately called my counterpart in the UK. And after offering my condolences about the attack - and unbelievably this is the third time in 120 days I've done that; I've called the minister and offered my condolences. She immediately brought this topic up. And if it came from the Unites States, it's totally unacceptable. And I don't know why people do these kind of things, but it's borderline, if not over the line, of treason. 
I'm going to leave it there, this Sunday. A nice guy, the son-in-law of the president,  allegedly working to set up conversations with a foreign government that by all accounts interfered with the presidential election that gave us the current president and his son-in-law, is cool, but leaking information to the press is treason?

See you around campus, assuming I get my mind off the merry-go-round.

May 26, 2017

A Weekday Trifecta 5/26/17

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are my three picks for the day.

Donald Trump's big foreign adventure. We heard for years from Republicans and pundits that President Obama was an embarrassment as he travelled around the world on his 'apology tours.' For example, there's this list from the Heritage Foundation, the bastion of conservative thinking, back in 2009, in the early days of the Obama administration. Note the attention-grabbing headline: Barack Obama's Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower. 

Fast forward to president Trump's first trip abroad. He may not be apologizing (and, frankly, one could argue that Obama didn't, either) but it sure looks like he's mastered the humiliation part - got that down pat, based on these clips. Heck, even the Trump News Network turned on him on; perhaps an apology or two might be in order?

(The Sun, a News UK Company)

(Financial Times)
Now, don't get me wrong -- I certainly understand how creative editing and catchy headlines don't always tell the full story -- but I would think that even a reasonable person of the Republican persuasion could see that perhaps a little better behavior, or perhaps a little more careful language, or perhaps a little more appreciation for traditions between allies, might be helpful here on the #MAGA tour.

Donald Trump and the travel ban. It was not a good day for the Trump Travel Ban:
In a stinging rebuke to president Donald Trump, a US appeals court refused on Thursday to reinstate his travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations, calling it discriminatory and setting the state for a showdown in the Supreme Court. 
The decision, written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, described Trump's executive order in forceful terms, saying it uses "vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.
In its 10-3 ruling, the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said those challenging the ban, including refugee groups and individuals, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order violates the US constitution's bar against favoring one religion over another. 
Those were similar findings to what the 9th Circuit said about the initial ban, which was rewritten to pass muster in the courts, or so we were told.  Importantly, we were told about how awful the 9th circuit judges are, with their horrible overturn rate of 80% or something. Here's what Trump said:
There are many people that want to break up the 9th circuit. It's outrageous... Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit. And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that's like, semi-automatic.
The 4th circuit on the other hand, has an overturn rate of 43%. So they must be way more better, right?  And way more trustworthy, and their decisions way more believable and easy to abide?

Yeah, not so much. Trump, when the first Executive Order was struck down sneered that he would see them at the Supreme Court. With this decision, it was Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III who noted, in a statement,
...that the government, which says the temporary travel ban is needed to guard against terrorist attacks, would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court. 
"These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorist from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence," said Michael Short, a White House spokesman. 
I maintain that part of these dangerous times stems from the current administration's constant attacks on everyone and everything that doesn't agree with him, and on its refusal to look at things through a broad lens, rather than the very narrow one defined by bumper stickers and baseball hat slogans.

There's got to be a way to vet people - all people - coming into America from other countries, right? I mean, we ask our own sweet American old ladies and sweet little American children to bare their soles, and their bodies, to get on a plane to fly across the state or across the country to visit each other, don't we?

If we treat all Americans that way because of a few bad actors (including the ones from a country with whom we just made another several-hundred-billion-dollar arms deal), we should be able to come up with a plan that will protect us from everyone, and treat everyone the same, regardless of their religion.

That's the American way, whether or not our myopic president understands that.

Donald Trump and the FBI director. Poor Donald.  The whole mess with the FBI is just not getting better.
  • First, he assails James Comey for not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton last July, 
  • then he hails Comey as a hero when he reopened his investigation of her just days before the presidential election, 
  • then he blows a kiss from across the room and awkwardly hugs Comey in January, 
  • then he asks him to lay off the Russia investigation, to no avail 
  • then he decides to fire him, 
  • then he gets people to come up with deep and thoughtful reasons for firing him, 
  • which he does, in a self-congratulatory and probably lie-filled memo delivered to Comey's office when Comey was across the country meeting with FBI staff who saw it on the news - as Comey was speaking to them. 
  • Then he immediately tells us he had the entire White House and Justice Department apparatus tell lie after lie about why Comey was fired, because 
  • Trump admitted he was going to fire him no matter what, and the memo? Yeah, that had nothing to do with it. 
You would think, at some point along that journey, he would listen to people, but no -- no reason to do that. He tries to pull politicians to be the new FBI director - Texas Senator Bob Cornyn, and South Carolina Trey Benghazi! Gowdy, who both said no, and maybe a couple of others, when everyone - everyone -- was telling him to get an experienced FBI person, not a politician.

On his short list, as a leading candidate until late this week? Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who was a Dem when he was Al Gore's running mate, became an Independent after losing a primary, and who eventually supported John McCain's failed presidential bid. He's also a lawyer in the same firm as Trump's new attorney for the Russia investigations.

Even before Trump hired the guy from Lieberman's firm, Democrats were not excited about their former colleague being tapped to fill Comey's shoes, because they wanted the appointment to be non-political, and they wanted an experienced law enforcement person.  Lieberman, to his credit, noted in an interview after withdrawing from consideration
With everything swirling in Washington, you can't have a director of the FBI coming from the same law firm as the president's private lawyer.
He also noted, referring to the lack of support from Senate Dems
I was disappointed but you know, I guess when I step back from it I wasn't surprised because everything is so partisan in Washington. There's still a group, probably in the far left of the Democratic Party who still doesn't forgive me.
And that, to me, was a page out of the Trump handbook. Whenever you can deflect away from the right reason for doing something by turning it into a personal attack, I guess it's a good day. 

May 24, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v90)

Where do we start, this Wednesday?

The president is on a big foreign trip: he went to "Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East" and then headed off to the Vatican and Brussels, to meet with the Pope and NATO, respectively.

From all accounts, he was warmly welcomed, at least on the first part of the trip. There were Harleys, and horses, and limos and bigly red carpets everywhere. I wonder if even Trump thought his face would ever be splashed in lights on buildings in a foreign countries?

Social media had fun with the sword dance and the glowing orb, positing that the latter could have been the key to the sinkhole that mysteriously appeared outside Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida; many argued that it wasn't a sinkhole, but rather the gates of hell. I'm not religious, but I'm sure not going to stick my toes into that water.

What else is going on?

Well, the CBO released their assessment of the WeDon'tCare Act, also known the American Health Care Act. The Republicans retooled their plan, you recall, after it failed to garner support pass back in March, and April. When it was revisited earlier this month, it passed with no Democratic support, and 20 Republicans voting no. The new plan, according to the CBO, will cut the deficit by $119 billion, and leave 51 million people without insurance, over the next decade - including as many as 14 million who would lose coverage by next year.  That 51 million uninsured number? That's 23 million more than would be uninsured if the Affordable Care Act were left in place but better than the first version by 1 million people. Yay Republicans!

You know how politicians always claim to "know someone" or "are friends with someone" who is gay, or is looking for work because their job was sent to China or was taken by an illegal immigrant, or who is afraid of being attacked by a Muslim terrorist, or who was killed by the Clintons? Yeah, I wonder how many Republicans are going to be standing in front of  the TV cameras telling us they're "friends with someone" who's going to lose their insurance this year, or who will see an 800% increase in premiums, which is possible, per the CBO, for an older person in a waiver state? Any ideas?

And speaking of standing in front of the cameras, you'll remember the outcry when the president met with those Russian dudes? And allegedly shared military intelligence with them in what seems to have been an off-the-cuff, look-at-me way, according to sources?
I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.
After initially saying there was nothing to see here, the Administration changed their tune and said that Trump could share intel if he wanted because he's the president, and so on. Detractors called him loose with classified info; supporters point to Obama and Clinton disclosures, as if two lefts make a right.

The point of all this? At that meeting, no members of the American media - not even Fox News or InfoWars - were in the room. Only someone, a photographer, I believe -  from the Russian media. I mean, Putin even offered to give us details on the call, since he had them and no one else did. But that's not what has me wondering.

Nope -- it's the press conference in Saudi Arabia that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held. Without any members of the American media present.  Now I know the Trump administration thinks that only they tell the truth, and that the main stream media is fake news, and they they prefer alternative facts, and they like to tape plastic over the windows at Mar-a-Lago so the press can't look out at the golfer in chief, but do they really think it's appropriate when traveling overseas to hold a press conference with foreign media only?

And finally, there are multiple reports, including one in my local paper, that Carrier will be laying off people at the plant Trump 'saved' in Indianapolis, including close to 300 just before Christmas. I wonder, can this air conditioning plant be saved? And how will the administration spin the job losses? Do they still get credit for the temporary save, if none of the positions move to Mexico?

And in which foreign paper will I find the story?

May 21, 2017

Sunday School 5/21/2017

For today's Sunday School, I managed to drop into two classrooms: Fox, the home of fake right news, and CNN, the home of fake left news. I'll leave it up to you to figure out who's faker, who's newsier, or who's more true to their school, so to speak.

Starting with CNN - I am left handed, after all - we had Jake Tapper opening the show letting us know how well received president Trump has been on his first international trip.
President Trump has so far been greeted very warmly in Saudi Arabia. Here he is (on video) joining in a ceremonial sword dance welcoming him. The Saudis even projected his image onto the hotel where he's staying, the next best thing to having his name on the building, I suppose. 
He moved on from there, with guest Little Marco Rubio, who sits on both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees; the focus of the conversation was on Trump's morning speech, in which he offered this:
We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue better future for us all. 
Tapper's question was whether Trump had strayed too far from the traditional role of America supporting human rights and democracy., and whether Rubio would have ever made such a speech.
Well, I mean, yes, that would not have been part of a speech that I would have delivered, for the reason that I think it's in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights, now, with a recognition that you may not get it overnight. There needs to be a period of transition...That said, I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record.
The conversation shifted to the Comey Conversations. Tapper was interested in what Rubio would ask Comey when he comes to the Senate for an open session after the holiday.
...did he keep these memos? What do the memos say? And why did he write it? And how did he feel? Did he ever feel like he was being put in a position where he couldn't do his job? There's no doubt that that's the questions that are going to get asked, and asked repeatedly. And the American people deserve to have an answer to that. And I'm happy that Director - or former Director Comey is going to appear publicly before the Intelligence Committee to answer these questions, so we can get it directly from him, and not simply have to rely on a third-hand account of how he felt and/or what was in those memos.
Rubio also made it very clear that, regardless of the press reports, he's confident that the Intelligence Committee will do their due diligence and get to the bottom of things, as will Robert Mueller in his role as the special counsel.
Let us finish our work, let us collect the facts, let us document them, let us put it out in a report. And then, based on that, I will take a firm position. And then the people could say one - whatever they want to say. But we have got to finish our work. That's my job. And that's what I'm going to do.
Meanwhile, down the hall to the right, Chris Wallace had Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and John McCain separately and exclusively, on Fox News Sunday. Tillerson was pressed a bit by Wallace to explain the difference between candidate Trump  and president Trump, and why Muslim countries should trust him, or believe him.

Here's Wallace.
Given that past rhetoric, why would Muslim leaders trust Mr. Trump now? And on the other hand, if the president is so concerned about human rights, why isn't he talking about it publicly this weekend?
And here's Tillerson's response,
Well, Chris, I think this is one of the great attributes of this president, is that he is willing to call issues out, confront them, speak very plainly and bluntly about them. And in many ways that motivates these countries to want to understand why the feelings in the US are the way they are, but also to engage, to address those... And the president himself has said he has learned a lot on this trip, and he's learned a lot about the people, he's learned a lot about their culture. And I think this is an - it's a really important process in terms of how we move forward with this relationship between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world...
Wallace also pressed Tillerson on the women's rights/ human rights issues that Trump harped on during the campaign, but that were not mentioned in the advance copy of Trump's big speech.
Well, Chris, I think the way you address those human rights issues and women's rights issues is to improve the conditions in the region. And today conditions in the region are under a lot of stress because of the threat of terrorism, the threat that Iran poses to instability in the region. And these subjects are being discussed as well, and there are efforts underway to, I think, improve the rights of women, the participation of women in the society throughout the region.  
But you now, the primary reason we're here today is to confront this threat of terrorism. If we do not defeat Daesh, if we do not defeat these forces of evil, there will be no conditions under which we can even hope to improve the human rights for all of the people in the region.  
For his part, Arizona Senator John McCain was his quotable self. First up, here's what he has to say about Trump firing Comey.
I don't know. I  -- honestly, I cannot explain a lot of the president's actions. I don't think it was a wise thing to do. Mr. Comey was highly respected and highly regarded. And so I can't -- I can't explain it. I don't think it was a smart thing to do.
And, on Trump telling Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he had fired 'nutjob' Comey?
I don't know how to read it except that -- and I - I'm almost speechless because I don't know why to - how - why someone would say something like that. But I know this, Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murdered who used Russian precision weapons to strike hospitals in Aleppo, who's committed human rights violations all over the place... has acted in the most thuggish and outrageous fashion and he had no business in the Oval Office. 
There's more in both of the transcripts, including the panel discussions on both shows and an interview with Judy Collins (on Fox).

See you around campus.

May 17, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v89)

Wondering? What do you think?

We've got a special counsel in the 'everything Russia' investigation; Robert Mueller is, by all accounts, well respected and a good choice for this. We will have to wait to see what will happen, and in the meantime we'll have to wonder where it all will lead and what will happens once it's over in some six month, nine months, who knows.

This one I wonder less about. I've suggested all along that Trump was running on a lark, primarily because President Obama hammered him at the White House Correspondents Association dinner back in 2011 - so  I really only wonder, what's taking everyone else so long to get on board with my thinking?

I do wonder about this man. His focus on having this wrap up 'quickly' may be something to look forward to, but it's much bigger than collusion between his campaign and Russia or anyone else. How can he not understand that? I mean, one might think that the request for all records related to any Comey Conversations  (among other documentation) illustrates "this matter" is more than his colluding or not colluding with foreign friends. 

On this one, everyone can wonder what the hell Paul Ryan is thinking, right? How much longer would you expect a person who has no obligation to support someone who made textbook racist comments, and who boasted about sexually assaulting women, etc. etc. etc, to continue supporting this president? 

The story below on the left, about the BLM/KKK connection was made by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the opinionated (and hated, if I listen to friends of mine who are much more familiar with Clarke and his antics) law and order Republican. The most important things he has going for him? He's black, he hates Obama and he thinks lethal force is a good thing.  In his new role, he'll serve as a liaison between the feds and various other law enforcement agencies. I wonder how that's going to work out...

And finally, there's this. This is how our commander in chief speaks to his peeps. If you can, stick with it through the parts where he talks about how horrible it is to be him, and how wonderful he is for the country. That, my friends, should have definitely left our Coast Guard cadets wondering. 

May 15, 2017

Revisiting 'Time for a Trexit Strategy?'

How time flies!

Was it really only a year ago that I posted Time for a Trexit Strategy?, the post in which I wondered (hoped?) that Trump would realize he had proved his point, and that he could get the heck out of dodge and let a more qualified person take the Republican nomination and roar out of Cleveland into the general election campaign?

How. Time. Flies.

Here's what a former campaign staffer said way back a year ago:
You can give Trump the biggest gift possible if you are a Trump supporter: stop supporting him.  He doesn't want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House. He's achieved that already, and then some. If there is any question, take it from someone who was recruited to help the candidate succeed, and initially very much wanted him to do so.
A year ago, I noted several things he had done that looked like he was trying to get out. An example? Calling Arizona Senator and former POW John McCain a loser. I thought for sure that would work, in and of itself, but even McCain ended up supporting Trump, so that shot down my hopes.

And now, we're what, 115 days or so into his Administration? I'm still not convinced he has the faintest clue what he's doing, or what he's supposed to be doing - but I'm still not sure there's enough to get members of his party to drop their support of him.
  • Is it enough to hold up documents for the cameras, his boldly illegible signature on display for all to see, even if we have no clue what he's just signed (nor does he?)
  • Is it enough to run off to a Trump-branded property every weekend, have meetings or chase a golf ball around or drop in on a charity event while he's there?
  • Is it enough to give frighteningly rambling, incoherent interviews with people, and expose his lack of knowledge and comprehension of issues? (I mean, let's be clear, there's a very real difference between life insurance and health insurance. We all know that, but he doesn't seem to understand that, even when he's talking about one of his own priorities?)
  • Is it enough to continue spewing alternative facts and claiming everything else is fake news, while he suggests that it's impossible for his spokespeople to tell the truth? Can he ever tell the truth?
  • Is it enough to have him threaten people via Twitter, and spill highly classified information to foreign visitors, and to entertain said foreigners with their media people present and our locked out of the room? 
  • Is it enough to have fired the FBI Director, lied about the reason, lied about the lie, and lied about the lying lie lying there for all to see?
What will it take? Will it take the 'nuclear option' that I tossed out there last year?  I'm beginning to think it will need to be something that extreme.

May 14, 2017

Sunday School 5/14/2017

It's Mother's Day, so there's only time to visit one classroom today. Let's see what's going on at NBC's Meet the Press, shall we?

Not surprisingly, Chuck Todd and his gang had some discussion on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the ever-changing reasons why it happened, and the tweet about "tapes" that Comey better be sure don't exist.

And about their new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll which shows
  • 29% say they approve of Trump's decision to fire Comey;
  • 38% say they disapprove;
  • about a third say they don't know enough to say;
  • 6% say they now have a more favorable opinion of the president;
  • 30% say the firing gave them a less favorable opinion;
  • 61% say Trump firing Comey had no impact on their opinion of him;
  • 46% say Trump did it to slow down the Russia investigation; and 
  • 38% believe the original excuse, er, explanation.
Interesting what that says about us, isn't it?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was on the show; one of the key points he made was that the next director should come from within the ranks of the FBI and not be a political person.
I think it's now the time to pick someone who comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one. You know who does the FBI director work for? To me, it's like appointing a judge.  The president actually appoints the judge, but the judge is loyal to the law. The president appoints the FBI director, but the FBI director has to be loyal to the law... We got a chance to reset here as a nation. The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created. He really I think did his staff a disservice by changing the explanation. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody we can all rally around, including those who work in the FBI.
I can't agree with him more, on that. Trump, on the other hand? According to Reuters, there are eleven candidates to replace Comey, including these overtly political choices  Rep. Trey Gowdy (because Benghazi!) and Senator John Cornyn (because Texas, I guess) as well as former Rep. Mike Rogers, who was on the transition team. Acting Director Andy McCabe is on the list, likely as a courtesy, since he was a little too honest (and therefore disloyal to Trump) in his testimony before Congress. 

Graham also suggested it was premature to call for an independent examination, and that so far he has not seen any evidence of improper business dealings between Russia and the Trump Organization. 

Also on the show? NY's Chuck Schumer, senior Democrat in the Senate. Schumer prefers a special prosecutor, someone who could only be fired for cause, among other reasons, and he agrees with Graham that the new director should be apolitical. 

Rex Tillerson appeared via pre-recorded interview. He talked about how he and Trump and the world need a better relationship between America and Russia.
I think it's largely viewed that it is not healthy for the world. It's certainly not healthy for us, for the America people, our national security interest and otherwise, for this relationship to remain at this low level. Whether we can improve it or not remains to be seen.  It's going to take some time. It's going to take a lot of hard work. But I think the president's committed, rightly so, and I'm committed with him as well, to see if we cannot do something to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Russia.
He also got into the whole 'values vs. policy' conversation, stemming from his message to State Department employees that placing too much emphasis on our values, while trying to conduct foreign policy "creates obstacles" to moving our national interests forward.

To clarify, here's what he said.
...America's values of freedom, of treatment of people, human dignity, freedom of expression throughout the world, those are our values. Those are enduring values. They are a part of everything we do... But I make a distinction between values and policy. A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances. To the broader issues that we are addressing in terms of advancing our national security interest, our national economic interest. 
And so policies have to be adaptable. They have to change. They have to adjust to conditions. But our values can never change. Our values can never put in a position of having to be compromised. And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values in the front of our policies and say "this is our policy" we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective.  And I think if we are successful in achieving out ultimate diplomatic and national security objectives, we will create conditions for the advancement of freedom in countries all over the world.  
Part of me understands what he's saying. I mean, we've long dealt with distasteful allies when it was expedient to do so; sometimes it's been covertly, sometimes overtly.

But another part of me hears what he's saying, and thinks this is the type of thinking that allows people and companies to do the wrong thing to advance their interests. This is why people, and companies, do things to get ahead that they know is wrong.

And this is why, when the president thinks of himself as the deal maker in chief and fills his cabinet with businessmen of the same ilk, we wonder when the values and ethics part will move to the front of the room.

Speaking of the front of room, that's where the light switch is. See you around campus.

May 12, 2017

Who Should Pay for Ordinary Healthcare?

Uh. Oh. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who might be the most honest person in the Trump Administration, stuck his right foot in and shook it all around again.

Mulvaney, you may recall, was the guy who told us that Trump was an #AmericaFirst candidate, and we elected an #AmericaFirst president and there should be no surprise that his budget was an #AmericaFirst budget, the sketch of which was put together from Trump's speeches, campaign promises and the like.  So there should also be no surprise that he thinks we should have an #AmericaFirst health insurance system.

Mulvaney was speaking at Stanford, and was asked a question about the Jimmy Kimmel test. Here's Senator Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, explaining what that means.
The Jimmy Kimmel test, I think, should be that no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it. Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test? Is that oversimplifying it?
Here's what Mulvaney had to say about it
I do think it should meet that test. We have plenty of money to deal with that. We have plenty of money to provide that safety net so that if you get cancer you don't end up broke... that is not the question. The question is, who is responsible for your ordinary healthcare? You or somebody else?
That doesn't mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes. Is that the same thing as Jimmy Kimmel's kid? I don't think that it is. 
Wow. I  thought the Republican argument that Only Skanky Whores Need Birth Control was bad -- but now, Mulvaney is attacking not just Mitt Romney's 47%, but the whole basket of deplorables who voted for Trump. Yowser, as my sister-in-law would say. Yowser!

I shared the Only Skanky Whores Need Birth Control argument back in July of 2014, when we in dealing with the 'corporations have deeply held beliefs' case we all remember.  Here's how I started that post:
I've been torturing myself reading comments posted on various Burwell v. Hobby Lobby articles. And out of fairness, I've tortured myself leftly and rightly, not wanting to miss anything. Trust me, there's a lot that's worth missing.
After reading through opinions ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, it seems that people have no clue how insurance works. There's a huge misconception out there that a health insurance policy should be completely individualized, so that for example a man would never have to pay for maternity coverage, seeing as how he would never have to use that specific benefit. And now that thinking has been extended to include contraception, because a guy would never have to use The Pill or an IUD so why the (insert curse words of your choice) should he have to pay for it for anyone else?
That argument is one of the Republicans' favorites. Birth control is a lifestyle choice, not a health care issue. Here's more from my post:
In reality, the hatred and vitriol (spliced with an occasional very detailed description of natural birth control) isn't about health insurance, it's about lifestyle and about women and about the 47%.  Because "if those whores would just keep their legs closed this wouldn't be an issue" and if they were good girls not "those skanks who sleep around and expect someone else to pay for their goddamn birth control" we probably wouldn't be having this discussion at all...
But of course wife, daughter, sister, and mother on insurance-covered-birth control, and men with insurance paid-for vasectomies, and honest-to-God hardworking me, well, those are the antithesis of skank, whore, and 47%er.
So now, the wife, daughter, sister and mother feeding their kids Big Gulp sodas, fast food and crappy school cafeteria lunches because their school district prioritizes cheap salty sugary food ahead of nutrition, and the husbands, sons, brothers and fathers hanging out at the bowling alley or chugging a few cheap draft beers in the corner dive after their shift in the mine or the factory, or killing a bag or two of Doritos watching NASCAR on FOX?  Yeah, they're the equivalent of those skanky whores and their birth control, if they think we should pay for their diabetes treatment, it would seem.

What Mulvaney is suggesting, and what others before him have suggested, is not a health insurance program. Again, from the previous post:
Most people would recognize this as a draconian way to finance health care, if we all were individually underwritten (that means no family coverage folks - we are all on our own), based on a complete medical history going back a few generations, a comprehensive medical exam including tests for all things known to man, God and nature, and an NSA-style examination of what we eat and drink and how we exercise or don't and how long we sleep or don't and with whom, and so on.  Full invasive medical and lifestyle exams for all -- paid for out of your own pocket, of course, because you can't have insurance that covers medical exams until you prove you're worthy. And done on a regular basis, because we know that lifestyles change, with age and circumstance and environment.
Mulvaney may be brutally honest, but wherefore art thou, cojones?

If he and the rest of the Trumpians really don't want to pay for Joe the Plumber's diabetes and Larry the Cable Guy's heartburn and Billy Joe Jim Bob's erectile dysfunction stuff (oh wait -- it's OK to pay for that - heaven forbid we don't let a good ole boy have an erection) and Sally's depression because her husband spends all his time and all their money at the bowling alley, Mulvaney would slash all funding related to health care and health insurance, other than pools for non-self-inflicted pre-existing conditions, from our #AmericaFirst budget.

  • No tax credits to buy insurance - that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for our $54B military build-up. 
  • No Health Savings Accounts to help pay for deductibles and coinsurances and stuff, that can be passed on from one generation to the next, because that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for that Aesthetically Pleasing on the North Side Only Border Wall.
  • No Medicaid block grants to states to allow them to cover benefits for citizens - that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for banning Muslims.
#AmericaFirst, 'ordinary healthcare' paid for, right there,  Mr. Mulvaney: every man, woman and child fending for themselves. 

May 10, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v88)

Time photo
Where do I even begin tonight? Let's see....

I wonder what I'd do if one day I woke up and was as intellectually uninterested in what's happening
in my country as seemingly everyone in the Trump administration thinks I am already? Or wants me to be when I grow up, as if I had been introduced to the Men in Black or something?

For example, I know they want me to believe that the reason Trump fired FBI Director James Comey was because he mishandled the Clinton email investigation. And by mishandling, of course, the Administration means that Comey did not run around the storied halls of the Justice Department chanting "Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!" the way he was supposed to.  But does ANYONE really believe that's why Comey was relieved of duty?

And do you wonder how much longer we will be listening to Sean I'm Hiding in the Bushes if You Need Me Spicer, when we have the delightful Sarah Huckabee Sanders (yes that Huckabee, no, not that Sanders)  who's brave enough to face the cameras?

And I wonder, is there anyone who still believes that Trump puts anything other than his own narcissistic interests first? Did you see him greatly appreciate Comey in his termination letter?  Because in case you were wondering, nothing more important than that!

Remember the time when Trump said we maybe needed to do something about the First Amendment? You know, change the laws to make it easier to sue media companies because right now our press is allowed to say anything they want? And when he said he was going to sue the NY Times (they said bring it on), but never did?  I wonder if they're working on accomplishing the same thing in a slightly different way? For example, supporting the arrest of reporters?

That's right. A reporter was asking/yelling/aggressively questioning Price about the WeDon'tCare Act as Price and (Where in the World is) Kellyanne Conway were walking down a hallway, and it was alleged in the police report  that the reporter was aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents, causing a disturbance by yelling questions, and worthy of being held on $5,000 bond. Now, it was a state law under which the guy was charged, but I wonder, had Price (or Conway, for that matter) had been the better man, would he have told the police that the reporter didn't really need to be arrested?

And I wonder if we're really supposed to believe that these actions - firing Comey, and standing by as a reporter is arrested - are not intended to have a chilling effect on others? The Administration says that the multiple Russia investigations will continue and hopefully be resolved quickly so they can move on to doing the country's business. That in and of itself sets the tone that speed is more important than accuracy, as it were, and since the man who was leading the investigations has been fired, well... you get the picture. I hope there's no impact, but there's no guarantee.

Same with the reporter. Waving a microphone and yelling to get the attention of Administration officials is an arrestable offence in West Virginia?  Who know how many reporters will back off as result of this arrest?   I hope none, but there's no guarantee on that, either.

And finally, I wonder, if my mind was erased by Smith and Jones, would I even realize?

May 9, 2017

Trump in Transition (v17)

James Comey, you're fired!

The celebrity president has fired the celebrity FBI director, only a few months after jokingly complaining that Comey had become more famous than Trump.

Should we have recognized that as a sign that Comey's tenure as FBI director was bound to be short?

In all seriousness, I'm not sure any of us really expected Comey to make it through, although I'm also not sure anyone thought the head-chopping would come so fast.

There were a few things working against him, not the least of which was his decision that Hillary Clinton would not be charged for anything related to her email server.

And, of course, there was that press conference last July, which polarized the last remaining two people who were still speaking to each other: he never should have said anything, it wasn't his decision to make, the press conference was wrong, the conclusions were wrong... on and on it went, and Trump did not stay on the sidelines, either - he blasted Comey six ways from Sunday, at every rally he held. Heck, blasting Comey was part and parcel of #MAGA for a while there.

And then, everything took a different turn in late October, when Comey discovered more stuff in an unrelated investigation into Clinton aide Huma Abedin's husband, the notorious sexter Anthony Weiner.  While that investigation must have been sickening, all the sudden Comey was "mildly nauseous" about interjecting himself into the election: he was between a very bad rock and a catastrophic hard place, and so he chose bad and told Congress there was more to look at in the Clinton investigation.

The Left was in a tizzy; the Right was in a state of euphoria, knowing that Comey plus Wikileaks plus Trumpian bluster would be an extraordinary burden for any candidate, even one as experienced as Hillary Clinton.

Clinton lost, the three million or so popular votes notwithstanding, and there were Trump and Comey, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s - oh, never mind. You get the picture.

Until Russia. All that Russia stuff, and then Comey's recent testimony, in which he confirmed there were investigations into Trump's team and Russia and Russia and Russia. Oh, and some lies about Clinton - there was that, too.

Comey perjured himself in his testimony, it would seem. Isn't that what it is when a person lies to Congress? The Department of Justice had to send a correction to the Senate regarding how Abedin handled emails (she did not forward hundreds and thousands of emails to a personal laptop shared with her husband), and the extent to which she forwarded anything classified (almost never, which was also not as described by Comey) and regarding certain terrorism investigations (Comey noted there were some 2,000 of them, when in fact it's more like 300).

One might wonder whether Comey exaggerated, or was mistaken, or lied in his testimony because he knew no good would come from it?

And there was still Russia.

While Trump's letter of termination to Comey was self-congratulatory, noting that Comey had told him three times that he was not a target of investigation, the fact remains that there are open investigations and not just the wimpy ones in Congress that are moving slower than mole asses covered in molasses.

Comey was dismissed not because he perjured himself, but because of what happened last July, because he reached the wrong conclusion on Clinton, according to the Administration. Assistant AG Rod Rosenstein noted
I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives (emphasis added).
And yet... On Monday, Trump tweeted about Russia investigation(s) as he has a number of times.

The answer, it appears, at least in Trump's opinion, is "Tuesday." 

May 8, 2017

A Businessman in the White House, Revisited

It was a year ago today that I questioned whether we needed a businessman in the White House.

You know, I wrote
someone who's actually run a business, met a payroll, fought through countless ridiculous regulations, someone who knows how to balance a budget, someone who understands the real world ramifications of what policy changes mean, someone who is accountable to auditors... And maybe most importantly, someone who is accountable to customers and shareholders.
Over the course of writing the post last year, I talked myself out of the idea, based on the words and actions of candidate Trump.
So - is this the businessman we need in the White House, one who's unaware of the laws, unclear on the situation, and who in response to just about every question anyone asks can only say how much he "loves" some bucket of people, or how much some bucket of people love him, and who can only point to what he did as a businessman? One who would even suggest putting the full faith and credit of the United States government on the negotiating table?
Since he became president, my opinion that Trump was the wrong one has only been confirmed, and he may have forever ruined the chances for any future businessman-candidate in my eyes.
  • How many more times are we going to hear about how hard it is to do this job? 
  • How many more times are we going to see him traipse off, leaving our House to go spend time at one of his houses, making money off his presidency?
  • How many more times are we going to hear him praise despicable people, despots and dictators, and proclaim it would be an honor to be in their presence? 
  • How many more times will we hear him blatantly lie about things that are of such little consequence they are unworthy of even the tiniest exaggeration?
  • How many more times will we see him blur ethics lines, see others in his administration blur the lines, members of his family blur the lines between what most people intuitively know to be wrong and what is legally ethical? (Ethically legal?)
  • How many more times will we hear him or see him shove blame onto someone else - another politician, someone on his staff, someone on Fox News - when he's called out for one lie or another? Does the buck not stop with the man at the top?
There are so many other reasons why he's not what we need. but don't take my word for it. Here's another opinion, published in The Week back in March.
But at any rate, the government is not a business, and not simply because its basic structure and function are dissimilar to that of a corporation. The really bedrock difference, as Charles Peters writes in his new book, We Do Our Part, is that quality government requires a sense of public spiritedness and a moral conscience. Sociopathic pursuit of profit at all costs - the defining characteristic of the modern American businessman - is a route to corruption and disaster. 

May 7, 2017

Tidbits and Trivia (v2)

A quick look at some un-fact-checked facts, quotes and trivia:

  • Protests are good for business. According to this article on, sales of sign-making materials spiked 30% in the week before Trump's bigly inauguration and the even more bigly Women's March the next day, with an estimated $6M invested. Kinda thinking I should check to see if I have stock in any of this stuff.
  • According to this, from NPR, the Trump administration is looking for a tasteful wall between the US and Mexico. The wall "shall be physically imposing in height" with 18' possibly being acceptable but 30' more in the altitude they're looking for. It can be see-through (no giggling, please) or solid concrete, and must prevent climbing and tunneling.Our side must be "aesthetically be consistent with the general surrounding environment." That ought to be interesting.
  • Kyle Reyes, a marketing executive or something, is now famous for putting together a "Snowflake Test" for prospective employees.  Reyes has shared the test for free "with all America" and wants people who read his piece to "help share (this) test with other patriotic Americans" like the kind who are "sick and tired of the sniveling,whining, entitled brats who believe that everything should be handed to them on a silver platter."  Reyes must think that passes for patriotic... 
  • Are you good with gender-neutral terms? It seems there's a Writing Style Guide for students at Northern Arizona University advising them to use non-sexist words; the guide was issued at the beginning of the semester so everyone knew what was expected. Cailin Jeffers, a student, decided to test the waters by using a word she knew she was not supposed to - mankind - and her professor knocked down the grade. And, as often happens in cases like this, Professor Ann Scott and the NAU English department  "received threatening calls and emails" - dozens of the former, hundreds of the latter, including one telling her to "get off the face of the earth" and to "go put a gun to your head." The calls and emails must have been from a different kind of snowflake, I guess.
  • And finally, according to this article, the DEA has seized over $4B in cash since 2007 from folks who are suspected of being involved with drugs; 81% of the cash was taken from people who were never charged civilly or criminally. And that's just the cash - it doesn't include other possessions or real estate. The Department of Justice has an Asset Forfeiture Fund, which has grown to $28B in the last 10 years. Who says crime doesn't pay?

May 6, 2017

Who Knew This Could Be So Confusing?

Darn it all, just when I think I have this health care stuff figured out, those pesky Republicans go and confuse the HDHP out of me.

Take access to care, for example. Some people believe that TrumpCare, or RyanCare, or the American Health Care Act-- actually, I think I will refer to it as WeDontCare - will take away access for people who are covered under plans paid for with Medicaid.  And according to the bill summary  published on GovTrack, if you are on Medicaid
  • The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility in 32 states that opted into it. (WeDontCare) would reverse the eligibility expansion beginning in 2020 (anyone enrolled by then would remain enrolled) and it would reduce federal support for Medicaid with caps on coverage. And, if you have a gap in coverage for more than one month after the end of December 2019, you won't be able to re-enroll unless you live in a state that wants to pick up the cost. 
  • The ACA expanded required benefits under Medicaid, such as mental health and addiction services, which would not longer be required. 
You should recall the president promised - he PROMISED! - he would not cut Medicaid, so it's a little confusing why WeDontCare was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (well, the early versions of the bill - we don't have an estimate on the one that passed) - to drop some $880B from Medicaid. 

And, to the second bullet above, the president promised - he PROMISED! - to end the opioid epidemic. 
Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down, and ultimately stop.
Not only that, but he announced this plan when he was a candidate which, in addition to building The Big, Beautiful, Busty, Bodacious Border Wall and closing shipping loopholes, would
  • Fix the misguided rules and regulations that have made this problem worse: Speed up the approval and availability of abuse-deterring drugs; lift the cap on the number of patients that doctors can treat with recovery medications, provided they follow safe prescribing practices and proper treatment supervision; and reduce the amount of Schedule II opioids (drugs like oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl) that can be made and sold in the US, and 
  • Get people struggling with addiction the help they need: Support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act; expand incentives to use drug courts and mandated treatment; expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment; and distribute widely naloxone/narcan (opioid antidote to treat OD) to first responders and caregivers.
So it seems a bit surprising that he would so strongly support (and celebrate the passage of) a bill that chops a limb or three off Medicaid, and allows coverage for substance abuse treatment under Medicaid to be eliminated, doesn't it? Or is it just me?

And we learned, a long time ago, that people were appalled with conditions at the Veterans Administration, when people were dying waiting for care. You remember that, right?
Those are just a few of the headlines letting us know that people do die waiting for healthcare, and it's a horrible situation, whether it's a veteran or anyone else. It's a situation we all should be concerned about - folks like you and me, and politicians too. Really concerned, not fake concerned or politically expediently concerned. 

So then, what's wrong with this guy, Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, that he doesn't understand this? When an attendee at Labrador's town hall mentioned her concern that the cuts in Medicare benefits might result in people dying, Labrador disagreed.
That line is do indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.
Well, I guess someone should tell that to all those veterans the Republicans told us about?

No wonder I'm so confused. Am I supposed to believe the Republicans, or the Republicans? Do I believe the promises of the president, and his indignation or do I just throw that all aside?

Of course, for clarity, there's always this interpretation of things.
It is hardly indefensible to say that people don't die from lack of access to healthcare. It is, rather, a basic fact of life. So perhaps Raul should just be honest and say "Sure, some people are going to die, but look at all the money we'd save rich people who don't like paying taxes? Isn't that worth it? They should be proud of their sacrifice! This country would hardly exist were it not for the poor nobly sacrificing their lives to that rich people can be slightly more rich than they would be otherwise!"
Yeah, that seems to help.

May 5, 2017

The Update Desk: National Day of Prayer

Well, in the end, it seems that the president did not have the courage of someone else's convictions and the executive order he signed today only goes so far in meeting the desires of 'his evangelicals' and others in his base.

Some have characterized the order as meaningless, ineffective, and "more symbolic than substantive" as it was significantly watered down from the leaked version I wrote about yesterday.

Trump, who earlier this year sneered that he would
get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.
Which, of course, they are allowed to do today, freely and without retribution, except for standing in their tax-free pulpit and telling their flock who to vote for, or against.

But when push came to shove, he did no such thing. Here is the relevant text of Thursday's Presidential Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty (with emphasis added):
Section 1.  Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square (a place where representatives of faith are allowed to speak freely and without retribution) and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government (which they are today). For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans' first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government. (Why yes, yes it does.) The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections. (As it did before yesterday's bill-signing, and the day before that, and the year before that, and the decade before that...)
Section 2. Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by low, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, (which would need to be changed by Congress, not a stroke of a pen) that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective (which they are allowed to do today), where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury. (which occurs extraordinarily infrequently and only when such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective encouraging a vote for, or against, a particular candidate.) As used in this section, "adverse action" means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies and tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit.
Section 3. Conscience Protections with Respect to Preventive-Care Mandate. The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(c)(4) of title 42, United States Code. (Reiterating that people-companies can "exercise religion" (which is impossible) and discriminate against their people-employees who are under no obligation to hold the same faith to get their much-needed job, or who might not even know that their company has a religion to exercise. And while, as written, this particular gem is only applicable to the preventive care mandate and protections that the Affordable Care Act provided for access to a variety of contraceptive methods, including drugs that some have concluded cause abortions but which actually don't, how long before we "shall consider issuing amended regulations"  allowing the discrimination we feared would be here?)
Section 4. Religious Liberty Guidance. In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections under Federal law. (This may be the scariest part of all).
So, all in all, it could have been worse, I guess.

And it likely will be.

May 4, 2017

National Prayer Day 2017

Not being a religious person, I've never paid all that much attention to the National Day of Prayer. For example, until I looked it up, I never knew that it was older than me. According to the history link on its web page, the whole thing started back in 1952.
On April 17 a bill initiated by Mr. Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels and Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas was passed (Public Law 82-324) that the President of the United States was to set aside an appropriate day each year, other than Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer.
This year, along with many other people, I'll pay more attention. Because it's rumored that today is the day that president Trump will sign one of his Executive Orders - you know, the thing he wasn't going to do -- that mess with religion in a way that is unfair to others.

The order is supposed to reduce enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, the pesky little part of the law that prevents 501c(3) organizations from supporting political candidates and to enable more non-living, non-breathing human corporations to express their deeply held religious beliefs.
The three main points of the executive order, according to a senior White House official, will declare "that it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty," direct the IRS "to exercise maximum enforcement of discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment," and provide "regulatory relief for religious objections to Obamacare's burdensome preventative services mandate."
The order, after what I'm sure will be a deeply moving, prayerful and somber, signature-flashing photo op, will be signed by a man who lied about belonging to a church, and whose actions and words do not generally reflect core values or religious beliefs of any kind.

That part doesn't matter so much, I guess, to the living breathing people and bricks and mortar people, as long as he does their bidding.

The order will take bold steps to try and legitimize discrimination as the law of the land. According to a leaked copy that has been out there since February,which may or may not have been changed in any significant way, the order
specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that "believe, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as a union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life. 
And, if it goes as originally written,
It sets forth an exceptionally expansive definition of "religious exercise" that extends to "any act or refusal to act that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the act is required or compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.
Words like these, and actions like the ones we are likely to see today, are part of the reason why I'm not religious, and in fact serve to strengthen my core beliefs in that regard.